Monday, February 29, 2016 4 comments

A meditation on the atonement of Christ

Our Sunday school class last week spent some time thinking and talking about these verses:

11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)

Over and over, my fellow Saints observed in different ways that it is neat to know that Christ can help us, not just with removing our sins, but also with our pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, and infirmities.

The question is, how? How will Christ help us?  Well, we don’t exactly know how.  We know the mechanism is Christ’s grace and mercy, but we don’t know how and what Christ will do in any particular situation that we bring to Him.  We have to find out.   We have to trust that He has experienced it, and then call upon God and ask for help, then continue to cope in as best we can, while looking for His grace. 

At the risk of sharing too much, I’m going to give a recent example from my life.  About a week ago I had very bad cramps and bloating associated with my menstrual cycle.  It woke me up in the very early morning.  For the next hour I coped with the pain, trying to deal with it in different ways (including pain relievers and such).   My sincere question at that time was, “How can the atonement of Christ help me with this?” and I prayed for mercy and to be helped through it.

In some miraculous way I was helped through it.   At the time I couldn’t tell I was being helped, and afterward at first all I knew was that somehow I had been helped.  I had to think about it to be able to understand.  So here’s how I think I was helped. 1) I got ideas of how to move around such that a new position would bring about the next bit of progression through it.  2) Praying my way through it and pondering how the atonement might help me kept my mind off the pain and kept me from getting frustrated. 3) Even though the whole process lasted an hour, it didn’t feel so long because I was concentrated on praying and pondering. 4) My husband woke up near the end and gave me a blessing, so I had some company. 5) I was able to go back to sleep afterwards for three hours.

This was how the atonement helped me with this experience. If my circumstances were different, the divine help might have come in a slightly different way. 

Still, it taught me that using the atonement in our lives often requires experimenting and asking for help in a situation where we may wonder if the atonement can be used.  (Oh look! Experimenting is an opportunity for exploration and adventure of a spiritual nature!)  

We may wonder, how is the atonement of Christ going to help me with this?  But I learned that if we pray for mercy and strength, then re-engage in the problem, pondering and looking for the hand of the Lord, we will receive help.  And when we have been helped, we need to record what happened so that we can remember for later. These experiences tend to fade too quickly.  But if we can remember, they encourage us to keep experimenting with new ways to use the atonement.
Sunday, February 28, 2016 0 comments

Judging and being judged

Here’s a verse that stuck out to me recently:

And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. (Moroni 7:18)

I don’t know if this judgment Moroni says we’ll be judged with here is a final judgment or not. But I realized that how we judge ourselves tends to impact how we make use of the atonement.

If we judge ourselves too harshly, then we condemn ourselves out of proportion to our offenses and then we can’t feel the mercy of Christ when we repent, or even worse, we can’t reach for it at all because we think we don’t deserve it.

But if we’re too lenient with ourselves, then we fail to recognize the seriousness of our offenses, then our repentance is incomplete or non-existent.

Ultimately, we have to learn to be as fair with ourselves as Christ is.

So, how do we judge ourselves fairly?  What do you think?

Friday, February 26, 2016 0 comments

Laying hold on every good thing

I’ve been studying Moroni 7 recently (a talk of Mormon's which Moroni recorded) and re-examining my assumptions about what some things meant. It’s been rather instructive.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing? (Moroni 7:19-20)

When I read this, the first thing I noticed was the exhortation to search diligently in the light of Christ to know good from evil. This seemed a little odd to me because I never thought of knowing good and evil as requiring diligent searching.  I have generally been one to make snap judgments. Things seem pretty obvious.

But thinking more deeply, I realize that no, that discernment between good and evil is not always as easy as it looks. I may only get one side of the story, or I may not get enough information about either side. Plus, there is so much of what we call spin and even outright deception in the world that appearances are not always trustworthy.  Evil slings mud at good to try to turn people away from it.  Maybe there is a lot more misinformation out there than truth.  So maybe it does require diligent searching to tell good from evil.

The next part I was drawn to is this phrase Mormon used—“every good thing”—as he encourages the Saints of his day to lay hold on it.  Just what does he mean by laying hold on every good thing?  I think I must have a very materialistic perspective because for the longest time I took it for granted he meant tangible goods or good experiences.  And that sounds rather overwhelming to have to do that.

But what has challenged that interpretation is Elder Oaks’ talk “Good, Better, and Best.” Elder Oaks taught we should focus on the best things, not merely good things. So it first made me wonder if Elder Oaks’ teaching superseded Mormon’s because it is more applicable to our modern circumstances of abundance and glut. But I started to realize that maybe my definition “every good thing” was off somehow, and perhaps there was a way Elder Oaks and Mormon harmonized instead of conflicting.

(By the way, I also noticed that “every good thing” and variations of it were all over this and the next eight verses. It is obviously that is what Mormon wants to emphasize.)

So I went looking for things that Mormon considered fit his definition of “every good thing.” The first two things that stuck out to me were v26 and 33.

“…And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be done unto you.” (v26, emphasis added)

I started to wonder if this meant it would be done for us or done to us. Having things done for us is God acting to change our circumstances, but having things done to us is God changing us for the better, with our permission. It suggests “every good thing” includes positive changes.

“And Christ had said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” (v33, emphasis added)

This tells us that another good thing to lay hold on is the power from Christ to do what He tells us to do and to use our agency to do other good acts that we decide on our own need doing.

Then I noticed v22. (It’s kind of funny how I have to jump around to notice bits and fit them together.)

For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing. (v22, emphasis added)

For a long time when I read that, for some reason I would always first associate "every good thing" with inventions and scientific advances because I’ve been taught to see all those things as inspirations from God to push His work along. That’s what “in Christ should come every good thing” made me think of.

But this time I realized that true as it is, that is not the tenor of the verse. The verse is focused on the foreknowledge and revelation of God about Christ. It’s talking about “every good thing” as exemplified by Christ. It’s character traits. Christ gained every good character trait so He could help us gain them too.

And then I noticed other good things we can acquire, which were scattered over the rest of the chapter, so I started making a list of all I found.

Good things men can lay hold on:
--change of character (v26)
--every good character trait (v22)
--power to do good things (v33)
--miracles (v27)
--salvation (v36)
--angelic ministry (v29-30)
--prophetic ministry (v23,25)
--power of the Holy Ghost (v36)
--mercy Christ has the right to bestow (v27)
--faith, hope, and charity (v40-44)

All of these are intangible good things, so they can’t be bought. They have to be prayed for and worked for. They all require faith in Christ.

Odds are everyone could use something on that list today.  Which means we all have opportunities to experiment on the word, exercise our faith in Christ, and pray for what we need.  Let’s take that opportunity today and begin to lay hold on every good thing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 2 comments

How Ether 12:27 Blesses Us

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)

As I ran across this scripture recently and how it invites us to come to Christ in humility about our weaknesses to be made strong , it occurred to me that this may be a doctrine and invitation given nowhere else.  I thought it might be interesting to do a survey of the scriptures to see what we are told elsewhere about weakness and being made strong.

Here’s what I found.

Ether 12:28 -- God will show the Gentiles their weakness and that faith, hope, and charity will bring them to God.
Ether 12:37 -- God tells Moroni he will be made strong because he has seen his weakness. (This tells us noticing our weakness is the first step toward being made strong, but the next steps are not there because they were given in Ether 12:27.)
Alma 58:37 -- Helaman trusts the Lord will deliver his people notwithstanding the weakness of their armies.  (We can see Helaman is applying the principles of faith in Christ and humility in a military context, but we need to know it works in other contexts too.)
D&C 1:24 -- Commandments are given to God’s servants in their weakness so they can come to understanding. (And probably trying to follow commandments shows us our weakness pretty quick..)
Jacob 4:7 – God shows men their weaknesses so they know only by His power and condescension can they do miracles.
D&C 62:1  -- Christ knows the weaknesses of men and how to succor those who are tempted.
Hebrews 4:15-16 -- Christ can be touched with our infirmities, so we can boldly come to Him and obtain grace to help at time of need.  (This gets pretty close to Ether 12:27, but the humility and faith in Christ are implied rather than explicitly stated.)
Hebrews 3:21-- Prophets and great men were made strong out of their weakness.  (This tells us others enjoyed the blessing of being made strong in their weakness, but it doesn’t tell us about how.)
2 Nephi 3:21 -- God will make the weakness of the Nephites’ words to their brethren strong in their faith. (This shows us the principles of faith in Christ and humility can be applied in the context of writing about the gospel for others.  But it isn’t explicit about the humility needed.)
2 Nephi 33:44 -- Nephi has faith that the words he has written in weakness will be made strong to his people.
D&C 38:14 -- The Lord will be merciful to our weakness. 

So it seems that other scriptures have pieces of this doctrine and invitation, Ether 12:27 shares it most clearly.  It gives us confidence that humility in our weaknesses and taking them to the Lord in faith will allow the Lord to strengthen us. 

I also notice, that the other scriptures expand on the doctrine and give examples of different ways prophets have been made strong.  Nephi and Moroni both had their words made strong. Helaman had his armies made strong.  Jacob was able to do miracles.

Today when we notice our weaknesses, let’s take them straight to the Lord for His help. Let’s find out how the Lord can strengthen us.

Monday, February 22, 2016 0 comments

Isaiah on the joy of conversion

2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. (2 Nephi 19:2-3)

Here Nephi quotes Isaiah, and there are a number of things to point out about these verses. First, there is a significant difference between v3 in the KJV Bible and how Nephi quotes Isaiah.  Isaiah 9:3 says, “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy” (emphasis added).  Nephi’s quotation says the joy is increased, and KJV Isaiah says it is not.  Ultimately after we examine the meaning of Nephi’s version, we’ll see that Nephi’s fits better. 

Second, v2 is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 4:16 as being fulfilled by Jesus’s ministry in Galilee.  Jesus certainly was the great light shining in the darkness.  But there are multiple instances of Christ fulfilling this.  Those “that dwell in the land of the shadow of death” can refer to those in spirit prison after death, who were brought the gospel when Jesus ministered in the world of spirits after His crucifixion and before His resurrection.  It can also refer to all of us in some way.  We all dwell in the shadow of spiritual death before we are personally converted to the true gospel of Christ.  We all need that light to shine on us.

Now we come to v3 and its meaning.

“Thou hast multiplied the nation” – What nation, and who is multiplying it?  The nation referred to has to be the house of Israel, and God is the one who multiplies it.  How does He do this? By converting the heathen nations so they join the covenant and are adopted in.  By gathering scattered Israel. And by the house of Israel having children who stay faithful to the truth.

“Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy” – Just like it is God who multiplies the house of Israel, it is God who increases the joy. It is the joy felt by those who join. It is the joy felt by those who gathered them. The joy comes from seeing the miracles involved—the miracles of finding, of testifying, of accepting, of changing, of seeing the change.  This is all about conversion.

they joy before thee [Lord] according to the joy in harvest” – The joy of missionaries is being compared here to the joy of harvesting after a long season of planting, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, etc.  We will best understand this feeling if we have done both missionary work and farming/gardening.  (I think of the joy I had over the single jalapeno plant and its one pepper growing in my courtyard last year. That jalapeno pepper was very special to me.)

“they joy before thee…as men rejoice when they divide the spoil” – This is a little harder to relate to because it involves images of war that we are removed from, if we haven’t experienced war firsthand. (I personally have not.) In Isaiah’s time, once a battle was won and the enemy fled, the victorious army had the privilege of stealing all the enemy’s stuff left behind in camp, and they got to divide it among themselves for profit.   We civilians might get a little closer to this feeling by imagining how we feel finding a heap of free stuff out on the curb while driving around. All this free stuff is high quality and we find it is all just what we need.  That’s part of the feeling of excitement Isaiah was probably getting at, but we have to go back to the image of spoliation in war to get an important spiritual principle.

The people doing the spoiling have been victorious over the enemy. Who is the enemy in missionary work?  It is Satan.  And who has done the heavy lifting to win the battle for a soul?  It is Christ (through the atonement) and the Holy Ghost (in teaching and testifying).  They won, and now the soldiers get to rejoice in taking souls away from Satan, just like soldiers rejoice in spoiling the enemy.  And for converts, they can rejoice because their slavery to Satan is over and oppressing guilt is done away. (“For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor.” [2 Nephi 19:4])

So now we can see these verses are full of the joy of conversion, both for converts and for the missionaries as the Lord multiplies the house of Israel.  And knowing that, we can also see that Isaiah’s KJV rendering “and not increased the joy” just doesn’t make sense. It muddies the waters considerably.

It is neat to me that Isaiah foresaw the time when the Lord would multiply the house of Israel through conversion and all the joy that would bring to all involved. I pray that we can all find a portion in this joy as we look for ways to share the gospel.
Saturday, February 20, 2016 0 comments

Jesus on casting out devils

28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matt 12:28-29)

The context for these verses is Jesus explaining to the Pharisees why he does not cast out devils through the power of Beezebub.

V29 above puzzled me for a long time.  I knew it was setting up an analogy somehow.  There’s the invader and the strong man who owns the house. I wasn’t sure which one was playing the devil’s role. 

Eventually I realized it was describing how Jesus cast out a devil.  It compares a strong man in a house to a devil in a man, and Jesus is the invader.  The invader has to bind the strong man first before he could spoil the house, meaning Jesus had to do something first to restrain the devil.  I suspect that it means Jesus had to rebuke by teaching some righteous principles and commit the person to live them, and use His priesthood power.  That restrains the devil, and then Jesus can take the devil’s possessions (the human soul) as the individual repents.

Some things we learn from this parable is that Jesus is stronger than the devil.  And because He is stronger, He can make us stronger too. 

We could also turn this parable around.  If Satan is invading, he can’t take over, unless he can bind us down and get us to give in.  So to overcome Satan’s temptations, we have to resist longer than he attacks.  And prayer can help us do that.  “Pray always, that ye may come off conqueror, yea, that ye may conquer Satan” (D&C 10:5).
Thursday, February 18, 2016 0 comments

That a righteous judgment might come

Here are part of King Benjamin’s words about Christ which he shares with his people as they had been given him by an angel:

And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men. (Mosiah 3:10)

That bit at the end is intriguing as it suggests that Christ’s atonement and resurrection (which leads to the resurrection of all men) had to happen in order to bring about a righteous judgment on mankind, as if justice would be frustrated otherwise.

In what way would this be the case?

Well, we know that every person becomes spiritually alienated from God from their very first sin committed contrary to their knowledge of the commandments. Without the atonement of Christ, not only would man stay alienated from God, but after death they would never receive their body back, and they would remain cast out of God’s presence, and there would be no chance for additional judgment beyond their first fall.  No final judgment. 

Further, if man happened to do any good works before their fall, he would have no opportunity to be rewarded for those works because the fall would have alienated them from God forever already.

So, the atonement was needed to bring man back into the presence of God for final judgment so that they could receive reward for good works as well as punishment for evil not repented of.  Righteous judgment requires that good be rewarded, not just for evil to be punished.

And the atonement makes it possible for us to do good even after having fallen. 

The thing is, any good we do we owe to God. We would not know what was good without the light of Christ, our conscience within us. We would not know how to improve without revelation to us of the way. We would not have power to overcome the natural man without the enticing of the Holy Ghost.  Everything good about us we owe to God in one way or another. 

It’s taken me a long time to realize that, but I think I’m okay with that.  When I was young, I wanted to be good on my own.  I thought I could be good separate from any help from God.  But the longer I live and learn, the more I see that there’s nothing good in me that I wasn’t given from God, starting with being a child of God with divine potential.  

I’m happy with that because it means I can really depend on God if I let myself.  (The question is if I can keep letting myself.) 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 0 comments

Why do the heathen rage?

1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.  (Psalm 2:1-3)

One of the things I learn from these verses is that it is not a new thing for peoples and even rulers of the earth to get impatient with God’s commandments and think of them as restraining bonds that hold them captive.  It is not a new thing for them to plot how to free themselves from the rules and principles and commandments of God so they can do whatever they want.   This has been happening all throughout world history. 

Whoever wrote this Psalm knew the heathen were (would be) offended and rage against the commandments of God and Christ which opposes the carnality of man. 
They think they can easily cast away these cords, but it is not so easy as that.  Commandments and principles are linked together, so rejecting one requires eventually rejecting all the others too.   And soon they are blundering around in uncertainty and darkness, acting so strangely that they seem almost drunk.

Who are the heathen?  Resorting to the dictionary…. :

Heathen: a person who does not belong to a widely held religion (esp. one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim) as regarded by those who do
Also, “a follower of a polytheistic religion; a pagan.”
Also, “(the heathen) heathen people collectively, esp. (in biblical use) those who did not worship the God of Israel.” (emphasis added)
Also, informally, “an unenlightened person; a person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles.”

The problem with resisting the rule of Christ is that the alternative is to have one’s lusts and sins rule one.  That’s how Satan establishes his rule.  And he is really out to enslave, unlike Christ, who wants to purify and exalt humankind.   

What’s neat is that the psalm also states what the Lord will do about this state of things when the heathen refuse His authority.

 4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
 5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
 6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Psalm 2: 4-12)

You can detect stages of the Lord’s attempt to reach the heathen.
--He allows them to be laughed at and derided to see if they will respond to shame. (v4)
--He speaks to them in His wrath. (v5) (Notice, He’s still speaking to them. This is the second warning.)
--He vexes them in his sore displeasure.  (v5)(He gives them trials and tribulations, hoping it will stir them up to remember the Lord and repent.)
--But when they will not hear, he will break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces. (v9)

This is a predictable pattern. It will happen. It’s as sure as sure.

Ultimately, the psalmist urges the heathen judges and kings and peoples to do the smart thing so they don’t have to go through the pain of chastisement and destruction.  He advises them to submit to the Son (v12) and serve Him (v11).

I couldn’t resist adding here the song “Let us break their bonds asunder” from Handel’s Messiah.

It is fascinating to me how Handel rendered the text into music in his oratorio. It is as if the singers are trying to break out of the confines of the melody and the timing set for them, starting in random places and random times.  You can also hear their anxiousness to get rid of it all in the strenuous emphasis of their words.  

But there is also a lesson to be learned about the consequences of rebellion.  Even though the singers seem to be trying to break the rules of the song, they end up acting in a different pattern, one that is predictable.  Likewise, those who break the commandments may think they are setting their own course and deciding their own fate, but they are merely acting according to a different pattern, one with predictable consequences and which will end with them acting more and more foolishly and getting stuck in misery and sorrow.
Sunday, February 14, 2016 0 comments

Some observations on Jared the usurper and his daughter

I was reading about Jared, the man who usurps the Jaredite kingdom from his father Omer, and I thought it was interesting to read these versus again about his reaction once his brothers take back the kingdom for their father and mercifully let him live.

7 And now Jared became exceedingly sorrowful because of the loss of the kingdom, for he had set his heart upon the kingdom and upon the glory of the world.
8 Now the daughter of Jared being exceedingly expert, and seeing the sorrows of her father, thought to devise a plan whereby she could redeem the kingdom unto her father. (Ether 8:7-8)

It sounds to me like Jared became deeply depressed. And it seems to be a situational depression, probably a feeling of having lost everything he ever wanted and being frustrated in his desires.   The verse tells us he had set his heart on the kingdom and the world’s glory.

Jared, born as a prince, was in a pretty high status anyway, and it makes me think about what there might be for a prince to aspire to, if not gaining the kingdom.  IT may have seemed to Jared that there was nothing else.  Eternal salvation and serving to build and improve the kingdom wasn’t on his radar.  Or maybe he thought being king was the best way to improve things.. 

It’s not really clear whether he usurped the kingdom in the first place to forestall competing with other brothers for the crown, or whether he would have inherited anyway and he just wanted to hurry it along.

Anyway, Jared’s depression over his drop in status in the kingdom teaches us it is important to pay attention to what our aspirations are.  Aspirations can drive us, but they can also cause us grief when we are frustrated in them or when they are gained and then lost.  Are they good aspirations?   What are we willing to do to obtain them?  Will we do anything, or will we pursue them in a lawful way?

We are all princes and princesses in God’s kingdom, but it is worth asking what our aspirations are.  Do we simply aspire to rule over everyone, or do we want to build up the kingdom?   Do we sometimes get the feeling we are “demoted” from callings of authority, and does that depress us?

Let’s move on to the verses about the daughter of Jared.  Ignoring all the awfulness that follows from the particular plan the daughter of Jared comes up with, there are some neat things about her in the verse that I want to point out.

First it is noted that she is “exceedingly expert.”  Our natural question might be “Expert in what?”  Since it doesn’t say, I am brought to the conclusion that she seems to have been expert in just about everything.  (Except.. being faithful to God.)  She seems to have dealt with her high status and the need for a driving aspiration in a different way from Jared her father.  She was granddaughter to a king, and in the time her father was king, she was a princess. Her aspiration seems to have been gaining every bit of learning and skill that she could. And she attained it, which may or may not say something about opportunities for women to learn in those days. I don’t know.   Is being “exceedingly expert” bad? Really, it depends on what use the expertise is put to.

Second, she saw the sorrows of her father, and she wanted to alleviate them.  This was a good desire, even if the manner of doing it was wrong-headed.  What parent wouldn’t want a child who would go to great lengths to help them pull out of a blue funk?

Third, she thought to devise a plan to help him, so she seems to have been pretty goal-oriented. You get the sense that she has made plans and executed them successfully in the past, based on her confidence in herself that she can pull off this admittedly ambitious project of redeeming the kingdom to her father.

Fourth, it is interesting that her project is called “redeeming the kingdom.”  You and I know that Moroni who is abridging this account would see through this terminology and know what she is doing. She’s trying to usurp the kingdom back for her father.  So it is likely this “redeeming” was language in the Jaredite account that Moroni allowed to pass through. It shows us the daughter of Jared was skilled at spinning the truth. “Redeeming the kingdom” sounds virtuous, whereas “usurping the kingdom” does not.  The lesson here is that projects need good names, but they have to be good projects, such that naming them doesn’t require lying to ourselves and others about their true nature.

Seeing these qualities in the daughter of Jared, I get the sense that she was a neat woman who began to make some very bad choices to help her father in a bad way.  She goes blithely into it with such naivety that I wonder if she had been making bad choices for a while and this was just another easy step for her.  How could she just do what she did with no regard for the consequences and the evil it would unleash upon the world? 

In the end, she turns into an object lesson illustrating the principle that when people are learned too often they think they are wise and then they don’t hearken to the counsels of God. All their learning becomes foolishness. To be learned is good if we hearken to God’s counsels.

Friday, February 12, 2016 0 comments

The friends of Jared and his brother

And the friends of Jared and his brother were in number about twenty and two souls; and they also begat sons and daughters before they came to the promised land; and therefore they began to be many. (Ether 6:16)

This verse comes at the point where Jared and his brother and their friends and families have made it across the ocean to the promised land.

I read that bit about them having 22 friends, and it struck me just how extraordinary that was that this group of friends was so large and stuck so closely together through thick and thin.  It makes me think of my group of friends I had in high school; there were 10 of us who got together at least twice a month, even though six of us lived 20-40 miles away.

We were good friends, but I don’t know if we would have been close enough to go all together on a long journey across land and sea and so forth.  This group of friends Jared and his brother shared was very special because they were so close and loyal to each other.

It is also fascinating that it was such a large group. Twenty-two friends!  Can you imagine having twenty-two close friends like that?  It makes me wonder how they maintained their closeness over such difficulties they went through while they started families and had their attention pulled in different directions.  Did they make decisions as a group, or were they so devoted to Jared and his brother that they would follow the wherever they went?  Maybe they had a sociality that we have not attained yet.  How much might our individualistic, distracted, technological society get in the way of us having friends like this?

Maybe this is something that takes work. Maybe it is something that can still be attained. Maybe we can set a brother-of-Jared friendship challenge for ourselves and strive to cultivate at least twenty-two close friends.  Who knows what wonderful blessings it will bring into our lives?
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 0 comments

The brother of Jared makes his own good weather

I was reading about the long stormy time that the brother of Jared and his people spent crossing the sea and all the difficult conditions they endured for so long. I found myself wondering if I could endure 344 days of stormy sea crossing.

5 And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
6 And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.
7 And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.
8 And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.
9 And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord.
10 And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water.
11 And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water. (Ether 6:5-11)

When I read about the brother of Jared praising and thanking the Lord continually and how they sang praises to the Lord, I wondered how they kept that up for so long. Wouldn’t they get tired of it? And with all that stormy weather, it was a really rough ride, so how could they keep up the gratitude and praise for so long?

Eventually I realized that the thanks and the praise and singing was actually their best weapon for keeping their spirits up during all the storm.

When you think about it, there was much they could have worried about.

--Why is this storm lasting so long?
--What if our barge never come to the top of the water again?
--What if those whales and sharks run into the barges and break them open?
--What if we never find land?
--What if the lights suddenly go out?
--What if the food and water runs out?
--What if we get swamped by a wave when the hatch is open?

There are lots of things they could worry about, and yet they were at the mercy of the wind and waves and the direction the wind would take them. They didn’t have control over their direction at all. All they could do was simply cope by means of the preparations they had previously made. (How do you and I deal with a loss of control?)

The brother of Jared knew he could do nothing about their surroundings except pray. So rather than give in to the natural doubts and fears and worries that would arise, he chose to take responsibility for his own attitude. He couldn’t control the weather, but he could control his attitude and response to it. By his continual prayers and thanks and praises to God and singing he made his own weather for himself and his people.

We also get a hint through Moroni’s abridgement of how the brother of Jared chose to look at the dangers they faced.  With each difficulty recorded there is also attached some sort of mitigating factor that helped.

Sure, there were mountain waves that broke upon them (and they had to see those waves to know they were mountain-sized), but no water hurt them.

Sure, they were buried in the sea (and they had to open the hatch and have water come in to realize that), but their vessels were tight like a dish and like the ark of Noah, so they didn’t leak.

Sure, the wind blew the entire time and raised great and terrible tempests, but it always blew in the same direction, which had to be toward the promised land, otherwise the Lord would not have had them go to sea where they did.

Sure, there were sea monsters and whales gallivanting all over and battering into their barges on occasion, but no damage was done.

Sure, the barges were dark, but the Lord had prepared shining stones for them to have light all the time.  (And we can also realize that their stones didn’t need fuel and didn’t need to be tended and fed like a fire.  They weren’t dangerous to touch, and they didn’t make smoke in their  little enclosed barges.)

Hmm. I’m thinking I should take that as a example for writing in my journal. If I record a difficulty I’m having, I should also look for a blessing the Lord is giving me to help me with it.

Today let’s make our own weather in response to the difficulties we have to go through but can’t control. Let’s combat worries and fears with prayer, praise, thanks, and song and see if that makes a difference.

Monday, February 8, 2016 0 comments

Painting and life lessons

Recently I got an idea to use a paint program called Procreate on my ipad to try to duplicate what Bob Ross painted on some of his videos, which are posted to Youtube. I thought if I could watch his videos and pause them from time to time I might have a chance of copying his technique.  

Truthfully, I went into it with pretty low expectations. I'd played with the program before, but I didn't know enough to do anything good.

Imagine my utter astonishment when I end up with something like this..

Or this...

Or this..

There are some neat things about painting on this ipad program that remind me of life lessons and the gospel.

First of all, I love that there is an Undo button.  Being able to undo mistakes on a painting means that I can learn and do a little experimenting when I’m not sure what will work best.  It reminds me how wonderful repentance is.  Just think what a mess our lives would be without repentance!

Second, it is so much easier to learn to paint when watching an example and trying to duplicate what the expert does. (Likely some particularly skilled painters will argue with my labeling Bob Ross and expert, but to my ignorance, he is.)  I feel like I picked up a whole bunch of skills that I never would have learned if I hadn’t been able to see them used and hear them explained.  The power of his example reinforces to me how neat it is that we have Christ’s example in the scriptures and the example of so many prophets explaining principles for us to live our lives better. 

When I’m watching an instructional video for a painting, I like to stop the video every few minutes to give me time to try to duplicate what was done in the example.  This reminds me a lot of that principle of line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept.  If I was trying to do it all perfectly, all at once, I would get overwhelmed. 

Paintings start out so rough and plain, but they gradually get more and more detailed.  They start with large sweeping strokes, and get smaller and gentler as time goes on.  That teaches me about gradual refinement. 

Another thing I’ve noticed is that when I have done an awesome job on a mountain in the background, frequently the next stage of the project requires me to be brave and paint something over part of what I’ve just worked so hard to do.  This has taught me something about sacrifice.  There are points in life when we have to sacrifice something we’ve worked hard on in order to progress. Sometimes it seems like the thing we’re sacrificing for is not going to be that great.  (The beginnings of my trees that I paint over my backgrounds don’t look nice to begin with.) But total commitment will eventually make something beautiful and wonderful of our lives.

I’ve done a few paintings that started with nearly black backgrounds and then had colors put on them.  The light colors show up so well, and the whites really zing.  This reminds me of how brightly good people can stand out in a dark world. 

Well, that’s enough for now. I imagine I’ll probably think of more points of similarity as I get better. 
Friday, February 5, 2016 0 comments

The Brother of Jared’s Observation of how Men Perceive the Power of God

When the brother of Jared is praying to ask the Lord to touch the stones to make them glow so they can have light in their barges, he says some things about the power of God that are very perceptive.

4 And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
5 Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. (Ether 3:4-5)

The brother of Jared notes that God is able to use great power, which can look small to men. He probably was thinking about his request to make the stones glow and realized that he might think it was a small and simple thing because he didn’t know what was required to do that, and maybe the thing he was asking for was more complex and required more power than he thought it would.

It shows us that we really don’t have much of an idea of how much power or effort it takes for God to do anything. We just know He has all power, and we just hope He will do for us the thing we ask. But maybe spending a little time thinking about what goes into granting us our petitions will help us appreciate the power of God more.

Another thing that comes to me is how easy it is to dismiss God when His power looks small to us. Yet we should know appearances are deceiving, and we are simply ignorant of His ways and means.  It’s like people who have never programmed a computer saying, “Yeah, programming that operating system should be no big deal.”

On a slightly different note, I like the type that is suggested in the brother of Jared’s request, “touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness.” It’s very much what we should be asking for ourselves. Touch me, Lord, with thy finger and prepare me so I can shine forth in the darkness of this world.  Or, if we are going into a place in our lives where we can’t see the way, we can pray for the Lord to touch someone and prepare them so they can shine forth in our darkness so we can have light.