Wednesday, March 29, 2017 1 comments

Enoch sees God weeping like rain upon the mountains


27 And Enoch beheld angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? (Moses 7:27-28)

When I was reading this, the phrase “tears as rain upon the mountains” suddenly stuck out to me, and I wondered about it.  Why compare God’s tears to rain upon the mountains?  Why not rain on the plains or rain on the coast?  And what are we to learn from this?

I grew up in the plains in Illinois, and rain there is pretty steady. Usually it starts and goes pretty steadily throughout the day.     Then I came out to Utah to college at BYU, and I noticed rain in Utah had a different pattern. It would drip for maybe 10 minutes or so, and then start raining in earnest. (The dripping time was like a warning to run for the rain gear.) It would rain for a while, and then stop. And I’d think it was over, and then maybe an hour later it would rain again. It might rain several times in a day.  To me that was very peculiar.

It is possible that Enoch was referring to this kind of rain-in-the-mountains pattern—rain…[stop]…rain….[stop]….rain…[stop]—to convey the idea that as God watched the residue of the people—those who hadn’t accepted the gospel—He was moved to weep multiple times.  Like sometimes they are…okay…and other times they do such terrible things that God just cries over them.

Let’s not be the kind of people that God cries over like this. Instead let’s be the kind that He can watch and be pleased with for the whole day.
Monday, March 27, 2017 0 comments

Knowing the Father through Jesus


7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. (John 14:7-10)

When I was reading this, it struck me that Jesus knew He looked like Heavenly Father, that He was saying what Heavenly Father would say and doing what Heavenly Father would do, so seeing Jesus was just like seeing Heavenly Father.  So everything we read about Jesus doing and saying is just as if Heavenly Father were doing and saying it—the healing, the teaching, the chastising, and so on.

This is striking in this era of individuality, when everyone wants to establish their own identity to separate themselves from everyone else. If Jesus wanted to be His won person, He never said anything about it, but rather spoke often about doing what His Father did, saying what His Father wanted Him to say. He said specifically, “I speak not these words of myself,” meaning they weren’t on His own impetus.

If only we could become more like this ourselves!

Friday, March 24, 2017 0 comments

Symbols of the Love of God


And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God. (1 Nephi 11:25)

I was struck by this recently. This is during Nephi’s vision of the tree of life and the dream his father had.

I noticed that it wasn’t just a tree representing the love of God in this vision, but also a fountain of living waters. So I asked myself why both were there. What is it about a fountain and a tree that God wanted to use them both to represent His love?

A fountain flows and overflows continuously. And a tree grows and produces flowers and fruit.  There is motion and life and results from them.  That tells us something about the love of God. It’s active and it grows and it produces results/ fruits. 

I suppose that might be a good guide for what we can look for in our lives.  It also shows us how our love needs to be for our spouse, for our children, for people around us, and especially for God.

Can we say our love is flowing and overflowing and growing and fruiting?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 0 comments

When Callings Feel Hard


I remember the first time a calling started to feel difficult for me.  It was my first year at BYU. I and another boy in my ward were called to be leaders in a family home evening group of other college students.  We pretty much were to make sure family home evenings happened for our group and to coordinate time and place to meet.

I tended to be the driving force behind our group meeting. I don’t know why that was. Maybe my partner didn’t have regular family home evenings growing up and so didn’t feel strongly about it.  Or maybe he had a heavy load of coursework and it weighed on him such that he didn’t feel as urgently about having family home evening. 

Whatever the reason, I was usually the one calling him to plan what we were going to do.  Once we figured that out, I was the one calling members of our group to let them know meeting details.  (This was before cell phones started to become more ubiquitous, and before texting capability, so there was no sending a group text.)

I remember late one Monday afternoon sitting on my bed, eying the phone with distaste, knowing that I was going to have to push together another family home evening when I wanted nothing more than to relax and be the one pulled for a change.

I knew I needed some motivation, so in desperation I reached for my scriptures and flipped it open to some random page and started reading.  Here is the verse that caught my eye:

And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received. (Alma 7:22)

That verse gave me a jolt, like an awakening. It seemed to speak to my situation. What was my duty to God?  It was to make sure FHE happened. 

“that ye may walk blameless before him” – I envisioned Judgment day and how I would feel happy if I could look back and say I had done my duty.  And after all, it looking at it from a distant perspective, my duty didn’t seem so hard after all.  A few phone calls. 

That gave me the motivation to go pick up that phone and start.

I look back at that now and I shake my head at how silly I was.  But at the time I was young and it was a big deal. I had a lot of growing to do.

Here are some other scriptures I like that are closely related—good motivators for callings…

Holiness and foreordination

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (1 Timothy 1:9)

This scripture is probably talking about “holy calling” in the sense of being brought into the church, but I think it also applies to church callings too. They come by revelation. If you are like me, you probably have raised your eyebrows at some callings you’ve been given and thought, I have no idea why I have been asked to do this; there are people who could do a better job than me at this.  That’s when you know Heavenly Father has His own purposes, and the calling didn’t come because of anything we’ve done to deserve it. There’s foreordination in it, and it’s part of the Lord’s plan.

Case in point: I have no idea how my being in charge of that FHE group at BYU fit in the Lord’s plan or what its purpose was, but I have faith that it fulfilled its purpose.  It was the first time I had to push through an aspect of my calling that was hard.

Some of my callings I’ve said to myself, This has to be revelation, because I would not have chosen this. This is not the kind of thing I like.  There was one calling that I was mad about receiving, but I accepted anyway, and it turned out to be a big blessing.  I look back at it now and I see it as evidence that Heavenly Father knew me better than I knew myself. He knew I would love it, and He knew it would stretch me where I needed stretching.

Example: Stripling warriors

And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. (Alma 53:20)

This is about the stripling warriors, but I want that to be about me in my callings. I want to be valiant for courage, be strong, be active, and be true at all times to whatsoever thing has been entrusted to me.

Learning, action, diligence

99 Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
100 He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen. (D&C 107:99-100)

Two principles there: 1) learning our duty and 2) acting with diligence. If we don’t know what we’re supposed to do, we need to get training and get help until we know what we need to do.  Once we know, we need to do it.  Consistently.

Sometimes diligence is our big test.  Maybe we can pull off the big production once, but it is the tasks that must be done over and over and over again that can become a problem for us because we get so tired of them.  Or maybe we’re more into the calling when it is new and strange, but when it is old we might get a little slack at it.  When my callings feel old, I know I’m being trained to be diligent.

All are Needed to Keep the System Perfect

109 Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand?
110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect. (D&C 84:109-110)

To me this one says there are no unimportant callings and each one is needed.  The image of the head dismissing the need for the feet teaches by negative analogy that leaders should not dismiss as unimportant the members who have the less-visible callings, because if those less-visible callings were eliminated, there would be hurt somewhere.  (“without the feet how shall the body be able to stand?”) 

By the way, I’ve noticed so many church leaders that are so good at thanking people who put together an event. I used to wonder why they took time for all those thank yous, but now I know that they understand this principle that every person’s contribution is important.

In the abstract, callings are a grouping of tasks that have to be done, but from the spiritual perspective, they are opportunities to practice charity and service for others.  They exist because there is work to be done to build the kingdom of God and to keep it running smoothly.  If we don’t think a particular calling is needed, we only need to think about what would be lost if it didn’t exist.

I also like that v110 says that with every member, all may be edified and the system is kept perfect. We all keep the system perfect!  We all edify each other!

Keep it up, Soldier!

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)

Sometimes callings are just hard, and we have to endure it. Good soldiers have to endure nasty conditions, and good Saints will too on occasion. 

What scriptures have helped you keep on with your callings?







Monday, March 20, 2017 2 comments

KJV versus JST: The Eagles gathered Together Over the Carcass


You actually get two analyses for the price of one today. (grin)(It’s all free anyway.)

KJV Matthew 24:27-28
Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:26-27
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west;
so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

26 For as the light of the morning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, and covereth the whole earth,
so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.
28 For wheresoever the carcase is,
there will the eagles be gathered together.
27 And now I show unto you a parable. Behold,
wheresoever the carcass is,
there will the eagles be gathered together;
so likewise shall mine elect be gathered from the four quarters of the earth.

The Joseph Smith Translation makes some significant clarifications to these two verses that help us better understand these particular signs.

Comparing the second coming of Christ to lightning evokes speediness and surprise. Joseph Smith’s translation changes this “lightning” to “light of the morning,” which should remind us of a sunrise instead. The sunrise starts in the east and steadily grows until it can be seen in the west, at which time the sunlight is over the whole earth.  This is a very good metaphor for the growth of the restored church and how it spreads. 

Some might wonder why this sunrise image is used about the coming of the Son of Man if we expect Christ to come with a Grand Entrance suddenly and cleanse the earth of the wicked and set everything in order. 

It seems to me that the coming, with the spread of the church, is needed to prepare people for the Grand Entrance. The world was in apostasy before. If the Grand Entrance came while the whole world was in apostasy, everyone would just be destroyed. Thus, the gospel had to be restored and spread to prepare those who are willing to listen.  And Christ did come to Joseph Smith to get that going. 

The next image Joseph Smith gave clarification on is that of the carcass and the eagles being gathered to it.  Joseph Smith tells us it is a parable that is to be applied to the gathering of the elect. 

This is important intelligence because there is a great portion of the Christian world that does not look at this imagery of the carcass and eagles in a positive way.  They interpret the carcass to mean the decadence and deadness of wicked society and the eagles as heavenly powers bringing vengeance to eat up the wicked. 

Joseph Smith’s translation of this parable makes this image a positive one (though still kind of gross) and it actually teaches some important things about the gathering of the elect. The carcass is the body of the church. There is doctrinal meat there that can’t be found anywhere else, so the parable expresses the church is a place where people can be fed.  Just like eagles (or vultures) seem to have an uncanny ability to spot an animal carcass, the elect will be able to spot the true church with its saving doctrine and priesthood power. They will know spiritual meat when they see it.  Just like eagles are drawn to a carcass in the desert, the elect will be drawn to the body of the church.

The idea of there being a body of the church (rather than a diffuse non-organized grouping of the faithful) is emphasized, as is the gathering process.

I’m grateful to have this clarification from Joseph Smith--Matthew. Having an accurate idea of what to look for helps us to locate ourselves accurately in the timeline of prophecy. It saves us from doubt and uncertainty and know what events to expect and also what is expected of us.  We’re to share that meat and invite others to come. We’re to help spread the light.







Saturday, March 18, 2017 2 comments

Some thoughts on the gift box object lesson about the Holy Ghost


I’ve been thinking about the Holy Ghost in preparation to teach a lesson on it to 4-year-olds.

The lesson asks me to prepare a gift-wrapped box with a picture inside it of a girl getting confirmed to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The lesson wants me to give clues to the children to help them discover what is in the gift box.

--This gift given to us by Heavenly Father can’t be purchased with money
--We can’t hold this gift in our hands like a toy.
--This gift is worth more than any other gift a person can receive. (I’m assuming this means tangible gifts..)
--We receive this gift when Melchizedek priesthood holders lay their hands on our heads and confirm us members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This object lesson is structured very similarly to how it was when I was a child and had the same lesson. As a child, I remember being rather disappointed that there wasn’t something actually tangible in the box that I could take home and play with. (Of course, that was my literal-minded short-term child perspective.)

But today, as I think back over it and compare the lesson of that experience to how I think of the Holy Ghost today, I’m struck by how that object lesson has both inadequacies, and more profound lessons that perhaps children may not quite get, but faithful adults might catch.

I think it is inadequate to express how it isn’t so much us that uses this gift, as it that uses us.  On one hand, it isn’t a tool that we control the use of… but often it allows us to act as God’s instrument.  On the other hand, we must learn to act independently, since it seems we are expected to develop our own judgment and not become automatons.  On the third hand, we still are to trust God enough to set aside our own judgment and follow the Holy Ghost’s promptings when they come. 

When we as members are confirmed to receive the Holy Ghost, we are in effect given a gift very much like an empty box and told it is the most valuable thing we can have.  We have been taught a few things about what to expect, but it can be very puzzling to figure out this gift. Staring at it and expecting it to do something like a dog that does tricks doesn’t work.

And yet we aren’t left completely without directions.  Even though we don’t have a user’s manual for this gift, a quick survey through the scriptures reveals a whole raft of ways that the Holy Ghost can help us.  (comfort, guide, teach, enlighten, constrain, restrain, remind, warn, cheer, calm, testify, seal, strengthen, cleanse…) There are stories to learn from and there are plainly stated principles to follow.  For a gift that is so multi-functional, I find myself thinking of it as a sort of spiritual Swiss army knife, with an unknown and possibly unlimited number of tools on it.  (But again, that comparison doesn’t take into account how we become the tool of God under its influence.)

Yes, the box is empty.  With so much stuff around us, and so much equipment required for modern life, it so helpful that the Holy Ghost requires no tangible equipment to use. I think this object lesson of the gift box is very good at teaching the principle that it is something that can be with us always and can’t be stolen from us (except by our own transgression). 

I’m also struck by how the spiritual communication from our Heavenly Father to us is done so often with that still, small voice.  So often I don’t realize that I have been guided until I look back on an experience and think about it.  I am struck by the Lord’s trust and patience with us His children in that He waits for us to listen, rather than shouting at us.  I’m learning how much my receptiveness depends on my spiritual preparation and using my agency to retain a spiritual focus.

Also, considering I’ve had to fight against intrusive thoughts a fair amount the last 12 months, I’m learning the Holy Ghost is not about mind control.  We invite him; he doesn’t push in every moment. He’s gentle.

Whenever I think about how the Holy Ghost works in my life, at the end, I usually am left scratching my head and worrying a little that I am not living up to my privileges. I can’t shake the feeling that I could use it, or be used by it more if I were a better person. I yearn to gain more experience at recognizing its influence, gaining more clarity.  You probably feel the same.

Will you share with me your experiences with learning how to recognize the Holy Ghost and discovering new things that it could help with?
Thursday, March 16, 2017 0 comments

How do we do missionary work with solemnity and meekness today?

 
7 But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things.
8 And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say. (D&C 100:7-8)

I did a study on meekness a while back, and I was struck by this scripture that mentions meekness is needed when doing missionary work. Meekness means teachable-ness, so this caused me to wonder in way a missionary (or a member missionary) is supposed to teach the gospel while demonstrating they themselves are teachable?  How do they learn while teaching? Is it only learning from the Spirit, or are they supposed to demonstrate they can learn from the investigator? And if so, what would that look like?

I ran into one answer in Clayton Christensen’s book The Power of Everyday Missionaries on page 26-30. He explained how people are generally not attracted to the church by its doctrines (only around 10% are), but by the promise of finding happiness, meaning, and purpose to their lives. He suggested that when people ask us about the church, we then ask them why they are curious and find out what they know or what they are interested in knowing. He even includes an experience he had discussing with a colleague the disinterest in religion in general society. Christensen asked him, “Why do you think that is?” and wanted to know this friend’s difficulties with organized religion.

Rather than trying to convince Stephen that he needed our church or any church, I said, “Why do you think so many people are exiting rather than entering churches? Are there any big deal-breaking questions that caused you to despair of organized religion because the churches didn’t have answers to those questions?”

Stephen responded that he’d like to take some time to put them together “in a cogent list.”

I said, “I would love to discuss these questions, because I think about this a lot too. And if by chance the LDS perspective shines any light on a question, I’ll offer it to you.” Stephen was amenable, and we set up a meeting early the next week.

At the next meeting I was quite stunned: Stephen had some very good questions—about the purpose of life, if there is one; what is God, if there is one; and so on. He said, “As I went through college and graduate school, the churches I attended just could not answer my questions. So I stopped going to church and have been looking for answers in philosophy and science instead. Frankly, they can’t answer them any better than churches can.”

We started at the top of Stephen’s list. I asked questions about his first question, just to understand why it was important to him, and why he hadn’t been impressed with the answers that others had offered. I then found and discussed answers to that question in the Book of Mormon.

I noticed that he crossed the first question off his list. “Why did you cross it off?” I asked.

“You answered it,” he replied.

We then organized the subsequent lessons with the missionaries around the remaining questions on his list. When we scheduled a time for the zone leaders to interview Stephen for baptism, we listed all of the concepts, doctrines, and practices that are covered in the four lessons. We were delighted that we had covered every one of them, but in a sequence that answered Stephen’s questions. (p28-29)

In the process of trying to understand his friend’s questions, Brother Christensen was demonstrating meekness and solemnity, taking his questions seriously, seeking to hear first before speaking, seeking to understand without judgment or dismissiveness. I suspect that is part of the meekness the Lord asks us to cultivate. (I also notice that Brother Christensen’s friend was honest enough to accept good answers when they were presented to him, rather than trying to go on the attack.)

So if anyone asks us about our church, rather than launching into a recital of our favorite aspects, only telling what we want them to know, we can ask, “Why do you ask?” or “Do you have any questions about religious issues that you’ve been wondering about or that you haven’t been able to get good answers for?”

I love the promise the above scripture gives if we declare the gospel with solemnity and meekness: “that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.  That is what we need. It’s what we hope will happen so that others can feel and know it. 

What do you think? ?  Is there anything else involved in teaching this way?  What experiences have you had with teaching with solemnity and meekness
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 0 comments

Treasure Up Wisdom to Not Fear

29 Ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land.
30 I tell you these things because of your prayers; wherefore, treasure up wisdom in your bosoms, lest the wickedness of men reveal these things unto you by their wickedness, in a manner which shall speak in your ears with a voice louder than that which shall shake the earth; but if ye are prepared ye shall not fear. (D&C 38:29-30)

Apparently the brethren were very much interested in the international situation at the time and speculating about the possibility of foreign wars a bit and praying about it. The Lord warned them that war was in the hearts of men nearby them as well. I think He wanted them to know so that it wouldn’t be so much of a shock when violence and mobbing broke out.

I think there is a principle here that still stands true today. We hear stories of wickedness in faraway places or other towns or other neighborhoods and we tsk-tsk over that, but we don’t know the hearts of people nearby. The same things can happen nearby. If we realize that, we won’t be so shocked when it does happen. A shooting can happen at our schools. Murders and thefts and all kinds of awful crime can happen on our streets. Our families can be affected. Our country can be attacked.  

If we don’t realize this, when it happens it is as the Lord says, --it “shall speak in your ears with a voice louder than that which shall shake the earth.”  It’s worse than an earthquake because it destroys all mental-emotional sense of security and stability.

Realizing it could happen here or close by helps us not fear when it does. Not that we go around expecting awful things to happen, but retaining the sense that the awful can occur prepares us just enough to cope better if it does.
Sunday, March 12, 2017 0 comments

Factors that remove hearts from God


Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart. (Hosea 4:11)

It is fascinating that Hosea observed how immorality and drunkenness took people’s hearts away from God. Today there is scientific evidence for how pornography in particular has terrible effects on brain chemistry. Also chemical addictions stunt real spirituality with counterfeit sensations.  Basically, both practices rewire the brain so that it takes pleasure in sin and indulgence instead of God’s commandments and doing righteousness.

Everyone has an inner soul hunger that yearns to be satisfied and tries to find ways of filling that up.  But the wrong things just make it worse.  We have to turn to Christ instead.

 Christ promises, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)

When I turn to Christ and bring Him my empty soul, He fills me as I contemplate His sacrifice. I can testify to that.
Friday, March 10, 2017 0 comments

Adam coming to Adam-ondi-Ahman


Spring Hill is named by the Lord Adam-ondi-Ahman, because, said he, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet. (D&C 116)

This is an interesting section. Not only do we have this prophesied future event of Adam coming to visit his people spoken of, but the place it is to occur is given a special name by the Lord.

How curious that Adam comes to visit his people. We understand that Christ must come, but Adam? We wouldn’t know this without revelation to the prophet. Since we think of Adam as the father of humanity, it might be easy to say, “Oh, he is visiting everyone.” But we don’t think that at all.  We immediately associate “his people” as meaning the covenant people of the Lord.

Why does the Lord give this revelation to Joseph Smith? And why point to a particular place and say, “This is where this event will happen”?  Why does it matter for Adam to come to that place?

I think this is yet another way that the Lord works to build and test the faith of His people. When a future event is tied to a very specific place, it gives us something to watch closely. When the Lord says an event will happen at a particular place, He also implicitly asserts lordship and power over it. It’s a shorthand way of declaring sovereignty over its destiny, over the flow of events toward it, over the who and when and where and how.  In another place, the Lord asks rhetorically, “Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth?” (D&C 117:6).  The prophecy of New Jerusalem’s Zion to build in Jackson County, Missouri is similar.

I imagine future Saints will look back on the fulfillment of this prophecy and say, “But of course it had to happen there because [list of reasons],” and it will be obvious to them why and how it came about. Sunday school lessons will be taught about it, and the Saints will rejoice over it and point to how the Lord’s power and foreknowledge was demonstrated, and whole books will be written exploring all the little factors that worked together to bring it about.

Until then, we just don’t know.