Sunday, October 30, 2011 3 comments

The upward cycle shown by Jacob (plus a paradox)

6 Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things. (Jacob 4:6-7)
There is an inspiring cycle here that we can pick out. We are given many witnesses by scripture study, revelations, and prophecy (testimony of Jesus), which leads to hope (in Christ), which leads to unshaken faith, which leads to power through grace to command in the name of Jesus. I suspect those works, when we record them, then become more witnesses, which leads to more hope, more unshaken faith, and more power through grace, etc. and so on.

The works that Jacob describes are amazing—commanding the trees, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. Yet it is certain these couldn’t be commanded unless there was a situation of very great need. I can’t help but try to imagine what kind of situations might have required these miracles.

There’s one more thing in these verses that is interesting and unexpected. After all these great works, the Lord shows Jacob his weaknesses so Jacob will know that the power to do those mighty works comes from the Lord. If this is also part of the cycle, it seems the more unshaken our faith in Christ becomes, the more we will be aware of our own weaknesses.

It’s not very pleasant to see our weaknesses, and if we’re used to relying on ourselves, it can be debilitating and discouraging. But it isn’t ourselves we are to trust in—it is God and Christ. It seems we are confronted with a paradox--unshaken faith brings a lower estimation of one’s own strength, yet also gives greater strength from God to accomplish His work!

I will give an example from my own life as a sort of allegory for how this plays out.

On Tuesday, Oct 18, I was in Bangkok on vacation with my husband and we had reservations to fly to Chang Mai. There was just one problem--I woke up feeling nauseous. I took two Pepto Bismol tablets, but after getting my shower, I threw them up again. Not a good sign. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for me to be sick; we had our flight to catch. I prayed for the strength to do it and determined that I had to because I didn’t want it to become another missed flight like what happened four years ago. (Also, considering the weird things I had eaten the day before, we figured it might be intestinal culture shock rather than something contagious. Perhaps my English-speaking stomach bacilli were not playing nice with the new Thai-speaking bacilli?)

I didn’t know how I was going to get through it, but I went. I managed to get to the hotel lobby and then into the taxi. I found I couldn’t sit up; I felt too awful, so I lay on the seat with my head in my husband’s lap. We got to the airport and I had to get out. I couldn’t get to the check-in desk, so Devon checked us in and I sat outside on the sidewalk, bent over.

Poor Devon was very concerned about me and every once in a while asked if there was anything he could do or whether we should just stay in Bangkok. I worked very hard to not complain at all and just be determined to get to Chang Mai. (Was I stupid? Maybe. But sometimes I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier..) I just kept praying for strength.

When he got our boarding passes, it was time to get to the gate. I took several stops on the way, stopping to rest when I began to feel like I might faint. I went to the bathroom twice with diarrhea, and I kept hoping I wouldn’t mess my pants or throw up on anybody. Each time I had to move again, it seemed I had just enough energy to get through the next stage—just enough energy to get through security screening, (rest), then just enough energy to get to the gate, (rest) at which point I was so cold that I was really having a hard time. I kept getting the thought that I should put my long johns on, and finally I did. That made a big difference in my comfort level, even if I still felt terrible and weak. Then I slept until it was time to board.

We had to take a bus to the plane, and I had just enough energy to get on the bus. The bus was full and the only room that was left was in the stairwell, so I just sat down in the stairwell, leaned on my husband’s legs (he was standing), and phased out.

Then I had just enough energy to board the plane and find my seat, at which I sat bent over double pretty much the whole flight with my jacket’s hood over my head and slept. I couldn’t eat my flight food; I could only drink water.

Then I had enough energy to get off the plane and follow my husband as he wandered around the Chang Mai airport to find the exit. Devon declared that I looked like I was feeling a lot better. I did feel better, but I didn’t feel 100%. I felt so cold. Devon got me water and fruit juice so I could stay hydrated, and he arranged the taxi ride to the hotel.

We got up to our hotel room and I crashed into bed. The room seemed incredibly cold and damp. We could turn off the AC, but we couldn’t get heat. My feet were freezing and I kept getting chills. Eventually we pulled out my thermometer and found I had a 101 degree temperature. I took an Advil, Devon gave me a blessing, and then I slept like a log, rising occasionally to go to the bathroom and get a drink. In the morning, I felt 100% good again. Yaaaaaaay!!!

I look back on that experience and I wonder how I managed to get through that flight. I’m not the type of person that can “man up” and do something active in spite of sickness. I’m the type that will lay in bed past the end of the sickness just to make sure it is really gone.

At no part of that experience did I ever feel truly capable of continuing; it was only when I had to that I found myself with just enough energy to move to the next stage. I knew that was a physical manifestation of the grace of God.

I don’t recommend that you do anything like this on YOUR vacation. If you get sick, I beg of you, stay in bed where you belong. I’m sharing this just as an illustration of the point Jacob is trying to make. When we see our own weaknesses, it is as if we have discovered we are sick and can’t go anywhere. But the Lord calls us to do things anyway. We don’t have the strength to do it all at once. But if we rely on the Lord, He gives us grace (enabling power) to do it, little…..by……little. Each time, we go as far as we can. We take it in stages. One step at a time. Maybe we never feel any more capable near the end, but we will accomplish what needs to be done, little…..by…..little….. one day at a time….. until we will look back on our lives and marvel, “HOW did I DO that?!!” and testify that it was through the power of God and His great condescension to us that we were able to do His work.

When have you seen this in your life? How has the Lord helped you do what seemed impossible to you?
Friday, October 28, 2011 1 comments

Sick of Halloween? Try All Saints Day instead!

Halloween is starting to get more and more annoying to me for several reasons. First, I hate that the costumes for women are becoming hyper-sexualized. When I see the sexy nurses, the sexy maids, the sexy witches, the sexy bunnies, ad nauseum, I want to vomit. Second, the over-done scary gore bothers me.

Halloween has the potential to be so much fun; what other holiday in the year gives us social permission to dress up as anything? I just wish that people would realize that just because we can dress up does not mean that “anything goes.”

It was when I started casting around for alternatives that I learned something cool. Halloween (or All Hallow’s Evening, as it once was called) is followed by a holiday on November 1, called “All Saints Day,” which honors “all saints, known and unknown” (Wikipedia). The next day, November 2, is called “All Souls Day,” which “specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven” (Wikipedia).

Surely we, if anyone, have the most reason to celebrate on those days!

Did you know the hymn “For All the Saints” was written to commemorate All Saints Day? (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_All_the_Saints) Check out the lyrics, six stanzas of which are not in the LDS hymnal.
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
It seems to me that if we want a Mormon alternative to Halloween, we could celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day. How could we celebrate them? There’s a raft of possibilities!
  • We could make those days into days of temple worship to bless the dead and then have feasts to refresh the living!
  • We could dress up as saints from all ages of the world! (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and even.. future saints (Mormon Star Trek?))
  • We could take bread (representing the bread of life) to non-Mormon neighbors!
  • We could celebrate by flying kites (to represent the angel souls of the dead that are sealed to us)!
We could make these days uniquely our own.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 7 comments

And not faint

But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint… (2 Nephi 32:9)
Recently I was struck by that part “and not faint” in Nephi’s words about how we should pray. It made me wonder if he meant “pray always and don’t lose consciousness” as we so often read it to mean. Yet who really faints while praying? It seemed too silly (unless he knew about all of us who tend to drift off to sleep while we’re praying…). But if he meant those of us who fall asleep while praying, he would have said "pray always and not sleep." So I suspected maybe Nephi meant “pray always and not faintly. That made a lot more sense. I decided to look up in the dictionary what “faint” meant besides "losing consciousness." Here’s what I found:
  • Deficient in magnitude; barely perceptible; lacking clarity, brightness or loudness
  • Lacking clarity or distinctness
  • Lacking strength or vigor
  • Indistinctly understood, felt, or perceived
  • Lacking conviction, boldness, or courage
It seems that Nephi is telling us to pray distinctly, clearly, vigorously, with understanding and feeling, and with conviction, boldness, and courage. No limp-wristed, namby-pamby prayers for us.

I don’t know about you, but this scripture really helped me. I think I had gotten in a habit of faintly praying, and this was a jolt back in the right direction. I’ve noticed that when I pray with more distinctness and clarity, I perceive better how the Lord answers my prayers. Have you seen this?
Monday, October 24, 2011 6 comments

The Pride of Our Eyes


Here’s the scene—I was in Thailand on vacation last week, struggling with myself over whether I should find some nice Thai silk dresses to buy. I had already tried some on, but for one reason or another, they didn’t fit, they weren’t a color I wanted, or the style didn’t work. I had already gotten some nice things as souvenirs and had told myself that was enough, but I kept finding myself yearning for some fine silk clothes, yet also feeling guilty for that yearning and trying harder to be content, then being annoyed that I had to try so hard.

My rational mind could come up with plenty of reasons why I should not think twice about buying what I wanted. 1) “You’ll never get another chance.” (That was the biggest one.) 2) “It will be so nice.” 3) “You love pretty things.” Yet my spiritually sensitive self got annoyed about it as a sign of materialism. And then the other part of me wondered, why should this be made into a spiritual issue? I just like nice clothes; what is wrong with getting nice clothes?

Well, the Lord led me to a number of scriptures in the Book of Mormon where the state of lifting one’s self up in the pride of one’s eyes was followed very quickly by wearing fine or costly apparel.
And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Jacob 2:13, emphasis added)

Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish. (Alma 31:28)

36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8:36-37)
There were quite a few scriptures besides these I have shown, and after reading them all, I felt roundly rebuked. Not that the Thai silk clothes would be expensive--clothes are much cheaper there--but they would definitely be “fine apparel.” So I had to ask the Lord just how fine or costly apparel was connected to pride and how to know if I was really in a bad way. Some questions came into my mind to ask myself, which I will share with you.
  • Is your clothing a significant means of self-expression for you?
  • Do you try to set yourself apart from everyone else merely by the clothes you wear?
  • Are you trying to wow people with your fashion and style?
  • Do you want people to be impressed by you on the basis of your clothes?
  • Do you judge yourself by your clothing? Is your clothing a gauge of your worth and legitimacy?
  • Are you embarrassed if you run into someone else wearing the same outfit or who matches you to a startling degree?
  • Do you measure yourself by others or compare your fashion and look to others’ fashion?
  • Do you judge others by their clothing?
  • Do you find yourself dismissing others on no other grounds than the clothes they wear?
  • Does your clothing contradict principles of physical comfort (makes you cold in winter, or too hot in summer, pinched, restrained, physically unstable, etc.) and you put up with it because it is stylish?
  • Do you like shopping, wearing fine clothes, decorating, and all your stuff more than you like helping the poor and needy, the sick and the afflicted?
It was kind of disturbing how many of those were true for me. Obviously I need to repent. Also, I realized that the phrase “lifted up in the pride of one’s eyes” meant nothing more than being proud of how one looks.

Yet, I’ve also found myself wondering what is the right attitude to take about my clothes and the right thing to do, since it seems like it would be a mistake to wear ugly clothes and completely neglect how I look. I’ve done a lot of pondering. I already know about the principles of modesty, physical comfort, and situational appropriateness. I wondered what other principles could help me avoid pride in relation to my clothes.

Thankfully, I found the solution also in the Book of Mormon.
And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. (Alma 1:27)
There are three keys here--avoiding costly apparel, dressing neatly, being comely.

I think “costly” can be defined to mean a price that takes an undue chunk out of your budget so that other important needs are short-changed. From a worldly perspective, low cost clothes are great because then you can have more of them, but that’s not the goal from a Zion perspective. The Zion perspective is that low cost clothes are great because then you have more money available to help others. (That requires not just thriftiness, but unselfishness. Clearly, that perspective is a higher standard.)

Second, be “neat.” The dictionary says “neat” means:
  • arranged in an orderly, tidy way
  • (of a person) habitually tidy, well groomed, or well organized
  • having a pleasing shape or appearance; well formed or regular
  • very good or excellent; pleasant
  • done with or demonstrating skill or efficiency
Third, be “comely.” The dictionary says “comely” means:
  • (typically of a woman) pleasant to look at; attractive
  • agreeable; suitable
I hope these principles will help me avoid pride in the future. What helps you keep from being “lifted up in the pride of your eyes” in this fashion-crazy world?

Image: Dressaday.com, http://www.dressaday.com/2005/09/it-started-off-being-about-a-dress-anyway.html.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011 5 comments

Identifying/understanding principles in the Family Proclamation

Here is an assignment I completed back when I was taking my seminary preservice class. The assignment was to identify and understand doctrines and principles in the Family Proclamation. It reinforced in my mind what a tight and bedrock-solid document the Family Proclamation is.
Search for and underline the stated principles and doctrines (remember the definition and they usually answer the question ‘why?’)

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. [Why?] “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3).

Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. [Why?] Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

The family is ordained of God. [Why?] Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan [for the eternal destiny of His children].

Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. [Why?] Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

[P]romote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society. [Why?] [T]he disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

Search for and write down any implied principles you find.

If children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity, then illegitimacy and adultery are a violation of child rights.

If the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets, then the converse is also true--the protection and maintenance of the family will bring the blessings similarly foretold. (Those might be worth researching in and of themselves!)

Write two principles in an IF and THEN format.

IF I build my family upon the teachings of Christ, THEN my family life has a much higher chance of being happy than otherwise.

IF parents rear their children in love and righteousness, THEN they will be rewarded.

IF parents establish their marriages with sacred covenants in the temple, THEN their family relationships will be perpetuated beyond the grave.

Write two principles using, “I have learned that _________, therefore I will _________.”

I have learned that spouses are equal partners; therefore I will work to cooperate with my spouse.

I have learned that both work and wholesome recreational activities help establish and maintain my family; therefore I will try to make sure both are incorporated in my family life.

I have learned that my female gender is an essential and eternal characteristic, therefore I will embrace it and appreciate it as an eternal part of my identity.

Write an additional phrase like, “And thus we see…” or “Behold, whosoever will…” or “Therefore…” or “Notwithstanding…” to state discovered principles.

Notwithstanding disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate adaption, mothers and fathers have their own important roles in the family.

Answer the question with a simple phrase, “Why did the Lord want this proclamation created and distributed?”

To warn the world and to remind the world what it is starting to forget.
Sunday, October 16, 2011 2 comments

Judging Jesus

And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him [Jesus] to be a thing of naught… (1 Nephi 19:9)
Right there is an interesting insight into rejection of Jesus Christ. People don’t disregard Christ out of ignorance, only out of their own iniquity. So if there is anything good that we think is worthless, it is because we are too attached to our own sin to lay hold upon it.

Might the converse be true as well that the Saints because of their righteousness, judge Jesus to be of great worth and benefit?
Friday, October 14, 2011 5 comments

An interesting mate selection among Lehi and Ishmael’s family

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife. (1 Nephi 16:7)
Does anyone else think it really fascinating that the oldest daughter of Ishmael accepts a former servant as a husband? I could speculate all day about this because there are so many possible dynamics and criteria at work.

On one hand, there is the smallness of the group of eligible marriage prospects, so there could be an element of “take-what-you-can-get” involved.

Then there is the factor of age. You’d think that eldest children would marry eldest children and the pairing would happen all the way down the birth order. Not so. It sounds like some kind of crazy mix-and-match happened.

Then there is the factor of maturity and faithfulness. I’ve read that eldest children tend to be more mature and responsible, though Laman seems to have missed the boat on that.. (I bet Laman and Lemuel ended up marrying the two daughters of Ishmael who wanted to go back to Jerusalem.) Maybe Ishmael’s eldest daughter thought Zoram’s experience as a servant would be an asset to a marriage rather than a loss of status. In their survival situation, status would mean nothing, but service and skill would mean everything.

That, I think, is also applicable today in dating among Mormons. Where spiritual survival is at stake, service, skill, and spirituality mean way more than worldly status or looks when choosing a spouse. (Hmmm. I suppose I have just articulated the Mormon Darwinian Doctrine of Marriage, a principle by which spiritual selection, not natural selection can occur. Select according to service, skill, and spirituality. And it should go without saying that these are qualities to cultivate in oneself as well.)

According to these standards, whoever married Nephi was very blessed. He was always trying to serve the Lord and his family--making a new bow, finding food, building a ship, teaching his family.. It strikes me that his abilities kept increasing with every difficult thing he was asked to do by the Lord. You notice that eventually he builds a temple. I bet he was commanded to do that too and didn’t know how at the beginning, but he attacked the task in the same way that he attacked the task of building a ship. I suspect that his wife had to have been someone with the same can-do faith and attitude, otherwise he wouldn’t have picked her.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 2 comments

Valuing holy alliances

There’s a story in Genesis of when there is a battle between a bunch of Canaanite kings. It was the king of Shinar, the king of Ellasar, the king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations versus king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela. (Genesis 14:1-2) (We’ll call it team Shinar versus team Sodom, shall we?)

Team Sodom didn’t make out very well. In fact, they lost badly and team Shinar took all of team Sodom’s stuff. But they also took Lot and his family captive with their stuff.

Well, Abraham heard about Lot’s capture, and so he took his men servants to rescue Lot. He attacked the camp at night with divided groups of 318 people total and won. (Sounds like a Gideon tactic or a Captain Moroni tactic, doesn’t it?) Then he brought everything back. And when he comes back, there is this interesting scene:
17 ¶And the king of Sodom went out to meet him [Abraham] after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale.
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.
22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,
23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:
24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion. (Genesis 14:17-24)
It struck me how interesting it was that both these kings are present—the wicked king of Sodom and the righteous King Melchizedek of Salem. This suggested to me that a contrast was being set up between these two kings.

King Melchizedek blesses Abraham and Abraham pays tithes to him. The king of Sodom tries to bless Abraham too, but with the wealth of Sodom, and Abraham refuses to accept it. It seemed to me that Abraham didn’t want to be under any obligation to the king of Sodom. Or maybe, he would rather keep the king of Sodom under obligation to him rather than be paid like a mercenary.

Either way, it is clear that Abraham would rather pay tithing to Melchizedek than be made rich by the king of Sodom. (Even Abraham chose his friends carefully.) Holy alliance and the quality of his affiliations meant more to him than any tangible reward. What a great example!
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 2 comments

Insights on the twelve chapters of Isaiah (2 Nephi 12-24) quoted in 2 Nephi

2 Nephi 12-24 is one of the trickiest parts of the Book of Mormon to get through, as it is a block of Isaiah quotation. It is hard to see why Nephi put it there, and it is hard to see how it can benefit us. Before Nephi starts quoting, he says he writes it so that his people who read it may lift up their heads and rejoice for all men and liken it unto themselves and all men (2 Nephi 11:8), but every time I have read through looking for things that are happy in these chapters, I don’t come up with much. In fact, the themes in these chapters are denunciation of sin in Israel, prediction of destruction, declaring the Lord’s anger, frustration over Israel’s stubbornness and refusal to listen, and destruction of those who destroy Israel. That doesn't sound like material for rejoicing, does it?

A better way of understanding these chapters can be found after they are quoted. “I write unto my people…that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken” (2 Nephi 25:3). Seen from this perspective of “you-can’t-escape-the-judgments-of-God,” these quoted chapters become much clearer and we see indeed that both Israel and gentiles are smitten for their wickedness. We see that the Lord punishes Israel for their sins by allowing other nations to afflict them. We see that the Lord doesn’t let those other nations get away with afflicting Israel either, but destroys them too, if they don’t repent.

But the funny thing is, this suddenly suggests to us the reason we can rejoice in these words of Isaiah’s. For those of us who are righteous who are afflicted by the wicked, these chapters are great news, since they reinforce the principle that the wicked (in or out of Israel) will not get away with the evil they do, even if it seems all society combines to keep them from getting their just desserts. We are the covenant people of the Lord, and we will need to remember these things as wickedness gets worse and worse all around us.

Another important point to remember, though, is that they are also a warning to us, lest we be among the wicked because of hypocrisy. These principles were at work when some of early restored church polluted their inheritances in Missouri and were scourged by the people around them. Then the people of Missouri were scourged during and after the Civil War. These principles are still at work. If we do not repent of our sins, the Lord will allow other people to afflict us (and then He will chasten and destroy them).

The sins of Israel in Isaiah’s day are denounced in these chapters, and they are similar to the church’s sins in our day. There is no end to our clutter that we treasure (2 Ne. 12:7), we worship the work of our hands (our careers) (2 Ne. 12:8), we are proud and don’t humble ourselves (2 Ne. 12:9), we allow children to bully and boss us around (2 Ne. 13:4-5), our men don’t take responsibility (2 Ne. 13:6-7), our women are proud and more concerned about what they wear and looking foxy than anything else (2 Ne. 13:16-23), our families bought too much house and got too deep in debt and caused a housing bubble (2 Ne. 15:8-9), we have so much spiritual music but we don’t ponder the Lord’s work (missionary work) (2 Ne. 15:12), we’re tied to our favorite sins and drag them around with us rather than letting them go by believing in Christ and repenting (2 Ne. 15:18), we wish the Lord would hurry the fulfillment of prophecies that we aren’t willing to help with (and thus are unworthy to see) (2 Ne. 15:19), we still think some things are good that the Lord abhors and hate things the Lord loves (2 Nephi 15:20), and we think we know everything about the gospel (2 Ne. 15:21). If you read these chapters, there are REAL CONSEQUENCES for these sins, and they come just as naturally as night follows day!

Another thing that makes Isaiah confusing in these chapters is that he mixes his prophecy of one-time events with prophecy that depicts patterns of events that occur over and over again. Nephi takes a different approach after these chapters; he prophesies with plainness by giving a chronological sweep through coming events so that future readers can identify important watersheds of history. This is why an exact one-to-one comparison of the Isaiah chapters and Nephi’s prophecy is not possible and leaves a reader feeling like Nephi was quoting with no intention of interpreting it for us. (He is interpreting, just in a different way.)

Another thing that makes it tricky to understand these chapters is actually the chapter headings. Sometimes the headings are helpful, but in a few places, the assumptions we make about the meaning based upon the chapter heading blurb make it difficult to read any other possible meaning into the text. Important features are left out that can help us tie the whole mass together. Since I realized this, I decided to try to write my own chapter headings for 2 Ne. 12-24. (I used what was there already and added or removed as I thought good.) See if they help you catch sight of what Isaiah was trying to say in those chapters.

2 Ne. 12—Isaiah sees the latter-day temple, gathering, and millennial judgment and peace—the ways Israel has gone astray delineated—the proud and wicked shall be brought low at the Second Coming.

2 Ne. 13—The irresponsibility of Israel’s men rebuked—Judah and Jerusalem shall be punished for their disobedience—The daughters of Zion are cursed and tormented for their worldliness.

2 Ne. 14—Zion shall be redeemed and cleansed in the millennial day—They shall be protected by the Spirit and find refuge in the temple.

2 Ne. 15—The Lord’s vineyard (Israel) shall be desolate and his people shall be scattered—Their sins delineated—Woes and wars shall come upon them in their apostate condition.

2 Ne. 16—Isaiah sees the Lord—Isaiah’s sins are forgiven—He is called to prophesy—He prophesies the rejection by the Jews of Christ’s teachings—A remnant shall return.

2 Ne. 17—Ephraim and Syria wage war against Judah—Ahaz rebuked for not believing in the Lord’s promise and power—Christ will be born of a virgin—Judah’s unbelief brings war and decline upon the land.

2 Ne. 18—Israel’s destruction is imminent for refusing the Lord—Christ shall be as a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense—Seek the Lord, not peeping wizards—Turn to the law and to the testimony for guidance.

2 Ne. 19—Isaiah speaks Messianically—The people in darkness to see a great Light—Unto us a child is born—He shall be the Prince of Peace, reigning on David’s throne—For refusing to heed Christ, Israel will be destroyed.

2 Ne. 20—Injustice brings destruction by Assyria—Destruction of Assyria is a type of destruction of wicked at the Second Coming—Few people shall be left—The Lord’s people are not to be afraid of the wicked—the remnant of Jacob shall return in that day.

2 Ne. 21—Stem of Jesse (Christ) shall judge in righteousness—The knowledge of God shall cover the earth in the Millennium—The Lord will raise an ensign and gather Israel.

2 Ne. 22—Gathered Israel sings the song of redeeming love—Israel will praise the Lord for what He has done—He shall dwell with them.

2 Ne. 23—Destruction of Babylon is a type of destruction at Second Coming—The Lord’s anger is not on those who rejoice in Him—It shall be a day of wrath and vengeance—Babylon (the world) shall fall forever.

2 Ne. 24—Israel shall be gathered and enjoy millennial rest—Lucifer cast out of heaven for rebellion and shall be bound during the Millennium—Israel shall triumph over Babylon (the world).

For me, this really helped me see the pattern that Isaiah was conveying. You notice that gathering and scattering happens several times. Nephi points it out too when he says:
And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord. (2 Nephi 25:9)
I also began to see joyful things interspersed among all the sin and destruction.
  • The temple is established in the mountains
  • Zion redeemed and cleansed
  • Israel is protected by the Spirit and finds refuge in the temple
  • Prophets are called
  • Turn to the law and to the testimony for guidance
  • The people in darkness will see a great Light
  • The Lord’s people are not to be afraid of the wicked
  • The remnant of Jacob shall return when the Lord raises an ensign
  • The wicked will be destroyed
  • Christ shall judge in righteousness
  • The knowledge of God shall cover the earth
  • Gathered Israel sings the song of redeeming love and praises the Lord for what He has done
  • Christ will dwell with his people
  • The Lord’s anger is not on those who rejoice in Him
  • Lucifer shall be bound
  • Israel will triumph over Babylon
I am happy to finally understand what these chapters are all about and how they fit with Nephi’s words. It will make them much more precious to me. How about you? Did this help you?
Monday, October 3, 2011 1 comments

King Benjamin’s Battles

12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.
13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.
14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.
15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;
16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people—
17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—(Words of Mormon 1:12-17)
I noticed for the first time the two different types of battles King Benjamin fought are described. King Benjamin gathered his armies and fought the Lamanites with the sword of Laban until they were driven out of the land. Then he gathered his armies of holy men and prophets and fought against false Christs, false prophets, and false teachers until their mouths had been shut and they had been punished according to their crimes. They fought using the word of God—“they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness” (v17), meaning they used the sword of the Spirit. He fought physical battles and spiritual battles.

What was the result? “[B]y laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.” (v18) He established both physical and spiritual peace because he fought physical and spiritual battles with both his body and his soul.

What kind of battles am I fighting today? Lots of spiritual battles. If King Benjamin got help from many holy men in his spiritual battles, then we can also get help from the many holy men who have gone before us, as written in the scriptures, and we can get help from words of the living prophets and from each other to fight our spiritual battles. We can use the word of God, which is sharper than a two-edged sword and can pierce through both joints and marrow.

Another reason this block of verses is important is it shows us that the wonderful experiences that King Benjamin had and his people had during his final speech on his tower did not come effortlessly; rather, it was the culmination of a long life of very hard work teaching the people and working with them. Without these verses, it would seem to us that King Benjamin’s experiences were effortless in comparison to Alma the Younger’s hard work teaching the Nephites, and we’d wonder what King Benjamin’s secret was. This shows us King Benjamin had no special secret; he may have worked just as hard or even harder than Alma the Younger and we just don’t get to see the full scope of it all.

How does this apply to us? This helps us realize that when we’re about to get jealous of other families in the church who, seemingly without effort, have such obedient and knowledgeable children who are strong in the gospel, we’re not seeing all the effort they put in to teach their families. We’re only seeing the fruits without seeing the digging, hoeing, planting, pruning, and so on.
Sunday, October 2, 2011 5 comments

14 things I loved about general women's conference 2011

1) I loved that Sister Beck’s talk was an overview of so much that is in the new Relief Society book “Daughters of My Kingdom.” Having already begun reading it, her words reminded me of what I had read and I felt she brought some perspective to the whole. It was like a grand sweeping vision of Relief Society’s role over the ages.

2) I loved Sister Beck’s words about how visiting teaching is an expression of discipleship and should resemble the ministry of Christ. I love how she speaks of it as “watch-care.” I’ve seen in my life recently how a short visit or a phone call can really be a lift. Giving and receiving watch-care will help us feel more secure and connected as times get harder.

3) I loved Sister Allred’s words about how part of charity is being willing to help without being asked, without receiving reward, without recognition, and without reciprocation. If we’re able to do that, we are really free to show charity to anyone. Serving for the sake of receiving reward, recognition, or reciprocation can cause hurt if it doesn’t come.

4) No matter how many times I hear it, I never get tired of that quote that if we live up to our privileges the angels can not be restrained from being our associates. Do you ever find yourself asking for angels to go with you when you need a little extra comfort or courage? I have. Then I like to imagine a crowd of them coming down and walking with me. At times when I am alone in a peaceful environment, I like to imagine angels hanging about here and there just because they want to be with me. (I don’t mean that to sound arrogant; I just want to be someone angels would like to hang out with and follow around.)

5) I loved how much emphasis there was on rejoicing. The songs had lots of “rejoice” in them. Did you notice? I think I really needed it. In fact, I think I'm going to have to do a topical study on rejoicing and cheer.

6) I loved Barbara Thompson’s words about how if we keep our covenants and seek the Lord in prayer, then Satan will have no power over us. When it feels like Satan’s power is increasing, it is wonderful to know that keeping covenants and praying will protect us. I’ve been seeking to overcome discouragement while looking for a job and to endure well a period of being alone while my husband is out of town for his work.

7) I loved the scripture that Sister Thompson quoted. “Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house.” (D&C 110:9) It made me think of a different way of perceiving the temple ordinances. I hadn’t thought of examining them to find reasons to rejoice. I mean, there’s the obvious meaning behind them that we are used to appreciating, but I had never thought to look at each little part to find reasons to rejoice.

8) I love-love-loved President Uchtdorf’s talk. Each petal of the “forget-me-not” that he described was exactly what I needed.

9) I loved that President Uchtdorf said we need to be patient with ourselves as well as with others. What? Someone is refusing to give themselves time to improve or make progress and gets angry at themselves a lot? You mean me? Okay, I confess. Guilty as charged. Just like other people have limits, so do we. Why do we feel guilty about our limits? Because we think they shouldn't exist. Yes, we're children of God, but we're not gods yet. It takes time to stretch and grow. Progress doesn't happen all at once.

10) I loved that President Uchtdorf told us to celebrate the small successes. That means we can celebrate more often; I don’t know about you, but my small successes are a lot more numerous than my big successes. And thank heaven God notices even the small ones! I think too that we have to find ways of rewarding ourselves in little ways, especially if we feel like we’re not getting external reinforcement.

11) I loved that President Uchtdorf said we shouldn't forget the difference between good sacrifices and foolish sacrifices. This is a constant evaluation process that never seems to go away..

12) I loved that President Uchtdorf told us we shouldn't forget to be happy now and we shouldn't put happiness on hold while waiting for a future “golden ticket” to appear. Oh man, did I need this. It gets really tricky when happiness now seems to preclude chance of the golden ticket. How messed up is that?

13) I loved that President Uchtdorf advised us to cultivate daily gratitude and wonder. This was a great reminder to me of how many things I can enjoy if I remember to. I need to get back in the habit of appreciating the little miracles, the little tender mercies, the little pleasures, the little “common” blessings that make life beautiful. Time for me to review President Monson’s talk “The Divine Gift of Gratitude.”

14) I loved that President Uchtdorf said we shouldn't forget the “why” of the gospel in the midst of the “what” and the “how.” I love that he says that the “why” transforms the “what” and “how” into something majestic. I’ve noticed too that there are shallow “whys” and deeper “whys.” I think the deeper you can get your “whys,” the stronger you’ll become in trials and afflictions.

All in all, great messages. I can’t wait until the Ensign’s conference issue comes out!