Monday, June 19, 2017 1 comments

All the ways of saving the righteous and destroying the wicked in 1 Nephi 22

In 1 Nephi 22, Nephi takes some time to give some very general reassurances about the latter-day struggle.

13 And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.
14 And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.
15 For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.
16 For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
17 Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.
18 Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.
20 And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
21 And now I, Nephi, declare unto you, that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness.
22 And the righteous need not fear, for they are those who shall not be confounded. But it is the kingdom of the devil, which shall be built up among the children of men, which kingdom is established among them which are in the flesh—
23 For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
24 And the time cometh speedily that the righteous must be led up as calves of the stall, and the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.
25 And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.
26 And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth. (1 Nephi 22:13-26)

This section has seemed rather ambiguous to me because it is hard to pin down exactly what is meant about how the righteous would be saved from the wicked and how the wicked would be destroyed. In some places it seems the righteous will be saved by power, other places they are saved by the destruction of their enemies by fire, other places they are saved as their enemies are cut off or as Christ executes righteous judgment.

Similarly, the wicked are destroyed or tumble to the dust in a great fall, or they fall into the pit they digged for the righteous, or they fight each other and destroy each other, or they suffer the fullness of God’s wrath, or they are cut off, or they are burned as stubble with fire, or suffer with blood and vapors of smoke, or they are brought low.

In the past I have automatically assumed this all happens at the coming of Christ. But now I’m not so sure if it all happens then. Some of the events seem mutually exclusive ways of being destroyed or saved. For instance, if the wicked kill the wicked, then their destruction isn’t at the Lord’s coming; it’s earlier. And while the wicked will be burned at Christ’s coming, that doesn’t stop the wicked from burning each other earlier.

Eventually I decided this is a case when Nephi lumped it all together. One or other of these different ways will be true at some time, so ti is sort of a multi-purpose prophecy. Its not linear like the Book of Revelation. It’s sort of like saying, “The righteous will be saved by option1/ option2/ option3 /option4 /option5 while their enemies will be destroyed by optionA /optionB /optionC /optionD /optionE.”

Of course I could be wrong.  What do you think?

Saturday, June 17, 2017 0 comments

The Fall of the Great and Abominable Church

13 And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.
14 And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it. (1 Nephi 22:13-14)

These aren’t the only verses that speak of the consequences of fighting against Zion. Verses 15-16, 18, 22-23 say more, so they are worth examining as well. But I’m going to look at the above verses today.

First, I notice the entities that are referred to by the different names who will be punished—the great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth, every nation which shall war against thee O house of Israel, all that fight against Zion, that great whore, that great and abominable church. There’s a chiasmus there in the order they are mentioned.

the great and abominable church,
the whore of all the earth,
every nation which shall war against thee O house of Israel,
all that fight against Zion,
that great whore,
that great and abominable church

The entities that are victimized in these verses are the house of Israel, the people of the Lord, and Zion. 

How are these good entities attacked? What is done to them that must be stopped, according to Nephi?
--The house of Israel is warred against.
--The people of the Lord are being ensnared with pits dug for them.
--Zion is being fought against.
--As a bonus, “the right ways of the Lord” are also being perverted, so apparently the gospel path suffers too from being disrupted, obscured, diverted, neglected, avoided, slandered, etc.

These verses also describe how judgments catch up with the great and abominable church, the whore, and nations that fight against Zion. It comes in different forms:
--They fight among themselves (unity among the wicked can’t continue. They will offend each other and turn against each other)
--They are drunken with their own blood (apparently they will get so obsessed with the fight against each other that it clouds their judgment)
--They shall fall into the pit they digged to ensnare others in (they are found guilty of the very accusations they bring against the people of the Lord. Hypocrisy is exposed, since they project their own sins onto others.)
--They will be destroyed (their own violent and destructive tendencies will be turned against them)
--They will “tumble to the dust” with a great fall (Evidently all their previous ascendency and status will be lost)

I think we are told this so that we know the consequences and judgment for fighting against Zion and the Lord are real, and so we will recognize it when it happens. (Apparently it comes in at least five forms.) We will pass through narrow times because of the great and abominable church, the whore, and nations and all who fight against Zion. We’ll wonder if there will be an end to it. Here we are told there will be.
Thursday, June 15, 2017 0 comments

How 1 Nephi 21 (Isaiah 49) pertained to the Nephites, and how it can help us

1 Nephi 21 is a quotation of Isaiah 49. The chapter heading says, “The Messiah will be a light to the Gentiles and will free the prisoners—Israel will be gathered with power in the last days—Kings will be their nursing fathers—Compare Isaiah 49.”

This gives the important points of the chapter from a modern LDS perspective about gathering Israel, but to me it misses the context for why Nephi quoted it and why it would be encouraging to him and his brothers.

I think verse 1 hints at the concerns they had:

And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.

Nephi and his family knew they’d been broken off from the house of Israel because of the wickedness of the leaders and the rest of the people too, and there would be this sense of, “Well, now what do we do? Who will lead us?” (By the way, the part of about them being broken off because of “the wickedness of the pastors of my people” is not in the Bible’s version of Isaiah. It doesn’t reflect well on the Jews of that time, so it isn’t surprising that would be redacted.)

What this chapter of Isaiah does is speak to all those of the house of Israel in any age who have been led away by the Lord, who wonder what to do and whether they are forgotten. All the concerns that are associated with that situation are addressed.

To righteous leaders who feel their efforts to gather Israel have been wasted (v4), they are told in v5-6 they will be a light to the Gentiles instead.

To those who wonder who will lead them now, they are told the Lord will give them “my servant for a covenant of the people” (v8), meaning one of their own will be given the power to lead and guide them with revelation to show they are still part of the covenant.

To those who feel like they are now wandering in the wilderness away from the main body of Israel, the Lord promises,

They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted” (v9-11).

So even though these branches of Israel are broken off and it feels like wandering, the Lord will make a way for them and nourish them, and the “wandering” will become a sanctifying and refining experience and benefit not just them, but future generations. (Consider how Nephi’s records of his journeys and experiences benefits us today.)  This is pretty awesome.

To those who feel like the Lord has forgotten them, there is are two great lines to address this. “He will show that hath not” (v14) and “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (v16) It immediately evokes Christ’s crucifixion and the scars as memory aids, but also promises that the Lord will show He has not forgotten us. (Which means we have to look for how He shows us and record it so that we remember.)

And then finally, all these broken off scattered bits of Israel will be gathered together again in a way so surprising that the main part of Israel that wasn’t scattered would wonder, “Where have they been?” (v21)

When I consider the above, I think that makes the chapter a lot more useful and valuable than just as an instance of prophecy of the gathering of Israel that we are a part of.  There’s something about it that speaks to some deep worries we might have today, even if we are part of the Lord’s kingdom.

Righteous leaders still wonder if their efforts are doing any good. At one time or another we may be away from the main body of the Saints, or maybe our life doesn’t look anything like what we imagined it would be and we’re feeling our way trying to figure out what to do, which can seem like we are wandering in the wilderness. Or maybe everything is passing us by and we feel forgotten by the Lord.

Again, I think this chapter does a great job of addressing those concerns.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 2 comments

Nephi’s workings in the Spirit

For behold, I have workings in the spirit, which doth weary me even that all my joints are weak, for those who are at Jerusalem; for had not the Lord been merciful, to show unto me concerning them, even as he had prophets of old, I should have perished also. (1 Nephi 19:20)
The thing that impresses me about this verse is how Nephi continues to think of those people he knew and left behind at Jerusalem. It must have been a solemn thing to know the people one knows have either been killed or carried away captive.

And he doesn’t think of them with any kind of scorn here; you can tell that he sees that he might have been one of them, and it was the Lord’s mercy that saved him from suffering the same fate.  And too, he realized that if he didn’t stay faithful, he could still perish. You get a sense that he felt the precariousness of spirituality that required continual nurturing.
Sunday, June 11, 2017 0 comments

An interesting topic shift in Nephi’s record

5 And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold, I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people.
6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels. (1 Nephi 19:5-7)

I am struck by these verses for a few reasons. First, because I am a writer myself, I know what it is like to write about the scriptures and then feel like others may not appreciate those things how I do. Even in the church I think we struggle against an inner lassitude about it. I wonder if it is common to not quite appreciate something in the scriptures unless you are in quite the right frame of mind or dealing with a challenge that a particular text touches on. Then there is an “Aha!” moment, and ever after it means something special.

Second, the way Nephi shifts from thinking about how his own writing might be rejected or set at naught to thinking about how the Messiah would suffer and be set at naught. He shifts pretty quickly between those two topics and spends so much time writing about that that I wonder if that was what he meant to spend time on in the first place or whether his thoughts were pulled there so strongly that he had to go at length. (Because he does go on for six more verses about the Messiah.)

At any rate, when I read this section and what follows, part of me starts thinking, “How did we get on this topic of prophecies of Christ from the topic of record-keeping?” But it shows how Nephi uses his own experiences and worries as jumping-off points to think about Christ, and that is a mentally sanctifying skill, I think. As we go through life, if in our trials we can think about how Christ experienced or suffered something similar, we can gain a greater sense that we can ask for Christ’s atonement to be applied in our behalf.

Third, I notice Nephi says he will give an account of making those plates, but I’m not sure he ever gets around to including that, just like we don’t get an extended account of how he builds the ship to get to the promised land. But the fact that he wanted to include an account of making the plates says that it must have been spiritually faith-promoting to him, with challenges to overcome, revelation gained, the way prepared by the Lord, and so on. He certainly couldn’t go out and buy them at the corner drugstore. He had to find ore (or buy it), melt it out, beat it into plates, pierce them, make rings to connect them, and engrave them.

Friday, June 9, 2017 2 comments

Nephi’s different revelations

1 And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.
2 Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.
3 And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.
4 And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord. (1 Nephi 18:1-4)

I’m impressed about what these verses say about the revelations Nephi received.

Verse 1 says the Lord showed Nephi from time to time how he should work the timbers of the ship. I think this is cool because it describes a process of continual, specific revelation to solve mechanical problems. How did the Lord show Nephi? It could have been in open daylight vision. It could have been in dreams. It could have been a combination of the two. But however the Lord showed, it got the job done.

I wondered why Nephi didn’t describe in more detail what the Lord showed him when other spiritual experiences he had he gets pretty specific about. Eventually I realized that while it would expand on that pattern of revelation, all it would teach us beyond that was how Nephi built his ship. That might interest archeologists, but its value for salvation is very low. We don’t have to build ships to be saved in the kingdom of God.

Even if we know next to nothing about the ship Nephi built, we can extrapolate a few of the constraints on the design. 1) It had to be a ship for a non-seagoing people, so it had to be easy to learn and easy to use. 2) It had to be something that could be built with the materials available at that location.

Verse 2 says Nephi didn’t work the timbers like how men had learned, nor did he build the ship like men built, but he did it the way the Lord showed him. It implies Nephi had some idea of what ships should look like and what he was doing looked different. It seems he also had a little bit of knowledge (but perhaps not all) about how ships were made, and the Lord’s directions were different there too. It takes faith to follow the Lord’s directions when they are different from our own previous notions, so Nephi’s observation and obedience says a lot about his faith.

That phrase “not after the manner of men” and “after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me” seems to hold a more generally applicable lesson. Man has a small amount of wisdom gained over time, but aren’t there things we’ve learned to do after the manner the Lord has shown us, which is different from the manner of men?  Some examples I think of immediately are, “no power or influence ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” or “he who is greatest among you shall be your servant” or “love your enemies and pray for them.”  There’s a bit of a risk when you go differently, following the Lord’s way for the first time; you wonder if it will work better or not. It takes faith.  (What other things can you think of that we know to do which are not after the manner of men?)

Verse 3 tells of Nephi going to the mount oft and praying oft and the Lord showed him great things. It seems Nephi wasn’t just receiving revelation about how to build the ship, but was getting other revelations as well—things he called “great.” He doesn’t tell us what they are, but we at least know he valued them. To me this teaches the blessings that can be ours if we will pray “oft” instead of just at the obligatory times of meals, church meetings, and morning and evening.

Verse 4 tells of how once the ship was finished, Nephi’s brothers saw it was good and they humbled themselves. If the boat building had been up to them, they would never have started since even if they got past murmuring, they would have had a hard time catching the vision of what to do. If you can’t start a project until you can tell it is good, and it doesn’t look good until the end, you will never start. Humbling oneself at the end instead of the beginning is too late.

I get down on Laman and Lemuel here, but I think far too often I have some of the same problems. I’m thankful for Nephi’s great example to show what I should do instead.

Thursday, June 1, 2017 0 comments

Warnings against Hypocrites, with Attention to Spiritual Manifestations

D&C 50 was given in response to Joseph Smith’s inquiry about various spiritual manifestations and phenomena among the new members in Kirtland. The strange and indecorous nature of these things caused members to wonder what was of God and what was fake.

6 But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment.
7 Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed;
8 But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.
9 Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me. (D&C 50:6-9)

This gives us part of the answer from the Lord—there were some members who were faking spiritual manifestations, and their performance was deceiving others and giving Satan power. There were also false manifestations (from a source not of God).

The Church’s publication, “Revelations in Context” has a chapter called “Religious Enthusiasm Among Early OhioConverts,” and it gives some historical perspective on how the religious culture of the day contributed to the problem.

As part of the Second Great Awakening, people thirsted for more from religion than was in their churches, so there was a surge in religious zeal, and revival meetings were part of that, with great interest in spiritual manifestations. People responded to preaching passionately, with prophesying, shouting, crying, dancing, shaking, rolling, etc. Christians at large were divided over these manifestations—some were suspicious and others saw them as genuinely from God. The Mormon message about spiritual gifts appealed to many people who were taught in Ohio.

The story of Levi Hancock can help illuminate the problems and worries these manifestations created in the church. Levi heard news of the Mormon missionaries, and a bare recitation of what they were preaching gave him a wonderful feeling such that he decided to go listen because he could feel it was the truth. He was baptized, but he and the other converts in Kirtland were soon left without experienced leadership. They had no experience in the church, few Books of Mormon, and no exposure to Joseph Smith’s previous revelations about church order. Some started to introduce elements of enthusiastic worship.

Then three elders of the Church came, and their manner of doings in worship services was very strange (See the linked article for more details). Levi was perplexed and worried he was not as pure as them because they seemed honest and sincere, but Levi’s manifestations were very different from theirs.

So we see one problem with false (wrong sourced) or faked manifestations is that they make sincere and worthy members feel insecure about their own spiritual status and worthiness. When this sort of thing persists and isn’t corrected, it causes sincere members to expect manifestations of a false type and overlook the true manifestations. That is exactly what Satan would like. He would love church members to miss the true manifestations and look for something else so he can suggest all sorts of crazy, dramatic, non-edifying things and have people accept them uncritically.  He would also like to convince members it is okay to pretend they had a manifestation when they haven’t. And the more dramatic, the better, especially if it is to prove how pure and Spirit-led they are and increase their status and reputation in the church. The lie Satan would tell is, “There’s no way anyone can tell whether you are faking it or telling the truth. They are predisposed to think you’re telling the truth anyway, so go ahead.”

Thus, the above verses directly address the issue of hypocrites pretending to spiritual manifestations. The Lord knows who is faking it or pretending and who is not. He warns that hypocrites will be detected, which crushes Satan’s lie of “no one can tell.” The Lord also warns hypocrites they will be cut off and brought to judgment. Someone who prefers to pretend to spiritual manifestations or listens to manifestations from a false source will definitely miss the real ones that would guide and warn them. Eventually they will do something so obviously wrong they must be corrected and receive discipline, but by then it may be very difficult for them to humble themselves and repent, since they will have built their self esteem, worth, and ego on their “enhanced spirituality.”  That’s what brings them to be cut off from the church, if they can’t humble themselves.

What about those who were fooled by the hypocrite and false manifestations? Verse 7 says, “such shall be reclaimed.” The rest of D&C 50 gives helpful principles about how the Spirit preaches the truth, edifies, brings light, is understandable, and many other principles to help increase discernment so that members can chase darkness away.

Verse 9 has a warning for everyone to beware, lest they do something “not in truth and righteousness.” Thus we are to be completely honest and upright and never to pretend to spiritual manifestations and share nothing that does not shed light and edify. We may have manifestations that are for our own edification alone and which are not meant to be shared.

Having had some experience with these things, I am personally grateful for these verses.

Friday, May 26, 2017 3 comments

What we can learn from Nephi’s striving

Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence. (1 Nephi 17:15)

This verse caught my eye recently. It comes a few verses after Nephi gets the command to build a ship. The word that caught my attention was “strive.”

“Strive” means much much more than “try”; it means “fight or contend.”

So Nephi is saying that he fought to keep the commandments. Interestingly, this verse also comes before Nephi’s brothers realize he’s going to start building a ship, so he hasn’t even begun to preach to them about their murmuring yet. They haven’t begun to murmur; they don’t know a ship-building operation is about to begin.

So the question that came to me next was, “Who was Nephi striving against to keep the commandments in this verse?”

I realized he was fighting himself and his own inclinations. At some level Nephi was reluctant to build the ship. Even though he got busy collecting ore and made a bellows, he still had a part of him that hung back and didn’t want to do it. So he had to fight to be obedient first. And because he fought and won that battle, he was prepared to work to convince his brothers.

I find this realization inspiring and comforting. Throughout Nephi’s story you get the idea that he had little to no internal conflict with himself about doing what the Lord asked him to do. (We see it with killing Laban, but elsewhere hardly at all.)

So it helps me to see that Nephi also had to fight internal battles with himself to be obedient, and it helps to see that in this case he even had to fight them after he’d already begun to be obedient.  It shows that along with having to overcome the temptation of disobedience, we also have to overcome the temptation to slack off once we’ve begun a big hard task to keep the Lord’s commandments.   (I can think of a number of times I’ve been stopped in my tracks a ways in from starting something because the temptation to slack off got to me.) 

I think that realizing that tendency can help us overcome it when we’re faced with it. Instead of saying to ourselves, Ugh, I don’t want to do this; this is such a big job, we can say instead, Ah yes, this is the temptation to quit after having gotten a good start.

Have you noticed this problem affecting you? What do you do to overcome it?
Wednesday, May 24, 2017 0 comments

A Nephi's broken bow versus Laman and Lemuel's bows without springs

And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food. . . .
Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, having been afflicted with my brethren because of the loss of my bow, and their bows having lost their springs, it began to be exceedingly difficult, yea, insomuch that we could obtain no food. (1 Nephi 16:18, 21)
I find it rather telling that here Nephi’s brothers are so angry with him for breaking his bow, and yet their bows don’t work either. If Nephi can be blamed for breaking his bow, then Laman and Lemuel are just as blameworthy for allowing their bows to lose spring. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

It is probable that Laman and Lemuel’s bows lost spring first, but they weren’t too worried about this because Nephi’s bow still worked. But as soon as Nephi’s bow broke, there was nothing to fall back on, and became a serious loss with everyone’s lives at stake.

This issue with the bows sort of sounds like it could be a great teaching analogy for moral strength. When a bow loses its spring, the string isn’t tight enough to propel an arrow. Range and penetrating power is substantially decreased. And of course, when a bow breaks outright, an arrow can’t be sent any distance at all.  Some souls are too slack to be as effective as they should. Some other souls are under so much pressure that they break and can’t act at all. Which is worse? It’s hard to say. They are both tragedies in their own way.

The story of the bows could also teach us something about how we deal with stress. If we’re too slack, we don’t do as much as we could. If we’re too rigid, we may break under pressure. We have to have an optimal level of flexibility—just enough strength and steadfastness to be firm, but also enough adaptability to not break.

Personal note: It’s nice to be back. I was in England on vacation for a couple weeks.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 0 comments

Crown of Thorns

When the soldiers put that crown of thorns on Jesus's head, undoubtedly they intended to mock his testimony of being a king, the Messiah. ("You claim to be a king then? Have a crown. Have a painful one.")

But it seems to me the crown of thorns was also a perfect visual representation of all He knew and felt of our sins and how He had to suffer that in order to save us. And if we let Him save us, then He truly is our King.
Sunday, April 30, 2017 0 comments

Meditations on the Creation of the Sun and the Moon

16 And I, God, made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, and the greater light was the sun, and the lesser light was the moon; and the stars also were made even according to my word.
17 And I, God, set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And the sun to rule over the day, and the moon to rule over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good; (Moses 2:16-18)

I read this recently and I found myself asking what it meant for a light to rule over a particular portion of the 24-hours—day or night. On the surface it means that one of those lights will be the dominant light over that particular 12-hour period.

And yet the astronomical reality is a lot more complex than this. Happily, we can say that the sun always rules over the day. Where the sun shines, there is light, there is day.

But the moon is different. In some parts of the month the moon does shine at night, but there are other parts of the month—during new moons—when there is no light from the moon. Does the moon really rule then? Not really. It is as if the moon temporarily abdicates its authority and takes a vacation. And only on full moons is its light all the way there. At other times it’s waxing or waning.

It may be this gives us a little insight as to the differences between celestial and terrestial obedience. (I’ve probably talked about this before, but I’m going to talk about it again.) Celestial obedience is like the sun—always there doing its duty, shining at full strength, radiating the light within. But terrestial obedience is rarely at its brightest, shines only reflected light from others more bright, and periodically abdicates its duty.

Something else caught my attention here too. It was this idea of dividing the light from the darkness. What is it that really divides the light from the dark astronomically?  Because if you have light, there is no dark. Light chases the dark away. 

Astronomically, darkness comes from distance from the light, if you’re Pluto out on the margins of the solar system.  And we have darkness on earth because of the earth itself. The earth gets in the way and creates shadow.  If we’re on the part of the earth turned away from the sun, we’re in the darkness.  Applying that to spiritual things, that teaches that in a certain sense we create spiritual darkness in our lives either by our distance from the light, or by turning away from it.

The idea of a lesser or greater light also makes me think of the quality of leader we choose to follow and the type of example we choose for ourselves. If we didn’t have the sun, we might be happy with the moon’s light. But having the sun, we see the moon is not so great after all. Do we choose the best examples to follow? Do we seek for greater light? If we don’t we may be one of those people the Lord describes as “walking in darkness at noonday,” which would be tragic.

What do you think? Are there any additional principles you draw from these verses about the creation of the sun and the moon?
Friday, April 28, 2017 0 comments

They shall take up serpents and other promises

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:16-18)

I have wondered about that promise that those who believe shall take up serpents. I know of at least one Christian denomination that takes this literally and incorporates snake handling in their worship services. It’s enough to make me wonder, “Is this a special-occasion promise for when we have to move snakes?”  We are so isolated from the natural world, especially in developed countries, that occasions for running across snakes are few and far between, and when we find them, we know better than to pick them up. We leave them thoroughly alone.

So why this promise that believers in Christ will take up serpents?

As I thought about this, I seemed to me that Jesus meant it as a physical image to describe a spiritual reality. The serpents can represent temptation. Just like it is dangerous to pick up snakes, it is also a dangerous thing to pick up temptation and hold it without letting it bite you.  Saints prefer to avoid temptation, but occasionally situations may come up when a Saint, in the course of his or her calling or doing his or her duty, must go into a situation of temptation and endure it without giving in.  That is like taking up a serpent.  It is hard to be specific about what the temptation might be.

Apparently Jesus anticipated that the Saints would face these situations from time to time, and His promise here is an implicit reassurance that He will make safety possible. Belief in Him will make it so.

What about the promise that believers will speak with new tongues?  A tongue is a language. How can someone speak a new language and still be understood? If it is new, then it hasn’t been around, and it is unlikely that others would understand it.

I think the Book of Mormon gives a hint when it says angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost and speak the words of Christ. Extrapolating from that, speaking a new tongue is speaking by the Holy Ghost, especially because of how conversion makes a person new. 

But what about people who have been in the church all their lives, gained testimonies, stayed faithful, and all that? How do they speak with new tongues if it seems like they’ve always “had it”?

Maybe new tongues can also refer to how believers will keep finding new ways to express their testimony and understanding of Christ’s atonement and what it has done for them. To them it will be as though their language is new, and to those who hear them, it will express newness and life as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 2 comments

Meeting Fellow Saints by Seeming Chance

D&C 62’s section heading tells of an interesting incident that was the occasion of that revelation:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, on the bank of the Missouri River at Chariton, Missouri, August 13, 1831. On this day the Prophet and his group, who were on their way from Independence to Kirtland, met several elders who were on their way to the land of Zion, and, after joyful salutations, received this revelation.

When you think about it, Zion and Kirtland were so far apart that there were any number of different routes the two separate parties could have taken that would have resulted in their never meeting at all. And at that time in 1831, the church was so small that the chances of meeting another member were very slim. That being said, with centers in Zion and Kirtland, outside of these two different places there would be a higher chance of meeting other Saints on a line traveling between the two places, but any number of circumstances could have prevented their meeting. So meeting at all was a tender mercy, and I think both parties were probably were aware of that.

In verse 6, the Lord says about their meeting:

Behold, I, the Lord, have brought you together that the promise might be fulfilled, that the faithful among you should be preserved and rejoice together in the land of Missouri. I, the Lord, promise the faithful and cannot lie.

The Lord had brought them together to preserve them and so they could rejoice. I think the same is still true today, even if it is not in Missouri. Unexpectedly meeting or finding other Saints is always a joyous occasion, and when they are close friends it is even more thrilling. I can think of a number of times when unexpectedly meeting other Saints—family, friends, member acquaintances—became a tender mercy and even saved me from feeling a bit low or lonely.

Once I went to the temple for comfort about an old friend who had fallen away. In the celestial room I happened to meet another old friend, one whom I had never expected to see again. That joy swallowed up my sorrow.

Another time I was in the Bankok airport alone, feeling a bit lonely, when I ran into some sister missionaries who were traveling home at the end of their missions. Just being with them perked me right up.

Another time my husband and I were vacationing in an out-of-the-way place in Colorado (Silverton), and the restaurant we stopped to eat at was run by a Latter-day Saint who noticed our BYU shirts. We had a great chat with her. That became one of the highlights of that trip for us.

Once my husband and I were on BYU campus attending Education Week when we ran into my cousin Tamera, who was dropping off her daughter for her freshman year. Considering how crowded the campus can be and the myriad of classes and interests Saints can have, I felt it was a great blessing to have bumped into her. (No, I didn’t knock her down. Haha.) We made sure to schedule a dinner get-together to catch up even more, and we included my siblings who lived in the area. The more the merrier!

It is special to me that the Lord wanted Joseph Smith to know this apparently chance meeting with the other group of elders was not chance. The Lord brings us together to strengthen and preserve us and to lift our spirits to rejoicing. We can expect this blessing to continue far into the future.

Can you tell me of times when you were brought together with other members seemingly by chance (but really by the Lord)?

Sunday, April 23, 2017 2 comments

All the Paths in Lehi’s Dream

28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. . . .
31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. (1 Nephi 8: 28, 31-32)

These verses stuck out to me recently. It was surprising to me to realize that there wasn’t just the strait and narrow path in Lehi’s dream. It wasn’t the only road in the field. There were forbidden paths (probably dangerous) and strange paths (strange probably in the sense of “foreign”).

We don’t know much about how Lehi knew those paths were forbidden or strange. Maybe it was one of those things that you just know in a dream without having to be told.

But all those people took those paths for some reason, thinking the paths would take them someplace they wanted.

1) People headed for the great and spacious building. Why? Because they wanted pride and to feel superior and to look down at and scorn people.

2) People who were at the tree and who were ashamed of partaking of the fruit wanted something else—approval of crowds?—more than the fruit, or love of God.

3) What about the people wandering in strange roads and forbidden paths? What was at the end of those roads that they wanted? We don’t know, but odds are it was something forbidden and strange, respectively.

Among all these different paths, there is the path to the tree of life (love of God). The people who got to the tree and stayed there did it because that’s what they wanted. 

In thinking about all these paths as representations of ways people take to get what they want, it has made me examine my motives and why I do what I do to keep the commandments. Do I do it because I know I should and that’s how I was taught? Yes. Do I do it because I love the Lord and want more of His love in my life? How strong a motive is my love of God and desire to receive His love?  For me I think it is subconscious. Truthfully, I think a bit more about God’s blessings than His love.  Perhaps that’s something I can work on.

So here’s a question to ponder today: what do you want most deep down, and what road are you taking to get it? Do you know why you want it? Whatever you and I want, we think it will make us happy. Will it?  Is God’s love involved?