Saturday, August 28, 2010 3 comments

Christ’s Temperance when Cleansing the Temple

If we take Christ as the example of perfect temperance, what can we learn from the following story?
13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. (John 2:13-17)
It may be hard to think of this as a display of temperance, but when we consider Christ’s great power, we realize He could have smitten them in so many different ways. (Remember the fig tree that withered?) He could have poured out the ten plagues of Egypt on them. When seen in this light, his self-restraint is notable. He just drove them out and told them why.

What Natural Man Is There That Knoweth These Things?

When Ammon glories in the Lord after the great success he and his brothers had teaching the Lamanites, he looks back at what he had been before his own conversion and shudders at what might have happened to them.
17 Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
18 Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
19 Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?
20 Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.
21 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent. (Alma 26:17-21)
I often wondered why Ammon said that no natural man could know these things. What things were he referring to? I recently realized that he was referring to the mercy of God, pointing it out as a mystery of godliness that no one could know unless they had experienced it.

This is not to say that they did not experience any taste of the justice of God because on the contrary, they did. Alma the younger had his soul harrowed up to the greatest degree and wracked with all his sins and wished that he could cease to exist so that he would not be brought to judgment for them. It was this preliminary view of what they would have to suffer that convinced them of their need for redemption and that view was part of the manifestation of the mercy of God. It was shown to them before it was too late so they could repent. The other part of the mercy of God was that rather than cast them off forever, God had seen fit to redeem them, to take away their sins, and save their souls, once they had called on Him for salvation.

None but the penitent could know this mysterious and godly mercy. The natural man might hear of it and reject it or assume there was no need for it. The natural man might be inclined to think that some people, if they had gone too far, would be rejected by God, no matter how repentant they were. The natural man might take the mercy of God as a license to sin more, thinking they could always repent later. But the penitent know what they have been saved from and recognize the magnitude of God’s mercy and forgiveness and the miracle of God’s salvation.

I know what I’ve been saved from and every time I remember that, I can’t help but thank God for His mercy.
Thursday, August 19, 2010 1 comments

The lunatic son and lunatic Israel

14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to [Jesus] a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. (Matthew 17:14-17)
Verse 17 always puzzled me. I couldn’t figure out why Jesus spoke of the generation as faithless and perverse after the father’s petition to heal his son. Shouldn’t Jesus be talking to the father? Wasn’t the father rather faithless for saying the apostles couldn’t cure his lunatic son? Or was He addressing the disciples, since they didn’t have the faith to heal the man’s lunatic son? (If that was the case, why say “faithless and perverse generation” instead of “faithless and perverse disciples”?)

Today I realized that this is actually another case where Jesus tried to use the event to teach the people the eternal perspective. Jesus spoke the words in verse 17 as if He were Heavenly Father who was having the very same troubles with His children in Israel as the father was having with his lunatic son.

The father had no doubt often commanded and reminded his son to be careful around the fire or water and warned him of the harm he could suffer, but the son seemed to have no faith in those warnings and deliberately disobeyed in the most unreasonable way in spite of the consequences that often happened—many bad burns and near-drownings. Deliberately disobeying like that was very perverse.

In the same way, Heavenly Father had often given commandments to His children designed to keep them safe and many warnings about what would happen if they disobeyed, yet they seemed to have no faith in those commandments and often got themselves into terrible trouble and probably would have been destroyed long ago if Heavenly Father hadn’t delivered them many times. The Old Testament often reads like a case study of lunatic Israel.

When Jesus asked “How long shall I suffer you?” it was as if He put himself in the place of the father who has dealt with a problem for so long that he is thoroughly tired of it and wonders just how long this can possibly go on, wondering how much longer it is possible to stand it. Jesus could also have been wondering how long He’d have to suffer in Gethsemane because of the people’s sins.

“How long shall I be with you?” Just like a father who worries how a wayward child will ever survive when dad is gone, Jesus also worried the same way. Jesus personally wouldn’t be around for very long, and if Israel couldn’t get its act together during that time, Jesus knew it would have great difficulty without Him.

This story shows me that when I deliberately break the commandments, I’m no different from that lunatic son. Breaking the commandments = insanity.

It is interesting that Matthew records the father calling his son “lunatick” instead of “mad,” since “mad” is the more common term for insanity in the scriptures. (The scriptures use “mad” and its variations 25 times, but “lunatick” is only used twice.) The first part of the word “luna” referred to the moon, and it suggests that the strange behavior was associated with the phase of the moon. I’m not trying to say that the moon was influencing the son; rather, it seems this word expressed that the son’s perversity was of a cyclical nature—not daily, but stretched out over a longer period of weeks. Probably he was okay for a while, but then his dangerous behavior would start again, as if he had completely forgot the painful consequences he had experienced the last time he had done it. The dangerous and perverse behavior would run its course and bring its painful consequences, and then the son would come to himself and behave better for a period.. until the next time. I believe this is known today as “binge behavior.”

Seen from this perspective, I’m sure we can all identify with the lunatic son in some way. There are a number of behaviors associated with binge cycles. Some of the extreme ones are pornography, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse, gambling, excessive spending, bulimia, and physical risk taking. But there are seemingly milder binge behaviors as well, such as binge eating, losing one’s temper, excessive shopping, excessive texting and cell phone use, excessive internet use, etcetera. Almost anything can become binge behavior. Binge cycles can become shorter and shorter until they are addictions. Binge cycles, when they are active, manifest sudden bursts of uncontrollable behavior (indicating loss of agency) interspersed with long periods of moderate behavior. It is just as important to conquer them as if they were full addictions.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:18-21)
We, like the lunatic son, may have been having the same trouble for a very long time and are probably stuck in a pattern of behavior. In this situation, it is very hard to imagine being able to conquer oneself. But Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you, ” which is to say that the smallest particle of faith is enough to move a heaping mountain of bad habit out of our lives. He also acknowledged the difficulty of the problem required some extraordinary measures—“this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” No doubt He was thinking of Isaiah’s words about fasting: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

One of my binge behaviors that I had to conquer was going to bed too late. I used prayer and covenant-making in order to overcome it. (You can read about that in my post “There’s more to covenants than meets the eye” You’ll have to scroll down a significant distance before you get to it though.) While the resolution didn’t involve fasting, it did involve prayer and a mustard seed-sized particle of faith. And since it was successful, I suppose that fasting would have helped that much more.

I also found a website that has free self-evaluative quizzes that you can take to determine whether you have internet, cell phone, gambling, shopping, eating, alcohol, and drug addictions. I found out that I am borderline addicted to the internet, so I will definitely need to do some fasting and praying about that.

With Jesus’s help, let’s overcome our lunacies!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010 2 comments

A look at Elder Bednar’s talk “Watching with All Perseverance”

In Elder Bednar’s talk “Watching with All Perseverance,” which he gave in April 2010, he promised he would describe “a spiritual early warning system that can help parents in Zion to be watchful and discerning concerning their children.”

The three components of this system are the following:
  • Reading and talking about the Book of Mormon with our children
  • Bearing testimony of gospel truths spontaneously with our children
  • Inviting children as gospel learners to act and not merely be acted upon
At first glance, this may seem like commandments disguised as signs. However, I want to point out some important bits that help us understand how good this system is, how it produces those warnings, and how it can help us. Elder Bednar says,
Regular reading of and talking about the Book of Mormon invite the power to resist temptation and to produce feelings of love within our families. And discussions about the doctrines and principles in the Book of Mormon provide opportunities for parents to observe their children, to listen to them, to learn from them, and to teach them. (emphasis added)
How can this be an early warning for parents? First, when parents see how their children respond in a safe environment to the doctrines, they can get an idea of how they will respond in an unsafe environment to temptation. This is why Elder Bednar sees this as such a great opportunity.

Second, parents need chances to understand what their children are thinking and what they are struggling with, but often when parents ask children directly, children clam up. Talking about the Book of Mormon prevents children from feeling like they are under a microscope and they will open up in ways that relate to the topic of discussion. (“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.”) I remember teaching a primary lesson and one of the kids in the class volunteered the information that he had heard bad music driving with his dad one day. This meant that we could have a little discussion about what is good music and what is bad music and how we can act when we are in a situation with bad music. Another instance: I remember another time during scripture study with my family one night, my little sister, who had been going to a private school, told us that she had been told at school that the LDS church was a cult. She was somewhat bothered by this and so we spent time as a family comparing and contrasting cults with the church, reassuring her, and generally addressing that trouble.

This is the kind of thing that Elder Bednar wants for parents. He wants parents to be able to observe and listen to the specific issues that are on their children’s minds, then use that opportunity to teach because that is when it is needed and that is when children are most interested. Elder Bednar says,
…the questions a child asks, the observations a child shares, and the discussions that occur provide crucial spiritual early warning signals. Importantly, such conversations can help parents to discern what their children are learning, thinking, and feeling about the truths contained in this sacred volume of scripture, as well as the difficulties they may be facing.
The beauty of the system is that even as parents are observing their children read, the children are in the process of being armed with doctrine that will help them resist temptation.

If we look closer, we see that he says that as parents involve their children in these spiritual things, they should have their eyes open, observing their children and listening to them, noticing how they react. For instance, a child that is alert and involved and contributes to the discussion is on the ball. A child that is inattentive and squirrelly is not interested, so the message should be brought down to a level they can be interested in. A child that makes fun of the message… well.. that indicates there are some problems there that need to be overcome. Likewise, when a child is resistant to the message or discussion, then that indicates that there are seeds of rebellion there that need to be rooted out.

I recall a particular night when I was a teen and during family scripture study, all of us kids were more interested in making jokes and making fun of what was being read than actually listening. All seven of us were extremely uncooperative. According to Elder Bednar’s early warning system of observing children and listening to them, it was plain that we were displaying a pathetic lack of reverence and we needed to be taught an important lesson. My mom was very frustrated with us and she decided that all seven of us would have to sit at the dinner table until we could all be perfectly quiet for …. I think it was one minute. Just 60 seconds. She left and dad left, and there we were, stuck, until we could all muster 60 seconds of collective silence. I think it took us 30 minutes before we could do it. That experience was a great object lesson on how the irreverence of one single person could hamper the progress of the group. Without knowing it, my mom used the early warning system described by Elder Bednar to detect where we badly needed correction and she administered it immediately.

The second component of the early warning system is bearing testimony spontaneously. Elder Bednar says,
Parents should be vigilant and spiritually attentive to spontaneously occurring opportunities to bear testimony to their children. Such occasions need not be programmed, scheduled, or scripted. In fact, the less regimented such testimony sharing is, the greater the likelihood for edification and lasting impact. "Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man" (D&C 84:85).
Growing up, I remember having many conversations with my mom in the car. Sometimes she would discuss news stories with me and interpret them for me with the gospel lens. She would point out hidden dangers to me. Sometimes I would complain to her about things in my life and she would respond by telling me stories from when she was my age when she had troubles with the same things and she would tell me about what she had learned from the experience using her gospel perspective. I think this was her way of spontaneously bearing testimony to me. It gave me a lot to think about.

Bearing testimony like this becomes an early warning system because, as Elder Bednar says,
The reactions of children to such impromptu testimony bearing and their eagerness or reluctance to participate are potent sources of spiritual early warning signals. A child’s expression about a lesson learned in family scripture study or a candid statement of concern about a gospel principle or practice can be most illuminating and help parents better understand a child’s specific question or needs. Such discussions—especially when parents are as eager to listen intently as they are to talk—can foster a supportive and secure environment in the home and encourage ongoing communication about difficult topics. (emphasis added)
Elder Bednar mentions two possible ways that children can react to parents bearing testimony—eagerness or reluctance. These aren’t the only possible reactions, though. Another reaction possible is thoughtfulness and reflection. It looks like the child is not reacting at all, but inside they are absorbing it. The more that testimony is associated with a story, the better they will remember it. Parents can better gauge the reaction of their children by asking how they feel about the principle just witnessed to. They can ask their children if they have any experiences to share that are similar. And if a child counters with a statement that contradicts parental testimony, then that is a sign that the parent needs to find ways of reinforcing the principle with the child. This is a time when parents need to listen carefully (and non-judgmentally) to find out the extent of the child’s difficulty. At this point, the parent can move on to the third component of the early warning system…

The third component is to invite children to act. This is the time to propose experiments upon the word. Elder Bednar says,
As parents and gospel instructors, you and I are not in the business of distributing fish; rather, our work is to help our children learn “to fish” and to become spiritually steadfast. This vital objective is best accomplished as we encourage our children to act in accordance with correct principles—as we help them to learn by doing. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). Such learning requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception.
For instance, when I complained to my Mom about not being able to find something I’d lost, she invited me to act by asking me if I had prayed about it yet. I tried the experiment and gained my own testimony that Heavenly Father would help me find things I lost.

How can inviting children to act serve as an early warning signal? When children are invited to act, they will either choose to act according to the principles they’ve just been taught, or they will choose not to. As a parent observes the child over a period of time and reminds them of opportunities to act, the child may respond or resist. Positive response is a good sign. Resistance is a sign that the parent will have to do some more careful teaching about the principle from the scriptures, bear testimony, and then reiterate the invitation to act.

Elder Bednar uses family home evening as an example of a time when families can learn by study and by faith and parents can invite children to act for themselves. I’d like to offer an additional idea.

One way that we can invite a child to act when they are having difficulty with a gospel principle is to put them in a situation where they must search the scriptures on that topic. Imagine a teenager who is having troubles being dependable. A wise parent might ask this teenager to use the Topical Guide to compile a document containing scripture verses about dependability and trustworthiness. When the teen brings this document to the parent, the parent may carefully read through it. The parent may then ask the teen to take out any repetitive verses and organize the rest into categories that seem to make sense to the teen. (The task of classifying and categorizing anything requires that a person become intimately familiar with the material.) Once this is done, the teen can bring the document to the parent and they can discuss what the teen has learned about the topic. In this way, the teen will learn the principle on a much deeper level without the discomfort of a parental lecture. (The wise parent will take care to study the topic too—perhaps making their own categorized list to compare with their teen’s—because once the teen has learned about dependability from the scriptures, the teen will be much more alert and sensitive to parental sins of undependability!) Elder Bednar says,
What a glorious opportunity for family members to search the scriptures together and to be tutored by the Holy Ghost. “For the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; . . . and they did all labor, every man according to his strength” (Alma 1:26).
Elder Bednar ends with a powerful promise with great significance. To those parents who use all three components of this early warning system, he says,
[they] will be blessed with eyes that can see afar off (see Moses 6:27) and with ears that can hear the sound of the trumpet (see Ezekiel 33:2–16). The spiritual discernment and inspiration you will receive from the combination of these three holy habits will enable you to stand as watchmen on the tower for your families—“watching . . . with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18)—to the blessing of your immediate family and your future posterity. I so promise and testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)
This blessing Elder Bednar promises is nothing less than the gift of prophecy for our families, and that gift arises from carefully observing the reactions of our children to reading and discussing the Book of Mormon, bearing testimony, and invitations to act to learn and follow gospel principles. This is a great promise. This key has been given to us at an important time; we must arm our children with the ability to act and learn for themselves so that when temptations come, they will have the strength to resist and when opportunities come, they will be ready to be a greater force for good in the world.

I know that the components of this early warning system work because I’ve seen them at work in my own life when I was growing up. I hope everyone in the church learns to use them.
Saturday, August 14, 2010 1 comments

Zechariah's Prophecy of Globalization?

Today I ran across something in Zechariah that I found rather interesting.
18 ¶ Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns.
19 And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.
20 And the Lord shewed me four carpenters [craftsmen or artisans].
21 Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray [terrify] them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it. (Zechariah 1:18-21., explanatory footnotes added in square brackets)
I know that horns often represent power, and the number four often represents the four corners of the world, or the whole world. So, I interpreted these verses to mean that world powers were going to scatter Judah and Israel, but then that world craftsmen were going to terrify and then take away those world powers. I think we have a fulfillment of that going on right now. Gentile world powers have already scattered Israelites all over the world. But now, world craftsmen whose services are so low cost have taken a lot of the production power away from many western nations. Western nations are scared of this and don’t know what to do, and yet the business leaders who always want labor at the lowest cost, irrevocably move their production away to lower cost places. Gentile power is gradually being “cast out.”

The only way I see for us is to follow the counsel given by President Hinckley to get all the education that we can.

What do you think? Does this make sense or is it way off base?
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 4 comments

“I Am Not Sent”

In this story I think about why the Savior may have intended to put off the Canaanite woman who was looking for healing for her daughter. I also look at what was so great about her faith that enabled her to overcome Christ’s divine sense of priority.
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)
So the first question we are faced with is this: Why does Jesus not respond immediately like he does so many other times for others who beg him to come and heal their stricken family members? Is His mercy selective? It is hard to believe that it would be. It doesn’t seem consistent with His character that He would play favorites. We get an answer to this question in Mark’s version of the story: “But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs” (Mark 7:27).

So it seems that Jesus considered the Jews the children of the kingdom who had be fed the doctrine and the miracles first, meaning the children hadn’t eaten yet.

Why were the Jews considered the privileged “children”? Because they had been taught the nature of God. They had the writings of the prophets, and they had the commandments including “be holy, for I the Lord thy God am holy”. They were the children of the kingdom who were the husbandmen of the vineyard, and they were vineyard itself. They had stewardship over the kingdom. “They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (Rom. 9:2-5).
…Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)
If Jesus were to drop everything and go with the woman to cast the devil out of the woman’s daughter, He would be neglecting His duty to the house of Israel, who needed to be ministered to first as God had promised Abraham long ago. Heavenly Father’s plan and promise was that through Abraham’s seed, all kindred’s of the earth would be blessed, but that meant Abraham’s seed had to be blessed first.

It is also important for us to notice another thing that Jesus said—“I am not sent.” This shows us that while it may have appeared to everyone else that Jesus was going wherever He wanted whenever He wanted, Jesus was actually taking orders from His Heavenly Father. Further, this suggests that when He heard the Canaanite woman’s request, during the time when He didn’t answer her, He must have been praying silently to the Father as to whether it was the Father’s will to go with her or not. Then the feeling must have come that He was not to go with her because there were more people of Israel who needed Him. A difficult answer, but He was obedient to it.

Yet the Canaanite woman persisted. “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Why did she persist? Surely because it was her only hope. In her desperation, her mind must have taken hold of the words Jesus spoke—“Let the children first be filled.” (I bet she was a strong and well-spoken woman with an active and incisive mind, familiar with argument, ready to take advantage of the least rhetorical opening that could give her hope.) “Let the children first be filled” must have suggested to her that there might be leftovers. I can almost see her wheedle. “Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Rather than be content to be grouped with the common negative identifier of “dog” as a gentile (with masterless, greedy, wandering, scavenger characteristics), she jumped to identify herself with the more positive image of dogs, as tamed faithful servants who were dependent on the master for whatever food was left after a good meal. This suggests further that she knew who the master was and who the master’s children were and she wasn’t going to argue with that. She knew where the “food” came from; she knew salvation was of the Jews. “Just give me a leftover miracle,” she seemed to plead.

And Jesus relents, commending her great faith. What was so great about her faith? I felt I needed to examine this.

When the Canaanite woman addresses Jesus as “O Lord, thou Son of David” we see that she not only has heard the prophecies about a coming Messiah and his ancestry, but she strongly believes that Jesus fulfills those prophecies.

Asking for mercy for her daughter who is vexed with a devil indicates several things. That she knows the problem is a devil indicates that she has a natural gift for discerning spirits. Her appeal to Jesus showed her strong faith that He had all power over the spiritual realm and He could help her daughter. We also must conclude that the Canaanite woman presents herself to Jesus as a manifestation of the faith of her afflicted daughter as well. (If the afflicted daughter didn’t believe in Jesus’s power, it is unlikely that Jesus’s power would have affected her at that long distance. If the Canaanite woman didn’t believe in Jesus’s power, she wouldn’t have come to Him and would have even disregarded the faith of her daughter.) So we can surmise that the Canaanite woman and her daughter had heard of Jesus’s power and miracles and that they both had pinned all their hopes on Jesus’s identity and authority.

It is notable that when Jesus casts the devil out of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, He does it at long distance. This is extraordinary because it is a departure from the way He usually casts out devils. In all other recorded cases of the New Testament when Jesus cast’s out devils, He comes to the afflicted person, tells the devils to leave, and the devils leave. He has to be there to tell the devils to leave and the faith of the afflicted person (or an advocate for the afflicted person) works with Jesus’s power to work the miracle. But in this case, the afflicted girl never comes into Jesus’s presence.

This teaches us something about Jesus’s power. It teaches us that if we ever feel ourselves afflicted and vexed by a devil, if we believe in Jesus, He can cast the devil out of us from wherever He is. We don’t quite know what brought the devil on the girl in the first place, whether it was sin or some uninvited torment. If it was for sin, forgiveness from Jesus would cast it out. If it was an uninvited torment, Jesus could command the devil to leave.

There’s an epilogue to this miracle. After Jesus’s encounter with the Canaanite woman, we see that He did exactly as He said; He went back to Galilee and filled the children of the kingdom.
29 And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.
30 And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them:
31 Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31)
We see that there were indeed many of the children of the kingdom who needed to be filled. A few verses after this is recorded the miracle of feeding the four thousand. Because Jesus allowed Heavenly Father to guide Him, He was able to make appropriate choices and know where His priorities lay. This enabled Him to bless many people, not just a few, and fill them both physically and spiritually.

Another thought-provoking view of the incident can be found at Koinonia.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 0 comments

Observations on Izapa Stela 5 (often known as the “Tree of Life” stone.)




My attention was captured by this stone when a replica of it was printed in the July 2010 Ensign on p40*. I was on a car ride at the time and since I had no other place to go, I decided to put some serious study into it to see what I could discover.

The first thing I decided to do in my study, was to empty my mind of assumptions that I knew what it meant. Yes, some people say that it depicts the tree of life in Lehi’s vision, but I felt if that were the case, then ignoring that assumption should allow me to come to that meaning naturally through extensive observation. I wanted to see what I could notice on my own. (I must mention here that I have no training whatsoever in interpreting ancient pictures. In some ways this can be a disadvantage since it means I am ignorant of all previous scholarly work done and accepted meanings and interpretations. In other ways, this can be an advantage, since it means I am likewise ignorant of scholarly errors.)

The first thing I notice is the tree. But it is a very strange tree. The top half looks properly tree-like, with eight limbs and leaves sprouting out of it. The bottom half seems to be divided into three sections that do not look very tree-like at all. The section at the very bottom has all these squiggly root-like things and almost looks like an octopus. But it has too many arms to be an octopus and it has no suckers… Using my imagination, it almost looks like the fringe of a large scarf. I really don’t know what to make of it. It doesn’t look like roots though, that’s for sure.

An idea that came to me is this: the bottom half of the tree may constitute where figures were removed. The rest of the stela is very detailed and intricate, but the bottom of the tree seems unexpectedly blank and crudely rendered. There is a face turned toward the tree with its hands on it, but its face is completely blank. It seems incredible that the center of a stela would not have something very important there.

I took the liberty of looking up other drawings of the stela and I found a few different versions that have varying levels of detail and definiteness. I will refer to the drawing with the number labels for ease of identification.

Some general observations - There are hats on most of the heads of the figures in the lower part of the stela. This could indicate high rank. The size of the figures could indicate their relative importance to each other. Or could it indicate age?

Figure 11c and 11d – Located at the bottom right. Figure 11c appears to be an important person, since it seems to enjoy the privilege of being shielded by an umbrella held by figure 11d. What is figure 11c doing? One hand is stretched out towards figures 11f and 15 in front of him (assuming 11c is a ‘him’). Another hand holds some kind of long skinny object. To me, it looks like a writing implement and that there is a piece of paper there ready to write on. But what do I know? I like to write, so I tend to see writing implements everywhere.

Figure 11a and 11e – Located on the left bottom. Figure 11a appears to either have a very long chin or a beard. I think this depends on which rendering of the stela you look at. Figure 11a is pointing at figure 11e over the top of some kind of container with flames coming out of it. (At least it looks like flames to me, and possibly some smoke rising above the flames and floating toward the middle of the scene.

Figure 11b – located at the left of the scene. Holds another long skinny object in one hand and in the other, holds some kind of container. I think that is smoke curling out of it, but I’m not sure what to make of that container or the long skinny object.

Figure 12 – located near the center of the scene. This figure has their hands on what seems to be the trunk of the tree. Just for fun, I covered up the top of the tree and tried to see if I could imagine the bottom half as anything else than a tree. Perhaps a wall. But it still seems strangely vague.

Above the figures that are sitting, there are two figures that have bodies like humans, but heads like animals. The head on the one on the left looks like a dolphin to me. It seems to bend down to look at two fish and it has two rather large hummingbirds on the top of its head. (I call them hummingbirds because their beaks seem extra long.) I can’t tell what the dolphin figure’s arms are doing. The figure 9 on the right seems to have the head of a bird. It almost looks like it is pecking at the tree like a woodpecker. I think these larger figures are supposed to represent gods because the space around them is so elaborate and decorated.

Figure 13 seems oddly placed. It is raised up to be on the level of the god figures, but the way it is depicted seems ultra simple. It has almost no headdress or head covering, unlike the figures sitting at the bottom, who have hats. It also shows no body detail, unlike just about every other body figure. I wonder if the body details on figure 13 were defaced from the stone.

It is interesting that none of the figures who are sitting seem to notice the large god figures above them. Instead they are interacting with other humans.

I notice on the upper left side, there are two fishes hanging by their tails. Also, I notice that their tails are very similar to the object that figure 11b has in right hand.
On the upper right, there is a bird perched, but it doesn’t seem to be perched in the tree, but rather on a sort of billowy spiral.

We have now arrived at the part where I give my opinion about what I think the whole scene means. I don’t think it is of the tree of life dream sequence. I think that there is storytelling going on in the scene about the ways of the gods and what is being told is being depicted above the heads of the storytellers and the listeners. I also think the middle portion at the lower half of the tree is missing.

You are all welcome to chime in and tell me what you think it looks like. John E. Clark gives his view in the essay “A New Artistic Rendering of Izapa Stela 5: A Step Toward Improved Interpretation” and he points out:
The long roots of the tree appear to penetrate the ground. But when we look closely, we see that what look like roots are actually the elongated teeth of a crocodile or earth monster, while the tree trunk doubles as the crocodile's body, a feature depicted on several other Izapa monuments.
Personally I have a very hard time seeing this, and I wish he would refer the reader to other specific monuments for comparison for other examples of crocodile bodies depicted on monuments. He also says that the god figure on the right has a jaguar mask. I REALLY don’t know where he gets that idea. He says that the old man (figure 11a) is sitting on a skull throne. You can really only see the skull in the picture with the numbers on it. (It’s right behind the man’s right hand.)

Another interesting interpretation can be found in Michael J. Grofe's pdf file
The Recipe for Rebirth: Cacao as Fish in the Mythology and Symbolism of the Ancient Maya." Discussion of this particular stela can be found on p21-24 and 48-49. You can also see yet another drawing version of stela 5 on p21.

For those who want to know how someone might get Lehi’s dream out of stela 5, there’s this site: “The Tree of Life Carving – A Christian Relic?” by David Allen. You decide whether the comparisons made are enough to justify calling it “The Tree of Life” or not.

* an entry in the Seventh International Art Competition, rendered in metal by Araceli Andrade

Stela 5 image 1
http://www.ancientamerica.org/library/media/HTML/jx0gwcru/Stela%205%20Tree%20of%20Life%20update.htm?n=0

Stela 5 image 2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Izapa_Stela_5_.svg
Monday, August 9, 2010 0 comments

Further Observations on “commend” and “recommend” in the Scriptures

The double meaning of commend as “deliver over to someone’s care” or as an endorsement and recommendation can be detected in several scriptures.

Acts speaks of Paul and Barnabas as they pass through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in this way: “And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” (Acts 14:23) This could be read as both delivering them to the Lord and endorsing them to the Lord. I suspect that the sense of delivering them to the Lord is the stronger meaning though. If you’re about to leave someone and you know you won’t be around to help if things go terribly wrong, the only thing you can do is leave it all in God’s hands. Still, the sense of endorsing and vouching makes sense there too.

The New Testament also uses recommend.
26 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. (Acts 14:26-27)
Here we get the idea that Paul and Barnabas had themselves been assigned a mission at Antioch, since verse 26 tells us they came back to where they were recommended to the grace of God for the work. The recommendation has been made good through grace and they are in a sense handed back to the brethren.

(I have to make a quick digression and point out that verse 27 tells us that Paul and Barnabas then gave a report on their mission. This is very similar to what happens in the church today. Missionaries, when they return from their missions, are expected to report on their mission immediately to the stake presidency. It is no different with the apostles. Ezra Taft Benson’s biography tells of a number of missions he was assigned and every time he returned, he always reported to the quorum of the twelve. )

In the Book of Moroni from the Book of Mormon, we find hints that recommending someone to God was no empty formality, but an act of spiritual significance.
21 Behold, my son, I cannot recommend them unto God lest he should smite me.
22 But behold, my son, I recommend thee unto God, and I trust in Christ that thou wilt be saved… (Moroni 9:21-22)
Here, Moroni quotes a letter from his father in which his father points out that he can’t recommend the Nephites to God lest God smite him. This has some significant implications. It suggests that part of Mormon’s work as a disciple was recommending people to God, or vouching to God that their spiritual status was acceptable. Mormon speaks as one who knows that there are grave responsibilities attached to this role and that if he failed in them by recommending someone who was unworthy, not only would God know about it, but God would “smite” him for it. That he brings up this issue after a recital of the Nephites’ barbaric behavior seems to indicate that he had had to deny a number of the Nephites requests for recommendation. (This may have been at the very door of the temple, which seems to be supported by Joey Green’s post “Gates and the Divine Counsel in the Book of Mormon.” [http://literarybookofmormon.blogspot.com/2010/07/gates-and-divine-council-in-book-of.html]. ) Mormon seems relieved that even if he can’t recommend the Nephites to God, he can recommend Moroni to God.
And again, let my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge take with them a recommend from the church. And let there be one obtained for my servant Oliver Cowdery also. (D&C 52:41)
And again, I say unto you, that whosoever ye shall send in my name, by the voice of your brethren, the Twelve, duly recommended and authorized by you, shall have power to open the door of my kingdom unto any nation whithersoever ye shall send them— (D&C 112:21)
This shows that in our day, the act of recommendation and authorization go hand-in-hand and that the blessing that comes from it is power from God. In the case of missionaries, they are given power to open the doors of the kingdom of God to individuals. I suppose that recommended and authorized apostles are given power to open the doors of the kingdom of God to whole nations.
And now, verily I say unto you, let every elder who shall give an account unto the bishop of the church in this part of the vineyard be recommended by the church or churches, in which he labors, that he may render himself and his accounts approved in all things. (D&C 72:19)
This suggests that not only does an elder need to be recommended to God by those who send him on his mission, but the elder also has to be recommended to God by those he works among in order to return approved when he gives the account of his mission at the end. This makes perfect sense in the same way that the law of common consent makes sense. Maybe this could be termed “the law of common recommendation.” It also suggests the importance of personal priesthood interviews.

These scriptures show us that being properly recommended has great spiritual significance and that those doing the recommending take upon themselves a heavy responsibility.
Monday, August 2, 2010 3 comments

1 Kings 13: Delaying Obedience Leads to Disobedience

Forgive the lengthy scripture quote, but I couldn’t find what I should leave out.
1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Beth-el: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
2 And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
4 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
5 The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.
6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.
7 And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.
8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
9 For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.
10 So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el.
11 ¶ Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
12 And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
13 And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
14 And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
15 Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
17 For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
18 He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water that I may prove him; and he lied not unto him.
19 So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.
20 ¶ And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came unto the prophet that brought him back:
21 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee,
22 But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
23 ¶ And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
24 And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.
25 And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcase: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
26 And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto him.
27 And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
28 And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass.
29 And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him.
30 And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!
31 And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones:
32 For the saying which he cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass. (1 Kings 13:1-32, JST emphasis added)
This is very strange story that raises questions in our minds. How can a prophet tell another prophet to disobey what they’ve been told to do and then predict a punishment for them? Why such a severe penalty for the one and not for the other that tempted him?

One of the messages from this story seems to be a warning against distraction. The first man of God, who I’ll call “the young prophet” from Judah received word from the Lord that he should go to Bethel and prophesy against the idolatrous altar of Jeroboam in Bethel. (This even when there was an old prophet in Bethel already. It seems that the old prophet in Bethel was not doing his job, so an outsider was needed to come in and denounce what Jeroboam was doing.) The young prophet was specifically instructed not to eat or drink anything while at Bethel and to leave by a different way than he came. If so, then this trip was supposed to be a very quick one. Go in and get out. My immediate question at this point became, “How much of a distance did the young prophet have to travel then, if he wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything? How much of a privation would this cause?” So I looked at a map to see where Bethel lay in relation to the border of Judah and I found that Bethel was incredibly close to the border! Maybe one or two miles. From Bethel to Jerusalem is 10 miles, but if the young prophet wanted food badly, he really didn’t have to walk far at all to just get inside the border of Judah for a snack.

The young prophet starts out very well. He delivers the word of the Lord and he valiantly stands up to the king’s anger. He mercifully prays for the king to be healed. He refuses to go home with the king and he refuses a reward for the healing of the king’s hand. He leaves as he is supposed to by a different way.

But then, in verse 14, when the old prophet finds him, the young prophet is sitting under an oak tree. He’s not moving. He’s resting. He only has a few miles to go and he’s sitting down. And it is because he is resting that all this trouble with the old prophet starts. If the young prophet had been on the move as he was supposed to, it is unlikely that the old prophet would have overtaken him before he was back in safe territory. Obviously the young prophet thought that there was plenty of time to obey. There’s a scripture from the Book of Mormon that comes to mind here: “…They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey….do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way” (Alma 37:41,46). We begin to see that delaying obedience can lead to much more serious problems.

Now, let’s take a moment to think about the character of the old prophet from Bethel. If he had been acting as he should have, he would have been at the altar site too, denouncing the idolatry of the king. Instead, he was home. It is not stated where his sons were, whether they were at the idolatrous altar or not, but they seemed to know everything the young prophet did and said. This they could have learned by gossip or by being there, we don’t quite know which. This old prophet may have been weak and feeble, since he has prepared own grave, and he also seems to have been rich, since his grave was a sepulchre. Yet for all his feebleness, when he hears everything the young prophet did and said, he rouses himself and goes on a donkey ride to find the young prophet and bring him back.

Well, young prophet and old prophet have met. The old prophet offers hospitality to the new prophet This seems natural; prophets would want to get together and help one another. To the young prophet’s credit, he continues to recite the instructions he has been given from the Lord not to eat or drink in that place. Unlike King Jeroboam, who seems to be able to take no for an answer, it is notable that the old prophet can’t seem to do the same. (This should remind us of Martin Harris continuing to ask for the 116 pages.) If it wasn’t a red flag to the young prophet, it should be one for us. Perhaps the fact that the Lord had specifically commanded the young prophet not to accept hospitality was because the Lord didn’t want the young prophet to get pulled down by the influence of the king or the old prophet.

The old prophet tells the young prophet, “I am a prophet as thou art.” Yet, if the old prophet had really been as the young prophet, he would have been at the idolatrous altar too as a second witness, denouncing it and prophesying along with the young prophet. (Or the young prophet would have been the second witness to the old prophet.) But now, this sentence smacks of “Don’t look down on me; I’m just as good as you.” It seems like a wounded ego struggling for status and respect.

Then the old prophet says, “an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water that I may prove him” and the JST adds that “that I may prove him” and notes the old prophet didn’t lie.

These words of the old prophet muddy the waters substantially. It is a direct contradiction of instructions and the young prophet is forced to make a decision. Does he trust the previous direction from the Lord that was given to him directly, or does he believe that an angel would come to someone else to tell him what to do? If we are familiar with the principles of stewardship and personal revelation, we automatically should smell a rat. What stewardship did the old prophet from Bethel have over the young prophet from Judah? None. (Especially if he’s claiming to be a prophet “as thou art” instead of “over thee.”) And certainly a revelation to stay for a meal should have come directly to the young prophet instead of secondhand, even if it was an angelic visitation. Unfortunately, the mere mention of something dramatic like an angelic visitation seems to have caused the young prophet to forget or question his own conviction about his duty. (I have to point out again that if he had not delayed his exit by sitting under a tree, he probably would have been saved from this difficult situation.)

Further analysis of the character of the old prophet

His moral character seems to be somewhat unstable. He tries to get the young prophet to disobey instructions (very bad), feeds him (bad in context of young prophet's duty), then he declares a curse upon him (unkind though deserved), and then gives the man his own donkey to ride (kind), retrieves the man’s body (respectful), buries the man’s body in his own grave (generous), mourns for his demise (good), and wants his own body buried with him (touching though weird), and testifies that the young prophet’s words will come to pass (valiant but belated). This almost seems like he is revering the young prophet more when he is dead than when he was alive. In a number of ways, his acts are good with the exception that he couldn’t seem to accept another prophet’s personal revelation.

So why such a severe penalty for the young prophet and not for the old prophet? I suspect it may be because the young prophet, as a commissioned messenger of God, was the one whose deeds would be under strict scrutiny by King Jeroboam and other idolaters. One of the favorite ways that men have of invalidating messages from God is by discrediting the messengers who delivered them or by saying that the specific warnings can be disregarded at will. After such public declarations of what the Lord had told him to not do, it was important for the young prophet’s disobedience to become an object lesson of the dangers of disobedience. Unfortunately, Jeroboam seems to have carefully ignored these lessons about the danger of listening to the wrong sources, and he continued his wickedness, as the last few verses of the chapter say. “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. ” (1 Kings 13:33)

To me, this story seems to illustrate the importance of obeying quickly and completely. It shows that delay leads to disobedience because the adversary sees our delay and will try to give us very powerful reasons to postpone our obedience further until it becomes disobedience.