Saturday, January 21, 2017 0 comments

Jesus’s Knowledge of Paul’s Heart

In the story of Jesus’s appearance to Paul on the way to Damascus, it is impressive how much Jesus knows about Paul’s inner state.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:5)

To all outward appearances, Paul was as staunch an enemy of the fledgling church as the Jewish leaders would hope for. And yet, Jesus knew 1) Paul’s heart had been pricked multiple times, 2) that Paul was fighting his own inclinations as well as the church, and 3) it was hard for Paul to continue that fight.

It may be that Paul needed the Lord to tell him, “I know what’s going on in your heart and head, so stop putting on such a front.”

This is a great reminder that the Lord knows our hearts. He knows what we’re inclined to do, He knows when we’re putting on a front. He knows why and what the effect of it is on us. Paul was a case of one who needed to follow his good inclinations and not fight them. The Lord also knows when we are covering up bad inclinations and need to fight them more and achieve spiritual change.

I’m thankful to know that the Lord knows my heart. It gives me a reason to be careful about my thoughts and attitudes. But I’m also thankful that He is merciful and long-suffering and gives me the mental space to work through things.
Thursday, January 19, 2017 0 comments

The Power and Faith of the Saints in Moroni’s Past

As Moroni takes over writing on the plates from his father Mormon, he spends some time talking about factors besides the Lord’s purposes that will bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. One of these that caught my attention was the prayers of the Saints.
23 Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold, I cannot write them. Yea, behold I say unto you, that those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord; and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them.
24 And he knoweth their prayers, that they were in behalf of their brethren. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word. (Mormon 8:23-24)
When I have read these verses before, I just assumed the saints referred to were the disciples of Christ, because of the reference to the furnaces and beats that could not harm them and how similar that was the description of how the three Nephites were miraculously preserved. And yet, I now wonder if there is a reason Moroni called them “saints” and not “disciples of Jesus.” It makes me think that this could be describing the faith of the general church membership, not just the highest leaders.

I also notice that when Moroni refers to Isaiah, he repeats enough of an image—“crying from the dust”—that we can identify exactly where Moroni was thinking of: Isaiah 29. But he reworks the meaning a bit for his own purposes. Instead of terrible ones crying from the dust, Moroni has saints crying from the dust, essentially praying during mortality and beyond in behalf of their brethren. In v25 he also says their prayers were for the one who would bring forth the Book of Mormon, so it is a good bet it was also for all those engaged in the Restoration as well, as it continues today.

And Moroni wants us to know those prayers will be efficacious because of the great faith of those praying, and he cites the miracles they could do in the name of Jesus and by the power of His word as evidence of their spiritual power.

I don’t know about you, but it gets me thinking about what I might need to do so that my faith as a Latter-day Saint can grow to match those ancient Saints.

I don’t need to move mountains, but what obstacles in my life would I like to remove? I can think of a few, for sure.

I would rather not shake the earth, but it might be nice to use my faith to shake my false complacency.

What psychological prisons that hold me captive could use some destruction? What flame wars and beastly poisonous behavior could I use protect from by the power of Christ’s word?

How might our prayers, acting in Jesus’s name and by the power of His word accomplish?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 0 comments

Elder Maxwell on Doubts

Gotta love Elder Neal A. Maxwell.

The following quotes about doubts came from a section in the Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, which also cites the individual books those quotes came from:

The shouts and barbs from those in doubt are sometimes not criticism at all, but frustration at not yet having found the “iron rod”—something solid in a world of too many marshmallow men and too many chameleon causes. (A Time to Choose, p.6)

Notice at the bottom of this kind of doubt is frustration at a lack of certainty.  From my experience of having had a crisis of faith, that lack of certainty can be very painful. And from that perspective, the results of living the doctrine can seem uncertain too, cloaked, as it seems, in the mist of the future.  How much does one dare to trust it?  Will God make good on His promises?  (Yes, He does, but our faith must be tried.)

Elder Maxwell also notes that this is a world of “too many marshmallow men and too many chameleon causes.”   Acquaintance with too many of these can make us think that the kingdom of God is one of them.  Or if we leave the church for some other cause that seems more weighty, we will find to our sorrow that once we have fully weighed it, it is still found wanting, leaving our own wanting unfulfilled.

To host an if is like hosting an insect that breeds and multiplies in the sun of circumstance. Soon one is crawling with ifs and is thereby overcome. (Even As I Am, p74)

The “if” that Maxwell talks about is more like a “what if.”  I would add that when hosting an if, it may feel as if you are feeding off it, but it is feeding off you and sucking out the vitality of faith. He compares it to hosting an insect because these doubts are parasitic. They don’t add anything or help you do anything. 

There are two ways to deal with them.  1) Forget about them and get to work living the practical gospel. Acting to keep commandments builds faith.  “Tis better far for us to strive, our useless cares from us to drive.” 2) Treat them like ticks and confront them with the tweezers of faith-filled argument: write them down and then eviscerate them on paper. 

Doubters often pool their doubts by associating with like-minded individuals, each bringing his own favorite “dish” as if to a potluck dinner. (That Ye May Believe, p. 191)

Thus, even if you badly want validation when in the midst of doubts, don’t go looking for other doubters to kvetch with. That’s kind of like going to a doctor-less hospital in which sick people go around infecting each other in the name of palliative care.  Instead, you need strong, thinking believers with big hearts.   You need people willing to share their reasons for belief, and who love in such a way that you’ll see there’s room for you in the church.

By not being actively involved in the process of faith, doubters simply do not receive reinforcing rewards. They also resent the lack of sympathetic vibrations from the faithful each time doubters themselves oscillate in response to what they suppose is some “new evidence” to the contrary. (Lord, Increase Our Faith, p.89)

It seems to me that if people find themselves oscillating in response to “new evidence” they think contradicts their faith, it is time to take a careful look at what the foundations of their testimony is and whether they are keeping the commandments as given in the Beatitudes.  Testimony has to be rooted in Christ and the prophets.  It is kept strong by doing the commandments. 

24 ¶Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)

Sunday, January 15, 2017 2 comments

Indications of the sad state of the Nephite church in Mormon’s day

There are some disturbing things in the text of Mormon from time to time that indicate the how the church kept falling further and further.

In Mormon 2:8, Mormon observes there was one complete revolution throughout the land, and it may be that there was massive rebellion in the government and in the church.

In Mormon 2:15, there is an observation that many of the Nephites were hewn down in “open rebellion against God” after cursing God, wishing to die, but struggling for their lives.

I have to wonder in what way they were openly rebelling.  To openly rebel and then be hewn down makes me think that the rebellion was related to something that would have kept them safe in war.  Perhaps it was open rebellion against summons to gather all the Nephites in one place as protection against the Lamanite armies. It is possible they didn’t want to because of the thieves, robbers, murder, and witchcraft in the land that would make a high concentration of people very oppressive to each other.  Also, with such revolution previously, the spirit of rebellion and ain’t-no-one-gonna-tell-me-what-to-do may have spread to the point that they questioned even the necessity of safety measures.

In Mormon 2:23, when the Nephites are up against a wall, Mormon urges them to fight for their wives, children, houses, and homes. This is similar to Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty, but noticeably absent are thoughts of fighting for their religion and God. It suggests that religion and God would not have been compelling motives for the Nephites and the Nephites had an increased cynicism about the worth of their religion, probably based upon the lack of spiritual gifts and absence of true disciples of Christ.

In Mormon 3:2, the Lord tells Mormon to preach repentance with a specific message—1) repent, 2) come to me, 3) be baptized, 4) build up again my church. It sounds like many of the Nephites had been excommunicated or left the church and rebelled, but had not defected to the Lamanites. 

I think this pattern shows the effects of how growing individual wickedness among members pollutes the aggregate church until the church itself loses moral authority and trust in the larger society.  It’s a warning to us of something we don’t want to cause in our day.

Friday, January 13, 2017 2 comments

The Parable of the Children Sitting in the Market

31 ¶And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
35 But wisdom is justified of all her children. (Luke 7:31-35)

The general impression I get from this parable is that Jesus was trying to say that the men of that generation were out of step with what God wanted while they accused the prophets and Jesus of being out harmony or out of step with them.

When I was reading this I decided I needed to analyze it more closely to see if there was more to learn from it.

First, Jesus says this about the men of that generation and compares them to children, not other men or even to women. To call them children expresses they are young and ignorant.

He also compares them to children sitting in the marketplace. Not sitting in the temple, not sitting on the seaside, not sitting at home. The marketplace is a place of business, of exchange. Real men and women are doing business in the marketplace, but these children are sitting doing something else. So spiritually speaking, that’s like saying the men of His generation were ignorant of the real business of life and the things of the Spirit, and they were sitting around doing something different while significant things were happening all around them.

What were they doing? They were playing dance music and then wondering why no one was dancing to it, or they were crying and wondering why no one else was crying too. It’s as if they thought their product (if it could be called a product) was the only thing in town or they thought they were offering something significant and appropriate and that others should follow their lead.

However, the opposite was true. They were not the only game in town, what they offered was insignificant and inappropriate, and they were not worth following. And they were missing out on the real spiritual business to be done because of ignorance.

A lesson from this for us today is how important it is to stay in step with the prophets and the real business of the gospel and working out our salvation. The minute we start thinking the prophet and apostles are out of touch, it is really us who are out of harmony, and anything we think we can add will be actually detracting and distracting.

Jesus noted how the men of His time thought John was a crazy ascetic on one hand and on the other dismissed Jesus for being too social with sinners.  The styles of John and Jesus were very different from each other, and I imagine this was Heavenly Father’s way of using different strokes for different folks in order to reach as many as possible with the gospel.  But at some level, you have to go beyond style and get to the substance.  The substance of the message of John and Jesus was the same: believe in Christ and repent.

To me, a modern application of this is to carefully consider how we respond to the messages of the prophets and apostles. I know many of us have personal favorites among the First Presidency or Twelve Apostles. But of the ones we like less, do we dismiss their message because their style grates on us?  Or can we stretch to receive their message regardless of their personality or delivery? 

Today let’s open the conference edition of the Ensign to the talks of the apostles we like least.  Let’s pray for the humility to receive the substance of their message while ignoring their style.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 0 comments

Some bits of wisdom from Ecclesiastes

I was reading through Ecclesiastes and stumbled on some verses that are full of wisdom that is only accessible to those with an eternal perspective. To those who don’t, they probably would just sound messed up.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
2 ¶It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-5)

How is a good name better than precious ointment?  The precious ointment is nice-smelling and gave people pleasure as they came within the personal space of the wearer. But a good name (or good reputation), assuming it is built upon good works and a righteous life, is spiritually inspiring to others and has the potential to provoke others to imitation. The world needs good influences and great examples.

How is the day of death better than the day of one’s birth? For those of us who are living the gospel and repenting carefully and who know this life is a probationary period, the day of our death is the end of the test of mortality. If we can make it to that day and stay faithful, how happy we will be! Both birth and death are advancements along the continuum of eternal progression, but death is further along.

Why is it better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting? The house of mourning was an expression for a house where there had been a death in the family. The wise realize that eventually everyone will die, and they use this occasion to ponder their own progress in life and whether they are spiritually prepared for their own death. Then they make changes as needed. But no such soul-searching happens at a party.

In what way is sorrow better than laughter? How is the heart made better by sadness of countenance?  Sorrow is usually in response to difficult circumstances—death, disappointment, conflict, rejection, tribulation, frustration, etc.  Sorrow is uncomfortable, and we don’t like to be sad, so for a righteous person, sorrow can lead to soul-searching and pondering what one needs to change in life. So a sad face on a good person is a sign that they are doing or about to do some spiritual change that will make their heart better, i.e. improve their character.

Why would the heart of the wise be in the house of mourning? Again, they are thinking about the end of their life and what they need to do to prepare to meet God. It might also be said they have the house of mourning in them if they try to keep a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Why is it better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools? The wise are those who are righteous. Listening to their rebuke helps us learn where we need to repent, so even though it might be uncomfortable, humbling ourselves will help us become better. The song of fools, however, has no such spiritual benefit.

Monday, January 9, 2017 0 comments

Re-examining the parable of the unjust steward

1 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. 
2 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. 
3 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. 
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 
7 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. 
8 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 .  (Luke 16:1-8)

I was reading through this parable and I noticed some things that I hadn’t noticed before. 

First it came to me that the debts the steward forgives might represent sins that need repenting. (Sins are represented as debts in other parables, so this is not farfetched.)

Next, it came to me that the steward might be a stand-in for church leaders responsible for church discipline, since part of what the steward is responsible for is overseeing those who are indebted to the master.

The parable of the unjust steward comes right after the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, and therefore might be considered to be another parable dealing with finding the lost and receiving them back.

The steward was accused of wasting the master’s goods.  It may be that the steward was allowing the forgiveness available to go unused, or he was claiming mercy liberally for himself and not extending it to others.

Someone accused the steward of wasting the master’s goods, and the master lowers the boom and asks for accounts from the steward as a means of finding out the facts, along with a blanket condemnation that the steward will be out of the position regardless.

When the steward realizes he will be cast out of the stewardship and he can’t dig or he’s ashamed to beg, it may be that he’s realizing how dependent he really is upon his master. Without his master, he is nothing.  All the power and authority he thought he had, all the riches, didn’t really belong to him.  (Likewise, without the mercy and atonement of God, church leaders are themselves nothing.) 

In the process of studying his master’s financial records in order to prepare to give an account of his actions, the steward discovers the way he can make things better for himself.  So he goes through the accounts of who is indebted and forgives parts of the debts in order to gain their goodwill. His plan is that the debtors’ gratitude will inspire them to help him in his coming difficulties.  He also reasons that partially forgiving the debts will bring honor to his master as a merciful man in a way that can’t be argued with or undone.

The master can’t complain about the steward of partially forgiving debts without making himself appear stingy and ungenerous to the debtors in comparison to the steward.  So the master lets the steward’s acts stand as valid.

This is also in line with one of Jesus’s pronouncements else’s where:

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23)

One features in this parable is that the steward forgave part of the debts owed the master in order to ingratiate himself with them and increase the honor of his master as a merciful man.  The message is that stewards over the household of God should forgive part of the sins immediately so as to increase the honor of God as a God of mercy. 

When Jesus advises his disciples to make friends of the unrighteous mammon, He can be understood to be advising those who act as dispensers of church discipline to make friends of those who are going through the repentance process so as to help and support them along the way. 

When it says the mammon of unrighteousness may welcome Christ’s stewards into everlasting habitations after having made friends of them, that means that the initial offering of partial forgiveness generates goodwill and gratitude that helps the debtors reach for the rest of that forgiveness.  Eventually they are saved in heaven and therefore are able to welcome the steward into heaven and enjoy glory with him.

It is possible that better understanding of this parable would have done a lot to help members in the early church.  I have read that in the early church that there arose a tradition of requiring a long and painful repentance process on those who repudiated their testimony under intense persecution.   The process could last over a year, and this led to people preferring not to be baptized when young because they feared they would sin and require that painful repentance process.  This also led to people choosing to not be baptized until near death.

I personally felt this kind of mercy was extended to me when I was a debtor, and I’m very thankful for it.
Saturday, January 7, 2017 2 comments

More lessons from the Parable of the Prodigal Son

I was reading the parable of the prodigal son recently and I noticed that both the sons had alienated themselves from their father in different ways.

The younger son thought he could enjoy his inheritance independent of his father, and then when he came to himself and returned, he still had a problem of feeling like he was not worthy to be called a son.  The father in the parable had to show him he was still his son, clothing him with the robe, ring, sandals, and giving him a feast with fatted calf.

The older son alienated himself by getting angry and not going into the house to the party. Even though he knew he was a son, he still didn’t feel like a son because to his mind a bigger deal was made over his returning brother than himself, even though he had stayed obedient.  He questioned whether he was a son too because he felt he didn’t experience the benefits of sonship. His father had to remind him that he was “ever with me” and “all that I have is thine,” which meant that the oldest son really could have a party at home whenever he wanted.

I suspect that we as members alienate ourselves from our Heavenly Father in those two different ways. If we sin awfully, we think we’re not worthy to be His child anymore. If we stay faithful, we may question whether we really are His child, thinking we can’t or are not enjoying the privileges.

Satan would really like us to believe those things, so we need to recognize the source of those thoughts and throw them out. Also, just like the father in the parable worked to overcome each son’s difficulties, if we recognize how we are alienating ourselves and take it to the Lord, He will help us. 

I appreciate the reassurance the father gave to his oldest son. The reminder “you are ever with me” corresponds to having the Spirit to be with us always, and “all that I have is thine” corresponds to the promise of someday receiving celestial glory.
Saturday, December 31, 2016 0 comments

My Blogging Year in Review: The Small Plates of Michaela

Another year of blogging and I continue to be grateful for what the Lord teaches me through the scriptures.  The following posts are my favorites from 2016.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Old Testament

Why a Serpent in the Garden of Eden?

Lessons from the Lord’s curse upon Satan in the Garden of Eden

New Lessons from the Genesis 39 Story of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

An unexpected indication of religious freedom and respect in Genesis

Addressing the question of a God who apparently commanded genocide in the Old Testament

I Will Make All My Mountains a Way

Isaiah on the joy of conversion

New Testament

Avoiding Lust

Doing it to the least of these, doing it to Christ

Rewards for supporting Christ’s side

New thoughts on the parable of the ten virgins

Jesus on casting out devils

The Dragon and the Beast

Revelation 10: The Angel Standing on Sea and Land

Book of Mormon

Lehi’s Dream: Three Tools of Satan, Three Tools of God

God shows men that they were lost so they need repentance

The Light That Can Never Be Darkened

Zeniff's powers of persuasion

An Amalekite’s Unbelief and Attempts at Self-justification

Observations on the poor Zoramites

Some thoughts about Amalickiah’s flattery and the dangers of “awesome”

Flee or Prepare for War

Some thoughts on Lehi’s army shielding and attacking

The Power of Covenants in Alma 44

Teancum’s great warriors

Unconquerable spirit, or not?

Alma 60: Captain Moroni’s letter to Pahoran may be less rash than we think

Survivor’s guilt versus the Lord’s assessment on sin in 3 Nephi 8-9

The Remnant of Israel as a Lion or a Bull

Jesus’s warning to those who don’t repent

The Brother of Jared’s Observation of how Men Perceive the Power of God

Some observations on Jared the usurper and his daughter

The Survival of Coriantumr As a Type

Laying hold on every good thing

Mormon speaks to those who don’t believe in Christ

Why did the Nephites have confidence in Mormon as a commander?

Doctrine & Covenants

Some points about the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon translation

The word of God as a sword, quick and powerful

The heavens shall shake for our good

Is it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

The promise for seeking the Lord

Practical thoughts on the white stone given to inhabitants of the celestial kingdom


Pearl of Great Price

From my talk on the First Vision


Some Helpful Context about Tokens and Signs

Signs of the Times: Rumors of Wars

Some scriptures about pleasure

Living Water Versus Only Dreaming You Quenched Your Thirst

Monday, December 26, 2016 0 comments

Unexpected applications in verses about the Lord’s coming in D&C 133

I was reading in D&C 133, and I ran into some verses that made me think as I looked at them closer.

D&C 133 was given to help answer the Twelve apostles’ request for instructions about missionary work, and it has a lot of amazing promises about changes to the earth and geographical movements of water and land masses and prophets in the north countries and so on. 

Then there’s this bit:

40 Calling upon the name of the Lord day and night, saying: O that thou wouldst rend the heavens, that thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.
41 And it shall be answered upon their heads; for the presence of the Lord shall be as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil.
42 O Lord, thou shalt come down to make thy name known to thine adversaries, and all nations shall tremble at thy presence—
43 When thou doest terrible things, things they look not for;
44 Yea, when thou comest down, and the mountains flow down at thy presence, thou shalt meet him who rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, who remembereth thee in thy ways. (D&C 133:40-44)

The first thing this makes me think of is the Second Coming. It probably does that for you too.  But if it is, then what are we to make of this apparent command to pray day and night for the Lord to rend the heavens and come down and melt the mountains? And why does it say these constant prayers will be answered? It makes it seem like the answer comes immediately, yet here we still wait for a future Second Coming.

I realized the key here is to remember this section is about missionary work. Missionaries are constantly praying for the presence of the Holy Ghost, praying that people will feel the Spirit of God and humble themselves to want to learn more.  Doesn’t the Lord answer these prayers? I think this corresponds quite well to the promise that the Lord will rend the heavens that seemed closed before and melt mountains (stony proud hearts) in His presence.

To elaborate on this imagery, v41 compares the Lord’s presence to a melting fire and a fire that makes water boil. Because we understand state changes of water with the application of heat, we can understand what is being said. Just like fire can change ice to water and make water boil, the Lord can and does light a fire in people and bring about dramatic changes in our lives and the lives of converts.

Verse 42 says the Lord will come down to make His name known to His adversaries. In terms of missionary work, this means that even people who have fought against God will be given a chance to feel the Spirit and accept the gospel. It will be explained to them what it is they are feeling, which will make the Lord’s name known to them. And all nations will tremble at the Lord’s presence, so everyone will get a chance to feel the Spirit. To some, it will be a terrible and unexpected thing that they never were looking for, but to others it will be exactly what they always wanted.

I don’t think we can’t also say these verses tell us about the Second Coming, but it has very practical things to say about missionary work that help us today. They tell us we should always  be praying that the Spirit will be felt and recognized when we talk to people about the gospel, and we are promised the Lord will answer these prayers.