Sunday, August 31, 2008 2 comments

When Nephi is tied up on the ship

In my last blog entry I observed how Nephi prayed for deliverance and to burst the bands he was bound by. It is natural for us to think that after such a miraculous escape, he could be sure of achieving escape in the same way if ever he was tied up again. However, some chapters later, while on the ship, Nephi’s brothers tie him up again and this time Nephi is stuck.
And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked. (1 Nephi 18:11)
I like that Nephi observes that the Lord suffered it to happen, because it shows Nephi’s faith was not shaken even when he wasn’t immediately delivered. He says that the Lord suffered it “that he might show forth his power”. How interesting! When the Lord delivered Nephi before, He showed His power, and when He suffered Nephi to be tied again and not immediately delivered it was to show His power.

Perhaps it is not so urgent this time that Nephi get free. In the desert they were going to leave him behind, but here he is still with them. They haven’t tossed him overboard.

No doubt Nephi was praying like crazy for deliverance and for his brothers to soften their hearts. When it didn’t happen immediately as it did before, notice how he bore up:
Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions. (1 Nephi 18:16)
In the previous incident, Laman and Lemuel were softened when one of the daughters of Ishmael and her mother and one of Ishmael’s sons pleaded with them on Nephi’s behalf. Evidently they remembered this from last time, because this time they were determined not to listen to anyone else again.
17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.
18 Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.
19 And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother; and also my wife with her tears and prayers, and also my children, did not soften the hearts of my brethren that they would loose me.
20 And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts; wherefore, when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed me. (1 Nephi 18:17-20, emphasis added)
It certainly looks like most of the people on the boat were absolutely miserable (though it says nothing about Laman and Lemuel’s wives and children..) and none of the lectures or tears or prayers had any effect.

I think that is a very scary thing—to be so hardened that a person is beyond influence from any other person. When the Lord can’t influence a person through other people, that’s when He has to get tough by threatening with destruction.

The Lord started by causing the Liahona to stop working to show them that they were without guidance and He wasn’t helping them. That didn’t work. Then the Lord caused the storm to come up and drive them backwards to show them that He was against them. That didn’t work. So the Lord had to make the storm so violent and extreme with waves so tall that when they were in the trough of the waves and looking up at each wave crest as it came towards them, it looked like they would be buried in the depths of the sea. This was to show them how near death was to them. (Did you know that a wind speed of 60 knots can raise waves 78 feet high?* That’s about as tall as two school buses turned on their end and stacked on each other!) Finally they got the message. “when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done” (1 Nephi 18:20)

One question I found I had in this incident is that Nephi said that the word of the Lord would be fulfilled “which he had spoken concerning the wicked” (1 Nephi 18:11). There was no hint of what that word would be, except for some footnotes that among other places steered me to Alma 14:11 where Alma is telling why the Lord is keeping him from saving the martyrs in Ammonihah:
But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day. (Alma 14:11)
This is enlightening, but because Alma came AFTER Nephi, Nephi didn’t have those particular words to remember. It is my guess that just as Nephi often used the story of the Israelites being led out of Egypt by Moses for inspiration and encouragement, he probably used that story in this case as well. I figure that since he was on the ocean, he probably thought about when the Israelites were going through the Red Sea and being pursued by the Egyptians. I went and looked for that in Exodus and here’s what I found:
17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
19 ¶ And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
23 ¶ And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
26 ¶ And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
27 And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. (Exodus 14:17-27)
(Quick note: Recall that the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 17 said “And I say unto thee the hearts of the Egyptians shall be hardened”) This reminds us that the Egyptians were hardening their own hearts.

I figure that Nephi thought of this particular section about how the Lord told Moses that He would allow the Egyptians to go on in the hardness of their hearts and He would discomfit them until they knew it was the Lord they were dealing with. (And of course by the time the Egyptians realized this it was too late.) Nephi knew his brothers would get themselves “swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 18:15) like the Egyptians if they persisted in their hard-heartedness.

As it happens, Laman and Lemuel finally repent enough to untie Nephi… but I notice there is no record of any apology.

I really get a feeling from this story that the Lord was not only very kind and merciful to Nephi, but also to Laman and Lemuel, even when He was angry with them. It would have been so easy to strike them with lightening or wash them overboard or send a large sea creature with lots of sharp teeth to have them for lunch. But no, the Lord worked with persuasion and kept trying to find some way to speak to them in a way that they understood until they realized they were making a mistake. That point was reached when they were afraid they were going to die.

Gee, I really want to make sure I never have to be threatened with death before I’ll repent!


* “A Few Basics for Forecasting Waves”, Dr Steve Lyons, The Weather Channel, http://www.weather.com/activities/recreation/boatandbeach/surf/articles/surfingarticle_one.html
Friday, August 29, 2008 0 comments

Revisiting the story of Nephi bursting his bands

Today I noticed something I hadn’t before. Remember the story of Nephi praying to burst the ropes that he was tied with when his brothers had tied him up and wanted to leave him to be eaten to wild beasts?
But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound. (1 Nephi 7:17)
Before today, I always thought that Nephi was just praying to bursting his bands. Today, I realized that if he had only burst the ropes, that didn’t necessarily mean that he was saved…
18 And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.
19 And it came to pass that they were angry with me again, and sought to lay hands upon me… (I Nephi 7:18-19)
Nephi wasn’t necessarily saved, because his brothers could tie him up again. It could have turned into a comical cycle without additional help—tie up, burst bands, tie up, burst bands, tie up, burst bands—until his brothers get tired of it and kill him.

No, when the Lord delivers people, He doesn’t go halfway. How does the Lord completely save Nephi?
…but behold, one of the daughters of Ishmael, yea, and also her mother, and one of the sons of Ishmael, did plead with my brethren, insomuch that they did soften their hearts; and they did cease striving to take away my life.
20 And it came to pass that they were sorrowful, because of their wickedness, insomuch that they did bow down before me, and did plead with me that I would forgive them of the thing that they had done against me. (1 Nephi 7:19-20)
Lord completed Nephi’s deliverance by inspiring other people to speak to his brothers for him in such a way that his brothers were softened, realized the magnitude of their sin, and begged Nephi’s forgiveness. That change of attitude seems like it was the most effective deliverance.

If Nephi had had any less faith in the Lord’s power, it may not have happened that way. I notice that he prayed, “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me…”

Something I wonder about is whether Nephi was envisioning deliverance in the way that it came, or whether he knew the Lord had the power to save him to the extent that Nephi envisioned himself finishing the journey side-by-side with his brothers and no hard feelings between them at all and didn’t worry about how that might come about.

Perhaps it was both, because he asked for a specific kind of deliverance—"give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound"—but he also prayed for general deliverance “from the hands of my brethren”, which left it up to the Lord how that would be done.

If the Lord wanted to, He could have just inspired the same three people to speak for Nephi and then Laman and Lemuel would have untied Nephi themselves and Nephi wouldn’t have had to burst his bands. But the Lord was merciful to Nephi and wanted to grant Nephi deliverance in the way that Nephi wanted. Maybe because there was nothing wrong with Nephi bursting his bands in that situation. Maybe it would strengthen Nephi's testimony.

Something this teaches me is that it is good to have both general and specific aspects to my prayers. The general aspects give the Lord the freedom to bless me in a way that is best for me according to His much higher wisdom. The specific aspects can help me notice immediately how the Lord is answering my prayers and alert me to try to discern the other ways the Lord has blessed me.
Thursday, August 28, 2008 2 comments

How can we escape unbelief and a hard heart?


And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16)
Something I noticed in this scripture is that Nephi seems to suggest that he was not always the intrepid, faithful person that we have come to know and love. He notes that when he prayed to know the mysteries of God, the Lord softened his heart and helped him believe his father’s words, which shows us that his heart was hard before and he may have had difficulty believing.

Why do I find this scripture helpful? It suggests that I can pray for the Lord to soften my heart and help me believe the words of my leaders if I notice that I am not receiving counsel as I should.

(Image credit - "See the Change" blog, nvrlost.blogspot.com/2006/12/rope-breaking-on...)

Varying reactions to angelic reassurance

If anybody is wondering why I have been posting less, I have been getting ready for and have started school again. I probably won’t have the time to write at length, but I hope to at least post a short thought or two every day.

In my scripture reading I’ve started the Book of Mormon over again and today I was struck by the contrast of attitudes between Laman (and Lemuel) and Nephi after they had all just seen an angel telling them the Lord would deliver Laban into their hands so that they could get the brass plates.

Here’s the reaction of Laman and Lemuel:
And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us? (I Nephi 3:31)
Here is the reaction of Nephi:
1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?
2 Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
3 Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians. (1 Nephi 4:1-3)
I notice Laman and Lemuel were asking “how is it possible?” and were focused on the problems that stood in their way, while Nephi drew strength from his knowledge in the power of God and the story of the Israelites being saved from the Egyptians.

There are many times that I am more like Laman and Lemuel than Nephi. When I’m promised that the Lord will do something amazing, too often I ask, “how is that possible?!” and I focus too much on the obstacles in my way, rather than reminding myself that the Lord is mightier than the whole world and drawing strength from scriptural accounts that demonstrate that.

We are told the Lord will help us. How then can we doubt?
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 0 comments

A Memorable Experience Learning about the Atonement of Christ

At some point in our lives we all have to learn how to use the Atonement of Christ. I don’t mean just that theory knowledge, but that knowledge that comes from trying it and experiencing it. I want to tell you about an experience that taught me about the power of the Atonement and gave me the faith to repent.

It was my second year at BYU and one particular day I had a really really bad day. From beginning to end it just felt wretched. As I lay in bed that night, thinking over the day and wishing I could start over again or wipe it away, I was pouring my troubles out to the Lord, when I started to wonder if the Atonement covered bad days. I asked the Lord if He could take my burden from me or whether I was required to carry it myself and the answer came back, “Do you think I can?” I answered that the scriptures said that He could take our burdens from us. The answer came back, “Then LET GO of it.” I exercised my faith and immediately I felt the remembrance of the day lift from my mind and it was as if the ceiling had just been lifted off the walls revealing clear sky. With curiosity I probed my memory, looking for remnants of misery and I found none! I had just been relieved of the entire day and I felt as though I had just found my way back to bed from morning to evening with nothing in between. Like a day had been wiped from my life. I loved it, and I started crying again as I thanked the Lord for His mercy.
Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.. (Mosiah 14:4)
I realize that my experience that I have described above was not exactly repentance. I was not asking forgiveness of a sin, but asking for my bad day (a certain period of grief) to be taken away. But having such an experience was a big faith builder for me and I thought, “If my bad days can be taken away like this, then I can ask for forgiveness of my sins and have them taken away too!”

I began to be more careful to ask forgiveness for my sins when I prayed. I would think about what I had done since the last time I prayed and try to see if there was anything that I did that wasn’t right, and then when I found something I did, no matter how small, I asked the Lord to forgive me. It was very satisfying to know that my mistakes and offenses could be wiped away like this.

I ran across a scripture in the Book of Mormon that describes the process.
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)
I’ve found that when asking for forgiveness, it is best if I begin by confessing to Heavenly Father in prayer what I have done. I tell Him that I know it was wrong and then I ask for my sin to be covered by the Atonement of Christ and I ask to be forgiven. Then I exercise faith that I have been heard and I let go of the sin and trust that it has been taken.

Sometimes letting go of the sin is harder than other times. It is especially hard for me when I have let someone down somehow or been a bad example. But it has to be released, otherwise we don’t get that wonderful relief of feeling forgiven and feeling clean. I’ve found that it helps to use my imagination and visualize myself throwing my sin up in the air and the Lord catching it. I’ve read that other people like to imagine nailing their sins to the cross. I think anything that helps you let go is good.
Friday, August 22, 2008 2 comments

An under-the-weather day

Yesterday I woke up with the most bizarre of sicknesses. It wasn’t a fever, because my thermometer said 96 degrees. It wasn’t the flu, because I didn’t really throw up. (I had the dry heaves once, but nothing really came of it.) It wasn’t a cold, because I didn’t have a runny nose. It wasn’t a sinus infection, because my boogers weren’t green. It wasn’t a cough or a sore throat. I didn’t know what it was, so I gave it a name based on the symptoms I had.

I decided to call it “Burpy Vertigo”. That’s exactly what it was. I burped a lot and I was incredibly dizzy. (Warning: I am about to go into detail...)

The burping was really strange. I felt like I had an endless supply of air bubbles to get rid of and it wouldn’t come out with one big EERRRRRRRRRP. No, it had to be removed piecemeal. About every few minutes I had to have a 30 second burping session to get rid of the discomfort. I was afraid to swallow my saliva for fear I would somehow swallow more air and make it worse.

The vertigo was also very weird. I had vertigo even while lying in bed. I couldn’t lie on my back and look at the ceiling, because the world would begin to spin in the most unaccountably vicious way. I couldn’t even turn my head up to a 45 degree angle because the room would begin to revolve. I had lie on my side and keep one ear flush with the pillow at all times.

I was a little worried about the vertigo. My mom went on a cruise back in the late ‘90s and came home with vertigo that lasted for a year and I really hoped that a case of year-long dizziness hadn’t come to call on me too (though I had done no cruising whatsoever). Fortunately I happened to talk on the phone with my church choir director who, when I told her what I called my malady, said, “Oh! I had the same thing earlier this week!” Aha! It was only a bug that was going around.

In the morning when I was lying on my side, I dutifully opened my scriptures and they came to Ether 3 and I read this verse:
O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires. (Ether 3:2)
I read that plea of the brother of Jared that the Lord not be angry because of his weakness and I thought of my sickness that I had suddenly hit by and I felt to echo that prayer in my own way. O Lord, be not angry because of my mortal weakness and sickness, and how I can not serve thee today as I had hoped and planned yesterday. All I could do was lie in bed and play games on my palm pilot. (I think I played 37 games of Bejeweled.) It was an act of bravery just to get up briefly and get the phone and call a few people to let them know I couldn’t go to cub scout pack meeting or help babysit.

I had to count my blessings though. 1) School hadn’t started yet, so I wasn’t missing classes. School starts in 3 days and I could have gotten sick then. 2) I had a nice bed to lie in, with warm blankets. 3) I wasn’t missing work. We had intensive tutor training just the two day before and it could have hit then, but it didn’t. 4) I wasn’t feeling sick to my stomach like my choir director had, so I knew I would probably be feeling better the next day, whereas she had it for 3 or 4 days.

The dizziness was so odd that I really wondered what was causing it. I knew the inner ear was somehow affected, because that is what facilitates our balance and perception of up, down, and sideways. How nice it is when our inner ear works and we can walk straight and ride bikes and do all sorts of other things!

I think our conscience is kind of like our inner ear too. It tells us which way is good and which way is bad. We are out in a dizzying world, one that reels to and fro like a drunken man, one that likes to call good things bad and bad things good. It calls things “wicked” when it approves and says “great” sarcastically when it doesn’t.

I know that we can find rest from this moral vertigo when we come to Christ. Repenting of our sins heals our conscience, that spiritual inner ear, and we come to know what kind of person He was, we learn to see the world through His eyes with vision that is always steady.
Sunday, August 17, 2008 0 comments

Flooding the earth with righteousness


And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem. (Moses 7:62)
This scripture is in the Joseph Smith lesson manual as part of the lesson “Establishing the Cause of Zion” and as I was reading, I started focusing on that phrase “righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood”. I felt there was some lesson I could learn by examining the process of flooding that would teach me how Heavenly Father would fulfill this.

I grew up in the Midwest and I know a little something about what causes flooding.

First, there has to be excess rain, more than the ground can hold. In the same way, I think Heavenly Father starts by raining doctrine and correct principles down from heaven to the prophet and apostles and they pass it on to us. Also, insights by the Holy Ghost pour in to us from reading the scriptures, from our lessons, and from pondering carefully and so on.

Second, the runoff from the rain fills the rivers and the low places. In the same way, testimony resulting from all our faithful works fills and overflows from our hearts. All that we know and do and say about the gospel overflows into all parts of our lives and greatly affects the people around us, especially those who are feeling the lowest. No wonder sharing our testimonies can cause our tears to overflow.

Third, for a flood to continue to build, the rain and the runoff must all increase in intensity over time and not decrease. In the same way, the more we do good things, the more blessings and knowledge we qualify ourselves for, which increases our capacity to do good, and trying to fill that capacity increases our good works, which qualifies us for more blessings and knowledge and testimony, and it can become a positive feedback loop.

Something I am reminded of right now is President Ezra Taft Benson’s challenge to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon. It seems to me that one way this can be done is by incorporating it more in our day-to-day conversations, irrespective of who we are speaking to. If we do this, even people who don’t read the Book of Mormon and those who are not of our faith will begin to know something of what is in it.

When I was a teen, I used to listen to my church friends quote their favorite parts from the movie “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail” and I learned a lot of what was in the movie from that and it made me eager to see the movie. If we could harness our enthusiasm for the Book of Mormon as we do our enthusiasm for those quotable movies and share quotations from the Book of Mormon as they fit into the conversation, we can help flood the earth with the messages from the Book of Mormon.

All of this is to culminate in the redemption of Zion. When the Saints forced out of Independence, Missouri and unable to lay the foundation of Zion, it appears that Joseph Smith naturally inquired when Zion would finally be redeemed. The manual says Joseph wrote:
I know that Zion, in the due time of the Lord, will be redeemed; but how many will be the days of her purification, tribulation, and affliction, the Lord has kept hid from my eyes; and when I inquire concerning this subject, the voice of the Lord is: Be still, and know that I am God! All those who suffer for my name shall reign with me, and he that layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again….May God grant that notwithstanding [our] great afflictions and sufferings, there may not anything separate us from [the] love of Christ [see Romans 8:35-39]. (p186)
When I read this it at first appeared to me that the Lord was putting off Joseph’s question, but then I thought of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis in the Book of Mormon who preferred to die rather than kill anyone even in self-defense. I thought of how that determination to die rather than sin made such a difference in their ability to deal with Korihor the anti-Christ. After enduring faithfully such a physical trial as the danger of dying for their religion, anything else was a cinch to deal with! They could give a large portion of their substance to maintain the armies of the Nephites and they could give inheritances to dispossessed Zoramites without a second thought.

So it seemed to me that the Lord was giving Joseph Smith a sign of when Zion would be redeemed—it would happen when Zion becomes willing to suffer for Christ’s name and willing to lay down life and anything else. Certainly people who have and will do this can overcome all other obstacles that stand in the way of building Zion.

(Image credit - "Climate", climatex.org/.../flooding-introduction/)

Prophesying the Future

And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh. (1 Nephi 22:2)
It doesn’t have to be visions or angels. This is why we must learn to listen to the Spirit, because it makes the future known to us, even if it is a little instructive “get this done”. That get-this-done implies a future need is coming, and so it implicitly tells the future.

One day this week I read my scripture after breakfast as I usually do, and somehow I found a scripture to blog about really quickly. I got right on it and I finished unusually fast. I had the feeling that I should go shower immediately, but I shrugged it off and started checking other blogs that I like to follow regularly. Time slipped away doing this and that. All of a sudden I heard a noise from outside in the front that sounded like our sprinklers had just come on, but it sounded twice as loud as they usually do. I was puzzled by this and went to go check. Imagine my dismay when I discovered an exposed PVC pipe of our sprinkler system had ruptured its glue and water was spraying all over the house and the postage stamp yard. The shut-off valve was right there and I yanked it closed. But now the house was without water. And I was in my pajamas and still not showered. At 11:30 AM. (I was a lazy bum that day.)

How nice that we had about 9 gallons of emergency water stored. At least I could brush my teeth… (No, it doesn’t take 9 gallons of water for me to scrub my pearly whites..)

That silent suggestion to go shower quickly was a manifestation of the Spirit of the Lord prophesying of things shortly to come in my life. Had I been willing to listen I would have felt more secure in the face of this minor disaster and less embarrassed at my own indolence.

This is the same Spirit that is whispering to the prophet and apostles to speak so much to us about strengthening our families. Will we listen?
Saturday, August 16, 2008 0 comments

What is the bottomless pit?


2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. (Revelation 20:2-3)
What is this bottomless pit? Can you imagine falling into a bottomless pit? Falling..

down…

down…

down…

down..

down..

down…

down…

down..

down..

down…

down…

down..

down..

And never stopping?

I imagine something like at the beginning of the movie “Enchanted” when the girl falls into the well that just keeps going and going and going…

Imagine falling like that and never hitting bottom! If there was a bottom, then you could hit it WHAM and then start thinking about how to get out.

You hear of drug addicts and drunkards that eventually hit bottom and decide that they are going to start climbing out of the pit they have fallen into. Hitting bottom is about deciding you have gone far enough.

But Satan’s pit is bottomless. He likes what he is doing. His spirit can’t die and he can’t experience physical pain, because he doesn’t have a body. The only way he can be frustrated is when we decide not to listen to him any more. It hurts his pride. He hates being ignored. But he doesn’t deserve our attention.

I suspect we each have our pits that we fall into—bad habits, sins, faults. When we hit bottom and decide it is time to stop, time to repent, and time to climb out of them, we take away a little more of Satan’s power, add another link to his chain, and make the world a better place.

(Image credit - "Suzanne's drawings, photos and texts" blog, suesdrawings.blogspot.com/2007/11/bottomless-...)
Friday, August 15, 2008 0 comments

Keeping Prayers Fresh

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him. (3 Nephi 13:7-8, see also Matthew 6: 7-8)
When I was trying to apply this scripture to my life, something I realized is that when we pray there are things we may find ourselves asking for over and over because we always need it, like help at work, or patience with the kids, or understanding of our schoolwork, or whatever. After a while these requests become automatic and we stop thinking about what they really mean. Some of our ordinary conversation to each other is like that already. (“How are you?” “Fine” “How’s it going?” “Good” “What’s up? “Not much”)

I think this scripture shows us that a long prayer full of the things we usually ask for isn’t more righteous. If anything, it is more boring to us and to the Lord. It’s what makes praying a drag, to have a big list of usuals to get through before we get to our real concerns.

I think this scripture is telling us to stop asking for those automatic things, because Heavenly Father knows what we need. It is possible that He gets conditioned after a while and knows exactly what is coming next in our prayer because He's heard it so many times before. What He really wants is for us to talk to Him and tell Him what we are really worried about deep down. He wants to know what our plans are and He wants to be consulted and He wants to communicate with us.
Thursday, August 14, 2008 0 comments

The Perils of Convenience

7 And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.
8 And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.
9 Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.
10 And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.
11 And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate. (Luke 23:7-11)
When I read this this morning I was struck by the fact that Herod was excited to see Jesus and that he had wanted to see him for a long time. What a disappointment he must have felt to be asking lots of questions, wanting answers, and receive silence in return!

Why did Jesus remain silent when He had the opportunity to teach a ruler who was eager to see Him and eager for answers?

His mortal ministry was over and now was the time for Him to die for all man. His time of teaching was past. If He were to open His mouth now He might be prevented from reaching from the cross.

But what of Herod’s soul? Surely Herod deserved to hear the gospel too! I read over these verses again and then I realized that Herod had already had his chance. He had heard many things about Jesus already.

It says Herod had wanted to see Jesus for a long time. Okay, so why didn’t he just go see Jesus before? Why didn’t he search Jesus out? He was rich. He was powerful. He could have cleared his schedule for a day or a week or maybe even more.. But maybe it didn’t seem convenient. All that common, ignorant rabble around all the time. Who likes to fight crowds? So instead he waited and waited and finally Jesus came to him. Ultimate convenience! As part of the course of usual business of the day he could interview Jesus at his own leisure. But unbeknownst to him, the time had changed, the window of opportunity had closed.

But maybe Herod’s interest hadn’t been the right kind. It says he hoped to see Jesus do a miracle. Sounds like he wanted an entertaining magic show more than anything else. So when he finds there will be no miracles forthcoming, he falls back on entertainment plan B—making fun of Jesus. You have to get your fun wherever you can, right?

So what do I get from this? It seems pretty clear to me that I have to go searching for truth and not wait, because there will come a time when the window of opportunity and time for searching will end. It shows me that if I wait until it is convenient, I will probably have waited too long. And it shows me that I also have to search for the right reasons. Following Christ isn’t about being entertained; it’s a matter of life and death.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 0 comments

Who’s Side Are You On? (Loyalty Check!)

I must warn you ahead of time that this post may turn out to be a rant. Ready… get set…

Two days ago my husband showed me a clip of a TV show that had been posted on hulu.com.

In this episode, this guy chronicles his efforts as a fledging villain trying to take over the world, with songs thrown in at various intervals. There was, I think two instances of profanity and two instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Otherwise, it was technically well done and emotionally cute. We see this guy taking letters from people who insult his ability to be evil and he refutes them.. in a timid, humorous way that implies, “Come on, I’m still learning the ropes here; give a guy a break!” We find out his nemesis is a certain Captain Hammer. And along the way he sings a song about the girl he has a crush on at the laundromat, and his yearning succeeds in building more sympathy for his plight. (Viewer gut reaction: Poor, unnoticed, lovelorn villain!) Then he gets a letter from a super villain who is considering his application to join his.. I don’t know.. villain posse? There is much excitement. He decides he has to pull off a heist of some sort to help his application stand out.

So he plans to rob an armored car with an elaborate apparatus that allows him to take control of the vehicle and drive it by remote control. Right as he is beginning to steal it, his love interest comes up and wants him to sign a petition to help her in her efforts with a volunteer nonprofit of some sort. (Viewer gut reaction: Put down the remote, you idiot!) His attention is torn, and rather than listen to her fully, he tries to do both car controlling and listening at the same time. And of course fails at both. Then Captain Hammer shows up—a really huge buff guy with mounds of confidence—and smashes the controlling device on the armored car. (Viewer gut reaction: How annoying! This hero is butting in right when and where he is not wanted!!) This causes the car’s steering to go haywire so that it heads straight for the girl. Captain Hammer saves the girl and villain looks on in chagrin and poignant envy as Captain Hammer and girl sing to each other with that “I’m yours” look in their eyes. (Viewer gut reaction: How annoying! Hero is stealing the girl from the villain!)

As I started watching this show, I was a little disturbed at how the story line and presentation and point of view was implicitly asking me to look at villainy as a funny thing, and how it was asking me to be amused as someone’s efforts to become a super villain. But hey, who hasn’t joked about taking over the world at some point? It’s a favorite geek fantasy. I made an effort to suspend my discomfort and get into it a little more.

Seeing the song about the love interest made me more sympathetic. Who hasn’t had a major crush on someone who doesn’t really notice them?

I was a little bothered by the efforts to pull a heist. But again, I tried to suspend my discomfort in order to get into it. I was irritated that the guy didn’t just drop his remote control in the middle of his plan and give the girl his full attention when she was talking to him.

Then when the super hero showed up, foiled the heist, saved the girl, and I found I was expected to be angry at that hero, I finally woke up to what was happening. This show expects me to be on the villain’s side and be mad at a super hero for stopping a heist and saving someone’s life and getting the girl! NO!! This is WRONG!! What I am I DOING??!! I was thoroughly depressed and irritated at the show and myself for being taken in.

Why was my reaction so strong? Because I suddenly saw the super hero as a type and shadow of Christ, who would suddenly appear right when least expected to stop the evil and save the innocent and punish the guilty. My point of view had been messed up in this show by degrees as I gradually consented to suspend my moral abhorrence for what was wrong in order to be entertained by what I was watching. What if I saw so many shows with a similar twisted point of view to the extent that I sympathized more with people who did wrong things and no longer sympathized with people who did good things and instead detested them? What if when Christ comes I find myself on the wrong side?

The issue of point of view is an interesting one. Filmmakers and authors and photographers know it is possible to totally change the feeling of a work simply by changing the point of view.

But they don’t do this just for the sake of art. They also do it to sell their work, and in order to distinguish themselves they are always looking for novelty, a new approach. But what kind of art is this that by giving the bad guy more character development and screen time makes the bad guy into the object of our sympathy and the good guy into the object of our contempt? Are we supposed to believe the subsequent implication that good and bad depends only upon our point of view?
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
The Book of Mormon gives us a nice example of a people who had this brand of moral relativism.
And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren. (Mosiah 24:7, emphasis added)
“Do whatever you want, just don’t do it to me, my family, and friends.” That was their attitude. They were into making money. Who doesn't enjoy making money? They wanted to be great. Who doesn't want to become great? They had a good secular education, cunning in the wisdom of the world. Who doesn't want to be educated and smart? They were very much like us.. except they also delighted in all kinds of wickedness. Unless it affected the fam and the buddies. (That villain in the show was the same way. He had hopes. He had dreams. He was trying to get ahead and become great. He loved somebody. But... he was doing all the wrong things.)

So watch how the Lamanite attitude plays out.
35 Therefore they did not fear Ammon, for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure, for they knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands; neither did they know anything concerning the Lord; therefore they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king.
36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him. (Alma 17:35-36)
These verses show something contradictory. How can the Lamanites delight in the destruction of their brethren and then be angry because of the slain of their brethren? Point of view. They liked killing other people, but they got terribly angry if others did the same thing to them, and they never stopped to consider the idea that what might be wrong for someone else to do to them might be wrong for them to do to someone else too. So of course they don’t think that Ammon is right to keep them from stealing the king’s flocks. They don’t see anything wrong with stealing when they are the ones doing it.

And those robbers weren’t the only ones that had this point of view. King Lamoni had it too, though he was on a different side from the plunderers of his flocks.
Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants; (Alma 18:5)
Right and wrong suddenly has become not just a point of view, but the reality presided over by the higher moral authority.

I have to give Ammon a lot of credit for seeing beyond the point of view of being a servant and the loyalties implied by that role. He was firmly committed to doing the right thing by following the Lord, whether it was what the king or the servants or anyone else wanted.
I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do. (Alma 18:17, emphasis added)
Ammon, though he would seem to be soundly on the king’s side because of his protection of the king’s flocks, expressed that he reserved the right to refuse to do something that he did not think was right. We can certainly imagine that if the king ordered his shepherds to go plunder other flocks and ordered Ammon to use his great power to help, Ammon would certainly have taken a stand against it and we would have had a different story in the Book of Mormon, but one no less miraculous and instrumental in mass conversions.

Well, this post is winding down and I can feel digression fomenting, so I guess I will end by saying that I have learned from my experience that I must guard my loyalties just like anything else. I want to be on the Lord’s side. I want to be fully in harmony with His commandments. I want to see things as the Lord sees. No more am I going to allow myself to suspend my scruples in order to “get into” something. Good things don’t make you check your moral beliefs at the door, they reinforce them and improve them.
Monday, August 11, 2008 0 comments

How do we strengthen our families?

This weekend I found a copy of the biography of Ezra Taft Benson and as I read through it I was very much impressed by how aware he was of the current threats to the country and to the church. He was preaching strongly for patriotism and freedom as communism was becoming a greater threat. He was preaching the principles of chastity and fidelity as the “sexual revolution” was coming on.

What are the prophets telling us today? They are telling us to strengthen our families.

What is keeping us from strengthening our families? I don’t know about you, but for me, the thing that makes this counsel difficult is that it is very general and vague. How do I strengthen my family? Okay, yes, family scripture study, family prayer, and family home evening, but what else?

I suspect that the vagueness of this counsel is actually a blessing and a vote of confidence, because it assumes in its very generality that we are smart enough to figure things out for ourselves. It is an invitation to study the situation out for ourselves and discover and experiment upon various gospel principles to find out how they can apply to a family organization. We have “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, we have the scriptures, and perhaps if we read them with reference to strengthening our families, we can figure some things out.

So here’s a little contribution to that end:
And in their weakest fortifications he did place the greater number of men; and thus he did fortify and strengthen the land which was possessed by the Nephites. (Alma 48:9)
Do we know where our family’s weakest point is? What causes the most quarreling and contention? It seems that that would be the problem that needs the most attention, the most man-power.

I remember when I was growing up our family had a lot of trouble with fighting and arguing. It would escalate into blows and then of course we would run to mom for justice. Mom put a lot of effort into settling our conflicts. She had us act out how we should apologize to each other and she preached to us about communicating hurt and not retaliating. I can’t even count the number of times that we had family home evening lessons and activities on the principle of “teamwork”. It took us years and years for her message to sink in. We still forget it on occasion. But we are much better off than we would be if she hadn’t put so much effort and time into this weak point.

Let’s see what else Captain Moroni did.
Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land. (Alma 48:8)
He did a lot of stuff here.
  • He strengthened the Nephite armies.
  • He made places of resort. (For the armies or for the civilians? Probably both.)
  • He put up banks to enclose his armies.
  • He put up walls of stone to encircle the cities
  • He put up walls around all the land.
How does this apply to strengthening our families? Well, it seems that if armies protect cities, parents protect families. Just like armies have to be strong, parents also have to be strong. How can parents strengthen themselves? (Please discuss in the comment section!)

I notice that Moroni prepared places of resort. I think of these as places of temporary escape when things get to be a little too much. Going the temple is a great way to escape for a while. I remember that my parents also went on dates every Friday night while I was growing up. Sometimes they went to the temple for their date, other times they went out to eat. I think these resorts help regroup strength and help us see things more clearly, because the pressure is off for a while. Are there any other resorts that parents have? (Please discuss!)

Moroni put up walls on multiple fronts. He walled his armies, he walled the cities, he put a wall around the whole land. This was to protect them so that the enemy couldn’t come and destroy whenever it wanted to.

One way that we can put up walls in our families is by protecting them from the influence of evil in the media. When I was growing up, my parents realized that they had to protect us, because we would parrot our favorite lines from commercials endlessly at the dinner table. They knew that if commercials were getting stuck in our minds with all that repetition, then bad messages were getting stuck there too, even if it wasn't coming out at the dinner table. I remember they got "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", but when we started karate-chopping each other in imitation of the martial arts we saw glorified in that movie, Mom and Dad took it away. So they provided us with movies, but only ones that they wouldn’t mind being repeated over and over. They were pretty selective. We hardly ever saw any PG-13 movies.

I admit that we kids were pretty interested in what was on cable TV. We were curious. What is this MTV that friends are talking about? What's on Nickelodeon? What is this Judge Judy? What do soap operas show? In order to fortify our home against what we might watch when they weren’t home, my parents got a lock that was supposed to prevent us from watching cable unless they unlocked it. Unfortunately, we didn’t know what was good for us, and we figured out how to break the lock. Eventually my parents got wise to this and cancelled cable TV completely. I remember I was relieved somehow when they did this. Maybe it was because I was glad the temptation was taken away.

Another way that my parents fortified us was by not allowing us to have TVs in our bedroom. I remember when my brother Cameron bought a small TV with his own money. Mom made him take it back. I think she was limiting the number of entrances for media in our home and making sure there weren’t any “secret passages” into people’s rooms for it to enter. She wanted everything public and above-board and no sneaking around.

Since then, things have changed a lot. Now there are mp3 players that play video and there are computers and websites that broadcast TV and cell phones and so on. It is a challenge but no less of a responsibility for parents to decide what devices they will and will not allow in their homes and how to control the use of those devices When we establish rules on multiple fronts we reduce the likelihood that the enemy will be able to get through.

Another kind of wall that I think parents could build for their children is by teaching them how to choose clean media and how to be cautious. This in effect builds the wall inside them. When I was learning to be cautious I learned the following:

The first objective is to be clean, and the second objective is to be entertained. Keeping these priorities in order makes things easier. Purity first, entertainment second.

To find safe books, go where the safe books are. Books in the kids section and young adult section are (or should be) a little more safe than the adult section. This nothing to be ashamed of. I have learned that when I am looking for entertainment, just about everything labeled “adult” is something I don't want.

Older stuff is often safer than newer stuff. Authors, film studios, musicians, and video game creators have been “pushing the envelope” since the beginning, so go back to when standards were higher. (However, you have to be careful because at one time PG movies were equivalent to our PG-13) Go back 50 to 100 years if you have to.

Avoid the appearance of evil. If you see something in a movie trailer that looks like it might be something terribly unsavory, it probably will be. Don’t risk it. Don’t see the movie. It is better to be clean than to satisfy your curiosity and see or hear something you shouldn’t. I’ve never been disappointed by movies I didn’t see.

Ask someone you trust who has similar standards to yours. Look out for the red flag of “It wasn’t that bad; there was just this one part.” Look for reviews and websites that tell if there is profanity, violence, sexual content, and drug or alcohol use depicted.

Analyze the message and the mood of music. Is it uplifting? Or does it degrade and depress? Does it lead to do good? Or does it minimize the seriousness of sin and make evil appear good? We have enough icky stuff forced on us from the outside. Why would we want to choose more icky stuff for our lives?

Most importantly, teach your children how to respond to their peers and keep their standards. Every one of them will need to get used to being left out of a conversation while a movie is discussed that they haven’t seen. (I noticed that this was happening to me when I was in 4th grade and my classmates were talking about "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". I made the conscious decision to not allow myself to feel left out and forlorn. Instead, I allowed it to be a sort of substitute entertainment.) Every one of them will have to learn how to explain their standards to others and suggest alternatives when they are invited to participate in entertainment that isn’t appropriate. I had to learn to do this and I think the earlier any of us learn it, the better off we will be.

How are you teaching your children to use the computer? How are you fortifying them against the dangers on the internet? Please discuss!
Friday, August 8, 2008 0 comments

Excellent outside essays

Brant Gardner wrote a book "A Theology: Principles of Progress", in which He examines LDS theology in an attempt to understand connections and implications. The topic is familiar--the plan of salvation-- but his treatment seems to provide fresh insights. One particular chapter that I particularly enjoyed, identified with, and highly recommend is "Joy and the Need for a Physical Body" here.

For anyone who has wondered about mainstream Christianity's beliefs about "the rapture", here is a nice little explanation and illumination from Andrew Miller at his blog "Strong Reasons".

Scared by a Mad Herd of Pigs and a Miracle?


26 And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee.
27 And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.
28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.
29 (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)
30 And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him.
31 And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.
32 And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them.
33 Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.
34 When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country.
35 Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
36 They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed.
37 Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.
38 Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying,
39 Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
40 And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him. (Luke 8:26-40)
I don’t know about you, but there were a few things that would puzzle me about this story. I couldn’t understand why the legion of devils wanted to go into the pigs and why Jesus let them. He must have known that the devils would drive the pigs mad like they had driven the man. Was Jesus approving the destruction of people’s property?

Something else I wondered at was how the townspeople, after finding the pigs destroyed and seeing that a man was healed and finding out Jesus was the cause, would want Jesus to leave instead of stay! Hel-LOH! A miracle has occurred, a man has been healed, and you want the healer to go away?! What is this?!

I finally made some progress in understanding these things when I happened to remember that according to the Law of Moses, pigs were an unclean animal, something they were forbidden from eating.
7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you. (Leviticus 11:7-8)
Okay, if the Israelites were forbidden from eating pork or even touching a pig’s dead body.. what was this city doing with a herd of pigs? Are these Israelites or are these Gentiles? If they were Gentiles, then Jesus would not have gone there, because he was sent to preach to Israel and not to the Gentiles (see Matthew 15:24-26). These were Israelites, but they certainly weren’t keeping the pig part of the Law of Moses. Some person or persons in that town had a lively pig business going, with hired servants and everything.

So why did the devils ask Jesus to let them go into the swine? The devils were asking permission to destroy what they and Jesus both knew should be destroyed anyway, according to the Law of Moses. Here we see a hint of the type of judgment Christ could and would render. It may have appeared that He had consented to the destruction of someone else’s property, but really, everything on earth belonged to Him and as the Lord of all, He was cleansing the stewardship of someone who should have been serving Him and should have known better.

So why were the townspeople so freaked out? I bet it was because they were fully aware that they fully deserved to have that herd of pigs destroyed, according to the Law of Moses. I also bet you that they had something like this going through their minds: If He got uptight about something like a few pigs, what is He going to do when He sees what I have at home?! Oh NO!! Odds are that what Jesus would have seen in town would be far, far worse of an infraction on the Law of Moses than a herd of pigs. They asked Him to leave, because they were spiritually unready to receive Him. So He left.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to the story. Jesus told the healed man to tell everyone in the city what great things the Lord had done for him, and evidently the man obeyed. I suspect that being shaken out of their complacency by a sudden judgment and being told of the potential for mercy and salvation had a good effect upon the town. They must have made some major changes in their lives, because the next time Jesus came by, the people received Him gladly and were even anxiously waiting His coming.

So what can we learn from this? If Christ was offended by what people were eating and how people were making their living, then He cares about the choices we make today.
44 For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing [or sin] that creepeth upon the earth.
45 For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
46 This is the law….:
47 To make a difference between the unclean and the clean... (Leviticus 11:44-47, brackets are mine)
Christ will come to cleanse the world of sin. We don’t know when, we just know He is coming. If He let a herd of pigs be drowned, what will He do with violent and immoral video games, movies, and music? What will he do with obscenity and pornography? Now is the time to prepare, by casting out of our lives anything that could displease Christ in the least. Go through your books, your music, your movies, your magazines, your games. Weed out the unclean from the clean, even those about which you question. In writing this, I have gone through my books that I have collected over the years and pulled out about five or six to get rid of, ones that I could perhaps convince myself were okay, but which I would not want to risk causing my Savior to frown if He were to read them.

I’m sure that many of us do not want to be bothered with removing from our lives things that we like, the things that we have chosen, the things that we have acquired a certain taste for, even if we happen to realize that they aren’t to up to the Lord’s standard. It is not surprising. We are something like the man possessed of the devils, who cried out to Jesus not to torment him after Jesus told the devils to leave and before the devils left. Before Jesus came the man was content to be as he was, even in his deplorable unclothed, homeless, and uncivilized state. The idea that he should be something better was annoying and tormenting to him, but once the devils left, he wanted to behave, be clothed, and be reasonable, to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear Him. He even wanted to follow Him.

This change of mind is likewise available to all of us when we call upon the Lord to help us want only what is right. I know this is true, because I have asked for it many times and have received a new mind, one more in line with Christ. With this new mind, we will find it easier to let go of all things that would offend, and prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming.

(Image credit - "Mike the Mad Biologist" blog, http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2007/11/more_about_pigs_and_mrsa.php)
Thursday, August 7, 2008 3 comments

Make this stone into bread...

1 And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
2 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.
3 And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.
4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. (Luke 4:1-4)
This is one of those episodes that we read over really quick and we assume that we know exactly what it means. “Duh! Man needs more than food to live! Man needs the word of God! Okay, next!”

Today, I ran across this incident in my reading and I noticed something that didn’t quite make sense to me. Christ is hungry after fasting 40 days. (it just boggles my mind that someone could fast for that long!) The devil is quick to offer a solution—“You’re the Son of God; just make some stones into bread!” I didn’t get why Christ resists this temptation by saying that He needs something else—the word of God--to live too. As if He says, "Yeah, so what? I'd rather read my scriptures right now."

I'm thinking, "Yes, you need the word of God, but right now, you are physically hungry!! How is the word of God going to solve that?! You might DIE!! What good is a Savior that lets Himself die of hunger!?"

A-ha! But if Christ is really the offspring of God and a mortal woman, then He won’t die…unless He decides it is time. No one could take His life from Him without His consent, no physical privation or stress could make His spirit leave that tabernacle unless He agreed to go. He had complete freedom to decide when and where and under what circumstances He would give up the ghost. (If He didn’t, how could His death be a voluntary sacrifice?)

How would Christ know when it was time to die? He had to have guidance about this, because so much depended upon it. He got that guidance from the word of God, both through personal revelation and the prophecies recorded in the scriptures. He lived by the word of God.

So when His stomach told Him that He was going to die if He didn’t eat immediately, and the temptation to change rocks to food came, because Christ knew His own nature and destiny and was committed to it, He knew being hungry wouldn’t kill Him. So, if hunger couldn’t kill Him, the body could wait a little longer for Him to get some bread the right way.

So what does this mean for us today? I consider this story of Christ valuable, because it shows that even a very urgent biological need can be put off a little while longer. It shows me that we can ignore the alarms of our biological clocks and live by the Lord’s schedule. We can refrain from sexual intimacy until He says it is right, and the Lord says it is right between a man and a woman lawfully married. We don’t have to eat all the time when we are hungry. If the Lord asks us to wait, it is for our good.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008 0 comments

What Isaiah has to say about the Celestial Kingdom - part 3

This section is on the condition of the earth, sun, and moon.
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make,
shall remain before me, saith the LORD,
so shall your seed and your name remain.
(Isaiah 66:22)
New heavens and the new earth, ones that will remain afterwards. Quite an amazing prospect. In what way must they be renewed? It must die and be resurrected just like us to a celestial glory. “And the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth. For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:23-24).
And one cried unto another, and said,
Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.
(Isaiah 6:3)
"the whole earth is full of his glory" – This shows us that the whole earth will be glorified with the same glory and brightness the Lord has, which Joseph Smith described as being “above the brightness of the sun” (Joseph Smith History 1:16). We’re going to live in devouring fire in the celestial kingdom. “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God” (Revelation 15:2).

Something that always puzzled me was that the celestial kingdom is described as a sea of glass and fire and that to dwell with God is to dwell with everlasting burnings, while hell is described as a sea of fire and brimstone. It seems that our destination is fire no matter which way we go. What is the difference between these two fires? I think one is the fire of guilt and humiliation and buffetings of Satan, while the other is the enlivening and joyful fire of the Holy Spirit. To the souls in hell, the light of truth testifying that their deeds were evil is torture, and to the souls in heaven, the light of truth testifying that their deeds were righteous brings joy.

Isaiah has some fascinating things to say about the sun and the moon and their light levels.
Then the moon shall be confounded,
and the sun ashamed,
when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion,
and in Jerusalem,
and before his ancients gloriously.
(Isaiah 24:23)
19 The sun shall be no more thy light by day;
neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee:
but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light,
and thy God thy glory.
20 Thy sun shall no more go down;
neither shall thy moon withdraw itself:
for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light,
and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
(Isaiah 60:19-20)
Both these scriptures use the lights of the sun and moon to teach the principle that the Lord will be our everlasting light and guide and never be hidden from us again. It will be as if the sun never went down and as if the moon never waned in the sky, yet even though the sun and the moon will be always there, we won’t need it, because the Lord’s blazing presence will be here, the earth will have celestial glory of its own, and resurrected beings will be shining about as well. You and I hope to be part of that group!

Since Isaiah tends to prophesy both spiritual things and temporal things, we must also consider this scripture literally in terms of astronomy. It seems to me that if the sun never goes down, then a day will be much, much longer than 24 hours. What about the night side of the earth? Perhaps that side will be lit just as brightly as daytime by a glorified full moon. (The nightside is where the moon has to stay for it to never wax or wane but remain full all the time.)

I thought that last bit was speculation, but then I found this scripture:
Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun,
and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold,
as the light of seven days,
in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people,
and healeth the stroke of their wound.
(Isaiah 30:26)
This seems to say to me that on the “night side” of the earth the moon is going to be just as bright as the sun is now, and that on the “day side” of the earth the sun will be many times brighter than it is now.

"in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound" – This tells us when this is going to happen, but we have to do some serious thinking about it, because there can be multiple fulfillments of Isaiah’s prophecies and they can be fulfilled both temporally and spiritually. The first, most plain reading seems to say that it will be when Christ heals the wounds of His people. This could be the day of Resurrection, when all our bodies are healed from death. It could also be when Christ comes again and heals the spiritual wounds of His people—doubt, feeling rejected, feeling alone and persecuted, etc.— that have been inflicted upon them by the unbelievers. Finally, it can refer to healing the largest wound of all—spiritual death—by bringing us back into the presence of our Father in Heaven into the celestial kingdom, never again to be separated.

What Isaiah has to say about the Celestial Kingdom - part 2

He will swallow up death in victory;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces;
and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth:
for the LORD hath spoken it.
(Isaiah 25:8)
"He will swallow up death in victory" – How do you conquer death? How do you swallow up death in victory? Some people think that the way to conquer death is to never die, but they are wrong. For Christ to conquer death, He couldn’t run away from it, otherwise that would just have been avoidance, and there would always be the suspicion that death would still win in the end. For Christ to conquer death, He had to face it, choose to submit to it, and then come back with a glorified body un-killable. And not only that, He had to have power to bring other people un-killably back too. And that’s what He did. This is the biggest part of the healing that will take place, and it is the Resurrection not just of Christ, but of everyone.
11 He shall see the travail of his soul,
and shall be satisfied:

by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;
for he shall bear their iniquities
.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong
;
because he hath poured out his soul unto death:
and he was numbered with the transgressors;

and he bare the sin of many,

and made intercession for the transgressors.

(Isaiah 53: 11-12)
I suspect that these verses have the cause and effect being mixed out of order, so I colored the text to highlight the ideas that were similar, with red being the cause and blue being the effect.

"because he hath poured out his soul unto death" – First, this testifies of Christ and how He became worthy of celestial glory. He poured out his soul in service and teaching and in suffering for our sins. He poured out His soul to the very end of His life and never held back.

This is what makes us worthy of celestial glory too after repenting of all our sins. It tells us that we have to “pour out our souls unto death”, meaning we have to be faithful to the very end. Some of us will have to pour out our souls to death by dying as martyrs for our testimony, as the world becomes more wicked and intolerant of righteousness. Others of us will have to pour out our souls in a long life dedicated to the service of God. Others of us will suffer disease and accident and pour out our souls in the effort to remain cheerful and hopeful to the end. Some of us will be poor and pour out our souls in the daily effort to provide for our families. Others of us will be well off and pour out our souls to the end by being generous to those less fortunate. There are many ways it is possible to do it, but all of us must faithfully pour out our souls unto death.

"He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" - These verses testify of Christ looking back at the good things He did during His life—ministry, atonement, crucifixion—and being satisfied with how He did, but it will also be true of us, if we have faithfully poured out our souls unto death. We will also be able to look back at all the good things we did during life and feel satisfied about it.

It is hard for us to realize just how good our memory will be of everything we did during life. My brother Stuart told me something that really made it clear how well we will remember: The only part of time that we see and know perfectly while in mortality is “now”. The past we only see selectively, based upon a few things that stuck out to us. So I figure our mortal brains can only recall very little, but our spirit remembers everything. When we die, our spirit will have access to every little memory, and it will all be as clear as “now” is for us today. We will be able to see our struggles with perfect clarity and relive them with satisfaction. (If we have not repented of our sins, we will see those just as clearly too, and those memories will be terribly painful.)

"Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong" - We will all then divide the celestial reward—all the Father hath—as joint heirs with Christ, if we have been one of the “great” and “strong” who have been valiant all during our lives.

What Isaiah has to say about the Celestial Kingdom -part 1

For since the beginning of the world
men have not heard,
nor perceived by the ear,
neither hath the eye seen,
O God, beside thee,
what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
(Isaiah 64:4)
According to this scripture it seems that nobody has a clue of what heaven or the celestial kingdom will be like, without Heavenly Father’s help. It is a good thing we have section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants to describe the three degrees of glory a little bit and the requirements for each one, otherwise we would terribly ignorant.

I once tried really hard to imagine what heaven would be like, and I couldn’t quite picture it. I got this very fuzzy picture of bliss, but what little I could imagine made me excited enough that I wanted very badly to prepare for it.

Scriptures about heaven or the Millennium or the Celestial kingdom are scattered all over Isaiah, so I scoured through and collected them all and sorted them to try and get a more definite picture of just what it is that we are working toward, as Isaiah prophesied, “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off” (Isaiah 33:14-15). This is so that you’ll also want to prepare yourself for it, even though it seems like it is forever away.

A warning—you may not like some of what Isaiah says. Why? What’s not to like? C. S. Lewis sums it up nicely:
Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p80)
I can't say that in my study I caught everything, but I tried to gather a number of different aspects together, which I plan to post. Also, sometimes it was hard to tell what things could be talking about the Celestial Kingdom and what things were talking about the Millennium. I did the best I could, and if you have scriptures that clear anything up, feel free to add in a comment.
Monday, August 4, 2008 1 comments

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

I’m continually looking for new ways to understand phrases in the scriptures and one that has always eluded me was “prepare ye the way of the Lord”. My question has always been, “The Lord is pretty powerful; why does He need us to prepare the way?” The main thing I always thought of was of John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ.

Thanks to Desert Highway Ministries, I found a fascinating insight here.

So the general gist that I get is that there are obstacles between us and the Lord that keep Him from coming closer to us. Those obstacles are our sins, and in spite of all He wants to do for us, He can’t get closer until those obstacles are removed through our repentance. How hard are we making it for God to get to us? What obstacles are you putting in His path? (I’ve made a mental list of the obstacles I have to get rid of.)
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low;
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough places plain:
(Isaiah 40:3-4)
In verse four, we are given a list of various obstacles that need removal.

“Every valley shall be exalted” – Certainly valleys could symbolize depression. Sometimes I get into a blue funk just because I can. Fortunately, I know how to get out. (see the chapter of my book on obtaining joy here) For others with depression from chemical imbalances, it may require professional intervention and medication. Escaping depression allows us to experience the joy that the Lord wants for us.

“every mountain and hill shall be made low” – I feel that this is talking about how we need to remove pride from our lives. I have troubles with pride often and I’ve found counting my blessings and remembering how the Lord has blessed me humbles me. Removing pride prepares us to receive the greater truths that He wants to teach us.

“and the crooked shall be made straight” – I feel that this is talking about how crime is an obstacle that we need to remove. Dishonesty of any kind, crooked dealings certainly estrange us from God. Removing crookedness gives us confidence.

“and the rough places plain” – I think this could be talking about maybe two different things. It could be referring to the abrasive parts of our personalities and how we need to put some polish on our social skills and learn how to smooth things over. It could also talk about teaching styles and changing from an attitude of trying to make it hard for people to learn something (like weed-out classes) to trying make ideas as clear as possible. I think this prepares us with charity.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
(Isaiah 40:5)
Here is the promise we are given about what will happen when we have removed those obstacles between us and God. His glory will be revealed to us. I take that to mean both spiritual and literal. Spiritually, we will understand better what the Lord is like, because we will have made ourselves more like Him. And literally, as we remove the obstacles, sooner or later He will visit us and we will see Him face to face.