Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ezra 1-2

(September 21, 2014)
                Cyrus the Great is an interesting figure, and one from whom we can learn a great deal.  Here is a man who did not have the truth, nor was he part of the chosen people of the Lord.  And yet, because of the virtues he did develop (administration, respect, and so forth) he became someone that the Lord was able to work through.

                We may be imperfect, and we may see imperfections in all of those around us.  But if we work to develop into the best people we can be, the Lord will find a use for us and we too will be able to be a part (great or small) in the Lord’s plan.  And that should be enough for each of us.

Alma 11

(September 21, 2014)
                As I read through this, one thing stood out to me – why did Zeezrom tremble in fear?  We look at him questioning Amulek, and the responses that he generates and the questions he asks makes him seem to be firmly in control (or, at least, so he thinks) of the conversation. Then Amulek goes off on a little speech for a short time and Zeezrom is terrified.  Is it because of part of the speech that Alma redacted?  I suppose that is possible, but I doubt it.  While Alma admits to redacting Amulek here, I would think he would have included everything we need to understand the narrative.

                If that is the case, then the only thing that we have to go on is the short speech that we have.  The only thing within that speech that would seem to have the capacity for terrifying Zeezrom would be the understanding of the final judgment and the eternal nature of life (both the righteous and the unrighteous).  Of course, that was all mere assertions from Amulek (true assertions, but as an unbeliever it would appear that he could easily have refuted them).  They were not internally so logically compelling that no listener could help but be persuaded when he heard – obviously not, as most listeners were not persuaded.

                But that is where this gets really interesting.  Amulek testified of a truth – simply stated that it was true.  Most of those listening disbelieved, but Zeezrom was clearly pricked in his heart – he felt the Spirit testify of the truth.  We can tell that by the fact that he ultimately converted, while so many did not.  It wasn’t the argument that convinced Zeezrom that made him afraid – no, most of the listeners were able to ignore the Spirit.  No, Zeezrom felt the Spirit from simple, direct testimony (without the need of a cogent argument) and once he heard the truth and had the truth confirmed to him by the Spirit, he became terrified as he realized what he had done.

                There is a powerful lesson to be learned here for each of us as we work with others in the Gospel.  In my life, I often want to find just the right words or just the right argument to bring others to an understanding of the truth. This is putting too much of the emphasis on me.  While I need to craft the argument to the best of my ability (so as to help those listening to listen with an open heart), no argument that I present on any issue will be convincing.  All it can do is invite the Spirit and the Spirit does the convincing.

                No matter how clever the listener, nor how wicked they are, they may (like Zeezrom) be only one born testimony away from feeling the Spirit and starting their lifelong journey of conversion.  May we each do our best to present the Gospel in the best way we can, but ultimately may we do our best simply to present the Gospel and our testimony and rely on the Spirit to confirm its truth.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2 Chronicles 36

(September 20, 2014)
                From the chaos that led to the Babylonian captivity, we can find a great deal of comfort.  Judah had been called time and time and time again.  As their destruction grew imminent, they were drawing not closer to the Lord but further away.  As this chapter describes, there reached a point when the Lord’s anger could no longer delay, and Jerusalem was sacked.

                Why is this a source of comfort?  Each of us, in our individual lives, makes mistakes and falls short of what we know we should be doing.  But when we struggling and strive to improve, though painful, we find ourselves making progress towards becoming the people the Lord would have us to be.  This is very unlike the Babylonian captivity.

                The grave problem among the people of Judah was that they were drawing further from the Lord and living in their sins rather than drawing closer to the Lord despite their sins.  As long as we are on the second path, we may expect to be chastened but we may also trust that the Lord will not give up on us.

Alma 10

(September 20, 2014)
                The longer I live, the more examples I find in the Book of Mormon.  For a long time, my hero was Corianton, for his capacity to repent of his great sins and become an instrument in the Lord’s hands.  But, really, just about everyone was once an enemy to God and became over time His instrument.  Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, Amulek (called many times but would not listen), Corinaton, Ammon, Aaron, Omner, Himni.

                There are times, when I feel overwhelmed by my mistakes, when I look at the shattered mess of my life that I have created through my mistakes and I wonder whether there is any reason to hope going forward.  Is there a purpose for me, or have I through my failures ended any usefulness which the Lord could have put me to.  But the Lord uses us all – just as soon as we are ready.  Perhaps there are some, such a Nephi, who grew to know the truth and be converted in their youth.  That, unfortunately, is not me (though I long though it was).  But, like Amulek, though I have been called over and over again and would not hear, I have reached the point where I am finally ready to listen and heed the call.  And the Lord has a purpose and a use for me, and that is enough.

Friday, September 19, 2014

2 Chronicles 35

(September 19, 2014)
                I read the close of this chapter with great interest, because something dawned on me as I read.  If we were to examine the prophets of the Old Testament of whom we have the most information and writing, it would be Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Both of these prophets had something in common – they wrote during a time when sympathetic and righteous kings presided over the land.  Hezekiah was a sponsor of Isaiah, and Josiah sponsored Jeremiah.

                The point of this is not to say that prophets require righteous kings (Elijah did just fine for himself, although little of his teachings remain).  But, rather, it is to point out that temporal leaders make a difference.  We have so much truth from this time period because the kings of this time period were devoted to the search for truth.  When we select our political leaders, it makes a big difference in the spiritual health of our community and our country.

                It isn’t determinative – we can still follow the Elijahs when they preach in the wilderness – but more will be saved if we have Josiahs and Hezekiahs in leadership rather than Ahabs.

Alma 9

(September 19, 2014)
                If there is one terrifying thought that I have, it is contained in this chapter – what if I had been cut off before this period of time.  I certainly deserved being cut off – I have made mistakes that have resulted in others losing their testimony, their faith, and their place in the Gospel.  And yet, for some reason, the Lord in His mercy persisted with me long enough that I was able to finally come to an understanding of the Gospel and a determination to give my will to Him.

                I don’t know why He was so merciful to me, but it helps me to be merciful to others when I remember it.  And to be more dedicated to obedience, since I do not know but when the mistake I make may be the one that causes me to cut myself off from His presences forever.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

2 Chronicles 33-34

(September 18, 2014)
                It is human nature to avoid pain – we do it in so many aspects of our lives.  But ultimately, pain is nothing if not a blessing to us.  We are commanded to bring to the Lord an offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and pain greater than we can bear on our own breaks our heart and humbles our spirit.

                Manassah was proud, and lived unrighteously.  Then his past caught up with him, and he was taken prisoner and suffered greatly for it.  All that he once enjoyed was lost to him.  In his time of great suffering, he called out to the Lord in prayer and in time his prayers were answered.  He was returned to his home, and once there Manassah never departed from the way of the Lord.  “[T]hen Manassah knew that the Lord he was God.”

                From a mortal perspective, we struggle to understand pain.  But from a Heavenly perspective, I imagine it is quite easy to understand.  Manassah was not living the way that he should live.  Because the Lord loved him, the Lord blessed Manassah with sufficient pain to bring Manassah back to Him.  When he humbled himself enough, the Lord welcomed him back.  In an eternal perspective, then, our pain is a great and glorious blessing when it serves to develop those attributes that we need to develop or turn us to the Lord.

                In my times of great pain (and they seem frequent now), I used to ask the question why.  Why am I in pain?  Who should I blame for my pain?  Is it my fault or someone else’s fault? What do I need to do to stop this pain?  Over time, and much experience (more experience than I would have chosen for myself), I have learned that there really is only one question to ask: what do I need to be doing so that this pain brings me closer to God, rather than moving me away from Him?  If my pain is bringing me towards God, and I am improving in the characteristics that I need to develop to enter where He is, then my pain is a blessing.  If, on the other hand, I am not getting closer to God then I cannot blame my pain (or whatever caused this pain).  The pain is the constant, it is my response to it that is the variable that I can change to get the result that I want.