Sunday, December 22, 2013 0 comments

Observations on 1 Nephi 16-18 and Complaining

One of the useful things about 1 Nephi 16-18 is they give us an illustration of the times when complaining and murmuring can arise and they show us that it is not a good way of reacting.

1.     Complaining about misfortune when Nephi breaks his bow.  We see that complaining doesn’t change anything.
2.     Complaining about afflictions when they are hungry.  Complaining doesn’t feed people or change anything.  It’s a waste of energy.
3.     Complaining about the loss of a loved one when the daughters of Ishmael lose their father to death.  Grief is perfectly understandable, but complaining doesn’t bring Ishmael back from the grave.
4.     Complaining about a big job that has to be done as Laman and Lemuel resist helping to build a boat.  Complaining doesn’t do anything to help build, nor does it get them any closer to their goal, but rather it psychologically alienates them from the goal.
5.     Complaining about leaders and parents as Laman and Lemuel oppose Lehi.  Complaining doesn’t help them follow any better.  It doesn’t give them someone else better to follow.  It doesn’t help them understand Lehi and he’s doing.

We benefit from the reminder that complaining and murmuring are not going to help us.  We see how Laman and Lemuel’s complaining would have cut them off from every bit of meaningful progress the Lord wanted for them and that Nephi’s faith and diligence allowed him to make it through discouraging circumstances and hard tasks (and even deal with complainers)!

I think part of the reason this is in here is that the Lord knows there will be plenty of things for us to complain about as we all do the heavy lifting of building Zion.   Life is less-than-ideal, people are less-than-perfect, misfortune happens, afflictions and loss happen in the course of our duty, and it is not fun!  And we face big jobs and scary callings from time to time that make us wonder, “Is this really necessary?  Surely there must be a better way!”

Every two years we get this reminder in Sunday School, both from stories of Laman and Lemuel murmuring in the Book of Mormon and from stories of the children of Israel murmuring in the Old Testament.

Something I noticed is that this stuff is extra valuable because not complaining is countercultural in America, so we’re pushing back against a cultural milieu.  Democracy rewards those who complain the loudest and who can gather the most support.  Business customer service also rewards those who complain (although they definitely appreciate politeness).  We have to know the difference between complaint and constructive feedback.  We also need to recognize when it is appropriate to give feedback and when we need to just suck it up, give our full-hearted support, do the job in front of us, make do with what we have, learn new coping techniques, and roll with the punches. 
Friday, December 20, 2013 2 comments

Thoughts on the Great Intercessory Prayer in John 17

I’m not sure why the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 is called The Intercessory Prayer.  He doesn’t seem to be interceding as I tend to think of intercession.  One dictionary says intercede means “to ask or plead in behalf of another, to interfere in order to bring about agreement,” but to me that has a connotation that two parties are at odds and the interceder is pleading for them to get back together.  Somehow I’ve had the idea that when Jesus intercedes for us, it only means He pleads for us to be forgiven of our sins.  However, I noticed that is not what happens in the Intercessory Prayer.  What really happens?

1.     Jesus reports on how He has used His life so far to glorify the Father, to manifest the Father, to give out the Father’s words, and to keep those the Father gave Him.
2.     Jesus asks to be glorified.
3.     Jesus asks that the Father keep His disciples from the evil.
4.     Jesus asks that the disciples have His joy fulfilled in themselves.
5.     Jesus asks that the disciples be sanctified through the word of truth.
6.     Jesus prays for all those who believe in Christ, that they be one as the Godhead is one and that they may be made perfect in one.
7.     Jesus prays that those given Him may be with Him where He is and behold His glory.

So Jesus isn’t really advocating for forgiveness of His disciples, which implies they have already achieved that.  He asks for His disciples to have joy, to be sanctified, to be one, to be made perfect, to be where He is.  It seems like these are gifts Jesus would want all of us to have once we achieve forgiveness and it is possible that they are part of what it means to be Christ-like.

Something I notice is odd about this chapter is that Jesus speaks of glorification and His glory and even giving glory to His disciples.  The language is very similar to that of the great Nephite prayer party in 3 Nephi 19 but while 3 Nephi 19 records the whiteness of Jesus and the whiteness of the disciples as they prayed and how they shone like Jesus, in John 17 there is no description of anything happening as He prayed.  (It may be that nothing happened, or it may be that there is no account of what happened preserved.) 

Here are some questions I had:
  • What are we to learn about Jesus based upon the inclusion of this prayer?
  • What are we to learn about prayer from reading this account?
  • What are we to do based on what we learn?

So I went looking for the answers.

What are we to learn about Jesus based on His prayer?
Jesus had glory with the Father before the world was (v5)
Jesus was sent from God (v3) into the world (v18)
He was not of the world (v14)
He has power over all flesh to give eternal life (v2)
Jesus knew the Father (v25)
Jesus manifested the name of the Father to those given Him (v6)
Jesus gave His disciples the words the Father gave Jesus (v8)
Jesus considered every disciple to be a gift Father gave Him. (v6)
He kept the disciples in the Father’s name (v12)
He sent His disciples into the world (v18) and prayed they would be kept from the evil (v15)
Jesus glorified the Father (v4)
Jesus sanctified Himself for His disciples’ sakes (v19) so they could be sanctified.
Jesus was one with the Father (v11)
He finished the work given him (v4)
He knew He was going to the Father (v11)

What are we to learn about prayer based on this prayer?
We can share principles that we know
We can report on our progress in life
We can report on the progress of those we have charge of
We can ask that others can have an improved relationship with God
We can acknowledge the ownership of God
We can speak about future events we anticipate
We can acknowledge the difficulties that others face
We can pray for things
We say what we are not praying for
We can speak about our motives for what we do and have done
We can pray for others to receive and enjoy what we have received and enjoy
We can pray for others to receive a testimony

What are we to do based on what we learn from Jesus’s prayer?
Learn to know God and Jesus Christ to receive eternal life (v3)
Receive the words from the Father, know surely that Christ came from the Father, believe that the Father sent Christ (v8)
Become one with the disciples of Christ (v11)
Keep from the evil while in the world (v15)
Become sanctified through the truth from the Father (v17)
Become one with the Godhead as a testimony to the world(v21)
Be made perfect in unity (v23) so the world knows that Christ was sent by the Father and the Father loves us just as He loved Christ.

What other principles are we to learn from Jesus’s prayer?
The Father’s words are truth that sanctify. (v17)  The assumption is that those words move us to act righteously, which will sanctify.
Jesus’ words bring joy to us while we’re in the world (v13) and not just any joy, but the same joy Jesus feels
Declaring the Father to others brings the love of the Father to us and brings others to Christ. (25)
The world hates those not of the world, and we should love those not of the world (v14)
Jesus wants us to be kept from the evil of the world and prays for that. (v15) This is also something we can pray for ourselves and others.
Jesus wants us who believe in Him to be one so that the world may know of Christ’s divinity and mission thereby. (v21)
Oneness in Christ brings perfection and indicates the Father’s love. (v23)
Jesus wants us to be with Him and see His glory. (v24)

Considering that a Jesus Seminar argued that John 17 was not authentic and was inserted later, 3 Nephi 19 shows us that the prayer is authentic and is just the kind of thing Jesus would do. 

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (John 17:19)

We may ask ourselves, in what sense did Christ have to sanctify Himself?  We believe that He was perfect and always made right choices, so we wonder why He had to sanctify Himself.  If He had to sanctify Himself, that implies that at some point He had not been sanctified yet, which seems unthinkable.

However, I realized that it is possible for a person to be innocent without being holy.  Innocent can mean devoid of guilt, but it can also mean devoid of righteousness too.  A person may be innocent before He makes a choice and afterward he or she may be either guilty or righteous, depending on what choice they made.  So it seems to me that Jesus’ process of sanctifying Himself consisted of making good choices consistently.  (Any other thoughts on this?)

Thoughts on Oneness

The New Testament Seminary Student Manual on John 17 had a case study that I felt clarified the issue of why Jesus wanted His disciples to achieve oneness or unity with Himself and the Father:

Imagine that you have moved to a new city. After several months you receive a letter from one of your closest friends. This person has new friends and is participating in inappropriate activities. List at least two ideas from the Savior’s prayer in John 17:11-17 that you could include in your own prayers for your friend. Explain how they could help your friend.

This question highlighted for me how much the Savior wanted His disciples to be kept safe from evil.  It also caused me to realize how Christ wanted His relationship with His disciples to not be adversely affected by separation. He didn’t want the disciples to grow apart from Him, but to be one with Him.  There is something extraordinary about this.  We all have had friends we’ve been separated from by moves and circumstances, whom, when we meet again, we want to be emotionally close to again and wish to pick up where we left off, but in the time apart we find change and growth occurs and the relationship is necessarily a little different.  And yet Christ prays for oneness, for His disciples to be one with Him, for all those who believe in Christ to be one with each other and one with Him and one with the Father.

It’s a good thing the Intercessory Prayer was written down.  It is so chock full of glorious possibilities and loving nuggets that I have to pore over it over and over again to even begin to feel like I am getting it.  I tried watching the church’s Bible video of the Intercessory Prayer and I cried like a baby after only two sentences had been prayed, but I also feel like most of it went over my head while listening.  Reading it over and over and then writing about it seems to help my comprehension more.

The thing that I think is neat is as Christ prayed for His disciples to be one, we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get to see this fulfilled.  We see the unity of the church in belief and love. 

Here’s a little experience with prayer we’ve had recently that I wanted to share:

            A few weeks ago Devon told me that his nonmember coworker Guy has been really worried about his wife. Guy's wife has cancer but has been in complete denial about it for years. She thinks that the doctors don't know what is really wrong with her and she persisted in trying to use herbs and natural remedies to heal.  She also stipulated that her doctors were not to tell Guy how much longer they estimated that she had yet to live. (Yeesh!)
            I've met Guy and his wife. I was in a pottery class with them something like 2 years ago, so this cancer thing has been going on for a loooong time.  Guy is a really cheerful and upbeat kind of person; his eyes are bright, his attitude is positive, he keeps himself busy at home on repair projects fixing up scooters and such. His wife seemed kind of down and quiet. I suppose she has a lot of pain to cope with.
            Anyway, as I said, Guy told Devon about being worried about his wife and not being able to know how long she had yet to live. At this point her cancer has metastasized, meaning it has spread further to other places. Devon told Guy that we would pray for him and his wife.  So we did pray for a few days. We prayed for Guy and his wife that they would have help in their difficult time. I think we didn’t quite know what to pray for, but we did ask for them to be blessed.
            Yesterday Devon told me that Guy had thanked him for his prayers. It seems that Guy's wife has suddenly decided that she would submit to go through chemotherapy treatments and the doctors have told Guy that with chemo, her life expectancy will increase from 3 months to 5 years.
            Wow! IT'S A MIRACLE!  After so many years of being in denial about having cancer at all, she has accepted that she has it. After so many years of refusing to be treated, she has decided to undergo treatment.  After refusing to let her husband know of her life expectancy, she has decided to allow it.
That is the power of prayer.  I don’t think that Heavenly Father forced her change.  Rather, I think He helped her to accept her condition and helped her to decide to accept medical intervention. 
This is been a helpful lesson to me.  It has shown me that if I struggle to accept some bit of truth that requires me to act with courage, I can ask for Heavenly Father’s help.  If I am fearful of taking action, I can ask for Heavenly Father’s help to do it. 
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 2 comments

The Culture Enoch Preached To

37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.
38 And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here and keep the tents, while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us. (Moses 6:37)
These verses give us subtle details about the culture Enoch preached to and we see some of the kinds of wickedness they were involved in.

First, we are told that as he testified against their works, all men were offended in him.  They were not used to being told they were doing the wrong thing.  It seems their culture had squelched forms of chastisement against sin.  Enoch comes along and he gives it to them straight exactly what they were doing wrong and their first reaction was to take offense.  Everyone felt convicted in their conscience.

Second, they hire tent-keepers to watch their tents while they go listen to Enoch.  Why did they need tent-keepers?  Because there were thieves everywhere who would steal whatever was not nailed down if someone wasn’t in the tent to watch things.

Third, they call Enoch a wild man.  His frank speech and freedom to express truth seems positively untamed and predictable.  He was a loose cannon to them.  Interestingly enough, they can’t stop listening.  It is also possible that his “wildness” was divine drive and anxious engagement in the good cause of preaching.

So, Enoch preached to a culture that lied about good and evil, that stole from each other, and that had silenced social reformers, and probably had to be prodded constantly into doing anything resembling duty.

It is so interesting to me that these people have one foot firmly in the world – taking measures to prevent their stuff from being stolen, which is a consequence of their own rampant dishonesty and thievery – and one foot inching toward Zion—wanting to hear the prophet Enoch speak.  I wonder what attitude they had as they listened more.  I wonder if they were willing to be chastised in order to hear others be chastised too, or whether they were starting to learn and accept the righteous principles Enoch taught.

I’ve had a few experiences recently when sharing the truth has made me feel a little “wild.”  In one conversation a woman was telling me that there are so many churches out there that you can choose the one that you like that works best for you.  I plucked up my courage and said, “Actually, it isn’t a matter of choosing what we like.  It is about finding the way of salvation.”  She looked at me like she had never thought of it that way or had never expected me to say something like that. 

Have you had an experience like this that you could share?
Monday, December 16, 2013 3 comments

Two Angels Sitting in the Empty Tomb


I was reading in John 20 about the resurrection and the disciples’ discovery that Jesus’ body was gone and I ran across this detail:
11 ¶But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. (John 20:11-12)
This detail about the angels sitting one at the head and one at the feet seemed very odd to me.  They seemed too far apart.  Wouldn't you imagine these angels would be more likely to sit together?  It terms of body language it makes it seem as if they don’t like each other.  But it would be strange for two angelic messengers to be sent who didn’t like each other, right?

In the process of reading about others have wrote about this chapter, I ran across a wonderful insight on this from the blog “Jesus is Lord!” in the post “A Study of John20:1-23.”   It connected the angels’ positions at the head and foot with the positions of the cherubim on the mercy seat of the ark of the ark of the covenant in the temple, the detail of which, as we know, were given by revelation to Moses in Exodus 25:
18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof….
21 And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. (Exodux 25:18-19, 21)
When I read this, I thought, Oh that’s interesting; the angels were imitating the cherubim on the mercy seat! 

And then I thought, Wait a second! No!  The cherubim on the mercy seat were meant to testify and prefigure the angels sitting in the empty tomb!  And I realized that Heavenly Father had meant for the construction of the ark of the covenant with the cherubim’s positions to testify of Christ’s resurrection and his empty tomb so many years ahead of time.  And the instructions to put the testimonies given in the ark teach us that we need to put our faith in Christ and His resurrection.


Thursday, December 12, 2013 0 comments

Isaiah 18 on Signs of the Restoration

1 Woe to the land shadowing with wings,
which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:
2 That sendeth ambassadors by the sea,
even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, Go, ye swift messengers,
to a nation scattered and peeled,
to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto;
a nation meted out and trodden down,
whose land the rivers have spoiled!
3 All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth,
see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains;
and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.
4 For so the Lord said unto me,
I will take my rest,
and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs,
and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.
5 For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect,
and the sour grape is ripening in the flower,
he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks,
and take away and cut down the branches.
6 They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains,
and to the beasts of the earth:
and the fowls shall summer upon them,
and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.
7 ¶In that time shall the present be brought
unto the Lord of hosts
of a people scattered and peeled,
and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto;
a nation meted out and trodden under foot,
whose land the rivers have spoiled,
to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts,
the mount Zion. 
(Isaiah 18)
This is a tricky chapter because there is a lot of imagery in it that is difficult to connect together into anything that we recognize.  I have studied it carefully, and I have also looked online to see what others have said to try to explain it, and there is a lot of disagreement about what it means.  Most commentaries make interesting points, but also ideas that seem to go of into left field, so I recommend you search and read and decide for yourself.  There are also things I still don’t understand myself, so I expect to grow in my understanding as well.

One thing that seems helpful is to first to pick out some recognizable features.

In our scriptures, we can start by noting the chapter summary:  The Lord will raise the gospel ensign, send messengers to his scattered people, and gather them to Mount Zion.   The summary seems to focus upon the words “ensign,” (v3) the phrase “Go, ye swift messengers” (v2), and “scattered” (v2, 7) and the phrase “to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, the mount Zion” (v7). 

However, there is more to the chapter than just messengers and gathering.  There is an extensive puzzling description of the people to whom this prophecy is addressed (v1-2), there is a time when the Lord rests and considers (v4), there is a time when a harvest of sour grapes ripens and is pruned (v5), a scene of devastation when animals and birds feed for years on what is left (v6), and a present brought to the Lord at Mount Zion of a people (v7). 

If we read this with our testimony of the restoration of the gospel, perhaps we gain a better understanding.  I believe that the verse that should grab our attention most immediately is verse 3:
All ye inhabitants of the world,
and dwellers on the earth,
see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains;
and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear ye.
The ensign on the mountains is an image that we understand and will automatically recognize.  We have a church magazine called the Ensign (though that didn’t become its name until late in the 20th century).  The house of the Lord established in the tops of the mountains (Isaiah 2:2) is another type of ensign.  General conference is another kind of ensign, a standard waved in the eyes of the world.  Isaiah tells the entire world to take notice when they see the ensign lifted up.

As for the blowing trumpet image, it is one that we also recognize in the statue of the angel Moroni blowing his trumpet from the tops of most of our temples.  For a long time that image was put on the cover of our missionary Book of Mormons.

I think the ensign and the blowing trumpet were signs that Isaiah gave in this scripture to the rest of the world to warn them to sit up and take notice when the restored gospel would begin to come forth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Another part of this verse that we understand because of our testimonies of the restored gospel is verse 7:
In that time shall the present be brought
unto the Lord of hosts
of a people scattered and peeled,
and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto;
a nation meted out and trodden under foot,
whose land the rivers have spoiled,
to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts,
the mount Zion. 
We understand the idea of bringing a people as a present to the place of the name of the Lord, to mount Zion in several senses.  People converted to the gospel bring themselves as a present to the Lord as they submit to His will.  But further, as Latter-day Saints, we know that converted people also begin to do temple work for their ancestors, in effect bringing a present to the Lord in the temple of the names they do vicarious ordinance work for.  It reminds me of Joseph Smith’s teaching:

Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation. (D&C 128:24, emphasis added)

The “land shadowing with wings” could be interpreted as the land of America.  America has been ever “shadowed with wings,” or protected by heavenly powers.  It also has lots of air transportation, but this interpretation may be less helpful, since other nations also have air transportation. 

to a nation scattered and peeled -- The United States is indeed quite scattered, such as with Alaska that is disconnected from the main part of the United States, and Hawaii, that island clear out in the Pacific ocean.  It has unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands.  As for “peeled,” one site says that it can also be translated as “obstinate,” “independent-minded,” or “smooth” (clean-shaven?)  (  “Peeled” could also refer to the manner that America peeled away from Great Britain to obtain its independence. 

to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto -- This could refer to the way the United States has become a dominant superpower.  Even in its first years, it was “terrible,” in that oppressive mobs have frequently combined to express displeasure and to mete out vigilante justice. (It was after all, a mob that participated in the Boston Tea Party, even if we have sacralized that part of our history.)

To a nation meted out and trodden down – “meted out” could be referring to the way a nation has been measured and surveyed for settlement.  “a nation…trodden down” evokes the image of a place being walked all over, and this may be referring to cities that have many pedestrian areas, but also to the way the nation had built roads everywhere.  In Israel in Isaiah’s day, roads where made by people who just walked in the same place over and over until the ground was so compacted that nothing grew on it.  If Isaiah saw our concrete and asphalt roads in vision, he probably wouldn’t think that we had put any substance down to make the road, he would think that we had trod over the ground so much that the ground naturally became like that.  If he saw all the roads in our cities and our highway systems, he would have indeed called us a nation trodden down.

whose land the rivers have spoiled! – Some think that “spoiled” is to be interpreted as “divided.”  America is divided by a number of large rivers, such as the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Columbia, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, the Brazos, the Ohio, and more.  At I found a list of 28 United States rivers that were over 600 miles long!  Still, spoiling can also be interpreted as destruction and carrying away property by river flood.  America has had a number of devastating floods during its history that have caused huge amounts of damage.  The flooded Missouri River in 1993, for instance, caused $15 billion in damages and was the second costliest on record (Top 10 Historic U.S. Floods,,28804,2070796_2070798_2070783,00.html).

Verses 4-6 are trickier.
4 For so the Lord said unto me,
I will take my rest,
and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs,
and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.
 5 For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect,
and the sour grape is ripening in the flower,
he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks,
and take away and cut down the branches.
 6 They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains,
and to the beasts of the earth:
and the fowls shall summer upon them,
and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them.
I looked up pruning grapes on the internet to see if understanding that might help with understanding these verses.  I learned that pruning is done both early and late.  Early pruning establishes which branches will bear fruit.  Late pruning during the summer helps balance the productivity of the vine with leaf and shoot growth.  It seems to me that Isaiah meant for the grapevine to represent the house of Israel and he was trying to show how the Lord would prune unproductive branches out to be destroyed.  The imagery of fowls and beasts summering and wintering on the plucked branches makes me think that it means that Gentiles would benefit from the destruction. 

I think there are lessons we can get from this idea of early pruning (cutting off springs) and late pruning (cutting down branches).  The Lord is willing to cut off unrepentant individuals from the church whether they are new or old members.  Looked at it another way, He will purify the church of iniquity whether it is early in its history, or later in its history. 

What does this mean in verse 4 that the Lord will “consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest”?  The metaphor is peculiar.  What principle are we to learn about the Lord and how He is considering?  How might we draw comfort from this?

The first question we might ask is, “What do we know about how dew forms?”  Dew is formed when water vapor in the air is cooled past the dew point and condenses into water droplets.  The hotter it is, the more water that air can hold, and the more humid it will feel. 

A “cloud of dew” could also loosely be called a “clear heat” because you can see straight through this water vapor in the air; it doesn’t appear as clouds.  Visible clouds would be fog, which wouldn’t be a clear heat.  So “cloud of dew” and “clear heat” are synonyms. 

One principle I might learn is this -- just like a cloud of water can be in the air without us seeing it, the Lord is there in the temple, even though we can’t see Him.  Just like we know water is in the air by how humid the air feels, we can sense the presence of the Lord through the Spirit.  Just like the herbs wait for dew to condense and water them, we Saints wait for the time when the Lord will appear and nourish us.  We might also say that we are nourished already as the doctrines of the priesthood distill upon our souls as the dews from heaven (see D&C 121:45).

I personally find this comforting since it confirms to me that I am seen and known by the Lord. 
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 2 comments

Thoughts on D&C 107

            A few years ago I got to substitute teach seminary (two classes on the same day) on D&C 107 about the priesthood.  It was truly a blessing to have a week to prepare and study that chapter and even to struggle over how to teach it.   I think I lived and breathed it.   I want to share with you some experiences that I had in that process.

            One of the things I noticed in that section was the importance of quorums.  It seemed to me that the Lord must have a purpose for grouping priesthood holders in quorums.   I thought my husband would know, so I asked him if he knew how belonging to a quorum blessed his life.   But he didn’t know.   Interestingly enough, the very day I asked him this, the church had a worldwide leadership broadcast and my husband went to it.  He came home and told me, “They talked about quorums.  Quorums have certain duties to do and they are supposed to help priesthood holders reach their goals.”  This experience strengthened my testimony.  The Lord knew of our conversation and considered it important enough to include something about that in the leadership training.  Heavenly Father wanted my husband and I to know how quorums can be a blessing to the priesthood holders in them.

One of the parts of D&C 107 that had always puzzled me was the middle that diverts from describing priesthood duties to talk about how Adam ordained Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, and Seth ordained Lamech and Methuselah ordained Noah.  I would think to myself, “Why do we care about this?  They are dead!”  My seminary preservice teacher cleared it all up when he said it demonstrated how important it is to know priesthood line of authority.  It’s true.  You can even draw a little chart from verses 42-52.

So I wanted to tell that to the seminary class I was going to teach, and I decided I would find out what my husband’s line of authority was.  I asked my husband if he had it, and he said that he had never gotten a copy of it from his dad.  (gasp)  To give him credit, he got right on the phone with his dad and asked him to email him a copy of his priesthood line of authority, so now he has it.  And it was interesting to see what happened to my husband when he looked at it and studied it.  I watched him get excited about it.  Every five minutes he came to me with a new realization that struck him as he thought about it.  It was plain to me that knowing his priesthood line of authority was a blessing to him.  It also bolstered my confidence in him.

You see?  Even if the high school students I taught didn’t get anything from the lesson, my preparation had already blessed me and my husband in two big ways!

I was struck by the flexibility of priesthood organization—high priests and elders can do all the duties in the Aaronic priesthood.  This ensures that lack of Aaronic priesthood does not get in the way of members receiving the outward ordinances.
Also, any priesthood office can preside over a church meeting if no higher offices are present.  I suppose even a deacon can preside if no other priesthood holders are present.  This increases the accessibility of the priesthood and makes all priesthood holders equally important.  If one priesthood holder is present, there is the authority of God.

In the verses 27-32 about the First Presidency, Apostles, and Seventy quorums, it struck me how often the word “decision” occurred.  Can you believe 8 times?  That indicated that decision-making was very important to these governing bodies.  I was impressed by the importance placed upon reaching decisions unanimously and righteously.   Considering the disagreement that occurs in the highest governing body of our country, I find it both amazing and reassuring that the Lord requires unanimity in the decision-making of the highest quorums of the church.   It teaches me how important unity is and reminds me of the scripture “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”  (D&C 38:27)  It also gives us reassurance that in the church, decisions are not made by fiat by a single authority without input from anybody else.   The whole of the quorum participates as a council.

I was also struck by the promise extended to them as they make decisions in righteousness.
30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;
31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.  (D&C 107:30-31)
The promise “they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord” is in a sort of negative form, so we have to look at it in its positive form “they shall be fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord,” which is essentially about receiving revelation.

I’m sure that every leader in the church trying to make righteous decisions wants to know that their decision is one that the Lord approves of and is exactly what the Lord would do if He were in their place.  I have read stories in which leaders bear testimony that they have that assurance and they know what they are doing is the will of the Lord.  Just one example is when the revelation was received that the priesthood could be given to every worthy male member of the church.  This promise is fulfilled.

In trying to prepare to teach D&C 107 I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could summarize it or distill it down into a more concentrated form, and I was defeated in every attempt.   This gave me a great respect for how it is presented, and also made me really wonder how I was going to teach it.   I had to obtain inspiration and it came in just enough time for me to make the preparations before I had to go teach it.   (The method was to break the section into units and have each student study a unit and share what they learned from it and why it was important to know.)

I have felt the power of the priesthood in my life and I know that it truly is the power of God.  It is easy to take for granted, yet it is incredible that this power was given again by divine administration through ancient apostles less than 200 years ago!     
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 0 comments

Cunning Devices of Amalickiah

Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake. (Alma 46:10)

Cunning device mentioned here, but not elaborated on at all, beyond mentioning flatteries.  It is as though Amalickiah was suspected to have been part of some sort of chicanery, but he did not seem obviously connected to it except in trying to take advantage of it by riding a tide of public feeling.
Perhaps we must look to Alma 47 (the story of betrayal and murder among the Lamanites) for a sample of the kind of cunning device that Amalickiah may have used among the Nephites.  Since Amalickaih was leading away church members and lower judges, he may have staged situations to make it look like church members following him were better than those who didn’t or priests and teachers in the church.  He may have staged court cases to make it look like the lower judges were wiser and fairer than the higher judges of the land.  Or perhaps Amalickiah used some sort of staged atrocity to put the church in a bad light.  Perhaps he used some sort of false flag attack on his people, framing the church and bringing the free government into disrepute to make it look as though choosing him as a leader was the only rational choice. 
Under the supposition that Amalickiah tried to make the church look bad, Captain Moroni would have to do something to demonstrate that the church was not responsible.  The Title of Liberty would make obvious to everyone what values the church members espoused. 
The words of those wanting to maintain that title as they rent their clothes and made a covenant was very specific—“We covenant that we will be destroyed if we fall into transgression.”  The covenantal acceptance of destruction as a penalty for sin seems very strange… unless you see it in the context of a group publicly declaring under oath that they had nothing to do with some evil act that may have been attributed to them.  This oath would also make Amalickiah’s followers doubt the justice of their own cause, especially if their arguments were based on supposition that the church and the free government were bad.