Tuesday, August 29, 2017 0 comments

Diagnosing Problems with the Corrupted Trees in Jacob 5

In Zeno’s allegory of the olive trees that Jacob quotes, there comes a point when the Lord of the vineyard finds all the trees are corrupted and giving bad fruit. It is interesting to see his and his servant’s diagnosis of the problem.

First the servant tries to find the silver lining in the cloud:

And the servant said unto his master: Behold, because thou didst graft in the branches of the wild olive tree they have nourished the roots, that they are alive and they have not perished; wherefore thou beholdest that they are yet good. (Jacob 5:34)

The servant observes the roots are still good, but notice—it is a bit backward to think that the branches are nourishing the roots. It is supposed to be the other way around.

In verse 37, the Lord of the vineyard has a different take on it:

But behold, the wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots thereof; and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof it hath brought forth much evil fruit; and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish; and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it.

The Lord of the vineyard says the branches have overrun the roots and overcome them. (So the branches may have thought they were nourishing the roots, but they were overrunning them instead.)

Then the servant gets a brainwave in verse 48:

And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?

Loftiness of the vineyard is a great way of describing pride. Also, I notice it says when the branches overcame the roots, they grew faster than the roots and took strength to themselves. This is what happens in individuals too. When a person with no authority gets a notion they can nourish the rest of the church, they are actually overrunning it. But they think the overrun means they are stronger and better than everyone else (taking strength to themselves) and corruption follows.

I think there’s a hint of what to look out for in ourselves. If we think we are growing faster or are spiritually stronger than others around us, we may have a problem with pride. (I had this issue some years ago. It makes me shudder to think about it. I am so grateful for the Lord's mercy that He brought me to recognize my error. Because of that experience, my blogging is more to benefit me than for anyone else because the writing I do helps me learn. If anyone else benefits, that is icing on the cake.)

If we have the problem of loftiness and pride, it might be good to open our ears and see what nourishment we are missing while we think we have the answer to everything. It might be good to just focus on the basic principles and practices of the gospel for a long while to make sure we are doing all we can.

There are a few more warnings I notice in this chapter that are part of the diagnoses of the corrupted trees.

In verse 40:

And the wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died.

We might easily apply this to the Nephite civilization and point to how the Lamanites eventually overcame the righteous Nephites. However, it is true in individual life as well. If we have both good fruit and bad fruit in our lives, the bad tends to take over. It’s invasive, so we need to remove the bad branches, otherwise the good branches will wither away.

In verse 46:

…the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit…But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive tree…

Without good fruit, the good olive tree is just like the wild olive tree. We can’t be like other people who don’t have the gospel. We have to be different. With good fruit.

Sunday, August 27, 2017 0 comments

Jacob trying to keep his people from provoking God

Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. (Jacob 1:7)

Here Jacob tells us his major concern about his people—that with their stubbornness they would provoke the Lord into decreeing that they would not enter the rest of the Lord.

It is clear to me that Jacob used the stories of the children of Israel in the wilderness as an example of the consequences of rebelling, murmuring, and not believing the Lord. He realized that this wasn’t an isolated incident, but there was a danger it would happen in each generation of Israelite descendants. (And of course that means there is a danger it can happen today in the church.)

Jacob's words seem to have been influenced by Psalms 95:7-11:

7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.
10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

In Psalms it is pointed out that the Israelites saw the Lord’s work, tested Him, but apparently hardened their hearts anyway. That provoked the Lord.

We also gain more insight about what might have been taught if we read Hebrews 3:7-19:

7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;
15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Paul’s warning to the Saints is that they make sure they don’t depart from the Lord, follow the deceitfulness of sin, become hardened, and die in their sins.  Instead, they were to hold their confidence steadfast to the end.  In short, this appears to be about the need to endure to the end.

Friday, August 25, 2017 0 comments

Observations on sequence markers in the Book of Revelation

Something I’ve noticed about the Book of Revelation over the number of times I’ve read through it is how startlingly sequential it has begun to seem to me.

The seven seals are opened.
Then seven angels blow their trumpets.
Then seven angels pour out plagues of the wrath of God upon the earth.

I think it is very helpful to mark where these things are in the text because it makes the events associated with each of these things stick out better. This is useful because those events don’t necessarily occur in the same chapter; they straddle chapters, even multiple chapters.

When you mark the sequence and you read it as a sequence, suddenly you start to see something very cool—there is a contrast set up between the world and the kingdom of God.

Before noticing the sequence markers, I was only aware of the seven seals. I thought all the scary things (like wars and plagues) were the only things that happened. I thought all the sections that showed Saints praising God in front of the throne were mere interludes showing some kind of vision of what Saints can expect to enjoy in heaven. I didn’t associate that lovely stuff with events down on earth.

But once I highlighted the sequence markers and started mentally tying everything together, I started to see that contrast between the condition of the righteous and the wicked. The contrast tells us, “While the wicked are doing this, the righteous over hear are doing this other thing.”

While the wicked are scared, the righteous rejoice and anticipate salvation.
While the wicked are tormented, the righteous are sealed in their foreheads.
While the wicked are deceived, the righteous know the truth.
While the wicked try to squelch the light, the righteous are bringing and sharing light.
While the wicked are at war, the righteous are at peace.

The wicked suffer so many things—they fear, they worship the beast, they are in captivity and are deceived and suffer all the plagues and mourn the loss of Babylon.

But the righteous will rejoice even through tribulation, even through severe tests. They will praise God and be sealed in their foreheads and keep their purity and obey the voice of the La and keep separate from the beast and warn others to fear God and preach the gospel, etc.  They will escape the plagues poured out on those who worship the beast.

I’d encourage everybody to highlight in their scriptures those little sequence markers of the seven seals, the seven angels sounding their trumpets, and the seven plagues poured out.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 0 comments

The Suffering Alleviated by the Scriptures

Here King Mosiah teaches his sons about the sacred record on the brass plates:

And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God. (Mosiah 1:3)

That bit about how we must have suffered in ignorance struck me recently. It made me think about how I’ve made so many good choices in my life because of what I’ve learned from the scriptures. I’ve been able to resist many temptations and keep out of trouble because of what I’ve learned from the scriptures. If I hadn’t had the scriptures or the influence of the church in my life I really would have suffered so much because of all the mistakes I would have made in ignorance. There have been many pivot points when a scriptural principle I’ve learned has come back to me, and acting on instead of giving in to temptation or taking a lower way has brought blessings and safety to me.

I can’t deny I’ve also had some suffering arise out of following good scriptural principles, but it has been sanctified suffering, and knowing from the scriptures that I was right helped me persevere.

One major way we would suffer in ignorance from not knowing the mysteries of God is suffering the load of accumulated guilt for sin. Because no matter how the world will try to deny it, guilt is there. It piles up and you can’t get out from it without Christ and without repenting. The scriptures tell us about how we can escape guilt and sin and lay hold on salvation through Christ.

What a mystery of God repentance and faith is! That a God would become man and suffer for everyone’s sins to give us a chance to repent! That our belief in this God and efforts to change and prayers for forgiveness are efficacious! To a tangibly focused, material-evidence-oriented mind that would seem beyond belief.  But it’s real!
Monday, August 7, 2017 0 comments

Thinking about the info we get from D&C 77

D&C 77 is a series of answers Joseph Smith received to questions asked about the meaning of various symbols in the Book of Revelation. From time to time I have wondered why he stopped only at those questions and wished he’d asked more. However, one BYU religion teacher explained that D&C 77 gives “a key” to understanding Revelation, and that just like a key unlocks a door, while D&C 77 doesn’t explain everything, it helps orient us in a way that helps us understand the rest of Revelation better.

Recently my husband and I read D&C 77 together, and I started to wonder what it was that caused Joseph Smith to select those things to ask about.  I suppose I’ll have to ponder those things at length, but one small answer seemed pretty obvious.

Joseph Smith asked about the meaning of the book with seven seals because the book is a very important focus of the narrative. As seals are opened, significant things happen, important changes occur in conditions, both good and bad. The narrative of Revelation revolves around the book for a good part of the time, so it would be important to ask what the book represents.

Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence. (D&C 77:6)

This tells us the book contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God, the hidden things of His economy during the seven thousand years. So everything that happens revolves around the will of God, His works, and His mysteries. Thus, the openings of the seals bring new works and new mysteries and new things of His economy out, and then begins the struggle between those who want to adhere to the will of God, and those who prefer to rebel.  This suggests that we look at the opening of each seal and try to discern what the will of God has revealed and orient the human responses observed in the text according to that.

This answer gives us a view of God as one who is thinking ahead, who is at work not just in one place in the world, but in many different places, revealing mysteries, persuading those who listen to do good. What’s to come has been written; there’s a plan in place. It doesn’t come out of chance.  He’s ahead of the game, He’s the prime mover, He’s behind every inch of real progress humanity makes, and the rest of the world must follow or be left behind.

I think it might also be a fruitful course of inquiry to examine the other symbols Joseph asked about to try to understand how he decided to ask about them. We often think Joseph Smith asked questions according to curiosity, but what if there was more behind it?  Can we understand his thought process or see it?  I recognize this might be considered attempting to mind-read, but might there be an underlying logic behind the questions?
Saturday, August 5, 2017 0 comments

Some thoughts on a story of Joseph Smith’s kindness

The July 107 Ensign had an article called “Kindness” in which one of the example stories was of a time the prophet Joseph Smith showed kindness. To me this story is familiar, but I was struck by a deeper truth in it when I read it this time.

The prophet Joseph Smith showed kindness one day when two children got their feet stuck in the mud on the way to school. They both began to cry because they couldn’t get loose. When Joseph saw the predicament, he bent down and pulled each child out of the mud. He cleaned the mud from their shoes. Then he took a clean handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away their tears. The children smiled as he spoke kind words to them and then sent them on their way. (p55)

When I think about the context of this story, I imagine it was after a hard rain, and with no hard pavement, the roads were a morass of mud and this was what the children got stuck in, simply by heading for their destination at school. I noticed Joseph went above and beyond the hoped-for help. Not only did he free the children, but he cleaned them off and comforted them. He may have been thinking that if he sent them to school muddy they would get a tongue-lashing from their teacher for coming in with such muddy shoes. He probably had to scrape clods of mud off and  rinse their shoes at a pump nearby.

I also noticed this little story is a neat analogy of how Christ saves us. He finds us stuck in the mud of sin on our journey through life. He finds us crying because we can’t get loose ourselves. He pulls us out, cleans us up, dries our tears and comforts us, and gets us moving again in the right direction so we can arrive clean at our destination of eternal life.
Thursday, August 3, 2017 0 comments

A few insights about temptation from Nephite strategy in Alma 55

6 Now Moroni caused that Laman and a small number of his men should go forth unto the guards who were over the Nephites.
7 Now the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.
8 And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.
9 Now when the Lamanites heard these words they received him with joy… (Alma 55:6-9)

In Alma 55, Captain Moroni regains the prisoners in the city of Gid by offering the Lamanite guards wine by one of their own.  We prefer to consider everything Captain Moroni does as good, but I can’t help but point out some things about this strategy that echoes what Satan does.  If it helps us made better choices, I think it’s worth pointing out.

First, I notice the Lamanite guards saw these tricksters coming, and yet Laman and his small group of men still managed to lull them into a false sense of security.  How often do we actually see temptation coming, and yet when we initially refuse, the temptation (or those who present it) push back and try to convince us that we are wrong and it isn’t dangerous?  We have to stick to our guns there and not give in.  It can be particularly difficult if we’re presented with something we like. In the Lamanites' case, it was wine.  It's worth thinking about what things we individually like that might be used to lure us into temptation.

Next insight comes from a later part of this story. Once the Lamanite guards found out there was wine immediately available, they say, “We are weary, and by and by we shall receive wine for our rations, which will strengthen us to go against the Nephites.”

They are tired now, and they anticipate being stronger later.  But there isn’t going to be any opportunity to fight later if they can’t be strong now. 

To me this shows that sometimes we give in to temptation now when we’re tired, thinking that we’ll be stronger later. But that’s a lie.  If we can’t be strong now to resist temptation, how will we get the strength later?   Our strength accumulates with good choices and dissipates with bad ones.  It dissipates incredibly fast and actually give Satan the advantage over us that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

So, lessons from this story are:
--Keep refusing the temptation, even when it tries to push back.
--Giving in now will make it even harder to be strong later.  (So be strong now to stay strong later.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017 0 comments

Paul is warned, but is determined

4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed….
7 And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.
8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Cæsarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.
9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus.
11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. (Acts 21:4-5, 7-14)

In this block of verses we have a peculiar situation where Paul the apostle is headed back to Jerusalem, and on at least two different occasions and places he is warned by members that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Yet he is determined to go up anyway.

What are we to make of this? The text tells us that these warnings came through the Spirit, and yet can we say that it is proper for members to warn an apostle not to go someplace he needs to go? And of course the events that follow show us that Paul is bound as Agabus in particular prophesied that he would be.

Did Paul not know anything about what would happen and so he had to be warned by others? I personally don’t think so. I suspect Paul had inklings and warnings of his own that something difficulty was awaiting him at Jerusalem, but he pressed forward, trusting God to uphold him according to His righteous will.

So why were these impressions given to other Saints? I think they were given for the Saints’ edification and salvation, to prepare them for the news of what would happen to Paul. It was to show them that Heavenly Father knew all that would befall Paul, and that there was a purpose to it. It also gave Paul an opportunity to declare his willingness to die for the truth so that the Saints could be strengthened by his determination.

I have seen this pattern in a small way in my own life as well. On a number of occasions, the Lord has sent me dreams that have prepared me for a particular life challenge. It hasn’t happened for every challenge, nor do the challenges come immediately after the dream, but because I recorded those dreams in my journal, I remember them better. Then when the challenge comes, frequently the Spirit reminds me of the dream I had to prepare me. And by that I know the Lord knows me and that somehow that challenge is a programmed part of my life for the Lord’s purposes.  I can’t boast of these things because I know that they are not because of any worthiness of myself, but they are intended to save me and build my faith in the Lord.

Now, when these warnings come, they can be difficult to deal with. To know something bad is going to happen brings a temptation to give in to fear and surrender to feelings of impending doom. And it seems the Saints were very worried about their impressions and confided these to Paul. Thus, Paul’s declaration that he was willing to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem must have been a strong reassurance. And if you notice, the Saints finally said, “The will of the Lord be done.” (v14) They recognized the Lord would steer Paul’s life, and the Lord’s will would be done whether there was disaster or not.

So we get two more principles:
1)    Do what is right, let the consequence follow. (Where have we heard that before?)
2)    Just because things go wrong, doesn’t mean we’re doing wrong. We may be doing exactly right. And we will be much better able to bear up under adversity if we are conscientiously doing what’s right.