Tuesday, May 29, 2012 0 comments

Why did Alma discuss priesthood with the Ammonihah people?

It always seemed odd to me that while Alma was preaching to the very hardhearted people of Ammonihah, in between his calls to repentance he discoursed on the premortal foreordination of the priesthood and the purposes of the priesthood.  It almost seems like he is throwing pearls before swine.

Eventually I realized he talked about those things specifically to address their previous objections to him teaching them.  If you remember, they withstood Alma at the beginning on the grounds that 1) he was no longer the chief judge so he didn’t have civil authority over them and 2) they didn’t share his religious tradition, so he didn’t have religious authority over them.

Alma addresses these objections in chapter 13 by pointing out that
·      Priesthood authority was given for teaching the principles of redemption to the people (Alma 13:1)
·      Priesthood authority was given to the faithful because of their faith, good works (Alma 13:3-5) to enable them to enter the rest of the Lord (Alma 13:12).
·      Priesthood was given so that others would know how to look forward to the Messiah for redemption (Alma 13:2) (by learning from the symbolism associated with the priesthood and its ordinances) and be able to enter into the Lord’s rest (Alma 12:6).
·      Melchizedek was a king over a wicked people (who ostensibly didn’t share his religion), yet he preached repentance to them and they repented.  (Alma 13:18) (Melchizedek did not force them to repent with his civil authority; instead he preached and persuaded.)

This way, Alma establishes that priesthood authority encompasses not just those in the church, but those out of the church as well.
Sunday, May 27, 2012 5 comments

Lessons from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is one that can be really uncomfortable, and it is easy to want to forget it as quickly as possible or else ignore it completely, but there are important things to learn from it.

19 ¶There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21)

Lazarus is in such abject poverty that he is acting like a dog, waiting for leftovers.  That image of dogs licking his sores is really disturbing and makes it clear just how wrong it is for humans to be in that kind of condition.  He is considered a second-class person.  This is like the story of the Good Samaritan, but unfortunately it doesn’t end happily while in mortality. 

 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (Luke 16:22-24)

The positions of Lazarus and the rich man have been precisely reversed.  The want the rich man ignored in Lazarus, he begins to suffer.  Unlike Lazarus, who merely desired to feed from the leftovers—Lazarus’s sense of his own worthiness had been beat down under the ground you see—in contrast, the rich man kicks up a serious rumpus and takes his complaint as high as he can.  “Have mercy!  Can’t you see I am tormented!?” he cries to Abraham, who is often considered father of the faithful.  (By the way, it is interesting that the rich man recognizes Abraham, even from afar off, though having never met him in mortality.  What does this teach us about what we will know after death?)

It is also curious that when the rich man finds himself in hell, he discovers he is thirsty.  He has no body, yet he is thirsty.  This suggests to me that his thirst is actually spiritual rather than physical.  I think that his thirst may represent the desire to do good that he squelched all his life.   In the eternities he finds the thirst still there, but with no way of satisfying it; all his wealth has been left behind in mortality.  This reminds me of Isaiah’s words that everyone who fought against Zion would be as those who dreamt they drank and then awake thirsty.

Another thing I noticed recently in this parable is even after death, the rich man still thinks of Lazarus as a second-class person and only meant to be a servant.  We can tell because the rich man only talks to Father Abraham to ask for things, not Lazarus, implying he assumes Lazarus is only there on Abraham’s sufferance, rather than as an equal in Abraham’s estimation.  Also, the rich man wants Lazarus to be sent to serve and comfort him.

This gives us an important warning—that riches have a tendency to cause people to forget the inherent equality of each soul’s worth, and that mistake continues beyond death. 

 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Luke 16:25)

The positions of Lazarus and the rich man have been reversed because there is a huge amount of inequitable treatment that happened on earth that has to be made right.  Heaven is fair after all, and unfairness on earth, if never remedied on earth, must be remedied in heaven.

 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. (Luke 16:26)

In mortality there was no obstacle standing in the way of the rich man helping Lazarus.  There was no gulf between them, but the rich man made one by completely ignoring Lazarus’s existence.  Might it be too much to say that by doing so, rich man made the very gulf that in the afterlife prevented any comfort coming to him?

 27 Then he [the rich man] said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house:
 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. (Luke 16:27-28)

We see that when the rich man begins to suffer, his sympathy and feeling for others begins to grow and he begins to wish to save others from suffering what he is currently in.  For him that’s a start, even though his anxiety for others only extends at this point to his five brothers who still live in as rich abundance as he did.  (This shows that concern for our siblings is the beginning of charity.)

But at the same time, the rich man still doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong; he still wants to send Lazarus hither and yon, if not to serve him, then to serve his rich brothers, not realizing how fully things have changed. 

 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16: 9-31)

Abraham shares the principle that unless people already listen to the witnesses they have in this life in the form of the writings of prophets and the words of living oracles of God about helping the poor, no heavenly messenger can do any good in sharing what conditions are like on the other side and what needs to be done to prepare.  If the rich man still didn’t recognize Lazarus’s equality of worth in heaven, no way would his brothers on earth heed any message from Lazarus, if their perception of Lazarus was anything like the rich man’s.

I think this is a warning for me too; if I don’t pay attention to this account or the other scriptures about building Zion and helping others, no angelic visitation that warns will move me either.  I'm not rich, but come on, how rich do we have to be before we feel obligated to help?

Now, we might not have starving sore-ridden people laying at our driveways, but we will know people in need when we see them.

One of my friends told me she learned that one of her classmates didn’t have enough money to buy the book for the class because she barely even had money to buy food.  This friend of mine was shocked, and rather than ignore it, decided to take action.  Although my friend couldn’t spare much money herself, she decided she wanted to anonymously send some money to her classmate.  She asked the major’s administrator for her classmate’s address, and when the administrator found out what for, she made an exception to the privacy rules, on condition that the teacher also be notified.  My friend’s teacher was surprised to learn about such want among one of his students and gave a textbook to the classmate.  My friend heard later that a scholarship was spontaneously bestowed upon her classmate not long afterward, and she gave it as her opinion that the teacher had been behind that.

I’ve tried to help when I have seen needs, but I still feel I have done less than I should have.

Here are some thoughts from other Christian writers about the meaning of this parable:

"This parable targets the violence of apathy and neglect which is widening the chasm between rich and poor. The trouble is that even such abstractions [of “rich” and “poor”] become easy to live with.  We need some first hand experience of encountering the real people whom we will then not be able to dismiss as relative statistics. And if that cannot be first hand, we need to help people engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor, to be a refugee, to be caught on the wrong side of the chasms…" ("First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia. [http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkPentecost18.htm])

One way we engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor and hungry is when we fast.  Our experience with hunger can guide our giving.

"If our hearts are closed to hearing the cry for justice, mercy and bread, the words of the resurrected One will not be convincing, but convicting." ("No Way Out," Mark Harris, The Christian Century, 2001. Religion Online. [http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2129])

 “The greatest deception is that people start to believe they are owed a privileged status.  They actually think they are exceptional and believe that they have become more valuable because they have more valuables.”  ("The Man Who Wore Purple and Linen," Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach. [http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/Luke/lk_16_19-31.html])

Some chasms cannot be crossed. Some things harden…. Even Abraham cuts no ice with a God determined to be just.”  ("Send Lazarus," J. Mary Luti, The Christian Century, 1998. [http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=624])

"We would do well, I believe, to explore those things which our culture highly esteems, and then to consider whether or not these things are well pleasing in the sight of God." ("The Rich Man and Lazarus," Hampton Keathley IV, a study from the Biblical Studies Foundation. [http://bible.org/seriespage/rich-man-and-lazarus])

What inner obstacles do you struggle with when you are confronted with people in desperate need?  How have you overcome them?

Abinadi as a type of Christ

Here are the factors that make Abinadi a type of Christ:
·      He came to preach to a corrupted society
·      He was outside the priestly establishment
·      He cried repentance
·      He was rejected by the priests and the king
·      The priests lifted up their voices against him for reviling the king
·      The king was about to release him but was persuaded not to
·      He died for his testimony


Friday, May 25, 2012 2 comments

When we wonder about the truth

36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen. (D&C 6:36-37)

 The context of this section is the Lord speaking to Oliver Cowdery, who had wondered about and already received a divine manifestation of the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony.  In section 6 the Lord gives instructions about how peace coming to our hearts is a witness of the truth and such like.  The section ends with the verses above.

I wondered why the Lord says, “behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet” when the Lord didn’t appear to Oliver at that time.  What was the purpose behind those words? 

I realized that it was a reference to the story of doubting Thomas in the New Testament, who would not believe that the other apostles had seen the resurrected Lord unless Christ appeared to him.  The reference to Thomas was to show Oliver the necessity of believing Joseph’s testimony and beholding with an eye of faith the evidences that had been presented earlier in the section.

I also like that it says “look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”  It is a nice formula for choking off paralyzing doubts and fears by determinedly choosing instead to think about the Lord and what He would do.  The times that I have remembered to do this, I have been very blessed.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 2 comments

Not understanding the word of God and other obstacles to bearing fruit

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. (Matt 13:19)

This shows us how important it is to understand God’s words.  The things we hear and don’t understand are easily taken away and discarded.  This also suggests how important it is to teach the gospel plainly and simply.

When I was reading this from the parable of the sower, I also started to see that the four types of ground not only illustrates four different ways that different people respond to the word of God, but also illustrates the obstacles we are all up against to receive it.

The first obstacle, of course, is understanding it.  The Lord tries to make this obstacle as small as possible by making the gospel simple and easy to understand because if we don’t understand, we lose it really fast.

The second obstacle is tribulation and persecution.  If we can’t stay steadfast, we lose our place in the kingdom and the gospel seems like a fair-weather philosophy.  (Thank goodness it is not though.; it can get us through hurricanes.)

The third obstacle is competing concerns of the cares of the world and the temptation for gain and riches, which can certainly steal our energy and commitment—“choking the word.”

The fourth obstacle is simply us and our limitations and weaknesses. 
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (Matt. 13:23) 
Bearing fruit thirty or sixty-fold doesn’t seem like a problem or an obstacle, but if the goal is bearing a hundredfold, we see there is still some obstacle in the way.  Maybe it isn’t really a limitation in us; maybe the obstacle has to do with how much seed we sow and grow.  Maybe there is something about the law of the harvest here.  The fourth obstacle we have to overcome is lack of commitment, which determines how much we put into obedience and discipleship.  
Monday, May 21, 2012 3 comments

Who can find a virtuous man?

Proverbs 31:10-31 has a pretty great description of the ideal virtuous woman, whose price is far above rubies.  It seemed to me that we need a male counterpart, so I took it upon myself to write one, though considerably modernized. ;-)

Who can find a virtuous man? For his price is far above emeralds.
The heart of his wife safely trusts in him, so that she will have no fear of betrayal, neglect, abuse, or pornography.
He will do her good and not evil all the days of his life.
He seeketh resources and worketh willingly with his hands.
He is like the merchants ships; he bringeth home the best deals from afar.
He riseth while it is yet night, and repaireth the broken appliances.
He considereth the yard, and moweth it.  With the tools of his garage, he trims the bushes and the trees, and planteth a garden.
He girdeth his loins with strength, and strengtheneth his arms at the gym.
He layeth his hands to the hammer, and his hands hold the nails and the screwdriver.
He stretcheth out his hands to the poor; yea, he moveth families with the elders quorum and passeth along job opportunities.
He is not afraid of the weather for his household: for all the house is in good repair.
He picketh out coverings of cotton and fine knit; his clothing is denim or a spiffy black suit and tie.
His wife is known in the city, when she sitteth among the women to talk.
He starteth a business and buildeth it.  He delivers excellent goods and services to his customers.
Strength and honour are his clothing; and he shall rejoice in time to come.
He openeth his mouth with wisdom; and in his tongue is the law of kindness and integrity.
He looketh well to the ways of his business and employment, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
His children arise up, and call him awesome; his wife also, and she praiseth him.
Many sons have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and rugged good looks are vain, but a man that feareth the Lord, he shall be praised.
Give him the fruit of his hands; and let his own works praise him on the news.

What would you add?
Saturday, May 19, 2012 6 comments

Review: Satan’s War on Free Agency, by Greg Wright

Satan's War on Free Agency, by Greg Wright is a book that you must read.  We have traditionally viewed Satan’s plan as an attempt to force others to be good, but this book examines additional ways that agency may be taken away, such as attempts to remove negative consequences.  He explains well enough that you will find your view of agency and appreciation for agency greatly enhanced, and you will find yourself understanding the challenges of current events at a much deeper level and how the adversary is still working to try to take away our agency.   This book was such a revelation to me that I think I was completely blind before I read it. 

Parents will greatly appreciate the very practical examples that Wright includes of how to raise happy and successful children using an expanded understanding of the doctrine of agency.   I feel that I grew up with wonderful parents who taught according to gospel principles, but I was exceptionally impressed with the examples that Wright shared.  I am convinced his examples and stories will give a huge amount of hope and confidence to any parent who is trying to raise a child in this difficult world. 

Let me see if I can summarize the main idea that he presented.  In order for us to have agency, we must have four things:
1.     Knowledge of right and wrong
2.     At least two options from which to choose
3.     The options must have different consequences
4.     Ability to choose for ourselves

Traditionally we have believed that Satan’s plan was to force everyone to do the right thing so they could come back to Heavenly Father.  Wright demonstrates in a startling manner that this traditional view is not scriptural!   Wright explains with great clarity that another way Satan could have tried to destroy agency is if he could convince Heavenly Father to allow everyone back into heaven no matter what they did, in effect creating a “no fail” situation opportunity.  (Amulek and Zeezrom debated about this “saved in your sins” versus “saved from your sins.”)

Wright describes how Satan continues his war on earth by tempting us to try to get rid of negative consequences for our actions.  He says if both good actions and evil actions are rewarded the same way, then it doesn’t matter what we choose.  If our choice doesn’t matter, then our agency has been destroyed, and our behavior will deteriorate every time.  The examples and thought experiments Wright uses to illustrate his points are very helpful and illuminating.

I whole-heartedly recommend Greg Wright’s book, and I advise that you get a copy to read as soon as you can to prepare you for when your kids’ summer vacation begins.
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.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012 2 comments

The individuality of revelation and what’s of most worth

I was reading D&C sections 15 & 16, which happen to be identical except for the person to whom they were addressed.  Here’s section 15:

1 Hearken, my servant John, and listen to the words of Jesus Christ, your Lord and your Redeemer.
 2 For behold, I speak unto you with sharpness and with power, for mine arm is over all the earth.
 3 And I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone—
 4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.
 5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.
 6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen. (D&C 15)

Section 15 was addressed to John Whitmer, and section 16 was addressed to Peter Whitmer Jr.

When I was reading the two sections together, I thought it was amazing that both revelations were included in the D&C and not just one of them.  I began to wonder what instructive purpose was served by that decision.  The church could very well have decided that only one was needed.  (I know if I had been on the committee selecting revelations to be included, I would have voted for section 16 to be kept out.  That shows you how uninspired I am. ;-) )

Verse 3 says “I will tell you that which no man knoweth save me and thee alone.”  This catches our attention and we become curious about what the Lord could say He knew more than anyone about John.    And after reading section 16 that duplicates this confidential phrase exactly, I begin to wonder if this choice of words was a form that appealed to Joseph Smith’s mind…  but the fact that both sections are there demonstrates that the truth can be repetitive and can even seem boring if we think of it as an entertaining story.  It reminds me that it is revelation, since one of those sections could easily have been left out so as to seem more interesting.

For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you….the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. (v4,6)

I know I have often wondered what would be the best thing for me to do in my life, and this counsel—declare repentance--is a great guide.  That it is repeated twice to two separate people shows the answer doesn’t change; it is the same for everybody.

I think it is interesting that we get to see that two brothers were wondering the same thing, wondering what would be the best thing for them to do in their lives.  Don’t we find ourselves wondering the same thing?  Also, since these two revelations tell of sharing something known only between the Lord and them, we see that these brothers hadn’t talked to each other about the questions they had about what would be of most worth for them to do.  It reminds us that there are things family members may not know about each other, even while living together.  Family members may not know the good desires that each other have.

Another thing these sections show is that the Lord knows what we most want, and listens to our prayers.  And He answers them.

And too, the Lord gives the tough answer, even if it is one that will put a lot of responsibility on us.  The answer that declaring repentance to people will be of most worth isn’t an easy answer.  It is one that requires lifelong commitment and work.  I suppose this is what makes it of such great worth.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 1 comments

Lessons from parable of the unjust steward

The parable of the unjust steward is one of the more confusing and difficult-to-understand of Jesus’s parables, but when you get right down to the bottom, it can be very helpful to us as a lesson of stewardship.

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Luke 16:1-19)

In this parable, a steward hears he is going to be called on the carpet for waste and he will probably be thrown out of his job, so he comes up with a strategy to smooth his way out and ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors by forgiving portions of their debts in the hopes that they will find a place for him.

The part of this parable that puzzles us is this—“And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.”  It puzzles us because it makes it sound like the master sees his steward cheating him and approves of what he is doing.  In real life this would probably not happen between human master and steward, but I believe it is used here in this parable to illustrate how Heavenly Father’s would react to us as stewards if we were doing the same thing.  If we truly believe that Heavenly Father is our master and we are His stewards, we know that Heavenly Father is not so narrow-minded as to object if we use part of our stewardship to help others, even if we have been wasteful in the rest of our stewardship.  He sees it as wisely providing for our everlasting habitation after mortality.

This is reinforced by this line--"Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations."  We are to understand that if we use parts of our stewardship to help people, even if they don't really deserve it, when Judgment Day comes, they will speak up for us and be witnesses for our generosity.  Helping them amounts to "laying up treasure in heaven."

“For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (v8) – Jesus said this to point out how any money-grabbing man of the world is smart enough to prepare ahead of time some sort of golden parachute (as we might call it) to use after getting ousted from a job, but the children of the Father’s kingdom don’t seem to realize they can provide golden parachutes for themselves for after mortality through charitable good works. 

So after realizing this, I wondered what was keeping me from living my life in such a way so as to consciously add to my treasure in heaven, and I wondered why I had dismissed in the past the concept of “treasure in heaven” as sort of a pie-in-the-sky idealistic notion is if it had no practicality.   I realized it was because it is hard for me to get a good sense of what kind of treasure and how much I had laid up.   We don’t have a way to really check on how much is there like we can check our bank’s website or our bank statement and see a number. 

But then I thought, is that God’s fault or ours?

It strikes me that while we may keep careful account of our bank deposits and withdrawals, we don’t necessarily keep much account of the good we do for others.  It is said that what we measure and record tends to improve, so perhaps if we wish to know about our treasure in heaven, we should record every good deed we do.  We can do this in the confidence that it indicates the amount of treasure that we are laying up in heaven.   And if it helps us remember the satisfaction we have felt while doing those things, then that’s an earthly benefit we certainly deserve to give ourselves.

It looks like I have some things to write in my journal.  I don’t think it needs to be really detailed.  It can just be a line or two.

Now, I don’t suppose that this laying up treasure in heaven is something we are supposed to do only when we are about to pass over to the other side, like the steward who only started thinking about generosity when he was about to get kicked out of his job.  I get the sense that it is supposed to be something we do all along, splitting our efforts between caring wisely for our stewardship and giving something away, maybe even to those who don’t seem to deserve it.  In the parable, those debtors certainly didn’t deserve clemency; after all, they were in debt!  They got themselves in that predicament!  Thus, some generosity to those who seem to not warrant it is truly a kindness.

Watch the following video "Treasures in Heaven: The John Tanner Story, part 2 of 2" and see if you can keep track of the treasure in heaven that John Tanner laid up.

If this post helped you, please share it on Facebook or Twitter or your other networks.  You never know how many people you can help.
Monday, May 14, 2012 0 comments

Breaking the taboo in order to save

And Ammon took three of his brethren, and their names were Amaleki, Helem, and Hem, and they went down into the land of Nephi.
 And behold, they met the king of the people who were in the land of Nephi, and in the land of Shilom; and they were surrounded by the king’s guard, and were taken, and were bound, and were committed to prison.
 And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.
 And he said unto them: Behold, I am Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who came up out of the land of Zarahemla to inherit this land, which was the land of their fathers, who was made a king by the voice of the people.
 10 And now, I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?
 11 And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak.
 12 And now, when Ammon saw that he was permitted to speak, he went forth and bowed himself before the king; and rising again he said: O king, I am very thankful before God this day that I am yet alive, and am permitted to speak; and I will endeavor to speak with boldness; (Mosiah 7:6-12)

When Ammon and his buddies meet King Limhi and his guards outside the city walls, somehow this is a particularly taboo place and occasion.  It is so boldly taboo that King Limhi specifically tells them that the only reason he kept them alive was to ask them why they were so bold. 

This makes me wonder.  Was external excess to King Limhi so restricted that the only way Ammon would not be killed would be to meet the king when and where he did?  Or did he meet the king at a particularly bad time (and any other time would have been better) and only his boldness about breaking the taboo (on accident) saved him?    I really don’t know.  Either way the Lord brought about the meeting, restrained King Limhi, and kept Ammon and his group alive so that Limhi and his people could ultimately be saved.

It is interesting that in this meeting both Limhi and Ammon are ignorant, and so in a sense, they both wrong each other.  Ammon approaches the king at a bad time and place because he doesn’t know there is anything bad about it.  The king tosses Ammon and his buddies in prison and was very close to killing them because he doesn’t know who they are and what their intentions are.  And yet they are both good and just men.  I suppose this can teach us that sometimes we may wrong each other out of ignorance of the full facts, and the Lord can help us keep from doing something hasty.

Imagine if the king had killed Ammon and his men, the very people who could lead them out of bondage and show them the way to Zarahemla.  It makes me wonder how often we might disregard the very things or people that could help us out of our problems, disregarding them just because they do something out of ignorance at first that offends us?

Another lesson we can get from this story is from Ammon’s viewpoint.  It may be that in order to save people spiritually we have to break some cultural rules against mentioning religion in casual conversation, speaking in times and places that our friends don’t think are the best.
Saturday, May 12, 2012 3 comments

“I Often Go Walking”: the rest of the story

Many mothers in the church have been serenaded on Mother’s Day over the years by their cherubs lisping the words from “I Often Go Walking.”

I often go walking in meadows of clover,

And I gather armfuls of blossoms of blue.

I gather the blossoms the whole meadow over;

Dear mother, all flowers remind me of you.

O mother, I give you my love with each flower

To give forth sweet fragrance a whole lifetime through;

For if I love blossoms and meadows and walking,

I learn how to love them, dear mother, from you.

It might be easy to think that this song is antiquated and idealized almost to the point of saccharine; after all, how many children often go walking in meadows of clover these days? (You can tell I'm isolated from farmland these days, huh.)

It was when I discovered the back story to this song that I began to see how relevant it still is to us today, and how much of an inspiration it can be.

The song was written by Phyllis Luch. “Phyllis Luch says of her inspiration for the words: ‘My mother was mentally ill….Nearly the only time she was at peace was in the fields and meadows….She knew the names of wildflowers, which as a child I thought was amazing.’” (Our Children’s Songs: Teaching the Gospel with the Children’s Songbook, p98)

When I first read that, I thought there was some bitter irony that a song that sounds so idealized was written for a mother with such difficulties. Was Phylis trying to gloss over the hard times and make some sort of pretty picture to cling to and fantasize about?

No. When I read more carefully, I noticed that Phyllis was expressing how she had learned to love blossoms, meadows, and walking because her mother loved those things. It is a message that any mother, no matter what kind of difficulty they may labor under to nurture and train their children, still has the ability to pass on to her child an appreciation for the things that she loves.

It is comforting to know that Phyllis knew that her mother was mentally ill. I don’t know whether she knew it while as a child or whether she learned it as an adult, but she knew it. And she chose to give tribute to her mother for something good she learned from her, rather than dwelling on the difficulties and pain.

So, here’s to ALL MOTHERS! Here’s to the mothers that press on through feelings of inadequacy. Here’s to the sacrifice and selflessness and especially the inner struggle that leads to it. Here’s to the courage and the dignity in spite of the sneers of the world. Here’s to the hours of changing diapers and spooning baby food into little mouths. Here’s to the chauffeuring and the homework help. Here’s to putting your foot down and taking a stand. Here’s to the perseverance to repeat the same righteous teachings as many times as is needed before it finally sinks in. Here’s to the pleading prayers, the deferred me-time, the falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day.

Mothers, I salute you!
Friday, May 11, 2012 2 comments

Alma and the two ends of a trespass

Many members of the Church are led into sin by unbelievers—Alma is promised eternal life—Those who repent and are baptized gain forgiveness—Church members in sin who repent and confess to Alma and to the Lord will be forgiven; otherwise, they will not be numbered among the people of the Church. About 120–100 B.C.
1 Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
2 They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
3 And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
4 And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.
5 And now in the reign of Mosiah they were not half so numerous as the people of God; but because of the dissensions among the brethren they became more numerous.
6 For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church.
7 And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest.
8 Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church.
9 And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance.
10 Now there had not any such thing happened before in the church; therefore Alma was troubled in his spirit….(Mosiah 26:1-10)

This is a really curious situation that arises.  First, people outside of the church had led church members into temptation and sin with flattering words.  (I’ve already examined flattery in detail, we should be pretty familiar with what was involved there.)  So it becomes necessary for those who had sinned to be “admonished,” or warned. 

It seems the admonishing was given first by teachers, then priests, and then the matter was referred to Alma. It could indicate that they didn’t have authority on their own to administer discipline or it could indicate that the teachers and priests must have felt their words were being disregarded and greater authority was needed to convince the sinner. 

Another thing I notice that is interesting is the sheer numbers involved in this uproar.  Verse 6 says “many” were deceived and committed “many sins,” and verse 9 says there were “many witnesses” and the people testified of the iniquity “in abundance.”  In short, the courts and their dockets were bursting at the seams.  It must have been incredibly chaotic with all the accused, and all the sins enumerated, and all the witnesses.  This wasn’t a hidden problem; it was something a lot of people knew about and it must have been festering for a time.  (This kind of reminds me of back when I was growing up and my younger siblings would come to me all yelling and demanding justice, complaining of all the wrongs the others had committed against them and denying any responsibility was theirs.  Those were always really tough to sort out.)  The sheer numbers of people would definitely have troubled Alma.

…and he [Alma] caused that they should be brought before the king.
 11 And he said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes.
 12 But king Mosiah said unto Alma: Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged.
 13 And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God. (Mosiah 26:10-13)

It seems odd to us to read of a church leader not knowing what to do when transgressors are brought to them to be judged, since we are so used to knowing about it ourselves.  One of the things I had to become more aware of was that Alma’s leadership experience was more with bringing people into the covenant who hadn’t been there before, rather than dealing with transgressors who were already in it.  He must have wondered where one draws the line between acceptable behavior for remaining in the church and unacceptable behavior that would constitute grounds for removal from the church.  With such a variety of transgression to judge, he would have to have very clear principles by which to judge, otherwise he might remove someone who should stay in or keep someone in who should have been removed. 

One insight I received a long time ago about the revelation that Alma received was how many times the Lord tells Alma “this is my church” and “they are mine” “I am the Lord your Redeemer.”  It is as if the Lord is reminding Alma that it isn’t Alma’s church, it is the Lord’s.  Just that reminder would have taken a lot of pressure off Alma, I think.  With that reminder, the main kernel of revelation comes.

28 Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.
 29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.
 30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
 31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
 32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward. (Mosiah 26:28-32)

Verse 32 is pretty plain.  Those who will not repent will not be numbered among the Lord’s people.  That means keeping a broken and contrite heart is essential for our membership in the church.

Also, though we tend to focus on the plain principles of repentance here, we can also find counsel given for those who were the plaintiffs and witnesses who testified against those who sinned.  “Ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses”(v31).  In this story, this counsel was especially important because of all the ruffled feathers that needed to be smoothed down.   And too, there was counsel for those who had difficulty forgiving:  “he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation” (v31).  It is nice to know that the revelation Alma received had instructions that pertained to the plaintiff side of the case as well. 

I’ve found that consciously forgiving people of their trespasses against me helps me feel renewed and lighter.. when I can remember to do it. (Obviously this is something I need to work on.)    It occurs to me that repentance and forgiveness are complimentary principles that we need to live by.  If we’re not on the repenting end, we’re on the forgiving end.  Those are the two ends of a trespass.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 2 comments

It spake as a dragon: the two beasts in Revelation 13

Everybody has to take a stab at least once in their life at interpreting the symbolism of Revelation, especially the two beasts in Revelation 13.   So here’s my attempt, which represents my unofficial, but well-considered opinion.  I am sure that there will be new interpretations that come out in the future that will be better than mine as world events progress.  I’m also pretty sure my ideas will change over time as I learn more.  But for now, here’s my take on it. 
1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
 2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
 3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
 4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
 5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.  (Revelation 13:1-6)

I suspect that the first beast that rose up from the sea represents apostate religion. 

It rises out of the sea (v1)—It appears from the unstable masses of people in the world.

It has seven heads and ten horns(v1)—Heads seem to represent thoughts to me, and horns represent power.  Its thoughts and ideas are not unified (all kinds of doctrines are taught, making perfect confusion), but having plenty of people with power to back them up.  (Notice some heads must have more power than others, since you can’t divide 10 horns evenly among 7 heads.)

It is like a leopard (v2)—It is predatory.

It has the feet of a bear (v2)—Its acts are vicious and crushing.

It has the mouth of a lion (v2)—Its words are vicious, loud, and fearsome.

The dragon gave him his power, seat, and authority (v2)—The beast’s authority is NOT from God, but based on Satanic methods.

Upon his heads the name of blasphemy (v1)—This is the blasphemy of false doctrine about what God is like or what He can or can’t do. 

One of the heads was wounded to death and was healed and everyone wondered (v3)—There are two ways to look at this.  One way is to see it as a performance staged like Christ’s death and resurrection, not for the sake of truth, but to deceive.  Another way is to see it is that the imagery is meant to remind of the promise given in the Garden of Eden of how Christ’s mission and Atonement would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).  So Christ and the former-day church put a huge dent in apostate and false religion, but when the church fell into apostasy, the wound on the head of the beast was healed.  (http://www.bibleprobe.org/rev13.html)  This would certainly cause great wonder and dismay and make people wonder if it was possible to fight it.

Everyone worships the beast, thinking they can’t fight it and there’s nothing else with that kind of power (v4)—I imagine people have felt for a long time that even though they didn’t believe the apostate doctrine, there was no way they could fight the apostate religion.

A mouth to speak great things and blasphemies was given to the beast (v5)—Lots of power over the media, both for greatness and for blasphemy.

The beast blasphemed God, heaven, the tabernacle, them that dwell in heaven (v6)—False doctrine about God, heaven, the temple, and the angels is certainly a sort of blasphemy.

7 And it was given unto him [the beast] to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
 8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
 9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.
 10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:7-10)

It was given him to make war with the saints and overcome them, and power was given him over all kindreds (v7)—Apostate religion stamped out true religion.  Everyone comes under the sway of this religion. Inquisition is just one example. 

Those who worship this beast are those whose names aren’t in the book of life (v8)—It seems that those who do not worship Christ will be worshipping their religion instead.  And worshipping religion doesn’t get your name in the book of life.  The flip side of this is that a true worshipper of Christ is going to get a lot of persecution from false worshippers and probably have to endure marginalization, captivity, and even death.  This is why verse 10 was added—to reassure the true worshippers that those who led them captive or killed them would likewise suffer captivity and death.

The next beast that appears seems to me to represent Science.

 11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
 12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
 13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
 14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. (Revelation 13:11-14)

The second beast comes up out of the earth (v11)—It comes from the study of natural phenomena of the earth.  Darwin studying the animals, the study of dinosaur bones, the discovery of prehistoric cave paintings, men experimenting with chemicals and steam and electricity.

The second beast had two horns like a lamb (v11)—Two represents witness, which can remind us how scientific study needs multiple witnesses with multiple studies to establish advances.  The horns represent power.  A lamb doesn’t start out with horns, but they grow bigger as time goes on.  Similarly, science didn’t start out with power, but its power has grown over time.

It speaks as a dragon (v11)—This is temptation made more fearsome.  If a snake represents Garden of Eden temptation, a dragon is a snake on miracle-gro, or huge temptation.  It is extra tempting to believe science that seems to have such logical authority.  Dragonish temptations are those that say, “Studies show that [something bad for you] is not as harmful as previously believed, but can actually be beneficial.”  Dragonish temptations may also be those that come by way of technology, such as pornography and other addictions.

And he exercises all the power of the first beast before him (v12)—Science has gained the same slavish respect and awe that apostate religion once had all to itself, but…

The second beast causes everyone to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed (v12)—The temptation presented by the second beast drives the people to cling more tightly to their religion, even though it is apostate because while the first beast is bad, the second beast denies God completely.

The second beast does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men (v13)—This evokes the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal in which Elijah called fire down from heaven to burn his sacrifice to prove that Jehovah was God.  The point of Elijah’s story was that wonders were used to prove the truth.  Used in this context, the imagery tells us Science also does experiments to prove scientific truths, and certainly can do amazing things.  Think of the fire of the space shuttle blasting off, or the immolation of the atomic bomb, not to mention all the non-fiery scientific advances the world has witnessed.

The second beast deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do (v14)—We believe science has the answers because science has done so much for us.  Are we deceived by the temptations technology offers us?  Christ said great wonders could deceive even the elect.  Are we deceived by the temptations that come with cell phones, computers, internet, TV, and other technology?

The second beast says to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound and did live (v14)—Scientific religious thinkers want to remake religion, give it a good reputation, systematize it, use scientific practices to build it up, etc.  They want to use science to make the worship services more appealing with lights, music, saturation of the senses, etc. 

15 And he [the second beast] had power to give life unto the image of the [first] beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
 16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
 17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
 18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:15-18)

The second beast had power to give life to the image of the first beast to make it speak and cause the deaths of those who don’t worship it (v15)—This is evoking the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedego, who were told they must worship the huge golden image or be killed.  In that story, worshipping that image was definitely silly, since it couldn’t move or talk and couldn’t do anything for or against anyone.  However, in this story worshipping the image is harder to resist because it talks and it seems to have control over whether people are saved or destroyed.  It is harder to discern that it can’t really save anybody.  Here, Science is being used by apostate religion to make apostate religion (which is dead) appear alive.   It has the form of godliness, but denies the power thereof.  And of course, if anyone resists worshipping it, apostate religion causes them so much pain and hurt with spiritual abuse and disfellowshipping that it kills all desire to be involved in religion at all.  This leads to spiritual death. (There may also come a time when the killing becomes literal too, but let’s hope not..)

He causes all to receive a mark in their right hand or forehead (v16)— This is where the Book of Mormon’s doctrine about the mark comes in to give us encouragement.    The Book of Mormon teaches that anyone who is marked chose to be marked, so we need not worry that ALL are FORCED to receive the mark of the beast. 

None may buy or sell without the mark (v17)—Does science want to control all the commerce of the world?   I don’t know the answer.  But another way of looking at buying and selling may be to view it as a symbol for the exchange of ideas.  Do we see a restriction on the kinds of ideas that may be shared and traded in the public square?   I would say so. 

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.  (v18) –The best idea I’ve run across so far for the meaning of 666 is from the Enduring Word’s webpage “Revelation 13 – The Two Beasts.”   It suggests that 666 is a reference to 1 Kings 10:44, which tells Solomon received 666 talents of gold yearly.  We are reminded that Solomon was a wise, good man, but he was eventually corrupted into idolatry.   This is also adds extra significance to the Revelation verse’s text that says the number calls for wisdom, which was certainly a characteristic of Solomon.  So if Revelation says that the mark of the second beast was 666, perhaps this suggests that those who follow the beasts had great wisdom and goodness that was terribly corrupted into the idolatry of seeking gain.  

I find this interpretation of the two beasts very helpful because it substantially demystifies much of the stranger imagery, it clarifies where we are in history with a sweeping view, and it also gives solid information about the spiritual difficulties we face.

Monday, May 7, 2012 1 comments

Thoughts on “The Race of Life” (President Monson, April 2012)

Here are my thoughts on President Monson’s most recent conference talk “The Race of Life,” given in April 2012 conference, thoughts gathered after having read through it over and over.  President Monson's words are in green, mine in black.

My beloved brothers and sisters, this morning I wish to speak to you of eternal truths—those truths which will enrich our lives and see us safely home.
Everywhere people are in a hurry. Jet-powered aircraft speed their precious human cargo across broad continents and vast oceans so that business meetings might be attended, obligations met, vacations enjoyed, or families visited. Roadways everywhere—including freeways, thruways, and motorways—carry millions of automobiles, occupied by more millions of people, in a seemingly endless stream and for a multitude of reasons as we rush about the business of each day.
In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?

That last sentence is one excellent bit of counsel we need today—to stop every so often and meditate on the big questions of life, like “Where did we come from?” “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?” because it will give us the break we need to see clearly where our priorities should be.

Let me explain with a personal example as an analogy.  I do a lot of stuff on the computer these days—email, writing, researching questions, blogging, learning from videos, browsing the web, reading and updating social websites, etc., that sometimes I can get so sucked into what I’m doing that I get imprisoned by things less important.  I’ll find myself so absorbed by a blog I am reading that I can’t escape.  It begins to seem like the most important thing to do at that moment.  And then the phone rings.  I get up and answer it.  By the time the call is over, I find proper perspective has returned, and what I was doing on the computer is finally seen in its proper perspective as a trifling matter.  What changed?  Just getting away from it for a tiny amount of time helped.  I’ve found that even just standing up and walking away from the computer for as little as 20 seconds can help restore me to a proper perspective about what is important for me to do.

This is what I think is part of President Monson’s counsel for us.  We are being encouraged to “step away from hectic life,” to pause to meditate on the big questions for a little while so that we can achieve clarity about what really matters.  Life is undeniably fast and complex, and the faster and more complex it gets, the more we NEED clarity on our priorities.  We are being counseled to choose to use some of our time and thought pondering the big questions.

When compared to eternal verities, most of the questions and concerns of daily living are really rather trivial. What should we have for dinner? What color should we paint the living room? Should we sign Johnny up for soccer? These questions and countless others like them lose their significance when times of crisis arise, when loved ones are hurt or injured, when sickness enters the house of good health, when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Our thoughts become focused, and we are easily able to determine what is really important and what is merely trivial.

Another way pondering the big questions can help us is when we are confronted with problems that are driving us crazy.  Pondering the big questions can show us the true scale of our problems and how they fit into the eternal trajectory of our soul.  It shows us whether a problem is negatively affecting our celestial trajectory or whether our wobbles and bumps will ultimately resolve themselves as we progress.

Notice his metaphor “when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens.”  Do you suppose that refers to aging or to depression?

I recently visited with a woman who has been battling a life-threatening disease for over two years. She indicated that prior to her illness, her days were filled with activities such as cleaning her house to perfection and filling it with beautiful furnishings. She visited her hairdresser twice a week and spent money and time each month adding to her wardrobe. Her grandchildren were invited to visit infrequently, for she was always concerned that what she considered her precious possessions might be broken or otherwise ruined by tiny and careless hands.
And then she received the shocking news that her mortal life was in jeopardy and that she might have very limited time left here. She said that at the moment she heard the doctor’s diagnosis, she knew immediately that she would spend whatever time she had remaining with her family and friends and with the gospel at the center of her life, for these represented what was most precious to her.

Notice that President Monson is not judging this woman.  This whole story was told to him by her.  She acknowledged her own errors of priority, and President Monson merely shares the lessons she learned with us (kindly withholding her name) so that we can be instructed by her story.

Also, notice that the woman had been battling her disease for TWO YEARS now.  Those two years have probably been both painful AND joyful.  Though they have been difficult, she’s had those two years now of living with friends, family, and the gospel at the center of her life. 

Such moments of clarity come to all of us at one time or another, although not always through so dramatic a circumstance. We see clearly what it is that really matters in our lives and how we should be living.

I suppose we are being encouraged to seek these moments of clarity and to change what we are doing if necessary.  Do we need a life-threatening illness to bring us to this state, or might we enjoy a greater life if we make our own small “moments of truth”?

If friends and family matter more than possessions, how might we give them greater priority in our lives?  More get-togethers?  More talking?  More activities with each other?

Said the Savior:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”1

(I thought it was totally neat that this scripture was quoted, especially after having blogged about it myself not too long before.  It made me feel like I was in tune and prepared for President Monson’s message.) 

But anyway..  remember, President Monson’s talk is titled “The Race of Life.” Looking at the above quotation of Christ’s words, we can see plainly that the race of life is not to see who can get the most toys.  What is it then?  To lay up the most treasure in heaven?  Perhaps.  It’s just that to compete over it is still kind of missing the point..

In our times of deepest reflection or greatest need, the soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we leave this life?

When President Monson started bringing up these questions, I was rather surprised.  I mean, we members of the church have been taught about these questions and the answers quite often.  How are we supposed to ponder these questions when we already have the answers?  It sort of takes the fun out of it. 

Or does it?

Answers to these questions are not discovered within the covers of academia’s textbooks or by checking the Internet. These questions transcend mortality. They embrace eternity.

Maybe these questions and answers aren’t the kind of thing that are meant to be asked once and answered once.  Maybe they are something to be thought about often, just like we can think about our past mortal life, our present course, and our hopes for, say, the next 5 years.

And maybe thinking about these questions and answers will help us make better choices in our lives, choices that could only be made after frequent thinking about those things.

Maybe these questions are so important that we will still be pondering them past mortality into the eternities, into the resurrection.

Where did we come from? This query is inevitably thought, if not spoken, by every human being.
The Apostle Paul told the Athenians on Mars’ Hill that “we are the offspring of God.”2 Since we know that our physical bodies are the offspring of our mortal parents, we must probe for the meaning of Paul’s statement. The Lord has declared that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.”3 Thus it is the spirit which is the offspring of God. The writer of Hebrews refers to Him as “the Father of spirits.”4 The spirits of all men are literally His “begotten sons and daughters.”5
We note that inspired poets have, for our contemplation of this subject, written moving messages and recorded transcendent thoughts. William Wordsworth penned the truth:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!6

I love it when this poem is quoted in conference.  After hearing it again, I decided that I wanted to look it up on the internet to read the whole thing.  I was very much touched by lines 110-120, which I had never read before:

Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie       
Thy soul's immensity; 110
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep 
Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind, 
That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep, 
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,—          
Mighty prophet! Seer blest! 115         
On whom those truths do rest, 
Which we are toiling all our lives to find, 
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave; 
Thou, over whom thy Immortality 
Broods like the Day, a master o'er a slave, 120
A presence which is not to be put by;  

Imagine President Monson reading that poem, coming to those lines, applying them to himself.  No wonder, he wishes to remind us of the eternal questions, so he can open our eyes and ears to read and see “the eternal deep,” so that our coming immortality may brood over us like the day, like a presence not to be put away.  (By the way, be sure to read the whole poem, there are thoughts in there about the human condition that you will probably resonate with.)

Parents ponder their responsibility to teach, to inspire, and to provide guidance, direction, and example. And while parents ponder, children—and particularly youth—ask the penetrating question, why are we here? Usually it is spoken silently to the soul and phrased, why am I here?

This question “Why am I here?” helps us see through the trivial distractions and resist getting caught up in them.  Imagine scrolling through Facebook updates and then asking yourself, “Why am I here?”  Does Facebook seem important enough to be the reason why we are here?  Of course not.  And we want to know that our lives add up to something significant.

I find that I ask “Why am I here?” most when I am trying to figure out what plan God has for me.  I know the big picture, but the details are pretty fuzzy. 

Next, President Monson gives us a list of answers to the question “Why am I here?”  I suppose that each of them are to be pondered as carefully as the questions.

How grateful we should be that a wise Creator fashioned an earth and placed us here, with a veil of forgetfulness of our previous existence so that we might experience a time of testing, an opportunity to prove ourselves in order to qualify for all that God has prepared for us to receive.
Clearly, one primary purpose of our existence upon the earth is to obtain a body of flesh and bones. We have also been given the gift of agency. In a thousand ways we are privileged to choose for ourselves. Here we learn from the hard taskmaster of experience. We discern between good and evil. We differentiate as to the bitter and the sweet. We discover that there are consequences attached to our actions.
By obedience to God’s commandments, we can qualify for that “house” spoken of by Jesus when He declared: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. … I go to prepare a place for you … that where I am, there ye may be also.”7
Although we come into mortality “trailing clouds of glory,” life moves relentlessly forward. Youth follows childhood, and maturity comes ever so imperceptibly. From experience we learn the need to reach heavenward for assistance as we make our way along life’s pathway.

That last one was one I had never thought of before—learning by experience that we need Heavenly Father’s help to make it.  Boy, if we haven’t learned that lesson yet, we need to learn it quick!

God, our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection. They beckon us to follow eternal verities and to become perfect, as They are perfect.8

Next comes a great analogy that goes along with President Monson’s title “The Race of Life.” 

The Apostle Paul likened life to a race. To the Hebrews he urged, “Let us lay aside … the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”9
In our zeal, let us not overlook the sage counsel from Ecclesiastes: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.”10 Actually, the prize belongs to him or her who endures to the end.
When I reflect on the race of life, I remember another type of race, even from childhood days. My friends and I would take pocketknives in hand and, from the soft wood of a willow tree, fashion small toy boats. With a triangular-shaped cotton sail in place, each would launch his crude craft in the race down the relatively turbulent waters of Utah’s Provo River. We would run along the river’s bank and watch the tiny vessels sometimes bobbing violently in the swift current and at other times sailing serenely as the water deepened.
During a particular race we noted that one boat led all the rest toward the appointed finish line. Suddenly, the current carried it too close to a large whirlpool, and the boat heaved to its side and capsized. Around and around it was carried, unable to make its way back into the main current. At last it came to an uneasy rest amid the flotsam and jetsam that surrounded it, held fast by the tentacles of the grasping green moss.

I think one of the important lessons from this story is that we should not try to be like that one boat that went faster than all the rest.  That can be like trying to do everything at once.  Because the boat was going so fast in the river’s current, it was in special danger.  If we are like that boat and go too fast in the current of life, we may find ourselves unable to tell the difference between racing in the current and racing around in circles stuck in a whirlpool.  When we go too fast, sooner or later we burn out and then come “to an uneasy rest amid the flotsame and jetsam” and then get trapped by inertia.  Instead, we need to be wise in our efforts.  We need to be persistent and consistent.

The toy boats of childhood had no keel for stability, no rudder to provide direction, and no source of power. Inevitably, their destination was downstream—the path of least resistance.

Lesson #2: We’re headed upstream, not downstream. 
Lesson #3: We need stability, direction, and a source of spiritual power in our lives to make any headway against the downstream current, which seems to be speeding up.

Unlike toy boats, we have been provided divine attributes to guide our journey. We enter mortality not to float with the moving currents of life but with the power to think, to reason, and to achieve.

Lesson #4: Our powers of thought, reason, and ability to achieve are to be brought to bear upon our journey.

Our Heavenly Father did not launch us on our eternal voyage without providing the means whereby we could receive from Him guidance to ensure our safe return. I speak of prayer. I speak too of the whisperings from that still, small voice; and I do not overlook the holy scriptures, which contain the word of the Lord and the words of the prophets—provided to us to help us successfully cross the finish line.

Lesson #5: Map and compass have been provided by Heavenly Father.  He cares enough about the results of our race of life to give us the tools to succeed and help us along the way.

At some period in our mortal mission, there appears the faltering step, the wan smile, the pain of sickness—even the fading of summer, the approach of autumn, the chill of winter, and the experience we call death.
Every thoughtful person has asked himself the question best phrased by Job of old: “If a man die, shall he live again?”11 Try as we might to put the question out of our thoughts, it always returns. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey. At times it hushes the laughter of little children.
But what of an existence beyond death? Is death the end of all? Robert Blatchford, in his book God and My Neighbor, attacked with vigor accepted Christian beliefs such as God, Christ, prayer, and particularly immortality. He boldly asserted that death was the end of our existence and that no one could prove otherwise. Then a surprising thing happened. His wall of skepticism suddenly crumbled to dust. He was left exposed and undefended. Slowly he began to feel his way back to the faith he had ridiculed and abandoned. What had caused this profound change in his outlook? His wife died. With a broken heart he went into the room where lay all that was mortal of her. He looked again at the face he loved so well. Coming out, he said to a friend: “It is she, and yet it is not she. Everything is changed. Something that was there before is taken away. She is not the same. What can be gone if it be not the soul?”

I remember a number of years ago having the same sort of experience (not the disbelief part, but the looking at a dead loved one part), looking at my Grandpa Walker as he lay in his coffin.  It was his body, but… it wasn’t him.  He looked different dead than he had alive.  Even with the corpse makeup prettying him up, there was something that made his face him that was gone.  I don’t know if you can really see the difference unless it is someone that you knew really well before.

Later he wrote: “Death is not what some people imagine. It is only like going into another room. In that other room we shall find … the dear women and men and the sweet children we have loved and lost.”12

I really like that idea.  I think it expresses well how a person’s character doesn’t change when they die.  I also like how it expresses how close the spirits of our loved ones may be to us.

My brothers and sisters, we know that death is not the end. This truth has been taught by living prophets throughout the ages. It is also found in our holy scriptures. In the Book of Mormon we read specific and comforting words:
“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
“And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”13

Alma’s words to his son about where a soul goes after death become all the more weighty as he reveals that they came to him from an angel of the Lord.  How wonderful that this witness has been preserved for us and passed down!

After the Savior was crucified and His body had lain in the tomb for three days, the spirit again entered. The stone was rolled away, and the resurrected Redeemer walked forth, clothed with an immortal body of flesh and bones.

It struck me while I was reading how significant it was that the stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb.  It made it so that people could see that there wasn’t any body left.  Sure, the unbelievers could still make up their own story as to why Christ’s body wasn’t there, but for believers, it still is a strong witness of the resurrection.

The answer to Job’s question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” came when Mary and others approached the tomb and saw two men in shining garments who spoke to them: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”14

Is it possible that Job’s question “If a man die, shall he live again?” was about Christ in particular?  Possibly. 

As the result of Christ’s victory over the grave, we shall all be resurrected.

Christ demonstrated His power over death extended not just to His own resurrection, but to giving others power over death too, as I’ve blogged in “All facets of Christ’s power over death.” [http://scriptoriumblogorium.blogspot.com/2011/08/all-facets-of-christs-power-over-death.html]

This is the redemption of the soul. Paul wrote: “There are … celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.”15

The answer to the question “where do we go after this life?” takes us not just into the spirit world, but back to our bodies again in the resurrection, and then on into celestial, terrestrial, or telestial glory.  Which of those glories we end up in is totally up to us to decide and depends upon how righteously we live in mortality.

I think the question “where am I going?” can help us realize when we’re heading in the wrong direction.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we know whether we would be pleased or terrified to suddenly have our life end and be brought to judgment. 

It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings are earned through a lifetime of striving, seeking, repenting, and finally succeeding.

That’s the ultimate answer we want for the question “where am I going?”  I like that President Monson reminds us that it takes a lifetime of striving, seeking, repenting, and succeeding to make it to that final celestial destination.

Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after this life? No longer need these universal questions remain unanswered. From the very depths of my soul and in all humility, I testify that those things of which I have spoken are true.
Our Heavenly Father rejoices for those who keep His commandments. He is concerned also for the lost child, the tardy teenager, the wayward youth, the delinquent parent. Tenderly the Master speaks to these and indeed to all: “Come back. Come up. Come in. Come home. Come unto me.”
In one week we will celebrate Easter. Our thoughts will turn to the Savior’s life, His death, and His Resurrection. As His special witness, I testify to you that He lives and that He awaits our triumphant return. That such a return will be ours, I pray humbly in His holy name—even Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Redeemer, amen.

What thoughts do you have about President Monson’s talk?  How is it helping you so far?  How do anticipate that his talk will help you in the next six months?