Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Official Declarations 1-2; Proclamation on the Family

(December 31, 2013)
Oftentimes I think of the gentle promptings that I have in my life, and I wonder if that is the same level of prompting that the Prophets and Apostles have to be in tune to hear.  Would I have the faith and confidence in myself as a listener to feel this gentle pull and issue one of the Official Declarations?  Knowing that it went to key principles of the faith – who can marry and who can hold the priesthood – would I need more definitive answers before I could feel certain enough to promulgate the changes to the Church?  Were there more definitive answers (and I think it likely)?

Moroni 10

(December 31, 2013)
There seems to be a certain line of thinking that many of us are vulnerable to.  It follows the idea that the miracles that we have read about in the scriptures were great and profound, and it would be good to expose them to scientific examination.  But they all occurred before we had the capacity to examine them.  This, we sometimes think in the recesses of our mind, is not a coincidence – we then seek to minimize or find scientific explanations for the miraculous things we read about because we begin to think that science would explain them

This chapter posits a different approach.  Science is a valuable and meaningful pursuit (I am trying to teach myself modern physics currently).  But science, if we are not careful, can displace rather than supplement faith.  With the rise of science, the faith of man decreases as we look to the natural word for explanations of reality rather than the Divine.  As that faith decreases, the miraculous things that followed believers through time also decrease.

As I said, I have seen this in my own life.  I have been blessed to have seen miracles, including things that had no scientific explanation.  I have found that my mind works on those miracles over time – weakening them at the very point I attempt to find explanations for how they happened.  It is dangerous to allow our minds to work against our spirits – developing our minds is good and right, but we must always remember who those minds were created to serve.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 138

(December 30, 2013)
There is so much here that it is nearly impossible to know where to begin.  So I will begin in a very odd place.  What must happen to Christopher Hitchens (notable atheist and inventor of the term “antitheist” for an evangelizing atheist) when he died, passed beyond the veil, and awoke to the new reality where he found himself?  What, beyond that, would be required to convert someone to the Gospel of Jesus Christ beyond walking up to Peter or Adam and asking them what they should do?

Our rational minds what us to believe that, when that moment comes, all will be converted and all will be right and at peace.  I long for the day when I shall awake from this sleep called life and open my eyes to the eternal nature of the soul.  When that moment of death has passed, and in the instant thereafter when I realize that the eternal part of me survives, I cannot adequately convey in words the joy I anticipate in that moment.

But here’s the key – that isn’t the end of things.  Christopher Hitchens and I will both open our eyes and realize that the soul is eternal.  But conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an intellectual process – it can be aided by intellect, but that is it.  No, true conversion – the process by which we turn our wills to God – will only be beginning for Dr. Hitchens.  And, in a similar sense, it will still be only beginning with me.  I hope that I will have filled my lamp drop by drop over the course of my lifetime, but just seeing the eternal nature of man will not sanctify me any more than it will sanctify Dr. Hitchens.  Thus the need for the Gospel to be preached to those in Spirit Prison.

Moroni 9

(December 30, 2013)
After reading this chapter, I wonder what the relationship between loss of love and the loss of any fear of death is.  I have read (and I cannot find the quote right now) that love is a necessary component of fear, because to fear is to envision the loss of someone or something that you love.  If you become completely bereft of love, then you have managed to overcome fear – but at a terrible cost.

We know, of course, the better way to overcome fear is through perfect love.  Fear seems to arise from love that is yet imperfect, and is removed by either loves absence or completion.  It is an interesting concept for me to ponder.

Doctrine and Covenants 137

(December 28, 2013)
Once again, I am amazed at how often my reading schedule comes together.  Baptism for the dead and little children being alive in Christ, all on the same day.

Moroni 8

(December 29, 2013)
Sometimes I feel like I get almost as much out of the way the scriptures are written as I do from the scriptures themselves.  The doctrines are profound and life-altering, but the way that the authors of the scriptures formulate their thoughts gives me an insight into how the prophets of old thought about the world around them and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, the tie between the remission of sins bringing meekness and lowliness of heart is something that I have seen over and over.  I would not think in my mind that the two were naturally linked.  But the more I walk the road of repentance, the more I realize that they are very closely linked.  It is a natural result of being forgiven – when I receive forgiveness, and I brought into greater and greater awareness of the love and majesty of God and His great kindness to me as an unworthy child.  The more I direct my attention there, the more I recognize who I am in relation to Him.  This brings meekness and lowliness of heart as surely as night follows day.

Moroni 7

(December 28, 2013)
It there a more powerful statement in all of the world than the simple statement, “Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.”  We labor throughout our lives to change our natures and give ourselves over to Christ, or else we labor for some worldly goal (worthy or unworthy).  In the absence of faith, everything we have worked for turns to dust at our death.  Some unbelievers hope for immortality through their family, or their work, or any number of other ways.  But even if immortality was offered in this way, they would never see it in their beliefs because oblivion would consume them and all that they had ever hoped for, loved, won, lost, and accomplished would be gone in that moment they passed from living to dead.

There is no hope without faith.  The universe is too large, we can do nothing to change the rotation of the Earth as we circle the Sun (a minor planet around a minor star – one of billions in a galaxy found in a universe full of hundreds of millions of such galaxies).  The scope and scale of our impotence in the face of the scale of reality is complete – we are nothing. Without faith, there is nothing that we can do that will matter in the slightest, and so hope is irrevocably lost absent faith.

With faith, however, we see the universe as it truly is.  The magnitude of reality is nothing more than a moving metaphor for the power and majesty of God.  We see the size and scope of the universe, and we glimpse (only in the tiniest way) the scope of God’s power and our own weakness before Him.  He placed the planets around the stars, the stars in the galaxies, and formed and forms these galaxies.  Such is His power, and with faith we rightly stand in awe of Him.  And yet, with that same faith we understand that for some reason – beyond any value in ourselves and beyond our comprehension – we are loved by Him.  He who set the stars in the sky and could likewise throw them down loves us.  With the scope and scale of the universe, He still knows our name.  This resonates with me as I write it, and I am brought nearly to tears by the thought.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 136

(December 27, 2013)
This is a very temporal set of commandments, in a sense, but as we know there is no such thing as a truly temporal commandment.  We are given instructions here on so many things related to how we operate our lives that in some ways this is one of the most useful Sections that we have.  We are to develop expertise to be useful to the Lord, and to use our expertise to build the Kingdom.  We are to return what we borrow, return what was lost, love each other, humble ourselves, and seek the Lord.  The centerpiece to this list, to me, is that we are to be wise stewards.  If we recognize ourselves as stewards, and all things are in the Lord’s hands, the remainder of things tend to take care of themselves.

Ether 15; Moroni 1-6

(December 27, 2013)
There are two thoughts that I had as I read these chapters.  The first was on Moroni’s reaction to Ether.  Sometimes the Book of Mormon will have moments that seem correct, but at the same time don’t seem like the kind of things that an imaginative author would do.  In this case, the last verse of Ether highlight’s Ether’s reaction to his isolation and his willingness to trust in the Lord.  It is out of place in the narrative, but it is clearly in place when reviewed in light of Moroni’s situation.  When he translates this line and adds it, it is not an afterthought to him.  Instead, Moroni finds himself in the very same position as Ether – a lone witness to the destruction of his people.  Of course Moroni would add such a line to his translation (and, in the same fashion, of course Moroni would translate the record we have in Ether for the same reason).  It makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing you would expect an author to pick up.  An unlettered boy would not exercise such precise control of his narrator.  I see things like these (and they are scattered across the Book of Mormon) as other evidences of the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon as a translated work.

The second thought was on Moroni’s days spent in isolation.  Presumably, he had a wife and children at some point (the record is unclear on this fact, but it is a safe assumption).  If nothing else, he had a father and friends.  All of them were lost to him.  With his faith, it would have been easy to have wished for an end to his mortal probation.  But because he was willing to continue serving – even alone – he was able to bless the lives of untold millions of people through his efforts.  At various points in our lives, we might feel alone or that our efforts are irrelevant.  This is not the case.  We are never alone, and the Lord can always take the few loaves and fishes we have to offer and use them to feed a multitude.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 134-135

(December 26, 2013)
These are difficult Sections to read in conjunction.  On the one hand, Section 134 is firmly directed towards describing the honored place of the law and our responsibility to both give respect to the leaders and to the law.  Section 135 shows the inevitable consequence of following the counsel of Section 134 – Joseph Smith accepted the word of the governor, and this trust cost him his life.

Once again, these things make no sense except and unless they are read in the light of the Gospel and the hereafter (so little makes sense in the universe without a hereafter).  Joseph Smith followed the direction contained in Section 134, it cost him his life, and yet he entered into his Exaltation.

Ether 14

(December 26, 2013)
The key concept of this chapter is found in verse 25.  All too often, I think we see our misfortunes as some sort of a curse that has been placed upon us by an angry God.  In reality, however, I think it is far more common that we are the source of our own destruction.  Our wickedness has negative temporal consequences that accompany the negative spiritual consequences.  Eventually these negative temporal consequences build up to a point where everything we want and love is destroyed by our own wickedness.  This is not a cursing from the Lord – it is the result of us breaking ourselves against the Law.

Doctrine and Covenants 133

(December 25, 2013)
Sometimes I read the scriptures and I am certain that my mind is focusing on irrelevancies, but when I read this section my mind focused on the description of the Sun hiding its face in shame and the Moon withholding its light, and the stars being hurled from their places.  I thought for a while on the subject of what astronomical phenomenon would that accurately describe.  I somehow think that there will still be those who – right until the moment Christ appears – attempt to explain away everything through a scientific absolutism.

Ether 13

(December 25, 2013)
I find a great deal of hope in this chapter.  Corinatumr was a bad, bad man.  He wasn’t as bad as some others during this time period (the Gadianton Robbers wanted him dead, and he presumably wasn’t one of them), but he clearly was a man that put himself before the Lord.  And yet, even after everything he had done the Lord still sent Ether to preach repentance to him – with the promise that it wasn’t too late and he could still be forgiven.

When I look at my mistakes in life, I sometimes feel as though I have squandered my birthright and the damage I have done is irreversible.  And perhaps that is true in a mortal sense – I cannot get back the years spent in mistaken pursuits.  But in an eternal sense, it is not true – it is not too late.  It wasn’t too late for Coriantumr and it isn’t too late for me.  It only becomes too late when we choose not to repent, mimicking Coriantumr’s doomed choice.

Ether 12

(December 24, 2013)
I have read this chapter many times in the past, but I was amazed at how much new information that I found in it (more than I can detail in a single post – I was receiving new insights in just about each verse).  I suppose that this is a natural progression, where as we progress we see more than we didn’t see in the past.  But it was quite startling to see so many things contained in a single chapter in this way.  And I suppose it is also a positive – if I am seeing new things, it means I am still learning and progressing (which means the Lord hasn’t given up on me yet).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ether 10-11

(December 23, 2013)
These chapters seem to me to be more like our day than some other parts of the Book of Mormon.  In many parts of the Book of Mormon, the people seem to go through the pride cycle (righteousness leads to prosperity which leads to pride which leads to wickedness which leads to punishment which leads to humility which leads to righteousness and the cycle starts over) in a matter of a couple of years.  That does not match the experience that I am seeing around me.  The pride cycle, as I see it, is really happening over the space of decades rather than years – still clearly visible, but not as quick.

I can understand it happening that quickly, however, as I have seen when a society seems to be in the grips of what can best be called a fever, and things speed up at an incredible pace.  It appears that the Nephites and Lamanites were undergoing just such a condition in their day.  In our day, however, our pride cycle takes about three decades to run its course.

Doctrine and Covenants 132

(December 22, 2013)
There is an expression that I heard from Chris Foster, which I believe.  It states that, “[d]eeper doctrine is often nothing more than taking God's words literally.”  Never is that more appropriate than this Section.  I have read through it a number of times, but if we take the Lord’s words literally, the things it has to teach us are beyond our ordinary comprehension.  I won’t even go into them all, but I challenge anyone who reads this Section to apply that principle – read this and take God’s words literally, and see just what that would mean.

Ether 9

(December 22, 2013)
I understand that it is part and parcel of the human condition to wait until there is no other option but to repent before we will repent.  I also understand that we are obligated to overcome that human weakness and humble ourselves to repent daily, hourly, and even minute by minute and moment by moment.  But what I don’t understand is why that innate rejection of God’s authority is part and parcel of the human condition.  If we who inhabit this Earth have arrived here because of an eternity of righteous striving, why then does the acquisition of a physical body (and the Fall) draw us so fully contrary to the Plan of Happiness?  What is it about our separation from our Father than leads us to sin?  Is it truly that we are so weak on our own, that we cannot obey when left to our own devices?  While I understand that we are weak, I don’t think that is it – after all, eventually we are to be sanctified and overcome this weakness.  I am trying to come up with an analogy that seems appropriate, and I am led to the thinking of first getting a driver’s license.  Everyone I know (including myself) disregarded rules once we stepped inside the car because there was a feeling of freedom and capacity that we had not had before.  I think that might be the best analogy, and though we have that same feeling of freedom and capacity we must learn anew that the laws that we followed in our spiritual childhood are still the laws we must follow to achieve happiness.

Ether 7-8

(December 21, 2013)
I have always had a Panglossian approach to the world that has served me well – I can say (intellectually, if not emotionally) that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  The Father has taken each of us, His children, and placed us where we need to be in the world to best serve others (and, by extension, where we can be best served).  Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, He has placed each of us like a piece on the table in its perfect and proper place to fit the pattern He has designed.  We have curves and cutouts, but these He has used according to His great design.

When we see thing such as the prophets being given free range in this chapter to teach the people, and the corresponding success, there are two different ways to look at it.  First, the decision to open the country to the prophets resulted in more people being saved at this time.  I have problems with that intellectually, because that would mean that there were others who could have achieved Exaltation but for the fact that they were born in the wrong time in the wrong place.  The other way to look at it is that the Lord had a plan and the prophets were meant to preach to the whole country and He placed the right child on the throne and the right children accross the country and the right children as prophets to save those of His children He had given to Christ according to His plan.

I find the second a more intellectually consistent position, but it is not without its difficulties (I understand why Pangloss is derided – we still have to rescue those around us).  When we see the blessings of the Lord around us, we must remember and be grateful for them with the understanding that everything happens according to the Father’s will – He is not surprised by what we do or don’t do, and by knowing us He knows everything.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ether 4-6

(December 20, 2013)
I think that each of us, at some point and time, must make the same decision that the Jaredites made.  We, small and insignificant against the magnitude of the challenge before us, must put out to the uncertain sea – commending ourselves to the Lord and His care.  Only by so doing can we hope for reaching the promised future He offers us.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 131

(December 19, 2013)
Jack Haldane is quoted as saying “[m]y own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”  Reading through this section, I can understand that to be true.  After all, there is another world all around us that we cannot perceive in our clumsy and brutish state.  Could a child in the womb understand the concept of merging in traffic?  This simple act to an adult is not only stranger than that unborn babe imagines, but stranger than that child can imagine.  Only after passing through from one stage of life to the next, and receiving the appropriate growth that accompanies such a change, can the child begin to imagine the simplest aspects of the life ahead.  So, too, are we incapable of understanding even the basics of the eternal, while our minds are so occupied by the finite.

Ether 3

(December 19, 2013)
I had a pair of thoughts as I read through this chapter.  The first will be easier to articulate – the Urim and Thummim (which seem to have been presented to the brother of Jared at this time and were passed down all the way to Joseph Smith) seem to have significance.  I do not think it was an accident that the Lord gave the Urim and Thummim to the brother of Jared at this particular point.  After all, what was the brother of Jared attempting to do?  He did not want to cross the waters in darkness, but was praying to the Lord to touch stones to provide light as his people crossed the deep ocean.  Is that not a symbol or type for the Urim and Thummim – stones touched by the Lord to give light to us as we cross the deep waters of our mortal life?

The second thought I had is more difficult to express.  In the beginning of this chapter, the brother of Jared is acknowledging his weakness.  He is unworthy, and his nature is to do evil continually.  As he is righteous, we can assume he is being fully honest in this prayer.  And yet, by the end of this chapter he is introduced into the presence of the Lord and redeemed from the fall.  Sometimes we see ourselves in our fallen state, and we are tempted to believe that we are too far from the Lord to ever make it back to Him.  But here, in a situation where the brother of Jared clearly believed himself to be unworthy, he in reality stood only moments away from redemption and being able to part the veil and enter the presence of the Lord.  This is a powerful truth.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 129-130

(December 18, 2013)
It would be so fascinating to peek behind the veil – only for a moment.  I understand well what was said, that a glimpse behind the veil would provide more knowledge than a lifetime of reading on the subject.  Still, I wonder so many things about how we shall live when we have an eternity with which to live.  My mind really has trouble comprehending both the magnitude of eternity and how our society will be changed by it.

Ether 2

(December 18, 2013)
Why is it that the Lord, who admits that the waves which would swallow the ship prepared by the Jaredites came from His mouth and were under His control, would not simply still them to permit the Jaredites to go with windows?  I think that there is some significance there.  The trials that we pass through – the very trials that we go to the Lord for help in conquering – are sometimes gifts from the Lord to help us to accomplish our purpose.  Presumably the waves were designed to more quickly get the Jaredites where they needed to go – the thing that swallowed them into the depths of the sea is the same thing that freed them to get where they need to go.

We should consider that when we ask for relief from our adversity in prayer.  Yes, the Lord could probably grant us the relief that we are requesting, but would that relief get us where we need to be?  Possibly not.  Instead, we should follow the example of the brother of Jared and take a solution to our problem that does not remove our adversity but rather allows the challenged to be properly met and overcome.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 128

(December 17, 2013)
One of my favorite quotes is that ‘growth and comfort never occur in the same place at the same time.’  I have always thought that clever, and have appropriated it for my own use many times.  But recently I have begun to realize both how true it is, and how uncomfortable growth can be.  The process of purification is a matter of allowing the Lord to burn away your impurities.  There is no comfortable method for placing yourself within the refiner’s fire.  You must be willing to do so, it is true.  But then you must accept that you will inevitably be burned in the process.

Ether 1

(December 17, 2013)
I suppose that it never dawned on me that the confounding of the languages at the Tower of Babel was not an instantaneous thing.  I sort of imagined to myself that one minute everything was going according to plan and the next minute your request “hand me that hammer” is returned with “Ajnsd rwscnow euhd skovnr!?!?”  And in that moment, the people scattered.

But that doesn’t appear to be what happened.  After all, Jared was seeing the confounding happening in front of him.  It was happening slowly enough that he had time to go to his brother and to ask him to pray to the Lord for their protection.  How odd and terrifying that must have been – to go from a functioning society to a dysfunctional one in a moment would be bad, but seeing it happen in slow motion must have been worse.  The question I have is not why Jared and his brother cried to the Lord, but why everyone else did not.

The other thought I had as I read was about Jared’s faith.  Sometimes I think we get so focused on the righteousness of the brother of Jared that we lose sight of the fact that Jared was a pretty faithful guy in his own right.  He foresaw that they would likely be scattered, and he sought the Lord’s help in being scattered to a choice land – exercising his faith in that regard.

At times, I think each of us feel as though we are being scattered (I certainly feel that way right now).  If nothing else, we have a comfort zone we like to live in (just as Jared certainly had home and land and comforts he did not want to leave).  But, when the time comes that we are to be driven out of our comfort zone, shouldn’t we share Jared’s faith to pray to the Lord that we will be led to a choice landing spot?  Easier said than done, I know, but I think it gives me food for thought.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mormon 9

(December 16, 2013)
It is funny the way your mind works upon scriptures – interpreting them in light of your own weaknesses rather than their actual meaning.  For example, the scriptures that say that disciples of Christ, firm and unshakable in their faith and doubting nothing, shall have power to do whatsoever thing that they pray to the Father to have done.  I look at that and think to myself about how great it would be to have that kind of faith – I would be praying for this mighty miracle and that mighty miracle and I would set the world right in no time flat.

Then, after a moment of sober reflection, I realized that if the Lord has the power to do these miracles through a hypothetical me that has that kind of faith, He has the power to accomplish those things without me.  And yet He has not.  Why has He not done them?  It isn’t because He cannot, and it isn’t because He does not love His children.  No, it is because He understands what needs to happen in mortality better than I do.  So the thoughts of a hypothetical righteous me standing in front of a tornado, praying it away suddenly evaporate from my mind.

But, I thought, I would be able to heal others and forestall death for myself and those I love.  But a little thought stripped me of that notion as well.  God holds the keys of life and death, and He uses them with love for us.  Who am I, with no real knowledge of life beyond the veil, to say that remaining in mortality is the better option?  Isn’t that, also, just pride on my part?  The Father holds the keys of entry and exit to this mortal sphere, and I certainly lack the wisdom to supplant Him.

No, the more I thought about things the more I realized that the hypothetical me with the necessary faith and righteousness to have such effectual prayers would also be a me that is far more observant of my Father’s will, far less likely to use such power for fear of harming myself or His other children, and more patient in all types of afflictions.  It almost seems a power that, should I ever acquire it, I would never use it.  Perhaps that isn’t quite the case – perhaps, having thought these thoughts I have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.  But at least I would be far more reserved in the use of such a power than I am now in my indiscriminate prayers (more akin to a wish list to Santa than a genuine effort to understand His perfect will).

Doctrine and Covenants 127

(December 15, 2013)
One of the great worries in my life is just how little persecution that I face in my attempts to follow the Gospel of Christ.  I don’t want persecution – on the contrary, I am quite glad that I don’t have to suffer through it.  But its absence worries me.  Should I be drawing conclusions from the fact that I am rarely (if ever) called upon to suffer persecution for obedience to the Gospel?  Does that mean that I am so weak that the Lord could not expose me to persecution, or I am so far astray that the Adversary feels no need to attack me?  I hope, in the pride of my heart, that I am not subject to such persecution because I am striving to be obedient even without it – but I fear that it is because of my weakness that the Lord withholds it from me.

Mormon 8

(December 15, 2013)
It is difficult for me to imagine what Moroni was feeling during these last days and years of his life.  Here he was – alone in the world, with no hope in mortality.  Did he pray for death?  Did he pray for life?  My difficulties seem relatively minor in comparison, and yet he is handling them so much better.

The other thought I had in reading this chapter was on miracles.  We know that miracles begin to cease as the people stop believing in them.  And I think if we look around ourselves, we start to see the loss of miracles in comparison to the past.  I think that at least a portion of that is the way we revere science (science is valuable, but is only a part of the whole).  Even us, as members of the Church, look at science in a way that diminishing our capacity to believe in miracles as we ought to.  We want a miracle to happen in a public way so science can engage it and we would know it was a miracle – not recognizing that miracles need no recognition from science.

Doctrine and Covenants 125-126

(December 14, 2013)
I am impressed by the counsel of the Lord to Brigham Young – that his calling at this time was to take especial care of his family.  The Bishop has currently given me a similar calling in my life.  My focus is to not be my career, or my calling, or any other pursuits.  My focus for now is to care for my family.  I was willing (and happy) to do that, and it is just a reassurance to me that this calling was one that was also given to a prophet.

Mormon 6-7

(December 14, 2013)
Nothing will give you cause to reflect than for a prophet to describe a set of circumstances to you, and for you to recognize those circumstances in yourself, and for the prophet to then ascribe those circumstances to sin and wickedness.  That is what happened to me in these chapters.  Lately I have been struggling with what can only be described as a fear of death.  I think of the moment immediately after passing through the veil – if, in that moment, I am aware and will continue to be aware, what rejoicing there will be.  But my rational mind fights against that faith that I hold and wonders what if, in that moment when my eyes close for the final time in mortality, it is simply sleep from which I never wake up?  What if everything that is me is gone in that instant of death?

This thought fills me with terror – not the least of which reason because of the fact that I do not think that reason and rationality can ever be satisfied on this subject.  Faith is a necessary component to understand, and it is similarly necessary to either accept or deny the Atonement and immortality.  We cannot say that there is a hereafter without faith, and we cannot say there is not a hereafter without faith of a different sort.  I struggle with this, and I ruminate on this.  My soul believes, but my mind rebels.  This conflict, and this uncertainty, fills my heart with what can only be described as terror.

I response to this, Mormon is unequivocal.  This fear of death – this terror that clutches my heart and consumes my soul – is the awful fear of death within the breasts of the wicked.  For me to encounter this fear – to fight it and to suffer through it – is a consequence of my failing and my wickedness and my sins.  To not only experience this fear, but to deal with the fact that I am the cause of my own suffering, makes it doubly difficult.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 124

(December 13, 2013)
I have never been able to resolve the apparent conflict between the language of this section (“when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”) and Nephi’s statement (“for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”).  The two seem directly contradictory.  If the Lord giveth no commandment save He prepare a way, then how is it possible that we can go with all our might and cease not our diligence and still not perform the work?

While one is directly the words of the Lord, the other are words of His prophet (and quoted so many times as to be nearly unassailable).  It appears that somehow the two must be reconciled in order to gain an understanding of the truth.  How are they to be reconciled?

This is not an academic issue with me.  Right now, I am putting forth my very best efforts, working with all of my might, ceasing not my diligence, and yet I am concerned that all of these efforts will simply not be enough.  I want the confidence that Nephi had – if I am willing to go and do, the Lord will prepare a way for me to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.  While I know the Lord will accept my offering, that isn’t what I want to have happen (well, not all that I want to have happen).  I want to accomplish the task in front of me.  I want to preserve what needs preserved.  I want to build the temple that the Lord wants built, but my best efforts right now aren’t getting it done.

Are these both valid principles, and one applied to Nephi while the other applied to Independence, Missouri?  Is Nephi’s pledge because it was an individual commandment and Independence because it was a communal commandment (that does not help my situation, as there is more than one person involved in the work I am trying to accomplish)?  What would I need to do to move my efforts off of the Independence track and on to the Nephi track?

Mormon 5

(December 13, 2013)
Mormon condemns those who do not repent of their iniquities, but instead struggle for their lives without calling upon the Being that created them.  But in my current situation, I am pleading with the Being that created me while I struggle for my “life.”  I am fighting to repent of my iniquities, and I am pleading for support.  I feel it, from time to time, but the hope is fleeting while the pain is unending.  I don’t know how to carry my load like this.

There were those whose flight was slower than the Lamanites, who were cut down.  The massacre happened across the land, with a scene of bloodshed and carnage.  I feel like that is an apt metaphor for my life at this moment.  I am being cut down on the left and the right.  I cannot consolidate my gains because I am being hurt so quickly and so much.  I call upon the Being that created me, but I fear lest the overrunning of Jordan in my life is just around the corner and I am incapable of holding it back.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 122-123

(December 12, 2013)
There are times when elements of my life go so far beyond coincidence that it is impossible to imagine it occurring without a Divine hand.  My reading of Mormon 4, just moments before, left me with the feeling that I was impotent and incapable – a leaf adrift on river, the water driving me against the rocks as I went.  The imagine was clear to me – society and culture, those around me, all of these things controlled far more than I did.

And then, I read these two chapters.  This could not be an accident.  Yes, I am small.  Yes, I am unimportant.  Yes, forces around me shape my life like the waves of the sea beat up the boat.  The boat cannot change the tide, and cannot still the waves.  But the small helm, which incapable of moving the tide around it, still can drive the ship where it needs to go.  I cannot control the world.  I cannot influence the world.  But I can, with the Lord’s help, influence enough around me to cheerfully do all things that lie in my power, and then to stand still to see the salvation of God and for His arm to be revealed.  My I be blessed with that utmost assurance is my prayer.

Mormon 4

(December 12, 2013) I had a thought while reading this chapter that I have often thought of when reading similar chapters.  What about those who were not unrighteous?  Presumably there were many people who were not delighting in bloodshed (probably on both sides), and yet here we have the widespread destruction of an entire people.  What of the children, sacrificed on idols?  What of their terror and pain?

The course of humanity seems to be a river beyond the control of most of us.  We can influence a splash here, or an eddy there, but the flow of time and man sweep by us regardless of our efforts to change its course.  It leaves me with a strong feeling of futility – even in my own life and immediate circumstances, I find my best efforts insignificant.  What hope have we in this life is we are confronted with tides and forces so far beyond our ability to influence and to which so control our lives?

I come back to the philosophy of absurdism.  Either the world is absurd, and there is no meaningful answer to anything.  Or the world is a shadow of the World from which we come – where Justice exists even when we lose justice, where Mercy exists even in the absence of mercy, and where Hope endures even when we have lost all hope.  There is no way to deal with suffering in the world without the understanding that the world is not all there is.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 121

(December 11, 2013)
It is hard to read this, of all scriptures, on a day when I am suffering through a particularly large amount of pain.  On the one hand, you would think this would be comforting to read on such a day – after all, my suffering was not as Joseph’s suffering.  But, on the other hand, I am left with two pressures against me.  The first is that I feel like my pain is intense, yet minimized by the comparison with his – trivialized, almost, despite its acuteness.  Secondly, Joseph has the unshakable confidence that came from a life of service to the Father and the Christ who appeared to him.  He knew what I am left to believe.  He knew that his suffering would end in a triumphant and glorious resurrection.  I believe that my suffering will end in resurrection.  That uncertainty – that weakness in my testimony exposed in my suffering – has done more to disturb my mind than anything I could have imagined.

Mormon 3

(December 11, 2013)
I always had a thought, rumbling in the back of my mind, that the key to just about everything in life was faith.  After all, it is relatively easy to give up on something for a mere 80 years in contrast to the benefits that will come from an eternal reward.  If our faith is strong enough, we will easily forswear ourselves of the immediate in return for the eternal.

I mention this because of the discussion in this chapter about vengeance.  If God exists, and if He is as we believe He is, then He is a perfect judge.  He is also a perfect support for us, and He perfectly loves us.  If we have faith in Him, there is never a need for vengeance.  Vengeance, then, is an act of distrust of the Lord – we are saying that we either do not believe that He exists or we do not believe He is who He says He is.

Acquiring the fact the carry us through the hard times, however, is somewhat easier said than done.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 118-120

(December 10, 2013)
I have often felt uncomfortable about the description of tithing in these Sections.  After all, were we obligated to give all of our surplus before paying our tithing?  I suppose that it is not as pressing to me, as I have been tithed my whole life.  But it seems as though this commandment has just been forgotten.

On the other hand, this shows the greatness of the Lord.  He has every right to demand everything from us – it is all his, after all.  But He lets us keep a portion.  Like a child’s toy, He gives us a sense of ownership of the things that matter to us – so long as we understand that they truly belong to Him the way our children’s toys truly belong to us.

Mormon 2

(December 10, 2013)
The great terror that I feel, as I am trying to repent and change my life, is that my sorrow is not a godly sorrow that denies sin but rather a worldly sorrow that feels misery because I cannot always take pleasure in sin.  This is a particular concern to me, since my unrighteous desires are ones that will likely persist throughout my time in mortality.  I sorrow for my sins, but at the same time there is a constant pull on me to return to them.  I feel that what I am experiencing is godly sorrow, but how can I be certain when I still want to commit the sin?

The only thing that I can look to is that I want to not want to sin (if that makes any sense).   I think the pull towards unrighteousness is a common trait in humanity (maybe I am fooling myself), and while sanctification and the loss of any desire for sin is the goal the desire for the loss of desire to sin is a necessary first step along the path to that goal.  After all, the Ammonites could not take up their weapons of war even in their old age because of the pull that came from their old sins.  Thus these people, willing to kneel in front of their enemies and allow themselves to be cut down, were likewise pulled by habits and vices from their past.  I don’t place myself in their company, but if they share this weakness I suppose that it is not a fatal one in my life.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 115-117

(December 9, 2013)
I was struck by the Lord’s language on building the temple after the pattern than He established.  I dwelt on it for a while, and it hit me that many of my problems could be because I was building my “temple” (my life) after a pattern different than His pattern.  I was trying to make of my life the best that I could manage, but the Lord didn’t say to build a nice temple.  Or even a glorious temple.  He said to build the temple after the pattern that He established.

I have a large number of short and long-term goals that I am working towards.  I am struggling to find my footing at work and at home.  I feel I am doing my absolute best, but I seem to be spinning my wheels.  I suppose my thoughts need to be on whether I am trying to build the best temple that I can (by my limited understanding) and how I can build my temple after the pattern shown by the Lord.  I suppose the next step will be to examine each of my goals that I have set and to determine whether they need to be altered or changed in order to make them consistent with the Lord’s pattern.  I did that to a minor extent (taking off a couple of things that shouldn’t have been goals), but I need to open myself up to revelation and deal and prayerfully consider those goals going forward.

I need to desire to have my life built in the way that He would have it built, rather than the way that I would have in built.  Because I have made a mess of my own life.  I suppose that will require me to humble myself to accomplish this.

Mormon 1

(December 9, 2013)
I believe that it is fair to say that we have little understanding of the way the world actually works.  For example, Mormon closes this chapter with an explicit discussion of sorceries and witchcraft.  Ask the typical Christian (Mormon or otherwise) whether such things exist, and I would imagine that they would concede that they do.  But, by the same token, that seems to be only words rather than a true understanding that these powers we don’t understand exist.

We comprehend miracles (although all too often we try to explain them away).  But we are less comfortable accepting that Satan has powers of his own that permit him to impact the world.  I have no doubt that this is a deliberate set of circumstances – another way of the Devil to claim that he is not who we know him to be because there is no Devil.

Monday, December 2, 2013

3 Nephi 19

(December 2, 2013)
What would each of us have done if we were in the position where we heard it noised abroad that Christ would be at the temple tomorrow?  Wouldn’t we give everything we could, work through the night, and travel as far as necessary to make it there to see Him?  And, if we claim to be so willing, why is it that we will not make similar efforts to attend the temple that is just down the street?  Is it because we don’t truly believe or fully understand that the Lord is at that temple just as much as He was at the temple in Bountiful?  Do we want the miraculous appearance so much that we ignore the gentle Spirit that will guide us to better our lives?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Helaman 7

(November 10, 2013)
At this time of significant difficulty in my life, I am comforted by the fact that Nephi’s mission to the north was unsuccessful.  It is good to see that our failures aren’t the end of the line for us.  While Nephi’s failures had to do with the sinfulness of others and mine had to do with my own sinfulness, nevertheless he remained a powerful prophet who worked mighty miracles despite an unsuccessful mission.

When we strive to achieve righteousness through our callings, we are often frustrated when our efforts seem to fail to bear fruit.  We may even chastise ourselves (I know I have).  But sometimes we fail to recognize the role of agency in the Plan of Salvation – we know it intellectually but we forget it emotionally.  When we fail, we need to ask ourselves whether we fulfilled our stewardships to the best of our abilities and, if so, leave our efforts in the Lord’s capable hands.

Doctrine and Covenants 94-95

(November 20, 2013)
I think we underestimate just how significant contention is in our lives.  After all, Christ Himself declared that contention in the School of the Prophets was grievous to Him.  I think the reason why contention is so grievous to Him is that contention by its very nature seeks to impose its will on others.  One simply does not contend if one does not seek unrighteous dominion.  After all, why do I need to yell at someone else other than to make them do what I want them to do?  And if I leave them to their stewardship, I may attempt to teach or uplift or enlighten them if I see better things for them or I desire them to achieve more.  But once I contend with them, I am in effect saying that what they are doing is no longer good enough for me and they must do more for my sake.

3 Nephi 4

(November 20, 2013)
It has always struck me that those who obey the Gospel are, as a general rule, able to take care of themselves while those who disobey the Gospel are, as a general rule, only able to provide for their needs by preying on those who are responsible.  I don’t know that this is so much an inherent condition, but I think that it might be something as simple as the fact that those who live in violation of the laws of the Gospel spend their lives preying on others as the simplest means of providing for themselves and never learn a better way.

Doctrine and Covenants 108

(December 1, 2013)
Verse 2 of this Section has an interesting formulation to my mind.  The Lord here states that Lyman is to let his soul be at rest concerning his spiritual standing, and he is to resist His voice no more.  To my reading, the resisting the voice is connected to Lyman’s concern about his spiritual standing.

Do we have that in our own lives?  Do we resist the Lord because we are unsure of where we stand in relation to Him?  Do we pull away, as a consequence of our having too little faith that He can heal us, or that He accepts our meager efforts?  I wonder.

Sorry for the Interruption

I apologize for the brief delay in posting, lately.  I am just finishing up what has been the most difficult month of my life.  While I have been diligent in reading my scriptures (I don't think I could have gotten through the month without them), I have been less diligent in either writing about them (or in my journal at all).  And, having not written about my readings, I had nothing to post online.

I hope with a new month, there is reason for new optimism.

3 Nephi 18

(December 1, 2013)
The Christ-centered approach to missionary work is much different than what I think we envision in our weaker moments.  Christ in this chapter sets out the pattern for missionary work.  (1) All we are to do is to hold up Christ as an example to the world.  We are to tell of Him, and model our lives after His to the best of our ability.  Both halves (telling and imitating) are necessary.  (2) We are to continually minister to those around us, regardless of whether we might believe they are beyond hope/help.  Christ gives us no authority to declare anyone beyond His infinite Atonement.  We are to pray for them, serve them, and minister to them.  Perhaps they will be saved, and perhaps not.  But our responsibilities remain the same.

I think a great deal of our reluctance to perform missionary work is a result of our attempts to perform that work in a manner contrary to this pattern.  We place the burden for success or failure on ourselves – we think if we come up with the perfect argument or the right logic, we can somehow “save” those we try to teach.  Then, if we fail, we feel as though we have failed forever and placed those we are attempting to bless beyond the reach of Christ.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Missionary work is difficult to the extent that we remove Christ from the process.  If we simply try to model His life for those around us, serve them, open our mouths to tell them of Him (not of us, but of Him), and then rely on the Lord to work upon them, there is no pressure on us other than to serve and bless those around us.  Missionary work, then, becomes easy.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 79-81

(November 7, 2013)
I have always felt like the Lord had a perfect plan for us.  So many things happen from countless small interactions along the way, and I see them being guided by a master plan (or the Master’s plan, if you will).  That is why the comment from the Lord here that the missionary could not go amiss regardless of which way he chose seemed so odd to me.  If he went north instead of south, that would lead to countless changes that would dramatically shift the makeup of the world (this person is converted while that person is not, leading to different people marrying, different children, and all of their different interactions).

Does this mean that it really didn’t matter?  I don’t know.  I guess I think that it means he could not go amiss because his end choice was known to the Lord.

Helaman 4

(November 7, 2013)
It is amazing how often what I read perfectly illustrates my life.  I feel like the people of Nephi in this chapter.  They have seen the destruction that their wickedness has caused, and they see just how much they have lost.  Now they are put in the position of trying to recover from their own wickedness and relearning to turn to the Lord and trust in Him.  They need to unlearn the disobedience which they learned and relearned obedience to the Lord’s commandments.

The good news through that is that the Lord has not cut off the Nephites at this point.  If they return to Him, He stands ready to bless them.  This gives me hope as I stand ready to turn to Him in my time of need.

Doctrine and Covenants 78

(November 6, 2013)
There is so much truth to the idea that we must receive what we receive with thankfulness.  In past months I have been unhappy, and I can trace that unhappiness back to a failure to recognize the wonderful blessings that I had and to be thankful for them.  Now, with challenges ahead of me, my ideal would be to return to a life that I failed to properly appreciate when I had it.  I recognize the tender mercies of the Lord in walking me towards a life that I had, and yet when I had it I didn’t recognize the mercies of the Lord at that time.  I must cultivate that spirit of thankfulness with everything I have in my life, or risk losing everything that matters.

Helaman 2-3

(November 6, 2013)
So much of our success or failure in life is based upon matters outside of our control.  Kishkumen successfully killed one king, and Helaman was only saved due to circumstances completely outside of his knowledge.  In a similar fashion, the difference between life and death for us may be something so beyond our capacity to change as a gene.

But it isn’t just life or death that these matters pertain to.  In the past few days I been praying desperately for help from the Lord in important matters within my life.  Some parts of this are under my control, and I do everything I can within my area of ability to help things be better.  But some things are outside my control, and this terrifies me.  The wrong conversation from the wrong person, or the wrong advice, or something similar could cost me so dearly.  And there is nothing that I can do about it.

At first I was angry about the situation where these conversations could be so damaging to me, but I realized that the problem was never the conversations – it was the fact that I put myself in a position where such things could be so damaging.  If I had not made the mistakes that I had made, these words would be powerless.

I have learned the importance of building and strengthening to protect from outside dangers that you cannot control.  Praying to the Lord for protection from dangers is no substitute for taking the action necessary to prevent the dangers in the first place.

Doctrine and Covenants 77

(November 5, 2013)
I am almost frightened to go through the process of finding out the necessary historical information to know just what percentage of Church members received Exaltation during the time of John.  It would be easy enough to do.  Look at the seven churches, and find out the number of men who had died up until the point when John received his Revelation.  Then divide 24 by that number.  So if 100 men had died at that point, 24% of the male membership of the Church were faith and received into the paradise of God.

My fear is that the number of Church members who had died at that point is actually very large.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the number of martyrs for the seven churches approached 24 by the time John wrote.  If that is the case – if nearly all of the people who received their Exaltation were martyrs – we have far more to do to be worthy of our Eternal Destiny and we must take our repentance and our covenants more seriously.

Helaman 1

(November 5, 2013)
I have often wondered how many of the Lamanites that had been taken prisoner, and then allowed to leave in peace, ended up fighting in other wars or causing the deaths of other Nephites.  I can only assume that Mormon – a general in his own right – included this information in his abridgement as an evidence of support of this particular principle.  It seems counterintuitive, from a warmaking perspective, but it makes sense from a Gospel perspective – it gives those released the opportunity to repent and change and become something better than they were before.

Doctrine and Covenants 76

(November 4, 2013)
When I read this Section, my mind is filled with an understanding of the love and kindness which the Lord demonstrates to all of His children.  To those who live far afield of right and wrong, they are granted a Telestial existence.  They enjoy a level of happiness far beyond that which they could receive in mortality.  For the honest in heart deceived, they receive a Terrestrial existence.  This Terrestrial existence almost perfectly matches what the modern Christian world thinks of when they conceive of Heaven.  Angels, and the ministering of Christ.

Only those who receive Celestial glory will know as they are known.  The others will receive the reward they sought out during this life.  What’s more, I don’t believe that the veil is fully lifted for those in the Telestial or Terrestrial world (I think that is what is being referred to as knowing as they are known), so I don’t think that those who inherit that world will even know that there is a higher world which they could have achieved.  And that, too, would be a mercy.

Alma 63

(November 4, 2013)
The Lord is so full of tender mercies, that I don’t even know how to describe them sometimes.  Today, when I am struggling with accepting responsibility for the difficulty my own weaknesses have caused (and feeling nearly overwhelmed by my inadequacies), my scriptural reading assignment (set years ago) is Alma 63.  The chapter that described the triumph of my hero from the Book of Mormon  – Corianton.

Corianton is most often remembered in this Church for his failures in the mission field.  But that wasn’t the end of his life.  He was called to go on another mission, and he served valiantly.  He overcame his weaknesses and repented.  So much so that in verse 2, he is described the same way as Shiblon (“he was a just man, and he did walk uprightly before God; and he did observe to do good continually, to keep the commandments of the Lord his God”).

Now, when I am struggling so much with the consequences of my own failings and wondering whether I can ever make things right, I was nearly overwhelmed when I looked and saw what I would be reading today.  The Lord had prepared me, or prepared this chapter for me, at this time just when I needed it.  I cannot tell you the number of times that has happened – I have read just what I needed to read just when I needed to read it.

Alma 61-62

(November 3, 2013)
Pahoran is a great example here.  Moroni absolutely blasts him with his letter – accusing him of just about everything in the world.  Pahoran, though, does not get angry with Moroni.  He simply accepts that Moroni is a good man, and is making statements from his own experience.  They are wrong, but he doesn’t judge Moroni at all for them.  When things go wrong around me, I have been only too willing to look at other people and condemn them.  This is especially ironic since I am often the source of the problem in the first place.  I need to be more like Pahoran – to trust that those around me are children of God and doing their best (often far better than I am), and to change my approach to others in this fashion.  I have been a failure in this regard.

Doctrine and Covenants 75

(November 2, 2013)
I lose track, sometimes, of where I am in this mortal life.  I want to learn the lessons that I want to learn, and I want to learn them when I want to learn them.  I am being taught some hard lessons right now, and it is difficult to accept the reality of what is happening.  But the Lord teaches us here that the Comforter teaches us “all things that are expedient” for us to learn.  It may not teach us what we want, but it will teach us all that we need – regardless of how painful those lessons are to take.

Alma 59-60

(November 2, 2013)
It is difficult when there is tension between two different things that you know to be true.  On the one hand, the things that we need to accomplish are so far beyond our capacity, that we are utterly reliant upon the Lord.  So there is the feeling that we should turn to Him with all our hearts.  But that almost leads us into problems on the other end of the spectrum, where we sit on our thrones and wait for the Lord to save us.  It is difficult to balance the two – to fight for what is right and what we need done, knowing full well that our efforts are negligible despite the cost and that victory is in the Lord’s hands.  That is where our faith must come in to make up the difference and balance the two.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 74

(November 1, 2013)
In all of the times I have read this Section, it has never before hit me the way that it hit me today that the Lord is telling Joseph Smith that Paul’s comments at the start were not doctrine, nor where they the commandments of the Lord.  He gave “them a commandment, not of the Lord, but of himself.”  I suppose that I have a view of the commandments we receive from prophets and apostles as absolute, and nearly infallible.  These words of the Lord demonstrate that belief is incorrect.

Alma 58

(November 1, 2013)
There is probably no doctrine that I have a harder time accepting than the fact that sometimes we can struggle and strive and do our best and find that our efforts simply weren’t enough.  Many people during the war described in this chapter died.  I can only imagine how the other soldiers felt watching the Army of Helaman fight and survive over and over again.  After all, they were struggling just as hard.  Perhaps their testimonies were just as strong.  And yet they were seeing those around them die (and dying themselves).

It is a hard thing to deal with.  I look at others around me who seem to not have to fight as hard for the blessings of the Lord.  The things that are important – the things that lead to real happiness – seem to come easily to them, while I put forth absolutely all of my efforts and they just aren’t enough.  I don’t know how to deal with that – it is fine to read and believe that we must trust in the Lord to make things right in the end, but that takes me to the absolute limits of my faith.  Still, I suppose that is where and how real faith is found – walking to the edge of the light, and then taking steps into the darkness finding the way lit up for a few steps more.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 21-23

(September 26, 2013)
I couldn’t help but wonder what the Lord means when He says that Hyrum and Joseph’s duty is to the Church forever.  I understand for the rest of their lives, and I understand for a portion of the hereafter.  But forever?  I suppose that this is an indication that I don’t fully understand what will be going on beyond the resurrection.  I would have thought that, at the point of their Exaltation, their obligations to the Church would end and they would be dedicating their service to others in a different fashion (if I may be deliberately opaque).  But it would appear that I am wrong on that fact.

Alma 16

(September 26, 2013)
When we are faced with a crisis, do we follow the example of Zoram?  He was the leader of the military – the chief captain of the Nephite armies.  Surely this is a position that he had competency in.  He must have known the tactics and strategies of war.  Add to that the inclination he must have had, being in a position of such authority, to experience pride in his knowledge and capacity.  And yet, in spite of all of this, he humbled himself and went to Alma for the message that the Lord had to give him.  And then he followed it, and countless lives were blessed by that obedience.

There is, doubtless, something that we are expert in.  Whether it be our profession or in dealing with some situation within our family, our inclination is to think that we know what we should do.  Add to that the pride that creeps into our hearts and whispers that we know better.  Can we humble ourselves, as did Zoram, and go to that same source for guidance than he did and then, when the answers come, can we humble ourselves sufficient to follow His lead?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 20

(September 25, 2013)
It is worthwhile for us to reread this Section from time to time in order to be reminded of our duties before the Lord.  How many times do we see someone doing something wrong and we think to ourselves that we have no stewardship over the matter?  With me, it is all too frequently.  But, for example, when there is evil speaking (someone criticizing a leader) I have a Priesthood obligation to step in and ensure that it does not continue to happen.  We let far too much go on that we are in a position to stop and have an obligation to stop.

Alma 15

(September 25, 2013)
This chapter has an incident that has always struck me.  What must have been the reaction of the men in Sidom when Alma and Amulek returned and “related unto them all that had happened unto their wives and children, and also concerning themselves, and of their power of deliverance?”  Wouldn’t your first thought be, ‘why were you saved, Alma, and not my wife?  My child?’  It would be an absolutely heartbreaking thing to hear about the death of your child, but then to hear immediately thereafter about how the Lord stretched forth His hand to protect another (but not your child), that seems to me that it would require a great deal of faith to accept and understand that.

I understand the doctrine of what happened, and I also understand how (with enough faith) you could find peace with what happened.  But I am reminded of when Marjorie Hinckley died and President Hinckley was weeping at her funeral.  The Salt Lake Tribune ran a large picture of it on their front page and seemed to indicate that if he was truly a prophet he would not be concerned about death but would be confident he would see his wife again.  By that same token, I imagine these men wept for their wives and children and had to wonder about the Lord miraculously saving others from death but not their family.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 19

(September 24, 2013)
I wonder whether Satan understands that he has lost the War in Heaven.  If so, I wonder when he understood that fact.  Did he believe he had a chance if he could successfully tempt the Lord?  Did he realize he had lost when Christ willingly gave up his life?  Does he somehow think he can pull out the victory as his power grows among the wicked in the world?

Satan may win the individual battlegrounds from time to time (souls) but the war is one that he has lost.  I cannot imagine that is a fact he misunderstands – I think he likely realizes that he has lost but is doing everything he can to burn the world around him as he is defeated.

Alma 14

(September 24, 2013)
This chapter really struck me, but to understand part of the reaction I will need to tell you an experience.  I can recall listening to the news on the radio and hearing about a young four-year-old boy who had died in a house fire.  He snuck some matches to play with, and he accidentally started a fire in his room.  He was found burned to death in his closet.

This experience gave (gives?) me nightmares.  I think of that poor boy as the flames surrounded him.  Did he hide in the closet thinking that he could hide from the fire?  Did he die thinking that he had broken the rules and was being punished for being bad.  What pain he must have felt.  How could God in Heaven not have heard his cries and come to save him?  The story tears and my soul to think about it even now.

Not surprisingly, then, my heart goes out of the children that were burned in the fires of Ammonihah.  How could a people become so depraved that they would willingly and deliberately burn children?  How could they not rescue those poor children (their friends and neighbors) as they screamed in pain for mercy?

But as much as this chapter affected me emotionally, the intellectual side of me also responds to it.  For there is a powerful principle shown here.  These children are being burned, and the people of Ammonihah are rejoicing in the fact that God did not save them.  Meanwhile, what they fail to realize is that it is truly them who are in danger of fire – the fires of Hell.  They taunt the Lord at the very time He allows them to sin but lovingly desires their return to Him.  Eventually, though, they burn themselves by burning others.

Doctrine and Covenants 16-18

(September 23, 2013)
There is the natural human tendency to divide ourselves into the “us” group and the “them” group.  Those who are “us” are given the benefit of the doubt, they are protected and assisted, and we stand ready to meet them and help them.  The “them” group, however, are imputed with bad motives, attacked and obstructed, and we avoid them and do not help them.

The key to understand, however, is that each and every one of us is bought with a price.  Christ has bought and paid for not only “us,” but also “them.”  As such, there is no “them.”  There is only “us.”  Any other approach devalues the worth that Christ has placed upon souls by the price He paid for them.

Alma 13

(September 23, 2013)
Alma’s words are a potent reminder of obligations that each of us has to our fellow men.  We have been blessed to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but while this is a great gift it is also our draft notice into the continuation of the War in Heaven on Earth.  Alma, being ridiculed and reviled, preached a Gospel of peace to those who attacked him.  He preached of his desire for them to find God, repent, and return to Him that would give them joy.  Likewise we are drafted into this war, and our enemies are not those who are our Father’s children.  They are the battleground, and their souls are the victims of this conflict.  The enemy is our Enemy from the beginning.  Remembering this is how we maintain our love for those who do us wrong while still calling on them to repent.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 14-15

(September 22, 2013)
Much is made of the similarities between the Sections instructing the Whitmer brothers.  But it is overblown, in my opinion.  Many of us could use receiving the same instruction, and it is instruction that is generally applicable. If one brother receives the instruction, we are left to think that it is specific to him.  If the instruction repeats, we correctly determine that it is instruction of general applicability and we are more likely to know that we each need to follow that instruction.

Alma 12

(September 22, 2013)
I had two thoughts as I read through this chapter.  The first was in parsing the language of Alma’s declaration that if we harden our hearts such that the mysteries of God are no longer in us, then we are led down to Hell.  One problem in understanding the scriptures is that the word “Hell” is so equivocal, but I take great hope in the order of operations of this statement from Alma.  Yes, we may sin and yes, we may harden our hearts.  But it is only after we have hardened our hearts sufficiently that the mysteries of God no longer have place within us that we are then led to Hell.  I may have a hard heart, and I may be struggling to fully obey the Lord, but I have not yet closed my heart to the point where the mysteries of God no longer have place within me.

The second thought that I had was on Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life.  I look at the world and life and think of what a blessing it would be if we could live forever.  But receiving that gift today would be nothing more than a horrible curse despite our desires to receive it.  I sometimes think that we see the world in that fashion.  We see a blessing that we want to receive, and we want that blessing now.  If we were to receive that blessing immediately, however, it would more resemble a curse than a blessing.  But if we wait to receive it in the due time of the Lord then it truly will be a blessing to our souls.  I can think of several areas of my life, and several blessings that I desperately want, where I could use more faith in this principle.

Doctrine and Covenants 12-13

(September 21, 2013)
The Lord’s statement of what is necessary to assist in the work does not encourage me.  “And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.”  I feel like I have been adequately compelled to be humble, and I feel like I am temperate in all things.  But right now I am not filled with much hope as I struggle through my difficulties, even though I still have faith.  Perhaps my faith is weaker than I think, since it is not leading to the hope promised.  But it seems clear that I am not in a position to be qualified to carry out the work of the Lord at the moment.

Alma 11

(September 21, 2013)
I have always been struck by how clumsy Zeezrom’s attempt to sway Amulek was.  After all, it wasn’t as if Zeezrom cleverly hid his intentions or tried to trap Amulek in his words.  He brazenly, bluntly tried to bribe him.  I think that there might be something else going on here.  Whether it is a previous relationship between the two of them, or sometime, that I am missing that makes what Zeezrom is doing clever.  Or else, like is intimated in Crime and Punishment cleverness goes out the window when wickedness is the goal.

Doctrine and Covenants 11

(September 20, 2013)
I was struck by the Lord’s language regarding putting our trust in the Spirit that leads us to do good.  It is this Spirit that can fill our spirits with joy.  As I thought about it, I spent some time dwelling on my own frustrations and unhappiness in life.  Were certain aspects of my life changed, I would be able to experience great happiness.  As it is, I occasionally deal with profound pain.  My mind was drawn to the promise that who the Lord loves He chastens, and it dawned on me that had these things changed I would have been happy regardless of how closely I was following the Spirit.  Perhaps I would have felt a hidden ache, but it would have been buried.  Now, with my pain brought to the surface by these life events, I am fully dependent on the Lord and His Spirit for providing joy.  This has the capacity, if I let it, to drawn me nearer to Him and my pain could become a great blessing.

I don’t know if I have the faith for this, and it is easy to lose myself in the pain that I am dealing with.  But in my mind, at least, I think I understand the purpose of this pain now.

Alma 10

(September 20, 2013)
I have often remarked on the gentle pull that I feel from the Lord to live my life better.  I have always looked on that as a great gift, but I also realize after reading of Amulek being called and not hearing that the fact that the Lord has had to continually reinitiate this gentle pull is evidence that I too have been called and would not hear.  I need to exercise determination to respond this time as did Amulek.

The other thought was just the unrighteousness of lawyers and judges.  I think there are probably a couple of reasons for it.  First, I would look at pride – there is a certain status level that comes from being a lawyer and a judge (not to mention intellectual pride).  Second, wealth is a common factor among lawyers and judges (unfortunately – or fortunately – my finances are such that this isn’t a problem that I face).

Finally, and I think that this means more than most people know, lawyers and judges make their living by twisting and bending the law and seeing where it holds and where it breaks.  Disrespect for the law is more common among lawyers than among laymen.  This disrespect for law, I have seen, translates to disrespect for Law.  We expect that our capacity to twist out of a criminal conviction allows us to twist out of the law of chastity (using one lawyer I know as an example).

That is one blessing about my personality – I have never developed this particular trait.  I understand the weaknesses of the law but I have never doubted the strength of the Law.  I use my skill as a lawyer to attempt to understand the Law (perhaps this, too, is a mistake) but I don’t likewise use those skills to escape the Law.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 2-3

(September 13, 2013)
The thing that strikes me about Section 3 is that Joseph had the Lord's permission to give Martin the manuscript.  In my mind, it would seem like the Lord is chastising Joseph for something Joseph was permitted to do.  I think this comes down to an improper understanding of the Lord's permission.  The Lord will, if we continue to plead with Him, permit us to do things even when those things are counter to our interests.  But instead of seeking to bring the Lord around to our way of thinking, we need to bring ourselves to His way of thinking.  All the permission in the world won't avoid this simple fact.

Alma 1

(September 13, 2013)
Contention, I am coming to understand, is a contagious disease.  Just as the people of the Church of God moved to contend with their enemies, so we too want to contend with those who we believe have done wrong.  Whenever we contend with others, we are committing a multitude of sins.  We are judging another, we are setting ourselves up as more righteous than them, and filling our hearts with pride.  But, most poisonous of all, I have never in my life been contentious and simultaneously willing to examine my faults and repent.  This, to me, is the greatest danger of contention.

Doctrine and Covenants 4-5

(September 14, 2013)
I wonder how often the Lord has a similar message for us in our attempts to accomplish our desires (even righteous ones).  "Stop, and stand still."  This is one of the hardest things for us to hear when there is something to be done.  It comes down to trusting in the arm of flesh rather than the arm of the Lord.  If we are standing still, we are doing nothing to accomplish our goal.  It is out of our control.  But if we trust in the arm of the Lord, we can wait upon him by standing still and know that His desires will achieve their righteous result.

Alma 2

(September 14, 2013)
The actions of Amilici teach us something about the nature of those who seek to acquire power over us (a perpetual threat, unfortunately).  First, they will seek to persuade us voluntarily cede power over to them.  Then they will compete politically to acquire power.  Then they will resort to lawlessness in order to illegitimately acquire power.

We fool ourselves to think that those who continue the War in Heaven between agency and compulsion will meekly give up this pursuit when they are defeated in the arena of ideas or in the ballot box.  The fight is everlasting, and we cannot in good conscience sit it out.

Alma 3-4

(September 15, 2013)
The Amilicites bringing the curse upon us is a cautionary tale for each of us.  What are we struggling with?  What makes us unhappy?  Do we have the courage to ask ourselves, 'how did I make this come upon myself?'  Perhaps it is the result of our own poor decisions.  Or perhaps our suffering is the result of unrighteously coveting things we have no right to receive.  Whatever the reason, if we are unhappy we have no other choice than to look inward, because that is where the change needs to happen.  We must stop cursing ourselves.  The Lord, thankfully, stands ready to help us in that effort.

Alma 5

(September 16, 2013)
This chapter is a painful indictment of our failures.  Going through this checklist, I don't know that I have every been in a place where I could go through it and say that I accomplished the things that were asked of me.  While I have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I have never felt sufficiently humble (and could you, or would that amount to taking pride in your humility?).

But a funny thing happened as I continued to write this.  I thought that would go through and mention how so many of these standards didn't seem possible, but it struck me as I did how there have been times when I could answer yes to some of them.  Perhaps never yet yes to all of them, but there have been times when I have had no more desire to commit sin.  When I have left aside each of the weaknesses that Alma mentioned.

So it does seem possible, even though I have not yet achieved it.  I suppose that if I can accomplish each individual portion (with great effort) then I should be able to accomplish the entirety if I can just put all of these elements together.

Doctrine and Covenants 6

(September 17, 2013)
Rather than devote too much time and attention to what is in this Section (while valuable), I instead want to spend a few moments appreciating this Section.  After all, this is the Section that I was reading when I first received my testimony of the Book of Mormon.  I had been reading in the Book of Mormon for some time and had managed to make it nearly to the end of Alma in the course of a couple of months.  Nothing like the diligence that I read with now, but I was only a Freshman in college at the time.

I figured that I had read far enough in that I could put Moroni's challenge to the test.  I knelt in prayer in my dorm room and asked the Lord to confirm for me that the Book of Mormon was true.  And I waited for the angels.  Or the vision.  Or...something.

When nothing happened, I was crushed.  I thought that I had been deceived, and my whole world was falling down around my ears.  The next day or so was traumatic for me, and I was seriously rethinking some life decisions that I would need to make in the near future.  That next night, however, I felt like I needed to read something in the scriptures.  I turned to this Section, and I was drawn to verse 23 – "Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"

At that moment, I was flooded with a feeling of peace.  I remembered the feeling that I had when I prayed the night before.  The very language of the scripture – "cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things" seemed to have been written for me.  And I knew that I had felt the peaceful feelings of the Holy Ghost the night before when I prayed.  Once I acknowledged and recognized that fact, the Spirit came to me even stronger.

This formed the basis of my testimony.  It has grown over the intervening years, but I still feel fondness (and the Spirit) as I think of that night praying in the dorms and the scripture that I was led to the following day.  For that reason, this Section will always hold a special place in my heart.

Alma 6-7

(September 17, 2013)
So many of the elements of character that we need to develop are seemingly contradictory.  For example, it is (relatively) easy to develop humility if we so choose by abasing ourselves like the aesthetics.  But we are not to live in that fashion.  We are not to become passive, but rather we are to remain active and diligent in our service to the Lord.  By the same token, diligence is far easier to achieve if we believe that everything in life relies upon the arm of flesh.  If we eat only what we kill, so to speak, we are more likely to hunt.  But that is also not correct.  We are to be diligent even when we understand that we are not the source of anything that actually is accomplished.

On the one hand, these apparent contradictions are difficult to understand.  But, after thinking about it, it becomes clear that they are not opposites but rather independent traits to be developed concurrently.  Intelligence and strength are not opposites, but time spent reading is time not spent exercising.  So they might seem in opposition.  But to be fully rounded, but should receive attention.  In the same fashion, to be fully rounded and achieve our divine potential, we must concurrently develop each of the attributes discussed by Alma.

Doctrine and Covenants 7-9

(September 18, 2013)
Faith is a principle of power, but also of action.  These Sections clearly delineate that concept.  In Section 8, the Lord states that "according to your faith shall it be done unto you."  In Section 9, however, the Lord states that "[b]ehold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me."

These two verses by themselves become a sermon on faith.  The Lord instructs Oliver that he will be able to translate according to his faith, but shortly thereafter states that he failed to translate because he did not take any action of himself.  Faith is not something that we exercise by passively praying.  It is not a "fire and forget" activity.  We are to be actively engaged in the work of the Lord, and then we are to patiently wait for Him to show His hand.  But if we wait upon the Lord without first being actively engaged, we deceive ourselves (and will be waiting a long time).

Alma 8

(September 18, 2013)
I always find it remarkable what happens when I consider the very basic parts of the Gospel.  For example, as I read this chapter I began to think about the nature of prayer.  Alma "labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city."  I have read this multiple times, but I never before asked myself why.

Why would Alma need to wrestle with God in mighty prayer on behalf of the people of Ammonihah?  After all, the Father loved these people far more than Alma did.  Alma wanted to see them converted, but nowhere near to the extent that the Father wanted them to return to Him.  As a father, I don't need one of my children to beg and plead with me to save another of my children – I love all my children and want the best for all of them.  Certainly if I, an imperfect father, am like this then He, as a perfect Father, is more so.  Then why is prayer necessary in this respect?

As I thought on the subject, it really became clear how prayer is the mechanism for aligning our will with the will of the Father.  Alma was praying, but the effect of his prayer wasn't to change the Lord's mind as to the portion of the Spirit He was to pour out on the people of Ammonihah.  It was to change Alma so that he became a better vessel for carrying that Spirit to touch the people of Ammonihah and to better be an instrument in the Lord's hands to bring the people to the Lord.

Doctrine and Covenants 10

(September 19, 2013)
It seems clear that the very idea of the ends justifying the means is not one that is acceptable to the Lord.  Satan, on the other hand, is one who will attempt to convince us that it is not a sin to lie in order to catch a man in a lie.  Satan uses this technique to escalate sin – if he can get one to sin, and another to sin in response, then drive the first to sin again in response, he can lead both parties down to Hell.

But, of course, the important thing with the scriptures is to not look at what Satan is doing to other people and to instead look at what sin is doing to us.  I think that contention is a big part of Satan's plan in this respect (the Lord explicitly mentions it by name in this Section).  If he can get one person to contend with another person, it then becomes easier to get the first person to contend back.  After all, it is "justified" because of what they were going through.

Although responding to contention with contention is one of the easiest patterns to get into, I am becoming more and more convinced that it is a deadly way to live our lives.  Before long, we forget why conflict even began (and, perhaps, we were the ones who started it long ago).  All we know is that we must keep contending or else our adversary will have "gotten away with it."  The irony of this, unfortunately, is that it is this very mindset that allows our Adversary to get away with it.