Saturday, June 29, 2013

Moroni 7

(June 29, 2013)
Reading through the section on charity, I started to apply the definitions to my personal interactions with various people in my life.  Am I suffering long with him?  Am I kind to her?  Am I patient in this?  I found the exercise to be discomforting, as it clearly demonstrated just how far I am from having the type of charity that I should have in my life.

The good news, however, is this is one of those moments in the scriptures where the problem and the solution are presented side by side.  Yes, I am deficient in my charity towards others.  The solution is to pray with all the intensity of my soul for charity to be given to me as a Divine gift.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Acts 15

(June 28, 2013)
The fascinating aspect of this chapter is the interplay between the Apostles.  These are men who (for the most part) walked with Christ.  And yet, they had their differences of understanding of the Gospel.  But, for the most part, their differences weren’t matters of contention but of a search for cooperation.  Peter, as the leader, spoke first and gave his understanding of what they should do.  Others then spoke, and although Peter led he did so only by considering the opinions of those who were his fellow servants.

The exception almost proves the rule.  Paul’s contention was the exception to the general understanding and search for cooperation.  I have always thought that the thorn in Paul’s flesh might have been lust or something similar, but this mention (plus his history as a zealous destroyer of Christianity before his conversion) lead me to think that perhaps the thorn was anger.

Ether 15, Moroni 1-6

(June 28, 2013)
Shiz claimed that his desire was to take over the kingdom, but we can clearly see that wasn’t the case.  When Coriantumr gave him everything that he claimed he wanted, Shiz refused.  Why?  Because if Shiz had taken Coriantumr up on his offer, Shiz would not have disproved the Lord’s prophets.  Shiz knew and believed that if Coriantumr survived, then the prophets were speaking the truth (to his condemnation).  So it wasn’t for a kingdom that Shiz was fighting – it was against a Kingdom (of Heaven).

Again, it is fine to place ourselves in the position of Coriantumr or Ether and to recognize the many ways in which we deal with people who are irrational because they contend not with us but with the Lord.  But, more importantly, we should also examine our own behavior to recognize when we are demonstrating the qualities of Shiz.  When a leader in the Church tells us something, do we obey promptly?  Do we disobey?  If we don’t like the instruction, do we look for other failings in the leader so as to discount the instruction that we are not yet ready to receive?  Do we fight against spouses or children who speak the truth to us because it is hard for us to hear?

One other thought on this chapter before I finish.  I cannot imagine how it must have been for Moroni to translate Ether under his circumstances.  The last chapter must have so closely resembled his circumstances and the ultimate tragic result must have been very dispiriting.  And yet, he stuck with it.  Even seeing society crumble and degenerate into willing evil wasn’t enough to shake his resolve – he still would not deny the Christ.  There is an example for us to follow as well.  Sometimes we see the writing on the wall for our society and we are saddened that we won’t be able to pass on the society we loved to our children.  But, ultimately, this world isn’t about society.  To paraphrase Ether, it doesn’t matter what happens on this Earth so long as we are taken back home to dwell with our Father.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ether 14

(June 27, 2013)
This is a chapter that does not fill my soul with a great deal of hope politically – especially in light of the things that are happening in this country right now.  Like those in the days of Ether, we are placed in a position of choosing between two sides.  On the one side is the side that seems inevitable, and on the other side is the less-wicked (but still not righteous) side that seems destined for defeat.  We are pressured to choose a side, and those who do not are slowly being swept off as were the neutrals in the land of Corihor.

As I think on the subject, though (in light of my ponderings from yesterday), I am better seeing the answer.  There is no safety in joining with Shiz – all of his subjects were killed.  There is no safety in joining with Coriantumr – only he survived of his people.  And there is no safety in staying neutral – look what happened to the people of Corihor when they tried that.

It turns out that I was wrong in what I read yesterday.  The point of these chapters is exactly that we are to liken ourselves to Ether.  Only Ether shows us the way when conflict between two opposing sides (both of whom have abandoned the Lord).  We choose neither.  Likewise, we do not stand as neutral.  We serve the Lord, and we are His to do with as He may choose – to save or to sacrifice.  Ether is our model in these chapters even when the Coriantumrs and the Shizs run rampant over our world.

Acts 13-14

(June 27, 2013)
David was a man whose heart was like unto the Lord’s.  That raised, for me, an interesting question – would David have lost his Exaltation had he not been called upon to serve as king?  He would not have been in a position of power and influence, he would not have seen Bathsheba, and he could not have sent her husband off to his death.  Of course, he make choices that cost him his eternal reward, but had he been placed in differing circumstances could he have kept the faith?  If I had been placed in his circumstances, would I have made his mistakes?

There are a number of thoughts swirling around in my head concerning the possible implications of this.  But, for now, I would like to deal with a simpler one – we are insufficiently charitable to our political leaders.  Or, more to the point, I am insufficiently charitable to my political leaders.  They are being pulled constantly by temptations and opportunities that I am blessed not to have in my life.  Many will succumb to these temptations, and many who start out serving end up sacrificing their eternal reward on the altar of their lusts for gain, power, popularity, or the flesh.

Yes, we suffer for their mistakes – but only temporally.  They suffer for them eternally, and with them taking those positions they do not fall to us to take instead.  I would never hope to lead and I don’t understand the mentality that desires that kind of stewardship and responsibility without a corresponding availability of Divine help.  I cannot think that, like David, there are other politicians today who (but for their roles in government) might have received a far greater eternal reward.  To those who lost so much, they deserve our pity rather than our ire.

Acts 11-12

(June 26, 2013)
We humans are tribal in nature.  We always want to look to the “other” as our enemies while sorting into smaller groups we can consider “us.”  We can see this in the initial reaction of the Jewish saints to Peter’s (and the Lord’s) actions in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles.  They were, at first, upset but they ultimately accepted the will of the Lord (how could they fight against it).

Contrast the actions of the believers in submitting to those less-strongly attached to the faith.  A little later in Acts, we see a congregation of Jews who stone and tried to kill the Apostles for the crime of converting more Gentiles than Jews.  Look at Romans 14, and the fact that it was necessary.  There are, of course, other examples.

It seems that this attempt at division is considered necessary for many of us.  But, as we draw closer to the Lord, we become willing to give up these divisions and look at people as “us” rather than “other.”  I would dare say that this may be a way for us to determine how close we are to the Lord – think of those who differ from us and ask ourselves whether they are “us” or “other.”  If they are “other,” we probably have some work to do on our own souls.

Ether 13

(June 26, 2013)
What must things have been like in this chaotic time?  How was it possible that there weren’t any people, save Ether, who were willing to follow the Lord?  This is a hard chapter to liken to ourselves because there are few ways that clearly allow us to do so.  It is fine to liken ourselves to Ether (if the Lord tells us to prophesy, we prophesy – and hide in the rock if that is what it takes), but we aren’t likely to be the last prophet on the face of the land (I hope I am not).

Likewise, we can determine what we would do if called to repentance like Coriantumr.  But what if we were just an average joe in the kingdom of Coriantumr or Shared?  What should we do, when the world around us seems to be openly and aggressively courting and encouraging evil?  How do we resist when we are called upon to combat evil and darkness in high places?

Ether 12

(June 25, 2013)
There is a comfort to be found in this chapter that I hadn’t thought of.  All around us we see a world that is corrupt and falling apart at the seams.  We see decisions being made that are contrary to the Lord’s will in public and in private morality.  And, to a certain extent, we feel responsible for the decay of the world around us.  But the Lord gives us comfort in this chapter by reminding us that (if we have charity and see our weakness) not matter what happens in the world we can individually have our garments made clean through His Atonement.

Acts 10

(June 25, 2013)
We love to judge our fellow men.  I am not certain what spiritual or physical reason there is for this trait, but it is nearly uniform.  But what the Lord tells Peter here applies equally to us – what the Lord has made clean should not be called unclean or common.  If our Lord has bought our neighbor at so high a price, how do we condemn them without likewise condemning Him for their purchase?  The answer, of course, is that we cannot.  And, since the Lord has paid the price for each of us it does us no good to consider in our minds whether this or that person has accepted the Atonement – the price has been paid and we denigrate the Purchaser when we denigrate the purchase.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Acts 9

(June 24, 2013)
Each time in the past that I have read this chapter I have focused on the experiences of Paul and his conversion.  But as I read it this time, I was fascinated by Ananias.  Clearly Ananias must have been a righteous man, as the Lord set him to be the one through which the Lord would miraculously restore Paul’s sight.  Ananias was one who was righteous enough to receive a visitation and an assignment from the Lord.

And yet, when that assignment came, Ananias was still concerned.  He expressed his concerns to the Lord and asked for reassurance from Him as to what he should do.  When he received that reassurance, he went and obeyed.

I think that there is a lesson here for us.  When we are called upon to work in the name of the Lord, there is no fault in us for questioning and expressing our concerns to the Lord in prayer or our leaders in the Church.  Sometimes I think we are hesitant to do so, but Ananias shows that it is no sin.  But, like Ananias, we must also be prepared to obey – even should the Lord’s answer to us be nothing more than that He knows our concern and still wants us to obey anyhow.

Ether 10-11

(June 24, 2013)
Two thoughts on this chapter.  First, this chapter puts to bed the argument that there cannot be a separation of public and private morality.  Morianton had a leader of no less distinction than Moroni to say that he did right by his people even while he cut himself off from the presence of the Lord through his whoredoms.  My natural inclination is to say that we should not vote for someone who doesn’t keep their marriage covenants, because if they don’t keep that covenant how can we rely on them to keep their promises to us.  I still think that is good advice in general, but I suppose that I cannot say it with the same conviction that I once did (knowing that it is possible to be a lout and a good leader).

The second thought was on the brother of Shiblom killing the prophets.  What is it about unrighteous people that they think to gain from killing the prophets?  Whether it is the stoning of Stephen, the scourging of Abinidi, or even the crucifixion of Christ, there seems to be the thought subconsciously among the wicked that if only we can silence the servants of God then judgment will not fall on us for our sins.  This persecution, by its very nature, is demonstration of their understanding that the Gospel is true – as clear as if they testified of it.  After all, rational people don’t stone to death the man standing on the street corner with the sandwich board saying that “The End is Near.”  Only the guilty, when confronted by the testimony of the righteous, engage in such behavior.

Of course, it is once again easy to see that behavior in others and more difficult to turn ourselves inward and see where we do the same.  After all, we are not the righteous.  We are the wicked.  How do we seek to silence the Lord’s servants as they teach us uncomfortable truths?  Do we ignore the Lord’s messages through convincing ourselves that they are speaking outside their stewardships (‘how dare the Church take a position on such-and-such political issue!’), or do we (as I think more common) politely read the scriptures or listen to the counsel of the Lord’s servants before turning our backs and ignoring those things the Lord has directed His servants to write and say rather than applying the teachings to our lives?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Acts 8

(June 23 2013)
Simon is an interesting case.  On the one hand, pride is clearly an issue for him.  He holds himself out as a man of distinction and importance, and performed a number of sorceries and so forth.  I envision him as something similar to a traveling huckster or charlatan who, to his credit, recognizes the genuine article when he comes face to face with it.  But he still has trouble realizing that the Lord’s work isn’t about him – he can participate in it but he does not direct it (and it doesn’t revolve around him).

Again, though, to his credit he humbles himself and requests the prayers of the Apostles to seek a change in his heart when he is chastened.  I don’t know whether he was ultimately made into a useful tool by the Lord, but I somewhat hope that he was.  His weaknesses were instructive, but his struggles to overcome them are instructive as well.

Ether 9

(June 23 2013)
There is something of poetic justice in this chapter.  Moroni clearly indicates the main reason why the people fall astray throughout this chapter is because of their desire to get gain.  And yet, as is clearly visible, when the people follow the Lord their wealth increased and when people rejected the Lord in pursuit of wealth that same wealth evaporated.

As a father, I can see somewhat the lesson that is being taught here.  I made brownies recently and I wanted the kids to enjoy those brownies.  I knew that they would give the kids happiness, and so I wanted to share with them.  But one of the children got on a chair and climbed up to the brownie dish and stuck their fingers in the icing to get an early taste.  Because of that, they didn’t get any brownies as punishment.  Their desire to get what their father wanted to give them, but to get it themselves rather than have it given to them, resulted in losing out on what I wanted to share with them.

Can we not see that it is just the same with us?  Our Father wants very much to give us the things that will make us happy.  But if we pursue those things outside of the ways in which He stands ready to give them to us, we will lose out on the very blessings we seek.  If, instead, we patiently wait on the Lord we will find that He will give us more than we could ever dream – some in mortality and the remainder in the life hereafter.

Returning to an Unfinished Task

I received the counsel from Elder Anderson, but after a flurry of activity I found myself distracted.  I wasn't distracted from scripture study, but I was from posting online.  Part of it, of course, is that I am speaking to (literally) no one, but that really is no excuse from doing what I have been asked to do.  Part of it is also that once I fell a couple of days behind I didn't want to restart.

But neither of those is any excuse.  Going forward, I am going to start following the instructions that I have received.  Additionally, I am going to try to go back and include everything that I failed to include in the past.  Hopefully it will, at some point and in some way, be useful to someone.

Acts 7

(June 22 2013)
The extent to which we will go to cover our own sins is remarkable.  Here Stephen correctly pointed out that throughout history the Jews had persecuted those sent to teach them, while reverencing those from the past.  Such a point should have caused those of the Jews to exercise some caution, but instead they were angry and stoned another righteous messenger so as to keep him from pointing out how they had killed the prophets in the past.

I think, as I ponder it, that a good portion of this comes down to an understanding of the Atonement.  If there is no Atonement, then any imperfection shown is the destruction of the individual.  So those who do not understand the Atonement cannot abide any substantial deficiencies in their character being pointed out because that is the equivalent of damnation.  Those who understand the Atonement seek out such deficiencies because they know that, with and through the Grace of Christ, those deficiencies can be healed and cured.

Ether 7-8

(June 22 2013)
There are those who believe that men are generally good, and I consider myself one of those.  But, when we compare that general belief to the actions of men even I am forced to admit that evil would seem to be a better descriptor than good.  Add to that the fact that these chapters pretty well describe evil in all its (limited) glory, and it would appear that there are those who are evil for evil’s sake.

Why do people seek to destroy that which is good and decent in this world?  We see it around us politically, and we are told that we are being foolish – no one wants to destroy America despite taking actions that would seem to be destroying America.  We dare not call the unpatriotic unpatriotic.  But there are those in our government to despise us, despise freedom, and would see this country destroyed so as to limit the good that it could do in the world.  They would enslave us if they could.  And this is talking about people in both parties.

How does this reconcile with the idea that people are generally good?  How do we deal with those who seem to be advancing evil for evil’s sake when it is possible that they are just wrong.  Or, when what we think is good is only our opinion of good governance and not a moral issue.  After all, I don’t think the Lord has an ideal marginal tax rate (maybe He does, but if He does I don’t know it).  How do we resist secret combinations when they are secret?