Tuesday, February 26, 2013 3 comments

New Templates and Exercising Agency


Those of you faithful readers who were reading my blog clear back in July 2009 when I changed my template may remember my exuberant celebratory post in which I compared the process of changing my blog template to the mighty change of heart.

Well, obviously I have changed my template again after 3.5 years and I have learned more life lessons from the process!  Woo-hoo! 

I was seriously intimidated by the task of this change, but that was mostly because I remembered all the work I had to put in to make the last one.  (I had documented the whole process, so I remembered really well.)  Surprisingly enough, the change turned out to be much easier than I expected because blog template programming quality has progressed to the point that some changes didn’t require me to touch code.   Glory be!

In the same way, sometimes we can get scared away from doing something good or making a change in our lives because we think it is going to be really hard based on memories we’ve had in the past of how difficult it was to change.  But it may not be as hard as we think; we may have progressed in other areas of our lives such that we already have many pieces in place that will actually make the process easier and faster than we think!

What gave me courage to try?  I had a goal that I wanted to achieve—adding an extra column to my blog—and I had this impression that I needed to do learn something new that would expand my stewardship of my blog.  There wasn’t any outside pressure forcing me; I just felt it was time to go forward, rather than staying stagnant where I had been so comfortable for so long.  As it turned out, my blog template at that time would not allow that addition, so I had to find a new template.

In the same way, sometimes our need for personal growth can give us courage to make new changes in our lives.  Our efforts to please the Lord through our personal improvement can motivate us.  We don’t necessarily have to be forced to change by outside circumstances.  We can make a choice, but the pay-off has to be sufficiently satisfying that we will want to keep striving even when we’ve hit obstacles.

I did not know that template programming had improved so much.  I didn’t know that once I changed my template, it would allow me to manipulate a few sliders and click a few buttons to add another column without having to touch code.   I had to get the preliminary changes done first.

In the same way, we won’t know until we’ve made some preliminary efforts to change our lives just how the way will be opened.  We just have to start with courage, and move forward with determination and diligence and faith.   In making those first steps, the Lord opens new ways for us.

One of the problems I had when I was first trying to cut and paste template code in was that I kept getting an error saying the code was not well-formed.  It took me a while to realize that it had no HTML tags in it!  My text-edit program totally stripped out HTML tags and I hadn’t realized it! 

In the same way, when we are trying to change our lives, we may be missing important doctrine and teachings that will help us because the traditions of men have stripped those teachings from public discourse.   We have to go straight to the divine source and get the full message undiluted.

My old template had a really rigid layout.  Once I changed my template, however, I discovered that the new layout was much more flexible than my old one and I could add columns or move them around in a way that I could only have dreamed about before.  

In the same way, positive changes in our lives give us more freedom than we ever dreamed we could have, opening ways for us to do things that we couldn't before, giving us more flexibility to handle challenges.

Christ is the template that we must model our lives on.  Zion is the template that we want to model society on.  It requires courage and perseverance to work towards those ideals, especially when we feel comfortable where we are. 

Along with trying to improve my blog stewardship, I am also trying to increase my cooking skills so that I can better serve my family.

What positive changes are you working on right now?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 1 comments

Traveling with the Liahona and afflictions in 1 Nephi 16

This is the chapter in which Nephi and his brothers marry Ishmael’s daughters, Lehi finds the Liahona outside his tent, the Liahona guides them on their journey, Nephi breaks his bow and his brothers murmur, Ishmael dies and his daughters murmur, and Laman and Lemuel are chastened by the Lord’s own voice.  I have a number of observations to make in this chapter.

Food insecurity and a can-do attitude

One of the main concerns that causes the murmuring in Lehi’s family is lack of food, and while I used to condemn those that murmured about it, I have come to the conclusion that I probably would have done the same, especially when I consider the difficulty that have sometimes had with fasting.  Fasting teaches me that it takes a lot of extra self-control to be cooperative while hungry.  But I usually know where my next meal is coming from when I’m fasting.  Lehi’s people were dealing with pretty consistent food insecurity, and I imagine that would wear on anyone.   Because of this, I think Nephi’s example is truly stellar.  Even though he must have been just as hungry as everyone else, he tried to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. 

Nephi’s can-do attitude and focus on solutions reminds me of a little lesson I learned in the last house that we rented.  That house had some pretty consistent leaks through the front window when it rained, and at the beginning of our time staying in that house, I regret to say that when I called the landlord to tell him about them, I complained and blamed him.   Naturally, this did not go over very well.  Eventually I learned to report the problem with out complaining or blaming and to focus on finding solutions.  Once I learned that, repairs happened more quickly!  (Surprise, surprise!) 

Hypocritical criticism

I think it is odd that Laman and Lemuel got so torked at Nephi for breaking his bow when their bows had lost their springs.  Their bows were just as useless, so why are they getting down on Nephi?  It seems like hypocritical criticism.  It shows us something we need to be careful we don’t do—get angry at others for something we have done too.  (In my life, one of the things I get kinda picky about is keeping the house picked up.  I have to be careful to put away my stuff at the same time that I get after my husband for leaving things out.)

Carrying Capacity and seeking higher nourishment

Something else I noticed in this chapter is where Nephi finally finds food after the crisis of the broken bow:

 30 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.
 31 And it came to pass that I did slay wild beasts, insomuch that I did obtain food for our families. (1 Nephi 16:30-31, emphasis added)

The Liahona directed Nephi to the top of the mountains, a completely different place than where they usually got food, which was “slaying food by the way” (v15).  It makes me think that maybe staying in one place may have caused them to exceed the carrying capacity of the land and they had killed all the animals in the valley where they were traveling. 

I also think there’s a little lesson here for us about getting spiritual nourishment.  Sometimes the spiritual food we get in the normal course of our day is not going to be enough for the challenges we face.  So we have to follow the Lord’s directions and go to the top of the mountains—the temple—to get the strength we need.  We will have to seek it out, rather than just letting it come to us.  Yes, it is nice when it comes, but the Lord does not intend for us to always go through life as passive consumers of spiritual things, taking only what insight is conveniently found.  Rather, He wants us to learn to use our agency and search for what we need.

Nearly there…

Another observation I have is about the course they took in the wilderness.  In the beginning when they have the Liahona, Nephi notes that:

…we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea….And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness. (1 Nephi 16:14, 16)

After all the trouble with the hunger and broken bow is cleared up, they start moving again and we something different—“we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning” (v33)  It wasn’t exactly the same course, but it was nearly the same course.  I really wonder about that.  Suppose Nephi was nearly following the Liahona, but not completely?  Actually, he probably was following the Liahona carefully and still making it through the most fertile parts of the wilderness, but imagine what would have happened if they began deviating even a little bit from the course the Lord marked out for them?  As it was, they suffered a lot of hunger, thirst, and fatigue.  If they had almost followed, but not completely, they probably would have found themselves in much worse predicaments than they had.

This suggests a lesson to us.  How much blessing can we expect if we nearly keep the commandments, but not completely?  I suppose we can expect nearly to be blessed, but not quite.  But who wants a near-blessing when they can have a full blessing?  Or what if we nearly follow the prophets, but not completely?  Or what if we nearly fast (but not totally), or almost pray, or nearly keep the Sabbath day holy, but not completely, or almost have FHE, or get really close to having family prayer and scripture study, but not exactly?  We’d be ALMOST blessed… but not quite.  And just as Lehi’s family would have been in a bad way if they had wandered slightly off course, we will also be in a bad way, possibly suffering spiritual famine in our lives, if we wander slightly off course from the commandments.

Faith, diligence, and heed

Some of the best verses in this chapter are Nephi’s realization about how the Liahona works. 

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. (1 Nephi 16:28)

Faith, diligence, and heed are important qualities to cultivate.  ‘Faith’ happens when you believe that the source is good and will give good counsel that will really help.  ‘Heed’ happens when you try it out.  ‘Diligence’ is about following the counsel consistently over time. 

Sometimes we may be really good at one or two of these qualities, but not all of them.  We may be good at faith and heeding, but not so great at diligence.  Or we may be good at faith, but never quite make it to heeding and diligence.  In many aspects of the gospel, I’m pretty good at all three, but in some areas I haven’t quite got the diligence down yet.  To have consistent blessings, we have to have all three—faith, heed, and diligence—at work.

Laman and Lemuel’s suspicion

I suppose once Nephi figured out the Liahona was fueled by faith, diligence, and heed he worked hard to follow those pointers and put all his energy into that.  It is possible that he took possession of the Liahona and became the navigator for the journey.  If so, considering Laman and Lemuel’s tendency to suspicion, it would certainly make Nephi’s older brothers nervous to see Nephi with it all the time.  I think they thought he was manipulating the Liahona somehow, making it do what it wasn’t supposed to do, just to have control over where the whole group went.  Eventually their suspicions come out—

….he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. (1 Nephi 16:38)

There are modern Laman and Lemuels today who suspect that prophets are just making it up about what is important to do.  They think the prophets just want the pleasure of being in charge and telling people what to do and where to go.  We need faith today in what the prophets warn us about, just as Lehi’s family had to have faith that the Liahona was really giving guidance from God and was not being meddled with by man.

Stopping places

A final observation I have is that it seems like Lehi’s party usually gets into trouble when they stop for a while to rest.  In 1 Nephi 16, it happens twice.  I can’t really see that the Liahona would tell them to stop; I think it would keep pointing the way, but that they decided to stop when they didn’t have faith to continue, and that’s when the Liahona wouldn’t work anymore. 

We kind of do the same thing to ourselves, I think, when we decide to stop following the guidance we get; when we do that, we don’t progress and we are more likely to get into a complaining frame of mind, and (strangely) that’s when the guidance doesn’t seem to do any good.  But it isn’t because there was anything wrong with that guidance; it is because we have ceased to move our feet.

What are your favorite verses in this chapter and why?
Monday, February 18, 2013 2 comments

The meaning of the angelic trumpets

Here’s a snippet from the Book of Revelation that I was thinking about recently:

6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. (Revelation 8:6-9)

These verses and those that follow are pretty scary when we consider the plagues that follow after the trumpets sound, but it hit me suddenly that the principle we are to notice and understand from it is that the plagues don’t happen until after the trumpet sounds.  The angels with their trumpets are symbolic of warnings from God.  The angel is a messenger from God.  The trumpet is a signal used to warn in battle and other times.  So we learn that none of the fearsome plagues will come without there first coming a warning from God, and most likely through prophets.  So if we heed the warnings from the prophets, we will escape the plagues.  I find this incredibly reassuring.

Of course, if we aren’t very faithful about heeding the prophetic warnings now, we won’t be very good at heeding the warnings for those plagues, so how we respond to the prophets’ warnings now really matters.
Saturday, February 16, 2013 1 comments

Gaining favor using the words of God

And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael,
and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael,
insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.
(1 Nephi 7:4)
This verse does not say that Nephi and his brothers gained favor first and then spoke to Ishmael and family the words of the Lord.  Rather, that word “insomuch” means “to the extent of, to the degree of.”  It means that they gained favor to the extent that they spoke the words of the Lord to Ishmael.  It shows that Ishmael responded most to the words of the Lord, rather than the wisdom of man; he was a righteous man and he recognized by the feelings and thoughts he had when the Spirit confirmed what Nephi and his brothers must have said about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, the wickedness of the people, and the necessity of leaving to preserve a righteous remnant.  It shows us that Ishmael was definitely a worthy man to be taken on the flight out of wicked Jerusalem.  The Lord knew what he was doing when He chose Ishmael and his family.

So, I guess the question should be asked of us, “Do we, like Ishmael, favor those who speak the words of the Lord to us?”

Thursday, February 14, 2013 0 comments

God is the reward

After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying,
Fear not, Abram:
I am thy shield,
and thy exceeding great reward.
(Genesis 15:1)

 I was looking at “reward” in the Topical Guide and I saw the above verse cited.  I saw it differently than I had before.  Previously, I thought “I am thy…exceeding great reward” just meant that it was Abram’s reward and privilege to have God in his life.

Today I realized Abram already had God in his life. He was promised more--the prospect of becoming like God.  The Lord meant, “I [or what I am] is thy exceeding great reward, what you can expect to become.” 

I love that the promise of becoming like God is recorded this early in the Bible.
Monday, February 11, 2013 2 comments

The poisonous culture and the spiritual drought

Here’s a quote from Elder Cook's talk "Can Ye Feel So Now?" that I’ve found very powerful from Oct 2012 conference:

Today moral deterioration has escalated. One prominent writer recently said, “Everyone knows the culture is poisonous, and nobody expects that to change.”5 The constant portrayal of violence and immorality in music, entertainment, art, and other media in our day-to-day culture is unprecedented. This was dramatically described by a highly respected Baptist theologian when he stated, “The spiritual immune system of an entire civilization has been wounded.”6  It is not surprising that some in the Church believe they can’t answer Alma’s question with a resounding yes. They do not “feel so now.” They feel they are in a spiritual drought. Others are angry, hurt, or disillusioned. If these descriptions apply to you,7 it is important to evaluate why you cannot “feel so now.” Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed. Immersion in the scriptures is essential for spiritual nourishment.8 The word of God inspires commitment and acts as a healing balm for hurt feelings, anger, or disillusionment.

I want to share a few thoughts I’ve had about these words.

I appreciated how he highlighted that our culture is poisonous and no one expects that to change.  I personally think that there are degrees of poison in our culture and like the Lamanite general in the Book of Mormon who was the object of Amalickiah’s envy, we can find ourselves poisoned by degrees.   The problem is that too few of us recognize the individual elements that make up our culture’s poisonous atmosphere and say, “There’s nothing wrong with that” or “It’s no big deal” or “It doesn’t affect me” if our choices of movies, music, TV, video games, or other entertainment are questioned.   It is that kind of response that indicates our spiritual immune system has been wounded!

“It is not surprising that some in the Church believe they can’t answer Alma’s question with a resounding yes. They do not “feel so now.” They feel they are in a spiritual drought.”

Our spirits require nourishment every day.  Eternal truth is the only thing that can do that for us.  If our media choices are poisonous or even just void of spiritual nourishment, then it is a natural consequence for us to feel we are in a spiritual drought.  Spiritual droughts weaken commitment and enthusiasm for the gospel. 

How do you get out of culture-induced spiritual drought?  You have to realize that no media choice you make is without significance.  Every point at which you engage with culture is important and ultimately has an effect on you—internet, TV, books, magazines, games, phone, etc.  

At every point, you have to start asking yourself whether what is being portrayed is consistent with the commandments of God.  You have to ask yourself whether you are being spiritual edified.  And if you answer honestly that you are not being edified and nourished and encouraged to do the right thing, you have be willing to STOP and move on to something more nourishing, something that can help you “feel so now” that you have a change of heart and can sing the song of redeeming love.  You also have to go to sources where you know you will be nourished spiritually—church, scriptures, the temple, conference reports, etc.

Media is not the only problem, though.

“Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.”

Elder Cook lists four additional choices we make that have the effect of decreasing our commitment and increasing spiritual drought in our lives.  I think it is important to understand each of them and what can be done about them.

“Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants.”   Being casual means to act without sufficient care or thoroughness.  I find that when I am casual about keeping my covenants, it usually arose out of reluctance to do the work required to be complete and exact.  And eventually I realize my spiritual blessings are reduced in proportion to how much my effort is reduced.  Repenting of this requires that I commit to doing my best, to face my challenges head-on, to refrain from murmuring at what is required, and to seek the Lord’s help in everything for which I feel inadequate.

“Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes.”  Remember Elder Oaks’s talk about good, better, and best?  When we give our best energy to the good instead of the best causes, we miss out on the nourishing blessings and satisfaction we would otherwise gain.  With so much that we can choose, if we do the good before we get to the best, we often won’t have any time left for the best.  This is all about getting our priorities straight.  Repenting requires that we put the Lord and eternal priorities first in our lives. 

“Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Total immersion in a particular view causes us to have difficulty accepting opposing balancing principles.  The church tends to moderate opposing principles, seeking balance between them.  When our own views on a subject seem more intense than those expressed by others in the church, we may find that we resent the church, thinking it does not go far enough in the direction we want.  It is hard to be loyal to a church when it does not seem loyal enough to us and what we hold dear.  However, the church is not the gospel.  The gospel is the perfect plan and the church is not perfect yet, nor yet are we.  Our obsession with a cause masks our imbalance and our other imperfections from our sight.  This can lead to a crisis in which we become offended and have to make a difficult choice between taking ourselves out of the church and moderating our views.  Repenting requires great humility and meekness, becoming willing to learn and practice balancing principles.

“Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony.”  When we honestly need help refuting these kinds of criticisms, we can get help from websites like FAIR (www.fairlds.org).  However, deliberately immersing oneself in critical material is not the way to build faith.  It is a tempting thing to do; the rationale is usually, “I have to know everything the critics might say so that I can know how I might be attacked by others.”  The problem is, immersion is study, and study creates an inner climate of whatever that material is, and studying criticism creates a personal inner climate of criticism and affects how you see the world.  Repenting and being renewed after this kind of spiritual drought can be a very long process, but it is possible.  It requires avoiding critical material and instead studying edifying and faith-promoting material.  Critical material leaves a poison of skepticism* in the mind long afterward, so we will need careful, continuous mental effort to confront skeptical thoughts and make conscious choices to believe and act with faith.

When I review my own life, I see two consistent causes of lack of commitment in my own life (although I have experienced other causes as well).  Either I get weary of working so hard to do good, or I get distracted by something else.  I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who helps me discern when I am not committed enough and who provides me with frequent chances to recommit by taking the sacrament and frequent reminders to refocus me.

What causes you to become less committed?  How do you stay on track or get back on track? 
Saturday, February 9, 2013 1 comments

Jesus loosed their tongues

And it came to pass that he did teach and minister unto the children of the multitude of whom hath been spoken, and he did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people; and he loosed their tongues that they could utter. (3 Nphi 26:14)

What does this mean when it says that Jesus loosed the tongues of the children?  It almost sounds like magic the way it is expressed here.  But can we assume that?  A child can babble on quite happily saying nothing in particular.  But here it says the children spoke great and marvelous things. 

Previous to thinking about this verse I sort of had this idea that the children were wrought upon to say great things, and they didn’t understand what they were saying, but now that doesn’t seem quite right.  They had just been taught and ministered to by Christ.  I think it likely that they had been thinking about what He taught them and drawing conclusions, synthesizing what He had said and building on the foundational principles until they had profound insights to share, greater than Jesus had revealed so far to the people.

How is a child’s tongue loosed?  I can think of several ways.  It might be loosed if he/she has a speech impediment.  That’s a healing process.  A child’s tongue can be loosed if he/she is given permission to speak or invited to speak or engaged in conversation.  Third, a child’s tongue can be loosed also if he/she is inspired by the Holy Ghost to speak.

A fascinating thing about this verse is that it shows that when Jesus loosed the children’s tongues, it wasn’t to speak to Him; it was to speak to their fathers.  It is almost as if He asked them to talk to their parents.

I wonder how great and marvelous those things were.  Sometimes it seems when kids say the right thing right when you don’t expect them to and it hits you between the eyes.

I almost get the sense that the Nephies had a tradition of training their children to be quiet all the time.  It wasn’t that long ago—maybe some decades—that our culture was the same way, if you remember the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.”  I suppose that saying was designed to help children be courteous and respectful until they could learn when it was appropriate to speak up and what things were good to say, but can also be misused to silence children’s voices and take away any chance of self-expression.   So maybe Jesus was demonstrating that it was possible to have parent-child conversations in which mutual learning takes place.

This reminds me of some times that I’ve substitute-taught primary classes, which have been a mix of learning and fun.  Here’s a journal entry about a CTR 7 primary lesson that I taught back in 2010:
I had Scottie  and Celeste in my class.  When I got to the classroom, Scottie had hidden behind a chair so that I kind of had to hunt for him.  I didn’t get bothered by that; I just asked him to come out for the lesson.  He asked if we could play hide-and-go-seek and I said that we would if there was time at the end of the lesson.  Before class started, I asked them if they needed to go to the bathroom or get a drink.  One wanted a drink and the other wanted to go to the bathroom.  Then Scottie asked if they could play hangman, and I told them we could do that too if we had time at the end of the lesson.  So then I had their cooperation.
As it turned out, the pictures held their attention very well.  I would hold up a picture and say, “Tell me about this picture” and they would try to supply all the detail and I would keep them on the right track if they started to wander.  They both seemed pretty interested in the pictures.  I would fill in some extra things and then I’d go on to the next picture.  Celeste asked some good questions.  When I showed the picture of Christ ordaining the 12 apostles, she wanted to know what “ordain” meant, so I told her.  The really neat thing about the whole lesson for me was that I felt for them a very special love, which I can only suppose was a small measure of the love that Christ feels for little children.  It helped me be patient and to show respect for them and I felt that they really responded to that.  At the end of the lesson when all the pictures we had talked about were out on the floor, I pointed to how the things Christ did in His day are also done in our church today and Celeste suddenly got very excited and insisted on comparing them herself and I could see that she had gotten it.  [And then we played games of Hangman and hide-and-go-seek until class was over, since we got finished ahead of time.]
Here’s another journal entry about another primary class I substitute-taught in 2011:
Today I taught the CTR 7 class.  The lesson was on Easter and what Jesus did for us.  It was kind of interesting because in primary sharing time Sister Reeder went through all the pictures and the story of the crucifixion and resurrection, so I wondered how I was going to make it new for my class.  But we ended up having a very good discussion, and some of the questions they asked were amazing.  Ryland asked two questions.  She asked, “Is Jesus everywhere at once?” and “Did Heavenly Father live on this earth?”  (I told my husband those questions and he was like, “Wow! That’s like a high priest group!”  He asked me if I went into the Adam-God theory, and I told him I didn’t.  Why would I drop something like that on CTR 7s?  It’s wrong anyway!)   
I told Ryland first of all that Heavenly Father had once been a man before He was God, but it was a very very long time ago and that he had lived on a different earth.  “50 thousand years ago?” she asked.  “Way more than that,” I said.  I also told her that Jesus can’t be everywhere at once because He has a body, but that the Holy Ghost can be with each one of us.  Kyla asked how the Holy Ghost could be with everyone at once, and us.  I told her I had asked myself that question before and I didn’t know.  Then Emmeline spoke up and said it was like the sun; it was in one place, but everyone could feel it.   I told her that was an excellent way of explaining it.  I asked her if we could still feel the Holy Ghost if it was dark outside, and she said, “yes.”  I told her she was right.
At another point in the lesson I told them that when Jesus visited the apostles after He was resurrected, they were in a room and all the doors were shut, but Jesus was able to come in anyway.  They asked how He did it, and I told them I didn’t know, but I knew resurrected bodies could do some really amazing things.
At another point, I asked them if Jesus still bled after He was resurrected.  They seemed to think that He didn’t but that His body had sores.  I told them that His wounds were completely healed but you could still see the marks.  I asked them what that told them about what their bodies would be like when they were resurrected.  They answered that their bodies would be perfect. 
I also asked them why it is important to know about the resurrection.  They weren’t quite sure, so I asked them what they might think about death if they didn’t know there was a resurrection.  They said they would be scared.  I asked them how they would feel if their mom died if they didn’t know there was a resurrection.  They said they would be very sad.  So it seems they have figured out that knowing the resurrection takes away fear and a lot of the sorrow of death.
 These are 7 year olds!    

What good conversations have you had with children about the gospel?  When have you seen their tongues loosed so that they speak marvelous words?
Thursday, February 7, 2013 0 comments

Lost diamond, lost coin

Elle's Notebook, Ellesnotebook.blogspot.com, Oct 10, 2012
Last weekend at the grocery store, the cashier ringing up my groceries tried over the phone to get one of her coworkers to help her look for a diamond from her ring that she had lost, since she was on duty and couldn’t look for it herself.   When she got off the phone, I asked her about it and she told me it was her best diamond.  I looked at the line behind me and it seemed like she wouldn’t get to search for her diamond for a while.

As I put my groceries in my car, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I went back and offered to help her search, but she didn’t know where in the store she had lost it.  “I’ve been all over the place in the store!  I don’t know where to look!” she said.  The idea flashed into my mind that she could ask for one of those big long broom pads that are slid around the floor to be used to sweep the store and then look through the pile picked up by it.   My idea seemed to give her some hope and she thanked me for it, saying she hadn’t been sure what to do or where to look.

As I drove away, I thought of Jesus’s parable of the lost coin:

Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? (Luke 15:8)

I thought about that parable and it seemed to me that we don’t often understand the woman’s anxiety to find her coin.  After all, our coins aren’t worth very much.  But what if we modernized the parable, making it about a woman with 10 diamonds in a ring, who had lost one?  Then we’d understand the sense of purpose she had and the care she took to search out that lost diamond.  A diamond might be a better analogy today for the worth of a soul.  

Can you better imagine yourself wanting to look for lost souls if you think of them as lost diamonds instead lost coins?   I can.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 0 comments

Book Review--Righteous Warriors: Lessons from the War Chapters in the Book of Mormon

The war chapters of the Book of Mormon are somewhat neglected in our Sunday school discussions.  The war chapters cover a total of 20 chapters from Alma 43 to 63, yet only two weeks of 45-minute lessons per week are spent discussing the lessons of those chapters.   Thus, a lot of good material gets skipped for lack of time.

Fortunately, a favorite teacher and writer, John Bytheway, has written a book, Righteous Warriors:Lessons from the War Chapters in the Book of Mormon, which gives these chapters a closer look.  His approach is to go chapter by chapter through Alma 43-63, giving solid insights into those intriguing stories to show how relevant they are in our daily life and how the lessons from the war chapters can help us make better choices in our daily battles against evil.

It’s just fun to see how Bytheway livens up the serious topic of war, scriptures, and the gospel.  He writes specifically to teenagers, but adults will also be pulled in.  His goofy trademark sense of humor comes out in titles and subtitles, such as “Kings Are a Royal Pain” and “Sharp Objects in Tents Can Be Very Intense” and in little observations that will make you smile, such as the following:

When the armies of the Lamanites met the Nephites in the borders of Jershon, the Lamanite armies were afraid.  Why? Because the Nephites were equipped with armor—breastplates, arm-shields, helmets, and thick clothing.  The Lamanites had plenty of weapons but no armor—only a “skin which was girded about their loins” (Alma 43:20).
I doubt that any of us would want to go anywhere in a loincloth, and I imagine that going into battle would be one of the least desirable places to be caught in such attire. Can’t you just see the Lamanites preparing for battle?
“Let’s see.  I’m going to fight today. What should I wear? Ah, the loincloth? And some sunscreen. And maybe some extra safety pins.”
Just one Nephite with a handful of sharp rocks and a good arm could cause considerable physical discomfort for the Lamanite armies. Predictably, when the armies of the Lamanites saw the Nephites with their armor, the Lamanites had a sudden change of plans and departed for the land of Manti instead. (p11-12)

 I bought this book more than six years ago, even before I started this blog (gasp) (so long ago!!), and I felt like it really jumpstarted my ability to find valuable lessons in the Book of Mormon war chapters.  His lessons really stick in the mind too.  I recall that I was very much struck by his explanation of how Amalickiah was a type of Satan when Amalickiah was trying to get Lehonti to come down off his mountain in Alma 47:

            Like Amalickiah, Satan urges us to come down from our mountains, or to leave our covenants.  When we refuse Satan’s invitations, “being fixed in [our] minds with a determined resolution” (Alma 47:6), he says, “Okay, bring your guards with you, and just come down a little.  See how subtle he is?  It’s interesting that Amalickiah invited Lehonti down three times.  Similarly, Satan tried to tempt Jesus in three different ways when the Savior was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness,” set “on a pinnacle of the temple,” and taken to “an exceedingly high mountain”—but Jesus never came down (Matthew 4:1-11).  
            Brother S. Michael Wilcox commented on Amalickiah’s (and Satan’s) tactic of bringing his prey to lower ground while deceiving him into thinking that he was still in charge:  “’You’re in control!  I only want to talk! You have your guards!  You only have to come down a little bit!’  Amalickiah assures his victim. Lehonti, feeling secure although undoubtedly mistrustful, made his first mistake: He descended from the heights of the mountain.  In his own mind, however, he was still safe, because he was in control.”

 You’ll never read the war chapters in the same way again.

Righteous Warriors can be found on Amazon at the above link, or you can find Righteous Warriors in CD form as a talk at Deseret Book and enjoy Bytheway’s spirited delivery and charm.  

 Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 0 comments

The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name

 1 The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name,
and fools shall have thee in derision,
and hell shall rage against thee;
 While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous,
shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings
constantly from under thy hand.
(D&C 1221-2)

This was a promise given to Joseph Smith when he was in Liberty Jail.   I think it actually describes a cycle that still continues today and is part of the various ways that missionary work happens.

First, rumors about Joseph Smith from whatever source fly around.  Second, those who haven’t heard about him begin to ask questions about him.  They learn about him from different sources--hopefully more good than bad--and they make a decision about what they think.  And at that point they are divided into three groups. 

Some show themselves to be children of hell by raging against him.  Some who think it is all foolishness show themselves to be fools by deriding him.  Those who recognize he is a prophet show themselves to be pure, wise, noble, and virtuous by seeking counsel, blessings, and authority from him (or in these times, through the church he helped restore).

At this point, all three parties, by judging Joseph Smith, have judged themselves…and even separated themselves into three degrees.  And then each of these groups tell others what they think about Joseph Smith and if they talk to people who haven’t heard of him before, that next group will begin to inquire after Joseph Smith too.  Thus the cycle begins all over again.

Sunday, February 3, 2013 3 comments

Doting about questions and strifes of words

 Here’s an entry from my scripture journal from over a year ago.  I found it useful then, but didn’t feel like I could share it until now.

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.  (1 Tim. 6:3-5)

I found this block of verses and I was excited because it perfectly skewers a problem I’ve been having lately with my own thoughts.  They are thoughts of not fully consenting to wholesome words of doctrine and asking, “But what about me?” and “But what if…?” as if the wholesome words won’t be true for me.  I’ve realized something was wrong with it, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on why.  But Paul does, brilliantly.

It is pride to think that the rules and promises won’t apply to me.  If the wholesome words do not answer my questions, then nothing can answer to my satisfaction and I must just obsess about those questions endlessly, envying others for the blessings that come to them (because they keep the commandments) but not to me (because I don’t), surmising evil will happen to me and everyone else, and falling back on filthy lucre as a manifestation of God’s favor (because spiritual blessings are withdrawn).

But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage. (Mosiah 7:33)

This, I suppose, is the antidote to my problem above, along with repentance.  I need to turn to God with full purpose of heart and serve Him with all diligence of mind.
Friday, February 1, 2013 2 comments

Seemeth it a small thing?

This comes in the middle of Ezekial 34, which is a chapter about shepherding.  In the middle, it switches to a talk with the flock itself.
18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture,
but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures?
and to have drunk of the deep waters,
but ye must foul the residue with your feet?
 19 And as for my flock,
they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet;
and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.
 20 ¶Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them;
Behold, I,
even I,
will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle.
(Ezekiel 34:18-20)
It took me several years to figure out what this was talking about, when it refers to cattle eating the good pasture and then treading down the rest with their feet.  It refers to members who are participating in nourishing spiritual experiences and then ruining those experiences for others, whether with a lack of attention, or inappropriate comments, or criticism, or improper deportment.    

Ruining it for others arises out of a lack of reverence and appreciation for the blessings of those experiences.  The question that comes at the beginning is very apt—“Seemeth it a small thing unto you?”   When we are not reverence or grateful, then yes, it does seems a small thing to us.  Everything is “no big deal” when we aren’t reverent. 

The Lord doesn’t let these things go.  It says in verse 20 that He will judge between fat cattle and lean cattle.  It is not clear whether the “fat” cattle are those that are nourished spiritually or whether they are so self-satisfied that they aren’t willing to ‘eat’ any more or let anyone else do so.  It is not clear whether the “lean” cattle are those who have been deprived because of others’ lack of reverence or whether they are deprived because of their own lack of reverence.  Whichever is the case, though, we are assured that the Lord will hold accountable those who ruin it for others.

This is a good scripture to use if you’re trying to teach a church class and someone is consistently driving away the Spirit with smart-aleck comments.  If my mom had known about this one when I was a teen, she probably would have used it on me on a few occasions.