Thursday, April 11, 2013

Alma 33

(April 11, 2013)
I read this chapter with a particular hope in mind – to gain strength for dealing with the conflict that is currently going on in my life.  I felt as I prayed before I read that I should not be looking for some amorphous ‘strength’ to come from my reading today, but rather for specific answers.

My eyes first were drawn to Zenos’s claim that, through prayer, the Lord turned his enemies to him.  Was that my answer?  Did I just need to pray more and my problems will be solved (certainly a possibility).  But then my mind began to focus on Zenos himself – what did he mean when he said his enemies turned to him?  I thought about his life, and how (ultimately) he was killed by these same enemies for preaching the Gospel.

At the end, I am left to wonder whether Zenos’s life is an example for the power of prayer or an example of the importance of enduring to the end even when your burdens overwhelm (or even take) your life.  I would much rather the former be the lesson I am supposed to learn, but I am thinking more and more that it is the latter that the Lord has been trying to communicate with me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Zechariah 7-9

(April 9, 2013)
I was, at first, prepared to write briefly about the additional evidences that these chapters provide that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.  There are, in fact, enough evidences (particularly in the latter part of the Old Testament) to make such a mention almost cliche.  But as I thought more about it, I realized that the grand deception that we sometimes play on ourselves is to recognize that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, but to deceive ourselves into thinking that the God of the New Testament is somehow not the God of the Old Testament.

The very same God that spoke the beatitudes likewise commanded the destruction of the wicked.  Now we look at the one (“blessed are the meek”) and ignore the other (“it is better to obey than to sacrifice”).  Above all, we fetishize the statement “judge not,” while using that single phrase to attempt to invalidate ever other message of the Gospel – whether found in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.  The God that smote the Egyptians is the same God that blessed the children – we can either reconcile that in our minds to come to a better understanding of His nature or we can willingly close our minds to this fact and have a perverted, stunted idea of the nature of the God whose footsteps we are commanded to follow in.  And if we deliberately refuse to understand Him, how can we then follow Him?

Alma 32

(April 10, 2013)
Alma has an interesting reaction in this chapter – when he is presented with the suffering of the people, he experiences joy.  This is not a unique situation in the Book of Mormon, either.  In fact, Alma’s father had nearly an identical reaction when Alma came back in a coma from his experience with the angel of the Lord.

I am going to leave aside the issue of looking at other’s suffering with joy, because that would seem to require a perspective on the Gospel that is more likely to be found in prophets than in me.  But I will look at it from the perspective of looking at our own suffering.

I am going through a very difficult time in my life now, and I sometimes find it hard to put one foot in front of the other on the road of life.  I have prayed many times for relief from my burdens or for strength to carry them.  What I have never done, however, is to look on my suffering with joy for its capacity to humble me.  Nor do I honestly think that I can feel that way right now.  But, reading this chapter in Alma, I begin to wonder whether that is the emotional response to suffering that I truly ought to be developing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alma 31

(April 9, 2013)
We like to say that we are nothing like the Zoramites, but we do so at our own peril.  Reading carefully the words of the Zoramites’ prayer, we can clearly see that they spend most of their prayer expressing ‘thankfulness.’  Now that thankfulness was nothing more that a bit of self-deception (an issue I am carefully aware of, in recent days) to obscure their pride, but just at they were able to deceive themselves under a blanket of ‘gratitude,’ so too can we do the same thing if we are not careful.

What do we express gratitude for?  That we are in the true Church?  Yes, that is something we should be profoundly grateful for, but read the Zoramites’ prayer again – they expressed their thanksgiving for the same thing.  That we have been given blessings?  That was in the Zoramites’ prayer.  That we have knowledge of the truth?  Same thing.

I pondered this for some time, trying to find what would make the prayer of the Zoramite of a different quality than our prayers now.  It was worrisome the similarities, but I finally found the difference – at no point does the prayer get outside of the person praying.  They seek no one’s benefit but their own.  Want to pray in such a way as to not be a Zoramite?  Ask the Lord how you can bless someone’s life today and then go and serve.

This carries over into the final point from this chapter – look at Alma in his prayer in comparison to the Zoramites.  Alma knew he would suffer for his attempts to convert the Zoramites, and yet his prayer was not ‘thankfulness’ that he hadn’t been led astray by their wickedness.  His prayer was that the Zoramites’ souls were precious and worth saving, and asked for the Lord’s help in helping others.  This, I contend, is the difference in the two prayers.

I do not think it an accident that these two prayers were included in this chapter.  Mormon was attempting to communicate something to us by writing out both the Zoramite prayers and Alma’s prayer.  I believe this is his reason for doing so.

Zechariah 1-6

(April 9, 2013)
I cannot remember the exact quotation, but to paraphrase Joseph Smith – ‘the resurrection is the principle of consolation.’  By this, he meant that through (and only through) the resurrection would all wrongs be righted, the unjust made just, and each receive according to their measure.

Reading in these chapters, I was impressed by this consolation running underneath the words of the prophet.  There were those, prior to the captivity, who were born, lived wickedly, prospered gloriously, and died in their sleep.  There were those, born during the captivity, who were born into suffering, bore it with Grace, lived the law, and died having never seen Jerusalem.

Yes, the fruits of wickedness is unhappiness and the fruits of righteousness is peace – I do not argue that.  But, in terms of justice, there is no justice between these two examples save for the resurrection.  But, with the resurrection, we can be consoled by the fact that when we do good and evil is returned to us, that evil will be consumed by the good we receive in the resurrection.  When we behave justly and our lot is unjust, that unjustice will likewise be consumed by the just reward we receive in the resurrection.

It is the resurrection, and only the resurrection, that truly empowers us to wait on the Lord.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Haggai 2

(April 8, 2013)
The symbolic representations of forgiveness and the Atonement have always been a source of joy and peace for me.  For example, viewing the small temple that did not compare with the great temple destroyed could easily be disheartening – just as seeing our own lives and comparing them to what they could and should have been is likewise disheartening.  But, just as with the temple, we have the Lord’s promise that if we turn to Him we can be assured that in the end the Lord will make of us something more than we were before we were broken.

Alma 30

(April 8, 2013)
The language here that no one is punished for their beliefs could not be more clear.  It is certainly important to the Lord – Mormon leaves no doubt about that in his writings.  And, what’s more, it is something that we profess to believe as Latter-Day Saints.

But do we truly act as if we believe it?  When our neighbors have different points of view to us, do we judge them for it?  When we disagree with our spouse or children, do we think less of them because of their different beliefs?  I think I fall prey to this far more often than I would like to admit.

The other thought I had as I read was related to the First Amendment and free speech.  I mentioned before that I go back and forth as to whether we should be First Amendment absolutists (and I am, or rather, was).  But this chapter really answers that question from Mormon’s perspective.  After all, he specifically states that the Ammonites were “wise” in refusing to allow Korihor to speak, and took steps to force him out of their lands.  I have no idea how to implement that on a national scale, but there is certainly appropriate implementation on a household scale – I need to be wise and keep bad speech out of my home.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Joshua 22-23

(May 31, 2010)
These chapters also highlighted the importance of being strictly obedient.  The people of Israel were ready to go to war because several of their tribes appeared to be doing something contrary to the will of the Lord.  In addition, Joshua’s preaching of the importance of not disobeying the Lord (or intermingling with those who would) contained powerful promises for those who were strictly righteous and devastating curses for those who were not.

3 Nephi 14-15

(May 31, 2010)
I read in an Ensign article a long time ago a quote that stuck with me.  If I may paraphrase it (because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me), we generally hope that on the day of our final judgment we will find the Lord in a particularly merciful mood.  The reality is, however, that the Law will be completely fulfilled, and Mercy cannot rob Justice.  The Plan of Salvation opens the path of Mercy for us, but we must still choose to walk it.

That is what these chapters reminded me of.  The Lord did not equivocate as to what our responsibilities were.  We must enter in at the gate and endure to the end, or we will not have Eternal Life.

Joshua 14

(May 27, 2010)
This chapter was a wonderful chapter.  I had read it before and believed it to be Joshua that was talking (I suppose that I wasn’t strictly paying attention).  Instead, and knowing that it was Caleb talking, I was able to get so much more out of this.  Caleb’s sentiments were – lacking a better word – beautiful to me for some reason.

3 Nephi 9-10

(May 27, 2010)
Two quick points.  First, Chapter 10 confirms what I thought yesterday – these people were definitely not those that stoned the prophets.  The scriptures specifically state that.  Second, with all of the cities that were destroyed, I wonder if a group of people or a city develop a common culture after a while.

The point being that if moving was difficult, over a period of time you would expect the attitudes of a city to move closer to being homogenous.  Maybe that has something to do with the destroyed cities.  We, in the modern day, see the wickedness around us and worry about cities being destroyed and think that ours qualifies (but we, of course, want to be spared).  But perhaps the cities in those days simply lacked the righteous within them to be spared.  It is hard to believe there were cities with no righteous people in them, but it is harder to believe that the Lord is unfair.  Either our understanding of what is fair and unfair is wrong, or there really weren’t any righteous people there.

3 Nephi 8

(May 26, 2010)
I have often been impressed by the fact that the righteous look within themselves while the wicked look for external causes.  Nephi talks of “our” wickedness when on the ship.  The Apostles ask “is it I” when they find someone will betray the Lord.  And here great destruction has taken place and the only ones left are the more righteous (some of whom were very righteous).  Yet they each cry out about their failings rather than others.  Oh that we had repented!  Oh that we had not slain the prophets!  I don’t think many of the people (if any) that actually, physically stoned the prophets survived the chaos of the death of Christ – but they still took the sins upon their own heads and accepted responsibility for their actions.  This is a trait that I would do well to emulate more in my life.

Joshua 9-10

(May 25, 2010)
You know, I have always understood that the descriptions of wars in the Book of Mormon were to be viewed not only as a history but also as a metaphor for our battle with sin.  Despite understanding that, I never made the connection with the Israelites possessing the promised land until today – their wars to expel the unrighteous from their inheritance can easily be compared to our efforts to claim our inheritance from the Father.

* * * * *

I also wondered what life must have been like for those who were replaced by the Israelites.  I cannot imagine the suffering that the peoples in those lands went through.  I always tried to liken the scriptures to me, but I wondered what I would do if I were born an Ammorite.  What if I were a ten-year-old boy in one of the kingdoms that the Israelites replaced?  It is difficult to get your head around.

That being said, I did take some comfort from the fact that there were those who – recognizing that the Lord was with Israel – were spared destruction by pledging their service to the people of the Lord.

3 Nephi 7

(May 25, 2010)
I was struck by the description that Mormon gave as to why the people hated Nephi – they hated him because they realized that he had more power than they did.  It seems like those who lust for power are enraged by those who aren’t under their power and by those who are more powerful.  It is one of the reasons why the powerful consume each other.  It is also one of the reasons why some of the ‘elites’ hate God.

Joshua 8

(May 24, 2010)
Once again, it is difficult to imagine that a town of however many thousands did not have one person worthy to save.  I think of the little children that were destroyed and I feel a great swelling of pity – what must they have thought in their final seconds, how terrified must they have been.  I can only trust in the Lord and that He loved those that died like He loved that lived – even if I don’t understand His ways.

3 Nephi 6

(May 24, 2010)
What is the fascination that lawyers have with protecting their own?  I see it in my practice now – I am taking a legal malpractice case and it is clear that they system is set up to protect negligent attorneys.  That isn’t to say that the situation is as bad as it is here in 3 Nephi, but I can clearly see how it could become that bad.

Joshua 2-4

(May 21, 2010)
I wonder how much of our lives that we think are just idiosyncrasies are something more than that.  For example, when my parents used to take us across the country we would stop in various states and get a rock to remind us of our time in that state.  I had a fairly large collection at one point.  I wonder if the drive to do this is in any way related to the instructions given by the Lord to gather stones from the Jordan River?

3 Nephi 4

(May 21, 2010)
What struck me in this chapter was Momon’s description of the robbers – that “there was no way that they could subsist save it were to plunder and rob and murder.”  As I read it, I wondered how well it applied to the many – people who could not be productive on their own – they are obligated to steal by force from other more productive members of society.  I also worry about whether it applies to me – but as I consider it as honestly as I can I do not think that it does.

Joshua 1

(May 21, 2010)
I found verses 8 and 9 most interesting in this chapter.  In verse 8, it is another example of the importance of daily scripture study.  You would think that with the constant reminders I am receiving about the importance of daily scripture study I might start engaging in daily scripture study.  Verse 9 has an interesting grammar to it.  The first sentence is a rhetorical question that leads to the conclusion that you were commanded.  The results of that fact (you were commanded) lead to the conclusions contained in that verse (i.e., be of good cheer, for you were commanded).

3 Nephi 2-3

(May 21, 2010)
These chapters (particularly chapter 2) seems focused on two things – the curse of the Lamanites and blindness.  As we know from the scriptures, skin coloration was not the curse of the Lamanites.  The skin coloration was only to act to separate the two peoples from each other.  Instead, the curse of the Lamanites was the curse of idleness.

In my life right now, I have an overwhelming amount of this curse.  There are, of course, some reasons for that.  These reasons are mostly excuses, however.  In addition, I cannot help but believe that I have an overwhelming supply of blindness in my life also.  I ascribe to technology or good fortune or a culmination of events what I should ascribe to Divine Providence or blessings.  I take both of those things to mean that I need an increase in the vigor in which I am accepting the Atonement so I can remove this curse and this blindness from my life.

Numbers 8

(April 12, 2010)
After being filled with confidence in my ability to gain more from the Old Testament, that hope was quickly squashed on the rocks of the Mosaic Law.  I was able to get some insight, however.  I had my recurring question as to why the Levites were the chosen people.  A little bit of outside research lead me to this chapter.  Now I can finally put this question in my mind to bed.

Alma 34

(April 12, 2010)
Reading this, it seemed to be a key for understanding the Old Testament.  I always knew that the Mosaic Law pointed towards the coming of Christ, but for some reason it hit me this time that this ‘pointing towards the coming of Christ’ is the reason we read the Mosaic Law and the benefit we should be gaining from our study of it.

Numbers 1

(April 5, 2010)
As I read through this chapter, I thought of a question that I don’t believe I have ever thought of before.  Why Levi?  Why were the Levites placed in the position that they were in?  What made them different?  I looked for a little while to find an answer, but none leapt to my attention.

Alma 24

(April 5, 2010)
I have always emotionally had a problem with this chapter, even though I could intellectually wrap my head around it.  After all, aren’t they abandoning their wives and children to their aggressors?  What about their righteous posterity?  The children they would have had, but will now go down to mortal life among those who do not believe?  It seems to me that there are problems here.

But this time, I realized that I was doing just what the speaker yesterday warned of – applying material judgment on a spiritual matter.  Yes, I can logically make the argument that even accepting the assumption that the Gospel is true (which, of course, I do) that it would still be better for the individual and the collective for them to defend themselves.  But that would be applying material judgment.  Using only spiritual judgment, the question was what would the Lord have us do?

Leviticus 23-25

(April 2, 2010)
The most noticeable thing in these chapters to me is the obligation that there is one law for both the Jew and the Gentile.  This clearly indicates that moral relativism is not the Lord’s method for guiding His people.  Even though the half-Egyptian was the one who blasphemed the name of the Lord, he was still accountable as if he had the law.  I think we too often are willing to excuse failings in ourselves by excusing failings in others.  Obviously it is not our role to be judges (unless it is by calling, such as Bishop), but (a) people tend to live up to the standards we set for them, whether they be high or low, and (b) we tend to measure ourselves by the standards we set for others – if we are permissive and nonjudgmental with others, we are permissive and nonjudgmental with ourselves.  We hear love the sinner and hate the sin, and we remember to love the sinner but we forget to hate the sin.

In Chapter 25, the Lord reveals His law of jubile.  I will be quite honest, and say that I just don’t get it.  Maybe if I were there I would, but other than the general rule that the Lord’s people will not be in bondage again, I don’t see what principle the Lord is teaching with this law.

Alma 21

(April 2, 2010)
Two things struck me when I read through this chapter.  First, I was again impressed by the fact that those who leave the Church end up far more wicked than those who never joined.  This is not universally true – I have met decent people who were former members of the Church – but I think they are the exception rather than the rule.  Those who have left the Church and remain good people tended to have tenuous testimonies when they were members, and those with powerful testimonies who left because of pride or temptation tended to lose whatever light they had and become quite dark.  Again, and even with that qualification, there are exceptions to the general rule.  But the general rule is the general rule for a reason – it is the most common outcome.

The other thing that I noticed was the courage of Aaron and his brothers in prison.  The sons of Mosiah had been given a promise that they would not die on their mission, and they presumably knew of this promise (in my recollection, it had been given to Mosiah).  So when Ammon stood before the Lamanites at the Waters of Sebus, he knew that he would not be struck down.  But Aaron, being tossed into prison, did not know but that he would spend years or decades in prison.  It was a specialized challenge prepared by the Lord to test their faith.  That makes the fact that Aaron and his brothers endured patiently their afflictions all the more impressive.

I think there is a great deal of that in our day.  The Lord knows what specialized challenges He can throw at us to give us the greatest challenge we can succeed at and the greatest challenge to enable our growth.  We have the promise from President Hinkley that the Lord sent no one to fail – we were sent to succeed and succeed gloriously.  With that in mind, and assuming that we are trying to live our lives in the right way, whenever difficult challenges come our way we should feel almost complimented by them.  This is what the Lord feels that I am capable of handling.

Leviticus 21-22

(April 1, 2010)
I am struck by the prohibitions placed upon the Levites.  They are given repeated instructions to avoid uncleanliness in all forms.  I think too often we convince ourselves that simply because the Law of Moses is fulfilled, we priests and high priests are free (or, at least, freer) to dabble in uncleanliness than they were in those days.  But the Law of Moses, being a type or a symbol, in this respect serves us just as well as an example to look to – we must avoid uncleanliness with the same fervor that a Levite was obligated to use.

Alma 20

(April 1, 2010)
It is easy to understand the frustration that Aaron, Omner, and Himni had with Ammon when he began boasting in his God.  Aaron et. al., as is clearly described by the scriptures, fell among a more hardened people.  There is no intimation that they were any less worthy as men or missionaries, yet while Ammon became friends with the king and had numerous miraculous experiences, Aaron and his brothers were tormented and imprisoned.  They would exercise patience in their afflictions, but you wonder if Aaron was actually thinking ‘would you be quiet, you got the easy area to proselyte!’

Leviticus 18-19

(March 31, 2010)
Reading through these chapters, you would think that the bulk of this should be at best common sense, and at worst dealt with by a simple commandment to practice chastity (talking particularly about Chapter 18 and Chapter 20).  That it is not is somewhat amazing.  I suppose it shouldn’t be that amazing, since according to the scriptures the peoples of the lands they left (Egypt) and the lands they were going to (Canaan) both practiced these abominations.

Alma 19

(March 31, 2010)
I typically read through this chapter and I am almost incredulous at the number of people fainting here, there, and everywhere.  But after last night in the temple, I guess I am a little more believable.  Two people almost fainted in five minutes in a sealing session.  I expect that the miracles that were happening around Ammon were more spiritually taxing than what was happening last night, so I guess I can see the events here happening as described.

Alma 18

(March 30, 2010)
I read this scripture in the temple as we waited for our sealing session to begin.  I was impressed with the results Ammon was able to achieve by simply going and doing.  His simple and consistent determination to do the little things achieved nearly as much as his work doing the big things.

Leviticus 16-17

(March 29, 2010)
I read chapters like this and I worry about myself. I cannot read chapter 16 without wondering what Aaron must have thought – losing his sons.  I am certain he loved them, but the Lord took them and then gave commandments to Aaron to keep on working.

I know intellectually that the Lord has a plan for everyone, and He is perfectly just.  It just seems difficult to see that while looking at something like this.  And I worry if the fact that I see this in some way indicates a lack of faith or worthiness in me as a reader.

Alma 17

(March 29, 2010)
I look at Satan, tempting those brigands at the Waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks.  I think of him pushing them to do evil, and as a result of those evil acts, Ammon was able to convert the king and most of the people.  In the end, good builds itself and evil consumes itself.  Satan acts in ways that encourage the short-term evil, but the Lord works in ways that encourages the long-term good.  Even when Satan successfully tempts someone to do evil (as in this case) the Lord makes it work out for the benefit of His plan.

Leviticus 11-12

(March 26, 2010)
I wonder how good of a Israelite I would have been.  I read these chapters and I was amazed at the level of complexity involved in serving God.  Now I understand that a portion of that complexity comes from the centuries of changed context of the scriptures (do you know how long a cubit is off the top of your head?), but a portion of it is also a fact that I just didn’t pay enough direct attention to the matter at hand.  I am capable of sorting through complexities, but I didn’t devote the time and resources necessary to do it when I read these chapters.

Now that may not be a bad thing.  After all, the law is not in force now, and learning it may have been a misuse of time and resources.  But even still, I worry whether I should have (and whether I would have) put forth the effort necessary to learn and follow a law where such strict obedience is required.  And if not, where does that leave me?  After all, no less strict obedience is required now, even if the law is less formal.

Alma 14

(March 26, 2010)
I couldn’t read this chapter without being reminded of the current political situation in this country.  Just like in the scriptures, there are numerous people who would rather lie about other people’s positions than engage in serious debate, and they take a grain of truth and do everything they can think of to stretch it beyond recognition.

Exodus 35

(March 15, 2010)
I think of all of these people being so excited that for generations their work would be part of the temple of the Lord.  I suppose we should look at our lives (and our callings) in the same way – a permanent monument to the Lord that will extend through the eternities.

Alma 1

(March 15, 2010)
As I read this chapter, I was impressed at how Nehor was unable to restrain himself when he was confronted by Gideon.  Looking objectively, Nehor should have simply ignored Gideon – he had no obvious power to disrupt Nehor’s comfortable life or to impede his acquisition of wealth or pleasure.  But, like so often is the case, the wicked cannot abide hearing the truth.  Nehor was overcome with anger at the Gospel being preached to him – the same way so many will scream about ‘hatred’ and ‘intolerance’ when confronted with the truths of the Gospel today.

Exodus 30

(March 12, 2010)
One interesting thing about this scripture.  As I read, I was thinking about the oil that they were instructed to make.  I started thinking that with that recipe, we could easily make that oil today.  I was thinking that we could use it as a learning tool for the children, or to reconnect them with the Old Testament, or so forth.  Then I got a little further and read that those who make anything like it will die, and realized – maybe I won’t make some after all.

Mosiah 27

(March 12, 2010)
I read this scripture with a great deal of interest.  I see myself as having a large need for a extra helping of the atonement right now – or, in other words, I am presently acutely aware of my continuing need for Divine help.  Alma the Younger’s conversion is a fine example of being born again, and serves to provide hope for those of us struggling along.  While we cannot count on angels confronting us (although it happens more than we think, I expect), we can take comfort in the prayers of others.  And, in the final analysis, we can always cry out to the Lord through our despair ‘Oh Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me!”

Mormon 9

(December 16, 2009)
This was a chapter of the Book of Mormon that I am always remembering, but can rarely find.  It is in this chapter that I believe you can find the primary answer to the question “if God loved us, why wouldn’t He let us all come back and live with him?”.

Doctrine and Covenants 118-120

(December 10, 2009)
What surprised me in reading these sections was that it is a standing law that all who come unto Zion are obligated to pay a tenth of all they have, and then an additional tenth of all of their increase thereafter.  That makes sense, as the wealth they have built up over their lifetimes has not been tithed, but I didn’t know that.  I don’t know how many people do, and I don’t know whether most new converts pay this tithing of their surplus when they come unto Zion or not.

Mormon 2

(December 10, 2009)
This begins the darkest portion of the Book of Mormon.  It is almost tangibly dark to read, and the destruction and death leap off the page.  As I read, I couldn’t help but see the escalation of violence and hatred.  I was comforted, however, by Mormon’s talk of the strength of the Lord.  Despite my numerous failings, there is a strength that I am aware of that comes independent of my actions.  I can tell when it is there to a greater or lesser degree.  The fact that it is in my life now reassures me that I haven’t been cast off for my many failings.

Doctrine and Covenants 108

(December 1, 2009)
I noticed the focus on strengthening others in verse 7.  I can only imagine how much of a blessing a man could be to those around him if he dedicated himself to their benefit in this way.  More to the point, so often when we help people we design our help to complete tasks.  It is that focus on tasks that sometimes causes us to mistakenly engage in facilitating negative behavior (or conditioning behavior).  Sometimes it is appropriate, but how can we know?  Only through prayer and focus – not on accomplishing tasks in our interactions with others, but rather a focus on strengthening them.

3 Nephi 18

(December 1, 2009)

As I read through this chapter, I began to think about why we break bread and have water for the Sacrament.  I wondered if it was because that was what the Savior did at the first Sacrament at the Last Supper, but I then discarded that idea because of the unlikelihood that it was an accident that the Savior chose this procedure.  I then began to think about communion in literature.  Whenever people eat (or fail to eat) together, it is typically representative of communion or failed communion.  I was forced to discard this idea as well.  The likelihood is high that the literary symbolism was derived from the Sacrament rather than the reverse.

Finally, I wondered how much of a guest-obligation tradition of the Middle East was responsible.  I think I need to review the customs of the time, but my recollection is that when a guest entered the house and shared bread certain obligations became binding on both parties.  That certainly predated the Last Supper, and it could have served as the symbolic reference that the Sacrament was using to teach us about communion with the Father.

Doctrine and Covenants 107

(November 30, 2009)
Two thoughts struck me as I read through this Section.  First, I was struck by the powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood as described by D&C 107:18-19.  How many of us believe that our priesthood empowers us to “enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant?”  How many of us act as if we believe it?

Secondly, I was impressed by the perfect nature of the Lord’s plan for government.  D&C 107:27 et. seq. describes that all decisions must be unanimous.  That must certainly act to significantly diminish contention among the Brethren.  When each person has what amounts to a veto power over any decision, it is clear that contrary opinions must be respected.  At the same time, for anything to get done those with contrary opinions must, in the end, commit themselves to sustaining the decisions of the group.  This provision alone would seem to severely restrict the potential of splintering on various issues.

3 Nephi 16-17

(November 30, 2009)

As I read through today’s scriptures I had two thoughts come into my mind.  The first is in reference to 3 Nephi 16:4 about the obligations of the covenant people to pray to know of the other tribes.  I can understand that obligation, as that would help them to be aware of the fullness of the gospel as revealed in the Book of Mormon.  My question is whether that obligation persists to this day.  Should we, as Latter-Day Saints, continue to “ask the Father in [Christ’s] name, that [we] may receive of knowledge” of the other tribes?  The language is unclear, and as I read it I cannot tell if that is an obligation or not.  If so, it is one we should take very seriously – it is an obligation established by the Savior himself.

The second thought relates to 3 Nephi 17:14.  At this point, the Savior had already suffered for our sins, and yet He “groaned within himself” because of the sins of the people.  It leads to the inevitable question of the nature of the Atonement, but more than that it raises the question to me of why sins are sins?  It is clear that sin leads to suffering, but why is that?  The short answer and wrong answer is that it is that way because the Lord set it up that way.  The short and right answer is that it is that way because a law exists that establishes it that way.  Neither addresses the why of the law, however.  I have some theories tickling around in my head as to the answer to this question, but I don’t believe that I could coherently put any of them to paper.

Zephaniah 1-3

(April 6, 2013)
I don’t understand how anyone could read these chapters and still have the perspective of the clockwork God, yet some Christians believe it all the same.  God, though, is clearly a God that rewards good and punishes evil, and that is the exact opposite of a clockwork God.  I imagine that I could wrest the scriptures to say something different, but it would require a fair amount of tugging.

Alma 25-26

(April 6, 2013)
I had a number of thoughts as I read through these two chapters.  The first thought that immediately struck me was on the Lamanites complete abdication of personal responsibility.  They had just spent days slaughtering their brothers and sisters – people who took no efforts to protect themselves – and they come out of that thinking how bad the Nephites are.  Really?

That ability to deceive ourselves as to our own responsibilities is a dangerous trait.  What’s more, it is a universal one.  As I talk about above, I even managed to engage in such self-deception while thinking about the process of this self-deception.  Had it not been for the context, I doubt I would have even noticed that I had done so.

The second thought that I had was in the believers’ willingness to obey a dead law.  They fully understood that salvation did not come through the Law of Moses, and yet they were diligent in following this law.  Why?  Because they understood the power of ritual and obedience to bring about conversion.  Put another way, they knew that action followed belief but so too did belief follow action.  It puts the lie to those who say that, because of their faith or something else, they have no need to follow the commandments.

The third thought was on boasting in the Lord.  This is something that I think that I need to do more often.  Not just boasting in Him, but understanding Him and my relationship to Him.  I have no confidence right now in most areas of my life, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  There is no reason why my confidence cannot and should not come from Him.

Finally, Ammon’s question of why they were spared from eternal damnation is a profound one and one that I have struggled with.  Why me?  Why was I born into a good family and born into the Gospel?  Why, for example, was Mother Teresa born Catholic (clearly a wonderful and Christ-like person) and I was born into the Church?  There is an overarching sense that I haven’t earned what I have received in life (a potential source of my lack of confidence) – I was raised in a Church that I don’t know if I could have found on my own, I am living in a wonderful house that I don’t know why I have and what I did to earn it (other than build at the perfect time), I have great kids that owe most of their success to the efforts of their mother (although we have problems, I have never doubted her ability and determination to be an excellent mother – she is one of the best).  So, I am left to wonder why me?

Nahum 1-3

(April 4, 2013) 
There are some times when nothing seems profound in a scripture reading, and this is one of those times.  The only thing that seems appropriate to say is that these entire three chapters could be summed up by the phrase that the wicked will be destroyed.

Of course, with that understood, why did Nahum write for as long as he did?  Surely he had a reason, and if he was inspired to write this then He had a reason as well.  Was it to drive home the fact?  I assume so, because if there is a larger reason I am missing it.

Alma 23

(April 4, 2013)
Two quick thoughts about this chapter.  First, it is amazing how much of a destructive influence those who have left the Church can have.  The Amulonites and the Amalekites were both significant obstacles for the Lord’s work amongst the Lamanites.

This, of course, leads to the second point – how much of a purist should we be when it comes to the First Amendment?  After all, the access that Aaron and his brothers had facilitated a great number of conversions, but the opposition from the apostates forestalled a great number as well.  Do we believe, as First Amendment purists believe, that the answer to false speech is true speech?  That the answer to bad speech is more speech?  If not, how do we coherently limit speech while still protecting the right to preach the Gospel?

I have always been a purist when it comes to the First Amendment (still am, I think).  But it makes for an interesting question.

Micah 1-5

(April 2, 2013)
This is an interesting reading to me.  I am not sure if it was intentionally this way, or if it became this way because of the fact that I read five chapters together.  Either way, it is significant to me, though.

The first two chapters speak of the destruction of Israel and the awful consequences of sin.  Then, in a pivot right in the middle of the reading, we are introduced in the third chapter to the temple.

The temple is the centerpiece of this reading, and I believe that it needs to take a more central role in my life.  I certainly feel like I am facing calamities right now (yes, I don’t have to learn war any more, but that doesn’t make the current challenges I face any less real), and having the temple’s assistance in overcoming those challenges would be a great help.

Alma 21

(April 2, 2013)
Scriptures like this one often make me believe that I am in the wrong profession.  The arguments that the Order of Nehor engage in are the very types of arguments that I make my living from.  Being a lawyer may prepare me to argue on behalf of God (in, say, Sunday School), but unfortunately He is often not my client.  Instead, I am placed in an environment of near constant contention.  When I return home from this environment, seeking peace at home, I at times find more contention and more conflict.

I would love for all of this contention and conflict to simply go away.  But I suppose that it never will.  And, after all, I know I am in the right profession (thank you, Patriarchal Blessing) and I know that I married the right girl (thank you, experiences in the temple while still single).  So if I am to be in this position, I suppose I need to find a way to make the best of things.

The other thought I had was about Aaron opening up the scriptures.  After all, most of the people he was preaching to had long since lost their access to the scriptures (the Plates of Brass were taken from the Lamanites, after all) and those who had the scriptures were apostates.  Aaron’s appeal to the scriptures seems as though it would have limited prospects for success.  It also seems to parallel some modern religions, where people don’t often read from the scriptures, and their only exposure is to have the scriptures read to them by those who have their own agendas.

* * * * *

As I wrote this entry, however, I had another epiphany.  I think there is something to be learned by the differing approaches of Ammon and Aaron.  Ammon went and served the people, and as a result was ultimately the motivation behind a large number of people converting to the Gospel.  Aaron went to preach the Gospel, and few if anyone accepted it.  I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Amos 9

(March 31, 2013)
I don’t believe in coincidences (I am familiar with large numbers and the math, but I think they are far more likely communications than arbitrary chance – another thing I don’t believe in), but I do believe that what we perceive as a coincidence deserves heightened scrutiny, since it is often the Lord’s mechanism for gathering our attention, repeating important messages, or similar forms of teaching.

With that in mind, my attention was focused when I realized that I was reading a scripture on gathering immediately after having a lesson on the gathering in Sunday School.  Unfortunately I could not discern what I was supposed to learn.  It wasn’t until later that I remembered that I didn’t take that question directly to the Lord – I prayed to understand at the beginning, but when the lesson or connection eluded me I didn’t go back to the Lord for clarification.

Alma 19

(March 31, 2013) 
Reading this chapter, I am instantly drawn to the fact that everyone everywhere is fainting.  I understand that is, in part, as issue with being exposed to spiritual things – I myself have felt the overwhelming fatigue that arises from spiritual experiences.  But I didn’t faint, nor did any of the people I was able to help convert.  Add to that the wife of the king waking up and speaking in tongues, and you have an experience far more similar to a small rural church in the backwoods of West Virginia than your average Sacrament Meeting.

I wonder how much of that is a cultural difference?  After all, I believe that these cultural differences are real and profound – look no further than the great deference that the Church gives to different cultures when building temples, inspiring service, and so forth.  We are all children of God, but we are likewise individual people with cultures, traditions, and a heritage that seems to have more significance than we give credit to.

The other thought that I had as I read this chapter was on how we can easily see what we want to see.  After all, the Lamanites that were angry at Ammon saw the same miracles that King Lamoni saw, but they interpreted them as the actions of an agent of Satan.  Which, uncomfortably, leads to the next question of how we are able to discern between the power of God and the imitation power of Satan.  Other than reliance on the Spirit, I can see no other way.  That is a bit unnerving.

Haggai 1

(April 7, 2013)
I think that the same lesson that Haggai was teaching here is one that applies today.  When we seek material things in life, we often find those material things are ephemeral.  Even if we manage to keep a grip on them, they don’t serve to satisfy or to bring happiness.  And I think the solution presented by Haggai is also one that is applicable – if we honor the temple, and serve there, we will find that we have enough.  We can eat and be full, drink and be sated.

The other thought I had was how much what we accomplish in life is a result of the will of the Lord.  I have felt I have received temporally more than my efforts would deserve.  I live in a fantastic house with just about everything I could want.  All of this is the belongings of someone far more temporally accomplished than I am.  I have often felt uneasy about all of this, but I think I should recognize it for what it is – a gift from the Lord – and approach it with thanksgiving rather than trepidation.

Alma 27-29

(April 7, 2013)
I have many times had an interaction with M. that is nearly identical to Ammon’s interaction with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.  M. would ask me to inquire of the Lord, and I would come back with what I thought was the right answer, and she would not-so-gently remind me that she was asking for the Lord’s opinion rather than mine.  So I found their interaction somewhat interesting.

The second thought that I had in these chapters was the fact that zeal – a world of some derision in modern society – was certainly not used as anything but a compliment.  Mormon’s declaration of the zeal of the Ammonites was nothing more than the highest of praise.  Likewise, I can think of few better things that people could say about me than that I was a zealot – and I hope I can live to be referred to that way.
My final point requires a bit of back story.  From the book Candide, there is the character Pangloss.  Pangloss has a catchphrase – ‘we live in the best of all possible worlds.’  Pangloss uses this line as an excuse to not rescue the drowning, or take any efforts to improve the world.  Yes, Voltaire is using this character to mock a belief, but I proudly think of myself as a Panglossian (even though that is a difficult position to hold when things go wrong).  While we each have the duty to push forward the Lord’s work to the best of our ability, we can also recognize that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  Alma recognizes this as well – he may want things to change but he realizes that there is no way he could confidently change the world that wouldn’t risk making things worse.

I see each mortal on earth as a puzzle piece.  We each have a character that establishes our shape.  The Lord, as the great Author of all, has put the puzzle together with each piece in its ideal position.  The Lord knows how this work will go forward, but the obligation to participate forever rests with each of us.

Guidance from Elder Anderson

Elder Anderson, in General Conference, just advised that we find a way to daily bear our testimonies online. I am inclined to do what an Apostle tells me to, so I thought that I should obey right away.  I figured that one thing that I could easily do is to post my thoughts as I read the scriptures daily online for others to see -- and to use if they find them valuable.  For some ten years, I have kept daily records of my thoughts as I read through the scriptures.  Maybe there is something of value in there for someone else.  I can post what I write going forward and post what I have written in the past.

In addition, there are other portions of my journal that I might post online.  For example, I often have thoughts or experiences that might be relevant to people other than me.  Additionally, I collect quotes to contemplate in my journal and I can include them here.

I don't claim any particular wisdom or insight, but I do know that the Gospel is true and hopefully that is conveyed through these posts.  I will pull out personal information, but my thoughts will remain.  I decided to call this "Letters from the Front," as they are just thoughts and notes from the current front line in the continuation of the War in Heaven.