Sunday, October 30, 2016 0 comments

Some thoughts about gospel basics

One of the things about having a scripture blog is that I’ve noticed I have a tendency to charge toward the new, interesting, and occasionally speculative topics. 

Looking over this month, I’ve had a few posts on basics such as family,  something in the Beatitudes, and self-deception recently, but my topics have also touched on prophecy of events after the Millennium, chronology in the Book of Revelation, bishop’s recommends for going to Zion, all of which at first glance are may not seem terribly useful or practical for today.  (I’ve tried to give them practical twists, but I don’t know how successful I’ve been at that.)

This kind of thing has been likened to stepping out onto the far branches of the gospel tree where one’s footing can break rather easily.  It can be a dangerous thing to do if the basic principles of the gospel are neglected.

So I want to take some time to share some thoughts about the basic principles of the gospel: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

When I do my scripture study, no matter what I learn, I have to ask myself, “How does this help me today?”  There has to be some way to relate it to what I can do, or some way that it helps build my faith in Christ. 

The gospel is a path. It’s a way of living and acting.  Those basic principles of the gospel I listed above are things that should be used daily. (Baptism’s counterpart, the sacrament, is weekly, but preparation and keeping of covenants is a daily thing.)

Here are some questions I need to pose to myself:

1)   How am I demonstrating faith in Christ today?  Do I do my work with faith in Christ? Do I complete my chores with faith in Christ?
2)   What do I need the grace of Christ to strengthen me to do today?  What weaknesses do I need Christ’s help to overcome today?  What do I need to repent of today?
3)   How have I worked to keep my baptismal covenants today?  When have I remembered the Savior? Can I increase the number of instances when I remember Him?
4)   How have I seen the Spirit work in my life today?  Am I open to spiritual promptings? Am I obedient to impressions?  Do I record my experiences to create a reservoir of faith for the future?

    Will you share with me how you incorporate these basic gospel principles in your life each day?
Friday, October 28, 2016 2 comments

For when scripture study feels stale

From time to time I find myself at a stage when it is hard to find new things to learn in the scriptures and then it becomes hard to get myself to read the scriptures.  You may experience this from time to time too.

I feel very lucky that I got advice from my mom about this.  I mentioned to her my problem some years ago, and it turned out that she was the perfect person to help because she was very diligent at scripture study. She had been doing it a lot longer than I had. 

She told me, “Satan would like you to think that it is boring so that you stop doing it. But it just means you need to find a new way to study that excites you.”  This had a great impact on me, and I still think about it from time to time. 

She also shared with me different ways that she had studied the scriptures. At one point she was very focused on studying by topic.  At another point, her study consisted of meticulously copying down in full in a notebook every single scripture listed in the Topical Guide about Christ.  (It took her months and months. I remember seeing her working on that, and it was special to see my mother take her study so seriously in order to learn more.)

While I wasn’t particularly interested in trying those particular methods, hearing about them helped me see that there were potentially a bunch of different ways to study the scriptures.  Of course, I felt at sea at first because I didn’t know 1) how to find a new method or 2) how to know if I would like a new study method.  I was a little worried that it would take me a long time to find my next method.

Since then, I’ve also learned that finding process sometimes it takes some time. I think I'm a little more comfortable with those transition points now. I have to try different things. It helps to follow my curiosity. It helps to seek out resources and books.  (I suspect that one of the useful things about scripture commentaries is simply how they may offer a different perspective that can make the scriptures new and help us find new study methods.)

Two things I would always do, no matter my method: 1) pray to be edified before starting and 2) write what I learn in a scripture journal.

I didn’t use to pray before reading, but someone I trusted and respected recommended it, so I decided to experiment with that. (I just wish I could remember who told me so I could thank them.) Anyway, it really made a difference. There have been times that I’ve forgotten to pray first, but I can say for sure that every single time I remembered, the Lord always answered my prayer. 

I didn’t use to write when I discovered something cool in the scriptures. But at some point, I felt like I was learning such cool stuff I didn’t want to forget it. That drove me to write it down somewhere.   So I wrote it in my personal journal.  Those types of journal entries started to increase to the point that it started to feel like they were crowding out life-event stuff.  Finally, a seminary pre-service class I took had an assignment to write down scripture insights every day in a notebook. I loved that assignment so much that I continued it after that class ended, and that’s how I realized it was permissible and desirable for me to have a scripture journal as well as a personal journal.

What do you do when you’re trying to find a new way to study the scriptures?  What practices stay the same for you?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 2 comments

Some thoughts on the family being ordained of God

This month’s visiting teaching message had the theme of “The family is ordained of God.”  It seems like such an obvious principle, one that everyone should be able to accept.  And yet, I’ve realized that there are people who have serious problems with the idea of family. 

I took a few writing classes some years ago at ASU.  Through a series of events I happened to read the personal blog of one of my teachers and found that in a post she mentioned her personal decision she had made that she would never get married and never have children. (She never said this in class though.)  Yet she had a boyfriend, and from things she wrote, it was clear she had been with him for some years. It seemed odd to me, and a bit of a shame that she wouldn’t want to take that relationship to the next level.  But I didn’t get all judgey-pants over that. I took it simply as data.

Fast forward some years past graduation. This teacher sent me an email asking if I would read and review her new book. I ended up deciding I didn’t have time, but as I thought about her, I went to her blog to see what she was posting about her life. I read about her writing process she went through as she was putting together a memoir. She had an image of a spreadsheet she had made to distill and organize the chronology of her life in her memoir.  From looking at that spreadsheet and the kinds of events listed month-by-month, I realized that my former teacher must have had a very difficult childhood, and that the tempestuous family relationships had continued into her adulthood.

That’s when I realized that for this woman, “family” was probably a term loaded with negative associations instead of positive ones. “Family” was something to escape from and put behind her and heal from if possible.  I sensed that for her, her experiences may not have given her confidence that she could be a successful wife or mother if she followed her main example (her mom). For her, she may have felt it was all she could do to stop the cycle of pain by not marrying and not having children. 

Some people are able to make the cycle of abuse and trauma end with them as they start and have their own families.  But other people, for whatever reason, don’t have the confidence for that.

Family is ordained of God as a means of transmitting knowledge and values to the next generation, particularly to introduce children to the gospel and start them on the path leading to exaltation. But no family is perfect, and some are truly dysfunctional. Some parents teach the right things, but their example subverts the message.  Some parents abdicate responsibility.  Some parents teach well, but their children make bad choices that affect the rest of the family.  Some family members may have weaknesses—emotional/mental/physical—that make it difficult to have a stable family.  There are infinite permutations of interpersonal challenges that are possible.

I take a lot of hope from a statement in the Family Proclamation that says, “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I take two things from that.  First, it is a nod to the fact that there can be successful families outside the gospel, but following the principles of Christ’s gospel is the best way.  Second, that language of “most likely to be achieved” tells me that following the gospel of Christ greatly increases the statistical probability of having a happy and successful family even with all the challenges faced.

It seems to me that holding up to world the principle that the family is ordained of God is not about waving around a shiny ideal of perfection (which doesn’t exist). It’s about declaring its great potential as a nursery of formative experience and a laboratory for the refinement of character and connection to others.  We want that laboratory to have the best equipment—father, mother, and children.  We want that nursery of formative experience to include faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. 

It’s about opportunity, potential, and growth!
Monday, October 24, 2016 0 comments

Selective destruction

It is interesting to think about how the righteous may have escaped the destruction in the Americas at the death of Christ.

12 And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared—
13 And they were spared and were not sunk and buried up in the earth; and they were not drowned in the depths of the sea; and they were not burned by fire, neither were they fallen upon and crushed to death; and they were not carried away in the whirlwind; neither were they overpowered by the vapor of smoke and of darkness.
14 And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them, and see and behold if all these deaths and destructions by fire, and by smoke, and by tempests, and by whirlwinds, and by the opening of the earth to receive them, and all these things are not unto the fulfilling of the prophecies of many of the holy prophets. (3 Nephi 10:12-14)

First, I have to say that I feel rather cheated that we don’t have Zenos and Zenock and Jacob-Israel’s words about these things, since Mormon cites them particularly in following verses as prophets who testified of these destructions. The way Mormon challenges the reader to search the scriptures and see for ourselves, it is evident he thought we would have those particular prophecies.

However, at least we have a different source that prophesied of those destructions—Nephi saw it all in his sweeping visions of world history. While some would dismiss that as too easy for the Book of Mormon to be self-referential this way, I think it is an instance where we are presented with a choice to believe the account or not. 

Another thing that fascinates me about these verses is how clear-cut the division is between the righteous who survived and the wicked who didn’t. I wonder if the righteous were gathered out of the most dangerous areas, or whether disasters were so precision-targeted to the wicked that no righteous people nearby were killed along with them.

Really, it could be either way. The Book of Mormon has a number of instances when the righteous were led out from among the wicked before the wicked were destroyed. Also, before the destruction at Christ’s death, the tribes were already stoning the prophets and casting them out, so to a certain degree they were self-sorting.

But some disasters can be so isolated as to seem selective.  For example, who has not seen aerial photos of the path of a tornado that demolishes the houses in its path, yet leaves other houses next door still standing?  I also recently watched a Nova TV program on sinkholes, and there was a story of a family who had a sink hole open up just under one bedroom and swallow up the brother or brother-in-law of the owner such that he died. The owner was conflicted because on one hand that room had previously been that of his young child, but the child had been moved to a different bedroom. So one of his family was saved, and another perished.

I am not giving these examples to suggest that people who suffer these disasters are wicked and are being punished. (I’m sure we have people tested like Job at the same time there are Sodoms and Gomorrahs.)  I’m using them to illustrate the precision these disasters can have.    But I think if the Lord chooses, He can use them to weed out the wicked. I also imagine that if/when in the future the Lord uses disasters this way, the inhabitants of each place will know it.  Also, Christ announced to the righteous people that the destruction among them happened because of wickedness, and they also had prophecies to refer to that told them such a thing would happen, and when it did, they realized the prophecies had been fulfilled. The Lord didn’t want them to have any doubt on that score.

I notice that Mormon doesn’t look at it as selective destruction, but actually points out instead who was saved.  To me the story underlines how physical salvation is strongly linked to spiritual salvation. It is yet another way of expressing the message, “Repent and be saved.”
Saturday, October 22, 2016 0 comments

Whosoever shall say, Thou fool

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matt 5:22)

Preliminary note: The JST omits “without a cause” from the text.

This verse is interesting because it warns of judgments, councils, and hellfire may be the lot of those who are angry, deride, and verbally abuse others.

The council Jesus spoke up meant a religious council for the purpose of discipline and judgment. Thus, someone who said “Raca” (a term suggesting contempt) to someone else was dehumanizing and verbally abusing and would eventually do worse things that would ultimately lead to church discipline.

Now for the term “fool.”  This seems relatively mild to us, since we have a tradition of the word being used for people who were merely unwise or ignorant or jerks.  However, my perspective on this was changed when I read that the term “fool” in the scriptures actually meant something like “apostate.”  (Here’s an interesting paper on this verse that I also found enlightening.)

With that bit of knowledge, suddenly the verses in Proverbs about fools mean something completely different.  And here in Matt. 5:22, we are warned not to call someone apostate. We are warned this will put us in danger of hellfire.

Why might this be?  First, it is hostile, exclusionary behavior. It has the effect of driving away someone who is already probably somewhat alienated. So in effect, it does Satan’s work for him, and there are consequences for that. (Who wants to be agents of Satan? Not me! [raises hand])

We don’t know people’s hearts or their inner struggle. All we can see are their words and actions. We don’t know, but that our continued forbearance and kindness might be instrumental in helping those we consider faithless to begin believing again.
Thursday, October 20, 2016 0 comments

The Battle after the Millennium

These verses describe some interesting conditions and happenings about the end of the Millennium, which I find fascinating to think about:

110 And so on, until the seventh angel shall sound his trump; and he shall stand forth upon the land and upon the sea, and swear in the name of him who sitteth upon the throne, that there shall be time no longer; and Satan shall be bound, that old serpent, who is called the devil, and shall not be loosed for the space of a thousand years.
111 And then he shall be loosed for a little season, that he may gather together his armies.
112 And Michael, the seventh angel, even the archangel, shall gather together his armies, even the hosts of heaven.
113 And the devil shall gather together his armies; even the hosts of hell, and shall come up to battle against Michael and his armies.
114 And then cometh the battle of the great God; and the devil and his armies shall be cast away into their own place, that they shall not have power over the saints any more at all.
115 For Michael shall fight their battles, and shall overcome him who seeketh the throne of him who sitteth upon the throne, even the Lamb. (D&C 88:110-115)

Verse 110 tells us Satan will be bound and not loosed again for 1000 years. One of the things that binds Satan is when he and his temptations are completely ignored. If no one listens, he has no power.

Verse 111 tells us that Satan will be loosed for a little season and allowed to gather together his armies. That means that people start giving into temptation again, which is sad. So there will be some apostasy similar to that described in 4 Nephi.

However, Satan will not be unopposed.

Verse 112 tells us that Michael the seventh angel (or archangel) will gather his armies, the hosts of heaven. We know that Michael is also Adam. So we’ll have the resurrected Adam and all the first-fruits of the resurrection still living on the earth since they were resurrected at the beginning. 

It seems absolutely incredible to me that people would apostatize even with resurrected beings—prophets, Saints, and once-martyrs—still living among them!  It’s insanity!  But it seems to be the case.

Verse 113 tells us the devil will gather the hosts of hell and come up to battle against Michael and his armies. I notice it is the wicked who initiate the attack, not the righteous.

Verse 114 says there will be “the battle of the great God” and the devil and his armies will be cast away to their own place and have no more power over the Saints.  

Now, I have to wonder what idiot will have decided it is a good idea to fight against godly, resurrected beings who can’t die any more.  Obviously mortal apostates can’t win against that!  But maybe they would be deceived into thinking that the resurrected are defenseless because of the profound concern for life they exhibit. Maybe the apostates will think the resurrected will choose to suffer anything rather than defend themselves by taking any life. (Because after all, if you take life, you’ve just ended someone’s probationary period and they might have repented.)  Still, the battles have to be fought for the sakes of those mortals who are still righteous.

Verse 115 says Michael will fight the Saints’ battles. This is an interesting modification on the usual assurance that the Lord would fight our battles.  From the perspective of righteous immortals, it would make sense to have a policy of choosing just one resurrected person to do all the fighting (since one immortal is more than a match for any number of mortals).  No overwhelming show of numbers is necessary. 

I found myself asking why this was all made known so far in the future if we wouldn’t have the change to see it happen in our lifetime. I think it is part of the way that God proves He knows the end from the beginning and prepares the way for various generations to build and exercise their faith in Him. We look at prophecies made far in the past about the gathering of Israel and we see them being fulfilled, so we exercise faith that God will continue to fulfill what He has said will happen in the near future and in the far future.  It will also give future Saints just as much reason to read our modern scriptures to see what has been said of them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 2 comments

Some thoughts on the angel flying through the midst of heaven in Revelation 14:6-7

6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6-7)

This scripture has often been used by the Church to back up the idea of the angel Moroni coming to Joseph Smith to tell him the location of the golden plates and communicate the beginning of the great restoring work that Joseph was to do. Also, when we hear it, that is the associated interpretation that we give it.

However, if we were to seriously examine the context of Revelation 14, we would discover that interpretation doesn’t fit.  Consider the very first verse of Revelation 14:

And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. (Rev. 14:1)

Oh, look!  According to this verse (which is before the angel flying through heaven), Zion has already been established, there are 144,000 sealed there, and the Lamb is there!  If Zion has already been established, then to say that verses 6-7 represents Moroni at the beginning of the dispensation is to get things completely confused and out of order.

Perhaps the rest of Christendom is confused by Revelation, but we should overcome these errors.  In reality, the order of events in Revelation is fairly straight forward. Except for one interlude-backtrack in Revelation 12 to give context as to the identity of the beast in Revelation 13 as the kingdom of the devil, events in Revelation are pretty linear—seven seals are opened, then seven angels sound trumpets, then six angelic messengers come, then seven plagues…  The counting of things helps add to the feeling of sequence and linearity. 

Why then does the Church use this scripture about an angel flying through the midst of heaven? It might be out of tradition. (Orson Pratt gives a pretty fair sample of how it has been used in Journal of Discourses 17:307.)  It might also use it because it has the advantage of expressing with clarity that the Bible anticipated a future full of angelic ministration of the gospel message. This was important to underline in a day that did not believe there would be any more miracles, spiritual gifts, angelic visits, etc.  (Of course, that unbelief continues today, but adds a secular form.)

But for us, we should not confuse this as the point in Revelation when the gospel is restored, since v1 shows that at that point it is already there.  But this leads us to the question: why then does an angel fly in the midst of heaven declaring the gospel at this part of Revelation?  I have two answers for that. 1) There will be angels when the Lord determines angels are needed to echo or prepare people for the gospel message. Many times angels are preparatory agents before the full message comes. They are a divine poke telling people to pay attention. 2) Also, the prophet and apostles are equipped with power and authority that makes them as angels from God to the rest of the world.  And overall, this tells me that missionary work continues on.

So where does the Restoration actually get represented in Revelation?  I think it happens in Revelation 7:2 as part of the sixth seal, before the 144,000 get sealed in their foreheads. I think it is represented by the angel ascending from the east with the seal of the living God. (I explain it in this post that also talks about Revelation 6-7.) This imagery of the ascending angel is not quite as plain, thus it is particularly difficult to use as part of missionary work. But since Revelation was written specifically for the Saints, we need not be surprised if many fail to comprehend it.

Just as an extra side-note, Joseph Smith gave D&C 133:36-37, which refers to the verses about the angel flying through the midst of heaven.

36 And now, verily saith the Lord, that these things might be known among you, O inhabitants of the earth, I have sent forth mine angel flying through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel, who hath appeared unto some and hath committed it unto man, who shall appear unto many that dwell on the earth.
37 And this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.  (D&C 133:36-37)

This takes imagery from those verses and adapts it to the Lord’s purpose, which is to announce that the gospel is restored and all should listen, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is still the sequence in Revelation and verses about the Lamb standing with the 144,000 sealed in their foreheads that come before..  It seems the Lord can use well-known scriptures for whatever purpose He deems will get the message across, and even in multiple, similar, non-superseding ways.

Friday, October 14, 2016 0 comments

Lehi’s Dream: Three Tools of Satan, Three Tools of God

16 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.

17 And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost.
18 And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God…. (1 Nephi 12:16-18)

I notice that in Lehi’s dream (or as it is interpreted to Nephi by the angel), there are three elements that Satan uses as his tools.

1) The filthy river of water.  This is not a clear river. It’s carrying a ton of silt. I think the river can express sinfulness that is immersive and addicting, the kinds of sins that can make one think everything is dirty.  It is aptly described as the depths of hell.  This is not the kind of river a person can just wade in a little and walk out of. It’s worse than quicksand. It’s called “the depths of hell” for a reason.

2) The mists of darkness. Mists are nebulous and insubstantial, but they make things look different and hazy. I think mists are a great way to express how Satan’s temptations mess with our perceptions and try to make us think that things are different than what they really are.

3) The large and spacious building. Manmade, yet unstable, since it eventually falls. It looks like it would provide shelter from the elements, like it would be comfortable. But it is inherently unsafe. (I have to wonder if we make our own great and spacious buildings.) It looks like it would be a better, more interesting destination than that tree over there. A fancy-but-unsafe building is an excellent symbol for pride. Also, the way it gathers a judgmental, scornful crowd captures pride’s workings in larger society. Even if it feels like it is safe to go with the crowd, wrong is still wrong, and eventually it will be proven so.

So, we’re not just to beware of the mists of temptation, but also pride and filthiness.

Compare these things to the instruments of God, which are the path, the rod, and the tree with its fruit.

1) The path.  It’s the only safe way with sure footing and a desirable destination. There aren’t rocks or obstacles or holes in it. (Only Satan tries to make us think there are.) To me the way we walk in the path teaches that God gives us things to do that help us progress.

2) The rod. It’s a fail-safe for the path and works in tandem with it.  If you can’t see the way to go, you can feel it through the rod. For every place you are on the path, there is rod there to guide you.  Also, anyone who honestly grabs and holds the rod will get on the path.  The rod is guidance that God gives us through revelation and the scriptures. 

3) The fruit. The fruit seems to me to be both the goal and nourishment along the way.  God’s love nourishes us with sweet tastes that point us to a future hope of exalted bliss, and isn’t the fullness is also the reward?  (This is perhaps the place where it seems like the dream breaks down for me as an allegory.)

So, I see that God uses gospel progression, revelation, and love as His tools during this life.

If we can just choose more of God’s tools and reject Satan’s tools!
Wednesday, October 12, 2016 0 comments

Paul on Self-deception

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. (Galatians 6:3-4)

When we think we’re something when we’re nothing, of course we lie to ourselves. And if we persist, we will also deceive other people.  But eventually we will be put to the test, and it will reveal our nothingness and disappoint both ourselves and others.

Also, it is easy to get a cock-eyed notion of what we’re capable of when we judge others or mentally charge them with neglect or pride or some other deficiency.  So often we think, “I could do better than that.”  But so often we are ignorant of what is involved—of the challenges to be overcome, of the opposing forces to be balanced, of the negotiations to be made, of considerations to be taken into account, of the skills required.  The only way to find out how good you are at something is to test yourself, to prove your own work.  That will turn into a humbling process.  Ultimately, you’ll know more about yourself and you’re less likely to deceive yourself that way again.

We can be tested by the Lord through circumstances, and we can also test ourselves.

The one time I remember saying, “I could do better than that,” I then tested myself and over the process of a year or so discovered that I had indeed been deceiving myself.  It was a painful experience, but I’m still grateful for having done it because of what it taught me about myself. It also taught me much greater respect for the person I had previously looked down on.
Monday, October 10, 2016 0 comments

Lessons from the Lord’s curse upon Satan in the Garden of Eden

And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: (Genesis 3:14)

I was thinking about this recently and I started to wonder, “If Satan was already cursed because of being cast out of heaven, why curse him again?” and “How does it help us to know this curse?”

If we think this is just about a serpent, it seems like the curse is obvious. It’s implied that the serpent used to have legs and here has them taken away. It’s also implied that it used to eat something better, but is now relegated to only eating dust.  Our view of snakes today is perfectly in line with the seemingly physical conditions God describes.  Serpents have to slither everywhere. And they’re always sticking their tongues out, so it looks like they are licking the ground. (Of course, today we know that the tongue action is the way snakes sense things.)

As I thought about it, I wondered if maybe the Lord was making a statement about the curses that come to those who tempt like Satan does.  Satan is already cursed, but it is us who must be warned from becoming his servants and tempting others.  Eve briefly became Satan’s servant when tempting Adam to eat the fruit, so the warning is appropriate.

“upon thy belly shalt thou go” – This curse is about how faster travel has been somehow taken away. I think the larger theme is about progression.  It teaches that those who tempt others will have their own spiritual progress substantially slowed to the point that everyone goes much faster.  Not a pleasant prospect.  Not only that, but any movement would happen on the belly instead of on legs.  That may refer to how a tempter’s core motivation for acting would become satisfying their appetites.  One might even say that a tempter would be enslaved by their appetites.

“dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” –  This curse seems to be about what a tempter finds nourishing.  A tempter feeds not on something sweet, but on gross stuff. If they want to eat dirt all their life instead of something that tastes better, their taste has become corrupted.  They call evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Who wants to eat dirt?  Not me.  I’d rather eat tasty fruit from the tree of life than dirt.

So, I think this bit of knowledge can help us when we are being tempted. It helps us discern the consequences.  We don’t want our progression slowed, we don’t want our appetites to be our motivation, and we don’t want to be have our moral and aesthetic tastes corrupted.  

It can also help us think about what we have to offer others when we are trying to persuade them to try something.  Will it stop their progression, enslave them to an appetite or corrupt them in some way?  If so, then we shouldn’t try to pull them in, and we shouldn’t be in it either!
Saturday, October 8, 2016 2 comments

Michael (Adam) as a prince

15 That you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms, saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman;
16 Who hath appointed Michael your prince, and established his feet, and set him upon high, and given unto him the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life. (D&C 78:15-16)

When I read this, I wondered why it was important to include that information about Michael, or Adam.

But coming as it does so early in church history, it actually implies a lot of neat things. To Saints who previously only knew of the fall of Adam and his exit from the Garden of Eden, it tells us that though outside Eden, eventually Adam became righteous, that he attained the priesthood, and that he is given authority over his posterity.   When it is says Christ established his feet, that tells me Christ taught Adam his foundational knowledge of the gospel and set him on the path of faithfulness.  Even though Adam fell, he was eventually raised up and exalted, which I think is what “set up on high” is meant to communicate.

With that in mind, the promise that we may come up to the crown prepared for us and be made rulers over many kingdoms tells us that we, like Adam, can overcome the fall through Christ.  If the Lord established Adam’s feet, He will do the same for us.  If Adam was given keys, so can we be. If Adam was appointed a prince, so can we be. 

That is so thrilling. The crown is there waiting; it has already been prepared and we just need to keep stepping up!
Thursday, October 6, 2016 0 comments

Certifying worthiness to go to Zion

15 Thus it cometh out of the church, for according to the law every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion.
16 And now, verily I say unto you, that as every elder in this part of the vineyard must give an account of his stewardship unto the bishop in this part of the vineyard—
17 A certificate from the judge or bishop in this part of the vineyard, unto the bishop in Zion, rendereth every man acceptable, and answereth all things, for an inheritance, and to be received as a wise steward and as a faithful laborer;
18 Otherwise he shall not be accepted of the bishop of Zion.
19 And now, verily I say unto you, let every elder who shall give an account unto the bishop of the church in this part of the vineyard be recommended by the church or churches, in which he labors, that he may render himself and his accounts approved in all things….
24 A few words in addition to the laws of the kingdom, respecting the members of the church—they that are appointed by the Holy Spirit to go up unto Zion, and they who are privileged to go up unto Zion—
25 Let them carry up unto the bishop a certificate from three elders of the church, or a certificate from the bishop;
26 Otherwise he who shall go up unto the land of Zion shall not be accounted as a wise steward. This is also an ensample. Amen.  (D&C 72:15-19)

In these verses we are given some of the rules by which people were to go up to Zion. 
1)   Consecration – “every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion” (v15)
2)   Stewardship and accountability – “every elder in this part of the vineyard must give an account of his stewardship unto the bishop in this part of the vineyard” (v16)
3)   Recommendation by the bishop – “a certificate from the judge or bishop…unto the bishop in Zion, rendereth every man acceptable” (v17)

I think we have a mistaken idea today that anyone could decide to go to Zion and settle. These verses give us a different view. They show us that members had to have a certificate from the bishop to take with them to show the bishop in Zion that they had done what was required.  They had to give an account of their stewardship.  The certificate showed they were good stewards (a faithful laborer and wise with their resources) and they could be given an inheritance.  Everyone going up to Zion had to have that certificate, otherwise they were not to be considered a wise steward.

Once they got to Zion, there would be a stewardship interview right off the bat to assess what the new arrival had in their charge (and probably to determine any additional needs or any surpluses that could be disposed).

So, this meant that Zion was to be a place full of people who had consecrated, who were wise stewards (hard workers and wise managers of resources) and had been certified as such by their bishops. Going to Zion did not happen willy-nilly; in fact, people who tried to move there without the certificate would not be given an inheritance by the bishop. According to D&C 85: 1-5, 9-11 there was to be a history kept of those who received their inheritances and those who “snuck to Zion” were not to be listed in those records.

It is more than likely that when it comes to the point that we are building Zion in Jackson county, Missouri, this same pattern will be used again to determine who will go there.  Temple recommend interviews and tithing settlement interviews give us an idea of what it might be like to receive a Zion recommend. 

We’re pretty comfortable with tithing settlement interviews, and it is pretty easy to declare whether we have been a full-tithe payer or not. It’s kind of a binary thing—either we are or we’re not.  A stewardship interview may be trickier because stewardships can be complex.  It occurs to me that probably the best and easiest tool for demonstrating wise stewardship may be our ability to show that we can make and keep a budget and live within our means…
Tuesday, October 4, 2016 0 comments

The trumpets of Revelation 8, according to D&C 77

D&C 77 is a section in which Joseph Smith asked the Lord questions about the meaning of various parts of Revelation.

As I studied this section, I happened to notice that the section summary for v12-14 says “Christ will come in the beginning of the seventh thousand years.” So I went looking at those verses to see where it says or implies that.

12 Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things; and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.
 13 Q. When are the things to be accomplished, which are written in the 9th chapter of Revelation?
A. They are to be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ.
 14 Q. What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John, as mentioned in the 10th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that it was a mission, and an ordinance, for him to gather the tribes of Israel; behold, this is Elias, who, as it is written, must come and restore all things. (D&C 78:12-14)

The thing that makes us think that the second coming happens at the beginning of the opening of the seventh seal is that bit at the beginning of the v12 answer that says “in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all thing…”

We think “sanctifying the earth” must be the Millennium. We think “completing the salvation of man” must be the resurrection, and “judging all things” must be the judgment of the wicked, and “redeeming all things” must be a repeat about the resurrection, or else a reformation of all systems and institutions to follow righteous principles, and we think none of these can happen unless the Lord comes first.

The thing is, the actual interpretation of the trumpets is they are “the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.”  And then the events of Revelation 9 are to be after the opening of the 7th seal and before the coming of Christ. And the eating of the book in Revelation 10 is about gathering the tribes of Israel, which would also be before the coming of Christ. All these things in later chapters are before the coming of Christ.

So the question becomes--In what way, then, does the Lord sanctify, save, judge, and redeem all things in the beginning of the 7th thousand years without actually coming?  I think He will do it through His prophets and priesthood holders, who prepare the way for the time of His coming.

The thing is, that bit about the Lord sanctifying the earth, completing the salvation of man, judging all things, and redeeming all things makes it seem like Christ forces it all to happen. But really, sanctification, salvation, and redemption doesn’t happen without man doing their part of coming to Christ, repenting, and asking for His grace. We have to be obedient, and the more obedient we become, the more we are prepared, and the more the Lord can do his work in our lives.

So, long story short, the beginning-section summary for those verses is an incomplete understanding. Instead, it should probably say something like, “Prophetic messages from God prepare the earth for Christ’s second coming.”