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.

Ether 1

(December 17, 2015)
                I know, as we look at the world around us, it can sometimes be disheartening to think of the inevitable slide that seems to be happening.  There are many who I talk to who, seeing the same things I am, draw the conclusion that the world is (metaphorically, or even sometimes literally) ending, and take a very dark view of their future and their children’s future.

                I am not so pessimistic, even though I see the same things that they each do.  While I think it safe to say that society at large will continue to move further and further away from God (with the resulting inevitable unhappiness that such a move will bring), it does not need to affect us and those we love.

                Historically, we can look at the continued progress experienced by those living in the monastic orders during the Dark Ages.  While society around them came apart at the seams (leading to tremendous misery and deprivation), those who held closest to the Lord were often able to avoid the slide and frequently advance their lives despite what was happening.

                We see the same thing in this chapter.  Because of wickedness, the whole world was coming apart at the seams.  The destruction of their culture and society was clearly visible to them (or else, why would they pray?).  And yet they were spared the consequences and even blessed by fleeing from wickedness and trusting in the Lord.  I think that is something that we can each imitate in our own lives and the lives of our families in the difficult times ahead of us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mormon 9

(December 16, 2015)
                It has always been striking to me how many otherwise orthodox Mormons have such a problem with miracles.  They use any and all means to explain away the absence of miracles.  There seems to be a pendulum that swings back and forth – from recognition of small miracles (a good thing) taken too far to the point where larger miracles are denied (as if God only works through small miracles) to a denial of the small miracles (as coincidence or circumstance or personal effort) which also leads to a point where larger miracles are denied.

                As I have said before, I want my tombstone to read “A Man with Experience is Never at the Mercy of a Man with an Argument.”  And, in this case, that phrase is no less applicable.  However miracles can be argued or explained away, there are a couple of truths that are found both in the scriptures and in my life.  And my life has likewise shown some corollaries that I have learned to be true.

                The first truth is, as my life shows and Moroni clearly states, the day of miracles is not passed.  The great judgment day is not upon us, and therefore miracles continue in this world.  I have seen both small and large miracles, so even if Moroni hadn’t written it I could have testified to it.  If we deny miracles, we deny Moroni, and we deny Christ.

                Second, small miracles happen on a daily basis.  There are five prayers that, in my experience, are always answered (and answered quickly).  A prayer for the tender mercies of the Lord to communicate His love for us.  A prayer for humility (answered, in my experience, with some catastrophe [incidentally, this makes for a good prayer experience for someone doubting the existence of God – encourage them to pray for God and then watch as their lives fall apart, which then becomes evidence of God hearing and answering their prayers]).  A prayer for an increase in gratitude, which is answered with opening my eyes to blessings that I have missed.  A prayer for charity for someone in particular, which tends to be answered by that person doing something painful (intentional or otherwise) to me, giving me an opportunity to practice that virtue.  And finally, a prayer for an opportunity to serve, which is answered not by callings or responsibilities but rather by the Lord opening my eyes to the needs that I can meet of those around me.

                These are just some of the small miracles that we can see in our lives if we just open our eyes.  There is nothing wrong with looking for and finding these small miracles – indeed, we should be grateful for them.  The problem comes when our focus on these small miracles deceives us into believing that these are the only way the Lord works.

                The Lord works through large miracles as well.  Certainly not as often as the small miracles, but if we deny them we won’t be able to experience the larger miracles.  Large miracles, at least in my life, do not come around every day.  But they didn’t come around that often in the lives of the prophets, either.  For example, Nephi was a prophet that we think of as having a number of miracles in his life.  But what do we legitimately have from the record in front of us?

                Off the top of my head, we have (1) the vision to trust his father, (2) the angel protecting him when his brothers were beating him, (3) the miracle of protection when securing the Brass Plates, (4) being freed from his brothers tying him up in the wilderness, (5) the receipt of the Liahona, (6) the vision of the Tree of Life, (7) directions on how to build a ship, (8) shocking his brothers, (9) the storm on the sea, and (10) instructions to flee before his brothers killed him.

                Of those ten miracles (and forgive me if I have missed any compiling this list on the fly), four were inspiration or revelation (1, 6, 7, and 10), three were things that could easily have had naturalistic explanations (3, 4, and 9), and three defied naturalistic explanations (2, 5, and 8).  This in a lifetimes of experiences, and for which we have records of over a decade.

                Along with denying the larger miracles, I think we might sometimes have unrealistic expectations of how often those larger miracles should occur (and I think the latter may feed into the former).  Nephi was on an errand for the Lord – quite possibly the most important thing happening in the world at that point and time.  And, yet, he was having on average one miracle that denied natural explanations every few years, one miracle with a naturalistic explanation ever few years, and a revelation or inspiration just slightly more often.

                As I think back on my life, that is pretty consistent with what I have experienced (taking out, of course, the times when I was not living my life in a manner worthy to experience any miracles at all).  I certainly was not as central to the Lord’s Plan as Nephi was, but He blessed me with miracles as well – a few that defied naturalistic explanation, a few that could be explained away (but which were clearly miracles), with the occasional profound inspiration or revelation.  These larger miracles exist, and support the smaller miracles that we can receive on a daily basis.  We don’t need to expect frequently, but we must also realize that the Lord can and will bless our lives with them from time to time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 127

(December 15, 2015)
                It is interesting to see the juxtaposition of Joseph Smith’s view of suffering and adversity in this Section and contrast it to the way that he felt just over three years earlier (as found in Section 121).  Whereas before, he was overwhelmed by his adversity, by this point he had acquired a strength sufficient to handle it with relative ease.  He couldn’t always glory in his afflictions, but to the extent he could at this point it is encouraging.

                When I find myself facing what seems to be overwhelming adversity, it oftentimes feels like it is a permanent state of affairs.  And, to be honest, that might actually be accurate – after all, it was for Joseph.  But in addition to that truth, there is also the truth that I often forget – the Lord strengthens us through times of affliction.  While my adversity may not be over in three years, is it possible that – like Joseph – I could be strengthened such that no matter the adversity I am able to handle it with ease and confidence?  I think it not only possible but likely, based upon what I have seen and the changes that I have made.

Mormon 8

(December 15, 2015)
                It is hard to reconcile our intellectual understanding of the Gospel with our emotional responses to the world around us sometimes.  For example, I am certain that Moroni is correct when (discussing his bleak future) he says that it doesn’t matter what happens.  I can say the same thing about my own future – I don’t know what will happen, but whatever it is that future will have been designed by a loving God.  So it really doesn’t matter what will come.

                But that intellectual understanding is at war with my emotional reaction to my future.  There are things that I want to accomplish in my life.  And there are blessings that I want to receive.  And far from saying it doesn’t matter, my soul cries out that it does matter – a lot.  What’s more, there are opportunities that have been lost forever.  Once again, it isn’t something that doesn’t matter – it matters a lot.

                I suppose that is part of our progression.  Our mind may understand that we need to trust the Lord, but our emotions lead us to deal with things ourselves.  It is only after we have placed our trust in the Lord that we learn that we can trust the Lord.  Faith leads to obedience, which leads to faith.