Wednesday, April 27, 2011 2 comments

Where we stop, we don’t quite know

It’s been a while since I last posted; I was immersed in an 8-day seminary student-teaching experience and all my thought was going into preparing lessons.

I was reading these verses recently about the journey of the Jaredites to the promised land:
5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.
6 And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.
7 And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people. (Ether 2:5-7)
I think it is interesting that the record says that the Jaredites crossed many waters, but had to keep going. The Lord wouldn’t let them stop there. If I were among the Jaredites, I probably would have wondered why we couldn’t settle after the first major crossing.

I find that there is a certain spiritual tendency to think that once we’ve changed our lives a little bit that that is our final destination. But the Lord doesn’t want us to stop there; He wants us to make it all the way back to live with Him. He prods us to keep going, keep growing, keep changing. When we join the church, we sign up for an adventure of positive transformation toward celestial glory and nothing less than that should satisfy us… at least not for long.

I know in my life when I’ve changed for the better, it takes me a while to become used to it. At the beginning when it is so new, I’m pretty exultant and feel excited and fulfilled. And it is hard to think of what new changes still need to happen. But when I become comfortable and used to those changes, then divine discontent hits and it is time to think about what else about me needs to change.

Here are some phrases I really like in these verses that indicate different types of revelation that help us change:
  • the Lord did go before them… This reminds me of the example Christ set for us, as revealed in the scriptures. He’s been through it all before. He knows what it is like. He knows how to help us through it.
  • and [the Lord] did talk with them as he stood in a cloud… This reminds me of what a privilege it is to communicate with the Lord through prayer. I’ve gotten better at this over the last month and I really like being able to share my feelings about things with the Lord.
  • and [the Lord] gave directions whither they should travel… This reminds me that when I am feeling directionless and confused, I can get direction from the Lord and be renewed in my sense of purpose.
  • [they were]directed continually by the hand of the Lord… This reminds me that not only can we get direction from the Lord, but He can intervene directly in our circumstances which show us He’s working with us. It is like an invisible hand has put things in motion, causing all things to work together for our good. (Just as I was writing about this, I got a little sample of it myself and I was able to recognize it! It made me feel loved.)
What experiences have you had when you’ve found the Lord is pushing you onward? Will you share an experience you’ve had when you’ve seen the Lord’s hand directing you?
Sunday, April 17, 2011 3 comments

Proverbs re-examined for meaning for modern times

I love how the wisdom of Proverbs is so timeless.

“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (Proverbs 14:4) I had to think a little about this one, but I realized that it could be easily translated into modern terms by saying “You have to feed your oxen for them to work for you, and you have to feed them well. If you don’t feed them enough, then they die and you will have no way of getting your work done.” Or, it could be applied to corporations. “You have to pay your workers well for them to work hard for you, then they will make you a profit. If you don’t pay them well, soon you will have no one who will want to work for you.”

Here’s one that hasn’t lost a bit of relevance: “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” (Proverbs 28:20) You see? They had people with get-rich-quick schemes even back in Solomon’s day! This says to me that people who try to get rich quick will break the law to do it, so in any get-rich-quick scheme you will always find lawbreakers.

Or how about this one? “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22) I think this one is a very beautiful way of saying that the Lord’s blessings are the best in the world, and they have no strings attached to them.

How’s this one for a statement about governmental policy? “In the multitude of people is the king’s honour: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.” (Proverbs 14:28) The king feels honored if people flock in from everywhere to be part of his kingdom. But if everyone leaves a country at the prospect of a prince ascending the throne, you know something is terribly wrong with that prince and he won’t last long. (Someone may even assassinate him.) Net immigration into a country is a pretty good indicator about quality of life there.

I even found the cause of “big government.” “For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof…” (Proverbs 29:2) There you have it. When the people are righteous, government can be small, the princes and judges can be few, the prisons can be few. But when people are wicked, government has to grow big enough to handle them.

Now here is a confirmation of a simple diet: “When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.” (Proverbs 23:1-3) What is the “deceitful meat”? It is food that has been so processed and so refined that there is not much nutritional value left in it. Evidently ancient royal cooks thought plain, simple food was not good enough for kings and cooked the healthy bejabbers out of it all to make something dainty and sumptuous (and which would cause royal indigestion..)

Here’s a good one for the modern day.. “As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, Am I not in sport?” (Proverbs 26:18-19) This one is for all those people who pull practical jokes, who pull April Fools jokes, who say something horribly mean and then say “Just Kidding!” or “Can’t you take a joke?” No, it is NOT a joke, not funny, not a laughing matter. It is damaging a person’s psyche and destroying a person’s trust in humanity.

Or how about this one? “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3) This says to me that if we commit to do the Lord’s work, then He’ll give us ideas of what we should do, and He’ll help us do it and we’ll see those thoughts become established in reality as we make those righteous dreams come true.

I think this one is very beautiful: “Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart.” (Proverbs 7:2-3) In particular, I like “keep…my law as the apple of thine eye.” I found out that the apple of our eye refers to the pupil of our eye. So when we are told to keep the law as the apple of our eye, it means to always be looking at it and reading it, to have the scriptures in sight and always read them. It also means that just like we see through our eye’s pupil, we should always look at our lives through the lens of the scriptures. It’s telling us to keep the eternal perspective.
Saturday, April 16, 2011 1 comments

Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you

In Luke 10, Jesus sends the seventy out to preach. When they come back, they are excited.
17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
18 And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:17-20)
When we’re reading the scriptures, it is hard to see how these verses are connected, but it seemed to me that they were. I started to see that Jesus wanted to warn the seventy not to rejoice that others were subject to them because He knew that was what brought Satan’s downfall in the world of spirits. (There are a lot of unstated bits of background assumed knowledge that are left out of these verses, but with the knowledge we have of the restored gospel, the plan of salvation, and the premortal life, we are able to fill in the holes.)

Yes, the seventy would have power to tread serpents and scorpions (which could also symbolize those who would tempt them and those who would try to sting them with bitter poisonous words), but if they rejoiced in that, it would puff them up with pride and they would someday fall like Satan, as lightning from heaven—obvious, noisy, and destructive. Instead, Jesus instructed them to rejoice that their names were written in heaven among those who would receive eternal life. This shows it is better to rejoice in our salvation than to rejoice in power we have over others.

This should help me a lot as I teach seminary over the next few days. Rather than rejoicing in any power I have over students, I should rejoice in my salvation.

Then, Jesus prays.
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. (Luke 10:21)
I used to think that Jesus was talking about children, but today I realized that by “babes,” He meant the seventy. It’s kind of startling, but He had several reasons for this. 1) In the eternal perspective, they were still pretty ignorant and new in the gospel. (This can teach us that even the most experienced and valiant of Saints is still only a babe in true wisdom because there is still so much to learn.) Jesus said this to humble them and remind them of that eternal perspective. 2) He wanted to show them that if they were as meek as a babe, all was as it should be.

I loved learning this. If Jesus called the seventy “babes,” then I suppose I am a zygote still in the womb.
Thursday, April 14, 2011 2 comments

Principles from Joseph Smith’s description of the celestial kingdom in D&C 137

In D&C 137 Joseph Smith has a vision of the celestial kingdom in the Kirtland temple. He sees his parents and his brother Alvin and is given the doctrine of salvation for the dead. Something that struck me as interesting recently was the features of the kingdom that he noticed before he observed his family there.
2 I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;
3 Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.
4 I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold. (D&C 137:2-4)
I wondered why Joseph Smith chose to focus his description of the physical parts of the celestial kingdom on the gates, the throne of God, and the streets. Was there anything this could teach us?

After some thought, it seemed like they could be of symbolic importance. The gates are the entrance. Our entrance is baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. The throne of God teaches of our goal, which is to be reunited with Him and sit with Him on His throne as exalted beings. The streets are the way and give us a new perspective of the commandments. Do we consider the commandments as valuable as gold and as the way to the throne of God? Also, Christ is the way.

Another thing I noticed was the difference in the light level between the gates and the throne of God. The gates are like circling flames, but the throne is “blazing.” The throne seems much brighter than the gates. I think this teaches how we are to progress in light even after baptism.

Another thing I notice is that the gate is circling flames, but the throne… well, you SIT IN brightness and heat. This seems to show us that we don’t just want to be surrounded by glory, we want to BE glorious.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 1 comments

Hyrum Smith’s insight for enduring martyrdom

I’ve been studying D&C 135 about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, in preparation for teaching about it in a seminary class, and one thing I found myself wondering about was the significance of the verses that Hyrum Smith found and marked by dog-earing his Book of Mormon. John Taylor, who wrote this announcement, seemed to attach great significance to it:
...The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go—shall it be said to the slaughter? yes, for so it was—he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it:
5 And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I … bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force. (D&C 135:4-5)
At first all I could see was that statement at the very end, which Hyrum would have identified with strongly, knowing he would die soon—“And now I…bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.” I didn’t understand why John Taylor included the first part of it too. Why mention the prayer for Gentiles’ charity? Why the mention of seeing one’s own weakness and being made strong? In what way were they weak?

Then, I started thinking about what Joseph & Hyrum may have been most worried about as they gave themselves up, feeling as they did that they were going to their deaths. If I had been in their place, I know I would have these kinds of thoughts going through my mind: How will it happen? Will they make me suffer for a long time or will they give me a quick merciful death? If they make me suffer for a long time, will I be able to bear it and not betray my testimony? I suppose if I were them I would be praying really hard for the Lord to soften the hearts of my enemies so that they’d give me a quick merciful death instead of a long, drawn-out painful death.

Then I read back through the words from the Book of Mormon that Hyrum found and I realized that those words were a perfect answer to those concerns that Joseph & Hyrum both must have had.

I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. – This was certainly Hyrum and Joseph’s prayer. They would pray to be murdered in the kindest way possible. (Wouldn’t you?)
If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee…-- This is a startling thing. Why doesn’t it matter to Joseph or Hyrum if other people are charitable to them or not?

thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean – What mattered was staying faithful so that they could stay clean. So it seems that being faithful and clean matters more than having people be nice to us.

And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. – The weakness that Hyrum seems to have recognized in himself was his fear of suffering and fear of being murdered. In this line of scripture, he must have derived great comfort. His recognition of his own weakness allowed the Lord to make him strong (through grace, or enabling power) enough that he could bear it, even to the point of death, when he would sit down in the mansions of the Father.

This then, is the great principle that we can apply in our lives—if we are faithful, we will be made clean, and then if we acknowledge our weakness at the prospect of suffering for our beliefs and our testimonies, the Lord will give us strength to endure whatever comes from others’ lack of charity toward us, even if it means we suffer death. Thus, even if others don’t show charity to us, we can be strengthened to bear it faithfully.

I find this very empowering. I have occasionally wondered if I could be faithful if I had to give my life for the truth. I really don’t like pain. Learning this has given me more confidence that Heavenly Father would get me through whatever I happen to face.

Note: Sorry about the lack of graphics on my blog. My graphics are linked to from Photobucket and it seems Photobucket is doing maintenance on their systems.
Friday, April 8, 2011 6 comments

Nephi Finds Laban: An Underappreciated Miracle

On Nephi’s last attempt to get the brass plates from Laban, we read that he was led by the Spirit without knowing what he was going to do. The next verse jumped out at me recently for some reason.
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)
This is a miracle that gets totally overlooked. It is a miracle that makes it possible for Nephi to get the brass plates at all. It is such a simple thing, and yet it is extraordinary. Laban, considered a “mighty man” who can “command fifty”, is found in a vulnerable position. He is:
  • Near his house (which makes it possible for Nephi to find him)
  • Alone and unprotected (which means none of his army of fifty are any help)
  • Drunk and inert (which means he is unable to protect himself)
How he arrives in this vulnerable position is interesting too. Nephi records this bit of information many years after the fact: “And he [Zoram] spake unto me [Nephi] concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them.” (1 Nephi 4:22) This makes it even more amazing that Nephi finds Laban where he is. Evidently Laban spent a portion of the night drinking and carousing with the ‘venerable’ elders of Jerusalem—a fine illustration of the depth of debauchery the city had sunk to—and in his inebriated state he is just barely able to totter and weave his way home before collapsing. Except that he doesn’t make it close enough to get in the door, or even within earshot of his fabulous army of fifty. But he’s close enough that Nephi finds him on the way.

But why would Laban be out with the city elders at night? This implies the worst sort of chicanery afoot. It could be a secret kangaroo trial of the type that condemned Jesus. It could be a plot against one of those pesky prophets preaching death and destruction against Jerusalem, and Laban was there to learn what part he was to play. That might explain why he was bereft of an armed escort. No sense in anyone else knowing the plan and spreading it around. After all, one of them might have let slip a warning.

So when the angel told Nephi and his brothers that the Lord would deliver Laban into their hands, he was telling no more or less than the truth.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011 2 comments

More Lessons from the Washing of the Feet

5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean,….(John 13:5-10)
We often think that when Peter asked Christ to wash his hands and head as well as his feet, he was motivated by his typical impetuousness and an excess of zeal to prove his devotion. This might have had a little bit to do with it, but perhaps some other considerations may have occurred to him.

It happens that the priest’s anointing ceremony in the Law of Moses involves the anointing of a priest’s right ear, right thumb, and right big toe with holy oil to symbolize how the Holy Spirit should guide their thoughts, their deeds, and their paths. Feet, hands, head. It is possible that Peter may have had this symbolism in mind when he asked for his hands and head to be washed as well as his feet.
28 And the priest shall put of the oil that is in his hand upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the place of the blood of the trespass offering:
29 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put upon the head of him that is to be cleansed, to make an atonement for him before the Lord. (Leviticus 14:28-29)
17 ¶ And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
18 Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein.
19 For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:
20 When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord:
21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations. (Exodus 30:17-21)
Friday, April 1, 2011 2 comments

To buy, sell, and get gain

In July, we got a 2009 Subaru Impreza to replace my husband’s 1995 Geo Prizm. Recently my husband and I got an offer in the mail from a nearby Subaru dealership to buy our Subaru from us. The letter said that they were experiencing extra demand for our make and model and they wanted to buy our new car from us so they could fill that demand.

To a certain extent, it was a rather tempting opportunity to make some money from our new car. But ultimately, I felt like it would be rather silly to sell our car so quickly after having bought it. Finding a car to buy in our household is a monumentally long process consisting of many months of discussion in night walks around the block, hours perusing internet car sales sites, and lots of test-driving sessions. We worked so long and hard to find a good car at a good price to buy that I didn’t relish the thought of having to repeat the process all over again.

It made me think of stories I’ve heard of people who buy an in-demand product at a low price and then immediately sell it to someone else on eBay. And this little phrase from the Book of Mormon started playing itself through my mind: “to buy and to sell, and to get gain” (Helaman 6:8). And I started thinking through what an economy is like that buys and sells to get gain.

In order to make a profit, a seller has to buy something at lower price than what he sells it for. If there’s only one stage of this between producer and end user, it’s okay, but what if few people hold on to what they buy and the majority continually tries to sell at a higher price? Eventually it runs up the price to ridiculous levels and soon the market will no longer bear it. This causes several effects:
• It puts the producers at a major disadvantage if they can’t directly profit.
• It puts great pressure on the market to find cheaper ways of acquiring the goods or services at a lower price.

With such great pressure many people will jump into that market both to take advantage of high prices and to try to find a lower-priced source of that good or service for themselves. At some point, there is a glut and the price falls. Then this causes several other effects:
• Sellers have to go find new markets to tap where their products are scarce and in demand.
• Sellers who can’t find new markets go bust.
• Or they take matters into their own hands and collude together to control the supply and means of production so they can create artificial scarcity.

Meantime, the producers are still unable to profit and may be even worse off because the market glut makes their goods and services worth even less than before.

Here’s an interesting example of what happens when people don’t buy what they need and hold it: on May 6, 2010, the Dow lost 400 points in a matter of minutes as stock broker computer programs bought and sold future contracts to each other faster and faster and faster. This created what has been called “the Flash Crash.” “SEC/CFTC Report: SKYnet Caused Flash Crash”

Another more serious problem is that it is easy for markets to forget about the importance of adding value and get addicted to the easy profit from buying then selling higher that happens during a boom period. A market that has forgotten the importance of adding value is a market that is desperate for the next boom and will go looking for it and is determined to create it. That kind of market is parasitic. It is precariously close to becoming seduced into secret combinations and fraud. It is a few steps from that to a revival of slavery of production.

Again, how to escape? Be industrious and add value to what you sell.