Thursday, October 28, 2010 5 comments

What Monster Need We Fear?

I personally am not a fan of spook alleys or scary movies. When I was about eight or nine, my dad took my brother and I through a spook alley. The coffin with the creepy hands coming out and raising the lid was not so bad, but the cackling judge holding a string to a bloody guillotine which he raised and let fall with fiendish glee was a bit much. But what really got me was the skeleton-man behind bars. He started dancing around and THEN, if that weren’t enough, he burst out of the bars (which were only hanging in place rather than fixed in place) and mingled among us. To my young mind, the horror of something like that breaking out made me feel very unsafe. I’ve never gone to a spook alley since.

I’ve read that one of the reasons that our society likes scary stuff is that we like to be able to confront our fears and then be able to escape them. Something about watching vampires, werewolves, and zombies attack and then be beaten back seems to make real life seem safer? I don’t know.

A few years ago I ran across a verse that is a great thing to remember in all the Halloween stuff.
O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. (2 Nephi 9:10)
This verse tells me that the only thing we need to fear is death and hell. Death has been conquered by Christ’s resurrection, so our submission to death will only be temporary. This leaves hell, which is entered through sin. So I guess that we only really need to worry about the monster of sin. As things get worse in society, our lives will turn into the equivalent of a monster movie, but just remember that when the sin zombies are after you, Christ has overcome all sin too, through his atonement, and because He has, we can overcome it by repentance and faith in Christ.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010 3 comments

Have you ever seen heaven?

I happened to run across Spencer W. Kimball’s book Faith Precedes the Miracle and as I scanned though it looking for something that could help me, I ran across an incident he recorded. He was sitting for his portrait to be painted and the artist unexpectedly asked him, “Have you ever seen heaven?”

Spencer W. Kimball told the artist of when he officiated at a marriage in the temple and how he felt the Spirit of the Lord there and how he felt that was a vision of heaven. He then told the artist of visiting at a home in which the children were obedient and respectful and helpful and the parents were kind and loving and there was order and how he thought that was a vision of heaven as well. He told several other experiences, pointing to each one as a place where he had seen heaven.

As I was reading the first of Spencer W. Kimball’s heaven experiences, I at first thought that it was a total cop-out. I knew the artist wanted to know whether President Kimball had seen a vision of the celestial kingdom like Joseph Smith saw as recorded in D&C 76, and I thought President Kimball was trying to avoid the issue that he hadn’t really seen. However, I kept reading, and when I got to the story of the family that seemed like heaven, I started to remember some things. I thought of the hymn lyrics “Home can be a heaven on earth when we are filled with love”. I thought of how my own mother had tried so hard to keep peace in my family while I grew up. I thought of how my parents would sometimes point out little moments when we were so happy to be together that it seemed like heaven. That’s when I realized something startling.

I realized that we tend to think in terms of what can be taken to heaven and what will be eternal and what heaven will be like, when really, it is should be the other way around. Family isn’t something of the earth that we take to heaven with us, but it is something heavenly that we can have on the earth. The commandments aren’t something of the earth that get us to heaven, the commandments are celestial and we can have them on the earth! Principles we will live by in heaven have already been given to us to live on the earth. We make a heaven here so that we’ll be worthy of it there, along with celestial glory.

When I realized this, I suddenly saw that I had seen heaven over and over and over without recognizing it. I saw heaven when I got to welcome a woman into the celestial room of the temple after she got her endowments for the first time. I saw heaven at family reunions. I saw heaven when I was sealed to my husband for time and eternity. I saw heaven when I saw people donating their surplus to Deseret Industries. I saw heaven when I saw people serving each other at ward activities. I saw heaven in countless family home evenings and countless family prayers and sessions of scripture study, when the Spirit was there. I saw heaven in obedience, sacrifice, service, missionary work, temple work, and so on. I saw heaven in growing families, in continued courtship after marriage, in my husband’s love, in friendship, in forgiveness, in choirs singing triumphant, ringing praises. In every good holy thing I was seeing a piece of heaven.

Now we see that we must not only avoid procrastinating our repentance, but we must also not put off preparing for heaven. We have to put heaven’s principles to work here, we need to practice obedience here, we need to acquire integrity and generosity here, and make a heaven that the very angels can visit here.

I haven’t seen heaven like Joseph Smith saw it, but I expect someday I will, if I continue to sanctify myself. You will too, if you do the same. At the tail end of D&C 76, there is this:
“But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory” (D&C 76:114-118, emphasis added).
This is a promise of seeing and knowing about heaven both through the Spirit, and with our very eyes. The spiritual part must come first, though, so that we will know what it is we see with our eyes, and recognize it for what it is.

Will you tell me about a time when you recognized a bit of heaven in your life?
Monday, October 25, 2010 6 comments

Isaiah on Praising the Lord in the Celestial Kingdom

10 Sing unto the LORD a new song,
and his praise from the end of the earth,
ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein;
the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.
11 Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice,
the villages that Kedardoth inhabit:
let the inhabitants of the rock sing,
let them shout from the tops of the mountains.
12 Let them give glory unto the LORD,
and declare his praise in the islands.
(Isaiah 42:10-12)
I always wondered why the prophets in the scriptures were always so quick to praise the Lord. Then I started thinking about why any person deserves praise. It is because the praised person did something great, and from gratitude for that great work.

This caused me to think, “Well, if Isaiah tells me to sing praises to the Lord, what has the Lord done for me?” And I started thinking through my life and examining how the Lord helped me. My journals were a huge help for me to remember, and there were many incidents I could see in which the hand of the Lord was a big part. Taken all together as a mass, it is simply overwhelming.

Consider that in the celestial kingdom we will have a perfect remembrance of all that the Lord has done for us, and see it clearly. It will overpower us. It will awe us how kind He was to us, how carefully He led us through our trials, how watchful He was over us in danger, how ready He was to enlighten us when we asked for knowledge, how merciful He was when we repented of our sins, how He put people in our lives to bless us, in short, how He did all things for our good. It will absolutely overwhelm us with gratitude and wonder and we will be so happy about it that we will want to sing all the time and tell everyone who will listen what the Lord did for us.

But we won’t be content with just doing that.
And it shall come to pass,
that from one new moon to another,
and from one sabbath to another,
shall all flesh come to worship before me,
saith the LORD.
(Isaiah 66:23)
Everyone will want to come and thank Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for everything he did and all of us will get a turn to do it. Crowds, thousands, millions and more will come, week after week, month after month, each in their turn, to worship and personally express their gratitude to the Lord.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 2 comments

Complaining in 1 Nephi

Recently I read something that suggested that when similar events reoccur in the Book of Mormon, we should study those events to see what the differences are between those events. Something that happens over and over in 1 Nephi is complaining and murmuring, so I decided to study the different incidents to see what I could learn. I ended up making a chart in which I examined who did the complaining, what was complained about, and then what the solution turned out to be. I felt this was important for me to study because I recently had a few days of complaining against the Lord and I got heavenly admonishment for it, so I wanted to learn what I could do to fortify myself against situations that might cause me to complain.

Some questions I asked myself after having made this chart were the following:

Is there a pattern in the type of things that Laman & Lemuel complain about?

Do the types of things they complain about change over time?

If so, how does it change?

How are the complaints solved?

Who tends to administer the solutions to the complaints?

Who complains besides Laman & Lemuel and why?

Who doesn’t complain? Why?

Why do Laman & Lemuel change from complaint to anger? What are they angry about? Are these good reasons to be angry?

































































Reference & eventWho complainsCause of ComplaintSolution
1 Nephi 2:11-13

leaving Jerusalem

Laman & Lemuel

Father Lehi is a visionary man

Father led family out of Jerusalem

We left precious things behind

We will perish in the wilderness

Lehi speaks with power and the Spirit

Lehi confounds them

Their frames shake

They dare not speak against him

They obey

1 Nephi 3:5

getting the plates

Laman & LemuelWe have to get the plates from Laban (hard thing)Sam & Nephi to go with them
1 Nephi 3:28

losing family inheritance to Laban

Laman & Lemuel

(beat Sam & Nephi,

speak hard words)

We lost all property to Laban

We have not obtained the plates

(returning to Jerusalem to the same standard of living as before is now not an option)

Angel comes

Angel chastises L & L

Angel commands them to go get plates

Nephi goes to get plates, succeeds

1 Nephi 5:2

waiting for sons to return with plates

SariahHusband Lehi is a visionary man

I’ve been led from land of inheritance

My sons have perished

My family will perish

Lehi comforts her:

(“I am visionary, I’ve seen things of God, I know God’s goodness, We’ve left Jerusalem so we won’t perish, We’ve obtained a land of promise, The Lord will save our sons”)

Lehi’s sons return safe with the plates

1 Nephi 7:6-7

returning from getting Ishmael’s family

Laman & Lemuel,

2 daughters of Ishmael,

2 sons of Ishmael + their families

?

(We want to return to Jerusalem)

Nephi chastises Laman & Lemuel

1 daughter of Ishmael + wife of Ishmael plead for Nephi

Laman & Lemuel repent

1 Nephi 16:1

Nephi explaining Lehi’s dream and prophecies

Laman & LemuelNephi speaks hard things we can’t bear about no unclean thing inheriting kingdom of God and being cast out as filthinessNephi exhorts brothers to diligence
1 Nephi 16:18-22

Nephi breaks his bow

Laman & Lemuel,

sons of Ishmael,

Lehi

Nephi broke his bow

Our families obtain no food

We’re tired

We’ve suffered and affliction in the wilderness

Laman & Lemuel’s bows lost their springs

God (is making us do this)

Nephi makes a bow and arrow

Nephi asks Lehi where to hunt for food

Voice of the Lord chastens Lehi

New words written on Liahona to give understanding of the Lord’s ways

Families fear and tremble

Nephi observes guidance comes with faith and diligence

Nephi gets food

1 Nephi 16: 35-38

Ishmael’s death

Daughters of Ishmael,

Laman (to Lemuel, sons of Ishmael)

D: Father Ishmael has died in the wilderness

We’ve wandered much in the wilderness

We’ve suffered hunger, thirst, fatigue

We’ll die in the wilderness of hunger

L: Nephi is acting as ruler, getting revelations (suspicious of Nephi’s motives, stirring others to ANGER)

Voice of the Lord speaks to them (which ones? All of them?)

Voice of the Lord chastens them exceedingly

They repent

Blessed with food

1 Nephi 17:17-18, 19-22

Nephi starts to build ship

Laman & LemuelNephi is trying to build a ship (foolish, no boat can cross the waters, don’t want to work, don’t think God commanded him)

Our wives had to labor hard while pregnant

We might have enjoyed inheritance during all this

We might have been happy at Jerusalem

Death would be better than what we went through

Jerusalem was righteous

Lehi judged Jerusalem unjustly

ANGER at Nephi’s words

Nephi preaches to L & L (God has chastened them like rebellious children of Israel, the righteous are favored, Israel was ripe for destruction, L & L are murderers in their hearts, L & L past feeling, fear L & L will be cast off,God can command me and help me build ship)

Nephi: “Touch me not!”

God tells Nephi to shock L & L

L & L repent

1 Nephi 18:9,10,17

While on the ship

Laman & Lemuel,

Sons of Ishmael

Nephi speaks soberly to us about our rudeness

Nephi is trying to rule over us

ANGER (they tie him up)

Others are pleading for Nephi

Huge 4 day storm

(Liahona stops working, Lehi speaks to them,family cries, parents about to die)

All about to be swallowed by mountain waves

2 Nephi 4:13

Nephi preaches after Lehi’s death

Laman & Lemuel,

Sons of Ishmael

ANGER at Nephi because of admonitions of the Lord

We think Nephi wants to rule over us

We’ve had trial because of Nephi

We don’t get to rule over the people

(Nephi prays)

(Nephi takes good people and leaves)



So, the following things can lead to complaining:
  • Having one’s course of life unexpectedly changed in a direction one doesn’t like
  • Being unexpectedly asked/commanded to complete a large and complicated project
  • Trying to do something important and then failing or having an unexpected setback
  • Loss of valuable belongings
  • Breakage of important tools
  • Circumstances of physical hardship—hunger, thirst, fatigue, extended suffering
  • Seeing loved ones suffer
  • Feeling one’s own common sense suggestions are being ignored in favor of a risky course with no end in sight
I noticed that Laman and Lemuel begin to try to add greater weight to their complaints by rehearsing past complaints as well. At the same time, they forget the blessings that have come. This shows me that rehearsing all past problems along with current complaints without acknowledging past solutions is ungrateful and only makes it worse.

I also noticed a progression through these incidents:
  1. Being swift to do iniquity and slow to remember the Lord causes our hearts to harden. (1 Nephi 17:45)
  2. Complaining arises from a hard heart.
  3. Complaining about circumstances gradually leads to complaining about the people who seem to bring these circumstances.
  4. Complaining against people leads to anger against people (even righteous people)
  5. There may be a reason for complaint, but when ANGER enters it, soon any kind of reason is enough to raise anger. Anger is unreasonable.
Nephi always responds to complaints and murmuring by preaching faith in the Lord, using examples from the scriptures and from shared past experiences.
Nephi cries to the Lord in difficulty.
Nephi doesn’t complain in difficulty; he focuses on being part of the solution and he keeps trying solutions.
Nephi only complains once (instance not on the chart), but that is about his own sins and the temptations that so easily beset him, and then he quickly remembers all the Lord has done for him and prays for strength. (see 2 Nephi 4:17-35)


Doctrines that help us not complain:
  • The righteous don’t do anything except by (or according to) the word of God. (The righteous get their assignments from God.) (1 Nephi 17:3)
  • If God has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that He can’t instruct me to__________? (1 Nephi 17:51)
  • If God commanded me to do all things, I could do them. (1 Nephi 17:50)
  • The Lord makes us mighty. (1 Nephi 17:32)
  • The Lord goes before us, leading by day and giving light by night, doing all things for us which are expedient for us to receive. (1 Nephi 17:30)
  • The Lord prepares a way for us to accomplish His commandments (1 Nephi 3:7)
  • If we keep the commandments, we will be led to a better place. (1 Nephi 17:13)

Is there anything that you’ve learned that helps you not complain? Will you share with me a time when you didn’t complain when in difficulty and were blessed?
Thursday, October 14, 2010 3 comments

Answers to 7 common excuses for not reading the scriptures daily

Excuse #1 : The scriptures are boring.

From Gordon B. Hinckley:
I hope that for you this will become something far more enjoyable than a duty; that, rather, it will become a love affair with the word of God. I promise you that as you read, your minds will be enlightened and your spirits will be lifted. At first it may seem tedious, but that will change into a wondrous experience with thoughts and words of things divine. (“The Light Within You”, Ensign, May 1995, 99, emphasis added)
President Hinckley was not saying that you’ll have to deal with days and years of tedious reading before the scriptures begin to seem interesting. He was talking about every time you pick up the scriptures. Each time you do it, the reading may seem tedious at first, but then it will change into a wonderful experience.

Further, he’s giving us HIS PROMISE that if we just started reading, we will be enlightened and lifted. Put that promise to the test. Experiment upon his words.

I know that promise is fulfilled. I’ve seen it be fulfilled over and over and over in my life. I’ve seen it happen so often that the beginning tedium doesn’t bother me any more. I’ve also learned that if I pray for Heavenly Father to teach me something, then He will. You can read about how I got started reading the scriptures on my own and how I study the scriptures and apply them in my life.

Excuse #2 : I don’t understand what I’m reading, so why would I want to read every day?

From President Joseph Fielding Smith:
It has always been an astonishment to me that so many members of the Church fail to prepare themselves by study and by faith to know the truth. (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 5, 46-47)
Has it ever occurred to you that if we don’t understand something we are reading that it means we need to PREPARE ourselves to understand it? This is just barely becoming clear to me in my own study. To understand some things in the scriptures we need a strong foundation, so we have to get really familiar with what we do understand and then use that when examining what we don’t understand. For example, I found that remembering the events of the Exodus helped me understand some things in Isaiah that I hadn’t before.

Excuse #3 : I don’t see what the big deal is about reading the scriptures every day. I don’t think it matters.

From President Ezra Taft Benson:
Let us not treat lightly the great things we have received from the hand of the Lord! His word is one of the most valuable gifts he has given us. I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you. (“The Power of the Word”, Ensign, May 1986, 81, emphasis added)
I've written elsewhere my thoughts on why we need the scriptures.

Excuse #4 : I don’t have time to read. There’s just too much to do.


From President Howard W. Hunter:
It is certain that one who studies the scriptures every day accomplishes far more than one who devotes considerable time one day and then lets days go by before continuing. (Ensign, November 1979, 64)
It is easy to think that President Hunter is only talking about how we learn more about the scriptures studying them consistently than we would if we read sporadically. But He’s also saying that when we read the scriptures every day first thing, Heavenly Father then helps us accomplish much more in the rest of the day than if we didn’t read.

One of my classmates in my seminary preservice class testified to this. He said that he always seemed to have so much homework and he found that if he read his scriptures FIRST, then he was always able to get everything else done on time. I can also second that witness because I’ve found the same thing happened in my life. When I have oodles to do, I can study my scriptures first and everything else works out. (I’ve seen classes get cancelled or due dates get moved back in unexpected ways.)

Excuse #5 : Daily reading is too “churchy” for me.

From President George Q. Cannon:
I have noticed….that where the people of God pay attention to the written word, and cherish and observe the written word, they are always better prepared to hear the oral instructions of the servants of God…they have greater interest in seeking to obtain instruction, than they have when they are careless about the written word of God. (CR 1897, October, 38)
From Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
I think that people who study the scriptures get a dimension to their life that nobody else gets and that can’t be obtained in any way except by studying the scriptures. (in David Croft, "Spare Time’s Rare to an Apostle", Church News, 24, January 1976, 4)
When we think of something as “too churchy,” fundamentally it means we have noticed that there is a major difference between the world and the things of the spirit. Discomfort with the spiritual happens when we haven’t had enough experience with those things to learn how wonderful they can be. It’s part of the natural man. (I remember this discomfort well from my earlier teenage years.) Daily scripture reading is how you overcome that discomfort with spiritual things so that you can enjoy them more. It’s something you do by yourself, so you don’t have to worry about how you look or what others are thinking about you. It’s a time when you’ll learn how it feels to be encouraged, enlightened, and edified by the Spirit so that when it happens other places, you’ll recognize it and embrace it rather than feeling like something weird is happening to you.

When we become accustomed to a daily dose of the word of God and recognize it as delicious, we will have been changed by the Spirit enough to be more interested in hearing the word of God.

Excuse #6 : Right now I’m working on improving something else related to my church activity. Improving scripture study will have to wait.

From President Ezra Taft Benson:
Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage to our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple.

All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow. (“The Power of the Word”, Ensign, May 1986, 81, emphasis added)
The scriptures are a conduit to personal revelation by which the Spirit will teach us everything we need to do. By incorporating daily personal scripture study, we will learn for ourselves and become agents anxiously engaged in good causes and bring to pass more righteousness than if we waited to be told by our leaders what to do.

Excuse #7 : I can find answers to my questions better by searching the internet.

From President Joseph Fielding Smith:
I think many members of the Church will be condemned for their failure to search for knowledge which is given in clearness in our Standard Works. (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 5, 46-47)
From Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the seventy:
This world is full of so many self-help books, so many self-proclaimed experts, so many theorists, educators, and philosophers who have advice and counsel to give on any and all subjects. With technology today, information on a myriad of subjects is available with the click of a keystroke. It is easy to get caught in the trap of looking to the “arm of flesh” for advice on everything from how to raise children to how to find happiness. While some information has merit, as members of the Church we have access to the source of pure truth, even God Himself. We would do well to search out answers to our problems and questions by investigating what the Lord has revealed through His prophets. (“Our Very Survival”, General Conference, October 2010)
I had a question that I pondered over from time to time as a teenager. I had noticed that I tended to have a little pride cycle going on in my life and I wanted to know what I could do to avoid the negative end of it. One day I happened to find the answer in a phrase in the scriptures—“weary not of well doing.” I realized that I always started on the downward end of my pride cycle when I got tired of doing good and decided to coast for a while. So I decided to try to rejoice in doing good instead.

If you have to have the convenience of internet speed in your searching, at least try searching the scriptures on lds.org. Both the topical guide and the little search box are extremely handy and fast. (The little search box can help you find things that aren’t in the Topical Guide. ☺)

The scriptures can help us with our modern problems; we just have to get creative with our search terms. Let’s say you’re having issues in your family with cell phone usage. If you want to find the doctrine of cell phones explicitly stated in the scriptures, you’re not going to find anything. But if you search with such terms as “communicate,” “distract,” “idle,” “vain,” “vanity,” and “talk,” you’ll find some principles that are applicable to establishing fundamental standards of cell phone usage. (I tried it myself using the search box in lds.org's scriptures and I was able to accumulate at least a page worth of helpful scriptures in a document file.)

To sum up…we will be blessed if we develop a daily habit of scripture study.



To those of you who have a daily scripture reading habit, how have you overcome your obstacles to daily scripture study?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 3 comments

Fresh Lessons from Nephi Getting the Brass Plates


I’ve read the story of how Nephi got the brass plates so many times that I didn’t feel like there was anything more I could get from it. I’m sure you know that feeling. I’m now learning that when I feel that way as I start reading a scripture story, I must pray and ask for the Lord to teach me. I’m finding that He answers those prayers.

One of the main features of this story that cannot be avoided is that Nephi kills Laban. Today I asked myself, Just what can I learn from this? It was a tough question, and it needed to be asked. And the answer needed to be something good because we all know better than to interpret it as a message to kill people that get in our way when we’re trying to keep the commandments. It had to be something I could really apply in my life. I finally realized that it is a great message about the necessity of killing our own natural man or woman.
For the natural man [and woman] is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
Laban is a prime example of what the natural man or woman is like; instead of submitting, he resists. Further, the crimes that Laban committed against Nephi and his brothers are exactly the same as the crimes that our natural man commits against our spiritual man. “I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property” (1 Nephi 4:11). The natural man tries to kill the spiritual man. He doesn’t listen or obey the commandments of God. And he tries to usurp the privileges, riches, and inheritance of the spiritual man for his own nefarious use. No compromise is possible in our war with our natural man. Our natural man must die. Laban is the natural man in all of us.

In this story, we can see Nephi as the spiritual man in all of us. Nephi’s focus was on obtaining the brass plates (the word of God) and keeping God’s commandments, and our spiritual man has that same desire to be good. (How different Nephi’s focus is from Laban’s focus on and lust after the things of the flesh!) Just like Nephi is the one who kills Laban, the spiritual man in us must kill the natural man in us.

The way that Laban was killed is very much like the process of killing our natural man. Just like Laban was beheaded, killing our natural man involves cutting off our evil thoughts. Laban was killed with a sword. The sword has been used in the scriptures as a metaphor for the Spirit and the word of God. “And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Helaman 4:12). When our spiritual man wields the word of God and the Spirit and submits to it, the natural man begins to be beheaded.

Image from What to Mormons Believe?, "thou shalt not kill?", http://www.whatdomormonsbelieve.com/2008/07/shalt-thou-kill/
Monday, October 11, 2010 3 comments

Book Review--The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament

Last week I read The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament and I really have to say that if you haven’t read this book, you should go out and get it. NOW. I really don’t like to use this blog for book reviews, but in this case I felt compelled (and justified). I really think it revolutionized my view of the Old Testament. (Yes, I just used the word “really” three times in three sentences. That should show you just how much I mean it.) It showed me how so many of the prophets were types of Christ, but it also explained why the Lord went to the trouble to make those lives into types.

Some things I learned:
  • How the creation is a parallel of spiritual progression
  • How the discussion of Kolob and stars in the Book of Abraham is relevant to us and teaches about Christ
  • How the Abrahamic covenant promises of Christ
  • How the stories of Ishmael and Isaac are linked to the Fall and the Atonement.
  • What the plagues of Egypt were teaching about God’s power and the meaning behind those plagues
  • How the loss and return of the ark in 1 Samuel was prefiguring the gospel going from the Jews to the gentiles and back to the Jews in the latter days
There were some things that I already knew, yet the book expanded on and made these points more significant. Overall, I was very impressed and deeply edified by this book. It has fresh insights that are extremely solid. I highly recommend it. Put it on your Christmas list. Or your Thankgiving list. Or maybe your Halloween list. Heck, why not your Columbus Day list. Buy it yesterday, for goodness sake!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Friday, October 8, 2010 3 comments

Who’s in your corner?

Things are getting more difficult. About a year ago, both me and my sister admitted to each other we were having troubles fighting off doubts. We knew it is Satan attacking us. We found support in each other and encouraged each other.

Everyone needs someone they can turn to for encouragement and comfort.
For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall. (Isaiah 25:4)
Who do you know that can be a harbor in the storm for you? (And are you willing to do the same for them in the most loving way?) Gather around yourself the best people you can find, thoughtful people who can give you wise answers, even if they aren’t the easy answers.

Heavenly Father can be our confidant if we let Him.

During my first year in college, often when I was coming home from school to my dorm room I would wish I had someone who really cared about me who would be willing to listen to me tell about my day. My roommate was an okay person, but not entirely “simpatico”, so I didn’t feel like she was one I could really talk to. One day I was thinking about it yet again and I realized that I could make Heavenly Father my confidant and share my day with Him. That made a big difference.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 3 comments

Grammatical Study of the Sacrament Prayer on the Bread

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (D&C 20:77)
Let’s start with the verbs and verbals. What do we find?

Ask
Bless
Sanctify
Partake
Eat
Witness
Are willing
Take upon
remember
Keep
Has Given
May Have
Be with

There are so many things we can say about this list. It indicates that taking the sacrament is not just one action, but many. Some actions are visible and others aren’t. And I can see that if I am not strenuously engaged in those actions that are not outwardly visible, I am clearly not doing my part and the ordinance is merely “dead works.”

Something else I can see from this list is that there are actions that the Lord does and actions that we do. The Lord does the “bless, sanctify, has given, be with”. We do the “ask, partake, eat, are willing, remember, keep, and may have.”

How about the nouns in the prayer? (There’s a lot of pronouns in there too, so I am leaving them out.)

God
Father
Name
Son
Jesus Christ
Bread
Souls
all those who partake of it
Body
Son
God
Father
Name
Son
Commandments
Spirit

Something I notice from this list is that the whole Godhead appears in it. Each member of the Godhead is performing a special role. God the Father will bless and sanctify the bread so that the ordinance can be done to salvation. The Son, Jesus Christ acts as an advocate, since the ordinance is done in His name. He gave commandments, which are referred to. He was born on earth, He died, and was resurrected, which is implied by the mere reference to His body. The same reference to His body also evokes His voluntary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Finally, Spirit acts as a constant companion to the worthy partakers.

I also notice that “the name of thy Son” occurs twice in the prayer. The first time it is used as part of the petition and the second it is something taken on by the partaker. To me this suggests the hope of a change in identity that is to lead to a change in nature.

Okay. What adjectives and adverbs can we find and what do they teach us?

Eternal (Father)
Eternal (Father)
Always (remember)
Always (have)

The only true adjectives and adverbs are focused on eternity. This is a sign to me that this ordinance is of God and that God’s work is to bring us to be more like Him. That “always remember” suggests to me that my memory and gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice can last beyond mortal life into the eternities.

What words in the sacrament prayers strike you as being especially significant? What experiences have brought you greater meaning as you have taken the sacrament?
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 0 comments

Daniel Purposed In His Heart

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. (Daniel 1:8)
I think it is notable that Daniel made this determination in himself when he found his beliefs in conflict with the policies of those in charge of him. I think this story is very applicable to us today, surrounded as we are by the world.

The scriptures say that Daniel would not defile himself with the king’s meat. I used to think it was odd that Daniel was picky about what meat he would eat, until I remembered that the Law of Moses is pretty specific about what animals are “clean” and what animals are “unclean”. It is likely that Daniel was being given all kinds of strange creatures to eat.

Daniel provides us a great model to follow whenever people with authority over us ask us to do things against our standards. Daniel didn’t stew about what he was given to eat (pardon the pun); he went to a person who could make a decision and he explained himself. He also proposed an alternative and even an experiment so that results could be judged. (How scientific! A dietary experiment is recorded in the Bible!) Daniel’s strategy shows us that when we object to something, it would be wise of us to suggest an alternative course of action.

I faced this kind of situation in several of my classes as a Literature, Writing, and Film major at ASU. I knew as I registered for my Introduction to Film class that some films would be shown that would strongly conflict with my personal viewing standards, but the class was required for my major. Like Daniel, I purposed in my heart that I would not defile myself. I determined that I would talk to my teacher about it before the semester began and I fasted about what I should say before I went to see her. I told her about my concerns and my personal viewing standards and I offered to view alternative films and do extra work. We were able to arrive at an agreement. I found that because I chose clean films to do my film analysis papers on, I was able to look more carefully at the artistic elements and give more substantial commentary on them.

As another example, in my first poetry class, we were required to make five semester goals. For one of my goals, I determined that I was going to keep my poetry positive. I knew it was far too easy for poetry to become a medium for venting and ranting and mourning and spewing all kinds of cynical thoughts. As the semester progressed, I found that my goal was an extra constraint that required me to develop extra creativity. In particular, I gravitated toward a speculative approach. At the end of two semesters of poetry classes, my teacher told me she always looked forward to my poems and workshops of other people’s poems.

When we decide that we will not defile ourselves and we make an effort to work with authority to find alternatives, we are blessed. It’s not necessarily easy and we may be misunderstood and thought prudish and too sensitive, but we will have learned while staying pure.
Monday, October 4, 2010 4 comments

Reflections on General Conference (Oct 2010)

Before I review the conference we have just finished, I want to point out some things I’ve seen happen that are related to some previous conferences we’ve had.

Last April conference 2010, President Monson spoke about the resurrection and the comfort this doctrine gives. I wondered how this would be pertinent for the next six months. In late June my grandmother died and I went to her funeral. I also heard of others who lost loved ones. We were all shocked to hear of a bishop in California who was shot and killed. I suspect that death has touched many of our lives in some way. President Monson’s words on the resurrection were a reminder of greatest relevance and applicability.

In October conference 2009, President Monson spoke about giving helping those in need. A few months later, devastating earthquakes occurred in Haiti and Chile, which clearly called for our help.

Now President Monson has talked to us about the importance of gratitude. This should be a strong indicator to us that in the coming months, there will be some things that happen that will be much easier for us to bear if we have already cultivated determined gratitude. The prospect of these coming events should not give us cause for alarm. The Lord does not give us a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind. The Lord does not tell us what is coming. He only tells us to prepare and what we should do to prepare. If we put our energy into obeying that counsel, our minds will not have time to fear because they are occupied in preparing. Then when the event comes for which we have prepared, we will be ready and we will immediately understand how ready we are. This will strengthen our faith, give us peace, and our trust in the Lord and the prophets will grow. The way the Lord works maximizes faith and eliminates fear if we follow the counsel we are given.

Both Elder Holland and President Monson spoke about gratitude. Elder Holland thanked all the members for their faith and good works, reviewing many different types of people in their different stations.

Claudio R. M. Costa and Kevin R. Duncan reviewed President Benson’s talk “Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet.” This indicates that a number of us have been straying a little from these principles and we need the reminder of just how marvelous a miracle it is to have a living prophet. Dallin H. Oaks described the correct roles and interplay between the two different lines of communication—priesthood and personal—that we receive from the Lord. This reminder is very important because it shows me that the principle of revelatory priesthood leadership and the principle of personal revelation, if taught apart, sometimes cause us to view them as opposing and contradictory principles, when really they are complementary principles and neither can function appropriately without the other.

So why do we need these strong repetitions of counsel and principles of following the prophets? Because we need them to expand our minds to a correct understanding of the role and power of prophets, seers, and revelators.. and especially the prophet and president of the church. In our world, which is governed very much by rationality, it is all too easy to begin to look at the office of prophet and begin to reason with a worldly perspective rather than a spiritual perspective and try to define where the limits of his authority are. We are likely to set up stakes in our minds about where we think the prophet can’t go and we are liable to get offended if he steps beyond them. Not only that, we have a sad tendency to begin to circumscribe our mental idea of the role of the prophet and shrink it smaller and smaller in a gradual way. The spiritual stretching we felt as we listened to those 14 fundamentals of following the prophet is a reminder to us how limited own vision can become and why we NEED prophets to administer that stretching.

Those 14 fundamentals also seems to underline for me how everything about the prophetic office is miraculous. It takes countless miracles for a man to speak for God in everything. It takes miracles for a man’s words to be more important than the standard works. It takes miracles for that prophet’s words to be more important than a dead prophet’s words! It takes miracles for a man to never lead the church astray! It takes miracles for a man to need no earthly training to speak for God on any matter at any time! It takes miracles for a man to tell us what we need to know rather than what we want to know! It takes miracles for a man to transcend the reasoning of the world!

We are so used to these near-constant miracles that we forget they are miracles! We forget they are miracles because they are based firmly on righteous principles that we have known for so long that we forget that we are seeing the powers of heaven controlled and maintained on the principles of righteousness! Or if we are not used to these miracles, we tend to deny them!

I suppose I will have people telling me that I’m not giving enough credit to the personal line of communication that Elder Oaks talked about. Perhaps I’m not. After all, there were just as many mentions about the roles of the Holy Ghost as there were about prophets.

Elder Bednar gave a great talk about receiving the Holy Ghost. Here’s his great perspective: all the commandments are intended to bless us with the Holy Ghost. I can see that this happens because obedience always invites the Holy Ghost. I love that he points out that receiving the Holy Ghost is not passive, it is active and requires seeking, searching, working, and living for it. How true that is!

Elder Perl M. Galm used a very interesting image at the beginning of his talk. It was a tree that was completely hollow inside, filled with all kinds of waste, and only held upright with steel bands, and wires attached to nearby buildings. This seems like a great metaphor for the condition of a life frittered away on useless pursuits.

Another theme that was touched on a lot was agency. This indicates that there are many people that feel like they are being inexorably pulled toward some course of action by circumstances or expectations or pressure and they have to be reminded that they have agency and they need to rouse themselves and take control of their own destiny, even if it means rocking the boat a bit. I am one of these people myself. I think one of the reasons this has become more of an issue is because our society is becoming so media focused that we are becoming more and more lulled into passivity.

There’s one final bit of counsel that I want to touch on. This was from Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the seventy, who raised what he called a personal warning about the dangers of sleepovers. He said that too many temptations—drugs, pornography, and other forms--occur when children spend the night at friends’ houses. I suppose that his words raised some hackles, but I want to say it is a wise warning. I was a teen when my parents made the decision that none of us children would be allowed to go to sleepovers anymore. While I was somewhat disappointed, I was also relieved because I had been to some sleepovers that were very uncomfortable because of media choices or the conversation. Having been forbidden, I was relieved that I didn’t have to worry about it again. Elder Lawrence mentioned that children’s defenses are down at night. This is very true. We often talk about late nights dropping defenses with reference to teenagers and dating and morality, but somehow we haven’t made the connection that it is also true of children. I suppose that this warning is an opportunity for us to reflect upon the institution of the sleepover. What purpose does it serve? Is there any way to serve the same purpose in other ways that involve less danger?