Monday, August 27, 2018 0 comments

Part of Solomon’s prayer to dedicate the temple

38 What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house:
39 Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;)
40 That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers. (1 Kings 8:39-40)

I was touched by these verses, particularly as it speaks of every man knowing the plague of his own heart. I suspect we all have issues that plague us, things in our own character or thought process that we know aren’t helping us, that are causing us to self-sabotage in some way, things that we can’t quite get the better of on our own. But we can turn to the Lord in the temple for help with them.

Solomon asks the Lord to hear, to forgive, and do, and give to each person according to his ways, or according to his needs so that they know it is the Lord’s hand in their lives. The different actions possible give us some insight on what we might ask the Lord for.

Forgive – we can ask for our sins to be pardoned

Do – we can ask for the Lord to intervene in our lives or the lives of others in a variety of ways

Give – we can ask the Lord for spiritual and temporal gifts, as long as we do not ask to consume it on our lusts

Saturday, August 25, 2018 0 comments

Cunning Plans of the Devil

And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men. (Alma 28:13)
What are the cunning plans of the devil? Can we see them at work in our lies? Do we see the attempts to flatter or stir up to anger or other strong emotion? Do we notice the attempts to bind down with apathy or discouragement or hopelessness?

Ensnaring hearts makes me think of feelings that are easy to get into, but which are hard to get out of.

I decided I needed more insight on this, so I decided to look at “snare” in the Topical Guide.

The children of Israel were commanded, “if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.” (Ex. 23:33) Since that service to the other gods involved ritual prostitution, that was definitely true. Getting into that sin would be hard to get out of.

Gideon, after his military success, made an ephod and all Israel went whoring after it, and it became a snare unto Gideon and to his house (see Judges 8:27). Material goods can be a snare when everybody loves it but us. If we want to get rid of it because it is having a bad influence and nobody will let us, or we don’t see what’s so great about it.

Saul gave his daughter Michal to David to wife, calculating that she would be a snare to him (see 1 Samuel 18:21) possibly because of her idolatry (see 1 Sam. 19:13). When spouses aren’t equally yoked, the less faithful one can pull down the more faithful one. The same can be said of friends as well.

David curses the wicked in Psalm 69:22, “Let their table become a snare before them; and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.” How might a table be a snare? I think it means what is on the table, not the table itself. In his day, food might have been a snare if people began breaking the Law of Moses concerning clean and unclean foods. It would lead them into thinking they could break other laws as well.  A table can also be a snare to people who have a hard time knowing when to stop eating.

Our mouth can snare us. “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” (Proverbs 18:7) People are affected by their own words, and we can get stuck in patterns of speech that aren’t very kind or healthy. We can get stuck in patterns of criticism or gossip.

Proverbs 22:24-25 warns against making friends with an angry man lest we learn his ways and become ensnared in them. So anger becomes a snare too. I think we can see today how people can get pulled a habit of anger.

Proverbs 29:8 says scornful men bring a city into a snare, but wise men turn away wrath. Scorn causes people to do all kinds of things to avoid being derided, even if it is wrong. It can affect entire communities.

Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” Worrying about what others will think can become a pernicious trap that keeps us timid and powerless.

Jeremiah 50:24 warns Babylon that a snare is laid for them and they are trapped because they fight against the Lord. Rebellion becomes a snare.

In Luke 21:34-35, Jesus warns that in the last days drunkenness, excess, and cares of this life would become a snare to the world before the second coming. So pleasures can be a snare as well. (It would certainly be a cunning plan of the devil to make fun into a snare that traps people.)

1 Timothy 6:9 says that they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare. So greed and avarice can be an instrument of entrapment by the devil. The law of sacrifice is one of the Lord’s methods for getting His people loose from that kind of trap.

Alma the elder told the people in Mosiah 23:9 that he was caught in a snare with the iniquity of King Noah and the priests. He got loose by accepting the truth Abinadi taught, by standing up for Abinadi (which caused a break between Alma and the others), and by repenting.

Is there anything that is spiritually trapping you these days? Humility and repentance is the key to get out.
Saturday, August 11, 2018 0 comments

How Jesus handles a question about His authority

27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,
28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.
31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?
32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.
33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Mark 11:27-33)

Many commentators like to go into great depth about the trap laid for Jesus in their question. They also usually point to Jesus’s counter-question as a brilliant defense by which He puts them all in their place.

Yet something about it struck me as odd. I began to wonder what we are supposed to learn from this incident that can help us. Are we to learn that Jesus can unequivocally win arguments and devastate the opposition? Is winning the argument His goal?  Does this help us in our conversations about the gospel? 

It seems to me that when faced with a question about His authority, Jesus’s major goal would be persuading someone to recognize His power to redeem. The question in His mind would be, If I tell you, will you acknowledge my authority and allow me to save you? He might want to know if they were asking sincerely or out of bad faith. Because He wants to save everyone, He has to assume sincerity until they prove bad faith. 

He asks a question to learn from them. I see this incident as instance in which Christ demonstrated His meekness and lowliness of heart. He didn’t ask, “Why do you want to know?” He asked whether they thought John’s baptism was from heaven or of men. His question is meant to discern their level of sincerity and belief. He knew their ability to respond positively to a prophet in their day would determine their ability to respond to the Messiah. 

It is interesting that the reasoning of the chief priests, scribes, and elders was captured in the record in verses 31-32. (As an exercise, just try reading the account without that reasoning inserted, and you’ll see how it might have looked to everyone else who wasn’t privy to the motivation coloring the answer of those leaders.)

Their reasoning indicates that they thought His question was a trap. This was pure projection on their part. They thought Jesus was doing to them what they were trying to do to Him. If they had been sincere, they might have seen His question for what it really was. And I hardly think they’d want such a blatantly self-interested politically-obsessed thought process to get about, but someone overheard, and now it is memorialized for all time. 

Since they claimed they couldn’t tell whether John’s baptism was from heaven or men, Jesus knew then that they’d be similarly obtuse in public about Jesus’s authority. He probably said to Himself, I can’t do anything with people who ‘can’t tell,’ when it’s so obvious, so I guess I can’t tell them anything about my authority either because they won’t get it. And He wouldn’t push His authority on them; He wouldn’t want to condemn them so quickly. He’d want to give them more time in hopes that He could save them later.

One thing I learn from this incident is that Jesus chooses whether to answer a question based upon the receptiveness of the hearer. Even though those leaders thought they were saving face by refusing to commit, they actually disqualified themselves from receiving a real answer. Seeming wishy-washy or obtuse marked them as having spiritual problems, even if they concealed for a time that their problem was outright hostility. It is particularly sad that these were chief priests, scribes, and elders, men who should have been most spiritually mature and receptive.

Jesus’s test question is still a good one for today. How we respond to a modern prophet determines how receptive we’d be to Jesus Himself. If we ‘can’t tell’ if a modern prophet is from God, when his goodness has been demonstrated over years, then our ability to receive revelation is diminished. On the positive side, if we respond to the modern prophet and apostles, we will be receptive to revelation and receptive to Jesus Himself.

I also think that Jesus’s willingness to take time and ask questions of the questioner to gauge where they were at is a good pattern to follow in gospel conversations. If people ask us questions about the church or the gospel, maybe it would be wise to first take time to ask them questions about what experiences have brought them to us or what they believe so that we can better meet them where they are spiritually.
Thursday, August 9, 2018 0 comments

The Token of Peace and Some Thoughts on Culture

In the story of Amalickiah’s rise to prominence among the Lamanites, there’s the incident just before the Lamanite king got assassinated that caught my attention.

And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.” (Alma 47:23)

Raising bowing people as a token of peace is a nice thing for a king to do, since underlings would be anxious to know they were in the king’s good graces and hadn’t displeased him. And a token of peace is a beautiful idea. It makes me ponder how Heavenly Father might bestow tokens of peace on us. Having the Holy Ghost to be with us is one token of peace we can look for and enjoy. Also, spiritual gifts would be other tokens of peace. It seems to me that we don’t have to just wait for tokens of peace; we can seek for them and ask for them. We can repent and qualify ourselves for them.

On a different note, it is interesting to me that Mormon calls attention to the fact that the Lamanites took this tradition from the Nephites. Even though the Lamanites so often wanted to destroy the Nephites, and though they considered Nephites “sons of a liar” (like King Lamoni’s father thought), they were aware of this old court custom. Who knows how, since they separated way before the Nephites started to have kings. But they liked it enough to adopt it themselves. Interesting how a culture they hated could still influence and affect them at such a high level as court etiquette.   I can’t help but wonder who they would have answered if someone had asked them about it. (“If you hate the Nephites, why do you imitate their practices?”)  But maybe they would have said, “We don’t care; it’s useful.”

This makes me think about the practice of adopting customs from other people. Is it purist or is it prejudice to refrain from adopting customs of peoples who are considered the enemy?  Bad customs are easily avoided (theoretically), but what if their good practices are useful and helpful and do great social good? Should they be avoided too?  Surely not.

I know there are people who get all offended and make accusations of cultural appropriation when other cultural practices are adopted, but it seems to me that customs usually have a social function. If it is good, then I don’t see why it shouldn’t be allowed to spread.  Or maybe it could be that “cultural appropriation” really means using a cultural sign for aggrandizement and status with little to no knowledge of the meaning, values, connotations and historical baggage that goes along with it. (I find myself wondering, “What would we Mormons say if we saw something LDS that had been “culturally appropriated?”)

Eh, this could turn into a can of worms…

At bottom, I think bits of culture have a social function. We like to preserve bits from the past sometimes because of nostalgia, but functionality helps determine if it endures through changes of technology and fashion and so on. 

I think Zion culture is meant to take the good from everywhere and leave the bad alone. (But sometimes it takes a lot of open-mindedness to be able to tell whether something is good or bad, when a blind spot in our home culture might initially prejudice us.)
Tuesday, August 7, 2018 1 comments

Some thoughts from teaching Old Testament Lesson 24 “Create in Me a Clean Heart”

It has been some weeks since I taught this lesson, but I thought it might be a good idea to share some things from it.

Old Testament Lesson 24 “Create in Me a Clean Heart” covers the sad story in 2 Samuel 11-12 of David’s adultery with Bath-sheba, his conspiracy to have her husband murdered on the front lines, and then the exposure of his crimes by the prophet Nathan, and Psalm 51, which expresses his deep contrition and repentance.

I decided to approach the lesson a little bit differently by widening the scope a bit. We usually focus on just David and Bath-sheba, but I decided to compare his story with other stories in the scriptures of people who suffered similar temptation or who were in similar precarious circumstances. At first, I started thinking about the comparisons simply for my own learning, but after doing it (making a chart and making observations), I learned enough that I decided it would be worth it to have the class think these things through too.

So who are we comparing?

David & Bath-sheba in 2 Samuel 11
Amnon & Tamar in 2 Samuel 13
Corianton & Isabel in Alma 39 :2-4
Sarah/Abraham & Pharaoh in Genesis 12:11-20
Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (who I’ll call Mrs. Potiphar) in Genesis 39: 4-21

If you’re not familiar with any of these stories, I encourage you to take some time to go read them so you’ll have it fresh in your mind.
(Just as a quick note about a relationship, Amnon was a son of David through one wife, and Tamar was a daughter of David through a different wife. They were half-siblings, and a marriage between them would have been forbidden by the Law of Moses.)

Let’s make some charts!

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Who is the aggressor-pursuer?
Corianton (went after Isabel)
(But also, Alma observes that Isabel did “steal away the hearts of many” so it could have been both were at fault in some way.
Mrs. Potiphar

Something we learn really quick from looking at this information here is that in 4 cases out of 5, the men were the aggressor. However, it must be noted that Isabel and Mrs. Potiphar show us that women may be predatory on occasion too.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Who had the power in the interactions?
David (he’s king)
They were about equal (they both were children of David)
Amnon had more physical strength.
This is unclear.

However, Corianton was a missionary, and he had spiritual authority.
Pharaoh (he’s king)
Mrs. Potiphar (she’s mistress of the household, while Joseph is a slave)

Looking at these comparisons, we can see that in 3 of the 5 interactions, there was a massive power imbalance in terms of social status and authority. The power that kings have over their subjects and that masters have over slaves contributes to temptation to misuse that power (which we in the church would label “unrighteous dominion”).  In the case of Corianton and Isabel, I note that he was a missionary (lots of moral authority) and she was a harlot (very little moral authority), so there was a great spiritual power-imbalance there that he may have taken advantage of. (I don’t say that he did; I just surmise that it is possible. People with very low self-esteem are easily taken advantage of.)

In short, power imbalances contribute to sexual temptation; Satan whispers to the person with the power that they can escape consequences or retaliation from the one they sin against or that their status isolates them from wider social consequences. Satan also tries to break down the resistance of the person without power by telling them they will be punished if they resist to keep their virtue.

We can see that Sarah and Joseph both still resisted, which shows us it is possible to resist even if you don’t have power.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Who had knowledge of the commandments?


A sad observation we make here is that just because both people know the commandments (like “Do not commit adultery”) does not necessarily make it easier. 1) It may lull both into a false sense of security as they both think, “Oh, I don’t need to worry about that because they know it’s wrong.” 2) The angst when trapped in a forbidden relationship can be even greater.

(Pharaoh is kind of a weird case. The fact that he had to be kept from knowing of Sarah’s marriage indicates that he knew he shouldn’t commit adultery…and he would kept the letter of it by arranging for Sarah to become single. But that meant he had a problem with other commandments…namely, murder.)

We can also observe something reassuring—if even just one person in the duo is committed to keeping the commandments, that commitment can save them both. Yes, even if the one committed to the commandments is not in a position of power.    But the case of Corianton shows us that being the only one who knows the commandments is not enough, if you’re not fully committed to keeping them.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Where did the temptation start?
David was at home, on the roof, looking out on the city at night.
At home, in the palace.
This was a long term thing.
Among the Zoramites, on the mission.
(following the lusts of his eyes)
As Abe and Sarah came into Egypt. Pharaoh heard a report from his servants about Sarah. (curiosity)
In Mrs. Potiphar’s house.
Over time as Joseph works for Potiphar.

In the cases of David, Amnon, and Mrs. Potiphar, the temptation came at home. (Note: Be careful who you let close to you.)

In the case of David in particular, in the evening he arose off his bed and walked on his roof. He was restless. Satan tries to take advantage of that. Also, this was at night, so after a long day, his resistance would have been lower. Satan will try to hit us with temptation at night when we’re tired. We also need to watch out for times when we’re hungry, thirsty, anxious, sad, bored, or lonely.

In the cases of Amnon and Mrs. Potiphar, there was a long time of association before the temptation hit. These can be really difficult to deal with because the person is already so embedded in one’s life that it’s hard to see how one can get free of them.  How would Amnon have gotten distance from his half-sister?  How would Mrs. Potiphar have gotten away from Joseph if he was such a good servant? (She couldn’t very well ask for him to be sold without a good reason.)

In the cases of David and Corianton, we see there is a temptation to go after the lusts of one’s eyes. Looking to lust creates problems.

In the case of Pharaoh, just hearing a report of Sarah’s beauty was enough to stimulate his curiosity. The way he acted and the way the Lord warned Abraham to say Sarah was his sister makes you think that maybe Pharaoh had a habit of picking up women like this. (Of course, this is speculation about this story, but the lesson is still important and still valid: there are people who are habitually predatory, and the Lord has to give us extra help to escape them.)

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Any spiritual problems beforehand?
David was not at battle when he should have been.
(neglecting duty)
Vexed with Tamar to the point of sickness
(not enough to do to keep his mind off her. Idle.)
Had been boasting in his own strength
Pharoah apparently always takes what he wants. (selfish)

Time on his hands? (idleness)

Idleness (since she had servants)

Here we infer that in at least 4 out of 5 cases, idleness was a major contributor to temptation. The saying seems to hold true that “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” so it is important to make sure to stay anxiously engaged in a good cause.

Now, let me be understood—we need moments of downtime to rest and re-create our strength. We have a day of rest every week, which is a big blessing.   But long-term idleness is not healthy. Satan will try to fill that long empty space any way he can, like throwing a bunch of burrs in an empty wool bag. To extend the metaphor, it’s easier to keep the burrs out if the wool bag is filled with pretty marbles. (I hope you get my crazy metaphor...)

I think it is also important to point out that while it might seem like boasting wouldn’t create a problem for Corianton, it is actually very serious. “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.” (D&C 3:4) Boasting is a manifestation of pride, which of course takes a person out of the protection of the Spirit of the Lord.  This means that not only is it not wise to boast of spiritual strength, it also isn’t wise to assume one is out of reach of these temptations. Anyone is vulnerable.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
What factors would have contributed to the difficulties for the one pursued?
Bath-sheba’s husband was not around. (He was at war.)
Tamar was not physically strong enough keep Amnon away.
Isabel probably had low self-esteem from previously lost virtue.
Sarah was a foreigner in a strange land.

She has to pretend she’s not married (but not by choice)
Joseph is a slave, has to obey orders.

He’s a foreigner.

Some lessons we can learn here is that there are various factors that contribute to vulnerability for the ones who are pursued. 1) When the spouse isn’t around. 2) Lack of physical strength to defend oneself. 3) Low self-esteem. 4) Anything that makes you look unmarried. 5) Being a foreigner. (Means you’re more dependent upon the kindness of others and that not understanding customs may cause you to not realize that personal boundaries are being intruded upon for nefarious purposes.)

The irony with Sarah was that having to pretend she wasn’t married was actually a measure given by revelation to keep her husband alive (see Abraham 2:22-25). However, as a rule, signaling that you are happily married is a great protection.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
What factors would have made it hard for the aggressor to avoid contact?
Could have avoided.

David was king and could have ordered Bath-sheba and Uriah sent elsewhere.
Tamar was Amnon’s half-sister. He’d see her all the time unless he got his father to send him on some distant royal project.
Corianton’s mission was to the Zoramites. Perhaps he could have gotten himself transferred?

Isabel stole the hearts of many, so she seems to have been deliberate about it.
Pharoah could avoid, but he takes Sarah into his house.

Eventually he ends up sending them away out of Egypt.
Joseph had been given responsibility over the whole house. 

Joseph helps by trying to avoid Mrs. Potiphar as best he can, but she also tries to defeat these measures.

Joseph is a good servant, so Mrs. Potiphar can’t get rid of him without good reason.

Here we see that nearly every one of the aggressors in these relationships could have done something to send away the person they were too interested in or gone somewhere else themselves. The problem was, by that time they were too ensnared and no longer wanted to.
In the cases of Pharaoh and Mrs. Potiphar, they finally bit the bullet and took steps. (Mrs. Potiphar, unfortunately had to perpetrate an injustice to get rid of Joseph.)

Let’s sum up some of the lessons from this comparison:
·      Power and status imbalances often contribute to temptation. However, resistance is still possible.
·      You must stay completely committed to the keeping the commandments to resist temptation.
·      Temptation often arises from long associations, at times of physiological-emotional weakness, with people who are physically attractive. (Or any combination thereof) Curiosity can also contribute.
·      Idleness, pride, and selfishness makes us extra vulnerable to temptation.  On the opposite side, being anxiously engaged in a good cause, staying humble, and cultivating unselfishness can protect us.
·      Some other protections from sexual temptation are: the presence of one’s spouse, signaling one’s married status, and self-confidence through virtue.
·      Avoiding contact is an important way to quench temptation, and sometimes heroic, unusual measures are called for.

Many times, our warnings consist of “Don’t be alone with a person of the opposite sex,” and the above shows us that sometimes things aren’t that simple. Joseph’s case shows that sometimes even that fails and you have to be ready to run and leave your dignity behind.

I have a testimony that the Lord will help us to keep our covenants if we are truly committed. He will deliver us in various ways—with warnings, with grace (enabling power), and with miracles If necessary.  If we have been sinned against, we can access Christ’s healing power.