Friday, April 29, 2016 2 comments

Which is, and was, and is to come

John to the seven churches which are in Asia:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come… (Revelation 1:4)

I think it is interesting that in Revelation John calls Christ “him which is, and which was, and which is to come.”  The reference to past, present, and future gives the sense of Christ’s eternal nature, as well as His mortal ministry and His future coming again.

Also, since the D&C defines truth as things as they were, are, and as they will be, the title John gives Christ is an oblique reference to Christ’s truthful nature.

In contrast to this, we have some description of the beast which the whore sits on in Revelation 17:8,11:

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is….
11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

The beast is described in two different ways. Two times it is called “the beast that was, and is not” and once it is called “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

“was and is not” – This underlines that this beast will have a definite end. It was in the past, but it won’t be allowed to continue. At some point it will be stopped and won’t exist anymore. This should give us hope.

“Was, and is not, and yet is” – The way the present tense contradicts itself is interesting here. It exists, but it doesn’t. It’s like a hologram, a phantom, a false fantasy that people believe in, but it has no right to exist in the economy of reality. It’s a lie. It also has no future.  Wickedness is like that.

By the way, I also notice in the above verses that we are told this beast ascends out of the bottomless pit and goes into perdition. What does that mean?

If something or someone ascends out of the bottomless pit, that suggests it may improve or reform and be good.  But if it goes into perdition, then that means it ascended to great heights of goodness and then falls from grace, like Judas Iscariot. An entity can’t go into perdition unless it had once been at a great spiritual pinnacle. So this tells us there are church members who got involved in this. These people were in an awful state, were converted, reached a level of spiritual greatness and privilege, and then decided they preferred to sin for the worldly advantages they could gain.   That is a definitely warning to the Saints that should give us pause.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 2 comments

Some scriptures and thoughts on being steadfast

I felt like I could use a little edification on the characteristic of being steadfast, so I did some research that I want to share with you.

But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish. (2 Nephi 26:8)

Nephi spoke this about those of his people who would get to see the Savior’s visit to the Americas. This verse teaches me that steadfastness has to be used in the midst of persecution that comes. Even if the opposition is within as well as without, we need to be steadfast and not waver.

 Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them. (Alma 1:25, emphasis added)

In the context of the above verse, church members had to deal with the psychological pressure of many other church members leaving the church and also persecution from outside the church from unbelievers and people who practiced priestcraft. 

So this verse teaches me that being steadfast means doing what’s right even when others of the church are wavering, losing faith, or joining the opposition.

Wherefore, be not deceived, but continue in steadfastness, looking forth for the heavens to be shaken, and the earth to tremble and to reel to and fro as a drunken man, and for the valleys to be exalted, and for the mountains to be made low, and for the rough places to become smooth—and all this when the angel shall sound his trumpet. (D&C 49:23, emphasis added)

This tells us that deception may try to move us from our beliefs and from faith in prophecy that has been given, so we have to hang on to what we’ve been told in the scriptures about what will happen, even if we wonder how it will come about.

Deception is also used to try to get us to sin, so we have to be steadfast in believing that the commandments must be followed and that they will ensure our happiness. Commandments are a great tool for detecting deception.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58, emphasis added)

We will get thoughts floating through our heads telling us that our good work is pointless and has no eternal significance. To be steadfast, we have to ignore these thoughts and keep working, trusting that no good work is in vain.

In that vein I want to include something C.S. Lewis has written about faith in his book Mere Christianity. It has excellent application to how we maintain steadfastness as we face our challenges.

But supposing a man’s reason once decides that he weight of the evidence is for it [Christianity]. I can tell you that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. (p123-124)

How this helps us is it tells us a truth that is passed over by many—that our moods change and can even rebel against the things we have previously gained testimony of or what we’ve covenanted to do or decided must be done. The important thing is not to yield to the mood, but to dig in one’s heels. Once you realize it is a mood, you know that if you resist long enough or pray for help to outlast it and kick it out, it will change.

So, steadfastness is that quality of refusing to be turned from the right path just because of  1) changing mood, 2) a wholesale defection of others, 3) persecution, 4) different beliefs others hold about the prophecies of what is still to come, 5) doubts about the significance of your own efforts in the eternal scheme of things.

I studied this topic last week and it was just in time because I went through a bit of a spiritual blitz over the weekend, and I had to stay steadfast.  In other ways it was like being stuck in a spiritual whirlpool.  I had to dig in my heels, pray hard, and keep praying over and over and over.  I saw the Lord’s tender mercies strengthen me and deliver me.
Sunday, April 24, 2016 0 comments

Excerpt from the Journal of George Q. Cannon

I’ve been reading through the journal of George Q. Cannon, which the church has posted online. I find it interesting and inspiring to see both how normal he was and also how faithful a servant of God he was.

While Elder George Q. Cannon was on a mission to England, he and his presidency wrote the following letter on 8 Nov 1861 to Elders Van der Woude and Paul A. Schettler, who were serving missions in Amsterdam, Holland:
“Dear Brethren,

Your favors of the 18th ult. and 4th inst. have both been received and would have been replied to earlier had not a press of other business presented. On the 2nd. inst a letter was forwarded to you enclosing a Bank Note for £5, which we hope you have duly recd and that your wants have been supplied.

We discover a considerable difference between the tone and spirit of your letter of the 18th Oct. & that of the 4th Nov. In the first you say that there are many honest-hearted people in that country who are seeking after the truth; but in your last you seem, (or at least Bro. Van der Woude in whose name the two letters alluded to are written,) to be almost, if not entirely, discouraged, and think that you cannot do much more in Amsterdam; because but you have turned that city up side down. From reading your last letter we are led to conclude that as your money has decreased your faith has decreased with it, and that the fear of imprisonment &c has had an injurious effect upon your efforts and energies. Brethren, it is useless for you to attempt to open the gospel door to a nation if you suffer such feelings of doubt and fear – feelings so utterly unworthy of you as Elders and messengers to the nations, to assail you. Every man who goes forth to bear this gospel to a nation who has never heard it must meet with difficulties, or at least should be prepared to have them to encounter, and should never think that the Lord would send him on an idle errand. He should have faith that when he is sent the Lord will assist him and open his way before him, and though he may not be so successful in the beginning as he could wish, that if he will only continue faithful, perseveringly seeking to proclaim the message in wisdom with which he is intrusted, he will be successful in magnifying his priesthood and clearing his skirts from their blood, whether he should baptize any or not.

We do not wish you to suffer or to be put to any inconvenience for want of necessary funds; but suppose there were no “Church” for you to call on for assistance, as has been the case in repeated instances before this with our Elders in opening up new countries and places, what would you do? Do you suppose that you would be justified in leaving that people or nation unwarned & the honest-in heart ungathered, because you would be imprisoned for not having money if you remained? That very imprisonment, should that be your fate, might be the means of opening a door for the effectual preaching of the gospel. Prisons have not retarded the preaching of the Gospel in past times, and we do not believe they will in future times. If you were put in prison, we suppose you would be fed, and therefore could live, and they could not keep you very well from telling the truth, & the telling of the truth might convert the jailor (it has done it before) and your fellow-prisoners.

There is another point, mentioned in your letter of the 18th Oct. that we wish to call your attention to. You say, “we would have done much good, if polygamy was not; but this is a very great obstacle,” and add further that it “has stopped Bro. Schettler’s endeavors in this city also.” It may be that our belief in the doctrine of polygamy may be urged against you, and you may think you have cause for believing that you might have done much good if it were not for polygamy; but if polygamy should be unknown, they would find some other objection that would afford them sufficient foundation, in their opinion, for rejecting your message, and illtreating and persecuting you. The messengers of the Gospel were hated, reviled, imprisoned, cast out and killed before polygamy was believed or known by us as a people. Indeed, these effects followed the preaching of the gospel just as much before polygamy was revealed as they have since. You give the Adversary an opportunity to weaken you, therefore, by permitting the thought to enter your mind that God has revealed principle that in and of itself acts as a barrier or obstacle in the way of the people receiving the truth. He will not fail to avail himself of this weak spot in your armour and it will be to your injury. Pure honest-hearted & virtuous people are & will be prepared for the reception of this principle, though it may be opposed to their traditions and prejudices, & they will believe, comprehend & rejoice in it. Do not, therefore, be fearful upon this point, or think any longer that if it were not for this principle you could do much good, for it will carry its own conviction with it.

In writing this to you, dear brethren, we do not wish you to think that we are indulging in fault-finding. We write to you in this strain because we think you have too easily bent before the storm you have had to meet, and because we wish to strengthen you and have you act the part of good soldiers and faithful ministers of our God. We desire to see you magnify your priesthood and do a good work on the earth. Be humble, be wise in your conversation & address, & seek for the spirit and power of your good & you will do a good work, & rejoice in your labors whether you baptize any or not. Remember that a great city or a great nation is not warned in a week or a month. Seek for the Spirit of revelation & wisdom, that you may be directed to the honest-in heart & if you are led to leave Amsterdam and go elsewhere, follow the dictation of the spirit. In relation to printing, be wise & move considerately. Be careful what you publish & that it is correct. May the Lord bless & sustain you is prayer of your brethren in the Lord.

Amasa M. Lyman,
Charles C. Rich,
George Q. Cannon.”

I love the way they use faith and principles to counter the doubts and fears of the struggling elders.  There is a buoyant optimism and hope there that demonstrates how we must use the shield of faith to counter the fiery darts of the adversary.

I also appreciate that he points out that if polygamy had been unknown, some other principle would have been made the basis for objecting to the church. This pattern continues today. Today it is the church's stand on the traditional family. There will always be people objecting to something or other about the restored gospel, and the honest-hearted and virtuous will be prepared to receive the gospel message, regardless of their initial prejudices.

These are not the instructions of one who has not been tested and tried himself.  He wrote a book telling the story of his first mission to Hawaii when a teenager, and his faith-promoting experiences rival the those of Elder Groberg’s to New Zealand. (That book, “My First Mission” is actually available on Kindle. I highly recommend it.)
Friday, April 22, 2016 1 comments

New thoughts on the parable of the ten virgins

I was thinking about the parable of the ten virgins recently and realized some things about it that I hadn’t thought of before.

The main thing the parable seems to hinge upon is whether each virgin has enough oil ready to use to light her lamp and keep it lit.  At the beginning, they all think they have enough, but there comes a time that proves that half of the virgins really do not have enough, and the other half realize that they must draw on a reserve, but they do have enough. 

The question that haunts us is, “How can I tell if I have enough oil?” Because when we get to the dark midnight, it will be too late to buy oil; we must have enough.

In the past, the oil has been interpreted to mean testimony, good works, faith, and so on.  But how do you know if you have enough to get you through the dark times? 

I suspect that this story is actually about grace.  Because grace is that enabling power to do and maintain good works that we otherwise could not do on our own. It is the fuel we need beyond our own works.    The testimony, the good works, the faith—all of that might be compared to the light of the lamps, but Christ’s grace is the fuel that keeps our light burning.

The wise virgins who had the extra oil are those who knew how to access the grace of God.  They knew they weren’t enough on their own, so they accessed God’s grace through the atonement.  They had plenty of practice doing this, and they were prepared.   Counter-intuitively, those who know they are not enough on their own can turn to the Lord for grace and He becomes enough. His grace is sufficient.

The foolish women did not know how to access God’s grace, and when more was asked of them, they had nothing left to give.  They didn’t know how they could go on.  They would desperately ask others for strength, for something that could help them keep going.  But grace has to come from God, not from other people.  People can encourage and lighten burdens, but the power has to come from God.

So here’s where this parable can really help us today.  We have daily experiences that stretch us, and each one is an opportunity to buy oil for our lamps and gain experience accessing the grace of God.   Grace is the power we need, the fuel that keeps us going. Our testimony and our good works is the flame, the light we shine, but grace is the fuel.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 4 comments

Some thoughts about Amalickiah’s flattery and the dangers of “awesome”

4 And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.
5 And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people. (Alma 46:4-5)

This bit about Amalickiah flattering the lower judges struck me recently after I had gone in for jury duty and seen some of the court proceedings involved.  The point that suddenly stuck out to me in the above verses was that these lower judges were there to settle petty disputes in particular regions. Cases they could not settle would have to be sent to higher judges.

So here we essentially have a group of judges who were aspiring for position beyond their expertise, hoping to acquire it by appointment rather than by gradual accumulation of experience and skill.  By promising them future ruling positions, Amalickiah implicitly flattered them into thinking they were ready for the big time, ready to deal with the hard cases when they most likely weren’t.  But in their unprepared state, they would have made a mess of the Nephite justice system.

I think this tells us something about flattery. It is the voice that suggests we possess skills we don’t really have and are ready for greater responsibility when we really aren’t.  Those who follow the flattery and pursue where the rewards aren’t deserved are set up for humiliating, soul-destroying failure.  That’s what Satan wants. He wants to humiliate and crush us by using our ambitions and aspirations against us.  Flattery is how he starts that, so we have to watch out for flattery.

Here’s a question for you to think about—in the context of the above, what do you think is the spiritual difference between humility and humiliation?


Also connected with this, I want to say a word about the dangers of “awesome” as an overused compliment when we want to say we approve in some manner.

The problem is when messaging of “you are awesome” is thrown around, it becomes increasingly easy to internalize it and believe that not only was the performance awesome, but oneself is awesome in every way, and there is no need for repentance or improvement.  In short, it is too easy for it to feed vanity and pride.  

For us to see past this messaging, we need to have a pretty conscious awareness of all the ways we still need to improve, and we have to have a clear-eyed view of what good was actually done that brought out the approval or admiration.  But if we don’t have that in the first place, how are we to get it without more detailed feedback?  When we need real encouragement, detailed proportionate praise is much more useful.

Suppose I do my duty and then someone tells me I am awesome.  How can I take that at face value?  I know I did just my duty.  Am I to understand that doing one’s duty is so rarely seen that it must be commented on and praised?  I sure hope not.  But if doing one’s duty is widespread, then how were my actions extraordinary?  I have no way of knowing unless more detailed feedback is given.  It would be much more in proportion and helpful to say, “It makes me happy to see you do your duty” or “You’re doing a good job” or even “You’ve been diligent.”

“You are awesome” may seem like a harmless verbal tic of a compliment, but when we remember Nephite history and the trouble that flattering words caused by leading people astray, we see the long-term effects. Consider that pride ultimately was what led to the Nephites’ final destruction, and then these overstated compliments and affirmations can be seen for what they are—a gateway drug.

Since it is likely that this trend of overstating the awesome will not end soon, we need to be aware of it and put in place mental safeguards to keep perspective. We can remind ourselves we are doing our duty. We can remember that we or others may not be in the best position to judge our performance; if it were looked at more closely it might be barely adequate instead of “awesome.”  We can remind ourselves that others may be gushing or flattering us.

So don’t reflexively call people awesome. Use your creativity and fashion more precise ways to express your approval and compliments. Your words will actually mean more to people.
Monday, April 18, 2016 0 comments

Common consent and its blessings

And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith.  (D&C 26:2)

This affirms the law of common consent, when all church members vote on whether they consent that someone be ordained, or set apart of a calling, or maintained in an office, or to ratify a change, such as accepting something new be added to the standard works.

I notice that common consent is not the only thing required. It also enjoins the Saints to use much prayer and faith. A mere consenting vote would not be sufficient to fully sustain someone in his or her calling.  Sustaining comes from continued support and faithful following of leaders.

I learned this some years ago by seeing something different when I was employed by a government agency in Austin, Texas. Our department held periodic lunch parties, and I was chosen to lead the party committee.  I felt honored, but I was inexperienced in leading.  When two older employees decided that my efforts weren’t up to their standards, they took it upon themselves to plan the lunch parties instead, without telling me or asking my help.  They essentially took things over as though they were in charge.

I could have let it bother me, but I didn’t. After all, I wasn’t that great at party planning. I didn’t even know enough at that stage of my life to ask for help. All I really had going for me in the first place was my enthusiasm. But I could see pretty clearly the difference between a church calling, which would be sustained by church members, and a worldly role that others might take over if they decided they could do it better.

The principle of common consent and receiving by faith is a great protection. Knowing who has what leadership calling protects us from being imposed upon by imposters.  Also, stewardship boundaries are pretty well defined.  

Common consent also is a means of growth. I’ve noticed that respecting and supporting other people in their callings helps me grow in charity and long-suffering.  I’ve also noticed that when other people support me in my callings, it gives me room in my inexperience to grow into my duties and see the hand of the Lord help me. 

Ultimately, common consent gives us a chance to help build Zion in people—in ourselves and others.
Friday, April 15, 2016 3 comments

Which fruit is bitter and which is sweet?

I ran across a scripture recently that had something interesting about the forbidden fruit and the fruit of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. (2 Nephi 2:15)
When I was looking at this scripture about the two fruits, I discovered I wasn’t sure which fruit is the sweet one and which is the bitter one.

If we go by the order they are mentioned, with the flavors corresponding to the same order that their fruits are mentioned, then the forbidden fruit was the sweet one and the tree of life had the bitter one.

A forbidden fruit
B tree of life
A sweet
B bitter

And this teaches us something about how temptations and commandments seem at first impression to the fallen man. Temptations seem sweet and commandments seem bitter.

However, it is possible that Lehi may be setting up a chiasmus in the order he talks about the fruit and their flavor.

A forbidden fruit
B tree of life
B sweet
A bitter

If the writing was meant to be read chiastically, then Lehi meant that the tree of life was sweet and the forbidden fruit was bitter.  This corresponds to how over the long term, giving into temptations yields bitterness, while complying with God’s commandments yields sweetness.

Since chiasm is used so much in the Book of Mormon, it is probably safest to read it the second way. Sometimes a western education will put us at a disadvantage in understanding the meaning of the Book of Mormon unless we can learn the manner of prophesying among the Jews, as Nephi did. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 0 comments

Impressions from April 2016 General Conference: Sunday Afternoon session

Robert D Hales (12)

I appreciated Elder Hales’ reviewing the different roles of the Holy Ghost and how he can help us.  Some of them I can definitely testify to seeing in my life, but others I need to definitely humble myself to receive.  Unless I can do that, I will only enjoy part of the blessings I might otherwise. 

At least three helpful principles and warnings that I also appreciated are the following: 1) The Holy Ghost isn’t given to control us.  2) The adversary tempts us with false ideas that we may confuse with the Holy Ghost, but faithfulness will protect us from being deceived. 3) We are tempted to let our personal desires overcome the Holy Ghost.

He pointed out that the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, meekness, kindness, love unfeigned.  I suppose this should also help us discern between the Holy Ghost and other spirits that are not of God.  If we feel hostile pride, or impulses to be unkind, or anger or love with any sort of pretense, then we know that’s not of God.  Also, any spirit of coercion is not from God either.

Gerrit W. Gong (70)

Another good talk focusing on remembering Christ.  I liked his six suggestions for how we can do this, including acknowledging his hand in our lives,  and especially what he said about trying to read the Book of Mormon or doing everything as if for the first time.   When the gospel starts to feel same-old-same-old, that’s when we badly need a dose of meekness to see things like they are new.

Patrick Kearon (70)

This was a powerful talk about the need to help refugees.  He echoed the women’s general session of conference in reminding us that our people were refugees a number of times at the beginning of this dispensation.  I also hadn’t put together that the Savior had once been a refugee when his parents fled into Egypt to escape King Herod’s command to kill the children under 2.

I like that he said that being a refugee does not define these people and that many were great contributors before they lost everything and that they can be contributors again with help.
Practical counsel: Pray, check the church’s “I was a stranger” website, offer to mentor, increase awareness of events that caused people to flee, take a stand against intolerance.

Extra note: I know I was touched by Elder Uchtdorf’s emotion when he got up to conduct the rest of the meeting after this talk. I couldn’t’ help but remember his story of having been a refugee himself as a child. I think his tears represent compassion born of having experienced it, and if he were moved that much, think how much more must the Savior be moved by the refugees’ plight and all our other sufferings, having experienced them too.

Dallin H. Oaks (12)

Elder Oaks’ talk was about opposition.  As a writer, I was impressed by the story of all the effort Joseph Smith went to trying to get the Book of Mormon published and all the publishers he went to.    Opposition enables good to be discerned from bad, gives experience, helps us grow, builds endurance. 

When opposition increases, I think his talk helps give us perspective.  But even after we gain perspective, we still have to get back in the fight. The struggle is real! 

Kent F. Richards (70)

This talk about temple work made me realize we need to get to the temple more.  Simple as that.

Paul V. Johnson (70)

About the atonement and resurrection.  I loved that he quoted from Handel’s Messiah (which is quoting scripture) “WE shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed.  The trumpet shall sound and we shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.”  The songs that have those words always make me happy and give me a sense of the triumph and reality of the resurrection.

I remember when I was in first grade and my vision started to get short-sighted. I had to get glasses. That was when I started to anticipate a future resurrection.  Here my six-year-old body was being revealed to be a flawed thing, which was a disappointment.  But suddenly I could hope for a future perfect body.  I found a few more health problems as the years went on, but each time, hope of the resurrection helped me take things in stride.  My weaknesses were the very thing that helped me gain faith.

Jeffery R. Holland (12)

I loved that Elder Holland acknowledged that we have the spiritual high of conference and then on Monday morning real life attacks like a T-Rex.  I sometimes find myself wishing that we could take the sacrament on conference Sunday because I really depend on the renewal I get from it, and it is hard to go two weeks without it.  But it was nice to be shown in the scriptures how this pattern of a great fight of affliction after spiritual highs is seen throughout sacred history.  We’re not the only ones who have experienced it, and if others have dealt with it, then we can too.

Here’s my favorite part from his talk: “The gospel, the church, the conferences are intended to give hope and inspiration.  Satan tries to convince us the ideals are depressing and unrealistic.  He knows HE can’t improve.  Don’t fall for his message.  With Christ and grace, we can improve and we get credit for trying even if we don’t always succeed.”
Monday, April 11, 2016 2 comments

Impressions from April 2016 General Conference: Sunday Morning session

President Thomas S. Monson

Four new temples!  Exciting!  It seems like President Monson’s message was pretty short and sweet this time. There wasn’t the little build-up to the announcement that he’s done in the past that kind of gets you on the edge of your seat. He just launched into it as though there wasn’t a moment to lose.  It gave me the impression of urgency.

I appreciated the reminder that the doors of history turn on small hinges and so do people’s lives.  It’s a hint to be careful about even the small choices. 
More quotables: “Choose to build up great and powerful faith.” “Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”

Bonnie L. Oscarson

Great story about the mother who had taught lessons about eternal families and knew the doctrine, but had to decide whether she really believed it when her son was airlifted to another hospital with bad pneumonia.  That’s the thing about doctrine; occasionally things happen in life that present you with the choice to really trust the doctrine and live it or cave in and fall to pieces.  Those kinds of experiences kick one out of complacency pretty quick.

This whole talk was a review of the magnificent blessings we enjoy as part of the gospel. And it is true that it can be easy to take them for granted.  Which is why talks like this are needed.

W. Christopher Waddell (Pres. Bishopric 2nd counselor)

This was another great reminder to keep focused on Christ and how it can give us peace.   Moving story about the new member couple who had just lost their son and were devastated at the thought that they would never see him again, then their joy at learning he had been born in the covenant because they had been sealed in the temple before he was born.  My heart bled for that couple, and I was so happy someone was able to explain those blessings to them.

I loved the principle Elder Waddell taught that it will protect us from the mocking in the great and spacious building if we partake continuously from the tree of life rather than stop partaking.

D. Todd Christofferson (12)

I appreciate that he called for fathers to be portrayed better in media. It really is a problem. But I don’t think it is going to improve anytime soon because in real life, good fathers make a big difference and in fiction, that removes sources of conflict that keep a story going.  Fathers have real power for good, so media will portray fathers as powerless or absent so other characters can have trouble to deal with. Or they will weaken them by making them only a source of comic relief. 

I loved the story of the father who prayed for his son every morning before going to work. That kind of thing can make a big impression.  It’s something mothers can do, not just fathers. 

Quentin L. Cook (12)

I loved the story about the excitement of the missionaries in Thailand concerning the announcement of a temple in Bangkok.  It reminds me of how excited I was about the announcement of a temple in Gilbert, AZ.  I think I called a bunch of people.  I also felt some connection to it because my husband and I have visited Bangkok before and have gone to church there.  I can imagine it.

Elder Cook went on to speak about temple work and I felt like I needed to get back into family history.  I dip in and out of it, and while I’m in it, it is a magnificent obsession.  What I need to do is do indexing too so I can add to the resources available.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (12)

I loved the story of the cathedral at Dresden that had been destroyed during the firestorms and rebuilt with some of the old charred stones.  I love the analogy made with it that if man can take the ruins and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure, so much more is God’s ability to restore his fallen children.  I also like how he encouraged us to draw near to God and He will draw near to us.

Another wonderful principle he shared that I resonated with was that we may impress others with our interpretation, but if our faith doesn’t change the way we live, then our religion is vain and our faith is in danger of flat-lining.  This is one of the great truths I’ve learned from blogging about the scriptures is that it does me no good to rhapsodize about a principle if I don’t live it. Living the principles of the gospel is the great challenge and quest of life.  I struggle every day in various ways to put what I learn into practice and I don’t have any statistical data about how much I fail versus how much I succeed, but I fail far more often than I would like.  But I have hope that Christ will help me if I don’t give up.
Thursday, April 7, 2016 2 comments

Impressions from April 2016 General Conference: Saturday Afternoon session

In between the morning and afternoon sessions of conference on Saturday, I usually like to watch the Church’s World Report of different things the church has done or been involved in since last conference.  I am frequently fascinated by the story of the how the church takes root and grows in different countries.  I wish that more could be known about this.  A book about how the church spread to different countries would be wonderfully interesting to me. 

It is amazing to me that we now have 150 temples in operation. I remember only 17 or 18 years ago when President Hinckley announced the goal of having 100 temples in operation by the year 2000. 

Ronald L. Rasband (12)

I particularly liked how Elder Rasband talked about the story of Peter walking on the water to Jesus and needing Jesus to save him.  I got the impression that Elder Rasband had times when he felt he doing the equivalent of walking on the water and then finding he couldn’t do it alone and he needed the Savior.   I also appreciated his mention that the YW/M theme for this year is “Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ.”  I think I need a liberal dose of that in my life too. 

Neil L. Andersen (12)

I loved the stories of children learning to be active in the gospel, particularly how they began to link up.  I like that Elder Andersen affirmed the ideal family configuration while also explaining different ways we can be sensitive to those who are not in the ideal situation. 

The story of the new bishop who greeted the boy with “It’s so good to see you!” when he came back to church shows just how much of an impact those words can make.  I’ve had people say those words to me, and it always makes me feel loved. I try to use those words too, especially with my scouts, so they know I care.

Mervyn B. Arnold (70)

I would like to rescue people, but I feel I’m pretty bad at it, so Elder Arnold’s four principles of rescue were helpful.  I particularly loved the story of the man who went into the ocean in his suit to bring someone to church who wanted to serf instead.  That’s a great example of putting someone else’s spiritual welfare ahead of one’s own dignity or comfort.

Jairo Mazzagardi

This talk was interesting because it was an example of someone from another country who had questions about why the church had to be restored in the United States, and I appreciate that he shared his quest to find answers that satisfied him.  I hope this will encourage anyone else who has similar questions.   In the past I have sometimes wondered if there were members in other countries who felt some nationalistic jealousy (for lack of a better term) about the Restoration happening in the United States.  And Elder Mazzagardi’s talk demonstrates it can become an issue.  I liked that he reaffirmed gaining a personal testimony through prayer, searching, and study.

Concerning the question that he had wrestled with, for my part, I also think that Heavenly Father needed a place with a particular cultural-political climate of freedom. (A really complicated historical-cultural comparison would need to be made to determine the hows and whys.)  Also, the fact that the plates were buried at Hill Cumorah suggests that area would have to be the place of the Restoration.   I don’t know if Moroni was guided to bury the plates where he did or if Moroni buried the plates where he could and Heavenly Father then guided all subsequent events so that the appropriate cultural-political climate would encompass the Hill Cumorah for the Restoration.  But I have heard the stories of what Joseph Smith’s family went through before they came to Palmyra, and it is a lot of difficult circumstances that forced them to move from place to place.  I think Heavenly Father helped them in such a way that circumstances that might have broken them instead refined them and guided them.

But back to the Restoration issue--  I think if Moroni had buried the plates in, say, Brazil, then Brazil would have had to become the country of freedom as the United States is considered today, and likely it would have been the place of the Restoration.

David A Bedar (12)

I appreciated Elder Bednar’s analysis of how ordinances and the power of the Holy Ghost work together to sanctify us.  I love that scripture he quoted from the D&C about how the power of godliness is manifested through the ordinances.  I still remember how I felt when I was baptized at age eight, and I remember marveling over how clean I felt inside.  It took me many years to learn why I had felt that way, but thankfully it wasn’t the only cleansing experience I had.  I can testify I’ve felt it in the sacrament too. 

I also appreciated the reminder that we can always have the Spirit to be with us if we try to always remember the Savior.  I’ve written about how I experimented with that and experienced great blessings.  I know it can really help, but it is something I still have to work at and have to be reminded of.  I think everyone needs to try it to see what it is like.

Great quote: Baptism is a departure, not the destination. Sacrament is redemptive progress.

M. Russell Ballard (12)

I loved his talk on family counsels and the different types of counsels that are possible.  My family used family counsels on occasion, and I felt it helped us become more unified, but I don’t think we figured out how it could become an engine for finding solutions to family problems. 

I love that Elder Ballard said that counsels could help children feel heard and that it can protect us from distractions that would steal our relationships. 

I also liked that Elder Ballard described how to make counsels formal. Formality can create respect for the decisions made by them and give additional weight that helps ease consistently enforcing decisions over the long term.  As someone who struggles with impulsiveness, formality and official planning helps me be more consistent.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 0 comments

Impressions from April 2016 General Conference: Saturday Morning

I wanted to share some of the overall impressions I had of General Conference from each talk.  This post will be about Saturday morning session. I won’t share all my notes, but focus on highlights.

Elder Henry B. Erying (12)

I was touched by his admonition to pray for different parties—choir, speakers, people praying-- as they participated in conference.  His major focus seemed to be for everyone to be spiritually prepared to listen, or barring that, that everyone could have a softening of the heart.  This was an excellent introductory talk. It’s like the Lord was saying, “Prepare your hearts! Listen up!  And even listen to the parts that don’t seem as important!”

His words about the importance of testimonies at the end of talks helped me listen more closely to those parts. In the past, the ending testimony part of conference talks has felt like sort of obligatory and tacked on, but this time I really noticed and appreciated it.

Sister Mary R. Durham (2nd counselor Primary presidency)

Her story touched me. If you remember, it was about the father who was weighed down by his shoes as he swam across the lake with one of his children.  While I know this talk mostly focused on helping children have spiritual experiences, I felt to ask myself, “What worldly things are weighing me down in my life?”  So I’ve been trying to make some changes to kick off some sins that too easily beset me.

Donald L Halstrom (?)

Elder Halstrom’s main message was about how our knowledge that we are sons and daughters of God can give us strength and power and motivate us to keep our covenants. I feel I get wrapped around the axle with such tiny troubles, and I think remembering my divine identity will help me overcome better.

I loved the story Elder Halstrom told of his daughter writing her answer to the question “You’ve drunk a witch’s brew. What happened to you?”  I loved that his daughter took the question so seriously, even to imagining what it would be like in heaven after she died from the witch’s brew.  I think that demonstrates how when we have been well-trained in the gospel, it permeates our imaginations and we see the world through its frame of reference and even can use it in our imagination.  

I appreciated his stories of the Saints in Africa and the zeal they put into gathering for regional conference and singing “How Firm a Foundation.” Their zeal is so encouraging, and their stories give me better perspective on my life.  (I also appreciated that the News and World Report included at least a small snippet of their singing.)

Gary E Stevenson (12)

I love how he took a story about losing his keys while skiing and made that the basis of his talk about priesthood keys.   Great question – “Where are the keys?”   It made me really glad that we are no longer locked out of saving ordinances and that the priesthood has been restored.

Kevin R. Duncan (70)

I was fascinated by his story of how he was able to get the splinter out of his finger with continued applications of ointment and a bandage.  (I’ve had some nasty splinters and cactus spines bother me for a while, so I’m going to try his method next time.) I liked how he applied this to how using Christ’s atonement can help us forgive.   I’ve heard talks about how Christ can help us heal after we’ve forgiven, but the principle that He can help us forgive is just as powerful.  Some offenses we can find it in our hearts to forgive, but others are so painful that we need help.

He said, “We don’t need to be a victim twice; we can forgive.”  At first glance, it may seem like this is saying we need not put ourselves at risk of being hurt a second time by the person who offended us.  And while that is true, I think it also implies that when we don’t forgive, we are hurt by the offense twice as much (if not more).

Steven E Snow (70)

I found it really interesting that Elder Snow approached the topic of humility by first talking about hymns of the church.  When I held up a copy of the church’s first hymnal, I think I exclaimed to my husband, “It’s so small and cute!”  And just think—today we can have all our hymns on a smartphone, and more besides.  (Insert marveling-over-technology noises here)

I appreciated the reminder to be humble. Humility is pretty counter-cultural right now when everything and everybody is described or complimented as “awesome.” 

Elder Renlund (12)

I thought his observation was quite profound when he said, “The greater the distance between the giver and receiver, the more the receiver gets a sense of entitlement.”  And showing how it was also true spiritually was illuminating, with comparisons between Nephi and Laman and Lemuel.  I can look back and see some spiritual entitlement in my life, so the counsel to draw nearer to God will be helpful.

Sunday, April 3, 2016 0 comments

The message of Malachi 3 & 4 for us

It is interesting that Jesus gave the Nephites a recitation of Malachi 3-4 and not the first parts of Malachi as well. It makes me wonder. Did He give the other parts too and Mormon only included the parts he felt were most applicable to us, or did Jesus just give Malachi 3-4?

Regardless of this question, though, it is interesting to study the parts given and see how they apply to us.

The message seems to be about the importance of preparing for the second coming by repenting and purifying one’s self. Two particular issues are raised that need dealing with, which people aren’t aware, and which seem to underline the need for prophets and revelation. 

Problem #1 is the people don’t understand that withholding their tithing’s and offerings constitutes robbing God and brings a curse. The promise is reinterated that blessings are poured out on those who tithe.

Problem #2 is the people think serving God won’t get them anywhere. They think there is no profit in it because the wicked seem to be far more successful.  The problem with this is that it is an implicit rebuke of God Himself, asserting that His ways are less successful than the world’s. However, we are told that the righteous do not have this attitude, but they speak often to one another (to encourage each other to endure) and they fear the Lord (more than the world) and they think upon His name (instead of obsessing about worldly things). 

In the end, those who believe the Lord’s ways are best and who act in line with that belief will be vindicated because the difference will be obvious between the Lord’s ways and the world’s ways.  We are told the proud and wicked whom many thought were so happy and safe from difficulty will be burned up, whereas those who followed the Lord will be saved, healed, nourished, and at peace.

We get reminders about paying tithing from time to time, so the principle of tithing has higher awareness in the church. But how are our attitudes about the source of success and safety in life?
Friday, April 1, 2016 0 comments

The Dragon and the Beast

If you’ve followed my blog for several years, you will have seen that every so often I go back to imagery in the Book of Revelation and try to make sense of it.  I’ve looked at Revelation 13 several times-- the beast with seven heads and ten horns, warring against the Saints, and the second beast deceiving others and causing people to receive a mark in the forehead or hand. I’ve come up with a number of different ways of looking at it, all with the caveat that I would probably interpret differently in the future.

Well, here I am, looking at it again, and talking about it again, with a different view.

One of the things that has puzzled me for a long time first has to do with Revelation 12--the chapter about the woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to the child and who is fought by the dragon.   I wondered, “Why was this chapter put here?”  I wondered this because from about Revelation 6-11, there is this very strong sense that things are happening in a linear timeline, from the beginning, through to the end.  There’s a sequence of seals opening and a sequence of angels blowing trumpets.  But then Revelation 12 is thrown in, which has imagery of the war in heaven, which represents a flashback to the beginning, so it is hard to know 1) how long this flashback lasts and 2) where the imagery rejoins the timeline of future history.  Is there any track-backs or reviews of previous material?  Are there any skips ahead?  It’s hard to know.

So here’s the insight I had (and it is going to sound simple, but its implications are very useful):  The beast of Revelation 13 that rises out of the sea is very similar to the dragon in the Revelation 12 flashback about the war in heaven.  Seven heads and ten horns.  There are some cosmetic differences—the beast in Revelation 13 is described as like a leopard, with bear’s feet, and a lion’s mouth (Rev. 13:2) instead of a dragon—but the essence is the same.  Still predatory.

Think about what information we would lose about this beast in Revelation 13 if we didn’t have Revelation 12 in there. 

Next, there’s something we learn from the Joseph Smith Translation.

KJV Revelation 13:1
JST Revelation 13:1
And I stood upon the sand of the sea,
and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns,
and upon his horns ten crowns,
and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
And I saw another sign, in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth;
a beast rise up out of the sea,
and he stood upon the sand of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

Joseph Smith contributed the information that this beast in Revelation 13 was in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth.  But don’t forget this beast is similar to the dragon in Revelation 12 in the war in heaven.  Since we associate the Revelation 12 dragon with Satan and his followers, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call that the devil’s kingdom, which was cast out of heaven.   So we then we can infer that the beast of Revelation 13 is the political kingdom(s) of the devil that is set up on earth.  It rises up out of the sea like it is something that hasn’t been seen before.

Next question: Would we be able to recognize the kingdom(s) of the devil as a political entity(s) here?  Do we see it on earth today?  Based on the stories in the Book of Ether, I suspect that devil’s kingdom will make use of secret combinations to try to keep people in captivity to it.  But I don’t know if we see that just yet.  I suspect it is still in the future.  But it's hard to know because our individual knowledge is so limited. It seems like when we get to this point in history, it will be so obvious that pointing out the correct interpretation will no longer be seen as "out there" but actually a daring thing to do.

Here’s a bonus note:  In Revelation 17, we see the seven-headed-ten-horned beast again, but this time it has a rider, and its rider is the whore, the mother of abominations, which drinks the blood of saints and martyrs.  The position of the whore riding the beast communicates that the forces of immorality will eventually acquire ascendency in the earthly kingdom(s) of the devil and then set the agenda.   Happily, we are also told that the beast will lose in its fight against the Lamb (Rev. 17:14) and eventually turn on the whore and destroy her (Rev. 17:16), which will be another instance of the wicked punishing the wicked.

So for me, my question has been answered about why the content of Revelation 12 was put where it was.  It gives us valuable context about the nature of the beast that appears in Revelation 13.  The beast in Revelation 13 is patterned after the kingdom of the devil that fought against God and the Saints before the foundation of the world.  And that means that when we are trying to pin the identity of the seven-headed-ten-horned beast on some entity, it has to fit kingdom(s)-of-the-devil criteria as well.