Friday, September 30, 2011 3 comments

Let the Lord encourage you

In Isaiah 7 there is a story about Isaiah trying to encourage Ahaz king of Judah and it resonated with me recently.

King Ahaz and his people had learned that the kings of Israel and Syria had formed a confederacy to try to dethrone Ahaz. King Ahaz and all of Judah were understandably freaked out by this. Then the Lord sent Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz:
4 And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.
5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying,
6 Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:
7 Thus saith the Lord God, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. (Isaiah 7:4-8)
So the message is that in 65 years the kingdom of Israel would be gone. That’s all well and good, but how is that supposed to help Ahaz at that moment? I can imagine Ahaz saying, “Great, but what about NOW?! What do I do to deal with the challenges we’re facing NOW?!” Isaiah continues:
And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. (v8)
Essentially the reassurance was that only the kings were causing the trouble, and if the kings were removed, then the trouble would go away. But ultimately, King Ahaz had to believe it was all going to be ultimately okay in order to get through the current troubles.
10 ¶Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying,
11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.
12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.
13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? (Isaiah 7:10-13)
I had always been puzzled by this part because elsewhere in the scriptures we have Jesus’s words about not tempting the Lord our God. The difference here is that the Lord (through Isaiah the prophet) is inviting King Ahaz to ask for a sign. It seems the Lord meant this sign to be short-term reassurance to cling to over the time it would take to make it through the longer-term trouble.

So what was King Ahaz’s problem here? Essentially, King Ahaz doesn’t want to believe it is going to be okay eventually. This is really surprising; who in their right mind doesn’t want to feel it is going to be okay? It is hard to understand why unless you’re going through something that feels similar.

I realized the problem. King Ahaz understood that if he began to choose to believe it would eventually be okay, he would have to work very hard to keep his courage up in the long days to come. He would also have to strengthen his whole people. That felt like too much for him. Because he didn’t want to take courage, he had to be reassured over and over and over again (and that must have been really emotionally tiresome for everyone around him).

So this is the lesson for us today--when the Lord comforts us and reassures us, we must choose to believe that it will be okay and take courage in order to make it through.

How does this apply to me now? Welllll…at risk of being too self-revelatory…I’m starting some medicine that has some weird side effects and which I will have to take for a period of weeks before I will see improvement. I have to believe that it will eventually work, or I won’t get it established in my system enough to work. Part of me feels like, “Yes, I can do this!” and another part of me is worried about how hard it might get and whether I have the guts to make it through when it really gets hard.

One of Ahaz’s difficulties was that his people were freaked out too. This is completely understandable. When you talk to people who are alarmed, it is hard to not become that way yourself. In my case, before I started my meds, I made the mistake of looking on a forum and reading what a bunch of people wrote about the medication, and it was rather alarming. I think I was infected with their attitude, even though my side effects were really mild. What they reported made me really question whether my doctor knew what he was doing.

Since then, I’ve been trying to take Elder Uchtdorf’s counsel from women’s conference about appreciating the little joys and pleasures. I’m trying to live a little more in the moment to cut off my long-term worries. I’m trying to remind myself, “Self, you are safe now. Nothing is hurting you now.” I’m trying to remind myself to enjoy and appreciate putting tasty food in my mouth, being able to walk, choosing clothes to wear that I like, turning pages, feeling warm carpet under my feet, and the basic satisfaction of getting chores done.

Will you share with me any experience you had when you had to choose to believe the Lord’s reassurance and take courage over a long period? What did you do?
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 5 comments

Something unexpected when Nephi explains the tree of life and the rod of iron to his brothers

21 And it came to pass that they did speak unto me again, saying: What meaneth this thing which our father saw in a dream? What meaneth the tree which he saw?
22 And I said unto them: It was a representation of the tree of life.
23 And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?
24 And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (1 Nephi 15:21-24)
I always thought it was interesting that Nephi explains the tree as a “representation of the tree of life” to his brothers and they seem to accept this immediately and no other explanation was needed. It took me a very long time to realize this tree of life was representing the same tree of life in the Garden of Eden that man was to be kept from by cherubim and a flaming sword, lest they partake of the fruit and live forever in their sins. Seen in this way, Lehi’s dream takes on greater meaning. Now, rather than being kept from the tree of life, Lehi is led to it with the rod of iron. In a way, it foreshadowed how through Christ, the way of eternal life would be open to all who would come.

Something else stuck out to me as I read these verses. When Nephi explains the rod of iron to his brothers, he ascribes to it a quality of the tree of life—“whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish” (1 Nephi 15:24, emphasis added).

That is extraordinary. Of course, our bodies must die, but our spirits needn’t. Or if we’ve sinned, we needn’t stay spiritually dead. If we hearken to the word of God (and by this I don’t mean just read the scriptures, but obey every word from God) then we will never perish!

Lest you think I am espousing a gospel of works and leaving out Christ, we can also remember that “the Word” is another name for Christ. Christ’s life was like that rod of iron, taking the undeviating course to eternal life. Grabbing hold of the rod then becomes an act of faith in Christ and repentance of our sins. Then it becomes perfectly obvious that whoever hearkens to the Word will never perish.

It seems the symbolism of that dream has Christ everywhere. Where else do you see Him?

Image: from Rejoice in Christ blog,
Monday, September 26, 2011 4 comments

How does the Lord make Nephi’s words strong?

We know Nephi considers himself a much better speaker than writer because he knows it is the Spirit that carries his spoken word into the hearts of men and he can tell when that is happening. He seems to feel a lot less confident of his writing because he can’t tell when it will make the right impression or not. (Aside: Every time I read his worries, I just want to yell," NEPHI, HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!? YOUR WORDS ARE GREAT!!")

In spite of his feelings about his weakness as a writer, he tells us how he knows the Lord will make his words strong.
4 And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people. And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them; for it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.
5 And it speaketh harshly against sin, according to the plainness of the truth; wherefore, no man will be angry at the words which I have written save he shall be of the spirit of the devil. (2 Nephi 33:4-5)
There are six good purposes in that list. So to apply this to our lives, especially to those of us who blog about the gospel, even if we feel our gospel writing is weak, if our words
  • Persuade others to do good
  • Make known to people of their ancestors and families
  • Speak of Jesus
  • Persuade others to believe in Jesus
  • Persuade others to endure to the end, which is eternal life
  • Speak harshly against sin using the plainness of the truth
...then the Lord will make our written words strong. It seems having a righteous intent and sticking very carefully to that is a big part in the Lord’s ability to make our words strong. I am encouraged by this, especially since so much sharing the gospel is online through the written word and we have no idea who may be reading what we’ve written.
Saturday, September 24, 2011 4 comments

What did Abraham believe that the Lord counted him righteous for?

Of the following verses, verse 6 is quoted several times in the New Testament by Paul to show how faith justified Abraham.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6)
The JST of this adds much more to our understanding of what Abraham believed the Lord about and what about his belief was counted righteous. Without the JST, we would think Abraham just believed the Lord would give him seed as the stars, since that is the context of the verse, and Paul’s assertion that Abraham’s belief was connected to Christ would seem out in left field.
9 And Abram said, Lord God, how wilt thou give me this land for an everlasting inheritance?
10 And the Lord said, Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?
11 And if thou shalt die, yet thou shalt possess it, for the day cometh, that the Son of Man shall live; but how can he live if he be not dead? he must first be quickened.
12 And it came to pass, that Abram looked forth and saw the days of the Son of Man, and was glad, and his soul found rest, and he believed in the Lord; and the Lord counted it unto him for righteousness. (JST Genesis 15:9-12)
The Lord uses deferred promises to help Abraham look forward to the resurrection and the coming of Christ. Abraham can inherit the land when he is resurrected, and he will be resurrected because Christ will eventually come, die, and resurrect first. (Note that just the mention of the Son of Man shows Abraham already knew about Christ, since there was no big in-depth explanation. It is actually the most direct mention we have for Abraham.)

I love how this line that expresses the awesome power of God—“though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?” It is like God can skip blithely across the bounds of mortality as if it were a chalk line on the ground. For all of us who have been promised blessings that seem deferred past mortality, this is a comfort (or can be) that God still keeps promises into eternity. It also seems that God may deliberately promise us blessings that aren’t delivered in mortality because He wants us to look beyond the veil with hope. After all, if all the promises are fulfilled in mortal life, what do we have to look forward to in eternity?

So, we learn from the JST that Abraham believed the Lord about the Atonement and resurrection of Christ and how it would make it possible for the promise to Abraham to be fulfilled. We also learn that because the promise’s fulfillment was deferred beyond Abraham’s mortal life, he had to make a choice whether to believe that Christ could and would make the fulfillment possible or to decide whether it was all some kind of nasty cheat and be embittered. Abraham chose to believe Christ could make it happen even though Abraham knew he’d never see it in his own lifetime. His choosing faith was what the Lord counted righteous.

This is a comfort to me, since God seems to be deferring one particular blessing I have been promised.. It don’t know if it will be deferred beyond mortality, but like Abraham, it is my choice to believe God or not. It is another way for me to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. It is an opportunity for me to be counted righteous like Abraham was.
Thursday, September 22, 2011 2 comments

The Lord reveals when we think He might conceal

11 Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;
12 And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof. (Abraham 3:11-12)
I was thinking about that simple gesture of the Lord’s when He puts His hands upon Abraham’s eyes. It is fascinating that when a mortal puts their hand on your eyes, you can’t see, but when the Lord puts His hand over your eyes, you can see. But not only can you see, but you can see so much more, and not just “more,” but everything those hands made. God Himself becomes the lens by which to see the universe.

Sometimes I feel like I have that lens, but at the same time I still wish I could see what Abraham saw.

These days I’ve been praying that the Lord will open my eyes to better understand the scriptures. I sense that there is so much more there that I am just not getting because my mind can only hold so much and can only make so many associations. All I'm doing is analyzing phrases and words and trying to fit them into this big picture of gospel principles.

But maybe it is this line upon line learning that is gradually preparing me for the greater things that I’ll only be able to notice after having seen the smaller units. So maybe this is another sense in which it seems like the Lord is concealing, but He is actually revealing.

Christ is the savor of the scriptures

Here's something from the Joseph Smith Translation I ran across:

35 Then certain of them came to him, saying, Good Master, we have Moses and the prophets, and whosoever shall live by them, shall he not have life?
36 And Jesus answered, saying, Ye know not Moses, neither the prophets; for if ye had known them, ye would have believed on me; for to this intent they were written. For I am sent that ye might have life. Therefore I will liken it unto salt which is good;
37 But if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? (JST Luke 14:35-37)

It is a little tricky to catch Jesus’s meaning about the salt losing its savor in this situation because we are so used to His previous teaching of “ye are the salt of the earth” about being an example. That is not what He means here.

Here Christ compares the scriptures, or the words of Moses and the prophets to salt and compares Himself to the salt’s savor. He is teaching that Moses and the prophets were teaching of Christ, and if you take Christ out of the scriptures, then the scriptures are like salt that lost its savor. Nothing but the teachings of Christ can give the scriptures that special flavor.

How have you seen this in your life?
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 3 comments

Why did God choose the rainbow as a token of His covenant with Noah?

12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
15 And I will remember my covenant, which I have made between me and you for every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:9-15, JST included)
Then verse 16 and 17 are expanded as JST Genesis 9:21-25:
21 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself.
22 And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy;
23 And the general assembly of the church of the first-born shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.
24 And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will establish my covenant unto thee, which I have made between me and thee, for every living creature of all flesh that shall be upon the earth.
25 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and thee; for all flesh that shall be upon the earth. (JST 9:21-25)
I was thinking about the rainbow as a token and I wondered why God chose the rainbow for this. After pondering a while, I realized that it has a number of characteristics that make it an ideal token of these promises the Lord makes.

First, rainbows appear during/after rain. This makes it perfect for a divine reminder to man that the rain isn’t going to be as bad as it was in Noah’s time.

Second, rainbows are lines and thus connect together whatever is at both ends. In this way, they serve as a great symbol of the covenants connecting God and man, especially when one end of the rainbow comes from the sky and the other end seems to connect with the earth. A connection of light—what more beautiful symbol of the everlasting covenant could you ask for? (Forget finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; finding God would be awesome!)

Third, the rainbows that arch from the earth to sky to earth are a great symbol for the trajectory of Enoch’s city of Zion, which was once on the earth, was taken to heaven, and is promised to return to earth in a day of righteousness. The glory of that rainbow certainly symbolizes the miracle of that ascent and promised descent, as well as the glory of holiness that the city attained. It gives us something to work for and look forward to.

Fourth, the rainbow reminds us to embrace the truth and “look upward” and reminds God and Enoch’s Zion to “look down.” The rainbow becomes an occasion of remembering the covenant, which will give us all great trembling joy. (Have you ever had joy so great that you trembled? I don’t know that I have yet.)

Fifth, each color in the rainbow can remind us of one of the covenants that we make with the Lord.

How can this help us today? Rainbows are beautiful, and they will give us even more joy if we know the gospel meaning behind it. If our covenants define our lives, then we have great reason to be happy when we see a rainbow because we can know that the Lord is also looking at it and is thinking of the covenants He made with us. Won't that be a great feeling to know that you and the Lord are both looking at the same thing and thinking of the same thing? What a great connection that can be!

Can you think of any other things that rainbows teach about the everlasting covenant?

Image of Noah and rainbow: “Notes to Poem: Michalangelo’s Bow,”, accessed 9/17/11.

Image of rainbow to cloud: “Finding the Li” blog,, accessed 9/17/11.

Image of rainbow arch: Rainbow gallery on Flickr,
Monday, September 19, 2011 0 comments

Where does the Second Coming fit in the allegory of the olive tree?

As I looked over Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5 recently, I noticed there was no big production at the exact moment when the Second Coming happens, which I thought was really odd. But there is a lot of previous warning; there are a lot of repetitions of “this last time” and “the end draweth nigh” and “only this once” and “the season speedily cometh.” The urgency to prepare is great, yet when the season or the end comes, it seems so normal that you don’t even notice it!

There are two ways of looking at this. One way is that it is a message of great assurance for the church members who stay faithful—all the careful efforts to prepare for the Second Coming will pay off and there will be no need for panic about our status in that day. Another way of looking at this is that it is an allegory and is not required to depict every element of coming prophesied events and to do so would have wrenched the reader completely out of the text. I choose not to worry about which way to interpret it.

The only hint we get that the Second Coming happened in the allegory is this verse:
And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard. (Jacob 5:75)
Notice, the vineyard is no more corrupted, so all the bad stuff is gone. (This tells me that the Second Coming had happened just before that place in the text.) The Lord’s speech to His servants turns from instructions to celebration, as indicated by the past tense:
  • this last time have we nourished my vineyard
  • thou beholdest that I have done according to my will
  • I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good
  • ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard
  • [ye] have kept my commandments
  • [ye] have brought unto me again the natural fruit
  • my vineyard is no more corrupted
  • the bad is cast away
All of these things will be real causes for celebration too, considering they will have occurred as the rest of the world ripens in iniquity for destruction. To nourish the vineyard when there is a famine of the word of God is no small task. That the Lord does according to His righteous will to bring about His purposes even in these times of wickedness is an AMAZING testimony to His power. His preservation of the good fruit in the midst of corruption and destruction will be similarly amazing (and this should help us trust Him more).

Additionally, the Lord knows how hard it will be for us, hence His strong commendation of His servants for their diligence (when others have only been sporatic), His tribute to their obedience (when so many others were disobeying), and His praise for their righteous influence toward repentance (when others were such a negative influence).

This verse gives us reason to hang in there and be diligent servants. Our efforts will not be forgotten in the end.
Sunday, September 18, 2011 2 comments

The angel’s prophecy to Nephi of the coming events of the church in the latter days

Throughout the second half of 1 Nephi 13 and 1 Nephi 14, we get a bird’s eye view of the main events of the church in the world. I don’t know why I didn’t get this before, but just a few days ago I finally started to see it for what it was and understand it better.

1) The Lord brings forth much of the gospel in writing from Nephi’s seed (1 Nephi 13:34-35). Clearly this is the publication of the Book of Mormon.

2) Those who seek to bring forth Zion and publish peace are blessed (v37). Clearly this is the early days of the church, the attempt to build Zion in Missouri, and the declaration of the restored gospel. (I like to think that any of us who are sharing our testimonies and gospel principles in writing are “publishing peace,” and we still have part in this promise.)

3) Other books come by the power of God to convince that the Bible is true (v39). This could mean the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price at the very least, but I dare not limit it to just them.

4) The Lord manifests Himself in word, in power, and deed to take away stumbling blocks (1 Nephi 14:1-2). I’ve already discussed this in my post “How the Lord takes away our stumbling blocks.” He does this for people whether they are in or out of the church.

5) The marvelous work and the wonder is done by God to either convince men to peace and eternal life or to deliver them to hard-heartedness and captivity of the devil (v7). This, I believe, is missionary work, since the Book of Mormon has already come out at this point. Also see my post "What is the marvelous work and the wonder?"

6) There are two churches – the church of the Lamb of God, and the church of the devil, the mother of harlots . The church of the devil has great dominion in all nations, and the church of God has only small dominions, but it is also on all the face of the earth. (v10-12). I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point where the church is established legally in all countries with permission to proselyte, so I think this is where we are. I think our temples are a very small dominion of the Saints. I think places where the Saints set the standards are places our dominion. Where else do you think our dominions are?

7) The mother of harlots gathers multitudes in all nations to fight against the Lamb of God (v13). I think this is militant atheism, and we’re beginning to see some of it, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. When it happens, we should not be surprised and dismayed, but remember that this was prophesied long beforehand, so God is still in control, even though ignorant mortals reject Him.

8) The power of God descends on the church and they are armed with righteousness and the power of God in great glory (v14). Obviously when atheism gets much more militant, we will need even more power from God than ever before. This also tells us the key to win our future battles—we need the righteousness that comes from obedience to the commandments, we need the Spirit, and we need power of the priesthood.

9) The wrath of God is poured out on the great and abominable church in the form of wars in all nations belonging to the mother of harlots (v15-16). This is an interesting natural consequence of fighting the truth. People who fight against the church ultimately can’t achieve unity and harmony among themselves either. They become captives of hostility and turn it on everyone who disagrees with them. The more violently they fight against the church, the more violent will be their fights among themselves. If they murder the saints, in about 30 years, they will murder each other.

10) The work of the Father commences to prepare the way to fulfill His covenants with the house of Israel (v17). This can be very puzzling at first. It can’t be the restoration of the gospel because that has already happened. The fascinating thing is that this commencement of preparation happens in the midst of all the wars in the world, and that is a testimony to the power of God that He can do such a thing.

But what are the covenants that are to be fulfilled at this stage? Is it the Abrahamic Covenant? [thy seed shall inherit this land, in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed, in thy priesthood shall the kindred’s of the earth be blessed] It seems like that is already being fulfilled. What remains to be done? Is it coming forth in the first resurrection?

I finally had to look up a footnote for “work” in the phrase “work of the Father” in that verse and it led me to 3 Nephi 21:20-29, which showed a close repeat of the above steps until it began talking about assisting the remnant of Jacob to build a city, the New Jerusalem, then to gather in the people to their lands of inheritance.
23 And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
24 And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
25 And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst.
26 And then shall the work of the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people. Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem.
27 Yea, the work shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name.
28 Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance. (3 Nephi 21:23-28)
Aha! This covenant the Lord will fulfill will be the establishment of the actual city of Zion! (So I suppose in a certain sense, that is still part of the Abrahamic covenant about the promise of lands of inheritance.)

So here we have an idea of at what stage in general events Zion will be built. It seems like it is a long way off, doesn’t it? Well, guess what, we don’t know how soon these things will happen. We can’t just relax, we have to prepare for it. And we’ll need all the spiritual power and righteousness possible to get through the days of multitudes fighting against the Lamb of God, and fighting each other.

After this stage of building Zion, the prophecy of events is passed over to John in Revelation, so if we want further intelligence, we have to study what he wrote.

This sequence of events is presented in such plain and precious language that it can become a guide to us as we march ever closer to the Second Coming of Christ. I for one am grateful for it.
Saturday, September 17, 2011 1 comments

Stop procrastinating repentance: The lesson from the Philipi jailer's conversion

23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them[Paul and Silas], they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
25 ¶And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. (Acts 16:23-35)
An odd thing about this story is the jailer’s immediate question about what he must do to be saved, once he learns all the prisoners are still present and accounted for. It seems to happen without warning or gospel introduction; the jailer was asleep when Paul and Silas were singing hymns. It’s almost unprecedented.

Recently I realized Paul and Silas’s jail visit must have been suffered to happen just to reach the jailer. (Yes, that sounds a bit obvious, but hear me out..) I suspect that the jailer had heard of Paul and Silas’s preaching before this. I suspect that the jailer had previously held back from joining the church, thinking that he had plenty of time in life to repent.

Fast forward to when the jailer awakes and finds the prison doors wide open. He knows the consequence would be execution for dereliction of duty if any of the prisoners are gone. It is a shock that shows him that he has hardly any time left to his life at all.

When Paul and Silas tell him everyone is there, which removes the immediate prospect of death, he becomes willing to stop procrastinating repentance, and he immediately asks how to obtain salvation.

Seen in this way, the story shows that the Lord knows when we are procrastinating our repentance, and He has ways of showing us there is no time to waste. The time of reckoning may come sooner than we think, so it is best to begin repentance now.

If you’re interested, here is another post about this story from a different perspective—Spiritual freedom allows us to transcend physical captivity.
Friday, September 16, 2011 3 comments

How the Lord removes our stumbling blocks

1 And it shall come to pass, that if the Gentiles shall hearken unto the Lamb of God in that day that he shall manifest himself unto them in word, and also in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks—
2 And harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded. (1 Nephi 14:1-2)
I love this scripture. It really speaks to me right now. I know we often apply it to ourselves as something that has already happened once we have accepted the gospel, but I believe that it is a process that continues beyond that. The promise isn’t just that we’ll be numbered among the house of Israel, it is also:
  • they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever;
  • they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and
  • the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.
(This also implies to me that it is possible to be numbered among the church and still be cursed, captive, and confounded because of our stumbling blocks!)

These verses teach us that the Lord will manifest Himself to take away our stumbling blocks in three ways:
  1. In word
  2. In power
  3. In very deed
these take away our stumbling blocks, which I interpret to mean our:
  • mistaken notions and incorrect traditions
  • our sins that we think are harmless or even good
  • our faults
and IF WE HEARKEN, we’ll be blessed forever, set free, and be no more confounded. (Stumbling blocks gone forever!) (Incidently, confounded means confused, perplexed, and unable to think clearly. In what ways have you seen that your stumbling blocks confound you?)

Even after becoming members, we bring lots of incorrect traditions and wrong-headed notions with us that affect our acts in negative ways that we don't realize, and the Lord intends to purge us of these of little by little. Having the gospel in our lives, we have access to holy teachings that in every respect are calculated to manifest the Lord to us “in word, in power, and in very deed unto the taking away of our stumbling blocks.” I've learned that because of this promise, I should be ready to hearken to the Lord at all times. I have to stay willing to change, even though change is hard. I know a log-load of truth, but there are still those gaps between knowing and doing that I have to eliminate. That’s what the Atonement is for.

I love how it says the Lord will take away my stumbling blocks. First, through His word. Correct principles are so that I can examine myself and find where I need to change. Once I am given that word, the Lord manifests Himself through power (the Holy Ghost), testifying that the principles I have just learned are from Him and that I should apply them. Then, the Lord manifests Himself “in very deed,” which means that He gives me good examples (including His own) to follow and He helps me through His grace to DO what I must do.

One way the Lord has been helping remove my stumbling blocks has been with respect to work and self-reliance. I regret that sometimes I have been so stubborn that some chastening has been necessary, along with some cursings, some captivity, and some being confounded. (I hope you don’t have to go where I’ve been.) It’s far better to listen immediately instead of delaying.

Another big example of how the Lord manifested Himself in word, power, and deed to take away my stumbling blocks was in helping me learn to understand Isaiah better. I learned a lot from writing Isaiah Insights to Teenage Temptations and the principles I learned from that took away more of my stumbling blocks. Other examples of having my stumbling blocks removed have been learning not to be accusing or blaming, learning to admit when I’m wrong, learning how to sacrifice my time, learning to put the Lord first…

Let’s talk in terms of the family. What stumbling blocks do we have in our families?

I’ve already mentioned the stumbling block I had of accusing and blaming (especially my husband!). One day I ran across a verse in Revelation, which said this:
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. (Rev. 12:10)
It was a surprise to me to learn that Satan was called here “the accuser of our brethren,” and I didn’t want to be like that. It showed me that accusers are cast down, and I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I made a decision that I needed to squelch my accusing and blaming behaviors and attitudes. Heavenly Father helps me notice when I’m in an accusing and blaming frame of mind. I try to muster the desire to pray to not accuse and blame and instead to be understanding and charitable. Heavenly Father has also shown me in very deed how unpleasant it is to be on the receiving end of accusations and blame, so I don’t want to put others through it any more. Because I have had this stumbling block removed, I feel like my relationship with my husband has become a lot more loving and supportive. As a result mistakes in our family can be a growing experience rather than a demoralizing experience.

What stumbling blocks has the Lord removed from you? Will you share with me about how He did it? How has this blessed you and made you free?
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 0 comments

2 Nephi 8: Jacob quotes Isaiah 51 to teach about death and the resurrection (not just the gathering)

Jacob takes what seems like a crazy detour when he quotes Isaiah 50 - 51 in 2 Nephi 7 - 8 which seem to be about the gathering of Israel then launches into a discourse in 2 Nephi 9 on the resurrection and the final judgment. For many years I wondered why Jacob took the trouble to quote Isaiah if he was only going to ignore it and not comment on it.

The last time I worked my way slowly through 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi, I tried to figure out what purpose the extensive quotations of Isaiah were, so as I was reading Jacob talk about the resurrection after quoting Isaiah, I wondered if maybe I should go back to the quoted Isaiah in 2 Nephi 8 and see if I could find anything that could referred to the resurrection.

The first thing I noticed as I read through was that Isaiah exclaims, “Awake! Awake!” three times in three different places. Suddenly I realized that this could refer to the resurrection as well as awaking from spiritual death by repenting.

Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord (v9) Isaiah is telling Jesus Christ to resurrect!

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury—thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling wrung out (v17) Isaiah is telling Jerusalem to be resurrected, and it seems these people have had to suffer for their sins, since the verse refers to fury and trembling. I can only conclude that these must be the people who crucified Jesus. They’ve spent a long time trembling in fearful anticipation of the anger of the Lord that will come upon them at the final judgment.

Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city (v24) Here Isaiah is bidding the righteous saints to arise. When they take up their bodies again as a beautiful garment, they will be glorified in holiness.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. If Isaiah teaches about the resurrection, he also must teach about death first. (So we’ll save the rest of the resurrection stuff for after the death stuff, ‘kay?) And there is a lot in that chapter that points out the inevitability of death.

Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you (v1-2) It’s the old story—we return to where we come from. We came out of dust and to dust we will return. We were born from Abraham and Sarah, and we will return to them, just as they returned to their fathers.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. (v6) Even the heavens and the earth will die and everything in them. (In contrast to this, we are told, salvation and righteousness is eternal.)
7 Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.
8 For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool. But my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation. (2 Nephi 8:7-8)
Here we are also told that death will come to those who revile against the truth just as it comes to everyone else. This group of people are mentioned particularly because they will suffer the second spiritual death as well as physical death; they die as to things pertaining to righteousness.

Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (v10) Here Isaiah speaks to Christ and refers to the miracle when Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground to escape the Egyptians. How does this relate to the idea of the inevitability of death? Well, if we think of the experience of going through the Red Sea as experiencing death, then it teaches us that the Lord’s redeemed people make it through death okay to the promised land (celestial kingdom). But just like the Egyptians’ stubbornness led to their death in the Red Sea, those who do not accept the redemption Christ made for them will suffer the second death.

The miracle also teaches us something about the redemption of Christ. He makes a way for those who believe in Him, but for those who do not, He hedges up their way and overthrows them.
12...Behold, who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die, and of the son of man, who shall be made like unto grass?
13 And forgettest the Lord thy maker... and hast feared continually every day, because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? And where is the fury of the oppressor? (2 Nephi 8:12-13)
The world fears death because the world is not prepared to die, not having repented. But the righteous should not fear death, if they have remembered the Lord all their lives. They don’t even need to fear those who threaten them.
19 These two sons are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee?
20 Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God. (2 Nephi 8:19-20)
In these verses, Isaiah talks about the inevitability of death and how everyone is trapped by it “as a wild bull in a net.” It is kind of odd how he says this—“Thy sons have fainted, save these two” makes it seem like there are two sons who escape, but if we read carefully, we see that these two sons are “thy desolation and destruction,” also known as “famine and the sword.” It seems odd to call death and destruction “two sons,” but I suppose we could say figuratively that the fall of man gave birth to death and hell. All the rest of us will be caught in the “net”, lie in the streets, and be full of the fury of the Lord in the spirit world without the atonement to set us free.
22 Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people; behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.
23 But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; who have said to thy soul: Bow down, that we may go over—and thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as the street to them that went over. (2 Nephi 8:22-23)
“Thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as the street to them that went over” is another very fancy way of personifying death. (Death makes everyone lay down in the street and stomps all over them.) The “cup of trembling and the dregs of the cup of my fury” refers to the soul suffering for their sins in spirit prison and trembling in anticipation of the Judgment day. When Isaiah says the Lord will plead the cause of his people and take that cup of trembling away and give it to those who walked all over them, he prophesies of Christ conquering death and hell through the atonement and resurrection. (It also refers to the Judgment day when all oppressors will be judged, but that’s for a different post.)

Okay. Back to the happy news of the resurrection! There are a number of different metaphors Isaiah uses to this end.

For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. (v3) The wilderness and the desert in Isaiah’s day really was a completely desolate place with hardly anything living in it, so it makes an excellent representation of death. On the other hand, Eden, also known as “the garden of the Lord” made an excellent symbol for life. So when the Lord says He will comfort all the waste places of Zion and make Zion’s deserts into the garden of Eden, we are meant to understand that He means His people will be resurrected. (We can also read this as a literal prophecy about deserts blossoming, but that’s a post for another day.)

Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away. (v11) We are used to interpreting this as the gathering of Israel, but now we see that the return that is described in this verse can also mean the return of righteous spirits to their bodies. That will truly be a joyful day.

And I have put my words in thy mouth, and have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion: Behold, thou art my people. (v16) The earth has already been created, so it seems odd that Isaiah would speak of the creation as something yet in the future. This should tip us off that he means the resurrection of the heavens and earth will be like the creation is occurring all over again!

Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion (v25) This is wonderfully literal about the resurrection. It teaches that members of the church (called “Jerusalem” and “Zion”) will be given power to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. We’ll be able to get up out of our graves and shake the dust off our resurrected bodies. How cool is that!

From studying this chapter this way I have learned that blocks of scripture that refer to the scattering and gathering of Israel can also be used to teach about death and resurrection of the body. This gives us two levels of meaning to find!
Monday, September 12, 2011 0 comments

Analyzing the Joseph Smith Translation for 1 Timothy 2:4

4 [God our Savior] Who will have all men to be saved,
and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God,
and one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus; (1 Timothy 2:4-5)

[God our Savior] Who is willing to have all men to be saved,
and to come unto the knowledge of the truth
which is in Christ Jesus,
who is the Only Begotten Son of God,
and ordained to be a Mediator between God and man;
who is one God, and hath power over all men. (JST 1 Tim. 2:4)

When I was first comparing these two verses, I had a hard time seeing how they were similar and different, so finally out of desperation I started coloring the phrases that were similar to each other so that I could compare by units of thought. I have reproduced this for you before I start analyzing the differences and implications.

1 Timothy 2:5 could be read to mean that God, the mediator between men and God, and Jesus Christ were all the same person, which is not only wrong, but logically inconsistent. (Bear with me on this.) If there is only one God, how can He be the mediator between Himself and man? The JST makes clear that Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God, and Christ is the mediator between God and man. (We are to have no confusion between the identity of God the Father and God the Son.) The JST also adds that Jesus was ordained to that very purpose.

1 Timothy 2:4 says that Christ will have all men be saved. This sounds like salvation is unconditional, which we know is not the case because there is stuff everywhere that says we are only saved through faith in Christ, and some don’t have that faith. The JST clears this up by showing that Christ is willing to have all men to be saved. In other words, the salvation of all men is His desire and effort. This implies that He has no respect to persons, so anyone may come to Him and fulfill His conditions and be saved. It doesn’t imply any guarantee of results, however, since man has their freedom to choose not to be saved.

(Side note: In our church, the definition of “salvation” has several variants. Some define it as being resurrected and say that everyone is going to be saved. Some definite it as eternal life and say that only those who join the church and faithfully endure to the end will be saved. I’m not too concerned about the differences; I just think people need to explain their definitions clearly.)

1 Timothy 2:4 says that Christ wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth (besides being saved), but leaves it wiiiiiiiide open as to what that truth is. It could be anything, even saying that I am wearing blue jeans right now. The truth of what? The JST clarifies:

“the truth which is in Christ Jesus,
who is the only Begotten Son of God [condescension],
and ordained [foreordination, priesthood]
to be Mediator [atonement, mercy]
between God [justice] and man [Fall of Adam];
who is one God, and hath power [judgment] over all men.“

I put all the implied principles in square brackets so you can see how compact this statement of gospel truth is. Further, since the truth is IN Jesus, we see that He is the embodiment of truthfulness and all virtues.

1 Timothy 2:5 makes it seem like Jesus is only a man. The JST makes it clear that Jesus was the Only Begotten Son of God. Also, because of the repeated “who is” phrases, parallel clauses are set up to infer that that Jesus is a God too.

who is the Only Begotten Son of God, and ordained to be a Mediator between God and man;
who is one God, and hath power over all men.

Clearly a dual God-man nature is meant.

This is a lot to get from a verse. I hope you haven’t gotten lost in the subtleties in this post. Joseph Smith felt these verses of 1 Timothy were important enough that he spent the time to translate them with the power of God so that they would give us a more accurate idea of Christ’s role and mission. The Lord doesn’t want us to misunderstand Him, and it is worth taking the time and effort to discriminate between false doctrine and true.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 4 comments

The people’s defense of their wickedness in the time of Noah

20 And it came to pass that Noah called upon the children of men that they should repent; but they hearkened not unto his words;
21 And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah. (Moses 8:20-21)
When Noah exhorts the children of men to repent, they give the above strange excuse. They see nothing wrong with what they are doing; they are just doing the normal stuff that everyone does—eating drinking, marrying, giving in marriage… They think Noah is the weird one. (Unfortunately, wickedness had become so widespread that it had become the social norm of acceptable behavior.)

The activities they cite to Noah seem totally innocuous and innocent. Everybody does them. Everybody eats, drinks, marries, and gives in marriage. Everybody has kids. But that’s only a tiny part of a person’s life. You can’t eat and drink all day, and you can’t marry and give in marriage all day; there are other things happening in between those times, and the things that are happening are terrible, corrupt, and violent. See the next verse:
And God saw that the wickedness of men had become great in the earth; and every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually. (Moses 8:22)
That’s God’s perspective, which is just and true. This indicates that to these people, evil was considered good, and good was considered evil. You can kind of see it in their excuse to Noah too; they call themselves “sons of God” and they call their wives “daughters of men.” They probably thought their wives were the problem. And they seem to think that because their children become extra famous and mighty, that means they are doing something right as parents. However, if God saw they were all wicked, then that should tell us that they were admiring their children for all the wrong reasons and their children were much worse, having been encouraged in all the wrong ways.

What does this have to do with us and our day? It reminds me of what Jesus said:
41 But as it was in the days of Noah, so it shall be also at the coming of the Son of Man;
42 For it shall be with them, as it was in the days which were before the flood; for until the day that Noah entered into the ark they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage;
43 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. (JS Matthew 1:41-43)
I think this story shows how the worldview of the wicked and the worldview of the righteous can be so different.

The righteous are concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind and try to see their lives through God’s eyes.

The wicked seem to put their heads in the sand, thinking everything is alright, death is far away, now is the time for enjoyment, some magical thing can occur to make it all better in the end without need of concern from us, and what we do can’t really be so bad…

The righteous see a strong connection between action and spiritual/temporal consequences that follow ever so irrevocably though slowly.

The wicked see no connection and thinks negative consequences are not so assured. They can’t imagine any severe consequences arising from the way things are now; surely negative consequences couldn’t be that bad, and if they happen to be that bad, they should be able to escape easily; a few well-placed policy changes will do the trick, and “at a price we can just change the rules to allow us to do what we want.”

It will become more and more tempting to put off the worldview of righteousness as time goes on because of how bad things will get. But we’ve got to hang on, otherwise we will be deceived ourselves.


[1] Dictionary widget: eschatology
Thursday, September 8, 2011 2 comments

How the writings of Judah and Joseph grew together

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord. (2 Nephi 3:12, emphasis added)
Those words “shall grow together” seem oh-so-simple, but they represent an amazing process that occurred just thirty years ago. It describes nothing less than the production of the LDS version of the Bible, with the extensive footnotes that cross-reference between the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenents, and the Pearl of Great Price. (Not to mention all the amazing study aids..)

The verse above reminds me of Ezekiel’s promise that the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah would become one in our hand. Previously, I thought this was nothing more than slapping the books together in one binding into a quadruple combination, but Nephi’s words about how the writings would GROW TOGETHER evoke so much more. It implies GRAFTING two living plants together so that they begin to take nourishment from one another. That is exactly the case in our scriptures, as each standard work takes strength from the cross references to all the other standard works. The Bible verses are supported with footnotes to the BofM, D&C, and PGP and vice versa. (The books follow the law of witnesses.)

My husband and I recently watched a documentary on BYU TV called “That Promised Day: The Coming Forth of the LDS Scriptures” which describes how this "grow together" process occurred. It was marvelous and made me so much more grateful for my scriptures. (I highly recommend it as a good Family Home Evening activity… or even just a treat.)

Here are some interesting things I learned that I didn’t know before:
  • Elder McConkie wrote the chapter headings. (Consider what the headings do to prepare us for the chapter contents. Consider how much information is compacted in so few words.)
  • When President Monson was Elder Monson, he chose the typeface for the Bible so it would be extra readable and yet fit more words on the page.
  • Before our current Bible, three different Bibles were being used in the church—one for primary, one for seminary, and one for Sunday school.
  • Before our current Bible, footnote letters were done on the chapter level instead of on the verse level. If the alphabet was used up, they started using double letters. It got pretty hairy in Isaiah that way.
  • I learned where the Guide to the Scriptures came from and why we English speakers don’t hear much about it. It’s more for other languages to use because it is very difficult to directly translate the Topical Guide into different languages. (But we Englishers are not prevented from using Guide to the Scriptures as well as the Topical Guide! ;-))
The purpose for having the LDS scriptures over others is to increase the level of gospel scholarship in the church, so that every Saint can speak in the name of the Lord because of their scriptural knowledge.

I am so grateful to have been born at this time when these scriptures are available. I knew they were awesome, but I never knew how awesome until I learned what was used before.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 4 comments

The woman at the well: A character study

This Samaritan woman Jesus teaches in John 4 is an interesting person. She had had five husbands and was living with another man. It is a little too much to assume that all five of her husbands died, so we must assume chronic divorce. This means that she had a very broken home, and it is easy to understand that she may have lost faith in marriage as an institution by then.

Yet she must have been an attractive and charming woman, since four men wanted to marry her after her first husband ended it, and another man was willing to live with her outside of marriage. But, too, she must have also been a strong-willed, contentious, and antagonistic woman, with five marriages ended. We can see a little of this in the beginning of her conversation with Jesus. He just asks her for a drink and she jumps all over him.

How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? (John 4:9)

“Why are you talking to me?” She challenges Him, and you can see she thinks He’s a bit of an upstart who needs to be taken down a peg or two, especially when He says He could give her living water. She tests Him. Her question "Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well...?" is a demeaning attack meant to wound the male need for respect and could have unconsciously pained Jesus's sense of divine identity.

It is admirable that Jesus never gets irritated, but answers patiently, inviting her to receive the gift of living water. Then His sudden statement about her married life is so startling and unexpected; how could anyone have guessed such a home life as hers from her simple sentence “I have no husband”? I really think the way he reveals this is meant to give her a taste of the living water of prophecy and discernment that was accessible to Him and which could be given to her. It was also a sign to her that He really did know who He was dealing with and what kind of problems festered in her life.

(If the conversation happened between just her and Jesus, I wonder how John found out about it to write it. Did she tell John the story, or did Jesus? I bet it was the woman; I don’t see that Jesus would have disclosed the info about her to John, but I can imagine the woman being willing to tell about herself.)

When He reveals His knowledge of her, she gains more respect for Him, but she still questions Him, going to the root of the age-old controversy between Jew and Samaritan over where the best place to worship was: is it Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim? She wants answers, and she’s not afraid to bring up a thorny divisive topic to get them.

After all this, it is notable that when the woman goes back to the town to spread the news about Jesus, she goes to the men not the women. (She was probably persona non grata among the women.) It indicates not only her influence among the men, but also their humility to listen to her and go see Jesus. Or maybe she was a tough enough woman to deal with that any positive change in her was a ringing endorsement for Jesus. Regardless, I like that she was such an enthusiastic missionary. There’s no telling how far she was in the conversion process, but she had to share it!

I also like that she was skeptical at first and challenging; it indicates how no-nonsense she was. She’d been around the block a few times, she’d heard some fair promises in her day that hadn’t been kept, and she was going to get to the bottom of any fakery. No pie-in-the-sky mysticism would satisfy her. She had harsh realities to deal with and suffer through. Nothing less than total transformation could help her.

Why spend this time examining the character of the Samaritan woman at the well? I think it gives us a better picture of the spiritual power and love that Jesus had that He was able to reach someone in such a difficult life situation. This story tells us that Jesus’s message isn’t just for those of us who have stable marriages and happy families; His message is also for those of us who are having terrible family problems and who are trapped in destructive patterns of relating to each other. When there is no peace at home, the peace of the gospel has a very big void to fill. But it CAN fill it.

That promise of the living water is for all of us.

Sunday, September 4, 2011 2 comments

Garbled verse on the condescension of God

In John 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus and tells him about His mission, of which I will give you a few verses.
12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
14 ¶And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: (John 3:12-14)
I want to focus on verse 13, which seems to me like a bunch of bizarre gobblety-gook as it is written. How can Jesus say “no man hath ascended up to heaven” if Enoch and Zion were translated? And how can Jesus say “the Son of man which is in heaven” when Jesus is clearly right there in mortality on earth? Obviously there are some major misunderstandings and translation issues with this verse!

So, it may be better if we just look at the keywords and ignore all the connecting language.

no man
ascended up
came down
Son of man

First off, I notice there’s this odd order—ascending up then coming down. If understood in this order, it seems like transfiguration rather than the condescension of God, so maybe the order is not meant to be read linearly here.

I also notice “heaven” occurs three times. Also, “man” occurs twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. So maybe this was actually a chiasmus with the middle point of emphasis on “came down from heaven.”

It would make sense for the condescension of God to be emphasized here because the rest of Jesus’s words in the chapter progress through the elements (of which condescension would belong at front):
  1. (the Son of man came down from heaven)
  2. Moses lifted up the serpent as a type of Christ’s sacrifice
  3. God gave His Son to save the world
  4. The world must believe in the Son or perish
Also, looking at the rest of Jesus’s words in this story, it is plain verse 13 is needed, even in its garbled (to us) state. We already know that God sent His Son, but it adds the information that the Son came. To me it implies the Son’s willingness to come, not just obedience, and that is worth knowing. We also see how helpful Nephi’s vision was because he was shown specifically and he wrote clearly about the condescension of God.

Takeaway: If you mark anything in that verse, do yourself a favor and mark “he that came down from heaven.”

Update: Okay. I’m beginning to see more in this verse than I thought.

“no man hath ascended up to heaven” Think about this in terms of the Fall of man. The entire doctrine of the Fall is compacted into this little phrase. (It’s probably compacted so much because Jesus knew Nicodemus was already familiar with it.)

“he that came down from heaven” We’ve already noted this refers to the condescension of God. It might even be an incredibly abbreviated mention of the need for a Savior.

“the Son of man which is in heaven” Here I suspect Christ anticipates His ascension back up to heaven to the right hand of God with power to give spiritual gifts to men and open the way for them to return to God too.

So maybe the verse seemed garbled because the doctrine was massively abbreviated.
Friday, September 2, 2011 5 comments

Paul’s healing handkerchiefs and aprons: A type and shadow of priesthood service

11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:11-12)
It strikes me that one reason these miracles are exceptional (besides the obvious NEAT-O factor) was because of the unusual needs demonstrated. Paul didn’t go himself, so he must have been prevented either by more pressing needs or because the number urgently needing healing was so great and in a situation so precarious that he could not get to all of them in time. (Some kind of plague?) In this situation, it would make sense for him to go to who he could and then send handkerchiefs and aprons to those he could not get to immediately or at all.

This type of healing required great faith from him and from those who needed the healing. He had to have faith that God would honor this “act of sending” with the same healing as if he was present to bless the sick. The sick person similarly had to have faith that God would heal through the cloth tokens of Paul’s presence.

In a way, the handkerchiefs and aprons could be said to be a type of priesthood service. The handkerchiefs and aprons in and of themselves did not have power to heal. But when sent on a divine mission, invested with power from God, sent by one with authority, they could heal. In the same way, priesthood holders, in and of themselves don’t have this power. But when sent on a divine mission, they manifest the power of God to do what God would do if He were here. I’ve witnessed that.