Friday, May 26, 2017 2 comments

What we can learn from Nephi’s striving

Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence. (1 Nephi 17:15)

This verse caught my eye recently. It comes a few verses after Nephi gets the command to build a ship. The word that caught my attention was “strive.”

“Strive” means much much more than “try”; it means “fight or contend.”

So Nephi is saying that he fought to keep the commandments. Interestingly, this verse also comes before Nephi’s brothers realize he’s going to start building a ship, so he hasn’t even begun to preach to them about their murmuring yet. They haven’t begun to murmur; they don’t know a ship-building operation is about to begin.

So the question that came to me next was, “Who was Nephi striving against to keep the commandments in this verse?”

I realized he was fighting himself and his own inclinations. At some level Nephi was reluctant to build the ship. Even though he got busy collecting ore and made a bellows, he still had a part of him that hung back and didn’t want to do it. So he had to fight to be obedient first. And because he fought and won that battle, he was prepared to work to convince his brothers.

I find this realization inspiring and comforting. Throughout Nephi’s story you get the idea that he had little to no internal conflict with himself about doing what the Lord asked him to do. (We see it with killing Laban, but elsewhere hardly at all.)

So it helps me to see that Nephi also had to fight internal battles with himself to be obedient, and it helps to see that in this case he even had to fight them after he’d already begun to be obedient.  It shows that along with having to overcome the temptation of disobedience, we also have to overcome the temptation to slack off once we’ve begun a big hard task to keep the Lord’s commandments.   (I can think of a number of times I’ve been stopped in my tracks a ways in from starting something because the temptation to slack off got to me.) 

I think that realizing that tendency can help us overcome it when we’re faced with it. Instead of saying to ourselves, Ugh, I don’t want to do this; this is such a big job, we can say instead, Ah yes, this is the temptation to quit after having gotten a good start.

Have you noticed this problem affecting you? What do you do to overcome it?
Wednesday, May 24, 2017 0 comments

A Nephi's broken bow versus Laman and Lemuel's bows without springs

And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food. . . .
Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, having been afflicted with my brethren because of the loss of my bow, and their bows having lost their springs, it began to be exceedingly difficult, yea, insomuch that we could obtain no food. (1 Nephi 16:18, 21)
I find it rather telling that here Nephi’s brothers are so angry with him for breaking his bow, and yet their bows don’t work either. If Nephi can be blamed for breaking his bow, then Laman and Lemuel are just as blameworthy for allowing their bows to lose spring. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

It is probable that Laman and Lemuel’s bows lost spring first, but they weren’t too worried about this because Nephi’s bow still worked. But as soon as Nephi’s bow broke, there was nothing to fall back on, and became a serious loss with everyone’s lives at stake.

This issue with the bows sort of sounds like it could be a great teaching analogy for moral strength. When a bow loses its spring, the string isn’t tight enough to propel an arrow. Range and penetrating power is substantially decreased. And of course, when a bow breaks outright, an arrow can’t be sent any distance at all.  Some souls are too slack to be as effective as they should. Some other souls are under so much pressure that they break and can’t act at all. Which is worse? It’s hard to say. They are both tragedies in their own way.

The story of the bows could also teach us something about how we deal with stress. If we’re too slack, we don’t do as much as we could. If we’re too rigid, we may break under pressure. We have to have an optimal level of flexibility—just enough strength and steadfastness to be firm, but also enough adaptability to not break.

Personal note: It’s nice to be back. I was in England on vacation for a couple weeks.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 0 comments

Crown of Thorns

When the soldiers put that crown of thorns on Jesus's head, undoubtedly they intended to mock his testimony of being a king, the Messiah. ("You claim to be a king then? Have a crown. Have a painful one.")

But it seems to me the crown of thorns was also a perfect visual representation of all He knew and felt of our sins and how He had to suffer that in order to save us. And if we let Him save us, then He truly is our King.
Sunday, April 30, 2017 0 comments

Meditations on the Creation of the Sun and the Moon

16 And I, God, made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, and the greater light was the sun, and the lesser light was the moon; and the stars also were made even according to my word.
17 And I, God, set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And the sun to rule over the day, and the moon to rule over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good; (Moses 2:16-18)

I read this recently and I found myself asking what it meant for a light to rule over a particular portion of the 24-hours—day or night. On the surface it means that one of those lights will be the dominant light over that particular 12-hour period.

And yet the astronomical reality is a lot more complex than this. Happily, we can say that the sun always rules over the day. Where the sun shines, there is light, there is day.

But the moon is different. In some parts of the month the moon does shine at night, but there are other parts of the month—during new moons—when there is no light from the moon. Does the moon really rule then? Not really. It is as if the moon temporarily abdicates its authority and takes a vacation. And only on full moons is its light all the way there. At other times it’s waxing or waning.

It may be this gives us a little insight as to the differences between celestial and terrestial obedience. (I’ve probably talked about this before, but I’m going to talk about it again.) Celestial obedience is like the sun—always there doing its duty, shining at full strength, radiating the light within. But terrestial obedience is rarely at its brightest, shines only reflected light from others more bright, and periodically abdicates its duty.

Something else caught my attention here too. It was this idea of dividing the light from the darkness. What is it that really divides the light from the dark astronomically?  Because if you have light, there is no dark. Light chases the dark away. 

Astronomically, darkness comes from distance from the light, if you’re Pluto out on the margins of the solar system.  And we have darkness on earth because of the earth itself. The earth gets in the way and creates shadow.  If we’re on the part of the earth turned away from the sun, we’re in the darkness.  Applying that to spiritual things, that teaches that in a certain sense we create spiritual darkness in our lives either by our distance from the light, or by turning away from it.

The idea of a lesser or greater light also makes me think of the quality of leader we choose to follow and the type of example we choose for ourselves. If we didn’t have the sun, we might be happy with the moon’s light. But having the sun, we see the moon is not so great after all. Do we choose the best examples to follow? Do we seek for greater light? If we don’t we may be one of those people the Lord describes as “walking in darkness at noonday,” which would be tragic.

What do you think? Are there any additional principles you draw from these verses about the creation of the sun and the moon?
Friday, April 28, 2017 0 comments

They shall take up serpents and other promises

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:16-18)

I have wondered about that promise that those who believe shall take up serpents. I know of at least one Christian denomination that takes this literally and incorporates snake handling in their worship services. It’s enough to make me wonder, “Is this a special-occasion promise for when we have to move snakes?”  We are so isolated from the natural world, especially in developed countries, that occasions for running across snakes are few and far between, and when we find them, we know better than to pick them up. We leave them thoroughly alone.

So why this promise that believers in Christ will take up serpents?

As I thought about this, I seemed to me that Jesus meant it as a physical image to describe a spiritual reality. The serpents can represent temptation. Just like it is dangerous to pick up snakes, it is also a dangerous thing to pick up temptation and hold it without letting it bite you.  Saints prefer to avoid temptation, but occasionally situations may come up when a Saint, in the course of his or her calling or doing his or her duty, must go into a situation of temptation and endure it without giving in.  That is like taking up a serpent.  It is hard to be specific about what the temptation might be.

Apparently Jesus anticipated that the Saints would face these situations from time to time, and His promise here is an implicit reassurance that He will make safety possible. Belief in Him will make it so.

What about the promise that believers will speak with new tongues?  A tongue is a language. How can someone speak a new language and still be understood? If it is new, then it hasn’t been around, and it is unlikely that others would understand it.

I think the Book of Mormon gives a hint when it says angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost and speak the words of Christ. Extrapolating from that, speaking a new tongue is speaking by the Holy Ghost, especially because of how conversion makes a person new. 

But what about people who have been in the church all their lives, gained testimonies, stayed faithful, and all that? How do they speak with new tongues if it seems like they’ve always “had it”?

Maybe new tongues can also refer to how believers will keep finding new ways to express their testimony and understanding of Christ’s atonement and what it has done for them. To them it will be as though their language is new, and to those who hear them, it will express newness and life as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 2 comments

Meeting Fellow Saints by Seeming Chance

D&C 62’s section heading tells of an interesting incident that was the occasion of that revelation:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, on the bank of the Missouri River at Chariton, Missouri, August 13, 1831. On this day the Prophet and his group, who were on their way from Independence to Kirtland, met several elders who were on their way to the land of Zion, and, after joyful salutations, received this revelation.

When you think about it, Zion and Kirtland were so far apart that there were any number of different routes the two separate parties could have taken that would have resulted in their never meeting at all. And at that time in 1831, the church was so small that the chances of meeting another member were very slim. That being said, with centers in Zion and Kirtland, outside of these two different places there would be a higher chance of meeting other Saints on a line traveling between the two places, but any number of circumstances could have prevented their meeting. So meeting at all was a tender mercy, and I think both parties were probably were aware of that.

In verse 6, the Lord says about their meeting:

Behold, I, the Lord, have brought you together that the promise might be fulfilled, that the faithful among you should be preserved and rejoice together in the land of Missouri. I, the Lord, promise the faithful and cannot lie.

The Lord had brought them together to preserve them and so they could rejoice. I think the same is still true today, even if it is not in Missouri. Unexpectedly meeting or finding other Saints is always a joyous occasion, and when they are close friends it is even more thrilling. I can think of a number of times when unexpectedly meeting other Saints—family, friends, member acquaintances—became a tender mercy and even saved me from feeling a bit low or lonely.

Once I went to the temple for comfort about an old friend who had fallen away. In the celestial room I happened to meet another old friend, one whom I had never expected to see again. That joy swallowed up my sorrow.

Another time I was in the Bankok airport alone, feeling a bit lonely, when I ran into some sister missionaries who were traveling home at the end of their missions. Just being with them perked me right up.

Another time my husband and I were vacationing in an out-of-the-way place in Colorado (Silverton), and the restaurant we stopped to eat at was run by a Latter-day Saint who noticed our BYU shirts. We had a great chat with her. That became one of the highlights of that trip for us.

Once my husband and I were on BYU campus attending Education Week when we ran into my cousin Tamera, who was dropping off her daughter for her freshman year. Considering how crowded the campus can be and the myriad of classes and interests Saints can have, I felt it was a great blessing to have bumped into her. (No, I didn’t knock her down. Haha.) We made sure to schedule a dinner get-together to catch up even more, and we included my siblings who lived in the area. The more the merrier!

It is special to me that the Lord wanted Joseph Smith to know this apparently chance meeting with the other group of elders was not chance. The Lord brings us together to strengthen and preserve us and to lift our spirits to rejoicing. We can expect this blessing to continue far into the future.

Can you tell me of times when you were brought together with other members seemingly by chance (but really by the Lord)?

Sunday, April 23, 2017 2 comments

All the Paths in Lehi’s Dream

28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. . . .
31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. (1 Nephi 8: 28, 31-32)

These verses stuck out to me recently. It was surprising to me to realize that there wasn’t just the strait and narrow path in Lehi’s dream. It wasn’t the only road in the field. There were forbidden paths (probably dangerous) and strange paths (strange probably in the sense of “foreign”).

We don’t know much about how Lehi knew those paths were forbidden or strange. Maybe it was one of those things that you just know in a dream without having to be told.

But all those people took those paths for some reason, thinking the paths would take them someplace they wanted.

1) People headed for the great and spacious building. Why? Because they wanted pride and to feel superior and to look down at and scorn people.

2) People who were at the tree and who were ashamed of partaking of the fruit wanted something else—approval of crowds?—more than the fruit, or love of God.

3) What about the people wandering in strange roads and forbidden paths? What was at the end of those roads that they wanted? We don’t know, but odds are it was something forbidden and strange, respectively.

Among all these different paths, there is the path to the tree of life (love of God). The people who got to the tree and stayed there did it because that’s what they wanted. 

In thinking about all these paths as representations of ways people take to get what they want, it has made me examine my motives and why I do what I do to keep the commandments. Do I do it because I know I should and that’s how I was taught? Yes. Do I do it because I love the Lord and want more of His love in my life? How strong a motive is my love of God and desire to receive His love?  For me I think it is subconscious. Truthfully, I think a bit more about God’s blessings than His love.  Perhaps that’s something I can work on.

So here’s a question to ponder today: what do you want most deep down, and what road are you taking to get it? Do you know why you want it? Whatever you and I want, we think it will make us happy. Will it?  Is God’s love involved?
Friday, April 21, 2017 2 comments

How Lehi Comes to the Tree of Life: A Faster Way?

10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. (1 Nephi 8:10-11)

I was reading through the account of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life, and I suddenly noticed Lehi’s method of getting to the tree is a bit different than the other ways he describes. He doesn’t notice a path or an iron rod. He sees the tree, knows what it offers to him, and he goes forth and partakes of the fruit. It is like he is so focused on it that there are no obstacles, no distractions in his way.

Then, when at the tree, he looks around and wants other people to have it too. Then he begins to see the obstacles and distractions that others deal with. In the case of his family, they don’t seem to know which way to go, so Lehi calls to them to get to the path, and some grab the path and the tree while others want the great and spacious building.

I wonder if this difference in methods tells us that there is a faster way to the tree (the love of God) than the path and the iron rod. It seems like Lehi’s focus on the tree—see, want, get—gets him there faster. It reminds me of some stories of converts who as soon as they hear, they accept, act, and are blessed.  There have been a few gospel principles that I have adopted into my life that way. Others I have had to be convinced of over time through scripture study and my own experience and experimenting on the word.

So, I have to ask myself, do I see an offer of God’s love for me? Do I act to lay hold on it, or am I brought to the love of God through obedience and scripture study? I think I’ve been brought to it more gradually, but noticing this in Lehi’s dream shows me I could try looking for God’s love being offered me and act to respond.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 2 comments

Insanely great blessings to those who fear and serve the Lord

5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
8 Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
9 And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
10 For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man. (D&C 76:5-10)

I love these verses. I get the sense that Heavenly Father aches for us to know just how much He can bless us if we will serve Him in righteousness to the end.

He promises mercy, grace (enabling power), and honor from God (not necessarily honors of men), and great revelations, even about things to come. 

When you look carefully, four of those verses are spent just talking about the revelations God promises:
--all mysteries
--hidden mysteries of God’s kingdom from days of old and for ages to come
--the good pleasure of God’s will about all the things of God’s kingdom
--wonders of eternity
--things to come
--things of many generations
--great wisdom
--understanding even heaven itself
--enlightenment by the Spirit
--secrets of God’s will
--things no one has seen, heard, or conceived

The rest of D& 76 is an example of this because of how it reveals the principle of the three degrees of glory and explains the status of those who inherit the various degrees.

I get the sense that if we were to be blessed how v7-10 were described  it would probably be pretty evident that it wasn’t the kind of thing we could go blabbing around.  We’d have to keep it to ourselves.  Thus, you probably wouldn’t hear anything about other Saints being blessed this way either.  So if we were blessed, we would simply have to have faith that there were others that had those blessings too, rather than thinking we were the only ones. (That “I’m the special one” attitude gets us in trouble eventually.)

I have faith that it doesn’t matter what office a Saint holds in the church or how lowly their station. God is no respecter of persons, so if any of us are faithful, those blessing can be ours, whether we’re in leadership or not.

What do you think it means when it says, “before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught”?
Monday, April 17, 2017 0 comments

Character of the Jewish Elders in Jerusalem in Nephi’s day

There’s an interesting series of observations we can make about the Jewish elders in Jerusalem from the details Nephi provides in his interactions with Laban and Zoram.

First, when Nephi finds Laban drunk, we get this:

7 Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.
8 And when I came to him I found that it was Laban. (1 Nephi 4:7-8)

Laban is in a drunken stupor. Fact.

Then when Nephi is dressed as Laban, we get this detail:

And he spake unto me concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them. (1 Nephi 4:22)

So Laban has been out by night among the elders of the Jews, and he got falling-down drunk. Is it logical to think that Laban was the only one of the gathering who got drunk? Probably not. That means it was a party of drunk people. And these are the elders of the Jews. They are supposed to be the righteous ones, the decision-makers, the wise ones, the ruling body.  But they are getting together to party and get drunk.  That is definitely the wrong kind of elders’ quorum party right there.

Then we get some other interesting info in some other verses:

24 And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls….
26 And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me.
27 And he spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews, as I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls. (1 Nephi 4:24, 26-27)

If Zoram had known about the drunken character of the elders’ parties, he would have found this Laban’s sudden interest in retrieving the plates and taking them to “brethren outside the walls” odd, unusual, and suspiciously out-of-character.  Drunken loutish bully has suddenly turned pious and wants to give/show archived scriptures to someone outside the city?  Hmmm…

But Zoram doesn’t seem to have any idea that this is out of character, which means it may be possible that Laban had concealed what was happening with the elders.

What does this add up to? Hypocrisy among the elders.  Meeting to party and drink themselves into a stupor while everyone else thought they were taking care of important business and making momentous, important decisions. They were taking the status of their position and using it to cloak their self-indulgence and decadence.  It seems that part of their wickedness was the fact that they were hiding it and not repenting of it. (This could also explain why Laman and Lemuel later argued against Nephi that the Jews at Jerusalem were righteous and Lehi had judged them unfairly.)

Would these elders be able to handle a real crisis when it comes up? Probably not. They were destroying their character instead of building it up.

I think the lesson for us today is to avoid hypocrisy. If we say we’re busy because we’re engaged in something important, we’d better be doing important stuff and not mucking about wasting time. We'd better be repenting and not hiding our sins.