Friday, November 21, 2014

Psalms 120-131

(November 21, 2014)
                Sometimes there are chapters that deserve sermons written about them – and sometimes two verses contain so much that they deserve a sermon.  Perhaps ever verse in the scriptures is like that – if we fully understood what was contained in it we could give a sermon on each verse as we came to it.  Regardless, that is what I felt when I read Psalms 126:5-6 today.

                There were so many thoughts that could be developed out of these two simple verses.  That the righteous will suffer and sorrow.  That even when we suffer, we are to continue our work on behalf of the Lord.  That our work for the Lord continues to be precious, even (or perhaps especially) when we give it in our sorrow and despair.  That the Lord will magnify our efforts given in sorrow.  And that, if we continue to serve the Lord in our time of despair He will ultimately bring us to rejoice with Him in the fruit of that service – our tears will become joy.

3 Nephi 5

(November 22, 2014)
                It is easy to understand the behavior of the Nephites – after all, if in my lifetime I had heard a prophet tell the people that there would be a day and a night and a day with no darkness, then that had happened, then there were other miracles that occurred, and then we were spared – you would think diligence and belief would be the rational result.  But that is what makes the Gaddianton Robbers so interesting in this chapter.  Because they had experienced all of the same things as the Nephites, and yet we read that there were some who even then would not repent.

                For a long time I believed that, ultimately, we each would come around and accept the Savior.  This is the idea that we will all be Exalted eventually (or most of us), and that made sense to me.  After all, what will an atheist say the moment that he gets to the other side of the Veil?  But as time goes on, I find myself less and less believing that this is true – I think there is a reason why this philosophy is generally associated with Nehorism in the Book of Mormon.

                When we turn from the Gospel, we turn from the process of repentance and forgiveness that empowers us to benefit from the Atonement.  We close ourselves off to him.  I think that we can only close our eyes and shut our ears to His message for so long before we lose the capacity to open our eyes and to listen.  I don’t know that we can place any particular person from the scriptures or modern day in that camp (we certainly cannot judge), but I think that there are those who would be found there.

                Of course, this is all well and good – but why even think about this subject.  After all, we are not to judge others.  But the thing about reading the Book of Mormon is that the war that played out within its pages continues within each of us today.  Each of us, in some ways, are Nephites firmly believing in this element of the Gospel (say, tithing).  And each of us, in some ways, are like the Gaddianton Robbers firmly rejecting some element of the Gospel (say, kindness).  Only when we recognize and admit that we are both can we look at ourselves honestly enough to locate the evil that dwells within us.  It is painful to look at, but it is necessary to clearly see before we can begin to apply the Atonement to that area of our lives.

                I don’t think that we can cavalierly say that if we do not do what we can to repent of those deficiencies in our character in this life that we can with certainty repent of them in the next.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Psalms 119

(November 20, 2014)
                I absolutely loved Teth in this chapter – is there a better sermon on adversity than the one contained in the few verses of this section?  It was clear that his afflictions were unearned (after all, if it was fair it wouldn’t be a trial – to paraphrase Elder Maxwell), and they were even the result of lies spread about him by his enemies.  And yet, despite the evil source of his suffering, he was able to put it into proper perspective and to recognize that because of his suffering, he was able to come to better know and understand God – and that is worth any price in suffering.

                It is no surprise that I identify with this scripture in my life right now.  I am where I am in large part because of dishonest accusations made against me.  And yet, I am where I am solely because that is where the Lord needed me to be.  The lessons that I have learned through this process were lessons I cannot imagine having learned in any other way.  I have been blessed by the painful circumstances I have found myself in, and I am quickly arriving at the point where I no longer seek relief from my pain but rather express gratitude to the Lord for my pain – especially what that pain is teaching me about Him.

3 Nephi 4

(November 20, 2014)
                Usually when I read this chapter, I think I focus on the parasitic nature of the Gaddianton Robbers, but this time my focus was more on the response of the Nephites.  Particularly, I was impressed when I realized that they were able to recognize why they were saved.  It would be easy enough to believe that the Nephites survived because of good planning (in gathering together and in storing food) or good tactics (in attacking their enemies at night or getting in front of the marching robbers when they began to retreat).  But there was no discussion of that (at least in the record we have).

                Instead, we have a grateful people who recognize that despite the worldly and temporal things that seemingly benefited them, ultimately their deliverance was from the Lord.  This is important for us to realize in our temporal efforts, but it is even more vital for us to understand in our spiritual efforts.  We may mistakenly believe that we are destined to be saved because of our good planning or our good tactics, but ultimately we are saved independent of ourselves.  We are saved only through the Grace of Christ.  This, of course, does not excuse our failure to plan and put forth our best spiritual efforts – but these efforts, absent the focus on the Savior – do nothing to bring us salvation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Psalms 116-118

(November 19, 2014)
                I had three thoughts as I read through these chapters today.  The first is the interesting thought presented by the psalmist that “[p]recious in the sight of the Lord is the death of [H]is saints.”  I had never thought of it this way before, but when Abinidi or Stephen or Peter or any number of other martyrs died, their death was not accompanied by sorrow in Heaven (as opposed to Earth), but rather with triumphal rejoicing.  I can imagine the cheers of joy when we saw the Savior complete His earthly ministry and suffer death.  The Earth may have trembled and the Sun refused its light on this side of the Veil, but I would like to think that I was among the choir on the other side shouting praises to Him and overwhelmed with joy.  Death is only tragic when it is the death of someone not ready to die – but the death of a saint truly is a reason for joy.

                The second thought is on the psalmist’s line of gratitude that “the Lord hath chastened me sore, but [H]e hath not given me over unto death.”  That really fits me and my situation right now.  Over these past five months (really, this past year+), I have been chastened more sorely than I could have imagined.  But I look at the chastening that I have suffered, and I am grateful both in the improvement that the Lord has brought about in me and the fact that I am still given the opportunity in mortality to continue to grow and develop.

                The final thought was on the use of the Psalms in the Book of Mormon.  It is clear that the Book of Mormon focuses on the Northern Kingdom rather than on Judah – though it originates in Judah, Lehi and Ishmael are both of Manasseh.  Zenos and Zenock are both described as northern prophets.  Isaiah is referenced frequently, of course, but the Psalms are infrequently referenced – less than what we would expect, based upon their references in the New Testament.  Having read a summary of the references to the Psalms in the Book of Mormon, the bulk of the references to the Psalms are found in the writings of Nephi and Jacob (60%+).  This is not surprising, since they were raised in Jerusalem and would be the most familiar with them.  Of particular note, though, is that the only citation from the Psalms in Ether (a book we would not expect to have quoted the Psalms, for obvious chronological reasons) is found in what is clearly a commentary by Moroni on the original work.

                There are, with the Book of Mormon so many of these little evidences that become compelling in their volume.

3 Nephi 2-3

(November 19, 2014)
                I think we all mostly recognize that we are in a prosperous, yet wicked, time in human history.  In fact, it could well be said that we are in the King Noah era of human history.  If we look at what is said and left unsaid in that time period, it is clear that people generally prospered financially during Noah’s reign – even as they spiritually atrophied.

                So despite our prosperity (and some positive cultural improvements), we are largely stuck in a time of wickedness and immorality.  So the description Mormon gave of the time of Lachoneus was enlightening.  In particular, there was one point that was quite key – even during this time of general wickedness, there were still those who went about doing much preaching and prophesying among them.  Just as in those times, even in our wicked time there are those who do much preaching and prophesying in the name of the Lord.  What’s more, we each have the capacity to remain righteous ourselves even during this wicked time.  This is an important truth worth remembering.

                The second thought I had was related to Mormon going out of his way to speak of Lachoneus and his wisdom for gathering his people in the land southward.  Understanding the general geography, we would expect them to be gathering northward.  After all, the Lamanites traditionally attacked from the south, and more distance means longer supply chains and so forth.

                But I wonder whether that assumption is appropriate here.  After all, these are not Lamanites attacking – they are Gaddianton Robbers.  And with what we know about the Gaddianton Robbers, they are always identified and associated with north in the Book of Mormon.  It is not surprising that Mormon, knowing what he knows about the culmination of the Nephite story, imputes motives to Lachoneus for gathering southward (after all, look at where Mormon ended up fighting his final battle – and the course of the war was likely taking shape up to that point).  Lachoneus, though, may have simply been making the appropriate and practical decision to gather as far away from his enemies (assuming the Gaddianton Robbers came from the north) as possible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Psalms 110-115

(November 18, 2014)
                I loved the language of the psalmist that, to paraphrase, we will not tremble at bad news because we trust in the Lord.  There is a sermon in this single verse.  First, even those who love the Lord and serve Him to the best of their ability will receive bad news.  Sometimes we feel like, as God’s chosen people, our lives should be easy and comfortable.  In reality, of course, we should expect escalating challenges throughout our life if we hope to be refined into Celestial beings.  For some of us, these challenges are personal and for some of us, they involve those we love (the harder challenges, I expect).  In any event, however, there is no express-lane to salvation.

                But the second part is just as important – if we trust the Lord, this bad news will not cause us to tremble.  Though I am experiencing such an upheaval in my life that I would expect to be falling apart at the seams, I have found that (to the extent I place my faith and trust in God) I am actually growing both stronger and more resilient at the same time.  I am better able to carry the load that is being placed on my shoulders – a load of bad news, responsibilities, and other things.  The load is always substantially more than I can bear, but that in itself is a blessing because of the capacity of this load to turn me to the Lord for strength or fall beneath it.