Saturday, July 22, 2017 0 comments

Seek Spiritual Solutions

9 Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear all ye of far countries; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.
10 Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand; for God is with us.
11 For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:
12 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
13 Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (2 Nephi 18:91-13)
In these verses, Nephi quotes Isaiah. Isaiah’s situation at that time was one in which the Jews were greatly worried about the threat of being invaded by the Assyrians, who were particularly cruel and barbaric to prisoners (think torture and killing in lots of painful ways just because they could).

It would be natural for the Jews to want to seek for military allies (a confederation) and gird their armor on, and counsel together about what to do. But Isaiah said the Lord told him they needed to do something different—don’t worry about allies, or battle prep, or counsel, or whatever.  Instead, “Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (v13)  He told them to fear God and sanctify themselves for God.

Why? From a worst case scenario, repenting would prepare them for the next life if they died.  For a best-case scenario, keeping the commandments would give them the moral oomph to endure the difficulties they faced.

It’s still true today that when we face difficulties, even large-scale ones on a national level, the first best thing we can do is get our lives in order spiritually so we can have the strength to deal with it.  Repent and keep the commandments.

If we were to have some sort of crisis like the mobbings of Missouri or the invasion of Johnson’s army into Utah, it would be easy to get really worried and seek temporal solutions.  I would hope we’d be able to turn to the Lord, like Isaiah recommended.
Thursday, July 20, 2017 0 comments

Assembling the halt, the outcast, the afflicted


6 In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;
7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. (Micah 4:6-7)

When I read this, it seems to me it is talking about the gathering of Israel, but in curious terms. The halt are the lame, the “driven out” are those who were marginalized or rejected, and the afflicted are those who had some sort of physical or mental problem that was unexplainable or seemingly incurable.  Why speak of these as part of the gathering of Israel in the last days?  

Also, the blessings given to them are interesting and even a little counterintuitive.

As a first instance, the Lord promises that those who were halt will be made a remnant.  The “remnant” in battle terms would be those who make it through war and destruction that killed or scattered everyone else. You’d think that only the fit would survive, but no, the halt do--the ones too lame to run, those who aren’t seen as a threat.

As another instance, the Lord promises to gather those who were driven out and make them a strong nation.  These are the outcasts, the marginalized, maybe even the people who had to leave because they couldn’t accept what was going on.  Or they might have been driven out because they were criminals.  They are so few, so alone…  And the Lord says He will make them a strong nation?  That’s a major miracle for the marginalized to become such a strong institution that it might be called a nation.  It would have to have a justice system, so any criminals would have reformed.

And the afflicted. This could be those with physical handicaps and/or mental illnesses. They are the people who probably had heads shaken over them and hands thrown in the air, saying, “I just don’t know what to do about them! What can I do for them?”   These were often seen as people God was punishing.     But if they are gathered to Mount Zion, then they are obviously being blessed instead of cursed!

All these the Lord says He will reign over in Mount Zion forever. These are people who accept His guidance and commandments. They believe in Him.  Could it be that their handicaps and marginalization and rejections and trials have humbled them enough to listen?

I get some great principles from these verses.
1)   Handicaps, marginalization, and afflictions can prepare us to follow the Lord if they humble us.
2)   The Lord reaches out to all types of people with all kinds of challenges and has the power to make weaknesses into strength.  Once again, the halt (lame)  become the remnant (the ones who survive). The outcast (rejected) becomes the strong nation, able to create unity and social cohesion so that others won’t suffer similarly. The affliected one who previously seemed punished by God becomes the faithful adherent in Zion.
3)   Behind the Sunday smiles, all of us have some problem we need help with. Even those who look like they have perfect lives have hidden challenges. (“In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”) We are all broken somehow, all in need of healing, in need of Christ.

In a way, it also prophesies of days when handicaps and affliction would become better understood so that tools and means to cope with them would be created, and people who had these problems would be given the resources to transcend their difficulties and progress further.  Again, all of that shows the Lord doesn’t want to leave any of His children behind, and He reaches out to all.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 0 comments

Jeremiah 24 on Trials and Disaster

1 The Lord shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the Lord, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon.
2 One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.
3 Then said the Lord unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.
4 Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
5 Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.
7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
8 And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the Lord, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt:
9 And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them.
10 And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers.

This is an interesting chapter. In it the Lord shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs – one good, one bad. The Lord tells Jeremiah the good figs represent the Jews who had been carried captive to Babylon, that the Lord did it for their good, and that He would build them and gather them, give them a heart to know the Lord, and make them His people.

On the other hand, the Lord tells Jeremiah the bad figs represent those who remained in the land of Jerusalem or Egypt, who the Lord will remove into all kingdoms of the earth to their hurt, to be a reproach and a curse, to suffer famine pestilence, and so on until they are consumed.

This would be a very unusual message to the Jews of Jeremiah’s day. They probably looked on those who had been carried away captive to Babylon as the cursed and unfortunate ones and looked on those who had stayed in the land as the blessed and lucky ones.

But the Lord wanted to teach the people that, contrary to what they thought, the Lord could make physical calamity into a blessing, and that avoiding disaster could be made a curse.

The question that arises then should be, “What makes disaster into a blessing?” and “How can the Lord make a tragic event good for me?”  (I think the Lord wanted the Jews to think about this.)  The answer is, if we turn to the Lord and repent and keep the commandments, He can make good things come out of disaster.

That doesn’t mean it is easy, of course.

It is neat to me that at the bottom of this odd story about baskets of good and bad figs is a lesson that is still applicable today.
Sunday, July 16, 2017 0 comments

The Cunning Plan of the Evil One


27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!
28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 27-29)

It’s a well-known scripture, memorized by many seminary students over the years.

Recently I was reading it over, and I noticed some things.

I noticed Jacob observes on the cunning plan of the evil one, but he doesn’t seem to elaborate on what that cunning plan is, but goes on talk about “the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men.”

I realized that we have to infer some things. We have to realize it is the devil who tries to use those things. He also tries to make us think our learning makes us wise enough that we don’t have to listen to the counsels of God.

Learning doesn’t automatically translate into wisdom, as I’m sure many of my readers know. “Learning” in the gospel is like knowing in your head that stealing is a sin, but “wisdom” could be represented as the point where you can realize when you’re being tempted to steal and you can resist it successfully once and for the rest of your life.

Jacob mourns over the vainness, frailties, and foolishness of men. It hit me this time reading that after having had a number of temptations recently targeted specifically at my vanity, frailties, and foolishness.  Satan really does try to use those things against us.

Vainness is our pride.  Because of our divine nature, we know we have the potential to become something so much greater…  But Satan tries to use that against us, twisting it into a desire for ascendency, hostility toward authority, notions that we are better than others.  He tries to use it to destroy any notion that we need to be humble. He wants to keep us from achieving the meekness that we need to turn to Christ, to repent, and to grow, and to learn from anyone else. 

Frailties represent our mortal weaknesses and limitations. We can’t live long without discovering we have these, yet Satan will try to conceal them from us.  Or he will try to make us think that we can’t overcome them, to make them into our prison. Or he will stress us in moments of weakness (hunger, loneliness, fatigue, discomfort) to get us to sin.

Foolishness.  Today we think this means “stupidity,” but it had a different meaning before, evoking the tendency to backslide, to err, to go apostate, to wander from the truth, or even to rebel.  Mormon observed on man’s falseness and unsteadiness, quickness to do iniquity and slowness to do good, how quick to be proud and slow to be humble. (see Helaman 12:1,4-5)  We all have a tendency to wander or divert, which we have to recognize and curtail whenever we notice it starting to take over. Satan tries to use it and exacerbate it.

Our best weapons against vanity, frailty, and foolishness are probably humility, grace, and repentance.
Friday, July 14, 2017 0 comments

Receive Christ to Keep the Law


18 Then said the Pharisees unto him, Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law?
19 But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law.
20 I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing
21 For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away. (JST Matt. 9:18-21)

The first fascinating thing that I notice here is that the Phariess thought they kept the whole law, but Jesus said they didn’t. You have to admire his straightforward truthfulness on the matter. Also it is kind of scary to think someone could be as deluded as the Pharisees were and be so off the mark. We wouldn’t want to be so off ourselves.

Jesus tells them they didn’t keep the law because they hadn’t received Him. This doesn’t make sense if we only think of the law as a series of performances or commandments. But if we remember that the Law of Moses was meant to point to the Messiah who would save from sin all who believed on Him, then it becomes obvious that to keep the commandments while not believing in Christ would profit nothing because one would still remain in one’s sins.

So the Jews had made the mistake of assuming they could do just as well keeping the performances and ordinances of the law even if they didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah—the one who gave the law and would fulfill it to make repentance possible.  But they were wrong. To reject the one who made the ordinances would mean their ordinances would be worthless.

I think it is possible to fall into the same error today even in the church, to assume we’re alright if we’re keeping the commandments even if we don’t believe in Christ. We might relegate the doctrine of Christ’s atonement to a lesser place and put the commandments and ordinances in a primary place of importance. We might assume we’re doing alright if we’ve been baptized, had our endowments, gotten sealed in the temple, and so on. But none of those profit us if we don’t have faith in Christ.

To look at it in terms of mathematical formulas, it isn’t:

Commandments + Ordinances = Salvation

Where’s Christ? 

A better formula might be:

Faith in Christ * (Commandments + Ordinances) = Salvation

since it represents that if Faith is 0, then nothing else matters.

But then here’s where I can’t leave well enough alone. I’m not sure I’m happy with that one either, since it doesn’t capture how necessary Commandments and Ordinances are.  What if Commandments and Ordinances are both 0? You get zero again.  Or what about if we have only one of those but not the other?

Maybe we have to have a formula like this:

Faith in Christ * Commandments * Ordinances = Salvation

Showing that if any of the factors are missing, you get 0.

What do you think?
Sunday, July 9, 2017 0 comments

Folly Made Manifest


I ran across some scriptures about how folly would be made manifest, and that intrigued me, so I did a search to see what else I could find with that language and what I could learn about it.

8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was. (2 Tim. 3:8-9)

So the folly of rebellion is something that will be made manifest to all around the person who rebels. That’s usually the opposite of what the rebelling person wants; they want to be respected and be a leader, but they get the opposite.

And it shall come to pass that there shall be a great work in the land, even among the Gentiles, for their folly and their abominations shall be made manifest in the eyes of all people. (D&C 35:7)

This tells us we should not be surprised that people know the faults of society or the evils of apostate religion. The folly and abominations will be obvious.

14 There were among you adulterers and adulteresses; some of whom have turned away from you, and others remain with you that hereafter shall be revealed.
15 Let such beware and repent speedily, lest judgment shall come upon them as a snare, and their folly shall be made manifest, and their works shall follow them in the eyes of the people.
16 And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear. (D&C 63:14-16)

Adultery is another sin, the folly of which shall be manifest to all. I get the sense that it is the kind of thing that the person committing it is so given over to it that they are completely blind to the awfulness and wrongness of it, while everyone else shakes their head, wondering how the person could be so foolish.

And if any man shall seek to build up himself, and seeketh not my counsel, he shall have no power, and his folly shall be made manifest. (D&C 136:19)

Selfishness and attempts to self-aggrandize are other faults that are made obvious to othrs, and it especially would be in this context of the Saints moving west, when resources were scare and the Saints needed to help each other.

To sum up, it seems rebellion, abominations, adultery, and self-aggrandizement are sins that the person committing them will be blind to the folly of it, while to everyone else the folly is obvious.
Friday, July 7, 2017 2 comments

13 Keys to Greater Self-Discipline

-->
I’ve been feeling like I need to build more self-discipline in my life, so I went searching for principles and practices that could help me with this.  I want to share what I learned.  Some of these I can see have a spiritual component behind them, and others I have to think about it more.

1. Get your priorities straight. When you get up, think of the one major thing you are going to work on that day, the thing that if it were done you would be sooooo happy. Tackle it first.

2. Use promises to help you.
1) Make small promises to yourself.
2) Respect yourself as the general over the army of ‘you’ and do what you tell yourself to do. No whining. No complaining. No excuses. “Yes ma’am! Right away ma’am!”
3) Keep the promises you make to yourself and others. This helps build a pattern of integrity in your character. (It also ensures you don’t make promises lightly.)

3. Get rid of distractions. Put phone on airplane mode. Close email. Close all extra webpages. Close browser. TURN OFF WIFI.  Then DO IT.  Avoid checking email first thing in the morning; do it around 11am or so, after you’ve gotten a good start on hard work.  Make a goal of only checking email ONCE a day. (Treat it like your snail-mail box.)

4. Do hard work before you do something fun.  This helps build a habit of delayed gratification in small things, so you can grow towards delaying gratification in larger things for larger rewards. (And make sure the reward doesn’t undo the hard work, e.g. eating ice cream after working out.) 

5. When you think of something you ought to do, try to act on it immediately.  This builds a habit of making impulsiveness work for you. Following good impulses builds your ability to listen and follow the Spirit.
I should get in shape. Drop and do 20 push-ups now.
I should read my scriptures. Go read them now!
I should pray.  Go pray! Now!
I should call so-and-so to see how they are doing.  Call them now! If you’re in a place where you can’t, put it on your to-do list immediately.

6. Tell yourself you are doing it for the discipline, whether it is easy or hard. This sends a good message to yourself that you have a good long-term goal – discipline—that you are working toward. It feels good to know that everything good you do can contribute to it.

7. Cultivate positive self-talk. As the general of the army of ‘you,’ you must become skilled at rallying the troops. Encourage yourself. Remind yourself why you are doing the hard thing. When you fail or feel lazy, don’t yell at yourself or call yourself names. Instead, pull out your inner psychoanalyst and ask yourself why you failed or procrastinated or whatever. There is often a real problem underneath that needs to be solved first, e.g. skills that need to be gained and practiced, a gravitational well of a comfort zone that must be escaped, a lack of confidence that needs to be acknowledged and dissipated with positive achievements, some sort of negative pattern of experiences that has conditioned us to act a certain way that must be fought with positive conditioning.  Focus on finding and solving the problem.

8. Take action. Don’t stew about it. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it. Those ‘blah’ feelings LIE! Defy them! Deep down you do  care, or you wouldn’t be so annoyed at feeling ‘blah.’   “’Tis better far for us to strive, our useless cares from us to drive.”  Motivation often follows action.  Action is the best way for getting rid of that ‘blah’ feeling. Action is a positive use of agency.

9. Face obstacles head on, with courage. Things often don’t go according to plan. The more you practice facing life problems head on, the more you’ll develop the ability to overcome bigger obstacles and the more resilient you become. Your brain will adapt and grow and develop new ways of discovering solutions. Over time, you’ll find it easier to face common-occurring problems. You will meet each new obstacle with more courage, thanks to your mindset in the past.

10. Expose yourself to small amounts of hardship. You will gain satisfaction from overcoming the hardship and thriving anyway. You will learn tolerance for difficulty and discomfort, which will give you a layer of inner toughness and confidence to face future problems and obstacles.  Take a cold shower. Exercise daily. Weed in the hot sun.  Fast for 2 meals.  Work the math problem the long way.

11. Whatever it is, keep at it a little longer than you think you can. This will stretch your capabilities. It shows you that you can expand your limits.  Run 100 more yards. Work 5-20 minutes longer. 

12. Give it your 100% best effort. This is not the same as perfectionism. Best effort means complete focus of energy and attention, you search for resources to help and use them, and you ask for help when you need it.  It means you make corrections as you discover they are needed, and you deliver in the time required. In short, it means you do everything you can think of to make it work, mustering your best thinking and bringing all your talents to bear. It means you take responsibility for the outcome and don’t blame others.

13. Finish the task. Even though the shiny and excitement wears off the new project, you keep going anyway. Even though you are dying to drop everything and go do something different, you keep at it.  Some projects and tasks may be too large to complete in one blast of effort, so you’ll have to break it up into smaller pieces, but you still make sure to finish each piece.  Finishing small tasks leads to the ability to finish bigger tasks.

Conclusion

Ultimately, developing self-discipline is about creating a life in which you are not ruled by your feelings, desires, appetites, and passions.  It’s about keeping the things of the moment in bounds so you can enjoy the things that last eternally.