Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Psalms 29-31

(October 26, 2016)
                It is quite remarkable to me how different our approaches can be to the same scriptures read at different times in our lives.  For the bulk of my life, I read through Psalms with very little understanding or emotion.  It was, if I can put a blunt description on it, boring to me.

                Then my life turned upside down.  Suddenly I understand what it means to be surrounded by my enemies.  I knew how it felt to have lying tongues laying wait to defame and snares being set secretly to destroy.  I understood the pain that came from struggling to live the Gospel when confronted not only by your own weaknesses (which certainly exist), but by the actions of others.

                Then, and only then, did I begin to understand Psalms.  It was only after passing through this stage of my life that I could empathize with David’s pleas (both for freedom from his own sins and the damage caused by others).  This is interesting in its own right, but even more important as a reminder of why we can’t read the scriptures only once or only occasionally – after all, as we change, our challenges change, and our perspective changes, the Lord stands ready to teach us new things through the same scriptures.

Alma 51

(October 26, 2016)
                It is vitally important that we, as Christians, understand that we are playing the long game.  There is a strong pull (I feel it myself in the political arena) to find certain battles as existential crises, but that truly isn’t the case.  If the Kingmen had prevailed, it would have been a tragedy, but we see from the Gadianton Robbers taking over later that it isn’t the end of everything.  We must always remember that Christ wins.  We know the ending.

                That doesn’t mean that we ignore the short-term, of course.  Moroni defended the freedom of the people, and we should consider the short-term political effects of our decisions today.  But we cannot either become depressed or disengaged because the world is trending in a manner opposed to our beliefs (really, is that a surprise?).  Likewise, we cannot make our decisions only based upon short-term considerations.  If we aren’t making personal and political decisions based upon how they will affect our eternity, then our thinking is short term.  If our decisions bring a 100 years of misery followed by an eternity of the fullness of joy (to engage in a little hyperbole – I don’t think such a decision situation faces us now), we should gratefully take such a deal.  To select a decade or a century of a positive result at the expense of a lost relationship with Christ is not a good trade to make.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Psalms 19-24

(October 24, 2016)
                In our modern society, so many things are outside of our control – likely more is out of our control than at any point in human history.  Basic human needs – food, shelter, water, for example – are provided to us via means that we don’t fully understand and which we certainly cannot control.

                This absence of control is disquieting at times, but it also is a pervasive reminder to us of our utter dependence upon God.  Whereas the Psalmist saw the need for deliverance from his enemies, we may perhaps have different needs for deliverance.  We may be tempted to seek out protection through self-reliance, through political intervention, or any of a number of ways.  But ultimately we cannot find safety in any manner other than through the protection of the Lord.

                We are in the midst of what could at best be considered a tumultuous political season.  And yet, ultimately, whomever is elected our hope lies not in the ballot box but at the Sacrament Table, not in standing up for our rights but kneeling before our God.  He and He alone can fix everything.  Hoping for any other solution is foolish and, ultimately, idolatry.

Alma 49

(October 24, 2016)
                Knowing what to do with those who stand against us when we are trying to do the right thing can be very difficult.  On the one hand, we are taught to love our enemies.  And our enemies are often more misled than evil (although some, admittedly, are evil).  For example, many Lamanites came to battle but did so because of the pressure from their unrighteous king.  And those who fought against the city of Noah did so because of the oaths of their chief captains (a poor decision, mind one, but one that shows that even they respected their oaths even though it meant their death).

                And there is the likely approach.  We don’t need to judge those who stand opposed to us when we are trying to serve the Lord.  We can love our enemies, and try to see their good points.  But just as the Nephites were obligated to stand against the Lamanites in the defense of their families, their land, and their rights of worship so too are we called upon to stand in defiance of those who would work against our efforts to build the Kingdom of God.  Yes, we need not make conclusive judgments of their worthiness, and yes, we should love them, but neither obligation requires us to open our doors to the Lamanites of our day and allow them to destroy us.  Perhaps it would be better if we did (Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s, for example), but it is not required of us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

1 Kings 11-12

(July 26, 2016)
                So what to make of Jeroboam?  On the one hand, here was someone hand-picked by the Lord to receive the kingship over ten of the twelve tribes.  On the other hand, here was someone who almost immediately turned away from the Lord when it became inconvenient (or dangerous) to worship God.

                Rather than castigate Jeroboam, though, the correct thing to do is to evaluate our own lives to see the ways we are imitating him.  When we are given a gift from the Lord, do we readily forget why we have been given that gift?  For example, when we pay tithing and then receive a financial windfall, is our first thought to express gratitude to the Lord or do we think we somehow earned it through our own efforts?  And when things are difficult, or even dangerous, do we hold to the Lord or do we turn to a pale or idolatrous imitation of the Gospel in order to remain safe and comfortable?

2 Nephi 5

(July 26, 2016)
                In reading the scriptures (as in life), sometimes there is a lot to be gained by considering the times the Lord doesn’t intervene.  Here, of course, is a perfect example of this.

                This moment represented the split between the Nephites and the Lamanites.  Now the Lord reaching down and killing Laman and Lemuel wouldn’t have resolved everything (the Nephites split thereafter several times, and they continued to have tensions between themselves and the Mulekites) but it certainly would have made a big (and, to our modern and temporal sensibilities, a positive difference).  It even seems consistent with the Lord’s principles He taught earlier that it is better that one man should die than that a nation should perish in unbelief.

                And yet, despite being able to intervene He chose not to.  Why?  I think He answers that later in this chapter.  The Lamanites were to become a scourge to the Nephites – not as a punishment but as a blessing.  The Lamanites aren’t the villains of the Book of Mormon – they are a tool that the Lord uses to bless the lives of the Nephites.

                We would do well to remember that when we face challenges in our lives.  When those around us seemingly are setting out to destroy us, are they a blessing from the Lord to us?  If the Lord could resolve this conflict immediately and chooses not to, is it because He knows more than we do and knows how everything will ultimately work for our good?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 128

(December 17, 2015)
                We recently have heard a great deal of complaining by some Members of the Church about the policy that has been promulgated.  They focus their criticism (honestly, some focus but some likely mask) on the policy rather than the underlying principles.  They complain that the changes that were made should not have been made via policy but instead should have been made via revelation (presuming the two to be different in all – or at least this – cases).  They like to say that this wasn’t the way Joseph Smith led the Church.

                This Section, though, is clearly Joseph Smith setting policy.  In no place does he indicate that what he is speaking is direct revelation.  Instead he is applying the revelations (and the scriptures) to the facts and determining a policy that works and is consistent with those revelations and scriptures.  This is exactly the kind of behavior those critics condemn.

                The other thought that I had as I read this Section was on Joseph’s statement that “[f]or him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men.”  I am tempted to deal with this in relation to my personal situation, because I am in a situation were the facts that I know with certainty (because I was there and experienced them, along with contemporaneous journals and extensive efforts to ensure I wasn’t engaging in self-deception) were, at the very least, difficult for a Priesthood leader to obtain (and, to be honest, he got them flat out wrong).

                But rather than make it personal, I can instead draw from other circumstances.  There are explicit examples where Priesthood leaders have gotten things wrong (we are not in the business of believing in infallible leaders, after all).  It does no good for us to look at our leaders as if they are always wrong, or even occasionally wrong (much less wrong on a given piece of counsel).  But we must also acknowledge that Priesthood leaders get things wrong from time to time (and the honest and fair ones admit this – even the Brethren admit to mistakes).

                So how is that consistent with this statement by Joseph Smith?  Priesthood leaders can get facts wrong in a couple of ways as I read this.  First, notice the clarifying clause – “in relation to the salvation of the children of men.”  There are some facts that would not satisfy this clause, and thus were outside of this promise.  Second, the knowledge is promised to be not difficult to obtain, but it still doesn’t magically distill upon the Priesthood leader.  Bias, inattention, or unwillingness to listen all could play a role in these sorts of mistakes.

                Having been in the unfortunate position of having one of these mistakes bring about such turmoil in my life, though, I can testify that even the worst mistakes can still be a blessing in our lives if we allow the Lord to carry us, we trust Him, and we hold close to our Priesthood leaders even when those Priesthood leaders make mistakes.