Saturday, October 20, 2012 5 comments

Give, good measure, pressed down

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)

I think I've understood this scripture better after having worked at the church’s cannery doing dry canning. 

One of the things important to learn while canning is how to get as much food into the can as possible.  Just pouring in the macaroni or the beans or the potato flakes isn’t going to cut it because the particles eventually settle together in a tighter configuration much later after the lid is sealed on.   Settling happens even with powders like sugar or flour. (Maybe you’ve had the experience of opening a food storage can and finding an inch of space between the top of the can and the level of the food.) 

In order to get as much in as possible, you fill it as full as you can, then you shake the can a bit, you bang the bottom on the table gently, and you spin it in your hands, --“pressed down, and shaken together”—and lo!  It settles and there is more room!  So you add more and shake and bang some more and add more until you can’t fit more in.  (You gotta be able to seal the lid on too!)  You want to make sure that whoever gets the cans you packed gets their money’s worth…because you might end up with it!

I don’t think that Jesus had canning specifically in mind when He spoke those words, but He lived in a time when life staples would be measured out by volume, and how much a measure held was dependent upon how hard the measurer tried to fit it in.

The promise that goes with this command to give generously is that the same measure will be meted back to us.  We don’t know how this happens; it is something we have to take on faith that the same charity in our hearts that prompted us to give generously can be activated in others’ hearts to give generously to us.  I’ve experienced this myself, and it was the sort of blessing that it takes a while to notice; it can come from unexpected directions and there’s a bit of a delay… But if you give consistently enough, you start to figure it out. 

Friday, October 19, 2012 0 comments

To prosper in the land

Prosperity.  We want of some of that, don’t we?  Here’s what my favorite dictionary says:
“Prosper: make steady progress; be at the high point in one’s career or reach a high point in historical significance or importance; bloom, flourish, flower, fly high, thrive” (WordWeb dictionary iPad ap)
We tend to look at the word prosper in the scriptures in only a financial/economic sense.  But I have started to realize that in many instances, to prosper refers more to spiritual growth, and that spiritual growth was what the prophets wanted for the people when they promised that keeping the commandments would cause the people to prosper in the land.

Take statements like that of Alma to his son Helaman:
O remember, remember, my son Helaman,
how strict are the commandments of God.
And he said: If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land—
but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence. (Alma 37:13)
Thinking logically, if keeping the commandments brought financial success, then not keeping the commandments would bring financial ruin and failure.  But that is not what the warning part says.  It says not keeping the commandments will cut us off from the presence of the Lord.  It doesn’t make sense for the blessing and the cursing to be such different things, one temporal and the other spiritual.  But if prosperity means spiritual growth, then the cursing of being cut off from the presence of the Lord would make a lot more sense.  If fact, it would be perfectly obvious!

If we are spiritually minded, then spiritual growth will be a higher priority for us than financial success.  Financial gain is not synonymous with godliness, so why should we pretend it is?  Financial success (if honestly gotten) depends on learning skills that others are willing to pay well for, hard work, honesty, and careful use of resources.

Spiritual growth, on the other hand, depends on keeping the commandments.  If so, then it is possible to prosper in the land even if we aren’t financially successful.  There are also people who have gained financial success honestly, but who are cut off from the presence of the Lord because they don’t keep the commandments besides the ones that have implications for financial accumulation.

In the scriptures we are promised we will prosper (progress spiritually) if we:
  • Keep the commandments
  • Keep our covenants (“Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.” (Duet. 29:9))
  • Seek the Lord (“And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.” (2 Chron. 26:5))
  • Trust the Lord  (“we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.” (Hel. 12:1))
  • Believe the prophets (“Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me… Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.” (2 Chron. 20:20))
  • Build temples and keep them purified (“And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it…And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.” (D&C 97:15,18))
We are similarly promised we will not prosper if we:
  • Transgress the commandments
  • Cover our sins (“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Prov. 28:13))
  • Fight against God (“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17).)
  • Allow ourselves to be lulled into carnal security (“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”(2 Nephi 28:21))
  • Don’t reason according to gospel principles (“And my servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants; and by so doing I will bless him, otherwise he shall not prosper.”(D&C 49:4))
 One final thought:  Recently when my husband and I were at the Mesa temple having finished an endowment session, we came down the long grand staircase that leads straight from the third floor to the first floor, and we paused midway at a landing to let two other sessions’ worth of people go up to the ordinance rooms.  I stood there as men and women flowed to the left and to the right past us, climbing upward in a river of white dresses, white shirts, white pants, white packets… The minutes it took for all of them to pass seemed to stretch out and time seemed to slow down for me.  I looked into the eyes of these brothers and sisters climbing diligently, some smiling, some solemn, and I felt like I was midway up on Jacob’s ladder while angels climbed around me.  The impression I got was of multitudes of Saints in eternal progress.  It showed me the temple is a place of great prosperity, for both those here and those behind the veil.

Now here’s a question for you: Does spiritual growth come from simply keeping the commandments through to the end of your life (enduring to the end), or does it come from improving the exactness with which you keep the commandments?  Or does it come from keeping more commandments?  Or is it all of the above?  What are your thoughts?  And why?
Thursday, October 18, 2012 2 comments

Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments: KJV versus JST


Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,
and shall teach men so,
he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven:
but whosoever shall do and teach them,
the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)


Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments,
and shall teach men so to do,
he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven;
but whosoever shall do and teach these commandments of the law until it be fulfilled,
the same shall be called great, and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven. (JST Matt 5:21)

The KJV makes it seem like breaking the commandments and teaching others to break the commandments is attended with no more penalty than losing status in the kingdom of heaven, making it seem as if breaking the commandments is not a big deal.  The thoughtful person might well ask why have commandments at all if breaking commandments won’t get you kicked out of the kingdom of heaven.  And if that were the case, then who doesn’t make it to heaven?  This doesn’t confirm that God is holy as we know He is.

The JST makes clear that breaking commandments and teaching others to break them too is the way to lose your salvation in heaven.

I notice that the KJV only deals with status in the kingdom of heaven, while the JST speaks mostly in terms of salvation in the kingdom of heaven, though it promises greatness to those who do and teach the commandments. 

One good thing about the KJV verse is that it teaches there are least and greatest in the kingdom of heaven, a testimony of degrees of glory in the celestial kingdom, even if it gets wrong who is the least. 

One final note is that the KJV seems to speak of the “least” commandments as if they are timeless things, but the JST suggests that there were commandments that Jesus referred to that would eventually be fulfilled and superseded.  Naturally there would be a lot of questions about which of all the commandments in the Torah would be done away.
Just for grins, I looked in 3 Nephi 12 to see if there was a verse that corresponded to the above verses.  (Should be fairly easy to find, since the Beatitudes are delivered in very similar order in both places, right?)  What I found was quite different:

And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father,
that ye shall believe in me,
and that ye shall repent of your sins,
and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled. ( 3 Nephi 12:19) 

Clearly the basic principles of the gospel are given as the new law and commandments here.  Also, earlier in 3 Nephi, the voice of Christ to all the Nephites during the three days of darkness commands the end of animal sacrifices and teaches about offering a broken heart and contrite spirit:

19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
 20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:19-20)

What do we learn from all this?  We learn that Jesus taught the Law of Moses faithfully during His ministry but also worked to prepare the people for the changes that would come when He fulfilled it.  We also learn that He taught the Nephites what they needed to do instead of offering animal sacrifices. 

I’m so grateful for the Bible, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and the Book of Mormon.  The Bible gives good starting points, and the JST and Book of Mormon clarify so much.  I would not appreciate the JST and the Book of Mormon as much without the Bible, since they really shine by close comparison, and I wouldn’t understand the Bible as much without the JST and the Book of Mormon.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 2 comments

Blessed are the poor in spirit: Matthew 5 versus 3 Nephi 12

My husband told me that in our ward’s Sunday school they discussed the differences between the Beattitudes in Matthew 5 and the Beattitudes in 3 Nephi 12.  (I'm in Primary, so I have to get his report about what went on in Sunday school each week.)  Anyway, examining those differences sounded intriguing to me, so I decided to take a look myself.  Here’s something I found very near the beginning:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)

Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (3 Nephi 12:3)
 This clarifies for us that being poor in spirit by itself doesn’t bring the blessedness, but coming to Christ does.

I’ve always been a bit uncertain about what it means to be “poor in spirit” anyway.  I’ve wondered if it meant being depressed or being not very assertive or being a not-very-spiritual person.  I think 3 Nephi 3 is helpful because it somehow gives me the sense that Christ does not mean for us to stay in that condition.  This caused me to realize that being "poor in spirit" refers to when we don’t have the Holy Ghost in our lives very much.  Christ wants us to come to Him and repent so we can become rich in the Spirit instead.

I usually notice I am poor in the Spirit when I realize that I am not being touched by what usually touches me.  It is not that those things have lost their power, rather, I have somehow become insensitive and hardened my heart.  It doesn’t much matter what it is that has made us poor in the Spirit; it has to be repented of, whether big sin or small.  I have to realize how much I need the Spirit.  I have to pray and confess my fault and plead for forgiveness.  I have to resolve to do what is right and to put away cynicism and doubt.  I have to notice the good and express appreciation.  I have to be alert to notice opportunities to serve and notice spiritual promptings.  I have to be willing to follow promptings even if I feel foolish or awkward.  I notice that when I do these things, the Lord gives me opportunities to feel the Spirit and those chances come thick and fast.  They make me feel rich in the Spirit again.

When do you notice your life is Spirit-poor?  What tips you off?  Then what do you do? Do you have any experiences you can share?
Sunday, October 14, 2012 1 comments

The climax of Alma versus Korihor

The story of Alma versus Korihor is a well-known one, but there are some things I noticed recently that seemed to stick out.  Mostly I want to look at the final part of the confrontation.  Alma says,

47 But behold, it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction, by thy lying and by thy flattering words; therefore if thou shalt deny again, behold God shall smite thee, that thou shalt become dumb, that thou shalt never open thy mouth any more, that thou shalt not deceive this people any more.
48 Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.
49 Now Alma said unto him: This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance. (D&C 30:47-49)

Alma warns Korihor that if he denies again, God would smite him.  In response to this, Korihor seems to waffle, “I do not deny the existence of a God” and then in the very next breath, he says, “but I do not believe that there is a God.”  It is as if he thinks that denying God and expressing disbelief in God are two different things.  Really, he is trying to nuance his position away from that word “deny” because that implies to him that the argument is being framed around the assumption that God exists and he wants it framed around the assumption that God doesn’t exist.

Yet even though he says that he doesn’t deny God, his disbelief is a denial.  (With “affirmers” like Korihor, who needs atheists?)  Alma takes that disbelief as the same thing as denial, and judging by the curse that falls on Korihor, so does God.  This shows us it is possible to create distinctions and shades of meaning that have no reflection in reality, and God can see through any artificial nuances of rhetoric and cut through it.

Korihor says another odd thing: “I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.”  Korihor flat-out denies Alma’s testimony.  There’s a strategic element to it in which we can see Korihor’s carnal security.  Korihor may have reasoned that if Alma does not know God exists he wouldn’t be able to summon the moral and divine authority sufficient to pronounce a sign from God.  Korihor may also have reasoned mistakenly that even if Alma knew there was a God, Alma couldn’t be sure of being united with God’s will enough to induce God to act miraculously to give a sign.  On top of this, Korihor knew the sign he required must be indisputable.  Korihor probably thought he could blaspheme with impunity as he considered the difficulties he was making for Alma.

So then Alma says, “This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.”  Somehow when I read this recently it seemed like the punctuation was stuck in oddly, almost as if the power of the statement was diluted.  I remembered that the Book of Mormon was punctuated by the printer, not by Joseph Smith as he was translating. (1)  So I tried punctuating it differently.  Here’s my unofficial version:

This will I give unto thee for a sign,
that thou shalt be struck dumb according to my words,
and I say that in the name of God.
Ye shall be struck dumb,
that ye shall no more have utterance.

This seems to me to be a much stronger version, because it reveals that Alma uses his priesthood.  It becomes clear that the Spirit is upon him and that he is no longer speaking on his own authority, but speaking expressly for God.   We can also see Alma’s words as a chiasmus with his invocation of the name of God as the point of greatest emphasis.

This will I give unto thee for a sign,
>that thou shalt be struck dumb according to my words,
>>and I say that in the name of God.
>Ye shall be struck dumb, 
>that ye shall no more have utterance.

Also, the three repetitions of the idea that Korihor would be dumb indicate superlative emphasis upon the sign that he would be given. 

It also seems to me that the sign makes obvious a number of truths that in that day were points of faith:
1) God exists
2) God gives power to man
3) Alma had authority from God to speak in His name
4) God judged Korihor through Alma. 

In Korihor’s distress at his loss of speech, finally the truth comes out as he writes his story:

52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.
53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me. (Alma 30:52-53)

One of the things that got Korihor in trouble at the first was that he listened when the devil told him the people had ALL gone astray and he should reclaim them.  His problem at first sight doesn’t seem to be disbelief in God, but belief in a false revelation.  I suppose this is what led him to look critically at the practices and institutions and methods of the church in his day.  If everyone else were wrong, he must find fault with everyone else in order to support his own position.  Indeed, once you have the ego-stroking idea that you are right and all others are wrong, it is hard to know how far their wrongness extends and everything must be questioned.  For Korihor, with each question, the carnal security of “I’m right” beckoned and he gradually silenced any nagging warning “I might be wrong.”  He had to find fault with belief in Christ, with the traditions of prophecy and revelation, with declarations of repentance.  He had to dismiss testimonies of receiving forgiveness as the effect of a frenzied mind and mental derangement.  He had to accuse priests of overstepping authority and requiring too much and criticize the people for being deceived.  He had to deny the fall of Adam, the need for the Atonement, and scorn the idea of a future judgment or resurrection, since he must necessarily be right and all others wrong. 

Another thing that made me wonder was Korihor’s assertion that the devil came to him in the form of an angel.  I used to think that Korihor was lying, but now I think that he was telling the truth.  His experience marks him not just as an anti-Christ, but as a recipient of a counterfeit “miracle conversion” meant to oppose the divine angelic visitation to Alma the younger and the four sons of Mosiah.

I wonder why Korihor didn’t smell a rat though when the “angel” appearing to him told him that there was no God.  It doesn’t seem logically consistent.  If there is no God, wouldn’t that mean angels wouldn’t exist?  Or if there was no God, and angels existed, then angels would be God… but then there would still be a God.  According to religious logic, the “angel’s” message contradicted its appearance.  But I suppose that the carnally pleasing everyone-is-wrong-and-you’re-right message stroked Korihor’s ego to the extent that he didn’t think too hard about the inconsistencies. 

It is interesting that Korihor says, “I taught [his words], even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed they were true.”  Korihor seems to have not even believed the false message the devil gave him to preach, but he preached anyway.  His persistence and the carnality of the doctrine attracted more people than he expected until he fell into the trap of assuming that his success proved he was right.  Trouble is, truth is not proved by the number of people who subscribe to it.  Large groups and small groups who believe (or disbelieve) something can be equally wrong.  Rather, the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth, and we seek and learn and experiment and practice to seek that confirming witness.

I used to think Alma was unmerciful for not complying with Korihor’s request to pray for the curse to be removed, especially considering Alma’s own conversion experience with the angel and whatnot.  Recently I realized that Alma must have used his own experience to discern Korihor wasn’t repentant.  Korihor admitted how he got into his predicament, but he did not acknowledge the atonement Christ had made for him.  He only wanted the curse removed and made no statement that indicated any realization of the depth and breadth and seriousness of his sins and leading people away.  He considered himself cursed, but he never registered that his soul is lost, even though Alma gave the same kind of warning to him as the angel had once given to Alma (“it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction”).  Because Korihor didn’t acknowledge the magnitude of his sins, Alma knew Korihor was not repentant.  Alma had been harrowed up with his sins, so he knew what repentance was required.  Curses can’t be lifted without repentance.

How does this story help me in my life?  It shows me that I should resist any suggestion that the whole church is gone astray and I need to reclaim them.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the right track and is the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth with which the Lord is well pleased, speaking to the church collectively and not individually (see D&C 1:30).  There have been times when I have looked down on other members and mistakenly considered myself better and more knowledgeable, and this has opened me up to the temptation to think I am right and they are wrong.  In direct contrast, it is much more wonderful to meet members and remind myself that they must have unplumbed depths of insight and experience that is perhaps too sacred to share in Sunday school, that each person knows pains and joys and truths too real for words. 

This story also is a grim reminder that not only does God give revelation, but the devil does too.  Joseph Smith said something like there is nothing more injurious to the saints than to think they are under the influence of the Spirit when it is really the influence of the devil.  That is really true; the devil can make his arguments seem so rational and urgent.  He can make it seem like squelching his suggestions is failing God somehow.  He can hit you with feelings of failure and depression.  He will take every opportunity to buffet you with guilt, even if it is undeserved.  We must never give in, but pray to be delivered from Satan. 

Another way this story helps me is that it shows me the danger of doctrine that pleases the carnal mind.  Let’s compare divine doctrine to Korihor’s carnal doctrine.

Divine Doctrine
Korihor’s carnal doctrine
Man is fallen and must repent
Man is just fine; no need to repent; there is no crime
God will judge our works
No judgment, so do what you want
We can’t save ourselves; we need a Savior
No one needs saving; there is no Savior
We must sacrifice to God; we are commanded
Sacrifice is pointless and is oppressive
There is life after life and a resurrection
This life is all there, so take advantage of very moment
Prosperity is a blessing from God for keeping the commandments but also for industry
Prosperity is just a function of good management

I have been pondering how Korihor was deceived by the “angelic” visitation from the devil and how he fell for the message of “there is no god.”  It seems to me that he wouldn’t have been susceptible unless he had already been entertaining doubts about it.  His experience makes me think of stories I’ve heard of people who have tried to force revelation and visions of angels.  But why would he have troubles with believing in the existence of God?  He had many witnesses.  Even Alma points out that Korihor had heard witnesses of the brethren and all the holy prophets from the scriptures.  The whole point of witnesses and testimony in the church is to tell the truth about God and the gospel and our experience and be believed.

Perhaps Korihor began doubting all of those and wondered how anyone could tell whether they had been telling the truth.  I think he had to have experienced the witness of the Holy Ghost and decided he didn’t want to be moved by it.  Perhaps he was alarmed by how Holy Ghost made him want to do things that he couldn’t understand or how it seemed to require improvement or service from him, so he worked hard to ignore it, deciding he was being worked up into a frenzy.  But ignoring the Spirit brought uncertainty, which built a need to feel divine approbation or support, so perhaps he decided that unless he could get his own visitation, then there must be no God.  I can imagine Korihor threatening the Lord in prayer, “Unless you show yourself, I’m not going to believe in you.”  Yet God isn’t held hostage to threats.  We can’t dictate the means of revelation;

What do we learn from this story?
·      Man can speak for God.  Man can also speak for the devil.  You have to choose who you believe.
·      The devil uses lying wonders to try to de-convert people from the truth. 
·      Teach something you know is wrong enough times, and you may eventually deceive yourself too.
·      Repetition tends to convince people over time, even if the repeated idea is false.
·      The numbers of people subscribing to a belief (or disbelief) does not prove anything about the rightness or wrongness of it.
·      Disbelief in God is the same as denial of God.
·      Pressing for a sign brings signs of condemnation (curses).
·      There’s a difference between being horrified by your sins and being horrified by the effects of your sins.  One leads to repentance, the other leads to attempts to manipulate the consequences.
·      And probably the most important lesson—don’t put off or quench the Holy Ghost. Any member of the church can become a Korihor if they persistently put off the Holy Ghost. 

For other articles on Korihor, see
 “Korihor: The Arguments of Apostasy” by Chauncey C. Riddle,  Maxwell Institute.  


(1)  Porter, Larry C., “The Book of Mormon: Historical Setting for Its Translation and Publication,”

Friday, October 12, 2012 7 comments

Whither a soapbox?

About four years ago, I noticed as I studied the scriptures, I would learn things so precious to me that I wanted to share them in Sunday school class when we covered those portions.  I’m not quite sure why it was so important to me to share those things; I just knew that if those things helped me understand, they would help others too.  In Sunday school, I would look forward in anticipation to the moment when that particular block of verses would come up in discussion so that I could share what I had learned.  However, I soon learned that far too often the time was taken on other verse blocks and the opportunity for me to share never arose.  This was disappointing, but I was not discouraged.  I just went looking for other possible venues to share.  (I don’t have kids, so no easy victims there.  My husband listens kindly, but an audience of one seems so limited!)

I tried the Ensign a little bit, but they didn’t bite, whether it was because my writing was too lengthy, or too badly done, or too “out there,” I never quite knew.  It was at this point that I conceived the idea of becoming a seminary teacher (or institute teacher).  I supposed that since seminary classes met each week day, they could go in a little more depth than Sunday school classes.  I thought that surely I could find some way there of sharing the things I had learned.

When I took seminary preservice classes, I was told some interesting things that clarified for me how church curriculum and CES curriculum is set up.  I learned that the church designed it so that every four years, members at every age would go through the entire standard works and cover the basic principles of the gospel.  I learned that the church knows there is only a limited amount of time in classes, so the decision was made to focus on basic foundational principles so that members can at least gain the fundamentals.

What does this tell us?  This means that we can’t say that we will learn everything we need to know at church.  It means that we can’t say that something never (or hardly ever) discussed in church is not a legitimate principle.  It means that if we are not doing our own reading and our own studying, we won’t get beyond the basics.  We need the basics, but we need more too.  And going back to the basics for a review helps us best when we have been learning more.

I am grateful that the church has designed its curriculum the way it has because of how well-rounded it is.  And I am also grateful that I can blog because it gives me an outlet to share many things I’ve learned from my own study of the scriptures.

I also learned that seminary/institute curriculum was flexible with plenty to teach, but that I was expected to stick to it.  In preparing for my student teaching sessions, I found that I was far too often frustrated because I was torn between duty to teach the curriculum (of which there was more than sufficient to cover the time) and my desire to share my own thoughts and insights.  It was a near constant internal war with myself every time I had to prepare a lesson.  This didn’t make for peace of mind, I can tell you.  I learned a ton, but it wasn’t necessarily sharable according to curriculum.  Ultimately, it is probably a good thing I was not chosen to teach seminary or institute.  It meant my blogging could continue, and it meant I didn’t have a constant war of duty-to-curriculum versus desire-to-share-extra going on.

I am also grateful for the internet because of all the people that share their thoughts about the scriptures; it means that it is possible to seek out more knowledge and perspective.  Sometimes revelation comes in the process of seeking and studying the matter out with as many perspectives as you can find.  Sometimes we find out a passage has meaning for us when we read (or hear) how it has meaning for others.

How have you been benefited by sharing your perspective of gospel principles in church classes and online?  Do you or have you in the past sometimes found yourself overflowing with things to share without time or a place to share them?
Monday, October 8, 2012 0 comments

Unique perspective on the use of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

As one who has read the Book of Mormon a number of times, I have noticed that Nephi and Jacob quoted Isaiah pretty freely and made much of his prophecies, but then you don’t hear much about Isaiah again until Abinadi.  And then after that, Isaiah isn’t incorporated again until Christ’s visit to the Nephites when he tells them to study Isaiah.  I have wondered why that is.  I wondered if there was any reason for it besides the ostensible difficulty Nephites had understanding Isaiah’s words.  

I stumbled across a post by Nathan at NR called “Joseph Spencer  on Isaiah, baptism, and theGodhead in the Book of Mormon” that addresses this very issue.  (And there was much excitement and interest in all the land.)

 In these articles, Spencer's theory is presented explaining how the doctrinal focus of Nephi’s use of Isaiah and Abinadi’s use of Isaiah were different and why.   I think you’ll find these things very instructive.
Saturday, October 6, 2012 2 comments

Re-examining Omni (continued)

As I've been thinking about Omni, I started asking myself, what is actually there in his words that I can notice and learn from?

Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—
 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.
 And it came to pass that two hundred and seventy and six years had passed away, and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed. Yea, and in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away, and I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers; and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end. (Omni 1:1-3)

I notice that the purpose of keeping the record on the small plates has changed by this time.  It is no longer kept as a repository of the most plain and sacred things, but it is kept to preserve the genealogy.  I checked earlier in the Book of Mormon and it seems that somehow the purpose changed when the plates came to Omni’s father Jarom because Jarom similarly states that he keeps the plates to keep their genealogy, although he adds as an afterthought that another intent is to benefit the Lamanites.  By the time the plates get to Omni, the desire to benefit the Lamanites seems to have been forgotten.  (Was Omni so used to fighting Lamanites by this time that he was ambivalent about writing to benefit them?)

In Omni, I also notice that in verse 3 there are two difference statements about how many years had passed away.  First, 276 years had passed away.  Very soon afterward, “in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away” showing there was a gap of six years between when the verse was started and finished.  I will venture to speculate that Omni began writing while laid up from war wounds.  Perhaps he was not sure he would survive and wanted to get something down before it was too late.  The way he starts out, it is as if he is about to introduce additional material, but then gives up.  I wonder if the narrative task intimidated him or if the difficulty of engraving on plates was too much.  Perhaps he felt like he didn’t have anything of significance to say that drove him to write. 

and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed – This seemed curious to me for some reason. It is as if peace and war are conditions that change with the seasons of the year.  (John L. Sorenson argues this was the case in his article “Seasons of War, Seasons of Peace in the Book of Mormon”)  As I was pondering this bit of information and trying to see if there was anything of a spiritual nature that could be gleaned from it, I realized that if seasons of peace and seasons of war have a pattern, then that means they are predictable.  And if they are predictable, then that means we can plan around them both to prepare and to cope better.  (Two quick application questions: How do you think we can plan around the season of political war associated with national elections?  If there is a pattern of contention in our homes, how do we plan around this to strengthen our families?) 

Another thing I notice is that Omni said there were many of these seasons of peace and war.  The very nature of a cycle that repeats is that there is opportunity for learning to take place.  If we can learn something beneficial from each trip through the cycle, then it can become a refining process for us.  But if we learn nothing, then it is just another instance of suffering that leads to bitterness.  And too, who says the cycle has to continue? 

At the end of Omni’s little account, he says this, “I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers..”  Well, when we compare the quality and quantity of Omni’s writings to those of his predecessors, his underperformance is obvious to us.  If he is cheeky enough to call this miniscule scrawl “according to the commandments of [his] fathers,” we may well wonder if this is a desperate self-deception or if this is a sample of the type of obedience he exhibited at other times.  It also causes me to examine my own life and think about what commandments I may claim I am obedient to but actually underperform in.

As you can see, my opinion of Omni swings back and forth.  I want to see good in him from his record, but there is so little record to see!  What do you think?
Friday, October 5, 2012 2 comments

We cannot say, “I have no need of you”

21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: (1 Cor. 12:21-22)

I’m glad Paul took the trouble to explain this about the body of the church because it helps me consider my own ignorance about my fellow Saints.

I recall in my previous ward there was an aged sister and her husband who, when they were called on in church classes, tended to make comments unrelated or only tangentially associated to the topic of discussion.  The husband in particular seemed to like bringing up screwy quotations by Brigham Young in a way that often subverted rather than supported the points the teacher was trying to make.  I remember this brother bearing testimony on three separate fast Sundays that the Savior fell down three times in the garden of Gethsemane.  He placed a special emphasis on the falls and the number of falls that I couldn’t understand. (Even more puzzling was that it never says in scripture that Christ fell three times..)  His wife would bear emotional testimony in a wandering sort of way, working in her profound grief over her grandchildren living half the world away from her.  As a writer interested in skillful crafting of prose, I was often embarrassed for them.  Sometimes I had to stop listening, but other times I just tried to understand the feeling they were trying to express.  Later, much became clear to me when this sister was put in a nursing home with dementia because her husband was too feeble and fall-prone to take care of her himself.

I think of this couple when I read the above verses, and I’ve often pondered in what way they were necessary to our ward if their discourse wasn’t linear or profound.

Eventually I realized that they set a great example of love of family and love of the gospel, especially in old age.  They presented a stalwart picture of what it means to endure to the end.  Even as her mental faculties degenerated, her commitment shone through.  Even as his legs weakened and his balance wavered, his dedication was rock solid.  Their testimonies might wander or seem impenetrable, but they still felt and recognized the Spirit, then stood to bear witness in the best way they could.  Not only that, their weaknesses became an opportunity for our ward to be charitable, to be saintly, to bear with them.  I didn’t hear anyone express scorn, unkindness, or impatience toward them, not even raillery, whether public or private.  This couple was treated with respect and love just like everybody else.  We were all made better people because they were with us.

If, say, the hand ever says to the foot, “I have no need of thee,” I conclude that the hand doesn’t know what pressure and difficulty the foot labors under.  Neither does the hand recognize what the foot can do and does do for the hand.

How about you?  When have you as a “head” or “eye” learned you needed the “hand” or “foot”? 

Thursday, October 4, 2012 3 comments

“I of myself am a wicked man”: Re-examining Omni

1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—
 2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done. (Omni 1:1-2)

Omni is mostly remembered these days as one who admits his own wickedness and we take his statement pretty much at face value.  I for one have surmised that he was at the end of his life staring into the face of eternity and feeling the pangs of regret.  However, there is a subtlety in the text that I noticed recently that gave me pause and made me realize that judgment of Omni is not so simple.

Notice that he writes, “I of myself am a wicked man..”  I wondered what the difference was between “I of myself am a wicked man” and “I myself am a wicked man.” There has to be a reason that of was inserted in there.  So, I went searching the scriptures, and I found out the phrase “of myself” is used often when a speaker refers to themselves in the natural man without the help of God’s grace or godly wisdom. 

Consider the following elsewhere in the scriptures:

Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. (2 Cor 12:5, emphasis added)

I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. (Mosiah 2:10, emphasis added)

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever. (Alma 26:12, emphasis added)

I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy. (Alma 29:9, emphasis added)

31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
32 ¶There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. (John 5:31-32, emphasis added)

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17, emphasis added)

Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. (Joh 8:28, emphasis added)

There are other instances when a speaker says they know things “of myself,” (possibly meaning they know for themselves), but the above instances denote speaking on one’s own authority or to refer to the natural man.  

Further, Omni’s own admission may be an argument that he is better than he says he is.  Those given over to wickedness tend to think they are okay when they aren’t, whereas those given to righteousness often are bothered by their own faults and how they are not living up to their view of righteousness.  We have Nephi’s agonized cry of “Oh wretched man that I am!” and his detailed record that when he wanted to rejoice he found himself sorrowing over the sins that so easily beset him.  It may be that Omni’s brief admission, “I of myself am a wicked man and have not kept the statues…as I ought to have done” is a lament in that vein, however brief.  He gives no testimony of Christ, so we don't know if his sense of guilt was swallowed up in faith in Christ or not.

It is too bad there is not more in the record about Omni.  One thing he says is that he wants us to know that he fought much to keep his people safe from the Lamanites, so we know that he was a valiant and courageous warrior.  Perhaps it is his way of saying he is a man of action rather than a man of many words.  Because there is so little of his record, we really can’t make a good assessment of Omni as a person.  We can say that he had a poor opinion of his own virtues and we can make small comments about what little he wrote, yet we know so very little context about what he says that our conclusions are still highly tenuous.  Even what I have said here can only be classed as speculation.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012 9 comments

The chastisement of our peace was upon him

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

 I was always puzzled by the line “the chastisement of our peace was upon him,” which testified of Christ’s suffering; I wondered how our peace would be a chastisement to Him.  An experience I had in my college years while visiting my family during the summer gave me some insight. 

We were all at the dinner table and somehow my brothers got in an argument.  As their older sister, I wanted to make peace between them, but one of my brothers didn’t want to recognize that what he had done was wrong.  This made me sad to see that he was at peace with what he had done and didn’t want to do better.  I felt like it was a chastisement of me for my efforts to settle the problem.  I suppose that in the same way, Christ is hurt when we are at peace with the sins we have committed and don’t want to repent. 

We can interpret that line in a different way if we substitute of with for.

The chastisement for our peace was upon him.

This continues the pattern of parallelism set up by the first two lines of the verse.  If you notice, the first two lines speak of paying for sins, but the third line builds in the possibility of achieving peace.  This makes even clearer that he took the chastisement that we would suffer for our sins so that we could have peace in our hearts. 

I can’t help but mention one other line from this verse.

with his stripes we are healed – I love this image; it captures the miracle of the atonement.  When I read this, I envision a whip scoring Christ’s back and another man’s wounds miraculously healing with each blow.  I envision Christ watching that healing take place and enduring His beating so that the healing can be completed.  Now although that isn’t in the New Testament, I feel sure that as Christ endured His scourging He was thinking of this scripture and envisioning the healing of the countless numbers of people who had relied on Him and would rely on Him far into the future.

Isaiah 53 has some beautiful imagery about Christ’s atonement.  What lines from it have you worked hard to appreciate and understand?  What have you learned?  Please share in the comments, or write a blog post on it and share the link with us!