Sunday, March 10, 2019 0 comments

Jesus casts out an unclean spirit

23 And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,
24 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.
26 And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. (Mark 1:23-26)

One observation frequently made about this story is that the unclean spirits recognize Jesus, not having a veil over their memory. But if you notice, that knowledge doesn’t do any good.  The effect they have on the man they have possessed is to torment him, making him think he can have nothing to do with Jesus, as if Jesus is some different kind of person and that He has come to destroy all the wicked.  The man seems to have had an over-consciousness of his sins combined with despair, a view that he could expect no help from Jesus.

But once Jesus cast the unclean spirit out, the man knew Jesus could help him. Unclean spirits want to paralyze people with a sense of their unworthiness to keep them from getting the spiritual help they need.

Now, here’s a question – if the text had not labeled this man as having an unclean spirit, would we have been able to tell that was his problem? (Read through it, covering up the label, and see.) Could we have known from his words and behavior what his problem was?   I suspect this story is in the scriptures exactly so that we can learn to recognize and diagnose this problem.

Here’s another question—If we ever recognize this kind of spirit in ourselves, can we discern that and cast it out?  Because it must be cast out in order to exert the faith for salvation.

I think this story should help us learn discernment so we can recognize when we are under the influence of this kind of unclean spirit so we can escape. It is hard to escape that sort of thing if you think it is you instead of realizing it is a spiritual influence. Remember, it is not you.  Cast it out. Tell Satan where to get off.

Sunday, March 3, 2019 0 comments

By What Basis Do You Judge?

14 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?
16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.
19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?
20 The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?
21 Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel.
22 Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man.
23 If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?
24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
25 Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?
26 But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?
27 Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.
28 Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.
29 But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.
30 Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.
31 And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?
32 The Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning him; and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take him.
33 Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me.
34 Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come.
35 Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?
36 What manner of saying is this that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come?
37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?
43 So there was a division among the people because of him.
44 And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.
45 Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?
46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?
49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)
51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?
52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.
53 And every man went unto his own house. (John 7:14:53)
In this chapter it is interesting that Jesus tells the people, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (v24)  He tells them this because they allow people to be circumcised on the Sabbath to keep the 8-day law, but they had been angry at Him for healing on the Sabbath to make someone completely whole.

Throughout the rest of this chapter, we get to see a variety of opinions people express about Jesus as they try to work out whether He is to be followed or not. We get to see the basis on which they judge Christ. This challenges us to think about how we decide to trust the prophets, as well as the bigger issue of how we decide Christ is the Messiah and the one to put our faith in.

V26 – Some note that Jesus speaks boldly and that the leaders let Him continue instead of shutting Him up. They wonder if that’s because the leaders believe He is Christ. They were judging based on the fact that the leaders hadn’t stopped Him yet. In their mind, permission equaled agreement.

V27 – Some note they know where Jesus is from, but that Christ’s origins are supposed to be mysterious. I have to wonder if they get this idea from some scripture we don’t have or whether this was folk tradition. They judge based on Jesus’s place of origin. (They aren’t the only ones who do this.) Is this a good basis for judgment? I doubt it.

V41-42 --   Some say, “Shall Christ come out of Galilee?” They cite the scriptures that Christ comes from the seed of David out of the town of Bethlehem. We have stories that show us Christ fulfilled that, even if Bethlehem was a very short-term residence.  Ignorance was tripping them up here.

V52 -- Some Pharisee say, “Search and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” They think that just because no prophet has come from Galilee that means no prophet can come from there. It’s as silly as Latter-day Saints saying “No modern prophet can arise outside of Utah.” God can easily upend those notions.

V31 – Some say, “When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” They judge on the basis of miracles. Miracles are significant, but they can’t be the foundation of faith. Miracles follow faith, confirming it rather than preceding it.

V40-41 – Some say, “Of a truth, this is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” They say this in response to Jesus’s promise that those who come to Him and drink will have living waters flow out of their bellies. They judge by Jesus’s sayings and promises and how they felt and how it matches the scriptures.

V46 – The officers who were supposed to apprehend Jesus and take Him, did not do it, and they say, “Never man spake like this man.” They judge by how Christ speaks and the authority they sense from Him that is greater than any other they have heard (and since they work for the Jerusalem temple administration and chief priests, they’ve had the opportunity to hear the greatest that Judaism had at that time).

V48 – The Pharisees say, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?”  They judge by the numbers of rulers that accept Him, in effect holding themselves hostage to popularity among the elite.

V50-51 – Nicodemus says, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” It seems Nicodemus didn’t feel like the Pharisees knew enough about Jesus—what He said or did—for them to be able to tell one way or the other, and he felt to caution them to reserve judgment until they have the real facts.

When we add it all up, we get this:

Bad basis for judging
Good basis for judging
--Looking for mysterious origins
--Judging based on where He comes from
--Judging based on whether authorities allow it
--Judging based on whether authorities accept it and believe it
--Judging based on popularity among elites and authority

--Doing many miracles to benefit others
--Based on sayings and promises given, how they feel and how it matches scripture
--Based on authority felt when He speaks
--Based on what one knows about what He does and says

I’m taking a Global Business law and ethics class this semester and I get to read summaries of court cases and see how judges make their decisions. Mostly it is based upon law, but when they hit fuzzy areas where there isn’t clarity, often they create tests for themselves with various criteria, and those tests get used by other judges.

 In John 7, we get to see how people of John’s day had their own tests they used to judge, some of which were mental shortcuts that depended upon the judgment of others rather than their own, some of which failed because of their ignorance, and some of which were simply created out of prejudice. 

It think it shows us the importance of thinking about the basis by which we judge the modern prophets or anything, for that matter.  It challenges us to become more conscious of the criteria we judge by. If our criteria is faulty, sooner or later we will run up against something that challenges our notions. If we can’t adjust those criteria appropriately, we will reject something good, thinking it is evil, or accept something evil, thinking it is good.
Sunday, February 24, 2019 0 comments

The Lunatic Child

14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. (Matt. 17:14-18)

It struck me as I was reading this how odd it was that the child often fell into the fire or the water. A footnote on the “falling” says the Greek means “throws himself” instead of falling. So this child is actually trying to destroy himself, not falling accidentally. The child was vexed and suffering mentally-emotionally to such an extent that the only way he could think of to end it was to try to kill himself.

And actually, Jesus seems to have understood this. His statement, “how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?” shows that Jesus knew what it felt like to suffer at length and wonder how long it would go on and when it would all be over.  His description of “faithless and perverse” shows that He knew a lack of faith and perverse tendencies contributed to the suffering the child was going through.  The fact that He rebuked shows that the child needed to learn some principles and the fact that He cast out a devil shows that there was a devil that was involved in the child’s suffering, making it worse.

If we ever feel like we can’t go on through our suffering, we need to fast and pray and exert our faith. We can get through it. Christ can help us get through it. Take it moment by moment, day by day.
Thursday, February 21, 2019 0 comments

Three Different Places Christ Was to Come From

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. (Matthew 2:4-6, emphasis added)
And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matthew 2:15, emphasis added)

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23, emphasis added)

In these verses are recorded three different prophecies about where Christ was to come from: born in Bethlehem, called out of Egypt, called a Nazarene.  If we didn’t know the circumstances of Christ’s birth and youngest years, we might be inclined to say these were seriously contradictory and mutually exclusive. But Matthew’s record shows how all of them were fulfilled in their way: by movements because of universal taxation, by threat requiring flight, and by strategic settlement ostensibly out of reach of a different danger.

This shows us that the Lord knows the unusual circumstances that will occur, even hundreds of years in the future. (I wonder if the Lord decided to give those prophecies in such a way as to make them sound mutually exclusive so that He could underline His ability to carry His plans out.)

This is another one of those things that shows we can trust the Lord will do His own work and fulfill His covenants.

Monday, February 4, 2019 2 comments

Thoughts about Alternatives if Buying and Selling is Prohibited

Remember these verses?

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. (Revelation 13:16-17)

If you’re like me, you may have read these verses and wondered how one might survive if you are prohibited from buying and selling. What alternatives can we imagine?

One alternative that comes to mind immediately is the formation of a black market (or in this case, it would be a white market that is officially deemed “black” by the powers that be.) However, black markets are demoralizing inasmuch as it forces one to live outside the law. Living in fear of discovery like that is no way to live for faithful people who are commanded not to fear but be of good cheer.

This brings us to the other alternative. An alternative economy must be formed on a legal basis, and that alternative economy must operate on principles other than buying and selling. This is hard to imagine, but what it amounts to is that of volunteering, giving and sharing. Charity becomes the legal basis by which the Zion economy must be run at this time. Workers must give their labor to the Lord, and producers must give their production to the Lord and thereby make Zion the clearinghouse for where the labor is to be bestowed and where the goods to be produced must be sent.

This will take a lot of trust, and will likely not be perfect, but it will be a better alternative than taking the mark to be part of a corrupt network or living in fear as part of a black market.

Consecration will be Zion’s protection.

Monday, January 28, 2019 0 comments

Where the Beauty of Israel Comes From

Ezekiel 16 is an extended allegory of Israel as a woman the Lord finds naked, abandoned, and dirty in the field, and the Lord washes, clothes, and covenants with her and cares for her.

These verses struck me:

13 Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.
14 And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God.
15 But thou didst trust in thine own beauty… (Ezek. 16:13-15)

This reminds us of an important truth: Israel’s beauty is perfect because it comes from God. It isn’t Israel’s at all, but the goodness Israel is given by grace through obedience.

I think it is also the same on the individual level. Any attractiveness we have is from God. Looks are only surface-deep, but the real attractiveness rests in attitude and outlook and the way we do things, all of which, when affected by and guided by the Lord and our focus on His ways, will be greater than it would be otherwise.  Interestingly, with God’s help, we escape the excessive preoccupation with looks that makes beauty less appealing because our priority are on the things of eternity that really matter.

Let’s not make the mistake of “trusting in our own beauty.” (I’ll leave it to you to look up verse 15 to read the rest of what happens when that mistake is made.)

Sunday, January 20, 2019 0 comments

The Lesson in Darius’ Decree

When we were studying Daniel back in December and got to the story of Daniel being protected in the lion’s den, I thought it was really interesting to read the decree King Darius sent out to his people afterwards. You’d think it would be something like, “Daniel’s God does signs and saves and delivered Daniel from the lions,” but there is more to it.

26 I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.
27 He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. (Dan. 6:26-27)

When even the conquering gentile king acknowledges God’s kingdom will not be destroyed, that’s a strong encouraging message to the Jews. It’s probably the main message of the book to the Jews, who had their kingdom taken over. It’s to remind them that God’s kingdom can exist even if their nation didn’t have independent political power. The Jews of Daniel’s day didn’t yet know that.  
Saturday, January 12, 2019 0 comments

Joseph’s Revelation to Take Mary to Wife & a Connection to Family History

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25)

It is interesting to think about how we got this information about a very private and personal dilemma Joseph had and the significant decision he had to make and an important revelation he had—that he had planned to put Mary away privately and was reassured by an angel in a dream that Mary’s pregnancy was not because of fornication but was a miracle according to the will of God.

We know this stuff about Joseph because at some point he told others about it. Maybe he told Mary and it became a story that was part of their family culture of raising Jesus. At some point that story got around among believers, and we know about it today because Matthew recorded it.

This is so fascinating because a private part of someone’s personal history became part of a family history tradition and eventually became part of shared church history of all Christians.

Applying this to us, I think it shows how important it is to record the events surrounding our dilemmas, our decisions, and our revelations concerning the same. Those things change the course of our lives and our families, though we may not know the full extent of their impact until much later. We also don’t know how those stories will help our families in the future, or even other people. We don’t know how far those stories may travel.

Thursday, January 10, 2019 0 comments

The Recipes for the Anointing Oil and Incense

22 Moreover the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
23 Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
24 And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin:
25 And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.
26 And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony,
27 And the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense,
28 And the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot.
29 And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy.
30 And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
31 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations.
32 Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you.
33 Whosoever compoundeth any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people.
34 And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:
35 And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:
36 And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
37 And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord.
38 Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people. (Ex. 30:22-38)
In these verses the Lord gives Moses directions for a recipe for holy anointing oil and for incense. The oil was for anointing and sanctifying the tabernacle and the priests. The Incense was to be burned in the tabernacle. Both were to be holy and not used for any other thing outside the tabernacle. Anyone who made it and used it for other purposes was to be cut off (or excommunicated).

Why was this so important? Why was it to be so exclusive?

It seems to me that the Lord was trying to use the power of smells and how they create strong associations with memories and feelings. He wanted a particular set of smells to be associated with the act of anointing and with going into the tabernacle.

Smells create atmosphere, and they are a good symbol for how the Spirit of God creates an atmosphere when present as part of priesthood ordinances and holy places.

Also, often smells of places cling may cling to people, and if people who had been worshipping at the tabernacle had those smells on them, everyone who came close would know where they’d been and what they’d been doing and associate it with the tabernacle and the positive feelings of that. Those associations would strengthen over time. Perhaps those who were distanced from God could be reminded by smelling those smells again from other people around them who worshipped faithfully at the temple.

How might this be useful to us today? What if parents had a particular perfume or cologne they only used after having gone to the temple? It might do the same thing for them and their family.

More lessons I get from these verses:
1)    The anointing oil can symbolize the Spirit of God. If so, then we can’t (and should not try to) imitate the workings of the Spirit. Attempts to imitate would amount to emotional manipulation, which isn’t what the Lord wants. The Lord wants us to imitate Christ’s works, but let the Spirit work as it will.
2)    The incense can represent prayer, since it was to be burned will the priests prayed. Thinking about the ingredients of the incense might make us think about the proper ingredients of prayer—humility, submission, requests for help, gratitude for blessings, confessions for sins, requests for forgiveness, pleas for protection from temptation, requests for guidance, confidences about one’s situation and feelings, praise and adoration for mercy and power manifest, etc.

Update on the Revelation Commentary: I’m still working hard on it!  My word count is up to about 153,000 right now. The whole thing has been drafted, but each chapter requires multiple draft iterations for refinement. I’m very excited about it.
Monday, December 17, 2018 0 comments

What 1 Nephi 1 teaches about Christ

The Lord sees our abominations (1 Ne. 1:13)

His works are great and marvelous (1 Ne. 1:14)

The Lord’s power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth (1 Ne. 1:14)

Because the Lord is merciful, He will not suffer those who come unto Him to perish (1 Ne. 1:14)

The Lord’s throne is high in the heavens. (1 Ne. 1:14)

The Lord shows marvelous things to the prophets in vision (1 Ne. 1:15, 18) also about coming destruction (1 Ne. 1:18).

Christ manifested His coming before He came (1 Ne. 1:19)

The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom He has chosen to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance. (1 Ne. 1:20)

It's cool to me that the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon contains material about the mission of Christ, how He reveals that to the prophets, the necessity of repenting, and His great mercy to save and deliver those who will come to him.

This post is a part of a series that will sum up what can be learned about Christ from various chapters in the Book of Mormon in connection to President Nelson’s challenge to the women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to read the Book of Mormon completely by the end of 2018.