Thursday, January 30, 2014 0 comments

The Woman Taken in Adultery

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
 3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:2-11)

This is an interesting story with so many factors to think about. 

Clearly Jesus had acquired a reputation for overturning traditions about the law and this case was a test to see how He’d decide concerning serious sin.  He was known for being a friend of sinners.  “What sayest thou?” shows us that authority is at issue here, authority to pass judgment and condemn.  It might sound like they are submitting to His judgment, but they just want to draw Him out so they can find fault with His judgment. 

It appeared to be an open-and-shut case.  She was caught in the act.  The penalty for it in the Law of Moses was known. 

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Lev. 20:10)

Technically the punishment couldn’t be carried out, since the Romans had taken away from the Jews the legal power to condemn malefactors to death.  If Jesus upheld the Law of Moses, He could be accused of breaking Roman law.  If He said she shouldn’t be stoned, He could be accused of not keeping the Law of Moses.  The scribes and Pharisees were trying to use the case as a means of entrapping Jesus.

It is rather odd that the accusers only brought to Jesus the woman when adultery is a sin that takes two to commit.  Where is the man?

Why did Jesus write on the ground in such a peculiar manner?  They have asked him to give His opinion and He doesn’t answer; He just stoops down and draws in the dust as if ignoring them, as if He hopes the question will go away by itself.  But with His ready answer when they keep asking Him, we know He is not ignoring them. Rather, He must be trying to teach them without them realizing it.  In other questions asked with the intent to trap Him, Jesus answers right away, yet in this incident, He doesn’t.

Imagine going into a courtroom to watch a trial and imagine that once the charges have been stated and all the arguments made, the judge bends over and starts drawing things on the carpet at the moment when they are expected to pronounce the verdict.  What kind of message does it send?   It’s not that He doesn’t care or is bored.. it is something else.  It’s a stall tactic.  I think that’s one thing Jesus was trying to teach—that He gives time before judgment.

Eventually Jesus turns the question back on the accusers with a pronouncement that dictates the requirements for executing judgment.  “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”  He invites them to carry out the punishment IF they have a clear conscience on the matter at hand.

Some commentators think Jesus was referring to any sin, and others think He was talking about the specific sin of adultery.  I think that He was referring to the Law of Moses requirements for righteous witnesses.  If it was any sin, how could anyone bring anyone else to justice?

Here are some of laws about witnesses which they would know and which will help us understand better what was behind Jesus’ words.

2 ¶If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
3 And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;
4 And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and inquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel:
5 Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you. (Deut. 17:2-7)

Jesus’ words about casting the first stone were directed at the witnesses first, it was their responsibility.  There had to be at least two of them.

15 ¶One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
16 ¶If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
17 Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;
19 Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. (Deut. 19:15-19)

They were all also aware that if the witnesses were found to be false witnesses or unrighteous witnesses in any way, they would be given the same penalty of stoning. 

1 Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
2 ¶Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
3 ¶Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. (Exodus 23:1-3)

(Exodus 23:1-3 basically says that witnesses were not supposed to start false reports, were not to join with the wicked and be a witness for them, were not to go along with the crowd to do evil or to subvert justice, and were not to favor the poor man and thereby blindly root for the underdog.)

These verses give us a picture of the standard to which witnesses were expected to be held, and everyone knew it.  After all, this was no ordinary penalty.  This was depriving someone of life and time to repent.  It is not done lightly or without soul-searching.

The main problem with the witnesses (and perhaps too the accusers) was their demand for the punishment to be applied to the woman with the man absent.  If she was taken in the very act, the party of accusers were not being totally above board because they had already improperly let the man go and were seeking to lay all their severity on the woman in an unequal application of justice.  This glaring injustice indicated their sympathy was all with the man, as it would be if they had committed adultery themselves before.  They wanted to be lenient to male sin themselves and then force Jesus to be severe.

The principle I get from Jesus’ words to the woman’s witnesses and accusers is that you have to really search your own soul and be sure you are untainted yourself from the sin you are about to condemn someone for.  Finding fault and seeking occasion to entrap disqualifies you as a judge (and witness) because malice will hardly allow someone to be proven innocent.  Other disqualifying factors are having a double standard (letting some go but prosecuting others to the farthest extent), and certainly so does committing the same sins oneself.

Jesus’ words to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” are thought by many to convey forgiveness, but I do not see forgiveness here….yet.  It is too early for it.  She was caught in the act, so she would have plenty of shame and humiliation and regret for being caught, but genuine repentance can’t be forced by these circumstances, even with a merciful verdict.  Some space is needed to realize the seriousness of the sin, to feel and demonstrate contrition, and so on.  Jesus’ words only speak of no condemnation, which is not the same as “thy sins are forgiven thee.”  Condemnation can only come at the last day when men are brought to be judged of their works, and until that day, there is hope for all.  At best, Jesus granted a stay of execution, giving her time for repentance and a chance to build up a store of days with no sin.  This is consistent with His mortal mission to save rather than condemn.  Later in the chapter, He also highlights this principle:

15 Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.
16 And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. (John 8:15-16)

Jesus could judge and condemn with eternal consequences, but He refrains for a season in order to save as many as He can first.

The JST shows us the woman recognized the probationary period she’d been given because it says, “And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 0 comments

The Convincing Power of an Autographical Record (and Historical Objects)

When King Benjamin taught his sons about the importance of the sacred records, we get this little bit:

O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes. (Mosiah 1:6, emphasis added)

King Benjamin really appreciated that the plates he had were the very thing that Nephi and descendants had written upon.  The object seemed to make the past more real and tangible to him.

Scholars working on the Joseph Smith papers have noted in the videos about the project how special it is to them and how it strengthens their testimony to know they have in front of them something Joseph Smith wrote on or one of his scribes.  It makes the past tangible and real to them.

This principle is also obliquely used in the book Daughters in My Kingdom, which presents at the beginning of each chapter a decorative assemblage of objects from Relief Society and church history.  I remember when I first got the book and looked through it I saw those objects pictured at the beginning and only thought someone crafty in the RS general board had insisted on working scrapbooking into the book to make it look pretty.   I changed my mind when I found that at the back of the book just before the index there was a list of visuals, and those pictures at the head of the chapters had all the objects labeled so that we could see what they were and where they came from and even whom they had belonged to.   These objects give us a sense of our history, imply the truth of what happened, and can give us an appreciation for the conditions the pioneers waded through.  (I suspect that the RS general board hoped LDS women would discern the teaching purpose behind those beautiful visuals.)

What tangible objects do you have that help you remember the truth of the past?

Friday, January 24, 2014 0 comments

All the Blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

There is a certain phrase we hear in a certain place—“all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” that I decided I wanted to look through Genesis and see if I could pick out all the blessings so I can know what we can expect to receive.

The usual ones we know about are the following, which are reiterated multiple times throughout Genesis to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
·      “this land,” meaning the land of Canaan
·      posterity as the stars in the sky
·      “In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (which implies the coming of the Messiah and temple work for families)

Here are the other ones I found:

To Abraham

“I will make of thee a great nation” (Gen. 12:2)
“I will make thy name great” (Gen. 12:2)
“thou shalt be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2)
“I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee” (Gen. 12:3)
“and the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abrams wife” (Gen 12:17)
“…the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand” (Gen. 14:20)
“I am thy shield, and thy exceedingly great reward” (Gen 15:1)
“he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” (Gen. 15:4)
“thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age” (Gen. 15:15)
“I will make my covenant between me and thee” (Gen. 17:2)
“[I] will multiply thee exceedingly” (Gen. 17:2)
“thou shalt be a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4)
“I will make thee exceedingly fruitful” (Gen. 17:6)
“kings shall come out of thee” (Gen. 17:6)
“I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Gen. 17:7)
“I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life” (Gen 18:10)
“At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Gen. 18:14)
“Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do[? No.]” (Gen. 18:17)
“he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Gen. 18:19)
“Also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed” (Gen. 21:12-13)
“thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17)
“he shall send his angel before thee” (Gen. 24:7)

To Isaac

“I will be with thee and will bless thee” (Gen. 26:3)
“I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father” (Gen. 26:3)
“I am with thee” (Gen. 26:24)

To Jacob

“the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed” (Gen. 27:27)
“God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine” (Gen. 27:28)
“Let people serve thee, and nations bow down before thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be everyone that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee” (Gen. 27:29)  (Note: This sounds like Messianic prophecy as well)
“thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south” (Gen. 28:14)
“I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest; and will bring thee again into this land” (Gen. 28:15)
“I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:15)
“I have seen all [the evil or injustice] that Laban doeth unto thee” (Gen. 31:12)
“I will surely do thee good” (Gen. 32:12)
“as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen. 32:28) (Note: Also a Messianic prophecy)
“I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” (Gen. 46:4)

When I read these blessings as ones promised to me, I get a greater sense of what I can look forward to and ways that I can trust the Lord.  I also see that some can be read as Messianic prophecy.  The one from Gen. 46:4 sounds like a typological reference to the condescension of God, the redemption of man, and the restoration of the gospel through descendants of Joseph.  And this doesn't even touch on what latter-day revelation has to add to what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were promised.

What are your thoughts?
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 0 comments

Jacob’s Messianic Blessing to Judah

8 ¶Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.
9 Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:
12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. (Genesis 49:8-12)

At the end of Jacob’s life, he gave blessings to his children, and the blessing to Judah can be seen as one enormous prophecy of the Messiah to come through Judah’s line.  It is as if Jacob addresses Christ rather than Judah.  Some of the imagery seems very strange, but with a full testimony of Jesus Christ, it can be understood.

thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise:
thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies;
thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.

The praises due to Christ are unquestionable.  Jesus conquered Satan during His life by resisting every temptation thrown at Him and by suffering the sins and temptations of all mankind as well.  Someday He will subdue all enemies under His feet and the earth will be His, and we will have a chance to bow to Him and acknowledge Him King of the earth, since we have greatly benefitted from His victory.  He knows how to help us conquer our enemies as well.

Judah is a lion’s whelp:
from the prey, my son, thou art gone up:
he stooped down,
he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?

As the lion is considered the fiercest and strongest of beasts, the king of animals, we can see the “lion’s whelp” as Christ, who was the son of Heavenly Father, the King of the universe.

For a lion to get up and leave the prey just caught would be very unusual.  Likewise, it is surprising to us that Jehovah left His premortal glory to come to earth.

“he stooped down” – This speaks of Jehovah’s condescension to be born into mortality like the rest of us.

“he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?” – To me this image of a couching (lying down) old lion speaks of Christ submitting to death as if He were old (although His death was much more painful and early).  I see Him lying in His tomb.  “Who will rouse him up?” reminds us that Christ resurrected Himself.  None could do it but Him.  In another sense, that question asks who is going to dare to challenge His supremacy.  You don’t want to make the lion mad.

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come;
and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Shiloh is another name for the Messiah and means “he to whom the right belongs.”  Kings of Judah had the throne through much of Israel’s history, and now that Christ has come His first time, He reigns.  The part about gathering the people should be familiar to us.

Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine;
he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:

If we remember Christ’s discourse “I am the true vine,” we see that the lines about binding his foal to the vine speak of how Christ’s servants (represented as asses and beasts of burden) and their children (the colt and foal) will be tied (sealed?) to the source of nourishment.  The tying process makes me think of covenants and how they tie us to the Lord.  We also get a sense of Christ acting in two different ways.  He’s the good shepherd, leading his people, and He leads them to Himself, the source of nourishment as the vine.  (Kind of a mixed metaphor, but hey, it works.)

“he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” – We run into this image also in Isaiah, who asks, when He sees the Lord coming in glory, “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” (Isaiah 63:2)  I think the image of Christ washing his garments in wine could convey how His sacrifice for sins sanctified Him.  It may also prophesy of the purple robe He was clothed in as the soldiers mocked Him at His trial.

His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

This is unfamiliar, so it is puzzling, but I think we can get it if we consider the symbolism of the body parts involved and how it relates to Christ’s mission. 

Eyes are about vision and seeing what’s ahead.  The red and wine continues the association with blood and suffering.  Christ constantly had His sacrifice in mind during His ministry and he was always reminding the disciples about it.  We might even say He was drunk with it.

Teeth chew and are needed for starting to digest food.  Milk symbolizes the very basic doctrine of the gospel.  Christ was way into this doctrinal milk (the atonement) and perhaps a modern equivalent might be “he has a milk mustache of doctrinal milk.”

As we can see, Jacob had a thorough testimony of Christ, of His premortal glory, His sacrifice, His ministry, His death, His resurrection, and His final triumphant rule, and he crammed it all in a blessing to Judah using imagery that is so dense with meaning that Isaiah almost seems like a kindergarten reader by comparison.

Monday, January 20, 2014 4 comments

Isaac Says Rebekah is His Sister

¶And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:
And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.
And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.
And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.
10 And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.
11 And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death. (Genesis 26:6-11)

I think this story gives us an interesting picture of how different Isaac and Rebekah’s morality was from the people around them in Gerar.  We may think that Isaac was just following the example of his father Abraham in Egypt by claiming his wife is his sister in order to keep from being killed.  That’s easy to say, but it may be more complicated than that.  It may be that Isaac observed that the people were so morally loose—making any excuse to justify fornication/adultery—that he worried they would think nothing of stooping to murder just so they could get Rebekah.  So he claimed to be her brother, and he lived there a long time that way.

The thing is, the longer Isaac lived there, the more people got to know who he was and what he stood for and the goodness of his character.  And the result was that when Abimelech saw Isaac sporting with Rebekah—and we have no idea what “sporting” means, but it instantly clued Abimelech in—Abimelech didn’t automatically think Isaac was doing something incestuous or ugly like that.  He knew Isaac would only have been doing what he did if Rebekah was his wife.  And he hastened to clarify this with Isaac.

Incidently, the way Abimelech “looked out at a window” and randomly saw Isaac and Rebekah seems very odd to me.  It makes it seem like Isaac and Rebekah were almost…exhibitionist about whatever they were doing.  But they don’t seem like the type that would do that.  (Can we imagine Rebekah doing something like that, the woman who covered herself with a veil when she was about to meet Isaac for the first time?)  But if they aren’t exhibitionist, then that makes Abimelech into Mr. Suspicious-Stalker-Peeping-Tom.  Who do we believe here?

Now, notice the reproach that Abimelech fires at Isaac: “What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.”  Abimelech is SO SHOCKED that Isaac lied him and said Rebekah was his sister.   He is absolutely outraged about it.   Commentators tend to dwell on this rebuke and say this shows just how low Isaac (and Abraham before him) was for their deception and their lack of trust in God.  “And look, they were justly rebuked by those rulers for their sin!” they say.  Yeah, you have to agree that Abimelech’s rebuke on the surface makes Abimelech look really good and Isaac look bad. 

But look very carefully again at Abimelech’s rebuke and you can see what he reveals about himself and his people.  “one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us”   His people were so casual about who they had sex with that Abimelech was worried they might have “lightly lien” with Rebekah!  His people don’t take chastity seriously.  And at the same time it is a subtle insult against Rebekah, implying that she was the type of woman who would “lightly” sleep around with random people in Gerar just because everybody thought she was single.  We Latter-day Saints know that Isaac would trust Rebekah to be chaste.   It is Abimelech who thinks Rebekah would have exploited the situation without social expectations to keep her in line.  (Maybe Isaac wasn’t that good looking and Abimelech thought Rebekah would have jumped at the chance to sleep with someone more attractive.)   We Latter-day Saints, with our perspective on chastity as a sacred covenant, understand that Rebekah’s situation was not license for looseness, but a test of her faithfulness.

It burns me up that people think the “she’s my sister” was done out of fear, first by Abraham and then by Isaac.  Consider that we have the modern revelation in Abraham 2:22-25 to show us that when Abraham first used this line, it was at the Lord’s command.  Not only that, but we get that Abraham told Sarah of this revelation and it is implied that she agreed to do it to save him. 

Abraham and Isaac were brave.  Consider this.  Latter-day Saints have the story of Abraham 1 in which Abraham would have been sacrificed on an Egyptian altar, presumably because he would not back down from his testimony in the living God.  Can we then imagine Abraham afraid to acknowledge his marriage to Sarah as he comes into Egypt?  No!  He would have died if the Lord had not commanded him to say what he did.    Then consider Isaac.  This is the man who did not protest earlier in his life when his father was about to sacrifice him!  He is no shrinking violet, even if the text does say in Genesis 26 that he feared to say Rebekah was his wife.  I think it more likely that he was commanded as well.

Now, here’s another thought.  Was the subterfuge only for Isaac and Rebekah’s sake?  What if the Lord meant it for Abimelech’s benefit as well?  It is likely that Abimelech was not nearly as good at the beginning of his acquaintance with Isaac as his rebuke makes him look, but by the end, he had become someone who was concerned about accidentally sinning.  At the end he uses his influence with his people to ensure the safety of Isaac and Rebekah.  Better late than never.

One of the things we learn from this story is that Rebekah was faithful to Isaac, social expectations and environment to the contrary.  She’s a great example to remember today, as morals are loosening and unraveling at an alarming rate.
Saturday, January 18, 2014 3 comments

Angelic Encouragement for Sharing the Gospel of Peace

And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.  (1 Nephi 13:37)
These words were spoken by the angel to Nephi during his vision of the tree of life and the history of the world.  They were given right about the time Nephi saw the Book of Mormon come forth, but I think these words, especially those about publishing peace, apply even more widely now in this time of social media and internet communication.  They hit me really hard every time I read them, as I think about this blog I have.

publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy

The Lord needs His people to share where they find their peace and joy, to share the good news of the restoration more widely, to share what inspires them, to share the new developments that come by revelation to church leadership.

whoso shall publish peace

Not just the missionaries.  Not just apostles.  Not just church publishing companies.  Not just book authors.  Not just seminary and institute teachers.  Every one of us.  On blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever..

how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be

The angel is saying this, so we know this is the Lord’s perspective of what is beautiful.  It is different from the world’s.  But that’s okay because it isn’t peace as the world gives, but only as the Lord can give. 

The blog “A Study of the Book of Mormon” offers some thoughts about what is beautiful about being on the mountains.  Climbing mountains is hard because the path is rocky, therefore statements from that perspective are more powerful because it is triumphant over difficulty.  It is also perspective that sees more. 

My thoughts are that those who publish peace are also considered beautiful by the ones who hearken to the message.  The recipients of the message feel gratitude to toward those who are so unselfish as to spend time and energy and make sacrifices to publish that message.

How blessed we are to have the tools to publish peace so widely so that anyone who is really looking can find it!  It simply boggles my mind how many opportunities we have that we didn't have a mere 15 years ago!
Thursday, January 16, 2014 2 comments

Him Whom They Pierced

33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
37 And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. (John 19:33-37)

For some reason I was curious to see what Old Testament verses were quoted to point out how Jesus fulfilled prophecy and I decided to search for it.

It turns out the scripture about piercing is from Zechariah 12:10 and speaks in a second coming context:

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10, emphasis added)

So John took pains to show that for the prophecy about the second coming to be fulfilled, Christ had to be pierced during His first coming some time, and he pointed to this incident after Christ’s death as being the first step in fulfilling that prophecy.

(I have to add that it is a mercy the piercing occurred after Christ’s death rather than while He was still alive.)

It is interesting that John says that no bone of Christ was broken, fulfilling prophecy in scripture.  The footnotes for that lead us to scriptures instructing that the paschal lamb for the Passover meal was not to have any bone broken.  So it seems that not just the Lamb was a type or prophecy about Christ, but also instructions of the treatment of the lamb were considered prophecy about Jesus. 

I‘m fascinated by how different the sources are that John pulled from to point to how Jesus fulfilled the scriptures.  He fulfilled the words of a particular prophet in one instance and in another He fulfilled a prophecy implicit in the instructions of an ordinance of the Law of Moses (which would be like finding prophecy in the church handbook of instructions).  It kind of gives us an expanded idea of where prophecy of Christ can be found in the Old Testament.

If you’re looking for something different to study in the scriptures, try noticing the places where it says Jesus fulfilled prophecy and then try to track down where that is in the Old Testament.  I never know what I’ll find when I do that.  Sometimes the context is so enlightening that it makes my head explode and other times it makes me say, “What!?  How did anyone ever figure out that was a prophecy?”  Then I just have to shake my head and admit that the ways of the Lord are still so far above me.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 0 comments

Watch For The Thief

42 ¶Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. (Matt. 24:42-44)

These verses come in the chapter in which Christ discusses the signs of the times and signs of His second coming on the earth.

When I read this most recently, it struck me as odd that Jesus underlines that we don’t know exactly when He’s coming and in the very next sentence gives a little parable about a man who would have watched IF HE HAD KNOWN when the thief was coming.  Why talk about what we could do if we had known when He’s just said we can’t know? 

It is then that I realized that I had been assuming that the thief coming in this little parable represented Christ’s coming.  So it must be that the thief coming represented something different, something that it is possible to know when it will occur. 

One of the characteristics of the thief (besides stealing) is that he breaks up the house.  I suspect the thief represents Satan and temptation because not only does Satan try to steal the Saints’ possessions of spiritual gifts (along with cheating souls, leading them carefully down to hell), but he is trying to break up the family (the house) and break up the covenantal foundation of our lives. 

This brings us to a very interesting question.  Is it possible for us to know the hour that the thief (Satan, temptation) comes?  I suspect that it is, if we are alert to notice what kinds of things “set us off.”  I suspect that Jesus wants us to learn to recognize the patterns of circumstances in our lives—our frame of mind, our energy level, our thoughts, the surroundings we are in, the desires that we have—that in the past have led to us sinning.  He wants us to consider those times “the hour when the thief comes” and to guard ourselves to keep from having our house broken up.   The cool thing is, if we do that and guard our houses carefully, we will automatically be ready for Christ whenever He comes because we will have kept ourselves pure.

I’ve written before about how I’ve noticed a tendency to get stressed during breaks of general conference.  That is only one small example of an hour of temptation for me.  When I went through some depression, I noticed I was particularly vulnerable to a heavy feeling of despair right at sundown and dusk.  That was another hour of temptation.  I have hours of temptation due to PMS.  I have an hour of temptation after I’ve worked very hard without much break and I’m tired.  I have an hour of temptation related to the computer and doing my writing.  These are patterns that I can think of immediately, but I know I have a lot of little hours of temptation associated with interacting with my husband and my family.  I have to watch for those hours and guard myself and my house. 

I get two other principles from these verses.  I notice that Jesus calls it an “hour” and not a day or a week.  That teaches me that these periods are relatively short.  Repulse the thief and he will leave eventually.  Second, it strikes me that Jesus was teaching a principle that He practiced (as our perfect example), which gives us insight into His inner life.  He had hours when He was tempted and He resisted.   After a while, He recognized the pattern such that He was able to predict when it was going to happen.  He learned this principle, not from noticing the pattern of the times He was giving in (because He never gave in), but the times when He had resisted.  He wanted us to learn about this too.

Sunday, January 12, 2014 0 comments

Skin Color in the Book of Mormon

The blog Gently Hew Stone has a video The “Racist” Book of Mormon in which Jamie Huston very carefully analyzes the passages in the Book of Mormon about “dark skin” and “curse.”   (Don’t let the video title freak you out; those are irony quotes.)  His examination is instructive and refreshing, and his conclusions are surprising and edifying.  

Well done, Jamie Huston! (general applause all around)

Go watch it, people! 
Friday, January 10, 2014 3 comments

January First Presidency Message: The Best Time to Plant a Tree

I really liked the First Presidency message for this month by President Uchtdorf, so I want to comment on it. (My words in black, his in green.) It seems to me that one of President Uchtdorf’s great strengths as an apostle is his exuberant enthusiasm and hopefulness.    

In ancient Rome, Janus was the god of beginnings. He was often depicted with two faces—one looking back on the past, the other looking forward to the future. Some languages name the month of January after him because the beginning of the year was a time for reflection as well as planning.
Thousands of years later, many cultures throughout the world carry on a tradition of making resolutions for the new year. Of course, making resolutions is easy—keeping them is a different thing altogether.
One man who had made a long list of New Year’s resolutions felt pretty good about his progress. He thought to himself, “So far, I’ve stuck to my diet, I haven’t lost my temper, I’ve kept to my budget, and I haven’t once complained about the neighbor’s dog. But today is January 2 and the alarm just went off and it’s time I got out of bed. It’s going to take a miracle to keep my streak going.”

It’s SO TRUE!!  For some reason when we start a new resolution, it is pretty easy to do it for a day or two.. or three.  But at some point the shiny wears off and then it seems like a long, hard slog.  Or something comes up that gets in the way.  Or we slack off our effort because we think we don’t need to work as hard at it as we have. 

There is something incredibly hopeful about a fresh start. I suppose at one time or another we have all wanted to start again with a clean slate.
I love getting a new computer with a clean hard drive. For a time it works perfectly. But as the days and weeks pass by and more and more programs get installed (some intentional, some not so intentional), eventually the computer begins to stall, and things it used to do quickly and efficiently become sluggish. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Even getting it to start can become a chore as the hard drive becomes cluttered with miscellaneous chaos and electronic debris. There are times when the only recourse is to reformat the computer and start over.
Human beings can likewise become cluttered with fears, doubts, and burdensome guilt. The mistakes we have made (both intentional and unintentional) can weigh upon us until it may seem hard to do what we know we should.
In the case of sin, there is a wonderful reformatting process called repentance that allows us to clear our internal hard drives of the clutter that burdens our hearts. The gospel, through the miraculous and compassionate Atonement of Jesus Christ, shows us the way to cleanse our souls of the stain of sin and once again become new, pure, and as innocent as a child.
But sometimes other things slow us down and hold us back, causing unproductive thoughts and actions that make it hard for us to get started.

I’d say the experience with computers is a very useful metaphor here. (And I'm not sure why I like it so much, but I do.)

Along with repentance, we need grace (enabling power of God) to help us make it through life, but we can’t have it without giving our total effort and commitment to it.  And so often we would give that total effort except we have fallen prey to destructive thought patterns that in some way weaken us.  I love that Elder Uchtdorf teaches many principles (not just here but in other talks too) that help us discover destructive thought patterns and helps us replace them with helpful ones instead. 

I have a lot of troubles with doubts, fears, and perfectionism.  I feel like I’m always fighting it, so I appreciate principles that help me escape those unproductive patterns.

Setting goals is a worthy endeavor. We know that our Heavenly Father has goals because He has told us that His work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
Our personal goals can bring out the best in us. However, one of the things that derail our efforts in making and keeping resolutions is procrastination. We sometimes delay starting, waiting for the right moment to begin—the first day of a new year, the beginning of summer, when we’re called as bishop or Relief Society president, after the kids get into school, after we retire.
You don’t need an invitation before you start moving in the direction of your righteous goals. You don’t need to wait for permission to become the person you were designed to be. You don’t need to wait to be invited to serve in the Church.
We can sometimes waste years of our lives waiting to be chosen (see D&C 121:34–36). But that is a false premise. You are already chosen!

I felt like this part really spoke to me.  Procrastination is one of my problems, though I don’t actually say to myself, “I’ll do it later.”  My procrastination has been in the form that Elder Uchtdorf has described above, the kind that wants to wait for the “right moment” and the kind that feels like it needs permission to do or become or start. 

My procrastination has to do with writing.  I am a writer.  So often I delay starting my writing because I’m waiting for the right moment.  But what does the right moment look like and how will I know I’ve come to it?  I keep waiting for a moment when I will feel inspired.  It is particularly insidious when it comes to working on this blog because I want to be inspired as I write about the scriptures.   The weird thing is, I’ve learned by experience that inspiration happens more while I’m working on it and rather than when I’m thinking about working on it.  So I just have to show up and start studying and writing and then it comes.

I’ve also seen some of my procrastination in the form of feeling like I need permission from someone.  One of the things I want to do is write fiction, write fabulous novels.  But I feel like I need permission!  I don’t know who from.  Maybe it’s because I have this deep-down notion that writing fiction is play, not real work.  It makes me think that just like you need mom to call the school to so you can go somewhere else during school, I need someone to call the “work police” and tell them that I have permission to write fiction for work instead of getting hired by someone else.   Maybe I need to write myself out a permission slip.  (I eventually did this.  It felt very freeing.)

I like that President Uchtdorf says our personal goals can bring out the best in us.  (Of course, he makes the implicit assumption that these goals are righteous.)  When you consider the effort that goes into working toward goals, you can see he’s right.  What else besides a goal makes you wrestle with the natural man?  Good goals always involve repentance at some level or stage.  A good goal that speaks to you fires your imagination, giving you vision.  It requires confidence and faith.  It requires you to commit and act courageously.  It requires analysis of skills and leads to learning more skills.  It leads to problem-solving.  It disciplines you and builds your perseverance.  And even when we fail, we practice repentance and re-commitment if we try again.

At times in my life I have spent sleepless nights grappling with issues, worries, or personal sorrows. But no matter how dark the night, I am always encouraged by this thought: in the morning the sun will rise.
With every new day, a new dawn comes—not only for the earth but also for us. And with a new day comes a new start—a chance to begin again.

This view of the new day as the chance to begin trying again is a big thing that gives me hope.  I’ve lived a few months when I was depressed and felt that I had no hope of anything better.  When I’ve struggled with a bad habit for so long and failed so many times, it is easy to think that there is no hope of change and that the future will get worse and worse and I should just give up and drift as the current takes me.  I’ve learned to fight this by seeing each new day as a gift of a small time that I can concentrate my efforts in.  We learn from living the commandment of keeping the Sabbath Holy that it is possible to make one day different from every other day of the week, more focused on serving God.  So we can use that same principle during the week.  Each new day we can try again to break bad habits.  Also, taking it one day at a time helps me focus on the present moment rather than worrying about the future. 

Sometimes the thing that holds us back is fear. We might be afraid that we won’t succeed, that we will succeed, that we might be embarrassed, that success might change us, or that it might change the people we love.

I’ve feared all those things at one time or another.  When fears are paralyzing, I’ve found I have to write down what I’m afraid of and try to get to the root of what is bothering me.  (I have an example of how I do this in my post about confronting myfears of introducing my neighbors to the missionaries.

It’s usually not just one fear, it is a network of fear, or a pyramid of fear, fears stacked on top of each other.  You have to pin down the fear, drag it squealing out into the day, and then talk back to it before you can kill it.

Another thing we need to remember when it comes to setting goals is this: We almost certainly will fail—at least in the short term. But rather than be discouraged, we can be empowered because this understanding removes the pressure of being perfect right now. It acknowledges from the beginning that at one time or another, we may fall short. Knowing this up front takes away much of the surprise and discouragement of failure.
When we approach our goals this way, failure doesn’t have to limit us. Remember, even if we fail to reach our ultimate, desired destination right away, we will have made progress along the road that will lead to it.
And that matters—it means a lot.
Even though we might fall short of our finish line, just continuing the journey will make us greater than we were before.

Falling short and failure is a not an end destination.  It is merely a stage in our progression. 

When I apply this to myself about my writing process, I can understand perfectly well that my first draft is not going to be a masterpiece.  It’s going to be crud.  But I can learn from it and revise.  My first novel likewise is going to fall short as well, but I’ll learn from it and revise it and my next novel will be better (although the first draft can be crud all over again.)  I can allow myself to write badly at first so I can learn from it.  (I suppose I’ll have to write myself a permission slip for that too.  ;-))

An old proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
There is something wonderful and hopeful about the word now. There is something empowering about the fact that if we choose to decide now, we can move forward at this very moment.
Now is the best time to start becoming the person we eventually want to be—not only 20 years from now but also for all eternity.

Sometimes it takes years for us to figure out that we really want what’s good for us.  And then we wish we’d started way earlier.  I’ve heard some converts wishing they’d found the gospel earlier in life.  I imagine we all have something like that. 

At least the present moment remains for making a beginning, right?

So what experiences have you had in which you learned more from the process than you did from the outcome?