Thursday, July 29, 2010 0 comments

Jesus's Illustrations of the Need to Repent: Blood Mingled with Sacrifice and a Crushing Tower

1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5)
This is one of those sayings of Jesus that I’ve never quite understood, probably because I was wasn't using an eternal perspective. Until today, when I thought more carefully about it.

First, Jesus was tackling the idea common in His day that a person was bad if bad things happened to them. Evidently there was also the idea that the worse a person was, the worse the tragedies they would suffer. Jesus declared instead that everyone needed to repent.

Jesus uses two different tragic events to teach the necessity for repentance. This is obvious, but in order to fully understand the significance of what he was saying we need to think about the events he was referring to.

First, there seems to be a group of people who had been either killed or maimed by Pilate, and their spilled blood had been collected and added to their sacrifices burned on the altar. This was a shocking irregularity 1) because of the cruelty of the act and 2) because through this action, Pilate symbolically stated that the sacrifice hadn’t been enough and that the person’s blood was required. (Animal sacrifice was meant to teach the Jews that the suffering of a proxy (Jesus) could atone for the sins of the offerer, yet Pilate (who was the ruler and judge) seems to have considered it insufficient for those Galilaeans.)

When Jesus warned His listeners that if they didn’t repent they would all alike perish in this way, He was not speaking of something that would happen in this life, but in the eternities on Judgment Day. Like the earthly judge Pilate, God the eternal judge would decide that the unrepentant would have to suffer in addition to Christ’s suffering for them because they hadn’t accepted Christ’s sacrifice and repented. Jesus warned that the people would die spiritually on Judgment Day unless they repented.

The second illustration Jesus used was an incident when the tower of Siloam fell on 18 people and killed them. Jesus repeated the warning that unless the people repented, they would all perish likewise. Again, He wasn’t speaking of something that would happen in this life (although it could have happened in the fall of Jerusalem in 70A.D.). Again, He was referring to Judgment Day and he meant the crushing weight of the falling tower to teach about the crushing weight of sins that would fall on those who didn’t repent of them in this life.

Seen in this way, Jesus words transform into very real warnings about the necessity of repentance.
Thursday, July 22, 2010 2 comments

Helaman on Maintaining Possessions

But behold, our armies are small to maintain so great a number of cities and so great possessions. (Alma 58:32)
The context of this verse is one of war. Helaman the prophet-general is writing to Captain Moroni about his efforts to reconquer and maintain the cities and lands of the Nephites from the Lamanite armies. Helaman afterward asks for more men so that he can do it with greater ease. However, the concerns that he expresses about his army’s ability to maintain a large number of possessions and cities are immediately applicable in home organization.

Too many possessions

In the case of Helaman’s army, the number of cities that they had exceeded the capability of their army to protect. They could have split the army up and sent a mini-army to each city, but each mini-army would have been inadequate alone to protect against the innumerable Lamanite army. Likewise, to bounce between cities depending upon where the Lamanite army threat happened to appear would leave all the other cities unprotected if a second Lamanite army happened to come into the land.

In the case of home organization, we do not know where breakage will occur among our possessions. The more possessions we have, the thinner our attention and time is spread to enjoy them and the less money we can devote to maintaining each of them. For example, our family has a budget that we use for the purchase and repair of all forms of our transportation. We use it to care for two cars, two bikes, and one motor scooter. Recently we just bought a car and sold our oldest one because it was needing repairs more and more frequently and those repairs were increasing in cost. The frequent repairs were taking away from the amount that could be spent on our other car, which also was needing repairs more frequently. Further, the repair costs were drawing down our budget and slowing our saving toward a new car!

Through all of this, my husband has wanted to buy another scooter. I have not been supportive of this because our scooter needs repairs even more often than the oldest car, though scooter repair costs are about a third of a car’s. I see that if we have two scooters, we will essentially double the number of visits to the scooter repair shop and double the expense of scooter upkeep. I knew this would also make it harder to save for a new car.

Too great possessions

In the case of Helaman’s army, great possessions, though they are great, are not simple to protect. They are complex and require many different lines of defense. The more great and complex they are, the more manpower is required to maintain the same level of defense as something smaller and simpler. Large cities require more men for the same functions.

In the case of home organization, the more complex and elaborate our possessions, the more difficult it is to maintain them because there is a greater probability of one of the systems failing. Also, the day-to-day maintenance increases in size and scale so that it takes much more time and energy to do a simple task to the point that there won’t be as much energy left for the other tasks. For example, it takes a certain amount of time and energy to vacuum the carpet in a 2000 square foot house. It takes twice as much time and energy to vacuum the carpet in a 4000 square foot house. After vacuuming the 2000 square foot house, it is not so bad to go and clean the 2.5 bathrooms, but in the 4000 square foot house, after vacuuming twice as much carpet, there is much less energy left over for cleaning the 5 bathrooms. (Yes, larger houses have more bathrooms so that people still have only 30-40 feet to go to find a bathroom from wherever they are in the house.) (Disclosure: Our house is a little over 1000 square feet and only has 1 bathroom… and it still doesn’t get cleaned very often.)

Possessions in too many different locations.

In the case of Helaman and his army, the greater number of locations they had to protect, the thinner their time and energy would be spread, the more difficult it would be to remember what resources they had at each city, and the more they would spend their time traveling instead of actual fighting. If they left one city with plenty of piles of rocks to sling at the enemy, they wouldn’t be able to count on that being there if they had to return to save the city. (The inhabitants would have used those supplies up to a certain extent in trying to hold off a Lamanite invasion.)

In the case of home organization, if you have multiple homes, that means you have to stock that home with the basics of what you need when you get there, and essentially you have just doubled the number of stocking and cleaning tasks you will need to do. If you keep things at different locations besides your primary residence, you will tend to forget what you have and where it is—I know a woman who has this very problem—so you will increase the searching time it takes to find something, unless you can implement some kind of inventory tracking system. Travel time and expense becomes a consideration. (Disclosure: Our family does not own a second residence, but I have made these observations of those who do.)

On the scale of a single home, there has been a trend among organization experts to advocate buying multiples of what tends to get lost. For instance, they say that if the scissors tend to get lost, buy multiple pairs and you will never have to worry again because then you can place a pair everywhere you tend to need one and then they will always be there. I have found that this advice fails in an epic way to take into account the organizational skills (or lack thereof) of the person who complains they can’t find the scissors. I have seen this in action. The person is always using the scissors far away from wherever they are stored, and they never put them back when they are done. They may cut out their sewing patterns using the kitchen scissors in the living room and then shove the scissors out of sight under the couch. They next need scissors in the bedroom to clip some tags from clothes they bought, so they go to the den for scissors and when they are done, they leave them on the bedroom dresser. Then two days later, junior needs the scissors for a school project and can’t find them and everyone has to look for the scissors because none of the pairs are where they are supposed to be. (Alternately, you have one neat person trying to cope while surrounded with a family of messy people in which case they simply need to keep their stuff locked up in one place so they can always find it, otherwise it will always be carried off by the messies who always will want to use the neat person’s stuff because they never have to search for it first.) I have seen similar scenarios play out with reading glasses, writing implements, tape, screwdrivers, and flashlights, to name a few.

From another perspective, multiple things at home mean that space is unavailable for other stuff or other activities. The bigger these objects are, the more of a problem they cause. For instance, in our family, the computers end up in multiple places—den, living room, and dining room. That’s THREE places where computers are in our house. That’s far too many places. (I’m not even getting into why we have this many computers..)

Another example of this multiple-locations-for-things-at-home is that of TVs. Multiple TVs take up space that could be used in other ways. Also, it is impossible to monitor what everyone is watching all at the same time if there are multiple TVs (and/or computers) in multiple rooms in the house. This has some grave implications for the quality of media consumption in families.

In summary, having too many possessions, too complex possessions, and too scattered possessions makes it difficult to maintain them, whether for Book of Mormon armies or for us today. The important lesson we can learn from the above single verse is that it is important to limit our possessions to a number, complexity, and location that will make it easier for us to manage and maintain them.
Monday, July 12, 2010 0 comments

For Pioneer Day: Find the Pioneer in You

The following is a talk* I gave a few years ago about pioneering...

As a small child, I was profoundly affected by stories of pioneers leaving their homes and taking only the things they absolutely needed with them. After a family home evening lesson about the Saints leaving Nauvoo, I went up to my room and challenged myself to choose which of my belongings I would take with me if I had to leave the house in 15 minutes with my family and never come back. I told myself to limit the amount to what would fit in a milk crate. Not only did this teach me even more respect for the pioneers, it also gave me an early lesson about priorities that has stuck with me to this day.

As a younger teenager, I loved to read stories about scientists and inventors and patriots who pioneered to bring us the lightbulb, the television, immunization, our republican government, the radio, the airplane, the automobile, the train, the telephone, cleanliness in hospitals, the sandwich, the vacuum cleaner, the periodic table, and more. The desire to pioneer something great grew within me. I still have this desire today. You may have this desire too.

Satan does not want us to pioneer and make progress. (In fact, he wants us to regress.) So he tells us lies to try and get us to stop our efforts and cease our desires to pioneer. I’m going to list some of these lies and discuss why they are false. Then I will discuss principles of pioneering and use lots of illustrative examples. Then I will point out many ways that we pioneer today without even knowing it. Finally, I will give some ideas of ways we can pioneer in the gospel.

Lies Satan tells about pioneering

1. Satan tells us, “There’s nothing new under the sun. Everything that can be contributed has already been done.”

This is completely false. We still have problems, a few of which are: working with computers, finding clean entertainment, gas prices, finding modest clothing, heavy traffic, and so on. Every problem represents a place pioneering is needed. Look for problems that you can pioneer into and solve.

Here's a very small example--I loved the ease of making cornbread from a mix, but I found the dryness of cornbread annoying. So I pioneered "pumpkin-spice cornbread" and "apple-spice" cornbread by mixing quantities of pumpkin puree or apple sauce into the batter to give it more moisture. Problem solved.

2. Satan tells us, “Pioneering only involves colonizing using a covered wagon or handcart.”

This is false. A pioneer is a person who goes before, opening up new ways of thought or activity. Our challenges are different, and pioneering is about solving the new problems that arise. It’s also about solving old problems in new, better ways. Dallen H. Oaks taught that our problems are different from the pioneers’, but they’re just as dangerous and significant to our salvation. To paraphrase him, the pioneers protected their children from prowling wolves. We protect our families from pornographers and drug dealers. Pioneers struggled against physical hunger. We struggle against spiritual hunger. Pioneer children had to work very hard to survive. Today, our children have to work just as hard to find meaningful work to teach discipline, responsibility, and self-worth.

3. Satan tells us, “YOU can’t be a pioneer; you’re too ordinary.”

This is ABSOLUTE BOSH. Pioneering is done by people just like us. Missionaries pioneer the gospel into the hearts of men. Mothers and fathers pioneer knowledge, civilization, gospel teaching, and life skills into the hearts and minds of their children. Oldest children pioneer for their siblings what privileges will be given by their parents. They also pioneer what’s considered “cool” to their siblings. (So you oldest children, consider carefully the precedent you set is righteous or not, because I know as an oldest child myself that you will be held accountable for those precedents.) Another way that we pioneer is by eradicating faults passed down by our parents. If your parents were alcoholics or smokers, if you work to keep the Word of Wisdom, you are a pioneer going to new realms of righteousness where your parents have never been themselves.

All pioneers began as ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Consider Joseph Smith Jr. He was an ordinary farm boy of fourteen years old. What does he do? He asks a question—“Which church is true?” and got extraordinary results. So many of his revelations came from his pioneering efforts as he asked the hard questions. Or consider the guy named Al, an ordinary man. He was terrible at math when he was going to school. Yet this is the person who pioneered the theory of relativity. He gave us the simple equation E = mc^2. He pioneered the dual nature of light—particle and wave. You know him as Albert Einstein. Ordinary people who pursue their talents and interests in extraordinary ways become pioneers.

Think about your interests and talents. Suppose you had an interest in gardening. Suppose you pursued that in an extraordinary way, experimenting with all kinds of ways and means of growing plants, growing them quickly, creating an ideal growing environment for them. Wouldn’t that be pioneering?

Or suppose your interest was in reactivating members in the gospel. Suppose you experimented with different ways of reaching these people and finding the best way to love them back into church activity. Wouldn’t that be pioneering?

4. Satan tells us, “YOU can’t do that; it’s too scary. You don’t know anything about it.”

Oh yeah? Well ignorance is only a temporary obstacle. N. Eldon Tanner said, “Anyone seeking to become a pioneer will take care to fill his mind with what is known about the route he plans to take.” Pioneering starts out as something you are curious about and know nothing about. You pioneer your own knowledge first.

For me, this was the Book of Isaiah. I felt my first interest in the Book of Isaiah when I was a teenager and I read a book my mom had bought about it. I took a class about Isaiah at BYU. I continued studying Isaiah. In time, I knew enough about what was out there about Isaiah to be able to see what was NOT out there. (This was when I decided to write a book for teenagers about Isaiah.) When you reach a point that you see what is not known, you see where you can pioneer for others.

Dallen H. Oaks said, “It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day.”

Principles of Pioneering

1. Self-reliance and independence. Pioneers have no one to depend upon for help but themselves and God.

When the pioneers got the Great Basin, they didn’t have any hotels in which to stay while they were building their houses. They didn’t have food except for what they could carry with them and whatever edible plants they could find around. They had the tools they carried with them. They had their animals they brought with them. And they had God.

Nephi went to the Lord for direction on how to build a ship. Yes, others had built ships before, but it was Nephi’s first time, so he was a pioneer. Also, the scriptures say that the ship the Lord helped him build was “not after the manner of men,” and from this we can infer that the ship was different from previous ship designs Nephi had seen before. It was a pioneering design he was guided to build. And he had the skills to make the tools he needed to make the ship.

When I first started writing my book about applying the writings of Isaiah to the temptations that teenagers face, I realized pretty quickly that I was all alone on the topic. No one else had been there yet. All I had to help me was some stuff I had learned from that BYU class and what I had learned on my own study since then. I also had the certainty that if I lacked wisdom, I could ask of God and He would give liberally and not upbraid.

2. Problem-solving skills. Pioneers solve problems not yet tackled by anyone else, or they solve problems in a different, better way from anyone else.

3. Creativity. Pioneers use what resources are around them.

Nephi built a temple in the promised land like Solomon’s temple, except he couldn’t make it out of so many precious things because they were not to be found upon the land. But he DID build a temple using what he could find. That’s resourceful pioneering.

4. Vision and work. Pioneers have a vision of what they want and they work on it.

Thomas Edison wanted to make an incandescent lightbulb that lasted for many hours. He had a vision in his head of the result for which he was working. He tried many, many different materials to see if they would make a good filament. That took a lot of work.

5. Curiosity and interest. If pioneers don’t know anything about what must be done, they educate themselves about it.

An example is that Brigham Young studied guidebooks about crossing the plains. He also talked to explorers and mountain men about what was out west.

When the Wright brothers were trying to build their first airplane, they read everything they could find about other people’s attempts to build flying machines.

6. Courage. Pioneers are not immune to fear. Instead of running from their fears, they face them. Facing fears is courage. We know it as faith. Joseph Smith noted that fear and faith can’t be found in the same person at the same time.

I had a difficult time with the subject of Calculus in high school, and I didn’t feel very proficient in it when I finished the class. I feared it. But I didn’t like that I feared it. So I made a promise to myself that one day I would take Calculus again and I would make myself LIKE it. When I took it again, I did more than like it; I loved it. I learned that when I fear something, I must face it. I also learned that when I face my fears, I can overcome them.

7. Perseverance. Pioneers are not immune to failure, but the determination to keep trying and keep working on their goal is what sets them apart. It is also what keeps them going when the new sparkle has worn off their goal and they are in the midst of the nitty-gritty labor that lasts for months or years.

Mothers and fathers are brilliant examples of perseverance. They work for 18 years on their children (sometimes longer), pioneering knowledge, civilization, the gospel, and life skills into the hearts and minds of their children.

Two separate times, Henry Ford formed a company to build and sell automobiles. Each time, the company went bankrupt. It was his third attempt that succeeded and made money as he instituted assembly-line manufacturing. It is likely that the first two failures taught him important lessons that made his later success possible.

8. Pioneers don’t worry much about what people think of them. Lots of times other people think they are crazy. Pioneers are frequently misunderstood by their contemporaries who prefer to stay in their comfort zones.

How do we gain the pioneering mindset?

1. Push to know a little more about a subject you’re interested in. Do what it takes to learn a little more. Do one more math problem than you have to.

2. Push yourself to begin your assignments a little earlier than you would otherwise. This builds self-starting skills that are absolutely necessary to pioneering. It also helps you get used to the feeling of doing things your peers haven’t done. It helps you get comfortable with the sensation of not being able to check your answers with other people and it teaches you how good it feels to be able to help your peers because of what you’ve done.

3. Push yourself to keep the commandments more carefully than you have before. Or keep a commandment that you haven’t kept before. That’s new, exciting territory with new blessings to discover such as you have never imagined before!

4. Push yourself to do a little something that you’ve never done before, whether it is learning a new word in a different language or trying to ride your bike with no hands, doing a cartwheel, or trying a puzzle. Or eating a new food. Regularly leaving your comfort zone is a kind of pioneering that we usually call “personal growth.”

5. Push yourself to confront your fears.

I told you about how I confronted my fear of Calculus. Another fear I confronted was my fear of learning dance. (I had some bad experiences in junior high school when I had to learn a dance routine in gym class and then perform it. When I started performing, I couldn’t remember any of it.) I could PRETEND to dance pretty well at church dances with no set moves at specific times, but learning choreography and then performing it was something I was scared of. At BYU I decided to take a folk dance class to face my fear. It was hard for me to get used to switching my weight the right way and I was always afraid I would forget the dances we learned, so I spent a lot of time after class making notes to myself about how the dances went. It turned out to be a lot of fun for me and I gained confidence in myself.

6. Keep trying a little longer.

Every insight I have gained in my scripture study came because I didn’t stop thinking about things that confused me. Other factors played a part too, but the very first factor that always came in to play was my dogged attempts to understand.

If you are scared to try something new and you don’t know where to start, God can help you. Moroni 7:26, at the end of the verse says, “…whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.” This tells us that if we want to have the courage and the drive to pioneer in our lives, we can ask Heavenly Father for our very nature to change, and He will do it. He will give us that little beginning push and then it is up to us to keep up the momentum and do.

What if you are pioneering something and you want to do it, but you can’t? Again, Heavenly Father can help. Moroni 7:33 says, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” This tells us that Christ gives us the ability to pioneer and succeed. This can be in the form of opportunities to practice, or it can be in the form of a miraculous success. (I personally prefer the practice opportunities because it makes success repeatably consistent.)

The consequences of these little things we can do is that they build the pushing-for-progress attitude of pioneering, and doing those things often can make that attitude so much a part of us that when the Lord gives us a big opportunity to pioneer something, instead of running away screaming, we’ll be ready to take it on. It will seem like just another incremental step in our development.

Pioneering and the Gospel

It is still possible to pioneer in the gospel. In Doctrine and Covenants 76, the Lord says that to those who fear Him and who serve Him in righteousness and in truth unto the end, he will give these chances to pioneer:
And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
Again, in verse 5, those who get this privilege are those who 1) fear God and 2) serve Him in righteousness and in truth unto the end. I know those promises are fulfilled because I have seen it in my own life. As my respect for God has increased and as I have tried to be more obedient, God has shown me wonderful, fascinating truths, things that were right under my nose and I never saw them before. I anticipate learning the wonders of eternity and all hidden mysteries. This promise is to everyone.

Pioneering and Missionary Work

Missionary work is spiritual pioneering. As I pointed out before, it is taking the word of God and the gospel of Christ into the wilds of men’s hearts and minds. It is laying the foundation of Zion in a person’s soul.

In many cases, missionary work is like walking through a jungle, but instead of seeing monkeys and tropical birds, and panthers, you see all manner of strange beliefs peering out at you from the underbrush. In these cases, your pioneering involves pushing back the jungle of error and planting the truth in its stead.

In other cases, pioneering missionary work is like setting up a city in the desert where there is nothing. In these cases, your pioneering involves nourishing faith, bringing in all the truth you can to fill up the emptiness, setting up sources of nourishment, digging wells for the living water.

One of the apostles talks about building a gospel-sharing home into which we can bring our friends and associates and introduce them to the gospel as it is seen in action. Our bishop believes this is a way of sharing the gospel that will be emphasized more and more as the Spirit is sucked out of the rest of the world. This is an exciting chance for us to be pioneers and implement pioneering principles in carrying this out.

Pioneering and the Temple

One way you can pioneer in temple work is by doing your family history. When you search for more knowledge of your progenitors than is available, you are clearly pioneering your family tree through the roots. Each ancestor is a new discovery.

We are in an exciting time as temples are spread throughout the world. We have heard stories of people pioneering to the temple, sacrificing their worldly possessions just to attend the temple one single time. Now, we have an opportunity to pioneer our temple attendance by going more frequently.

When we lived in Austin, Texas, my husband Devon and I attended the temple in Houston. It was a three hour drive each way. Going to the temple essentially took the day. We went to the temple perhaps once every six months. At one point, Devon suggested that we make a goal to attend the temple once a month. It was a bit of a sacrifice to give up an entire Saturday each month. We met our goal about 3/4ths of the time. When we moved to Chandler, Arizona in 2004, going to the temple once a month became a cinch because the Mesa temple was only a 30-minute drive. In May 2005, a traumatizing event caused us to flee to the temple for solace, and while there, we ran into another friend, who told us that she and her husband went to the temple every week. This seemed like a great idea to us, so we started coming to the temple every Tuesday, first in hopes of meeting our friends there, and after a while, because we wanted to and it felt right. We still go every week.

As you can see, we pioneered into new realms of temple-attending frequency two different times. I know several people in our ward who go to the temple every week. They have a hefty schedule, yet they go. You can also pioneer into new realms of temple attendance.

Another way that we can all collectively pioneer is in establishing new temples. We have seen that when temple attendance is great enough, a new temple is needed in a community. Our Mesa temple is a large one, but I was curious to find out what it would take to completely flood our temple, filling every seat, and make a new temple necessary in the valley. I did some figuring and I gathered some numbers and I figured the following, taking into account the temple’s current schedule:
  • If we were to go to the temple once every 6 months, it would take approximately 6500 youth and 968,000 adults to fill the temple.
  • If we were to go to the temple once every month, it would take approximately 1100 youth and 162,000 adults to fill the temple.
  • If we were to go to the temple once every week, it would take approximately 245 youth and 36,500 adults to fill the temple.
  • If we were to go to the temple once every day, it would take approximately 35 youth and 5200 adults to fill the temple.
(Youth numbers assume one baptismal group in the morning before school.)

According to our bishop, our stake has over 6,000 people in it. That kinda makes you think a bit, doesn’t it?

Let’s say that half of our stake are endowed adults with current temple recommends. Let us say that all the youth in the stake are worthy to go to the temple. That’s 3,000 adults and more than 35 youth. Let us say that the next stake over has the same numbers of worthy adults and youth. These two stakes could fill and overflow the temple and make a new one necessary in our valley if they went every day! That’s only TWO stakes out of 45 stakes in the east valley.

I challenge you to kick your temple attendance up a notch. If you can’t yet attend the temple, I challenge you to kick your preparation to attend the temple up a notch. Pioneer your way into realms of faithfulness you’ve never entered before!

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Note: About two years after this talk was given, new temples were announced in Gilbert, Arizona (next town over from Chandler, Arizona); Gila Valley, Arizona; and Phoenix, Arizona.

*A few deletions, insertions, and reordering was done for editorial purposes in this post.
Friday, July 9, 2010 0 comments

Lessons from the battle in Alma 43

In Alma 43, the chapter about Zerahemnah's attack on the Nephites and Moroni's defense at the waters of Sidon, there are several things that puzzled me. One is that it seemed like the Nephite armies got weaker as the battle progressed and that the other was that it seemed like the Lamanites seemed to get stronger.

Nephites getting weaker: At the beginning of the battle, the Nephite army headed by Lehi meets the Lamanites and administered "death almost at every stroke." But further on, the Nephites were "about to shink and flee" from the Lamanites when they saw their fierceness and anger.

Lamanites getting stronger: At the beginning of the battle, the Lamanites were getting slaughtered almost with every blow, and then nearer the end, they were smiting in two the Nephites headplates, piercing their breastplates, and smiting off many of their arms, fighting like dragons.

The simple explanation for this is that there was a range of skills and abilities represented in the Nephite army. Lehi's army seemed to be full of the more experienced and skilled warriors. They seem to have known exactly how to wield their weapons in the most effective and efficient way both to protect themselves and to bear down all Lamanite defense. Of course these men would be at the front of the battle, to buffer the less experienced warriors from the full strength of the enemy. When we also consider that Moroni raised part of his army from the Manti populace to help defend their lands, it is easy to understand that the Manti militia would be substantially less experienced and hardened to the rigors of battle. Thus, the Lamanite enemy that was a piece of cake for Lehi's army to beat, seemed to the less-experienced Nephite army to be fighting like dragons. That the Lamanites could suddenly render the Nephite armor ineffective indicates that the Nephite armor wasn't much help without good fighting skill.

Nevertheless, the account shows that the Manti militia, when they called upon God for their liberty and freedom, were able to stand with power equal to their more experienced brethren in Lehi's crack army, driving the Zarahemnah's Lamanite army to the river. I think this is the message that Mormon was trying to get across in his account. Another message that we can get from this is that spiritual armor makes the most difference in our lives when it is coupled with experience and skill at resisting temptation and that for those who don't yet have the experience and skill, praying is what can make up the difference.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010 1 comments

“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. (Luke 23;46-47)
Something that puzzled me a little bit about this scripture was this—what was it that Jesus said that made the centurion say that Jesus was a righteous man?

I think Jesus spoke of delivering His spirit to the Father with a confidence that suggested to the centurion that He would be welcomed. There was no fear of death in His demeanor, although He was in such pain. The centurion must have thought to himself, This man speaks to his father god with such confidence of meeting him that he must have nothing on his conscience to regret. I could not do that. I would be afraid to meet god; I’m afraid he would be displeased with me.

This is also supported by the different meanings of commend. There are three meanings--one is to praise or applaud. Another is similar to the sense of recommending, endorsing, and vouching for. The third is similar to the sense of entrusting, handing over, and committing someone’s care.(1)

It is obvious that Jesus was handing over His spirit to the Father, but it seems that the centurion also saw Jesus’s words represented a self-endorsement, a speech of self-recommendation. And truly, only Christ would be able to vouch for Himself.

1 Oxford American Dictionaries widget for Macintosh. “commend”

Joseph Smith’s Last Words

Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! (D&C 135:1)
The question I asked myself today when I thought of this: "Were Joseph Smith’s last words a prayer or a greeting to Someone who was there to meet him?" ( I think we can safely assume that he wasn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain..)
Thursday, July 1, 2010 3 comments

Focus on a Hymn: “In Our Lovely Deseret”

(I think I’m on some kind of music kick here..)

The hymn “In Our Lovely Deseret” is a great piece of music because of its vigor and energy, but its lyrics seem to leave something to be desired to make it of greater use to the church. As the lyrics are now, they alternate between a proud parent’s bragfest about their children (i.e., “They are generous and brave” and the entirety of verse 2) and an impersonal finger-wagging parental lecture (i.e., “They must not forget to pray” and verses 3 and 4).

What makes it seem impersonal is the phrasing “They should be instructed young” and “They must not forget to pray” and “They must listen and obey,” which makes it seem as if the children are not actually in the room and the speaker is moralizing in a detached way. Yet, changing it to “you should be instructed young” creates a very overbearing effect. As most teachers know, top-down teaching can’t hold a candle to bottom-up interest and desire to learn, which is why “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” and “I Am a Child of God” with its chorus of “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me…” are so much more effective as hymns in comparison.

In the current lyrics’ favor, it may be the only hymn that directly mentions the Word of Wisdom and the promised blessings that come of keeping it. It also directly mentions teaching children social skills and self-control.

The hymn’s chorus amounts to an ecstatic exclamation of how nice it is to hear children singing “in innocence and love.” I must note that about the only time this phenomenon actually occurs is at church when walking past the primary room during singing time or sitting through the primary presentation program, or Mother’s Day Sunday, or Father’s Day Sunday primary musical numbers. This narrows down to a sliver the applicable and fitting situations when the chorus can be sung and feel right.

It could be argued that “In Our Lovely Deseret” is highly applicable in Relief Society lessons and priesthood lessons when the theme is “teaching families,” but the chorus implies that the singers can hear the children singing somewhere. Yet singers really can’t hear primary children singing elsewhere when they are singing themselves. Moreover, Relief Societies and priesthood quorums can’t see the children’s “cheerful faces” when the children are elsewhere, so there would be a fundamental logical contradiction between the verses and the chorus in this type of situation.

Perhaps these are all minor quibbles, but when these kinds of problems add up, they add unwanted absurdity to the hymn’s effect. This is why I felt that the lyrics needed to be redone.

But how?

In studying the hymn, I felt that the first line “In our lovely Deseret, Where the Saints of God have met” seemed to suggest the beginning of a broad picture of the established kingdom of God and its workings, like a whirlwind tour of the church for visitors. Church leaders give visiting dignitaries tours of church facilities and explain the doctrine behind church programs. I felt “In Our Lovely Deseret” could function the same way for those who don’t get the privilege of such a personal tour. I felt that the song could then effectively invite all to come unto Christ to become part of God’s kingdom.

After a two-day obsessive stretch of composition and revision, the following is my attempt at writing alternate lyrics:

In our lovely Deseret
Where the Saints of God have met
Here the prophets and apostles truly guide.
All the Saints have callings too;
Service isn’t for the few.
We are diligently lengthening our stride.

Up, up, upward we are striving,
Building Zion in our day!
We invite you: come to Christ,
Gain the pearl of great price,
And with us win exaltation in His way.

We give freely to the poor
As the Lord gave us before
We know God would want all human needs supplied.
We accept each godly gift,
For each Saint provides a lift,
As on eagle wings through thund’ring clouds we fly.

All the weak hands are upheld
And anointed sick are healed
As the Lord Himself would do if He were here.
And the ignorant are taught:
Look to God in every thought
For the Holy Ghost will make direction clear.

We invite all to repent
To escape from hell’s torment,
And be born again; in water be baptized.
Then receive the Holy Ghost
And with faith stand at your post
To endure with courage, though the world despise.

In the temple God unites
Man and woman dressed in white
In eternal marriage, ne’er to separate.
For it’s true that only then
Can they gain the highest heav’n
And become like God with power to create.

Every member thus will teach
Everyone within their reach
So that every ear may hear the gospel sound.
Then will Justice have its day
While sweet Mercy holds its sway
Once all meek and humble sheep are gathered ‘round.

Advantages of this version:
  • It can quickly acquaint visitors with the church and also remind members of their responsibility.
  • The variety of topics covered in the lyrics makes it highly flexible for use in church meetings. The lyrics cover the following: guidance through prophets and apostles, the charitable duty of the saints, spiritual gifts, the need for every person, personal revelation, the first principles of the gospel, eternal marriage and the hope of becoming like God, missionary work, final judgment, and the gathering of Israel.
  • The chorus contains a direct appeal to come to Christ and a direct invitation to join the church by obeying the gospel’s first ordinances. (This combination is found in very few other hymns.) Repetition of the chorus will allow the Spirit to work on the singer and listeners multiple times throughout the song to follow the principles laid out in the verses. Also, its meaning is augmented by the different topics treated in each verse.
  • The verses communicate the church’s ideals, which give us goals to aim for and which inspire us.
  • It is directed at all ages, not just children as in the previous version.

I am not blind to the possible weaknesses of this alternate version. I can think of three right off:
  • The wide-ranging subjects in the verses might make it seem fragmented. (This is also what makes it flexible.) In particular, verse five about marriage feels like it doesn’t belong, yet it gives an overview of what happens in temples and why marriage is so important. (What do you think? Should it stay or should it go? And why? Give your best literary reasoning to support your answer.)
  • The above version has six verses, which could be excessive. (However, this may help directors choose verses applicable to the theme of the meeting.)
  • Its diction is much more pedestrian than the Eliza R. Snow’s. (However, sometimes simplicity is more effective than complexity.)
How would YOU rewrite the hymn lyrics of “In Our Lovely Deseret”?