Tuesday, October 6, 2015 0 comments

Boasting in Future Plans and some Patterns of Punishment

13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. (James 4:13-16)

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)
I don’t think this is telling us not to make plans for the future.  But I think it tells us that when we communicate our plans to others we need to keep in mind the possibility that Heavenly Father might have something else in mind for us besides our purposes. The completion of our plans as desired happens at Heavenly Father’s will or sufferance.

A case study how the Lord’s purposes were served by one king’s success but only to a certain point is seen in Isaiah 10.

Ancient Israel was under threat from the invading King of Assyria, who hoped to conquer it and add it to the list of all the countries he’d already conquered.  In Isaiah 10:12-17, Isaiah revealed that the King of Assyria boasted his success had been because of his great strength and wisdom.  The king said he was so strong that no nation protested his conquest, like they were hens that never peeped when someone gathered eggs out from under them. 

In response to the Assyrian king’s boasts, Isaiah proclaimed that all the Assyrian king’s success was because the Lord intended to use the Assyrian king to chastise Israel for wickedness, and once that work was done, the Lord would figuratively burn down the Assyrian empire in a day.

If we apply this to ourselves and learn a lesson from the Assyrian king, any success we achieve is not because of our strength and wisdom, but because the Lord has a particular work for us to do.  His purpose may be quite different from ours.  If we boast in our success, the Lord can burn down our empire in a day too.

Here’s another case study of boasting about the future:
10 And Ben-hadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me.
11 And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off. (1 Kings 20:10-11) 
Ben-hadad essentially makes an oath that Samaria’s spoils will not be enough to satisfy his armies, even if dust or land was part of the spoil. Clearly there is an implicit boast that his army will have no problem conquering Samaria.

The king of Israel told him though not to boast beforehand if he hadn’t done it yet. Again, plans can often be frustrated when we think they are a sure thing. 

As an interesting aside, I ran across a term on Wikipedia closely related to boasting among soldiers.  It is beot.  A beot is a ritualized boast, threat, or promise usually on the eve of battle that is used to gain glory of accomplishing something very difficult before one actually does it.  (see Wikipedia article on Beot. Oddly enough, it is an Anglo-Saxon term, but you can see the practice in various places in the scriptures, like with Ben-hadad in the Old Testament and when the Nephites boast in their army’s strength.

During the Book of Helaman, the wicked Nephites boast in the strength of their armies and it gets them in trouble and we see a pattern of punishment that they suffer.
And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands. (Hel. 4:13)
There are three different words to describe how the Nephites were left to themselves by the Lord:
1) Afflicted – The Lamanites made their lives difficult in a way they hadn’t been able to do before. This seems like persecution or cutting off opportunities or freedom.
2) Smitten – The Lamanites wounded the Nephites. Their defenses were not sufficient and it gives us a sense that Nephite armor had holes.
3) Driven – This implies a total rout and devastating defeat in battle when Nephite armies could not withstand an attack, but had to flee.
(Also note that the lack of prosperity was part of this too.)

Their boasting meant they lost the Lord’s help to bear afflictions, strengthen their defenses, and withstand large onslaughts. 

Let’s look at another instance of a Nephite army boasting--the armies of King Noah.
And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
(Mosiah 11:19) 
Boasting their 50 could stand against thousands of Lamanites was certainly extravagant, since they didn’t observe the Lord’s help in their deliverance.  They followed the D&C 3:4 pattern in that their boasting progressed to the point that they set the Lord’s counsel (as given by Abinadi) aside and followed their own carnal desires of bloodshed.

We also know what happened to them. Eventually their real weakness was proven when after Alma’s people leave, the people all fled from the surprise Lamanite invasion instead of standing and beating it off with just 50 men as they boasted they could do.

We can also see the punishment pattern of affliction, smiting, and driving in their history,  though it was in a different order. They were driven by ambushing Lamanite armies, they were smitten by task-masters in their bondage, and they were afflicted in many different ways, with hunger, with grievous taxes, with thefts, with loss of the main family providers.

I can point to different places in my life when I’ve been afflicted, smitten, and driven for my pride.  Maybe you can too.

Limhi’s people didn’t get out of their predicament until they humbled themselves and began again to keep the commandments.

This is certainly isn’t the most cheerful thing to read about, but it can give us real intelligence if we’ve fallen into the same predicaments.  The way they got out is the way we get out—humility and repentance and obedience.
Sunday, October 4, 2015 0 comments

Some Latter-day Saint Flavors of Boasting

Are there Latter-day Saint flavors of boasting? 

What about boasting about miracles?

In D&C 84:66-72, there is a whole list of wonderful works and signs that believing members will be able to do through faith: cast out devils, heal the sick, open the blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, cause the dumb to speak, live after being given poison or being bit by venomous snakes.  But there is also a commandment associated with these miracles which the Lord wants the Saints to observe.
But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation. (D&C 84:73, emphasis added)
Why are the Saints not to boast of themselves of miracles or speak them before the world? 

I think it has something to do with the fact that when the miracles happen, it will be in response to a crying need of some sort.  So when the need has been filled, it would be awful to go out and say (or think) something like, “I opened the eyes of the blind! Aren’t I special and righteous?”

Verse 73 says these things are given to us “for your profit and for salvation.”  Profit there means it is meant for our growth.  And if it is given for our salvation, then it was given to save us from temporal and spiritual danger, not because we are anything great.  It was an act of mercy and deliverance, not a commendation or something to make us look good.  So we have no reason to boast of miracles.

It’s also why Alma says elsewhere, “This was not of any righteousness of myself” when he tells Helaman about his extraordinary conversion experience with the angel. That experience was only meant for his profit and salvation, not for boasting about.

How about casting out evil spirits?
31 Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.
32 And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—
33 Not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome, neither with boasting nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith.  (D&C 50:33)
Evidently the Lord wanted to underline His warning against boasting in connection with casting out evil spirits, since He must have known that mankind has a tendency to feel over-pleased with themselves when they command something and it obeys.

Boasting is such a malignant thing, that if a person casts out an evil spirit and then boasts about it, that invites the evil spirit into them instead.  It’s a magnet for evil.

Sounds pretty serious, huh?

I take hope in the fact that these principles were given us to keep us safe so that we could be alert and avoid falling into sin out of ignorance.  The Lord wants us to avoid not just the big blatant sins, but also the sins that seem more culturally acceptable in our society.  Because even if they are culturally acceptable, they will still hurt us and block our progression.
Friday, October 2, 2015 0 comments

Warning Principles about Boasting

The Doctrine & Covenants has a really good warning about boasting and what eventually happens because of it. It’s so good, it gives us a pattern for discernment in ourselves:
For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him. (D&C 3:4)
I think this is so important because it shows us that having revelation and great power is no defense when someone starts to boast.  Anyone, no matter how great, who boasts in their strength and wisdom will then disregard the counsels of God and they will eventually fall and incur the vengeance of God.  The vengeance of God is merited because of sin committed when setting aside God’s counsels and following one’s own will and carnal desires.

There’s a great case study in the Book of Mormon of a particular person who made the mistake of boasting--Corianton.  Alma describes what happened:
For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.  (Alma 39: 2-3)
After learning those principles from D&C 3:4, it is perfectly obvious that Corianton followed that negative pattern.  Because Corianton boasted in his strength and wisdom, he ignored counsel from Alma his father, set the counsels (and commandments) of God at naught, followed his own carnal desires for the harlot Isabel, and promptly fell to temptation.

See? Textbook case. And if any of us make the mistake of boasting, we will similarly get into trouble. 

I’ve boasted in my journal to keep from boasting out loud, but evidently it is just as proud. I’ve boasted sometimes in bearing testimony of what I’ve learned and then found that later I am weak again and fall into disobedience. It didn’t feel like boasting at the time, but the effect afterwards is the same as boasting, so it must have been that.

Unfortunately, it is only too true that boasting comes too easily to all of us.
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths! (Helaman 12:5, emphasis added)
This is a great reminder. Simply because we are human and mortal and don’t know everything, we have this ridiculous tendency to turn quickly to boasting and iniquity, but we’re slow to remember the Lord.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! (James 3:5)
The tongue says, “I will go to a party,” but by itself it can’t go anywhere without the legs.  Likewise we boast things we are not even able to do without lots of help that we don’t even realize. 

Boasting also eventually leads to hurting others.
But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions; (3 Ne. 6:10, emphasis added)
Note that pride and boasting in riches led directly to persecuting others greatly.  When we think we’re all that because of our success, we frequently look with scorn on others and eventually tell them more and more forcefully how pathetic they are.  Because if they would just get a grip and do what we do, they would not be such losers!  Right?  Right!

Hmm. I noticed myself wanting to do that in a particular respect a few days ago.  Not good…
Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities. (Hel. 13:22 emphasis added) 
The Nephites’ boasting of their riches without gratitude to God led to worse sins.  And now we know why because of D&C 3:4.  After boasting, they disregarded the counsel of God and followed their carnal desires, so they fell to temptation.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015 0 comments

The Sin of Boasting

When reading about the Zoramites, I happened to notice that one of their problems was that they “lifted up their hearts unto great boasting in their pride.” (Alma 31:25, emphasis added) 

My attention was caught by this and I felt like I needed to gain greater perspective and insight about what boasting is and why it is bad. I knew it was related to pride, but in what way I didn’t know. 

So I did research.  And what follows was very interesting to me because I got to find it and synthesize it and put it together, and discover things I needed to work on.  But I’m sharing it because I hope someone else might get a little benefit from it too.

Wikipedia was helpful.  It said boasting is attention-seeking by exaggerating accomplishments or their importance or one’s credit in a venture.  It may consist of one-upmanship.  It also said that boasting may also include exaggerating our obstacles and problems to bolster self-esteem.  Or it may consist of magnifying our injuries or discomforts in order to avoid responsibility and malinger.  There is usually some element of deception in boasting.

I was also interested in reading what the scriptures said about boasting.  I found principles, case studies, warnings, and results.  I found so much helpful stuff that I’m going to break it into several posts. 

To start off, here is what Christ said that relates to boasting:

9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14)

Who is boasting in this parable?  Clearly it is the Pharisee.  Who is he boasting to?  Strangely enough, to God!  How weird is that?

Also, notice in verse 12 that the Pharisee is using his obedience to two particular commandments on which to base his trust in his own righteousness.  The problem is there aren’t just two commandments.  There’s a lot more than that.  Yes, the first and second great commandments encompass the rest, but those aren’t the one’s this Pharisee mentions. He just talks about fasting and tithing.  So we are led to conclude that the commandments the Pharisee doesn’t mention are the ones he’s bad at keeping because if he kept them, he would have mentioned them too.  

Another thing he does is he says, “I am not as other men are” and a list of other people’s sins follows. He thinks he is different from other sinful men, and yet.. doesn’t everyone have a few commandments they are good at keeping and certain sins they aren’t tempted by?  What then makes him so special?  The truth is he’s really no different than other men.

The lovely thing about this parable is that it illustrates the kind of boasting we may make to God, even in our prayers, and how this actually has the effect of keeping us from God.  If we find we imitate the Pharisee, we claim reconciliation that we actually do not have and can’t ever obtain until we see things how they really are--we are sinful and need mercy.

I also like that it shows in the publican a proper attitude of humility and the proper action of pleading for mercy for the sins and weakness he discerned in himself.

More on boasting to come later..
Friday, September 25, 2015 0 comments

Characteristics of the Zoramite errors

12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.
14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen. . . .
20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
(Alma 31:12-18, 20)
Reading through what Alma and his posse observed about the Zoramites, it is interesting to note that he recorded what he saw and even recorded one of their prayers.  (Then, in contrast, we get one of Alma’s prayers too.)

I noticed that in the Zoramite prayer there were seven instances of the word holy or holiness. So the Zoramites were obsessed with holy status, but their manner of going about it was misguided.

The Zoramites believed God had separated them from their brethren. However, elsewhere it is noted that they had separated themselves (Alma 30:59), they had dissented from the Nephites (Alma 31:8), and they had gathered themselves together (Alma 31:3). They separated themselves. Just gathering together does make a people holy.

They believed they had been elected by God to be his holy children. Yet election does not make a people holy.

They took pride in not being led away after the foolish traditions of their fathers that, in their words, bound them down to a belief in Christ. It is possible that this began out of criticism of the many rules of the Law of Moses and they believed those things could be dispensed with, since it says elsewhere they would not keep the commandments in the Law of Moses (Alma 31:9).  It is particularly interesting that they saw the commandments they would not keep as instruments for building anticipation of Christ and they rejected that too. Even apostates had been taught these things were types of Christ.

They met at church and thanked God weekly for their favored status, but sadly, Sabbath observance and worship does not indicate holiness.

I have to call attention again to the fact that they did not believe in Christ and instead claimed some sort of revelation that there would be no Christ. The problem with not believing in Christ is that if no Christ, then there is no belief in redemption for sin, so one remains in one’s sins. To remain in one’s sins while claiming to be holy and denying the means of redemption from sins pretty much guarantees a person is spiritually stuck. Damned, if you will.  Further, if one does not believe in redemption, to claim one is elected and holy and all others would perish is contradictory.  All this causes us to wonder what they thought their favored status was based on, if not salvation from sin.

It is possible they had some sort of prosperity gospel, teaching that prosperity and riches meant they were favored of God. This would account for their preoccupation with their wealth, their pride, their boasting, and also the way the richer, popular part of the people despised the poor and cast them out of the synagogues. It would also explain why the priests participated in the expulsions too.

A prosperity gospel might explain why the Zoramites were so incensed when the anti-Nephi-Lehis took in the poor converted Zoramites. To them, all others besides themselves would perish and become destitute. Thus, when the poor converted Zoramites were helped, this flew directly in the face of their beliefs—poor Zoramites outside Antionah were finding prosperity!  Shocking! Horrible!   This could not be tolerated; it was open mockery of the Zoramite holy election, so it had to be stamped out. Thus the armies were called up.

I think it is important to know about Zoramite beliefs and practices because we may slip into them today. We may think our separateness is part of our holiness, but if it isn’t accompanied by belief in Christ as the Redeemer, obedience to the commandments, daily prayer to resist temptation, and charity to others, we are not holy at all. We’re just fooling ourselves. Without those things, our religion degenerates into a prosperity gospel in which we think we are favored if we are in prosperous circumstances and think others are condemned because they struggle financially.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 2 comments

Cause of contention among the Corinthians?

10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13)

We discussed this problem in Sunday school and the importance of unity, and it seemed to me that it is hard to understand this problem in the context of today. We might get hints of the problem now and again if we hear people mentioned who their favorite apostles are. But somehow this contention was started by something that was very important to the Corinthian members. Why was it almost a point of pride to them who they were of?

I suspect that it had something to do with the slow communication in those days and the rarity of higher church leaders coming through. It may be that their isolation made it very important to them to remember the gospel message as preached from the ones who converted them. They would cling to that tenaciously.

We get to hear from general authorities at stake and general conferences, but how often did they in that day? And each leader might have had a slightly different emphasis, even though the message of Christ was the same.

I can imagine arguments erupting about the importance of some doctrine based on what was emphasized or not by different missionaries.

“Well, Paul told me I needed to do this.”
“What? Apollos didn’t say anything to me about it. He was very concerned about this other thing.”
“You’re kidding! That’s just not right! This doctrine is very important!”
“Then why didn’t Apollos say much about it?”
“Because he’s not as righteous, I guess.”
“What? He’s just as good as Paul! And he’s a better speaker!”
(erupts into argument and mutual recriminations and insults)

I think that in many respects our improved communications make this less of a problem, but I also think the rise of social media expands the scope of contentions if they arise, enabling arguments across the church, rather than in just one ward. We can’t say that we don’t get enough direction from leaders to know what’s true doctrine, but it is just as true as it was in Paul’s day that our contentions mean we are carnal and need to go back to basic doctrines.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

If we have to be told not to fight, the doctrine of unity has not been written on our hearts. If we have to be told to follow the brethren, the doctrine of revelation coming through proper channels has not been written on our souls. If we have to be reminded of our duty, our duties have not yet penetrated.

Monday, September 21, 2015 0 comments

Isaiah on spiritual battles for salvation

4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:4-6)

I had a brainwave recently about what v5 means. Previously I thought that bit about “with burning and fuel of fire” referred to the second coming of Christ and how Christ would fight for the righteous and burn the wicked.  And I still think that is a good way to look at it, but I started to another interpretation for it that fit better with the context of Christ’s mortal life and ministry.

Verse 5 starts by pointing out how every battle they knew involved noise and blood. Then there is a “but” that tells us a contrast, something different is coming. So we are to think of a different kind of battle that doesn’t involve noise and blood. And I think we’re meant to immediately guess Isaiah means spiritual battles.

But how does “burning and fuel of fire” refer to spiritual battles? I suspect the burning part is talking about the fire of the Holy Ghost, and the fuel of fire refers to the people. The battle is a struggle to spark a fire of the Holy Ghost in people. All of this was definitely part of Christ’s mission, to convert with His teaching and testimony.

And the message, of course, is about the coming of the Messiah and His power to save from sin, to break the yoke of Satan’s burden of sin that is laid on each of us and save from the punishing rod of his oppressive guilt. (This is referred to with imagery in verse 4.)

This ties verse 4 and 5 together to the message of “unto us a child is born” in verse 6.

I love it when I discover these kinds of things!  Yaay Isaiah!
Friday, September 18, 2015 2 comments

Religious freedom or religious privilege among the Lamanites?

I was reading Alma 23 about the proclamation the king of the Lamanites gave to help Ammon and his fellow missionaries teach the gospel and to remove obstructions to the spreading of the word of God. 

1 Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on Ammon, or Aaron, or Omner, or Himni, nor either of their brethren who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land.
2 Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries.
3 And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires, for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household; therefore he sent his proclamation throughout the land unto his people, that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.
4 And now it came to pass that when the king had sent forth this proclamation, that Aaron and his brethren went forth from city to city, and from one house of worship to another, establishing churches, and consecrating priests and teachers throughout the land among the Lamanites, to preach and to teach the word of God among them; and thus they began to have great success. (Alma 23:1-4)

It is interesting to me that the chapter heading for Alma 23 calls this proclamation proclaiming religious freedom, but I can’t help but wonder if it really is.  I wonder if we would be comfortable if any other religion were given this permission, so I want to analyze it.

The missionaries were permitted to
--have free access to the people’s houses, temples, and sanctuaries
--to preach the word according to their desires

Those who heard them were not permitted to
--lay hands on them
--bind them
--cast them into prison
--spit upon them
--smite them
--cast them out of their synagogues
--stone them

So suppose another religion was given free access to our temples?  That would certainly be privilege for them, but it would infringe upon our freedom.

Suppose another religion was given access to our churches and we were not allowed to ask them to leave if they started preaching their doctrine to us. That would be privilege for them, but it would infringe upon our freedom.

Or suppose another religion was given free access to our homes to teach us, but we weren’t given the same access to their homes? That is not religious freedom; it is a religious privilege or sponsored religion.

So what we essentially have in this story is the church was given privilege over other religions. That sounds very nice to us because we believe those things, but if another religion gained that kind of “freedom,” we’d be very worried because those “freedoms” involve infringement upon assemblies and associations and desires to not listen. (It is possible the Amalekites and Amulonites may have reacted so violently because more peaceful methods of excluding and rejecting the message had been denied them by law.)

What this exercise shows me is that one of the best ways to test whether we enjoy a privilege or a freedom is to see if we’d be bothered if that freedom were given to others not of our faith or opinion.

I think this also shows that when our religion is in the majority it is very easy for religious privilege to masquerade as freedom. It is also very easy for people in power to think they are facilitating religious freedom when they are really just privileging a different religion than was privileged before.

This post was kind of hard to write. It is hard to go from seeing the king’s proclamation as a positive thing to realizing that it wasn’t as good as it looked.  The undeniable bright side was that so many conversions were facilitated because of it, but I think we can have the maturity to realize that there was a darker side to it.  I think awareness of between religious freedom and religious privilege can help us be smarter as we stand up for religious liberty.  It would be a shame if we lost freedoms because of not understanding the difference between freedom and privilege.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 1 comments

The victory over the devil

And now after the church had been established throughout all the land—having got the victory over the devil, and the word of God being preached in its purity in all the land, and the Lord pouring out his blessings upon the people—thus ended the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. (Alma 16:21)
This verse is given at the end of a number of things that have happened among the Nephites. First, the destruction of the Nehors at Ammonihah by the Lamanites, then the rescue of the other captives taken, then the continued preaching of Alma and Amulek, and the general establishment of the church in the land.

I am particularly intrigued by how Mormon describes this state as “having got the victory over the devil.” 

It certainly looks like the Nephites had a national victory over the devil.
--the wicked were destroyed by the Lamanites
--the captives were restored
--the word of God on the plan of redemption was preached and accepted everywhere
--general interest in prophecies of the future coming of Christ 
--the Spirit was poured out on everyone

Of course, this was only a temporary victory for the Nephite nation. The problem is the devil comes back again and keeps trying. The story of the Book of Mormon is that the Nephites eventually yielded the victory back to the devil.

We will skip over the question of how our nation is doing in the war against the devil and come back to the question of how we’re doing as individuals.

Have we personally gotten the victory over the devil?
Are we repenting and feeling the Spirit?
Are we doing good and sharing the gospel?
Are we studying the words of the prophets and the scriptures of what is to come?

Let’s take moment to reflect on what we need to do to get the victory and keep it.  It’s a daily effort.  What’s the main victory you need to win today?  And how are you going to include the Lord in your battles?

Much of my work these days is self-directed. I don’t have people hanging over my shoulder pushing me to get things done, so I face impulses to procrastinate.  I fight against doubts that tell me what I do doesn’t matter so there is no point in doing it.  Or, I face a flood of inner voices that try to overwhelm me with a sense of my fallen nature in order to prevent me from feeling the inner strength needed to write, especially for this blog.   Every day is a battle to make progress.   When I call out to Heavenly Father for help, He gives me the strength to overcome. 

We need to keep fighting and we can’t win without the Lord’s help. 

Monday, September 14, 2015 0 comments

Thoughts on the varied Lamanite responses to prostrate individuals during Ammon’s mission

I was reading in the Book of Mormon about Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites and I got to the part where the king prayed and fell to the earth unconscious and Ammon prayed and fell unconscious with joy the servants prayed and fell unconscious and about how Abish went out to spread the news to everyone else about how the power of God was upon the king’s household.

17 Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people.
18 And they began to assemble themselves together unto the house of the king. And there came a multitude, and to their astonishment, they beheld the king, and the queen, and their servants prostrate upon the earth, and they all lay there as though they were dead; and they also saw Ammon, and behold, he was a Nephite. (Alma 19:17-18)

I thought it was very interesting to see the variety of responses from the Lamanite people and how they made meaning from it when they come in and see the Lamanite king, queen, and servants all lying around looking so dead, along with a Nephite. It think it shows that the Lamanites did not all believe the same thing, and sometimes they could be pretty critical of their own society.

The way they respond when they first get there, it almost seems as though they walk into the situation without any context whatever.  And yet the text says Abish went from house to house making known what had happened. Even though they were willing to go and observe, they didn’t see what Abish saw. Their first response was that it was a very bad thing that had happened. (This is rather humorous, because as readers we know it was a very good thing instead.)

19 And now the people began to murmur among themselves; some saying that it was a great evil that had come upon them, or upon the king and his house, because he had suffered that the Nephite should remain in the land.

Note the immediate prejudice. Blame the Nephite.

20 But others rebuked them, saying: The king hath brought this evil upon his house, because he slew his servants who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus.

Another group thinks the great evil—which I must assume refers to the prostrate, unconscious people—is because the king killed his servants who allowed the flocks to be scattered.  Very interesting—this segment is critical of the king’s justice and were ready to believe that whatever bad thing happened was deserved retribution.

Another interesting thing is that they all seem to see the mass unconsciousness as a bad thing.  Why would that be?  It is possible that it was their warlike culture of militarism that saw this mass of prostrate, inert people as great vulnerability.  (Just imagine how we might think if we heard that everyone in the capital building had inexplicably passed out from the power of God. We’d be concerned about their vulnerability too. “Anyone could sneak in there and mow them down and no one could stop them.”)

And then there’s the group angry at Ammon for the number of Lamanites he’d killed defending the king’s flocks, and the brother of their leader who was killed

21 And they were also rebuked by those men who had stood at the waters of Sebus and scattered the flocks which belonged to the king, for they were angry with Ammon because of the number which he had slain of their brethren at the waters of Sebus, while defending the flocks of the king.
22 Now, one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon, to slay him; and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead.

Angry brother decides to take advantage of Ammon’s defenselessness, but he’s struck dead right at the moment of lifting his sword to let it fall.

Up to this point, the Lamanites have been told that the power of God was responsible for what they saw, but they have not really seen it in action.  But when someone immediately dies for no apparent reason beyond his attempt to kill the Nephite, then all of a sudden they realize there is something supernatural going on, but they still have differences of opinion about what it all means.

Mormon (and the rest of us) know that it was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Mosiah that his sons would be spared, but the Lamanites don’t know that.  We’ve seen the story background, but if we didn’t know that, we might be just as puzzled as the Lamanites.

23 Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said unto Mosiah, his father: I will spare him, and it shall be unto him according to thy faith—therefore, Mosiah trusted him unto the Lord.
24 And it came to pass that when the multitude beheld that the man had fallen dead, who lifted the sword to slay Ammon, fear came upon them all, and they durst not put forth their hands to touch him or any of those who had fallen; and they began to marvel again among themselves what could be the cause of this great power, or what all these things could mean.
25 And it came to pass that there were many among them who said that Ammon was the Great Spirit, and others said he was sent by the Great Spirit;
26 But others rebuked them all, saying that he was a monster, who had been sent from the Nephites to torment them.
27 And there were some who said that Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit to afflict them because of their iniquities; and that it was the Great Spirit that had always attended the Nephites, who had ever delivered them out of their hands; and they said that it was this Great Spirit who had destroyed so many of their brethren, the Lamanites.

So the arguments begin again, and again there are all varieties of opinion.

There are the people who thinks Ammon is the Great Spirit based on the failure to kill him.  (If the king’s servants were conscious, they could have rebutted that one, since they heard Ammon disclaim godhood. Too bad they couldn’t.)

Another group thinks Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit. Perhaps he looked too manlike and they don’t understand why he would be so asleep and unaware if he were a god.

A third group thinks Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit as an instrument of affliction because of Lamanite wickedness and the Great Spirit had always saved the Nephites in the past and allowed the Lamanites to be destroyed.  It is interesting this group is so spiritually perceptive as to realize that the Lamanite defeats and Nephite victories came because the Great Spirit favored the Nephites. These people also are highly critical of Lamanite society and don’t think they are worthy of protection. But they still see Ammon as an instrument of punishment and not a means of divine mercy and blessing.

And yet another group believes Ammon was a monster sent by the Nephites to torment them. These people think, “The Nephites must have known this guy was trouble, and that’s why they sent him here, to cause trouble, and now see he’s incapacitated our rulers and their household!”  They are so convinced the Nephites intend malice to do them harm.  I have to wonder whether this was the tradition of their fathers, or whether this was the work of Nephite dissenters spreading misinformation.  Probably both.

All these views, even after a show of God’s power, are inaccurate. I think it is a case study of how limited the reasoning of man can be, failing to comprehend the deeper purposes of God. Like the Lamanites, who could only see the people lying in front of them, so often our vision is limited to what is happening to us right now, and we fail to see it in the bigger context of God’s love for us and His efforts to save us.  Even when His power is right in front of us, we can still miss it!

How important it is then to have prophets who can help us know and see the larger picture.  How important it is to keep an open mind and simply wait and endure. How important it is to keep a record of what is happening in our lives so that we can have more of the story to look back and reflect on.   It also shows us how our reasoning can’t account for God’s miracles and how odd they may look when viewed with an unbelieving, unregenerate mind.

 I've had hard experiences in my life that disappointed me at the time and which seemed like a bad thing, but when I look back at them from the perspective of years, I see that they were necessary refining experiences.  I'm sure you can say the same.