Monday, January 30, 2017 0 comments

Ask, Seek, Knock

7 ¶Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

Obviously the main idea of this verse is we can ask of God and He will give. But I found myself asking the question of why Jesus went to the trouble to say this three different ways—ask, seek, and knock. What does each of those words express that the others don’t?

Asking seems to evoke the idea of inquiring on matters we must have answers from God about. If only God knows, then only God can tell. It sounds easy, as though He’s just waiting for our questions. Perhaps without asking the questions we wouldn’t appreciate the answer anywhere near as much.

Seeking makes me think of something that requires a lot more of our effort and participation. The thing sought may be hidden. Or it might require a complex process or journey to get there. When we’re told to seek with a promise we’ll find, that teaches that God can lead us along until we find what we’re looking for.

Knocking makes me think of how sometimes it seems like there are barriers and obstacles we must overcome. Knocking represents our use of agency to show we want to overcome, yet we need the Lord’s help. It also makes me think of wanting to be with someone and see them. We want to return to God’s presence, and He must let us in, so knocking might represent our attempts to draw near to God, to have His Spirit with us. Knocking also makes me think of trying to get into a special group of people, or wanting more knowledge. Maybe it is about wanting to be in the know with the heavenly council, to know what’s going to happen.

What do those words—ask, seek, and knock—make you think of?

Friday, January 27, 2017 0 comments

An Interesting Anecdote from Brigham Young on Indian Hostilities

Here’s a little gem of a story from Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses 1:162:

I recollect when we were down at Father Allred’s settlement last April, they had previously been to me not only to know if they might settle in San Pete, but if they might separate widely from each other, over a piece of land about two miles square, each having a five acre lot for their garden near their farms. They were told to build a good substantial fort, until the settlement became sufficiently strong, and not live so far apart, and expose themselves and their property to danger. Father Allred told me they were then so nigh together, they did not know how to live! I told him they had better make up their minds to be baptized into the Church again, and get the Spirit of God, that each one might be able to live at peace with his neighbor in close quarters, and not think himself infringed upon. They wanted to know if they were to build a fort. “Why, yes,” I said, “build a strong fort, and a corral, to put your cattle in, that the Indians cannot get them away from you.” “Do you think, Brother Brigham, the Indians will trouble us here?” they inquired. I said, “It is none of your business whether they will or not, but you will see the time that you need such preparations.” But I did not think it would come so quickly.

I think this selection has several great lessons.

1)   Having the Spirit helps us live close together with other people and not feel infringed upon. (Some of my best memories of close living as a single included dorm and apartment living with other strong Latter-day Saints women.)
2)   Preparations the prophet advises are for our protection, even if there is doubt they will be needed. Definitely building a fort would have taken extra work for the San Pete Saints in Brigham Young’s day, but it would have kept them secure… and possibly taught them a little more about close living.  It takes faith to follow prophetic instructions to prepare in a certain way.  In Brigham Young’s day, forts were one protection advised the people. What protections are we advised to make today?
3)   I think it is interesting that Brigham Young says it is none of the Saints business whether the Indians would trouble them or not. Perhaps he said it a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the underlying principle is to pay more attention to carrying out one’s duty and making the required preparations rather than wasting energy on worrying or speculating over the level of probability of disaster or attack.  It’s all about putting your focus on what you can control.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017 0 comments

Changes at the Lord’s Coming in a section about Missionary Work?

I was recently reading in D&C 133 and noticed the section heading said that Joseph Smith’s history about this section said, “At this time there were many things which the Elders desired to know relative to preaching the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, and concerning the gathering; and in order to walk by the true light, and be instructed from on high, on the 3rd of November, 1831, I inquired of the Lord and received the following important revelation.”  (emphasis added)

Now here are some verses from that section that caused me to ponder:

19 Wherefore, prepare ye for the coming of the Bridegroom; go ye, go ye out to meet him.
20 For behold, he shall stand upon the mount of Olivet, and upon the mighty ocean, even the great deep, and upon the islands of the sea, and upon the land of Zion.
21 And he shall utter his voice out of Zion, and he shall speak from Jerusalem, and his voice shall be heard among all people;
22 And it shall be a voice as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, which shall break down the mountains, and the valleys shall not be found.
23 He shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land;
24 And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.
25 And the Lord, even the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people, and shall reign over all flesh. (D&C 133:19-25)

In these verses we are given a picture of some major geographic changes to occur at the second coming:
--the Lord’s voice breaking down mountains such that valleys disappear
--the Lord’s command sending the oceans into the north such that the islands become one land
--Jerusalem & Zion are turned back to their places
--the land is united as it was before it was divided

These are amazing changes, and it makes us excited as we try to imagine what it would be like.

This time as I was reading I found myself asking some questions.  Why is it so important to the Lord to tell us this, especially in connection with missionary work? How would it help the elders preach the gospel?  Further, why does it matter so much to the Lord that He would want to create these changes? Is there something wrong with mountains that He wants to break them down? Is there something wrong with the oceans where they are that He wants to send them north?  Is there room for all that water up north?  (Think Pacific ocean and Atlantic and South Indian ocean all thrown into the northern hemisphere.) Is there something wrong with how the land is now that He wants to bring the continents together again? 

Or is it possible that He’s trying to teach us something different here?

It may be that this stuff is a parable about the spiritual changes in people when He comes to set things right. Since the whole section was in response to questions about missionary work, what do these changes teach us?

In terms of missionary work, mountains are like proud nations that will not listen. Breaking down the mountains is like humbling them. The Lord can do that.

In terms of missionary work, oceans and land are symbolic opposites.  Land is a firm foundation to build on, but the ocean is not. The ocean is shifty, stormy, and unstable.  So if the Lord commands drive ocean away, then it is creating more of a foundation to build on.

If it says Jerusalem and Zion will be turned back into their own place, then that means repentance. (Why would Jerusalem need to be turned back to its own place otherwise? It is where it is.)  This change sounds like the least cataclysmic of the bunch.  If Jerusalem and Zion are doing their best to follow the Lord anyway, it will be the least revolutionary.

How does this help us with missionary work? I suppose it gives us a model for how we should approach it. If the Lord humbles the nations and creates dry land and a firm foundation where none was before, then we need to teach humility and help build gospel foundations on Christ.

Now, this leads to another question—if the Lord wanted us to understand these principles, then why go to the trouble of using such imagery?  Why not just come out and say that our message will humble the nations and give them something solid to build their lives on where they had only uncertainty before?  

I think the imagery shows us how amazing the great changes will be when the Lord appears and teaches. It will have a great effect. But it can perhaps also give a picture of the potential effect we can have as missionaries because we are taught elsewhere that those who receive the Lord’s servants will receive Him too. So the effect the Lord’s teaching has can be also the effect we have as we teach in His way.

Let’s look at some other amazing imagery from this chapter and see how it relates to missionary work.

26 And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
27 And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.
28 Their enemies shall become a prey unto them,
29 And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.
30 And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.
31 And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.
32 And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim. (D&C 133:26-32)

What do we make of this? In v23 we’ve been told the great deep would be driven back into the north countries, and if there are people there, they would be in danger. Or we could try reading it more symbolically. 

It is possible that the north countries are being used to represent a state of cold and darkness, near-apostasy and ignorance.  Interestingly, there are prophets among them who have been keeping quiet. A quiet prophet is not a useful prophet, but an inactive one.

But once these people come in remembrance before the Lord, there is a great change there too. Suddenly the prophets in the north start speaking up. They smite the rocks, which could represent the stumbling blocks getting in the way of faithfulness.  They are suddenly warm with the gospel, such that they melt the ice in those around them, and the ice flows in their presence. (Don’t we all want to be the kind of person who warms up the faith of those around us?)

Then suddenly the obstacles they faced are less of a problem. Suddenly their uncertainty vanishes, and they know the way to go, which the Lord prepares, like a highway built in the midst of the ocean. Suddenly their enemies become a prey; it’s as though people and situations that previously frightened and oppressed them become golden opportunities for growth and prosperity and missionary work! (That’s quite a change!) Evil will no longer have any appeal to these people, and they easily resist temptation.

Where life was barren and deserted of the living waters, suddenly there is a fountain springing up in their souls, of doctrine and peace, and spiritual blessings and revelation.

They will bring rich treasures to the children of Ephraim, suggesting they will have much insight and experience to add to the church and be a great benefit to the Lord’s kingdom.

The boundaries of the hills will tremble at their presence. Those at the margins of the church who are less faithful will fear from the powerful warnings these newly activated members will give of the consequences of forsaking the kingdom. Their development will be inspiring and make others wonder if they could ever measure up.

Seen this way, these verses give us insights on the great benefit that newly reactivated members can be to the church and how to reach them. The prophets must break down the stumbling blocks with strong doctrine and testimony, and warm up those with cold hearts.

I won’t rule out the potential for these verses to be literally fulfilled, but I think reading them symbolically with reference to missionary work makes them much more instructive and helpful for our lives right now.  In that respect, they are a great gift of knowledge.
Monday, January 23, 2017 0 comments

The Peculiar Succession Pattern in Ether

This time reading through Ether, I noticed an interesting pattern in the way the kings conferred the kingdom on their sons. It seems as though many times they do not give the kingdom to the oldest son. Instead, they tend to give it to one of their youngest sons.

The factors that make me think this are the following:
1)   In the record, the brother of Jared declares the people should constrain no man to be their king, and he refrains from conferring the kingdom on his eldest son, even though the people want him to. This sets a new precedent for the beginning of the Jaredite nation. 
2)   The record has many instances when we are told the king begat many sons and daughters and begat son X in their old age and conferred the kingdom on son X.     For the longest time, I was so influenced by the assumption of primogeniture (first son inherits all), that I thought somehow son X was the eldest and was listed last to emphasize the transition of power.  But now I think it was actually showing how kings were conferring their kingdoms on some of their very youngest sons, rather than the eldest.

How many instances are there of this particular practice?
1)   Jared >> Orihah (Ether 6:27)
2)   Orihah >> Kib (Ether 7:1-3)
3)   Kib >> Shule (Ether 7:7)
4)   Shule >> Omer (Ether 7:26, 8:1)
5)   Omer >> Emer (Ether 9:14)
6)   Emer >> Coriantum (Ether 9:21-22)
7)   Coriantum >> Com (Ether 9:24-25)
8)   Shez >> Riplakish (Ether 10:2-4)
9)   Kim >> Levi (Ether 10:14-15)
10)                  Levi >> Corom (Ether 10:16)
11)                  Lib >> Hearthom (Ether 10:29-30)

Most of these examples are pretty early in Jaredite history.  (The beginning for the end for this system was Shez choosing Riplakish, since Riplakish turned out to be a greedy, immoral person. After that, I wonder if the credibility of the practice was damaged.)

What this practice seems to have done is cause the sons of kings to think carefully about whether they were both willing and capable of ruling.  Another advantage it would have was that the son inheriting the throne would have more youth and vigor while ruling.  And at the beginning of the Jaredite nation, it seems to have worked well. But only when there were righteous kings.

The disadvantage to the system was that the older sons, if ambitious, had far too much time to get impatient, leading to coups and rebellions.

Another interesting thing I noticed was that in Ether 10 there are three different instances of rebellions against the king starting after a king ruled for 42 years. It happens in verse 8, 15, and 32.    It made me wonder if there was anything significant about that particular length of time, so I emailed Book of Mormon Central about it.  They suggested some associations for the number 42 in Egyptian mythology, but nothing that sounded like it had much bearing on kingship. I shall quote their answer:

It is possible that the number 42 was a symbolic number for the Jaredites, although it is difficult to say at this point. If there is an ancient Egyptian connection to the earliest culture of the Jaredites, as Nibley seemed to think, then it is possible that the number 42 is related to the Book of the Dead. In this book, there are 42 questions asked of people making their journey through the underworld. If the departed reasonably can give answers to the 42 questions, they have the potential to be reincarnated. If they fail, bad things happen to them. It is possible that the number 42 is included to show a symbolic judgement against the king. However, I should stress that we really have no idea. (Answer given by Jonathon Riley)

That being said, it occurred to me that rebellions 42 years into a king’s reign might be related to longevity and aging issues. For a king to reign 42 years, the older they were when they took the throne, the older they would be when 42 years of ruling came around. It might represent a time in the king’s reign when the king was less able to govern, when they may not have settled on who was to succeed them, and maybe when they were not yet ready to let go of power.   That might have been an ideal time for an ambitious usurper to foment a rebellion and get away with it, especially if they hoped to get out from under an oppressive king.  But for an aging, righteous king it would cause a lot of damage.

A third observation I have on the Jaredite monarchy is that it is interesting that the brother of Jared says kingship will lead into captivity (Ether 6:23), and the fulfillment of this is highlighted when the kings are brought into captivity, rather than the people. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, considering the strong lessons of King Noah’s reign of how a wicked king makes righteous people less free. In our democratized age, we are much more used to thinking about the consequences in terms of whether it is good for the people instead of the king, so I have to wonder how this message might find applicability in our time.

But maybe it is still worth looking at. The stories of the kings in Ether seem to shine a spotlight very strongly on how ambition and envious subjects would seek to constrain and capture the king.   It may be that the heyday of the usefulness of this message was in Nephite times and so it is less emphasized for our day.

One thing is for sure: after the inauguration of our new president, I think considering the stories of the Jaredite kings makes me glad we have a pretty peaceful transition of power between presidents elected by the people.
Saturday, January 21, 2017 0 comments

Jesus’s Knowledge of Paul’s Heart

In the story of Jesus’s appearance to Paul on the way to Damascus, it is impressive how much Jesus knows about Paul’s inner state.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:5)

To all outward appearances, Paul was as staunch an enemy of the fledgling church as the Jewish leaders would hope for. And yet, Jesus knew 1) Paul’s heart had been pricked multiple times, 2) that Paul was fighting his own inclinations as well as the church, and 3) it was hard for Paul to continue that fight.

It may be that Paul needed the Lord to tell him, “I know what’s going on in your heart and head, so stop putting on such a front.”

This is a great reminder that the Lord knows our hearts. He knows what we’re inclined to do, He knows when we’re putting on a front. He knows why and what the effect of it is on us. Paul was a case of one who needed to follow his good inclinations and not fight them. The Lord also knows when we are covering up bad inclinations and need to fight them more and achieve spiritual change.

I’m thankful to know that the Lord knows my heart. It gives me a reason to be careful about my thoughts and attitudes. But I’m also thankful that He is merciful and long-suffering and gives me the mental space to work through things.
Thursday, January 19, 2017 0 comments

The Power and Faith of the Saints in Moroni’s Past

As Moroni takes over writing on the plates from his father Mormon, he spends some time talking about factors besides the Lord’s purposes that will bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. One of these that caught my attention was the prayers of the Saints.
23 Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold, I cannot write them. Yea, behold I say unto you, that those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord; and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them.
24 And he knoweth their prayers, that they were in behalf of their brethren. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word. (Mormon 8:23-24)
When I have read these verses before, I just assumed the saints referred to were the disciples of Christ, because of the reference to the furnaces and beasts that could not harm them and how similar that was the description of how the three Nephites were miraculously preserved. And yet, I now wonder if there is a reason Moroni called them “saints” and not “disciples of Jesus.” It makes me think that this could be describing the faith of the general church membership, not just the highest leaders.

I also notice that when Moroni refers to Isaiah, he repeats enough of an image—“crying from the dust”—that we can identify exactly where Moroni was thinking of: Isaiah 29. But he reworks the meaning a bit for his own purposes. Instead of terrible ones crying from the dust, Moroni has saints crying from the dust, essentially praying during mortality and beyond in behalf of their brethren. In v25 he also says their prayers were for the one who would bring forth the Book of Mormon, so it is a good bet it was also for all those engaged in the Restoration as well, as it continues today.

And Moroni wants us to know those prayers will be efficacious because of the great faith of those praying, and he cites the miracles they could do in the name of Jesus and by the power of His word as evidence of their spiritual power.

I don’t know about you, but it gets me thinking about what I might need to do so that my faith as a Latter-day Saint can grow to match those ancient Saints.

I don’t need to move mountains, but what obstacles in my life would I like to remove? I can think of a few, for sure.

I would rather not shake the earth, but it might be nice to use my faith to shake my false complacency.

What psychological prisons that hold me captive could use some destruction? What flame wars and beastly poisonous behavior could I use protection from by the power of Christ’s word?

How might our prayers, acting in Jesus’s name and by the power of His word accomplish?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 0 comments

Elder Maxwell on Doubts

Gotta love Elder Neal A. Maxwell.

The following quotes about doubts came from a section in the Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, which also cites the individual books those quotes came from:

The shouts and barbs from those in doubt are sometimes not criticism at all, but frustration at not yet having found the “iron rod”—something solid in a world of too many marshmallow men and too many chameleon causes. (A Time to Choose, p.6)

Notice at the bottom of this kind of doubt is frustration at a lack of certainty.  From my experience of having had a crisis of faith, that lack of certainty can be very painful. And from that perspective, the results of living the doctrine can seem uncertain too, cloaked, as it seems, in the mist of the future.  How much does one dare to trust it?  Will God make good on His promises?  (Yes, He does, but our faith must be tried.)

Elder Maxwell also notes that this is a world of “too many marshmallow men and too many chameleon causes.”   Acquaintance with too many of these can make us think that the kingdom of God is one of them.  Or if we leave the church for some other cause that seems more weighty, we will find to our sorrow that once we have fully weighed it, it is still found wanting, leaving our own wanting unfulfilled.

To host an if is like hosting an insect that breeds and multiplies in the sun of circumstance. Soon one is crawling with ifs and is thereby overcome. (Even As I Am, p74)

The “if” that Maxwell talks about is more like a “what if.”  I would add that when hosting an if, it may feel as if you are feeding off it, but it is feeding off you and sucking out the vitality of faith. He compares it to hosting an insect because these doubts are parasitic. They don’t add anything or help you do anything. 

There are two ways to deal with them.  1) Forget about them and get to work living the practical gospel. Acting to keep commandments builds faith.  “Tis better far for us to strive, our useless cares from us to drive.” 2) Treat them like ticks and confront them with the tweezers of faith-filled argument: write them down and then eviscerate them on paper. 

Doubters often pool their doubts by associating with like-minded individuals, each bringing his own favorite “dish” as if to a potluck dinner. (That Ye May Believe, p. 191)

Thus, even if you badly want validation when in the midst of doubts, don’t go looking for other doubters to kvetch with. That’s kind of like going to a doctor-less hospital in which sick people go around infecting each other in the name of palliative care.  Instead, you need strong, thinking believers with big hearts.   You need people willing to share their reasons for belief, and who love in such a way that you’ll see there’s room for you in the church.

By not being actively involved in the process of faith, doubters simply do not receive reinforcing rewards. They also resent the lack of sympathetic vibrations from the faithful each time doubters themselves oscillate in response to what they suppose is some “new evidence” to the contrary. (Lord, Increase Our Faith, p.89)

It seems to me that if people find themselves oscillating in response to “new evidence” they think contradicts their faith, it is time to take a careful look at what the foundations of their testimony is and whether they are keeping the commandments as given in the Beatitudes.  Testimony has to be rooted in Christ and the prophets.  It is kept strong by doing the commandments. 

24 ¶Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)

Sunday, January 15, 2017 2 comments

Indications of the sad state of the Nephite church in Mormon’s day

There are some disturbing things in the text of Mormon from time to time that indicate the how the church kept falling further and further.

In Mormon 2:8, Mormon observes there was one complete revolution throughout the land, and it may be that there was massive rebellion in the government and in the church.

In Mormon 2:15, there is an observation that many of the Nephites were hewn down in “open rebellion against God” after cursing God, wishing to die, but struggling for their lives.

I have to wonder in what way they were openly rebelling.  To openly rebel and then be hewn down makes me think that the rebellion was related to something that would have kept them safe in war.  Perhaps it was open rebellion against summons to gather all the Nephites in one place as protection against the Lamanite armies. It is possible they didn’t want to because of the thieves, robbers, murder, and witchcraft in the land that would make a high concentration of people very oppressive to each other.  Also, with such revolution previously, the spirit of rebellion and ain’t-no-one-gonna-tell-me-what-to-do may have spread to the point that they questioned even the necessity of safety measures.

In Mormon 2:23, when the Nephites are up against a wall, Mormon urges them to fight for their wives, children, houses, and homes. This is similar to Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty, but noticeably absent are thoughts of fighting for their religion and God. It suggests that religion and God would not have been compelling motives for the Nephites and the Nephites had an increased cynicism about the worth of their religion, probably based upon the lack of spiritual gifts and absence of true disciples of Christ.

In Mormon 3:2, the Lord tells Mormon to preach repentance with a specific message—1) repent, 2) come to me, 3) be baptized, 4) build up again my church. It sounds like many of the Nephites had been excommunicated or left the church and rebelled, but had not defected to the Lamanites. 

I think this pattern shows the effects of how growing individual wickedness among members pollutes the aggregate church until the church itself loses moral authority and trust in the larger society.  It’s a warning to us of something we don’t want to cause in our day.

Friday, January 13, 2017 2 comments

The Parable of the Children Sitting in the Market

31 ¶And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
35 But wisdom is justified of all her children. (Luke 7:31-35)

The general impression I get from this parable is that Jesus was trying to say that the men of that generation were out of step with what God wanted while they accused the prophets and Jesus of being out harmony or out of step with them.

When I was reading this I decided I needed to analyze it more closely to see if there was more to learn from it.

First, Jesus says this about the men of that generation and compares them to children, not other men or even to women. To call them children expresses they are young and ignorant.

He also compares them to children sitting in the marketplace. Not sitting in the temple, not sitting on the seaside, not sitting at home. The marketplace is a place of business, of exchange. Real men and women are doing business in the marketplace, but these children are sitting doing something else. So spiritually speaking, that’s like saying the men of His generation were ignorant of the real business of life and the things of the Spirit, and they were sitting around doing something different while significant things were happening all around them.

What were they doing? They were playing dance music and then wondering why no one was dancing to it, or they were crying and wondering why no one else was crying too. It’s as if they thought their product (if it could be called a product) was the only thing in town or they thought they were offering something significant and appropriate and that others should follow their lead.

However, the opposite was true. They were not the only game in town, what they offered was insignificant and inappropriate, and they were not worth following. And they were missing out on the real spiritual business to be done because of ignorance.

A lesson from this for us today is how important it is to stay in step with the prophets and the real business of the gospel and working out our salvation. The minute we start thinking the prophet and apostles are out of touch, it is really us who are out of harmony, and anything we think we can add will be actually detracting and distracting.

Jesus noted how the men of His time thought John was a crazy ascetic on one hand and on the other dismissed Jesus for being too social with sinners.  The styles of John and Jesus were very different from each other, and I imagine this was Heavenly Father’s way of using different strokes for different folks in order to reach as many as possible with the gospel.  But at some level, you have to go beyond style and get to the substance.  The substance of the message of John and Jesus was the same: believe in Christ and repent.

To me, a modern application of this is to carefully consider how we respond to the messages of the prophets and apostles. I know many of us have personal favorites among the First Presidency or Twelve Apostles. But of the ones we like less, do we dismiss their message because their style grates on us?  Or can we stretch to receive their message regardless of their personality or delivery? 

Today let’s open the conference edition of the Ensign to the talks of the apostles we like least.  Let’s pray for the humility to receive the substance of their message while ignoring their style.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 0 comments

Some bits of wisdom from Ecclesiastes

I was reading through Ecclesiastes and stumbled on some verses that are full of wisdom that is only accessible to those with an eternal perspective. To those who don’t, they probably would just sound messed up.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
2 ¶It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-5)

How is a good name better than precious ointment?  The precious ointment is nice-smelling and gave people pleasure as they came within the personal space of the wearer. But a good name (or good reputation), assuming it is built upon good works and a righteous life, is spiritually inspiring to others and has the potential to provoke others to imitation. The world needs good influences and great examples.

How is the day of death better than the day of one’s birth? For those of us who are living the gospel and repenting carefully and who know this life is a probationary period, the day of our death is the end of the test of mortality. If we can make it to that day and stay faithful, how happy we will be! Both birth and death are advancements along the continuum of eternal progression, but death is further along.

Why is it better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting? The house of mourning was an expression for a house where there had been a death in the family. The wise realize that eventually everyone will die, and they use this occasion to ponder their own progress in life and whether they are spiritually prepared for their own death. Then they make changes as needed. But no such soul-searching happens at a party.

In what way is sorrow better than laughter? How is the heart made better by sadness of countenance?  Sorrow is usually in response to difficult circumstances—death, disappointment, conflict, rejection, tribulation, frustration, etc.  Sorrow is uncomfortable, and we don’t like to be sad, so for a righteous person, sorrow can lead to soul-searching and pondering what one needs to change in life. So a sad face on a good person is a sign that they are doing or about to do some spiritual change that will make their heart better, i.e. improve their character.

Why would the heart of the wise be in the house of mourning? Again, they are thinking about the end of their life and what they need to do to prepare to meet God. It might also be said they have the house of mourning in them if they try to keep a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Why is it better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools? The wise are those who are righteous. Listening to their rebuke helps us learn where we need to repent, so even though it might be uncomfortable, humbling ourselves will help us become better. The song of fools, however, has no such spiritual benefit.

Monday, January 9, 2017 0 comments

Re-examining the parable of the unjust steward

1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship ; for thou mayest be no longer steward. 
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. 
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. 
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light .  (Luke 16:1-8)

I was reading through this parable and I noticed some things that I hadn’t noticed before. 

First it came to me that the debts the steward forgives might represent sins that need repenting. (Sins are represented as debts in other parables, so this is not farfetched.)

Next, it came to me that the steward might be a stand-in for church leaders responsible for church discipline, since part of what the steward is responsible for is overseeing those who are indebted to the master.

The parable of the unjust steward comes right after the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, and therefore might be considered to be another parable dealing with finding the lost and receiving them back.

The steward was accused of wasting the master’s goods.  It may be that the steward was allowing the forgiveness available to go unused, or he was claiming mercy liberally for himself and not extending it to others.

Someone accused the steward of wasting the master’s goods, and the master lowers the boom and asks for accounts from the steward as a means of finding out the facts, along with a blanket condemnation that the steward will be out of the position regardless.

When the steward realizes he will be cast out of the stewardship and he can’t dig or he’s ashamed to beg, it may be that he’s realizing how dependent he really is upon his master. Without his master, he is nothing.  All the power and authority he thought he had, all the riches, didn’t really belong to him.  (Likewise, without the mercy and atonement of God, church leaders are themselves nothing.) 

In the process of studying his master’s financial records in order to prepare to give an account of his actions, the steward discovers the way he can make things better for himself.  So he goes through the accounts of who is indebted and forgives parts of the debts in order to gain their goodwill. His plan is that the debtors’ gratitude will inspire them to help him in his coming difficulties.  He also reasons that partially forgiving the debts will bring honor to his master as a merciful man in a way that can’t be argued with or undone.

The master can’t complain about the steward of partially forgiving debts without making himself appear stingy and ungenerous to the debtors in comparison to the steward.  So the master lets the steward’s acts stand as valid.

This is also in line with one of Jesus’s pronouncements else’s where:

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23)

One features in this parable is that the steward forgave part of the debts owed the master in order to ingratiate himself with them and increase the honor of his master as a merciful man.  The message is that stewards over the household of God should forgive part of the sins immediately so as to increase the honor of God as a God of mercy. 

When Jesus advises his disciples to make friends of the unrighteous mammon, He can be understood to be advising those who act as dispensers of church discipline to make friends of those who are going through the repentance process so as to help and support them along the way. 

When it says the mammon of unrighteousness may welcome Christ’s stewards into everlasting habitations after having made friends of them, that means that the initial offering of partial forgiveness generates goodwill and gratitude that helps the debtors reach for the rest of that forgiveness.  Eventually they are saved in heaven and therefore are able to welcome the steward into heaven and enjoy glory with him.

It is possible that better understanding of this parable would have done a lot to help members in the early church.  I have read that in the early church that there arose a tradition of requiring a long and painful repentance process on those who repudiated their testimony under intense persecution.   The process could last over a year, and this led to people preferring not to be baptized when young because they feared they would sin and require that painful repentance process.  This also led to people choosing to not be baptized until near death.

I personally felt this kind of mercy was extended to me when I was a debtor, and I’m very thankful for it.