Sunday, February 22, 2009 4 comments

Strengthening the Family - Building Loyalty

Today I find myself thinking about the topic of strengthening the family. I have often wondered just what is encompassed by this. What principles go into this and how can we implement them?

One thing that seems to come to my mind is that improving family loyalty can help strengthen a family. When family members are more interested in the success of family life than in the competing outside concerns that tug at them, then there is loyalty. Also, when family members stick up for each other, then there is loyalty.

When I was taking a World Politics class, I thought it was interesting that there was a section of the book that talked about how countries can lose the loyalty and confidence of their citizens when the leadership and government has demonstrated consistent corruption and abuse of power. In the same way, family members can also lose confidence in their families when moral corruption and abuse of power is rife. From this we see that in order to elicit loyalty, a family must be righteous, must be living the gospel of Christ.

I’m sure that there are many different ways of teaching family loyalty, and I hope people will comment and tell how they learned family loyalty growing up. I will try to share some things that helped build my loyalty to my family. There’s really not one single thing that does the trick; rather it is by many small and simple things.

Giving each other praise. I remember one time that I was on a walk with my dad and he told me that my mother was a scriptorian. (She was a seminary teacher for the ward at the time.) Pointing out my mother’s skill with the scriptures not only built in me the desire to become like that myself, but my father’s respect for my mother taught me respect for my mother. I also gained additional respect for my father and his discernment. This helped build my loyalty to both of them.

Another example. Some of the most precious compliments that I’ve gotten while growing up were ones from my siblings. Brothers and sisters can be some of the most critical people in the world, so when they say something positive about you, you had better believe them. When my brother Cameron (20 months younger than me) told me I looked nice as we were getting ready to go to church, I felt like I had won some sort of beauty contest.

Express faith in the future of the family. I can remember when my siblings and I would get into fights, while she was trying to settle everything down, my mom would occasionally say to us something like, “I’m doing this because I want you to be able to be friends with each other. Someday your brothers and sisters will be your best friends, and that is what I’m working toward.” I remember marveling at that. Because my mom said it would happen, I trusted her, even though I didn’t see how it could happen. Today I feel that is a reality. I suppose that in a way, when my mom was expressing faith in the future of our relationships, she was also prophesying that future.

My mom wrote a family song for us to sing. She used the tune “Chopsticks” and wrote lyrics to it.
Who are my favorite friends on whom my joy depends
They come in every size, my family, that’s the guys.
Walkers are everywhere, bristling with savoir faire
Brothers and sisters here; better look out!

Michaela, Cameron, Spencer, Stuart, Tennille, and Nelson and don’t forget Trent
Then Dad and Mom, that’s George and Kimella, wondering just what they did.

Come what the weather, we’ll all stick together
In any endeavor we won’t give up ever
We try to do what’s right from morning to the night
It helps us get along to sing this song!

The Walkers shout, “We’re glad about the way we care and the way we share.
We’ve told you that; we’re where it’s at—a forever family!”

Not many families had a family song, so we felt like we were special to have one that told people how neat our family was. We sang this song for years. Mom or dad would periodically request it as the opening or closing song for Family Home Evening. We added a punctuating raspberry after each chorus. (Dad was the first one who did it, I’ll have you know.)

I asked my mom recently what gave her the idea of making a family song. She said that she heard it somewhere and it seemed to her like a good idea, because at the time she wrote it, we were not what the song said and she wanted to indoctrinate us that this is what we were going to be. She was expressing her faith in the future of our family through this song.

Do you have anything to share about how you or your parents helped build family loyalty?
Saturday, February 21, 2009 0 comments

Write Your Own Blessings Ahead Of Time

I happened to run across this great article that really gave me something to think about--
"You Can Write Your Blessings--If You Do It Right".

Here is the first paragraph:
Heber C. Kimball made an extraordinary invitation: “I have said often, you may write blessings for yourselves and insert every good thing you can think of, and it will all come to pass on your heads, if you do right.” (From an address in the Old Tabernacle, August 1853.)

(Thanks, Mona, for pointing this article out on your blog!)

'Scuse me, I have some serious writing to do...

Walls of Salvation, Gates of Praise


Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:18)
The bit about calling our walls Salvation and our gates Praise sounds really pretty, but I think Isaiah is trying to teach us a spiritual lesson here.

Just like walls surrounding a city keep the enemy out, when we have repented of our sins and obtained the change of heart through Christ’s Atonement so that we have no more desire to evil, the abhorrence of evil becomes a barrier between us and sin that keeps us safe from it. It is a wall made of salvation.

Once we have this defensive wall against sin, how do we decide to let things into our lives? A walled city can decide to not let anything or anyone into the city unless it or they have been praised as something or someone good. In this way, the requirement of praise can be like a filtering gate. We seek after things that are praiseworthy. And of course it has to be praised by someone we trust.

So how effective are these defenses? We find out in the Book of Mormon:
3 Behold, I said that the city of Ammonihah had been rebuilt. I say unto you, yea, that it was in part rebuilt; and because the Lamanites had destroyed it once because of the iniquity of the people, they supposed that it would again become an easy prey for them.
4 But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance.
5 Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security. (Alma 49:3-5)
Image credit: Best of Edinburgh, http://www.bestofedinburgh.com/Page.asp?Title=Edinburgh+Castle&Section=25&Page=1.
Friday, February 20, 2009 1 comments

Beware of Anger

6 And now, as the Amalekites were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were, in and of themselves, therefore, Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites.
7 Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he might bring them into subjection to the accomplishment of his designs.
8 For behold, his designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage. (Alma 43-5-8)
In the verse 7 above, Zerahemnah wanted to preserve the Lamanites’ hatred towards the Nephites in order to bring the Lamanites into subjection so that they would do what he wanted them to do. He wanted to get the Lamanites mad at the Nephites so that they would fight the Nephites and bring them into bondage.

What this teaches me is that I need to watch out for people who have an angry disposition. It is really hard for an angry person to keep from venting their anger and trying make other people just as angry. Have you ever seen someone try to stir other people up to anger? I’ve seen it a lot. There is a recitation of injustice and unfairness and normal avenues of conflict resolution are portrayed as ineffective or insufficient. (In the Lamanites’ case, no doubt violence was called for at this stage.)

I’ll tell you a few common times I’ve noticed that people are stirred up to anger. How about feminist criticism? In literature, feminist criticism is a way of viewing the literature and pointing out how women were treated or portrayed. Often it turns into a recital of the oppressions against women, and anger is aroused.

Or how about Native American studies? Often it turns into a tale of the oppression and subjection of native peoples that recited and it arouses anger. My husband and I went to the Heard Museum in Phoenix a few years ago and along with the displays of pottery and dress and crafts there was a lot said about how badly they were treated.

Personally, I think this kind of thing is useless. You can’t seek redress from characters in a book. And what’s the point of getting mad at people who are dead and gone? It could be argued that it is important to recite the oppressions of the past to realize the blessings of the present, and that is a valid thing to do. But I hardly ever see people doing this in academia.

At one point in the Book of Mormon, Alma tells his son Helaman to remember the captivity of his fathers.
2 I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.
3 And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day. (Alma 36:2-3)
However, I must point out that Alma does not tell Helaman to remember the captivity of his fathers in order to make him angry, but to point out that it was God that delivered them and that God would deliver him too if he kept the commandments. The offenses of the past were used as a lesson to provoke gratitude for the present and teach good behavior. I wish there was more of this in school.

I seem to have gotten off the topic, a little bit, but maybe that’s okay here. My point is that it is important to notice when someone is trying to make us angry at other people so that we can keep our heads and act, instead of just reacting. Often we may feel that if we don’t get angry, then something is wrong with us, but in these cases it is far better to be rational than rash, because it is too easy to overreact. I’ve always found fact-finding to be a great way of cooling down. And if that doesn’t work, prayer does. We can overcome the past with gratitude for the present and teaching positive lessons.
Friday, February 13, 2009 1 comments

Of Ants and Moths and False Gods

Today my husband told me about something interesting he heard on the podcast “This Week in Science”. Researchers at Oxford made some interesting discoveries about the pupae of the European moth Maculina rebeli.

Somehow the pupae can make an “ant smell” that gets them accepted into ant colonies and they learn to make the same sounds as an ant queen. So the worker ants feed the moth pupae before their own young and protect them first if the colony is invaded. If there is not enough food, the ants will feed their own young to the moth pupae.

Even weirder, if the researchers placed the moth pupae with queen ants, the queen ants would attack it, but then the worker ants would defend the moth pupae and attack their own queens and separate them from the pupae.

As my husband told me about this, I found it very creepy that an interloper could divert resources to itself to such an extent by counterfeiting the status signals of the real queen.

“Yeah, kind of reminds me of false gods,” my husband said after a moment of thought.

Whoa.
Sunday, February 8, 2009 0 comments

How do we receive personal revelation?

I’ve compiled a list of scriptures that have some very helpful things to say about how to receive personal revelation.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1: 5-6)
These verses tell us several things about revelation:
• We can ask God for wisdom if we feel we lack it.
• God is a liberal giver, so He will give wisdom liberally.
• God doesn’t upbraid us when we ask him for something, meaning He doesn’t send us feelings of “Why are you asking about THAT?! That’s a stupid thing to ask about! Do you know what kind of trouble that will cause you?” (Rather, it is Satan that upbraids us for asking God.)
• When we ask God for wisdom we have to do it with faith (not wavering), with certainty that we will receive, and with the determination to act on what we are given.

I know that these things are true. I have tested it many times. Once I asked for help to fix rollup door with a messed up mechanism that would not roll up, and somehow I was able to fix it. I have asked for help with learning to play the organ and I was given wisdom little by little as I practiced. I have asked for wisdom to understand scriptures I was puzzled over, and as I studied them, ideas came to me about what they meant. I have asked for help with my schoolwork when I hit a brick wall and exhausted other options and ideas came. I have seen these things at work in my life many more times than I can count.

This scripture also inspired Joseph Smith in 1820 to pray to know what church he should join when he was confused and he was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and personally told that none of the churches were true and they only had a form (or appearance) of godliness. Joseph Smith kept asking in faith for revelation and he was given power and authority and knowledge to restore lost truth and organize a church that would manifest the power of godliness.
7 ¶ Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew. 7: 7, see also 3 Ne. 14: 7)
We are told again in this scripture that every person who asks will receive, and we are further told that if we seek, we will find.

I am convinced that when Christ said to ask and to seek, He was not repeating himself; He was pointing out two different important parts of receiving revelation. We have to ask for it, but we also have to seek for it too, meaning that the searching process is just as important as the asking process. By searching, we find out what wisdom is already out there and discover the exact extent of our own ignorance. It prepares our mind with all the knowledge and wisdom that is already available so that when we receive the revelation from God that we need, we will recognize it immediately and rejoice over how it beautifully fits in with what we already know.

The process of seeking also helps us discover what in our lives might be in error. Frequently we can’t receive further revelation on something because there is something not quite correct about our attitude and/or understanding relating to that topic and the error has to be weeded out before the truth can take its place. When I was in the middle of writing my book, frequently I would find that I was being led in a certain direction by a verse of Isaiah, but I’d hit a brick wall and struggle for a while in confusion. Eventually I figured out this was a sign that I needed to repent of something; some attitude of mine was wrong and if I didn’t get rid of it, I wouldn’t be able to understand what I wanted to know or accept it when it came. I still remember the struggle I had when I found I was getting a message from some verses that “showing off is bad”. I didn’t see anything wrong with showing off and I had to do some serious repenting and pondering before I could understand why it was wrong. Yes, seeking helps us prepare our hearts to receive, through learning and repentance.

Study is a big part of receiving revelation.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought… (Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-8)
These verses reinforce the idea that we must study things out first and then ask the Lord about it.

Now, if you were reading those verses carefully, you may have noticed that phrase “you must ask me if it be right”. There’s an “it” in there that is being asked about. This verse tells us about a kind of revelation by which the Lord confirms as correct something that we have in mind to do or something that we’re trying to discern the truth of.

It may seem odd that we are asked to study things out and get our own opinion based on the facts before we take it to the Lord for confirmation, but I see it as just another one of God’s ways to further the progress of His children toward eternal life. He wants us to exercise our minds and delve into the pros and cons of our options and think carefully about the implications and try to make the best decision possible ourselves, so that we can develop our reasoning ability and our planning ability. Once we have done this and we take our best idea to Him, asking for confirmation that it is the best idea and it is what He wants for us, when we receive that confirming revelation with a joyful burning feeling inside, we can act with true confidence and a certain amount of pleasure that we have found what God wanted us to find. It’s a very happy feeling!

What about when we have done our best to find the best option and we ask the Lord to confirm it and we feel nothing? This is when we have to trust that the Lord sees and knows something that we don’t about the option we want, something that makes it not good for us, or not good enough for us.

My most recent memorable experience with this was back in December when my husband and I were trying to find a house to buy. Based on what we wanted, we had three choices… but all of them seemed deficient in some way, but we were determined to buy and our lease was going to be up in a month. I was very confused about it and I made a chart that listed the positives and negatives of each option and my husband calculated the number of miles we would be driving to school and work each week in comparison to the place we were. We were studying it out. I didn’t feel good about any of them, but I felt under pressure to buy. I fasted and prayed about what would be best for us to buy, and I got the feeling that we needed to wait more. It wasn’t what we wanted to hear, but we are trusting the Lord sees and knows something we don’t.

Revelation comes through the scriptures.
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do….
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
(2 Ne. 32: 3,5)
This scripture is for those of us who have always wished they could be visited by an angel like so many prophets in the scriptures have been. We are told two important things about angels:
They speak by the power of the Spirit of God
They speak the words of Christ.

So, we are told, if an angel visited us, they would tell us things that we already have in the scriptures. We might as well read our scriptures, because they will tell us all things that we should do.

Now, here is something that could seem contradictory. I’ve said in a previous post that “the scriptures don’t have everything that we need to know so we need revelation”, and then here is a scripture that seems to suggest that the words of Christ will tell us everything we should do and that all the answers are in the scriptures. How do these reconcile? I will explain. All the answers are not explicitly stated in the scriptures. But when we feast on the scriptures, as we think about our questions and bring our state of mind into harmony with the Spirit of God, we will be moved upon and have ideas come to our mind about our problems. The ideas will build off the text and show us how the text relates to our problem and bring some sort of insight or solution. This is revelation. This is why we need to receive the Holy Ghost, because, as verse 5 says above, it will show us all things we should do. The Holy Ghost also speaks the words of Christ.

I have experienced this revelation through the scriptures so many times I can’t count. All of the insights I gained about Isaiah that are in my book were gained by in this way, by reading with a problem or issue in mind. (I did a lot of studying it out too.)

You can get revelation this way too.
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42: 61)
This scripture shows us again that we have to ask to receive revelation from God. It also points out that we will receive revelation upon revelation and knowledge upon knowledge. This means that what we are given will build upon the truth that we already know. What are these mysteries and peaceable things? It could be the point at which seemingly opposed truths come together into one great whole, the place where certain scriptural injunctions begin to make perfect sense (like “lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “turn the other cheek”) and become extremely practical.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moro. 10: 4-5)
This tells us that to really KNOW something is the truth is a revelation. We don’t have to wonder if something is true or just hope that something is true, we can pray to know and have the Holy Ghost confirm that it is true. You can even pray to know if what I have written here is true. I testify that it is. This is such a precious thing, because in an extremely uncertain world, the Holy Ghost can become a touchstone of truth to hold ideas up to.

Again, we have to ask.

Next we have some additional ways to receive revelation.
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God. (Alma 5: 45-47)
In these verses, Alma tells that he wanted to know whether something was true and he didn’t just pray about it, he fasted too. Fasting is another way of focusing our devotion and it is incredibly powerful. Properly done, it essentially harnesses the principles of self-sacrifice and charity in a way that grabs the Lord’s attention very quickly and brings a response. If you’d like to learn more about fasting, you can read the chapter on it in my book here.

I’ve noticed that when I fast about a question or a problem I have, answers seem to come with such clear impressions. This is revelation.

Here is another place where fasting and prayer results in revelation.
2 Now…Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God. (Alma 17: 2-3)
These verses show us that these men gave themselves to much prayer and fasting, and so they didn’t just receive a few revelations, they received many. In fact, they had a number of other spiritual gifts that came naturally—prophecy and the ability to teach with power and authority from God.

I also want to point out again that they were also searching the scriptures diligently, so they were finding answers in the scriptures. Their diligent study filled their minds with scripture, and I’m sure that when they taught, the scriptures they needed would come to their mind to say. (This remembering exactly what is needed is also revelation.)

To someone who has never been in the habit of reading scriptures, this will all seem very incredible, but I know it is true, because I’ve experienced it in my own life.

Attitude
And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith. (Jarom 1: 4)
In this verse we see that an attitude of faith is required for revelation, while stiffneckedness will ensure that revelation does not come. Being stiffnecked is a symbol of pride, and refers to an attitude of “I’ve got all the answers” when we think we know better. It can even be a physical sensation that comes with the thought of “I know better”. One that is similar to it is hardhearteness, which is when we deaden our feelings to impressions that come to us to be better, to believe, to submit to Christ, to change. It manifests itself in a hard constricted feeling in the chest.

Having faith requires us to humble ourselves and soften our hearts. We have to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and be willing to have our hearts harrowed up by the Spirit when revelation comes. Revelation can stir the emotions and bring tender feelings to the surface. We may cry. But it’s okay to cry. Christ cried from time to time.

So. To review. Receiving revelation requires:
Asking (prayer)
Seeking
Studying it out
Faith

Things we can do to increase revelation:
Read the scriptures
Fasting
(again) Prayer
Thursday, February 5, 2009 0 comments

Living by the Word - Scripture and Revelation

[M]an doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:3, see also Matthew 4:4; Doctrine & Covenants 98:11)
How do we take this scripture?

Many people know that it is talking about the Bible. But the Bible had to come from somewhere. People had to write it, word by word, line by line, page by page. Those ideas had to come from somewhere. We know it came from God. People had to be inspired of God to receive those ideas. People had to have revelation. Many people had to have revelation to make the Bible.

Do you see that verse as literal or figurative? Do you live your life by what is in the Bible? Or do you just think that it means that hearing the words gives an enlivening feeling inside?

The Bible has many answers, but it doesn’t have all of them. And our problems today can be very complex. (Like the economic crisis, for example.) What we need today is not just the Bible, but more revelation. We need specific help about what to do in our lives when we have difficult problems. The apostle Paul had the Old Testament when he was preaching to the Saints, and he used those scriptures to the best of his ability, and he also wrote about those scriptures to the Saints, explaining them and exhorting them, and giving counsel, and telling them of the revelations that he received on their behalf. And his writings were so valuable that they were collected together and added to the scriptures.

This scripture isn’t just for giving us warm and fuzzy feelings, it is guidance for us, telling us to live and act by those words. Christ lived by them, to the extent that he used this very scripture as a shield of faith against Satan when tempted to change stones into bread after a 40 day fast.

The scriptures themselves speak often about revelation. They tell us the ground rules about it: how revelation comes and how to tell it is true revelation from God and what we can learn through it and so on. Over the next few blog posts I do I am going to examine some of the things the scriptures teach us about revelation.