Monday, January 30, 2012 2 comments

The Lamanite broken promise

36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites promised unto Alma and his brethren, that if they would show them the way which led to the land of Nephi that they would grant unto them their lives and their liberty.

37 But after Alma had shown them the way that led to the land of Nephi the Lamanites would not keep their promise; but they set guards round about the land of Helam, over Alma and his brethren.

38 And the remainder of them went to the land of Nephi; and a part of them returned to the land of Helam, and also brought with them the wives and the children of the guards who had been left in the land.

39 And the king of the Lamanites had granted unto Amulon that he should be a king and a ruler over his people, who were in the land of Helam; nevertheless he should have no power to do anything contrary to the will of the king of the Lamanites. (Mosiah 23:36-39)

In these verses the Lamanites promise Alma and his people their lives and liberty in return for guidance on the way back to the land of Nephi, but then they break their promise. They set guards over the Nephites, bring the families of the guards, and set Amulon as king and ruler over the Nephites. (I’m sure that at the news of Amulon’s promotion over them, there was a collective gasp of dismay from Alma and his people.)

The broken promise of the Lamanites sounds like perfidious treachery, but I realized today that quite likely the feeling of betrayal may have arisen from different expectations about how that promise was to be kept.

To be specific, the promise was “life” and “liberty.” The Lamanites didn’t kill the Nephites, so they kept the “life” part of the promise. The promise of “liberty” is more problematic.

I don’t know if we can make the snap judgment that the Lamanites made that promise with the intent of breaking it deliberately. Judging from Lamanites’ previous care to keep the promise of “life” with Limhi’s people (when they drove them like dumb beasts when they were angry with them instead of killing them), it seems that the Lamanites took their promises more seriously than we often think. So the problem may have arisen from different definitions of “liberty.”

I’m sure that Alma and his people interpreted “liberty” to mean “no Lamanites staying in our land and no interference from Lamanites.” The Lamanites seem to have interpreted “liberty” to mean “making your own decisions and having your own people [Nephites] in charge, as long as it is in the scope of Lamanite empire.” The Lamanites seem to have thought that guarding the Nephites need not interfere with Nephite liberty and “liberty” didn’t include the option of escaping to live somewhere else.

What can we learn from this (assuming that my speculations are not off in left field)? I think this can teach us about the importance of understanding what the Lord means when we make covenants with Him. We need to understand the terms used and the spirit of the promises because it would be tragic if our view was different from His about how those promises should be kept. It would be sad if we were to find out after death that when we thought we were keeping our promises His view was that we were breaking them. I think this is why in Sunday School we often discuss definitions of words, so that we can make sure that we understand the meaning and the scope of the promises we make.

Saturday, January 28, 2012 6 comments

The unflattering truth about flattery

For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church. (Mosiah 26:6)
Recently when I was reading this verse, the word “flattery” jumped out at me. I’m not sure why. But suddenly I had a lot of questions about it. I asked myself:
  • What is flattery?
  • Why is flattery bad?
  • What makes flattery different from real praise?
  • What are the consequences of flattery, either giving it or receiving it?

I went looking for more information in the scriptures about incidents of flattery to see if I could find specific examples and consequences and characteristics of flattery.

The Book of Mormon has a number of examples of flattery. There was Sherem who “had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil.” (Jacob 7:4) Then there was Alma the Younger, who, before his conversion:
“did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. (Mosiah 27:8-9)
The people of King Noah fell into wickedness because of flattery.
Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.” (Mosiah 11:7)

Other people mentioned in the Book of Mormon who led people away with flattery were Korihor (Alma 30), Amalickiah (Alma 46:7), kingmen (Alma 61:4), Gadianton (Helaman 2:5) and the wicked Jacob (3 Nephi 7:12).
There are some examples in the scriptures of people using flattery. First, in the Book of Daniel:
6 Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever.
7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
8 Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
9 Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree. (Daniel 6:6-9)
The Babylonian princes used flattery to trick the king into making this decree. Can you see how it would have flattered the king? (“We all have consulted together on this. We all want this for you. We only want to ask things of you rather than anyone else, even God.”)

Another example of flattery is in the Book of Mormon when King Noah’s people bring Abinadi to King Noah for judgment. After accusing Abinadi of speaking evil about King Noah, they end with:
13 And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
14 And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain.
15 And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper.
16 Behold, here is the man, we deliver him into thy hands; thou mayest do with him as seemeth thee good. (Mosiah 12:13-16)
The people flatter the king that he hasn't done any great evil, that he has prospered and will continue to prosper, and that he can do whatever seems good to Abinadi. The people also flatter themselve, saying that they have not committed any great sins, that they are strong, and that they will not be brought into bondage or captivity by their enemies.

After looking at some of these things, I started to realize that flattery causes a ton of problems in the Book of Mormon. We talk about the pride cycle a lot, but I’m starting to see that often flattery (either from one's self or from others) puffs up the pride, but flattery is almost never discussed! So it behooves us to gain a better understanding of what is flattery and what it is not so we can learn to avoid being flattered or flattering others.

I’m going to do something that I don’t often do, which is resort to the wisdom of the great thinkers of the world, who have watched flattery in action and have written about it. If you want to read the whole 6 pages of quotes from Giga Quotes, you can, but I have gathered, organized, and paraphrased for you the best ones from there that I could find.

First, we must define flattery and praise. Praise encourages us to good works, but flattery makes us stubborn in our vice(1).

Flattery is poisonous, whether given to a king or his people(2). When it is loved too much, we lose our internal strength to feel satisfaction without it, and then we find ourselves dependent on others to give it to us(3). Flattery serves all the vices(4). It takes advantage of our foibles, fosters our errors, and contains no advice to annoy us with the truth(5). Flattery tends to ensnare. It puffs up our imaginations, strokes our vanity, and makes us become over-fond of ourselves(6). It corrupts both the giver and the receiver(7), and it fosters pettiness in both. Both the giver and receiver hope to deceive the other, but neither is fooled(8). Flattery makes a person think that he is what he is not, and it squelches honest desire to improve by making a person think that he can be admired without actually doing something to merit admiration(9). Even truly wise people can be dazzled and intoxicated by flattery, and over the process of time, geniuses can be degraded into pits of lies by giving flattery(10). Anyone who likes to be flattered will eventually pay for it with a painful, late repentance(11). Flattery can even choke our resolutions and prevent us from doing better things (12). Flattery is like someone spitting on your face to try to clean it(13). If we feast on flattery, we will need more and more, until we will only be pleased with the person who can flatter us the most(14).

The love of flattery is the most pernicious disease of the mind(15). If we are much flattered, we soon learn to flatter ourselves(16). The arch-flatterer is our self(17).

We are blinded by our self-love from seeing our true character, so our self-flattery prepares us to accept flattery from others to confirm our own ideas(18). Self-flattery causes us to rebel against our better judgment, and if we flattery ourselves, we have no chance against the flattery of others(19). But if we don’t flatter ourselves, then flattery from others won’t harm us (20) because we will recognize it for what it is. Flattery is especially agreeable to our faults and unknown character flaws. Idiots will love you if you flatter them on their understanding(21). If you don’t care about true honors, you won’t be misled by fake ones(22).

A flatterer is difficult to distinguish from a friend because they are so obedient and will immediately protest their loyalty. Just as wolves look similar to dogs, flatterers look like friends(23). It isn’t really affection when flatterers caress(24). Flattery grows like friendship, and puts on a show of friendship, but has different fruits(25). Flattery is the worst and most treacherous way of showing we like someone. (26)

Flatterers are the worst kind of enemies(27), “thieves in disguise” (28), and the worst kind of traitors, because they will never correct us, they will make our vices and follies seem good so that we never discover the difference between good and evil, thus strengthening our foibles and encouraging us in all kinds of evil works(29). They will go so far as to praise an ignorant person’s conversation and an ugly person for their good looks(30). Flatterers actually dislike those they flatter and think themselves better than the people they profess to admire(31). A flatterer will expect you to give him advantages, and if you don’t, he will then tarnish your reputation where he once burnished it(32). If ever you find yourself about to flatter someone, think about whether your flattery is worth having(33).

We might think we hate flattery, but often we just hate the way it was given(34). Careless flattery may exhaust you as you try to believe it(35). It is a more sincere compliment to just let a person talk and while we listen(36), give our implicit assent(37), imitate them(38), or act what we feel(39). It is flattering to think that we are worth flattering(40). We may be flattered when someone ridicules our rivals or enemies to us(41). We may be flattered by one who tells us that they know we hate flattery(42).

Who can be flattered? Rulers are poisoned by it(43), but societies also have their flatterers(44). Any of us would be as corrupted as rulers are if we were as exposed to flatterers as they are(45). Rich men despise too much flattery, but hate those who never flatter him(46). Flattery is food at the courts of kings and rulers(47). Women love to be praised for beauty(48), and none are truly immune from flattery if they think their ugliness can be compensated for by their figure or their attitude(49). Even the firmest women will give in to well-timed, skillful flattery(50).

Giving just praise is paying a debt, but flattery is like a surprise gift(51). Flattering is easy, but giving genuine praise is hard(52). Don’t praise people in order to be praised yourself; people see through it and you won’t get any praise worthwhile from it(53). Don’t overpraise people, since it is then a shame to see their actions contradicting the honor you’ve given(54).

Flattery is easy to swallow, but truths about ourselves we seem to only be able to take little by little(55). If we want everyone to speak the truth, we have to learn to hear the truth too(56).

Flattery is hurtful to the innocent unsuspecting person. Rejecting it gives sadness, and accepting it leads to downfall(57). The only way to take flattery is to take it as a warning and an indication of exactly where you lack(58). Honesty needs no disguise or decoration(59).

After reading all the quotes for writing that distillation, I was particularly inspired by the one that spoke about how we only sip little by little truths we find bitter. I felt inside myself that I was one who could only sip difficult truths about myself little by little…and sometimes not at all. So I decided to pray that I would be able to learn the truth. It wasn’t long before the Holy Ghost revealed to me a difficult truth about myself and how I had been treating my husband that evening. Having prayed to receive the truth, I was able to recognize my fault and repent. I asked my husband for forgiveness as well and our relationship became stronger.

The Holy Ghost does not flatter us. It will always tell us the truth and if we are looking for flattery, we will not welcome the Holy Ghost very well when we most need its correction.

Also, I appreciated learning what the difference is between flattery and real praise. Real praise is appreciative of goodness, and can even edify and encourage toward greater goodness.

About a week ago, when I was getting ready to have my personal journal printed as a book, I was reading through it and found so many instances when I speculated freely and enthusiastically about the direction I thought my life was going to go. Well, the way that my life actually went was quite different. I was quite embarrassed that my big dreams and schemes hadn’t come to fruition. It made me feel like I wasn’t to be trusted to dream for myself. But after having read and studied what flattery is and why it is dangerous, I now realize that a good portion of my dreaming must have been self-flattery—being puffed up in the vain imaginations of my heart. I have yet to learn the difference between dreaming that leads to real accomplishment over the long term and dreaming that is simply stroking my own ego. (I suppose I will have to pray to learn to discern the difference.)

Just to give you an example of the self-flattery of which I have been capable…. Last week I visited my old stake to play piano accompaniment for a woman from my previous ward. She happens to be the stake president’s wife. I told her about my blog post “25 Things I’ve learned about being a ward organist” because I thought she would enjoy it; she is also an organist. She expressed interest. I promised her I would send her a copy in the mail. The next day, as I was preparing to send her the copy, I imagined her enjoying it. Then I imagined her handing it to her husband (the stake president) and him getting enjoyment out of it. Then I imagined him reading bits and pieces of it over the pulpit in their next stake conference to break the ice. (He’s known for his humorous talks..) The idea that one of my blog posts could and might be used in stake conference gratified my vanity and I puffed myself up a bit on that one…

Yes, that is a sample of the self-flattery of which I am capable. It’s enough to make a person puke. THANKFULLY, somehow in the above instance, I realized what I was doing, and worked hard to scale back my pleasant imaginations to just entertaining the stake president’s wife. And I worked to acknowledge to myself that though my list of 25 things I’ve learned as a ward organist is mildly funny, there was no guarantee it would be shared with anyone else at all, and probably it wasn’t particularly appropriate material for any talk in church.

Have you caught yourself flattering yourself or others? How do you tell the difference between flattery and real praise? What do you do to praise people instead of flattering them?

(1) Louis XVI
(2) Dr. John Wolcot (used pseudonym Peter Pindar)
(3) Oliver Goldsmith
(4) Cicero (Marcus Tllius Cicero)
(5) Moiere (pseudonym of Jean Baptiste Poquelin)
(6) Jeremy Collier
(7) Edmund Burke
(8) Charles Caleb Colton
(9) Samuel Johnson
(10) Samuel Johnson
(11) Lat., Qu se laudari gaudent verbis subdolis, Sera dant peonas turpes poenitentia.] - Phaedrus (Thrace of Macedonia), Fables (I, 13, 1)
(12) Matthew Prior
(13) Edward Young, Love of Fame (satire I, 1. 755)
(14) Oliver Goldsmith, Retaliation (1. 109)
(15) Sir Richard Steele
(16) Samuel Johnson
(17) Francis Bacon
(18) Plutarch
(19) Sir Richard Steele
(20) Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld
(21) Henry Fielding
(22) Thomas Babington Macaulay
(23) Sir Walter Raleigh
(24) Letitia Elizabeth Landon (Mrs. George MacLean)
(25) Socrates
(26) Jonathan Swift
(27) Tacitus (Caius Cornelius Tacitus) Agricola (XLI)
(28) William Penn
(29) Sir Walter Raleigh
(30) Juvenal, Satires (III, 86)
(31) Marcus Antonius
(32) Moslih Eddin Saadi
(33) Samuel Johnson
(34) Fr., Francois Duc de la Rechefoucauld, Maximes (329)
(35) Wilson Mizner
(36) Joseph Addison
(37) William Hazlitt
(38) Charles Caleb Colton
(39) Madame Suzanne Curchod Necker
(40) George Bernard Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island
(41) Charles Caleb Colton
(42) William Shakespeare
(43) Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
(44) Marquis de Mirabeau, Victor de Riquetti
(45) Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
(46) Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord
(47) Frances Beaumont
(48) Samuel Johnson
(49) 4th Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope
(50) George Lillo
(51) Samuel Johnson
(52) Jean Paul Friedrich Richter (used ps. Jean Paul)
(53) Thomas Fuller
(54) Owen Felltham
(55) Denis Diderot
(56) Samuel Johnson
(57) Walter Savage Landor
(58) Martin Farquhar Tupper
(59) Thomas Otway
Thursday, January 26, 2012 1 comments

Alma’s people model how to deal with fears

25 For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about, behold an army of the Lamanites was in the borders of the land.

26 Now it came to pass that the brethren of Alma fled from their fields, and gathered themselves together in the city of Helam; and they were much frightened because of the appearance of the Lamanites.

27 But Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.

28 Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children.

29 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites. And Alma and his brethren went forth and delivered themselves up into their hands; and the Lamanites took possession of the land of Helam. (Mosiah 23:25-29)

When I was reading this recently, I noticed there was a very nice pattern here about how to deal with fears and scary situations that arise.

When the Lamanites show up, the Nephites are understandably very alarmed. I love that Alma goes among them and tells them they should not be frightened. (It is as if he tutors them on emotional response here.) Why should they not be frightened? They should not be frightened because they have a much better alternative—remembering their God and trusting He would deliver them. To me, this seems very effective because it is a change of focus from the thing feared and the anticipation of bad things that might happen…to a focus on God who cares for us and the prospect of eventual escape from the thing feared. It is a change from fear to hope and trust.

Then there is a verse I really love. “Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites” (v28). I love that it says “they hushed their fears. It shows me that it is possible for me to turn on my fears and hush them and suppress them. I’ve found that when I do that, I really do almost say “Hush” to myself. I also like that it says that they began to cry to the Lord. Prayer is a great outlet for concern and worry. It is very cathartic. The more heart you put into it, the more comforting it is. That is the Spirit fulfilling its role as the comforter to soothe our souls. And Heavenly Father can actually do something about the problem.

In verse 29, it says that ultimately Alma’s people delivered themselves up into the hands of the Lamanites. That, I think, took a lot of braver to go out and face their fears like that. I think it was good too to not delay, but to resolve the situation quickly because that would also give less scope for fear to arise. Sometimes anticipation of something we fear is more terrible than the thing itself.

There’s another place in the Book of Mormon where a group is filled with fear. The prophet Helaman and his army, including the stripling warriors, found themselves in a very difficult predicament—they had to guard the Nephite border from an innumerable Lamanite army and do it on a shoestring budget while nearly starving to death. Notice their progression from fear to indomitable faith:

7 And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months, even until we were about to perish for the want of food.

8 But it came to pass that we did receive food, which was guarded to us by an army of two thousand men to our assistance; and this is all the assistance which we did receive, to defend ourselves and our country from falling into the hands of our enemies, yea, to contend with an enemy which was innumerable.

9 And now the cause of these our embarrassments, or the cause why they did not send more strength unto us, we knew not; therefore we were grieved and also filled with fear, lest by any means the judgments of God should come upon our land, to our overthrow and utter destruction.

10 Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.

11 Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.

12 And we did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with a determination to conquer our enemies, and to maintain our lands, and our possessions, and our wives, and our children, and the cause of our liberty.

13 And thus we did go forth with all our might against the Lamanites, who were in the city of Manti; and we did pitch our tents by the wilderness side, which was near to the city. (Alma 58:7-13)

Helaman and his armies also poured out their souls in prayer for strength and deliverance. The Lord blessed them with:

  • Assurances
  • Great faith
  • Hope for deliverance
  • Courage with their small force
  • A fixed determination to conquer
  • And they went forth with all their might.

Ultimately, the assurances of the Lord move Helaman and his army to courage, determination, and action.

I think both these stories are valuable because they show us a pattern of what to do when we fear, for whatever reason. We see that in one case, the people of Alma were strengthened to go and submit. In another case, the armies of Helaman were strengthened to go and cook up a strategy to fight the Lamanites. But both of them were strengthened to go and DO something.

Will you tell me about a time when you were afraid and turned to the Lord? How did the Lord help you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 2 comments

Baptismal Talk on Holy Ghost

About half a year ago, I had the privilege of giving a talk on the Holy Ghost after a new member baptism. In thinking about how I would approach it, I thought that the best way would be to come up with a list of questions that new members might have about receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and then try to find answers from the scriptures and the words of the prophets that would answer those questions.

The following was part of my notes, although I ended up not giving the second half.

Why do we need the gift of the Holy Ghost?
The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11)
Man is fallen and could not know anything about God by himself. To know anything about God and His character, the knowledge must be revealed to us. The Holy Ghost is the revelator, revealing all these things to us, line upon line. It is necessary for us to learn all those things if we are to someday become like God. Thus, we NEED the Holy Ghost.
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

What can the Holy Ghost do for me?
  • The Holy Ghost leads us to truth. (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Ghost testifies of truth so that we recognize it, telling us in our mind and in our heart.
  • The Holy Ghost will teach us all things and bring all things to our remembrance. (John 14:26)
  • It will prick our hearts (Acts 2:37) and reprove us of sin. (John 16:8)
  • The Holy Ghost will lead us to do good. (D&C 11:12)
  • It will show us all things that we should do. (2 Ne. 32:5) (It has reminded me of my duties and sometimes given me a feeling of urgency about doing them.)
  • The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace. (Gal. 5:22)
  • The Spirit is called the Comforter because it fills us with hope and perfect love (Moroni 8:26) at times when we really need comfort. (Example: At dentist office while getting my teeth cleaned and the scrapiness was getting to me. I prayed for comfort and was blessed.)
  • It gives utterance (D&C 14:8), even in the very hour what we should speak (Luke 12:12)
  • At time of need, it may reveal the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Alma 12:3)
  • Mysteries are unfolded by the power of the Spirit (1 Nephi 10:19)
  • He warns.
  • He can enhance our skills and abilities to perform a task. (D&C 46:18)
  • He sometimes impels us to action or restrains us from action. (1 Nephi 7:15)
  • The Holy Ghost sanctifies us (Alma 13:12)
  • A major effect of the influence of the Holy Spirit is to have increased vision, seeing things more as God does, deepening and broadening our understanding.

These things don’t happen all at once. They happen when we need them and when we pray for them. We can’t force the Spirit, and we can’t fool the Spirit. It knows the difference between a real need and when we just want to consume it on our lusts.
“We believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost being enjoyed now, as much as it was in the Apostles’ days; we believe that it [the gift of the Holy Ghost] is necessary to make and to organize the Priesthood, that no man can be called to fill any office in the ministry without it; we also believe in prophecy, in tongues, in visions, and in revelations, in gifts, and in healings; and that these things cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost. We believe that the holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and that holy men in these days speak by the same principle; we believe in its being a comforter and a witness bearer, that it brings things past to our remembrance, leads us into all truth, and shows us of things to come; we believe that ‘no man can know that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Holy Ghost.’ [1 Cor. 12:3] We believe in it [this gift of the Holy Ghost] in all its fullness, and power, and greatness, and glory.” (Joseph Smith)

What is our responsibility with respect to the Holy Ghost?

There are some things the Spirit can’t do for us. Only we can do it.
· We are the ones that learn and live the gospel.
· The Spirit will testify of the truth to us, but it will not force us to believe. We make that choice.
· The Spirit may give us a feeling of urgency about doing something, but it will never force us to do it. We make that choice.
· We are the ones who make choices.
· We are the ones who obey or disobey.
· We choose our attitudes. (But we can choose to ask for our attitudes and desires to be changed.)
· We are to actively participate in our growth and development, by seeking learning by study and by faith.
· We are to be diligent and committed with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.

How can I know I am feeling the Spirit?

Joseph Smith told Brigham Young, how the Saints can know they are feeling the Spirit.:
“They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits. It will whisper peace and joy to their souls, and it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord they will go right.”

The Holy Ghost has what has been described as a “still small voice.” It is not often something that we hear with our ears. More often it is something that is felt and can easily be missed in a noisy, busy, environment.

What can I expect when receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and gifts of the Spirit?

Gifts of the Spirit are usually received quietly and privately, without outward manifestations.
To paraphrase what Joseph Smith said, the opinions of men are wide and conflicting about the gift of the Holy Ghost. Some call any supernatural manifestation the effect of the Spirit of God, and some think that there is no manifestation at all and it is all in the person’s head. So it is not surprising that people are so ignorant after so many centuries have gone by in darkness without revelation or just criterion to recognize the Spirit or gain knowledge of the things of God, which can only be known by the Spirit of God. Because of this, when the elders preach to people that they will receive the Holy Ghost if they obey the gospel, the people expect some wonderful manifestation, some great display of power, or some extraordinary miracle.

The human family tends to run to extremes in religious matters, and they want some miraculous display or they will not believe in the Holy Ghost at all. They think that when the elders lay their hands upon a person, the person must immediately rise and speak in tongues and prophesy. We believe in prophecy and the gift of tongues, but to say that these things always occur when elders lay their hands upon a person, is contrary to holy writ and the practice of the apostles.

All the gifts of the Spirit are not visible to the natural vision, or understanding of men. The word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are gifts of the Spirit, but who would know it? Faith and healing, power to work miracles are gifts of the Spirit too, yet they require time and circumstances to call them into operation. (end Joseph Smith paraphrase)

How do we learn to recognize the Spirit?

Joseph Smith said,
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis added)
Notice, he said we may GROW into the principle of revelation. Growth doesn’t happen all at once. We will make mistakes. We may ascribe something as revelation that isn’t, or dismiss something as not revelation when it really is. However, the important thing is to keep believing in it. If we ever feel like we are having troubles recognizing and following the Holy Ghost, we can pray for help to recognize and obey it.

If the Holy Ghost is a still small voice, and if it takes practice to tune ourselves to hear it, we must find ways to make ourselves acquainted with that voice as much as possible. The best way to do that is to study the scriptures every day and there we will find plentiful opportunities for the Holy Ghost to witness the truth to us. We will also find things that we want to know more about, and in seeking the answers with prayer and study and pondering, we will learn to recognize when the Holy Ghost is enlightening us. We will also find in the scriptures things we should do to improve in our lives, and this will make us acquainted with the Holy Ghost’s reproving voice. As we live the commandments and follow the Holy Ghost, we will align our thoughts and character more and more with God and become more and more acquainted with the feeling of peace that the Holy Ghost gives.

The better we are acquainted with the Holy Ghost, the more we will be able to trust. When warnings come, we will heed them. When we are given words to say, we will say them. When prophecy comes, we will give it. When necessary, we will have the gift of tongues or the gift of interpretation. Visions will be opened to us for our edification. When we are prompted to heal, we will heal.

How do we stay worthy of the Holy Ghost and keep it with us?

In February 1847, nearly three years after the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, he appeared to President Brigham Young and gave him this message:
“Tell the people to be humble and faithful and sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach [you what] to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it.”

When Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon through the power of God, he learned that divine gift of translation was with him only when he was worthy to be guided by the Spirit. David Whitmer recounted:
“One morning when [Joseph Smith] was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went up stairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came up stairs where we were and the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.”
I’ve experienced that too. On certain occasions when I’ve been preparing church lessons, I have felt stymied and like I couldn’t do it. I realized I needed to repent of something…

One of Jesus’s analogies, He said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” Unless we abide in the vine, we can do nothing. If Christ is the vine and we are the branches, the Holy Ghost is the sap of the vine. The Holy Ghost is what helps unify us.

Wilford Woodruff said:
“The great promise which accompanies the preaching of the Gospel, as revealed from heaven in our day, is that the Holy Ghost will be bestowed upon the sincerely penitent who obey its holy ordinances. Through the Holy Ghost a knowledge of things past, present, and to come is communicated and the mind and will of the Father made known. In this way the Almighty reveals His purposes to those who obey His commandments and whose lives are pure and acceptable before Him, so that they can be prepared for all the events and trials that may lie in their pathway.
If there are any members of the Church who do not know by their own experience that this is true, they may be assured that they do not live up to their privileges. All Saints should be in close communion with the Holy Ghost, and through it, with the Father, or there is danger of their being overcome of evil and falling by the wayside.
We, therefore, say to the Latter-day Saints: The Holy Ghost will not dwell in an unholy tabernacle. If you would enjoy the full powers and gifts of your religion, you must be pure. If you are guilty of weaknesses, follies and sins, you must repent of them; that is, you must thoroughly forsake them. In no other way can we please God. “Man of holiness” is His name [see Moses 6:57], and He delights in the efforts of His children to be pure.”
If we do not have revelation, it is because we do not live as we should live, because we do not magnify our [callings in the priesthood] as we ought to; if we did we would not be without revelation, none would be barren or unfruitful.
Let us lay aside all evil practices, all those habits which will prevent our communing with God….If these little things have a tendency to hinder our enjoyments and debase us in the eyes of the Lord, we ought to lay them aside and manifest a determination to do the will of our Father in Heaven, and to accomplish that work which is laid upon us to perform….When I do anything that prevents me from enjoying the Spirit of the Lord, as soon as I ascertain that, I immediately throw it aside.”
Brigham Young said:
…when the mind is open to the revelations of the Lord it comprehends them quicker and keener than anything that is seen by the natural eye. It is not what we see with our eyes—they may be deceived—but what is revealed by the Lord from heaven that is sure and steadfast, and abides forever.”
“When an individual, filled with the Spirit of God, declares the truth of heaven, the sheep hear that [see D&C 29:7], the Spirit of the Lord pierces their inmost souls and sinks deep into their hearts; by the testimony of the Holy Ghost light springs up within them, and they see and understand for themselves.”
How do I invite the Spirit?
  • Pray for the Spirit
  • Sing hymns
  • Read the scriptures
  • Help someone else
  • Take the sacrament

How do I keep the Holy Ghost with me?
  • Do not put off being obedient to commandments.
  • Surround yourself with clean media influences.
  • Pray.
  • Seek good and not evil.
Sunday, January 22, 2012 0 comments

Obtaining salvation from God is like drawing water from a well

2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.

3 Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. (2 Nephi 22:2-3)

Here Nephi quotes Isaiah 12 in which Isaiah compares the process of obtaining salvation to getting water from a well. I think imagining the process helps me understand better.

I can imagine going to the place of the well with an empty water pot, thirsty and with full expectation that there will be plenty of water there. Christ is our well from which we draw out salvation. Dropping the bucket down in is easy, but pulling it out takes more work, just like praying for forgiveness is easy, but summoning the real intent and maintaining commitment can be harder. Yet the joy and anticipation of obtaining forgiveness helps you continue. And you can taste the forgiveness; it is refreshing just like water.

Image 1: Travel Pot, "Staying in a nomad's Ger,"

Image 2: Plumpy'nut Press, "Happy World Water Day!",

Friday, January 20, 2012 4 comments

Limhi’s people humble themselves

13 And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage, submitting themselves to be smitten, and to be driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies.

14 And they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions. (Mosiah 21:13-14)

When I was reading this recently it stuck out to me all of a sudden the different ways humility is described in these verses.

I notice that when they humble themselves “to the dust,” it is to men, and when they humble themselves “in the depths of humility,” it is to God. This suggests that humility to God is deeper than humility to men.

Verse 3 has some interesting words associated with humbling oneself (even if it is to men)—“subjecting themselves” and “submitting themselves.” This shows us that self control goes along with humility. Force is not required; the decision to obey is made without force. In the case of King Limhi’s people, they didn’t humble themselves until they had been beaten three times in battle, but if they hadn’t finally humbled themselves, they would have been completely forced into it.

It could be argued that because the people of Limhi “cried mightily…all the day long…unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions” (v14) that they weren’t totally subjected by the Lamanites. They still wanted to be free and hoped God could free them, rather than being content to be slaves. This shows it is possible to have an outward humility while still wanting out.

When they humbled themselves to God, we see that this humility consisted of mighty prayer for deliverance, which they most wanted. However, it didn’t yet extent to repentance and forsaking their sins. “And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities…” (Mosiah 21:15) It seems repentance was the final ingredient needed for total humility.

It is possible that their bondage to the Lamanites was a learning experience and training and chastisement that would help them learn to submit and subject themselves to the Lord. It would help them appreciate the lighter demands the Lord makes.

These verses make me think hard about what I do to indicate my humility to the Lord. Does my humility involve:

  • Subjecting myself?
  • Submitting myself?
  • Crying mightily to God all the day long?
  • Repenting?

I think I have incorporated a few of those factors, but I don’t think I have implemented them all. How about you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 2 comments

The other Ammon and priesthood worthiness

We talk a lot about Ammon, missionary son of Mosiah, but recently I realized that the other Ammon (the one in the Book of Mosiah, the one who finds the people of Limhi) is a pretty good missionary too, though he had some problems.

32 And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments.

33 And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant.

34 Therefore they did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord. Now they were desirous to become even as Alma and his brethren, who had fled into the wilderness.

35 They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time; and an account of their baptism shall be given hereafter. (Mosiah 21:32-35)

since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments.” (emphasis added) – This suggests that Ammon had had a good influence on Limhi and his people somehow. This made me curious to go searching for what Ammon did that brought this about and I found it near the very beginning of the story, in Mosiah 8:2-3.

2 And he [Limhi] caused that Ammon should stand up before the multitude, and rehearse unto them all that had happened unto their brethren from the time that Zeniff went up out of the land even until the time that he himself came up out of the land.

3 And he [Ammon] also rehearsed unto them the last words which king Benjamin had taught them, and explained them to the people of king Limhi, so that they might understand all the words which he spake. (Mosiah 8:2-3)

Ammon must have repeated for King Limhi and his people everything from that powerful sermon of King Benjamin’s and explained it all. Undoubtedly this would lead the people to want to repent and make a covenant with God as King Benjamin’s people had. I have personally seen in my life recently how sharing stories of courageous, righteous acts can inspire others to do the same thing.

But back to Mosiah 21:32-35.

And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant. (v33)

Verse 33 shows us something important—for a baptism to occur, there must not only be someone who wants to be baptized, there must also be someone else with 1) authority from God who is 2) spiritually prepared to baptize. All the priests of Noah were gone, but fortunately, Ammon somehow had priesthood authority… except there was a problem--Ammon declined to baptize on the grounds he didn’t feel worthy at that time.

I think we can get a number of lessons from this.

First, Ammon is a good example of understanding his own spiritual status. We have no idea why he considered himself unworthy, but it is commendable that he had the courage to decline even when he was the only one around with authority. (That must have been very difficult; think of the pressure that was on him!)

Second, it shows us how important it is that priesthood ordinances be performed by worthy individuals. Ammon valued worthiness as a priesthood holder more than just making people happy by “going with the flow.”

Third, it shows how important it is to live so as to always be spiritually prepared at any time to perform priesthood ordinances. Ammon probably never imagined he might someday be the only one around with authority to baptize, and modern priesthood holders get to see the consequences of this so that they can learn not to make the same mistake.

Another good thing about these verses is that they show something very interesting—the covenant with God can be a separate act from baptism, but baptism still has to take place eventually as a witness or testimony of that covenant. How might this principle be important? Some people find the gospel at a time in their lives when they can’t get baptized immediately. For instance, a teenager whose parents will not allow him/her to get baptized can still make a covenant with God to serve Him, and keep that covenant to the time they come of age to get baptized. As another example, individuals in prison who find and believe the gospel can’t get baptized until they are released, but making a covenant with God can serve them for the time in prison until they can be baptized as a witness they made that covenant.

Ammon is an interesting character in the Book of Mormon. He taught the words of King Benjamin such that many people were convinced they needed to covenant with the Lord and get baptized. Yet his unworthiness stymied him from exercising his priesthood power fully. I hope the men of the church can avoid his predicament.

Monday, January 16, 2012 3 comments

In which Moses almost has his life shortened substantially

The following occurs as Moses and his family are traveling back to Egypt to deliver Israel from bondage according to the instructions the Lord had given Moses.

24 ¶And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met [Moses],

and sought to kill him.

25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.

26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

27 ¶And the Lord said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him.

28 And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him. (Ex 4:24-28)

This is a very weird incident. It seems like the Lord becomes angry suddenly and arbitrarily. Thankfully, we have the Joseph Smith Translation to help us.

24 And it came to pass, that the Lord appeared unto him as he was in the way, by the inn. The Lord was angry with Moses, and his hand was about to fall upon him, to kill him; for he had not circumcised his son.

25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and circumcised her son, and cast the stone at his feet, and said, Surely thou art a bloody husband unto me.

26 And the Lord spared Moses and let him go, because Zipporah, his wife, circumcised the child. And she said, Thou art a bloody husband. And Moses was ashamed, and hid his face from the Lord, and said, I have sinned before the Lord.

27 And the Lord said unto Aaron, go into the wilderness to meet Moses, and he went and met him, in the mount of God; in the mount where God appeared unto him; and Aaron kissed him. (JST Ex. 4:24-27)

When studying this story, my first question was, “What does Zipporah mean by ‘Thou art a bloody husband’?” It seems extra odd because Zipporah was the one that did the circumcising, so she’s the one who gets bloody, if anyone does. We can tell she’s frustrated with Moses, even if we don’t understand her exact words. Throwing the cut foreskin at Moses’s feet seems petulant, as if it is the last straw.

Looking deeper, it seems like she becomes an additional witness to the Lord’s anger, since both the Lord and she are angry at the same time. This gives us a hint that she also had some spiritual perception. She knew what had to be done, and because her husband wasn’t doing it, she did it.

Did she consider her husband bloody because he had made her do a bloody job? Or did she consider him bloody because he had almost been killed by the Lord? Maybe she was saying that his disobedience was putting his whole family at risk. If he disobeyed, he would be killed, and then she would be left a widow without protection (and these were days when there wasn’t life insurance) with a child to raise. Maybe she was saying the equivalent of “It’s a dangerous and deadly thing to be the wife of a disobedient prophet,” or “You’re a dangerous man to be married to.”

To Moses, this must have really stung. Here he was, about to go down to Egypt and carry out this mission to lead Israel out of bondage, and even before he starts, he has gotten himself in deep trouble with the Lord because of disobedience. (For Moses to not circumcise his son would be like President Monson not baptizing his son at age 8.)

Zipporah’s reproach must have brought back the terrible feelings of inadequacy. He must have spiraled down into depression, which caused him to hide his face from the Lord. (I know what that feels like.)

“I have sinned before the Lord,” Moses said. It’s a simple admission, but there is so much unspoken turmoil of feeling packed inside it, such as the following:

“What I did was terrible,”

“I did it in the most blatant way, even knowing I was doing wrong and determined to do it anyway.”

“I feel terrible about it.”

“I don’t know how to make it right.”

“I don’t know if the Lord will forgive me.”

“If I can’t be freed of this sin or any desire to disobey, I will not be able to do the Lord’s work, and I will be cast off forever”

Moses had to go through repentance too.

After this, the Lord sends Aaron to go find Moses and meet him. When Aaron meets Moses, he greets him with the kiss of brotherly affection. The love of an older sibling is a wonderfully encouraging thing. I can imagine that meeting Aaron in the mount of God, where God had appeared to Moses, must have been a very happy experience. (This reminds me of how neat it is to meet family in the temple.) So Moses tells Aaron everything and then has the joy of seeing Aaron accept his words. This success must have further fortified Moses. Then they go together to the Israelites, and thus begins the struggle for deliverance.

What does this mean for us today? It shows us that even Moses, as great a prophet as he was, had to learn lessons about obedience. It is another example of the principle that where much is given, much is required, and he who sins against the greater light will receive the greater condemnation. It shows us that the Lord really can and will take a prophet out of mortality who presumes to disobey the commandments. But it also shows that the Lord is merciful when prophets repent. It also shows us how seriously we should take the parental responsibility to bring our children up in the covenant.

Saturday, January 14, 2012 1 comments

Gratitude challenge: 10 aspects of the economy I’m thankful for

I want to continue to cultivate gratitude, so in addition to my post “Take the Gratitude Challenge,” I thought I’d continue my list, this time with 10 things about the economy that I’m thankful for. (Yes, I know the economy is troubled, and people are having a very difficult time, but there are things about having an economy that make our lives better, so we really need to remember these things.)

1. I’m thankful for money. It is wonderful to have something that can be used as a universal means of exchange. Using money means that it is a lot easier to exchange our services for things that we need. Rather than having to search hard to find someone who needs our skills and has something we need, we can use money in our exchange.

2. I’m thankful for prices. Prices mean that I have a way to compare value and decide what I can or can’t afford. (Prices also cause me to be even happier when I find something FREE!)

3. I’m thankful for savings. I’m glad it is possible to save because it means that I can sacrifice now for something big I want in the future. It is wonderful to be able to store money for use later. Building savings makes financial preparations possible.

4. I’m thankful for banks. I’m grateful for banks because they eliminate worry about whether our money is safe or not. Without banks, everyone would have to find a secret place in their house to keep their money and they would always be worried about being robbed. Also, without banks, if you needed to borrow a lot of money, you would have to get a very rich person to agree to lend, or get a lot of your neighbors to agree to lend. Borrowing from banks makes it simpler.

5. I’m thankful for checks. Checks are something to be grateful for because it means you don’t have to carry quantities of cash around with you to pay someone. It means that you can pay someone exactly what you owe while keeping your money in the bank.

6. I’m thankful for credit. Credit causes a lot of problems if we don’t use it very carefully, but when we do, it can be very helpful. Credit means that you can get what you need when you know you will have money but don't have it yet; people are willing to trust you that you will eventually pay them. I am thankful that people trust enough to give credit.

7. I’m thankful for taxes. You may think I’m crazy, but yes, I’m also thankful for taxes (within limits, of course). Paying taxes means that no one person is burdened with the full cost of providing services for the public good. It also means that I can help pay for roads and schools and the protection of police and I don’t have to worry about exactly how to spend that money.

8. I’m thankful for contracts. They make it possible to make a complicated exchange over a period of time. They also make it so that you don't have to renegotiate an exchange that you know is going to happen often in the future the same way each time. I’m thankful they can be written down so that each party remembers what they agreed to do and what they can expect from the other parties in the contract.

9. I’m thankful for buying on the internet. Buying on the internet makes it easier for me to find things that I need even when I can’t find them for sale in my town.

10. I'm thankful for budgets. Budgets are HUGE. A budget make it possible to see how actual spending compares to planned spending. It makes it possible to be sure that we are spending less than we earn. It helps me make more realistic spending plans and helps me see how my savings progresses toward big purchases. It helps my husband and I stay unified financially because we both know where the money should go and how much. It helps me spend responsibly. It gives me opportunities and incentives to spend carefully. It helps us avoid impulse spending so we can spend according to what is really important to us.

Quite likely you’ve read this list and have said to yourself a number of times, “Yes, that’s good in theory, but right now…” Yes, yes, I know, corruption has occurred. It is a sign we have to get back to the economic basics. Making this list has shown me that if we don’t misuse or corrupt these aspects, we really have much to be thankful for about the economy.