Saturday, August 31, 2013

1 John 3-5

(August 31, 2013)
The fundamental nature of religion as a mechanism for the cultivation of love is something that is easily missed.  We become so focused on commandments and rituals and ordinances and doctrine (all important), and that can be a fine thing.  But if any of those ever obscure the need for love of our fellow men, we have missed the mark.

Mosiah 12

(August 31, 2013)
There seems to be a trap that just about everyone falls into from time to time – it is the trap of self-righteousness.  It is a horrible knife-edge that you are compelled to walk.  On the one hand, you struggle to excise vices out of your life.  But then, the moment you manage to have success in the war against yourself you find yourself pulled into the trap of pride and self-righteousness.

Clearly the priests of Noah believed themselves to be righteous, but in a sense they were almost caricatures of self-righteousness.  They should clearly have known that they were not living the Law of Moses – I do not believe that they were deluded in their opinions of themselves, but were rather in open rebellion against God.  But what about us?  How do we improve our spirituality while avoiding the trap of pride?

I think the key is to recognize where the progress comes from.  If we feel we have eliminated our bad habits through effort we may believe we are righteous.  If we recognize the truth – that the Lord blessed our meager efforts and through His grace our vices were healed, there is no pride to be had.  We are left only with the glory of God and a reminder of how loving He treats us.

1 John 1-2

(August 30, 2013)
John’s writings have always caused me to struggle a bit to follow exactly what he is saying.  In these chapters, John highlights the importance of recognizing our guilt (if we say we have not sinned, we are lying).  In subsequent chapters he teaches that those who are converted and have the Spirit do not sin.  I reconcile these two conflicting statements by thinking that the purpose of John’s teaching is to show us how easily we lose the Spirit when we are not careful and how difficult it is to maintain the Spirit with me at all times.  But I am not certain that is what he is attempting to teach with this apparent contradiction.

Mosiah 11

(August 30, 2013)
The highlight of this chapter seemed to be laziness.  In fact, Mormon really goes out of his way here to point out how incredibly lazy these wicked men are.  This, one would imagine, was not told out of a narrative flair but rather because we have something to learn from this.  The most obvious answer, of course, is that these men weren’t just lazy because they were wicked – they were wicked because they were lazy.  And in my life I have somewhat seen the same thing – those times when I am not required to work hard are those times when I am at distance from the Lord.  On the other hand, when I am diligently working on something I find that my spiritual strength tends to increase (along with other strengths).

2 Peter 2-3

(August 29, 2013)
If there was a competition to determine the single greatest lie which we are tempted to believe, it is this – that sin is equivalent to liberty.  We have been given our moral agency, and we have been instructed to carefully and jealously defend it.  It is to be given to only One, and by so committing our agency to Him that freedom is magnified and enlarged.  If, on the other hand, we attempt to exploit our agency for our own carnal desire (the ‘freedom’ spoke of by the world), we will find ourselves enslaved rather than set free.

Mosiah 9-10

(August 29, 2013)
It is amazing what happens when a people are “wronged,” in their opinion, and they cannot bring themselves to offer forgiveness.  We see here the example of the Lamanites becoming a barbarous and wild people all because they couldn’t forgive the Nephites.  Because they thought they had been “wronged,” they excused themselves of any misdeeds which they committed and only looked outward rather than inward.

Of course, it is easy to find modern examples to demonstrate this model.  Show me an aggrieved group and I will show you a group that (by and large) is composed of members who failed to adequately engage in introspection and, by the same token, fail to achieve success commensurate with their capacities.  Show me a group that has a reason to be aggrieved but chooses not to, and I will show you a group that disproportionally succeeds.

Of course, we don’t achieve salvation as a group, but as individuals.  And the lesson here applies in our everyday life in two ways.  First, the problem is not out there.  It is never out there.  Our problems aren’t in Washington or in Hollywood or in our spouse or children or employer or employee or anything of the sort.  Our problems are internal.  Secondly, and this is extremely important, our problems cannot be solved by anyone other than ourselves.  No new program will fixe our problems.  No white knight will come along and rescue us (excepting, of course, the Lord – but this requires us to accept Him).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1 Peter 4-5; 2 Peter 1

(August 28, 2013)
It is so clear that the struggle of mortality is a struggle to establish our faith.  If we had perfect faith, would we not be obedient to all (or, at the very least, more) of the commandments of the Lord?  After all, our faith would inform us that He loves us.  It would inform us that He gives us commandments out of that love for us.  And it would inform us that following His commandments was the best (and only) way to happiness.  So, assuming our faith, why would we ever sin?

Ironically, this view (while logical to me) is backwards in a sense.  It isn't that a faithful understanding of the world causes us to be obedient, but rather that our obedience grows our faith.  When we follow the commandments (even those we really, really don't want to follow) we are rewarded with an increase in happiness.  Happiness that we never expected to receive, and happiness that makes no logical sense to temporal minds.  But our spirits understand that we have received this happiness through obedience to the truth, and it is this reward of happiness (even in outwardly trying circumstances) that brings us the increase in faith that we need in order to progress in this life.

Mosiah 8

(August 28, 2013)
We have a modern understand of knowledge.  We think that knowledge, of whatever type and however achieved, is a positive thing.  After all, assuming that the knowledge is truthful why wouldn't it be advantageous to have.  We see the detrimental effects of that all around us.  Our entertainment is coarsened because it is "true to life."  We fail to protect our children, because "this stuff is out there and they will be exposed to it anyway."  So we have foul movies and give condoms to second graders, and we wonder why our society is coming apart at the seams.

The lesson of the seer stones, to me, is that there are some things we just don't need to know (or don't need to know right now).  If we had the capacity to know all things, wouldn't we use that knowledge in ways that are contrary to the Lord's will?  Eventually, however, we will be sanctified ad have no more desire to do evil -- when that day comes, we can be trusted with such knowledge.  Until that time, however, we should be satisfied in knowing what the Lord would have us know.

By that same token, this also applies to issues of Church doctrine or history.  If we don't understand something it is find to study it out, but we should always ask the Lord first before studying if it is something that we should understand.  If the answer is to wait until we are better ready to know something, we must be spiritually mature enough to be patient and wait on the Lord to give us the knowledge and light that we need to understand whatever is causing our confusion.

1 Peter 2-3

(August 27, 2013)
As I read these chapters, my mind was dwelling on the underlying message (as I felt it, today).  When we pursue things that are not in accordance with God's will, what we are in effect saying is that we do not believe that God is powerful enough to meet our needs when we are obedient -- we must meet them ourselves.  When we demand...anything...from our neighbors, what we are saying is that we don't think God is powerful enough to meet our needs, and as such we need our needs met by other people.

How wonderful would it be to emotionally and spiritually bring our lives in congruence with the intellectual knowledge that we have that God is that powerful and is capable of meeting all of our needs.  If we could only become so converted that we looked to our Father for these things and relied on Him (and trusted Him), we would have the patience we need and would free ourselves to care for those suffering around us.

Mosiah 7

(August 27, 2013)
I had two thoughts on this chapter.  The first thought is the wonderful use of language about struggling.  Many struggles have been made, but there remains an effectual struggle to be made.  How many areas of our lives is that same statement true about.  We have struggled in vain to break a bad habit -- but there remains an effectual struggle to be made.  We have struggled in vain to heal a relationship -- but there remains an effectual struggle to be made.  We have struggled in vain to humble ourselves before God -- but there remains an effectual struggle to be made.  This language hopefully will give us strength to continue the struggles we should be making in our lives.

The other thought was again on how much we lose by not being familiar in our present society with kings.  I could not imagine sitting there and waiting for the king to decide whether I got to put forth the evidence which I clearly believed would exonerate me.  Nor could I imagine being grateful to the king just for the privilege of putting on a defense.  But that is what happened here.  That is the respect and power of a king, and that is a fraction of a fraction of the respect and honor due to our King.  By forgetting how to deal with kings, we lose a bit of our understanding of how to deal with our King.

James 4-5; 1 Peter 1

(August 26, 2013)
We are living through the end of a unique time in the world’s history.  For one of the only times in the world’s history, the Lord’s work has been openly embraced.  Through that period of time, we experienced unimaginable blessings.  When I was younger, we had a black and white television.  Now I carry a smart phone that has a higher resolution than any television that existed before around 2000 A.D.  Computers were invented just a little while before I was born.  Now that same telephone I have in my pocket has more computing power than the computers that put a man on the moon.  It is absurd, when you think about it, how quickly and how positively the world is changing.

It is no coincidence, in my mind, that these leaps forward occurred during a time and in a place where Christianity was embraced.  Even Asia, with its rocky relationship with Christianity, is far more tolerant than they have been in the past.  We lived in a time when friendship with the God did not seem to insist upon enmity with the world (and vice versa).  But the feeling lingers that this was just a brief respite from history, and current pressures are going to reestablish the old hostility.  Whether it be the abortion mandates, the murder of the Coptic Christians in Egypt, or any number of other examples, the writing seems to be on the wall that Christianity will no longer be as accepted in the world as it once was.  And, while I have enjoyed the comforts of living through this time, I have to wonder whether that loss of acceptance within the world might not be a good thing.

I believe that the close relationship the world has with Christianity has probably done a far amount to damage the members of the Church.  We find ourselves more and more enjoying the lifestyle that comes with mainstream acceptance.  We find it easier to “go along to get along” rather than standing as witnesses in all times and in all places.  I well understand Brigham Young’s concerns about the members of the Church falling to affluence in a manner they would never fall to persecutions.  So if Christianity is to be displaced from its position of respect in the country and in the world, so be it.  I don’t rejoice in that fact (because of the good that Christianity can do in that position), but I accept that it is more of a return to the status quo.  I remember that friendship with the world is enmity with God and I make my choice to side with Him.

* * * * *

A great amount of these chapters was dedicated to the importance of not judging others. This is such a simple command, yet so hard to fully put into practice.  As a practical matter, I wonder how I should best do this.  For example, if someone does something destructive to me (and it happens from time to time), how do I interact with them in the future?  Do I ignore the injury that took place, do I recognize it as a potential risk, or do I shun the person who injured me?  And isn’t it possible that I could still be judging them regardless of whichever action that I took in response?  This judging is a pernicious evil.  I thought I didn’t have this problem, but as I consider it I begin to realize that it is something that has managed to burrow deeply into my soul without me noticing – and will be difficult to extricate.

* * * * *

One final thought – I appreciate the idea that our plans and our goals must have the caveat that they are only to be achieved “Lord willing.”  I sometimes forget that, when I dedicate myself to achieving certain goals.  I lay my ears back and focus in a single-minded fashion on the end result and drive myself there through any obstacles along the way.  That is a method that I have found that works for me, but there is no room in that method for “Lord willing.”  I am not certain how to integrate it, but I am convinced now that I must integrate it – because regardless of how good I think my plans are the best idea is a failure if it is not in the Lord’s will.

Mosiah 5-6

(August 26, 2013)
I must admit to a certain...envy might not be the right word, but I’ll use it...for the people of King Benjamin.  After all, each and every one of them that was there for that speech was converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They had within themselves a mighty change of heart and had no more desire to commit sin.  It all seemed to come so easily to them – show up, listen, be healed, achieve Exaltation.

Of course, I understand that it wasn’t so simple.  But still, to see the change of heart that I am desperately struggling to see in myself come in an instant to them is a bit discouraging.  I push and drive forward two steps only to find myself sliding back one (sometimes two) steps.  It is a never-ending process, but I continue to go through it.  It would be nice, however, to achieve those same ends without all of the work along the way.  I understand why that won’t happen, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting the quick and easy spiritual fix.

That being said, I have available through the scriptures the same speech that they heard.  If I read it and am not immediately changed in my heart the way that they were, does that say something about their writing style (something Nephi brought up before)?  Or, more likely, does it say something about me?  Were the people of King Benjamin ready for their conversion at that time in a way that I am still unprepared for mine?  Is the work that I need to go through just a step in getting myself prepared so that, one day, I can read King Benjamin’s speech and find myself converted the way that they were?

James 2-3

(August 25, 2013)
The language at the end of this really carries weight with me.  So many times, I feel as though I am being pulled in multiple directions at the same time.  I fell a pull with my family, and with my career, and with my desires for possessions or for activities or any number of other things.  But, when I slow down and focus on the Lord, I find that peace – the very feeling of peace and belonging that I am so desperately searching for in the other areas of my life.

Mosiah 4

(August 25, 2013)
Sometimes I think we have a view on the commandments that strays far too close to "eat, drink, and be merry."  We think that, since the Atonement is infinite and the Father loves us, we will (eventually) be taken up to Him where He is and share in His eternal destiny for us.  King Benjamin shows us his disagreement with that approach in this chapter.  What will not achieve Exaltation by accident.  If we are to achieve the eternal destiny provided by a Son who submitted in all things, we must through continual effort become sons who will submit in all things.  I certainly don't feel that I am there yet, and I have a long way to go before I reach that state.  Hopefully, the Lord willing, I will be able to reach that point where I can truly bend my knee to Father in all ways and in all things.  Then, and only then, will I be worthy of the reward that He has to give to His children.

Hebrews 13; James 1

(August 24, 2013)
It is easy enough to believe ourselves to be righteous, and it is likewise easy enough to believe ourselves wicked (I go back and forth on this subject personally on a regular basis).  But in both cases, we are looking at our lives subjectively.  We see what is in our hearts (a privilege that we don't extend to others when we judge them unrighteously, I might add).

But really our introspection is valuable only insofar as it improves our behavior.  Otherwise, it is only so much navel-gazing, and provides no benefit to ourselves nor to our fellow men.  What I am writing here may never be read, but so long as I grow through the process of writing such that I am able to better serve those around me it will be time well spent.  If another person someday reads this and is likewise blessed to be a benefit to others, so much the better.

Mosiah 3

(August 24, 2013)
What is the distinction between the natural man (which is an enemy to God) and the natural physical body (which is a necessary part of our eternal progression)?  I think that I have a vague understanding of the answer to this question, but I don't think that I fully grasp it.  Our natural passions, on the one hand, are the "lusts" that lead us to anger, jealous, selfishness, and...well..lust.  But these same human drives and emotions are those things that allow us to achieve so much of our human potential.

There is nothing wrong with, for example, having a passion for food.  You can become a chef and eat great food and share that food with the world around you.  This appetite – an appetite of our natural body – is a positive thing for us and the world.  The same thing with sexual desire – it can serve to draw you into marriage and draw you closer in marriage.  So the problem is not the natural appetites.  Somehow, though, I think we hear natural man and we read that to mean the appetites of our physical body.  But that isn't the same thing.

As I think more and more about it, the natural man is less about appetites and more about pride.  The natural man has the same sexual desire as the saint.  But because the saint has put off the natural man, he will be patient and willing to submit to the Father by waiting until marriage.  The natural man will not  wait and will not submit.  The same desires, but different results.  This, as I think through this matter in my own mind, is the essence of the natural man – not natural desires, but unnatural pride.

Hebrews 12

(August 23, 2013)
I feel like a failure reading this chapter.  It is like a light switch flipped, as I thought about Paul's words concerning the hands which hang down and the feeble knees.  Is it not possible (even likely) that they are struggling through the weight of trials in order for the Lord through His chastening of them to perfect them in Him?  And, by a kind word or deed, could I not help them to bear those burdens and continue onward until the lesson is learned?  Why don't I?  Is it because I think they deserve it, or that I think it is none of my business?

I am ashamed, and I don't even have any particular experiences in mind as I think of it.  I just know that I have not been the person I should have been in helping out those around me.  Can I not now, learning from this, be better at being a source of strength to those around me?  I feel like I am explaining this poorly, but that is because it is as much an emotion and a sense as it is a rational thought.

Mosiah 2

(August 23, 2013)
There are valuable aspects of King Benjamin's speech, but perhaps nothing is more valuable than his eloquent reminder of our place in relation to the Lord.  Like many other father and child relationships, the child could not exist without the father.  The child could not persist without the father providing for him or her.  And, thus, the child has no right to demand anything of the father.

We may make some exceptions in rare cases here on Earth for particularly (spectacularly) bad fathers, but for the most part we recognize that as true.  The child has some claim on the father, but not because of anything inherent to the child but rather a collective societal judgment that the father should take care of the child so the burden does not fall on society.

Of course, that is not what we are dealing with here.  Our Father is a perfect Father.  He cares for us completed and loved us perfectly.  Those things that He asks us to do (our chores, if you will – otherwise known as our stewardships) serve only to bless our lives and the lives of those around us.  Why should we then assume to hold any claim on Him for...anything?  He does not owe anything to us, and yet – because He is perfect – He is the only one that we can count on to provide for us.  It is remarkable when you think about it, and King Benjamin's talk helps remind us of this incredible relationship between perfect Father and imperfect Child.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hebrews 6-7

(August 20, 2013)
I think, for the first time, I really understand the idea of the Lord blessing us for His name’s sake.  After all, if we diligently serve the Lord to the best of our abilities, we have earned no reward (whether great or small) – because He has still done everything and we are nothing without Him.  What’s more, we have still not done what we were called to do, for we have not perfectly placed our shoulder to the wheel and pushed His work forward.  So why should we think ourselves to be blessed for our efforts?

Instead, though, we can see that the Lord would bless our efforts for His name.  What would it say to the world, if a wicked man (any wicked man) were to prosper and achieve happiness while a man struggling to be righteous (any such man) was not blessed with such prosperity and righteousness?  Could not a person look at that situation and say that the one man found happiness in wickedness and the man who attempted to serve the Lord did not?  Could not a person look at that situation and question why serve the Lord, because He does not care for His servants (or doesn’t have the capacity to properly care for them)?

Thus, though we have not earned the blessings we receive, we can look with an eye of faith to the Lord to bless us for His name.  For while we have earned nothing, our efforts to be His servants will be blessed by His hands over and above any of the joys (temporary though they may be) of the wicked.

Omni 1

(August 20, 2013)
It is, to me, somewhat amazing that the Zarahemla would so easily give up his kingdom to a group of people who came into his lands.  I can only imagine the reasons for such an action, because it seems counterintuitive.  The reason that I see, however, for this action would be that these people were so grateful for the improvements in language (or the limited technology that Mosiah brought with him) that they were only to happy to hand over their kingdom in return for being able to share in that intellectual, spiritual, and temporal prosperity.

Hebrews 2-5

(August 19, 2013)
As I talk with others in this world, I begin to understand just how difficult it is to ever truly understand anyone other than myself.  I lack common experiences and beliefs that change my perceptions of the world around me.  I think things that seem ridiculous to those around me, and their beliefs are often equally ridiculous to me.  It isn’t that I am any better or worse than those I speak with, but rather that we have such differences in our lives and personalities and experiences that we have trouble seeing eye-to-eye – even with those closest to me.

This, of course, makes it all the more remarkable that Christ can perfectly understand us.  He has committed no sin, and yet He understands our sins and our need for repentance.  He has had no failure, and yet He can help to pick us up from our failures and urge us on to future success.  He is perfect and yet He understands us in our imperfections.  Truly this is a remarkable thing.

Jarom 1

(August 19, 2013)
The thought that I always have when I read this chapter is on the importance of preparing for our challenges in life.  How many times do when have setbacks when the sole reason for those setbacks is that we weren’t diligent in applying the teachings of the Lord (particularly His command to prepare every needful thing)?  And then we bring our complaints to the Lord and our prayers for protection from the consequences of our own poor decisions.  And, like the loving Father He is, He usually helps us.  But can we not expect better of ourselves than to place this responsibility on God (even though His love is sufficient to carry us through, it doesn’t excuse us from failing to use our own feet).

Enos 1

(August 18, 2013)
Usually my thoughts, as I read this chapter, are on the fact that Enos was prompted by the words of his father – which means that his father’s words, though Jacob may have thought them ignored, eventually worked their way up to Enos in his time of need.  I think to myself of the importance of giving those words to our children so that they will be there when our children need them.

But today, as I read, I pondered the prayer of Enos.  How, after he had received a remission of his sins, he didn’t stop there.  Sometimes (oftentimes, really) I pray for a remission of my sins and when I feel the application of the Atonement of Christ I am thrilled – but I almost don’t pause after my prayer for anything other than gratitude before I finish.  Here Enos sets a better example for me.  When his sins are forgiven, he immediately sets his sights on those around him (those he loves and his enemies) and seeks out their salvation as well.  I need to better emulate that in my life.

Hebrews 8-9

(August 21, 2013)
The lesson that dominated my thinking as I read these chapters was the lesson on how we should teach the Gospel.  Paul, here, knew his audience well.  Instead of preaching what he wanted to preach, he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the way that his audience needed to hear it.  He preached to that audience in particular – crafting his points and his emphasis in the manner best able to meet the needs of the listener rather than preaching what he would preach and demanding the listener adapt to him.  We should likewise remember that when we preach the Gospel we don’t preach so that we can preach, we preach so that others can hear, have their hearts softened, and be converted.  It serves no purpose to preach the greatest sermon in the world if we could have instead preached a sermon that would have touched our audience’s heart and healed them but we did not.

Words of Mormon 1

(August 21, 2013)
Sometimes it is important to recognize that if the Lord has taken steps to prepare for something, He could have just as easily taken steps to avoid something.  That He did not should tell us something.  For example, the Lord prepared in the event that the Book of Lehi would be lost by instructing Mormon to write the second set of plates.  But could He not have just as easily instructed Mormon to start the Book of Mormon with the line, “Don’t give this to anyone.  This means you, Martin.”  Of course, He could have done so (or something similar and yet reasonable).

But He did not, which I interpret that to mean that He had a purpose in the loss of the Book of Lehi.  Of course, that leads to the obvious question of what that purpose must have been.  It is easy to look at that question and come up with the answer that it was to teach Joseph Smith a lesson on tempting the Lord (and it would also be, at least partially, correct).  And that in itself is instructive – Mormon presumably spent hundreds of hours abridging the records in order to provide them to Joseph Smith who would then lose them all for the purpose of educating Joseph in how he should relate to the Lord.

Aside from the lessons we gain from that, there is the additional lessons that we should learn for our own personal lives.  Sometimes we have setbacks – even catastrophic ones – and we wonder why the Lord didn’t stop them.  It is true that He could have stopped them, but do we have the trust in Him to rely on His judgement that these catastrophes shouldn’t have been stopped so that we can learn from those experiences?

Hebrews 1

(August 18, 2013)
I was struck as I read this chapter today about the way our understanding of Heaven is influenced by our understanding of mortal governments.  During the days of Paul, the people fully understood the idea of a monarchy – and so the aspect of the Kingdom of God on Earth that people easily identified with was this theocratic monarchy.  Likewise, we in our modern society better understand democracy, and so we have an understanding of the democratic aspects of God’s methods.

All well and good so far, but the problem for us arises when we fail to properly realize the ways that the Kingdom of God differs from a political animal.  While there are democratic elements to the Kingdom of God, it is ultimately a theocratic monarchy – and, through our deficiencies in understanding the mechanisms of a monarchy we risk losing sight of the truths that come with that system of government.  We seek to “vote out” God, not realizing that the democratic elements of the Kingdom of God do not permit us to eliminate Him through a vote.  His laws are absolute, and though He gives us discretion from time to time we are still His subjects and His laws govern our behavior.

Hebrews 10-11

(August 22, 2013)
As I read through these two chapters, I was impressed by a pair of related thoughts.  The first of these focused on the ties between faith and patience – when we have a strong faith that we will be blessed, we have little trouble (or less trouble) waiting for the promised blessings.  Our lack of patience seems, then, an indication of a lack of faith.  We want to see things now because we, to a greater or lesser extent, don’t believe we will see them until we actually see them.

Secondly, the nature of faith seems to require not only a belief in God and His commandments, but a firm belief that we will be rewarded for keeping His commandments.  I guess I always understood that in some manner, but I understand it more clearly after this reading.  Paul demonstrates that we have the affirmative obligation to exercise our faith and believe that obedience brings happiness.  Not merely that we have a duty to be obedient (though we do) or that sin leads to unhappiness (which it does), but an actual and firm belief that we will be blessed for our obedience.  Anything less than this firm belief is a deficiency in our faith.

We are not a people who can sulk in unhappiness, because if we have faith we have an understanding and belief that happiness is relentlessly, unwaveringly going to come if we are obedient.  If we are disobedient, we have cause for concern.  But if we are obedient, our unhappiness shows we don’t truly believe that all good things will flow to them that love the Lord.  That is where we should start if we feel unhappy.

Mosiah 1

(August 22, 2013)
As I read through this chapter, particularly Benjamin’s teachings to his son as to the benefit of the scriptures, I began to think about the benefits that scriptures provided.  After all, was it not possible for the Lord to reveal all His truths to a new prophet among the Nephites or among the Lamanites?  Of course it was.  Then why were the scriptures so important?

As I thought on the subject, my mind was drawn to the concept of the building of society (particularly a righteous society).  Like most types of learning, learning how to live righteously is done line upon line, and is benefitted by the collective wisdom of those who have gone before.  In a sense, their experiences help to guide our experiences and we profit by reading them.  While the doctrine could have easily have been revealed to a new prophet among the Nephites, there would be lost the accompanying stories and examples of the prophets of God, and that loss would have been very harmful to their ability to embrace the truth.

In a sense, that is what we should be doing as well (and what I am trying, in a limited way, to do here).  We should be building up the Kingdom of God through our efforts to learn and study, to apply our learning towards developing righteous experiences, and to pass those experience on to the betterment of the world around us.  Though each of us may be weak, the Lord has the capacity to magnify our attempts in this respect to bless the lives of those we attempt to share with.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jacob 5

(August 16, 2013)
This chapter has so many things that it is almost impossible to pick out any one thing to focus on.  But, as I read through this time, my mind focused on the fact that tending olive trees is something that is very middle-eastern in nature.  It is something that would have been foreign both to Jacob and to Joseph Smith.  From that, I felt that I had recognized a pair of additional evidences as to the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon.  First, the obvious matter that Joseph Smith would not have understood keeping olive trees and tending them with such detail as is presented here.  But, just as importantly, it was not Jacob giving the allegory.  Jacob didn’t tend olive trees and wasn’t around them.  He never lived at Jerusalem.  Had Jacob been the one giving the allegory (as would be natural, considering where it was in the book), it would have been out of place and suspicious.  But instead, it is a retelling of an allegory that was given by another prophet at Jerusalem, but one with importance to the people in the New World.  It just fits so perfectly, and it is an example of the anecdotal evidences demonstrating that the Book of Mormon was translated rather than written by Joseph Smith.

Philemon 1

(August 17, 2013)
Paul, here, makes an interesting side point that I noted as I read.  He mentions on acknowledging of every good thing which is in [Philemon] in Christ Jesus.  Those last three words are placed in the scripture almost as if they are throwaway – a verbal tic, if you will – but they are anything but.  Instead, they demonstrate a valuable lesson.  On the one hand, it shows the importance of recognizing all of the blessings that we have (“every good thing”), and – just as important – recognizing their source.  Do we do that?  As I sit inside on a comfortable bed in my cool house do I recognize that this bed and the air conditioner keeping me cool are both blessings and that they come from the Lord?  I do now, having thought of the matter – but until I considered it the reality of it hadn’t crossed my mind.  The lesson, of course, is that I must consider it more often.

Jacob 6-7

(August 17, 2013)
There are a number of reasons to read the scriptures (gaining strength to avoid sin, conditioning ourselves to live righteously, learning how better to love and serve God), but it is always edifying when your scripture reading seems to serve as a direct line of revelation with the Lord.  This happened today, as I was reading through chapter 6.  I had been thinking over a proper course of action, and had taken the matter to the Lord.  The first verses of this chapter could have easily been spoken aloud as a direct answer to that prayer.  And, at the end – when Jacob counsels that we must obey today, if we will hear His voice – I realized that there was no time for delay in the actions that I contemplated.  I immediately set out to obey that guidance.  That is a wonderful and fulfilling experience that I would not have received had I not read the scriptures.

The other thought I had as I read was on how our faith gets shaken.  Sherem contended with (and, presumably, led away) many people who likely thought of themselves as firm in the faith.  Why was Sherem able to get them to abandon their faith?  Rather than look to them (and Jacob give some reasons they fell away), I think it is more productive to look at why Jacob resisted.  Jacob’s faith was not based upon reason.  While reason can support faith, a faith based upon reason is vulnerable to sophistry.  You risk being led astray not by superior reason but rather by better argumentation.  As a lawyer, I realize more than anyone that the right side does not always win in an argument – that is why people hire lawyers in the first place.

So while using reason to support our testimony is fine, if we ever find that reason is the substantial support of our testimony we had best be concerned.  Revelation, not reason, is the only sure foundation upon which to build our lives.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jacob 2

(August 14, 2013)
If there was one piece of advice that could solve many of the world’s problems, it is the advice given by Jacob to recognize that God sees all of us as equally precious in His sight (and that we should likewise strive to do the same).  So many of our problems can be derived from that one failing that we have as human beings – we want to be better than others, or worry that we are worse than others.  Throughout, though, there is a spirit of comparison and competition that has no place in the Kingdom of God.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with competition per say, but we do not compete over the fundamental value of a human being in the Divine sight of our Father.  When I see you, the thought that should undergird all of my interactions with you should be that you are a Child of God, and as such your value is greater than anything else on earth and equal to mine.  Not greater, not lesser – equal.

2 Timothy 2-4

(August 14, 2013)
Has there ever been a more apt description of our modern times than the one made by Paul here?  We love ourselves, we boast, we covet, we are proud, we blaspheme, we are disobedient to our parents, we are unthankful and unholy, we lack natural affection, we break truces, we falsely accuse, we lack self control, we are fierce and despise the good.  We betray everything that has value, and we are heady and highminded.  How many of us choose pleasure over God on a daily (hourly?, minute-by-minute?) basis?  Ever learning, we move further from the truth.

This is an astounding and frightening portrayal of our modern times.  It is astounding because I can envision no better description of our modern society than the one provided by this servant of God some 2,000 years before our modern society even existed.  Perhaps evil was always like this, and he could see it to a certain extent around him even then.  But I think it more likely that he had an understanding of our day that he would not otherwise have had because of the role he had to play in Christ’s work.

It is frightening because I read through the list of frailties and failings endemic to modern society and it is like a checklist – checking off those weaknesses that I have.  Almost right down the list, the things Paul condemns are elements of weakness in my life.  I felt a sense of worry or dread as I read this, realizing that I have the obligation to change my life (and quickly) to eliminate some of these traits from myself before they manage to destroy me.

Titus 1-3

(August 15, 2013)
I adore Paul’s writings about our need to deal with our fellow men.  We so often believe, when confronted with what we think to be their failings, that we are justified in our anger against them.  If only they hadn’t done this, we tell ourselves, we wouldn’t have a problem with them.  Because they have worked against me, however, justice demands that they pay a price for what they have done.

But there is the concept of justice again.  While justice will have its day, the demands of justice may still be met by mercy.  Even assuming the worst-case scenario – that the actions of our enemy were deliberately and maliciously designed to hurt us – we should remain fixed with a view of this enemy of love for them.  If we demand justice, should we not also pray that the demands of justice be met through mercy according to the Lord’s will?  After all, the demands of justice would condemn us, if we did not have the Atonement of Christ to rescue us from those things that we do deliberately wrong, and with malicious intent (including harboring resentment towards those who injure us!).  Can we not extend the same cloak of mercy over those who wrong us?

Jacob 3-4

(August 15, 2013)
As I struggle to deal with my personal weaknesses on an ongoing basis, I grow to love mercy more and more.  But, as a consequence, I have become less enamored with justice.  Justice frightens me as a concept – if justice is applied, I feel I will be lost.

This isn’t an appropriate way of looking at things, however.  We do not deny justice through our love of the mercy of Christ.  Instead, the demands of justice are met through the Atonement and mercy does not rob justice.  Instead, mercy satisfies justice through Christ’s Grace to us.

I bring this up because I found Jacob’s words jarring in the very beginning.  He stated that we should pray to the Lord for protection and that the justice of God would be applied to our enemies.  I felt confused to read that, thinking that we shouldn’t call for justice against anyone, because of the dangers justice posed to each of us.  But as I thought about it, I understood better that justice does apply and will apply to us, just as it will to those who hurt us.  Crying for justice can mean punishment, but it can also mean crying for the Atonement to be applied to our enemies such that Christ meets the demands of justice and they are brought to repentance.  Each of those are valid ways of looking at the justice due our enemies, and we do no wrong asking for justice in that way.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

1 Timothy 1

(August 11, 2013)
I am continually drawn to the fact that Paul, of all people, understood his relationship with the Lord.  Each of us are beggars before Christ – unworthy of His love and unable to satisfy the demands of justice.  Paul, because of his unique history in persecuting the Saints, just understood this reality at an emotional level whereas we often only understand it on an intellectual level.  But how much better would we serve if we caught the same vision of our inadequacy before the Lord that Paul had.

2 Nephi 30-31

(August 11, 2013)
How is it that we are so foolish as to think that salvation is an easy thing to receive?  It isn’t an accident that the Lord chose the word “endure” in the phrase “endure to the end.”  He did not say that we were to ‘skate by’ to the end, or ‘drift’ to the end, but to ‘endure’ to the end.  Enduring, in my mind, necessarily includes opposition (and strenuous opposition at that) in direct conflict to our course of behavior.  Endure also connotes suffering or discomfort of some kind.  Could it be that, by very definition, if we are not in the moment of experiencing some trial, suffering, discomfort, or other opposition to our chosen path to follow the Lord, that we are not at that moment “enduring to the end” because we are also not, at that moment, ‘enduring’ anything?

On the other hand, that might be the lawyer in me wresting the scriptures a bit too far.

1 Thessalonians 5; 2 Thessalonians 1-3

(August 10, 2013)
I thought about using Paul’s quote “[r]ejoice evermore” as my quote of the day, but decided against it because it seemed more appropriate as part of the larger context.  Rejoice evermore seems more like a commandment to me than a counsel or observation.  And, in light of the other commandments it is associated with in this chapter, I think it communicates a larger truth.

We, who have been converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, should be the happiest people on the face of the whole earth.  Not only should we be happy, but there is a problem with our faith if we are not happy.  That doesn’t mean that we won’t have reversals or trials, but we who understand the Gospel should be uniquely prepared and qualified to be patient in those trials and reverses and should wait upon the Lord with thanksgiving in our hearts for the fact that – no matter what our challenged might be – we have been blessed far more than we suffer because we have been entrusted with His word and work.

2 Nephi 29

(August 10, 2013)
What is our appropriate debt of obligation to the Jews?  Clearly, according to the words of the Lord in this chapter, we owe a debt to the Jews.  Is it enough to merely remember the trials and travails and labors of the Jews?  If that is the case, then that is something that is certainly possible to do.  But is there more thankfulness required?  It goes to show how many blessings that we receive, both from the Lord and from others, that we are not grateful for in the way that we should be.  I have never in my life, before this moment, even thought about the suffering of the Jews and their sacrifices to give me a record that served to both convince me of Christ and lead Joseph Smith to pray in the Sacred Grove.  That is a failing on my part – I should be grateful to them for that.

1 Timothy 5-6; 2 Timothy 1

(August 13, 2013)
Riches are an interesting thing.  On the one hand, Paul condemns those of us who look to riches as our god.  We sometimes suppose that our gain is godliness – looking down on those below us in wealth and looking up to those above us in wealth.  The love of money, says Paul, is the root of all evil.

So we should all be poor, right?  No, I don’t think so.  I don’t believe it is an accident that Paul in the same chapter talks about the riches we are given from God.  I think that is the great difference here.  If we believe that our riches are ours, we tend to be selfish, prideful, and consume these riches upon our lusts.  If we instead recognize the truth – our riches, whether greater or lesser, are gifts from God and not based upon any particular worthiness of our own – we become selfless, humble, and we use those riches both for righteous enjoyment on our part and the blessing of the lives of others.  Christ does not want us laboring in misery – the ox is not muzzled at the plow – but he does want to ensure that we work the plow rather than lazily sit and eat.  He also demands that we always remember that it is His field we labor in, His work we are doing, and His grain He shares with us.  If we do that, our riches can bring us happiness without bringing us destruction.

Jacob 1

(August 13, 2013)
Jacob’s concern for the sins of others is a very different viewpoint from the way we typically view the world today.  We are in a live-and-let-live society, whereby we don’t often concern ourselves with the sins of others.  We don’t care if someone destroys their lives and abdicated their eternal inheritance, so long as they are considerate enough to do so outside of our immediate view.

This should not and cannot be.  If I see a child playing in the busy street, I don’t pause to consider whether or not I should protect them – I just get them out of the street.  I don’t think about whether their parents might want them in the street, or that it isn’t my responsibility, or anything of the sort.  A parent would only be grateful to a person who exercised that initiative, and would only feel hatred for a person who witnessed a child in those circumstances but did nothing because “it’s not my kid.”

These brothers and sisters of ours might not be our kids, but to the extent they are within our sphere of influence they are our responsibility.  Abdicating that responsibility may not bring upon us the hatred of their Father, but is certain won’t bring gratitude.  Meanwhile, if we can in some way demonstrate our thankfulness for the blessing we have received by helping out His children, we certainly have a responsibility to be actively engaged in doing so to the best of our ability.

Monday, August 12, 2013

1 Timothy 2-4

(August 12, 2013)
There is a natural tendency, when we push ourselves towards Christ, to likewise become overly orthodox in our behaviors and opinions towards others.  My guess as to the reason for that would be that Satan, recognizing our desire to move towards God in our actions, attempts to push the pendulum too far and drive us towards judgmentalism as another way to snare our souls.  But whether it be temptation or a derived remnant of our animal natures, that judgmentalism exists.

Clearly the Lord does not share this trait.  As Paul says here, every creature is good and nothing is to be refused if we receive it with thanksgiving.  This applies, in my mind, not merely to food but also to entertainment.  Some enjoy walks, some enjoy sitting.  Some are dog people, and some are cat people.  Some read books, and some watch television.  How could we be so foolish as to judge others based on such limited evidences into their characters?

The escape from such things are three-fold.  First, for ourselves, we must be cognizant of the Spirit for direction in our lives.  If it tells us that this entertainment is not good, or that media should be avoided, or that food shouldn't be eaten, or anything of the sort – listen.  Obey.  Second, we must acknowledge that we are receiving that instruction solely for ourselves and for no other men.  Can I judge whether the book someone else is reading is permitted by the Lord for them?  There is hardly a book that doesn't contain something that would give cause to build a bonfire, but we don’t burn all of the books because we recognize that they can provide value that might exceed the elements that are not in harmony with the Lord’s word.  And that value judgment might change from person to person – I can recall being prompted to put down a political science book once because of the emotional response that it was generating.  It didn’t mean that the book was bad for everyone – just for me.  So the judgments we make for media apply only to ourselves.  The third, and final, step is to constantly remain grateful to the Lord for extending His Atonement so far as to cover us and recognizing that an Atonement infinite enough to cover the sins we see around us just might be infinite enough to cover our sins as well.  This understanding of our dependence on God for undeserved salvation will stop us from judging those around us because it will constantly remind us that justice is a frightening concept for us all.

With those three things before us, we can turn our lives over to God and pursue Him with zeal without becoming judgmental towards our brothers and sisters at the same time.

2 Nephi 32-33

(August 12, 2013)
As a lawyer, I am drawn to certain words in statutes that are given emphasis in our profession.  Absolute words like ‘all,’ or ‘none,’ or ‘always,’ or ‘never,’ or ‘shall,’ or ‘must’ carry a huge weight in the law.  I believe that they also carry a huge weight in our scriptures – those things that we ‘must always’ do carry a massive significance.

So I was impressed by Nephi’s statements about prayer.  Not only are those absolute words used, they are practically strung together in a large line.  We ‘must’ pray, we must pray ‘always,’ and we ‘must’ not do ‘any’ thing unto Lord without first praying.  I was already convinced that I do not pray nearly enough in my life, but this simply reinforces it a hundred-fold.  I do not pray enough.  If I want to dedicate my life to the Lord, should I not pray before everything that I do?  I think the answer to that has to be yes.  The only things I am authorized not to pray to the Lord before doing are those things I am not performing for the Lord – and those things should be nonexistant.  Even our recreation should be performed unto the Lord (see, for example, the prayers before Church basketball games or youth swimming activities, or any other Church recreational activity).

I do not believe we are justified in taking any action save we have first prayed to the Lord about this activity for it to be consecrated unto Him so that He will consecrate it unto us.

Friday, August 9, 2013

1 Thessalonians 2-4

(August 9, 2013)
Reading through these chapters, I was struck by Paul’s comment about the Jews not proselyting – in fact, they almost forbid it.  That was interesting to me, because we understand that the Mosaic Law was a precursor law to prepare for the higher Gospel Law.  I could understand not being obligated to proselyte under the Mosaic Law, as that could have been a higher portion of the law introduced under the Gospel.  But why forbid it?  Paul seems to indicate that this prohibition on proselyting was concocted by the Jews themselves rather than introduced by Moses or God.  How sad, then, that for hundreds of years the Lord’s voice was not heard by generations of those who might otherwise have accepted it because of selfishness on the part of His chosen people.  This, if nothing else, should give us pause to consider why it is that we are not sharing the portion of the Gospel that we hold.

2 Nephi 28

(August 9, 2013)
If there is an overarching theme to this chapter, it seems to be that God still has power to do His work.  Nephi seems to be telling that to both the unbelievers, those mistaken in their beliefs, and the believers.  To the unbelievers and those mistaken in their beliefs, he tells them this as a warning.  But, of more interest, his warning to the believers is that God still has power today and so we must wait on Him rather than trust in flesh and the precepts of men.

This is a difficult concept to get right, even when I am trying to do so.  I firmly believe in the power of God to accomplish his work, but we are also told to me anxiously engaged in a good cause.  We are told to seek out of the best books wisdom and learning.  At what point does anxiously engaged become trust the arm of flesh?  At what point does seek out of the best books become harken to the precepts of men?

I try to draw that line based upon feel, but I don’t really have a good intellectual basis for drawing it at any one place.  My first thought, of course, is that you draw it on the basis of those things communicated by the Spirit.  But, as taught by President Packer, sometimes the Spirit allows us to work things out according to our own intellect and capacity.  Of course, if the Spirit teaches us otherwise, we follow that rather than what we read or think we should do.  I guess that might be the best way to draw that line – draw it as best as we can with the underlying understanding that the Lord is in charge and we are His, and if He tells us to move the line we do so.

Colossians 4; 1 Thessalonians 1

(August 8, 2013)
We often forget what it means to be one of those who has been blessed by the “election of God.”  No matter how dire our circumstances, would we honestly trade them for a more comfortable mortality without knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  I would hope not.  And, if not, then we are more greatly blessed than we really allow ourselves to recognize.  I, like just about everyone else, might wish to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all the comfortable trappings of mortality, but given an either/or choice, I would choose the Gospel.  With that fact in mind, how can we who have received this Gospel ever feel as though we are not blessed beyond measure.

2 Nephi 27

(August 8, 2013)
I have to wonder what the response of the general Church membership would be if President Monson came out tomorrow and brought forth the sealed portion to the world.  I think that, at first, most members of the Church would be excited for this new information.  But I think that it would prove to be a stumbling block for many of them, for as they read it they would find that many of their preconceived notions were unsupported or directly contradicted by the additional scripture.  It is the same mentality that causes many to turn away from the Book of Mormon now.

While discussing this hypothetical, a tangent might be interesting.  I had a relative who was a wonderful person.  But late in this person’s life, they developed mental problems associated with old age, and while in this condition this person returned to some habits brought about through the time before their conversion that were not in harmony with the Lord’s teachings.  This caused me a great deal of fear in myself – am I holding on to my faith through force of will and would I lose that faith if I lost my mental faculties?

From that time forward, I have tried to condition myself such that I would hold on to my faith and habits even if I lost my memory.  It is that preparation in advance that ties this back to the original point.  If we want to be a people who will accept the sealed portion of the plates when they are revealed, don’t we need to be preparing to be such a people today?  Don’t we prepare for that by bending our wills to the revelations we do receive every six months in General Conference?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Colossians 2-3

(August 7, 2013)
I had never thought of the reasons why circumcision was a requirement before now.  Not in general, but why the act of circumcision was established in the way that it was.  Certainly I was aware of why baptism was done the way it was done – the symbolism of burial and resurrection was blatant.  Same with the Sacrament – taking Christ within ourselves.  So many of the ordinances have spiritual lessons to be learned from their temporal mechanisms.

With that new thought in mind, I considered what I was to take from the ordinance of circumcision.  It could not be an accident that it was a sacrifice of a part of the genitals.  It was a literal removal of a part of our bodies that best represents our animalistic natures.  By removing a portion, we are showing that we are prepared to sacrifice that nature to God.  By not requiring more to be removed, the Lord is showing that He will allow us to experience the pleasures of the flesh so long as we accept them with thanksgiving and only within the boundaries which He has established.

2 Nephi 26

(August 7, 2013)
One thing I can remember my teachers struggling with growing up was the question from some of my peers as to why they shouldn’t sin now and repent later.  It wasn’t phrased in quite that manner, of course, but that we the general gist of the conversation.  I never had a question about this, though, as I always understood (at least intellectually) that sin brought unhappiness.  I haven’t lived my life as though I understood this fact, but I haven’t really questioned it.

But with this reading of this chapter, I realized another important reason for not procrastinating our repentance.  We are given the capacity to repent solely because of the Spirit’s efforts – that gentle pull towards something better that strives within us against our animalistic nature.  We cannot put off our repentance safely because we are not in control of our capacity to repent.  We cannot inflict pain upon the Savior now and say with the utmost certainty that He will grant to us the strength to repent at a later point.  He loves us and that includes loving us when we sin.  But if we turn our backs on Him, how can we do so with a continued demand for Him to be ready to grant us His strength (an increased portion of His strength, of course – thanks to our eroded spiritual strength from our sins) whenever and however we want?  We have no right to demand such a thing from Him, and we cannot repent without this gift...period.

Instead, we must fight now and fight hard while we have the gift of the Spirit pulling us towards righteousness.  We must be ever thankful to our Father for this precious gift and not squander it through our appetites.

Colossians 1

(August 6, 2013)
I see Christ as the centerpiece of our mortal and eternal existence and the source and hope of all things.  I might lose sight of it from time to time, but He is capable of accomplishing everything and literally anything that I receive in mortality or immortality that brings me any joy or happiness is solely a gift from Him.  And yet, even knowing that, I still don’t think that I properly understand just how important Christ is.  There is a depth there that you feel more than understand, beneath the surface of Paul’s words, that informs you that no matter how much importance you place upon Christ and His mission it is still more important than you realize.

2 Nephi 26

(August 6, 2013)
I debated actually going back and writing the bulk of this entry in a previous record.  After all, the thing that I learned that was most profound to me wasn’t even based upon something that I read today – it was based upon me recalling something I read a short while ago and only now recognizing the significance of that.  But it seemed more appropriate to include this here rather than going back and trying to find the previous entry.

The first, and less-important, thought that I had was on the significance of Nephi pointing out that the Jews would be scattered – not by Babylon, but some other nation.  Why would he have said that?  I think the answer is simple – Babylon was the pressing threat when he left Jerusalem.  This, to me, is a textual evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon – after all, the Babylons were a greater threat and dominated the attentions of Nephi than Joseph Smith.  Why would Joseph Smith have need to clarify that the Jews were scattered not by the Babylonians but by other nations?  The answer, of course, is that he wouldn’t have written the text the way that it appears.  This simple textual clue provides additional evidence (as if it were needed) that the Book of Mormon is a work of translation.

The more-important thought that I had was in reflection on Babylon.  In particular, I spent time reflecting on the fact that the Jews were told not to seek after a confederacy.  Mind you, the chapter was talking about Assyria, but the same principles apply.  Would a confederacy have saved them from Babylon?  Of course not.

I might be stretching things a little thin, here (although I don’t think I am), but I think there is something to be gained from looking at this point and replacing Assyria with Babylon when considering the confederacy.  Sometimes, we may have a genuine desire to stay out of the control of sin (Babylon).  We may look to mortal means (willpower, techniques, etc.) to help us to resist our sins and vices (these mortal means being a “confederacy”) rather than waiting on the Lord to heal us.

Certainly there is nothing wrong and everything right to putting forth our best efforts to conquer sin and flee from Babylon.  The Jews would not have been protected had they not been willing to take up their arms in defense.  But I think, taking the metaphor to its ultimate conclusion, that I think too often that I can conquer problems on my own.  If I cannot see a solution to permit this, I become despondent and give up hope.  Instead, I should not look to a confederacy of mortal means to bring about my salvation (temporal or spiritual) but rather should do my part and then wait upon the Lord to heal me and make me whole.

Phillipians 3-4

(August 5, 2013)
I had two thoughts as I read through these chapters today.  The first of these thoughts centered around Paul’s description of the results of his following the law before his conversion.  I thought it was a very appropriate way of pointing out that works cannot save us.  He followed the law precisely, but it was profiting him nothing.  He at no point indicated that a believer could or should thereafter turn to iniquity and wickedness, but rather that works without faith accomplished nothing.

Secondly, I was amazed at the way scriptures can provide an answer to a prayer.  Last night I sat wondering about a particular issue and, as I thought of what I needed to know, I spent some time praying for the Spirit to bless me to know how best to approach the problem in light of my responsibilities.  Here, not one day later, there was language in this chapter that directly answered my question.  More important than the issue or the answer, however, was the fact that the Lord was kind enough to answer a question from me in such a way.  It is something that really fills me with gratitude.

2 Nephi 23-24

(August 5, 2013)
These prophecies are some of the most direct of all Isaiah’s works, in my opinion.  His language describing the gathering and the strangers who are joined into the House of Israel are quite clear to me.  Additionally, there is some great language as to the differences between the righteous and the wicked.  Perhaps I picked up on it because I am currently reading the New Testament as well, but Isaiah indicates that the righteous are those who rejoice in God’s highness and the wicked do not.  That is consistent with what we know of pride as the universal sin.  It is also appropriate in a discussion of the fall of Lucifer, who (despite his considerable abilities) lost everything because of his unwillingness to rejoice in God’s highness.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Phillipians 1-2

(August 4, 2013)
Perhaps there is nothing of particular significance to this, but I love Paul’s language when he declares that we should be one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.  How many problems that we have in our lives would be gone instantly if we obeyed this one simple principle?  And yet, we don’t.  Why don’t we?  I believe it is because we are unwilling to bend our minds together out of fear that those we love or those around us won’t do likewise – that we will somehow be ashamed or humiliated for seeking this oneness of mind and ended up with only one mind – our own – with none joining us.

But we are not to be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We must overcome our fears of this oneness of mind and purpose and willingly submit even if we do so alone.  Because first, we aren’t alone (one plus God equals a majority), and second if we stand where we should and are ready those the Lord has prepared will eventually join us.

2 Nephi 20-22

(August 4, 2013)
I read this chapter and the thing that stuck with me was the comment about stealing from widows.  I thought to myself that this thing has to be impossible.  After all, who would actually steal from a widow?  But as I thought about it, I realized just how frequently it is happening today.  Whether it be a scam, or identity theft, or actual theft stealing from widows continues to the present time.  That really bothers me – how could someone do such a thing?

Ephesians 5-6

(August 3, 2013)
Grace versus works is a touchy subject even among Church members.  I suppose that touchy might not be the precisely correct word, but there are sharp feelings on the subject and misunderstanding is easy.  Coming from a background in West Virginia, I am very familiar with the differences between the way our Church views faith versus works and the way other churches do.  But while there are differences, those differences aren’t as profound as either the members of our Church or the members of other churches sometimes believe.

Paul talks of wrath coming from disobedience, and I think that is the perfect way to describe it.  We say that we are saved by grace after all we can do to show that grace is the saving agent and not dead works.  But that seems to lead to confusion both within and without the Church (not that I am criticizing – there may be good reason for this approach).  From my limited perspective, however, I would phrase things a bit differently.  I would say that we are saved through grace if we do not first disqualify ourselves through our works.

I can see some problems with that, as it seems to minimize the importance of positive actions (mainly seeming to require avoidance of negative actions).  But it also highlights the fact that grace is the sole saving agent that we can rely on.  And it highlights the fact that we cannot have grace if we disqualify ourselves with works (or works left undone).  Certainly we all sin and fall short, but our works must be consistent with a believer and a willing recipient of grace.  On the one hand, we act the way we act even when we know what we know (a frustrating truth that plagues everyone who truly tries to bend their will to the Father).  But, on the other hand, grace does not apply counter to our desires – if we fight against grace in our actions, grace will not be applied counter to our will.

Perhaps, though, I am just fooling myself and the original language is the best – grace saves after all we can do.

* * * * *

My second thought has to do with forgiveness of others – a pressing matter in my personal life.  Paul, in describing the whole armor of God, points out that we wrestle not against flesh and blood.  I think that we forget that far too often.  When I am in conflict with those around me, I am not in conflict with them.  I am in conflict with the evil in my soul, the evil that is in their soul, or both.  They are not my enemy, but the enemy of all righteousness is my enemy.  Whether that infests them or me or both of us, it really doesn’t change the essential nature of the conflict.  It should be easier to forgive and love those who hate and use us if we remember that they are being hated and used by one far worse – and this is what is causing them to behave in the way they do.

2 Nephi 18-19

(August 3, 2013)
One of the weaknesses that I have is that I have too much rational fear.  There are some things that it just makes sense to be afraid of.  An example of this is the rational fear that the people of Jerusalem had of war at this time.  Any objective, rational look at the situation (if we presume that objectivity demands spiritual ignorance, which I don’t agree with but concede for the purpose of this analysis) would lead to you to believe that Jerusalem was in a dangerous position.  Alliances seem prudent and necessary.  Those who chose not to obey this rational fear would seem to be foolish.

Rational fear has its place.  I have a rational fear of driving down the highway at 130 m.p.h.  But where rational fear becomes a problem is at the moment it conflicts with the requirements of the Lord.  If the Lord has told us a thing, rational fear cannot contradict it.  If He says that He will protect us, then we have nothing to fear.  Our rational fears turn irrational when we hold them despite the assurances of protection from the Lord.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ephesians 1-4

(August 2, 2013)
The last of these chapters ends with a plea for us to adopt Christ-like behavior in our lives.  Paul’s description of this behavior is, at one time, both aspirational and practical.  But it is also clearly impossible to reach except when we have allowed our hearts to be filled with the love of Christ.  When our hearts are turned inward, anger is rampant.  When we are selfish, we steal and lie and bend our lives towards our lusts.  There is no good reason, looking at the world rationally, to live by a moral standard as an individual if we do not have the hope of the Lord and His love within us.

On the other hand, those filled with His love are almost naturally want to be kind to others, are filled with love for those around them, and become committed to mercy having had the mercy of the Lord applied in their lives.  The standard for behavior is an impossible standard unless we are converted to the Lord and filled with charity – at which point, the standard becomes natural and easy to meet so long as we remain converted.  I suppose we can easily test our conversion level by how we feel for those around us (a worrisome prospect, to be sure).

2 Nephi 15-17

(August 2, 2013)
Chapter 17 has possibly the most famous of Isaiah’s prophecies.  I have, in the past, been impressed by how clearly the language of the Lord’s sign stands out from the remainder of the text.  It practically leaps from the page and demands attention whenever I reach that point.  It is clear that this prophecy of Isaiah carries with it a magnificent and potent Spirit.

This time, however, when I read it I tried to look beyond the Spirit of the message to read the actual text (in order to prove a point to myself).  Reading the text without the benefit of the Spirit, it leads to a remarkably different interpretation.  It would appear to a listener or reader without the Spirit that Isaiah was prophesying that this Child would be born (or, at least, conceived) almost immediately and in only a few short years both Israel and Judah would be bereft of their kings.

Obviously this prophecy was not meant to be read that way, but I went through this exercise to remind myself how important the Spirit is when I am reading and interpreting the scriptures.  What I read (and, consequently, what I write) is only as valuable as I am in tune with the Spirit – no clever interpretations will draw me closer to the Lord.  I read and apply my God-given intelligence to the best of my abilities, but it is no substitute for Divine instruction.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Good to Have a Computer Again

It is good to once again have access to a computer to return to blogging.  My motherboard died, leaving me struggling on my work and journaling (and these posts are, essentially, cut from my journal and publicly posted).  Now, with a new replacement computer in tow I hope to be more consistent going forward.

In the meantime, I haven't decided what to do about previous entries.  I may upload them over time, or I may simply skip them.  I have entries for most of the days since I last posted (I read each day, but there were some days I wasn't able to write anything up for my reading).

Galatians 4-6

(August 1, 2013)
All too often, I find myself like a pendulum missing the mark on Paul’s teachings – going too far first one way, and then the other.  I either excuse my failures as unimportant because of my belief that I am trying to serve God or condemn myself on account of those same failures.  Instead I need to find the point where Paul teaches in these chapters.  We seek constantly to love those around us and act accordingly.  We don’t need to worry about engaging in particular actions or avoiding particular actions, but this privilege only applies when we are filled with the love of God and love for our neighbor.  When we have this love, even our mistakes which we make while under this motivation will be magnified for our gain and the gain of those around us.  When we are not filled with this love, our best efforts will fail to accomplish our goals and will rebound to our hurt.

2 Nephi 13-14

(August 1, 2013)
There are a couple of things that cause my (metaphorical) ears to perk up when I am reading the scriptures.  One of those things in the word “because,” as this means that whomever is speaking is defining a cause and effect relationship that offers insight into why the world works the way that it works.  In these chapters, just such a cause and effect relationship is demonstrated.  While describing the calamities that will afflict Israel, the cause is give that they arrive “because their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord.”

Now I think we can all easily understand why, when our doings are against the Lord, that we can expect the calamities to befall us.  But what about our tongues?  It isn’t an accident that Isaiah included this language in his writings.  I dare say that we can learn from this that we cannot hope to escape the punishments of Israel unless we bring both our tongues and our actions in line with the Lord.

My other thought was on the hope that we have as believers.  Many people in today’s world and today’s economy seem despondent about the way the world is going.  They see collapse all around them, and they wonder whether they will survive the catastrophe that is surely coming.  My take on this has always been that history says that we will be fine.  Look at the progress of the monasteries even during the Dark Ages – a deeply religious subsociety can find peace, security, and prosperity even when the remainder of humanity is degenerating.  But I don’t need to look to history, when I can instead point to scripture.  All of the calamities the Lord is speaking of through Isaiah are occurring, but at that time “the branch of the Lord [will] be glorious.”  We have the Lord’s promise that we can be prosperous (perhaps only spiritually, but more likely both temporally and spiritually) if we focus on Him and wait for His aid.