Thursday, September 26, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 21-23

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

Alma 16

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

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 20

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

Alma 15

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

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 19

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

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

Alma 14

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

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

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 16-18

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

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

Alma 13

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 14-15

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

Alma 12

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 12-13

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

Alma 11

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

Doctrine and Covenants 11

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

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

Alma 10

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 2-3

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

Alma 1

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

Doctrine and Covenants 4-5

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

Alma 2

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

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

Alma 3-4

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

Alma 5

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

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 6

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

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

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

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

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

Alma 6-7

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 7-9

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

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

Alma 8

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

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 10

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

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

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

Alma 9

(September 19, 2013)
I was struck, while reading, how the people of Ammonihah were accountable for things that they had never personally experienced.  What I mean by that is that they were to be punished for falling after having received visions and the ministering of angels, even though it is unlikely that these events happened to any of the people that Alma was preaching to.  I find that fascinating.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be fair to me.  After all, if they had not personally been saved from famine and diseases (for example) why should they be punished as if they had transgressed after these blessings had been given to them?  But one thing that is clear is that the Lord is perfectly fair – if what He is doing seems unfair to us, it is because we don’t properly understand what fair means.  It is these points of conflict between what we read in the scriptures and what we internally believe which show us what we have to learn.

I suppose that if the people of Ammonihah haven’t personally received these blessings, they at least received the benefits of these blessings.  After all, what is the benefit of a miracle?  Is it the miracle itself?  Or is it the increase in faith that accompanies the miraculous set of circumstances?  In an eternal sense, it is the latter.  They had the same history as the rest of the Nephites, which included these miracles, and yet they were the only ones so vigorously turning away from it.  The people in Zarahemla were unrighteous but could be reminded of their duty.  The people in Ammonihah were so proud that even Alma could not convert them.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 1

(September 12, 2013)
As I read through this section, I started to think within myself why the Lord took the angry tone that He has done from time to time in His history.  This made me wonder about how that is congruent with His nature as a loving God.  When I yell at my children, I always feel like I have been a failure in some respect.  I don’t think that God is a similar failure.

I have noticed that, when I have thoughts like that, my answer is going to come shortly thereafter.  Sure enough, there was the language – He chastens in order to press us to repent.

Mosiah 29

(September 12, 2013)
Two thoughts that I had from reading this chapter.  The first was, once again, my mind being drawn to absolute language.  Here Mosiah states that the arm of mercy is extended towards those  who trust Him – in all cases.  Not to those who are righteous, or diligent, or persuasive, or intelligent, or any of the other things we look to from time to time.  In order to get His arm of mercy extended towards us, all we need do is trust Him.  There is more required, ultimately, for our salvation but mercy is offered under this price only – that we seek it and believe He can give it to us.

The other thought that I had was on the subject of the majority of people choosing iniquity.  Every person and every party thinks that this is happening all the time – if others don’t agree with your version of good government, you secretly believe in your heart that they are choosing iniquity.  Sometimes, in fact, that are expressly choosing iniquity (see, for example, some votes on abortion).  But even when they are voting for something iniquitous, that does not mean that they are choosing iniquity.

When a people choose iniquity, they have abandoned all desire to select the better part.  What we typically have falls well short of that.  We may see a group of people voting in a corrupt politician and claim that they are choosing evil.  But they really are not.  After all, if that politician engaged in certain evil behavior, in most cases they would be thrown out of office.  They are still constrained by the love of virtue in the voting population (however weakened it may be).  I think it is very, very uncommon for a population to have become so corrupt that they actually choose iniquity.  It may happen, but far less than we might be inclined to try to convince ourselves.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Explanatory Introduction; Testimony of the Twelve

(September 11, 2013)
It is my understanding that no translation, however carefully made, can match the nuance of reading art in its original language.  Words have meter, meaning, connotation, and so forth.  I say this as someone with limited understanding of these nuances (neither knowing another language well enough to compare nor really having much of a grasp on poetry in my native English), but I have heard similar things enough that I am inclined to believe it.

This has meaning in reading the Doctrine and Covenants.  Of all of the books ever written, this is the one where we can hear the Lord’s voice through the words that He has chosen without the imposition of a translator.  As a lawyer, I can feel confident that I can pull and push on words to acquire additional meanings without worrying as much that I am reading too much into what I am doing.  This isn’t true with grammar and punctuation, from my understanding, but it is true with words.  And that makes this book a rare treasure in all of the scripture we have.

Mosiah 28

(September 11, 2013)
There are certain phrases that are used in the Book of Mormon that are almost a sermon in themselves.  On of these was the phrase “cure them of their hatred.”  When we are the victims of others’ bad behavior, our first thought isn’t very often that these people need to be “cured.”  But isn’t that really the truth?  When we return anger for anger, aren’t we merely allowing their illness to spread to us?  And don’t we both need the same cure?

When those around me are sick, I don’t get frustrated with them.  Instead, I recognize that they are falling prey to a constant part of the human condition, and I serve them in order to see them healed as soon as possible.  Why is it so difficult to do the same when I perceive them to be injuring me with their actions?  When someone demonstrates hatred (or any other negative behavior) towards me, why do I not look on their behavior with pity and understanding and seek their healing rather than my own vindication?

It is a hard standard to meet, but one that I think I need to better strive to accomplish.

Revelations 21-22

(September 10, 2013)
Lying seems to be a bigger deal than we consider it to be in mortality.  Were I to judge the sin of lying, I would say that it is somewhere down on the list – more serious than, say, coveting, but less serious than theft.  It is clearly a sin (most recognize it as such), but we view it as a minor sin at worst.

I wonder whether we are correct in that.  Twice I have been struck by that thought as I read through this book.  The first was when the elders surrounding the throne of Christ were described in terms that allowed for no dishonesty because of their position around the throne.  The second was in this chapter, when the list of those condemned to a second death included only one condition (liars) as requiring the quantitative adjective of “all.”  I believe that must mean something.

Mosiah 27

(September 10, 2013)
My thoughts with this chapter were all about accountability.  Consider the following: Alma proselyted for wickedness, lived wickedly, repented because an angel visited him (through the prayers of his father), and lived righteously thereafter.  Presumably (although I am in no position to judge), Alma received his Exaltation.  Contrast that with a man who lived righteously, proselyted for the faith of God, met Alma before he was converted, was led away by Alma’s preaching, and fell away permanently.  Presumably, this man lost his Exaltation.

It is easy enough to argue that this is not fair.  ‘But for Alma,’ we may say, ‘the man would never have fallen away.  Why should Alma receive a reward and the man receive a condemnation?’  Of course we know that God will not be unjust with us in our day of judgment, but we somehow lose track of the principle of accountability all too often.  The fact is that Alma, whatever his persuasive skills, could not lead this hypothetical man astray without that man’s willing consent.  Nor could he lead him back.  In mortality, when seeking judgment, we look to all of the contributing factors.  But in the eternities, there is only one factor that truly matters – “What think ye of Christ?”  We will not be able to pawn off our failures on our parents, teachers, friends, spouses, children, neighbors, or leaders.  They will be ours, and ours alone.

Revelations 19-20

(September 9, 2013)
Looking back through this book in light of our understanding of history makes me wonder how we should look at modern revelation.  On the one hand, many of the things revealed in this book have not happened yet (and a concurrent reader could be excused for wondering whether they were meant to come soon).  On the other hand, the principles that needed to be lived must be lived today.  So, in that sense, it is wholly unproductive to consider within ourselves when the events foretold will come.  Instead, we must keep ourselves ready for them whenever they come.

Mosiah 26

(September 9, 2013)
Two thoughts.  The first is that this chapter has my favorite scripture of all time – Mosiah 26:30.  I love the absolute language contained in that scripture, and knowing that I can always count on the Lord so long as I maintain my capacity to repent.  He loves each of us, and our separation from Him is solely our doing.  He waits patiently for us to return to Him, and welcomes us with open arms.

The second is with Alma’s concern about doing wrong.  So many times, we make decisions without even care or concern whether the outcome of that decision is in accord with the Lord’s will.  We fail to take His desires into account – if it is not forbidden through commandment, we feel we are doing no wrong.  Instead, however, we should maintain a similar disposition where we are likewise concerned about doing wrong and always seek His guidance.  Should He not give it to us, then we may act in our best judgment.  But we go amiss when we do not even look to Him.

Revelations 16-18

(September 8, 2013)
Isn’t it funny to see how the world laments while we rejoice (and vice versa)?  Should it worry me that it seems that (more and more) the people of the world and I tend to rejoice over the same things?  Is the world somehow more righteous than it once was, or am I more worldly than I thought I was?

Mosiah 24-25

(September 8, 2013)
Building on my thoughts yesterday on Amulon and Alma, how horrible must it be for Amulon (now that, presumably, he is aware of his mistakes in attempting to lead people astray).  Amulon taught the Lamanites how to write and how to build their society, but at the same time taught them how to hate.  And, in the hands of people who hate, additional knowledge becomes merely a tool to cause more damage to others.

In the eternities, who would you rather be, Alma or Amulon?  If your answer is Alma, then follow his example and repent today and let the consequences (whatever they might be) follow.

Revelations 14-15

(September 7, 2013)
My thought here are tangential, and related to the statement about the “patience” of the Saints.  As I thought about this, it dawned on me that the Lord truly needs nothing from us.  We have absolutely nothing to give Him and no way to hurt Him.  Should I praise Him today, He would be no greater.  Should I curse Him tomorrow, He would not be any less for it.

I draw an interesting conclusion through that.  Sometimes I feel like we stand on ceremony and reverence because we believe that we somehow disrespect the Lord when we fail to do so.  We look at signs of disrespect, as we see them, towards the Lord and feel the need to “defend Him” (as if we could, or as if He had the need for us to do so).

Our understanding of the Atonement, however, is enlarged when we understand that Christ has no need of us.  He lived a perfect life, and could have returned to the Father to live out an eternity in Exaltation alone, had He so chosen.  Instead, He suffered through the Atonement to bring us with Him.  He did it not for the formality or the hymns we would sing to Him, but rather because of His love for us.

The signs of respect we can show the Lord are good to perform – for us.  It is in the quiet and contemplative moments, or the moments when our hearts are filled with song as we praise Him through hymns, when we feel that moment of inspiration and the pull towards living more like Him.  But we should not stand on structure as if it was somehow necessary or demanded by the Lord for His benefit.  I find it unlikely that He would see our honest attempts as somehow diminished because of some loss of decorum (especially decorum we might not even understand).

Mosiah 22-23

(September 7, 2013)
I think our lives would be far better if we would only accept one simple premise – justice is not a mortal concept, Justice is an eternal concept.  What’s more, while Justice must claim her own, it is Mercy that should be our business.

Look no further than the interactions of Alma and Amulon.  By any objective view of justice, Alma and his people should have lived in peace and harmony and Amulon should have had a miserable mortality.  But this is not what happened.  Amulon was put in a position of power over Alma, and was able to torment him, while Alma was powerless to protect the people who looked to him for guidance.

In a mortal view, that is nothing but unfair.  But in an eternal view, it is obvious that Alma was the more fortunate one in this whole experience.  Although he suffered at Amulon’s hands, Amulon damaged himself far more than he damaged Alma.  In fact, all of Amulon’s efforts to hurt Alma and his people just drew them closer to the Lord.  They were blessed, despite Amulon’s efforts to curse them.  This is Justice – a quality infrequently found in mortality but certain in the eternities.

Revelations 12-13

(September 6, 2013)
When looking at the world around us and its descent into sin, it is sometimes difficult to not be despondent.  Inexorably, if feels as though righteousness is losing the battle against wickedness.  Whatever depravity we see on television, we can only expect to see something worse next year.  And the year after that.  In the disgusting race to the bottom, we are all losing.  And it feels as though evil’s triumph is only a matter of time.

This is one of Satan’s greatest lies, however.  Time is relentless – moving inexorably forward towards the day when we are placed beyond the reach of Satan and his temptations.  Satan’s window of opportunity is forever coming to a close, and the day will come when we will also look at him and wonder how he had power to shake the nations.  Satan understands this, and desperately seeks to make us of his time to destroy as many of us as he can.  All we must do is resist him for a little while, turn our attentions to Christ and His work, and time will relentlessly march in our favor towards the day when he is made powerless against us.

Each day we hold tightly to our testimony and work out our salvation with fear and trembling is another lost day for Satan.  Eventually he will run out of days, and – God-willing – we can be saved.

Mosiah 21

(September 6, 2013)
Sometimes I feel like my scripture reading just turns into one massive fault-finding episode in those I am reading about.  Don’t get me wrong – it is still a productive experience.  As I look at the negative example of those in the scriptures, I am able to better see the same failing in my own life.  I suppose I am seeing many failings in the scriptures because I need to see the many failings in my own life.

In this chapter, what struck me was the insistence that the Lamanites had in blaming others for their own problems.  It didn’t matter what happened – if it was negative, it was the fault of the Nephites.  This behavior is something I have struggled with myself.  I can remember reading a book that was highly negative about a political figure.  Halfway through, I took a break to take care of a few minor tasks around the house.  I was putting a label on a CD, and I misaligned it (ruining the CD and the label).  I was furious, and said under my breath, “Stupid [political figure].”

The moment I said it, I realized how foolish it was.  That political figure had nothing at all to do with my inability to properly affix a CD label.  Yet here I was, blaming him for something he had no culpability for.

Needless to say, I never finished that book – I recognized that I could not and should not read it any more.  But while I avoided that blind spot, more exist in me – I am still willing to blame others for things that are my fault.  It is something that deserves our constant attention because – as this chapter shows – blaming others for our mistakes only magnifies our mistakes and hastens our destruction.

Revelations 9-11

(September 5, 2013)
The rejoicing of the unrighteous at the death of the two servants of the Lord brought something to my attention.  There is a curious habit of the unrighteous (in which group I must include myself, unfortunately, from time to time).  It seems that the more unrighteous a person is, the less likely they are to tolerate anyone doing anything contrary to them.  For example, when I am living as I should and see someone living below what they should, I tend to be understanding of their weaknesses.  When I am failing to live as I should and I see someone setting a righteous example for me, I tend to become irrationally angry at that person.

I can think of two causes for this truism.  The first is that when I fall short, I know it and become my worst critic.  My inner voice has not been silenced, despite my best efforts from time to time.  When I see someone setting a better example for me, it awakens that voice within me.  If I have been studiously struggling to ignore that voice it painfully brings it back to my attention.

The other cause, of course, is a more simply one.  To the extent we fall short, we invite the Father of anger and contention into our hearts.  Is it any wonder, then, that we feel these feelings more acutely the further we fall from the Lord.

What is interesting, however, is how this truism can serve as an early warning detector for our lives.  When we feel anger towards someone that we know is doing something right, we should pause to remind ourselves that this is conclusive proof that we have fallen astray and opened ourselves up to misery.  If ever there was an invitation to repent, this would be it.

Mosiah 19-20

(September 5, 2013)
One thought I have always had when I read this chapter – what must the wives and children have thought of their husbands and fathers who left them to die?  I cannot imagine that their return was anything other than icy.

Revelation 6-8

(September 4, 2013)
This is a recurring wonder for me – why is it that the Saints will cry from the dust asking why the Lord will not avenge them?  Why would they not be patient with the Lord and exercise charity towards their brothers and sisters and hope that some (or all) of them might be redeemed?  I certainly fall short daily in my attempts to follow the example of Christ, and while I would like to call myself His disciple, I realize at the same time I have a fair amount of (metaphorical) blood on my hands.  I am grateful that the Lord has chosen to grant me time to repent and put my life in order.  I would think that the Saints would understand this and would not be crying for revenge and justice, but rather for mercy.

What about this don’t I understand?

Mosiah 18

(September 4, 2013)
I always get a treat out of insights that the scriptures give us into the personalities of the people.  These are things that we wouldn’t necessarily see, but when we do see them they only serve as a reminder that the scriptures are the writings of real people – disciples of God, to be certain, but real people nonetheless.  I find these moments build my testimony, as they represent things that it is unlikely that an author would think to add, but which makes perfect sense in a translation.

For example, this chapter contains countless references to Mormon.  The water of Mormon, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon.  This would make little sense except for one key fact – the abridger of this record was Mormon.  This was where he took his name from, and thus the “Mormon” in this chapter had particular meaning to him.  That is why he made reference to it over and over again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Revelations 3-5

(September 3, 2013)
It seems a common condemnation both in and out of the Church that someone should never been ‘zealous’ in the pursuit of anything.  I think, however, that the Devil must laugh at this conceit of ours.  After all, the words of the Lord are clear – “be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Zeal is one way we are separated from those around us – one way we become a peculiar people.  Others may go along to get along, but the zealous follower of Christ knows the doctrine and is true to it despite any beliefs, emotions, or opinions to the contrary.  The truth does not bend to public opinion.

Unfortunately, I tend to fall on the low end of the zeal scale, as I have a personality that wants to be liked and to get along with everyone.  And that is fine – there is something to be said for that trait, when Christ Himself can love all people and (an often misunderstood reality) is even loved by His enemies in return despite how much they war against Him.  But this desire to love others does not excuse us from being zealous – in fact, it should compel us to be zealous in following the Lord so as to provide us the capacity to bless their lives.

Mosiah 16-17

(September 3, 2013)
I may have mentioned this before in an earlier entry, but one thought always strikes me when I read this chapter is a simple turn of phrase used by King Noah as he condemns Abinidi to death.  He confronts Abinidi, and his condemnation to death is for blasphemy (as they suppose) for saying that “God himself should come down among the children of men.”  He offers Abinidi an escape, however, if Abinidi will recall his words.  Not the words which Noah contend subject him to death.  No, he will free Abinidi if he will “recall all the words which [Abinidi] hast spoken evil concerning [Noah].”

To me, that shows an amazing lack of self-awareness.  Here King Noah was prepared to condemn a man to death on a pretext – and on a matter that he is utterly unconcerned with.  In Noah’s mind, the only thing that matters is Noah.  He does not care whether Abinidi blasphemes – he likely understands that Abinidi spoke the words of God (as shown by his reluctance to kill Abinidi).  But he does care about the fact that Abinidi said something about him that he didn’t like.

We see that all around us today with an intolerant tolerance movement (‘I don’t care if you want the best for me and society – you are intolerant because your words make me feel bad’), but we cannot ignore these same tendencies in our own life.  We have the amazing capacity to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are more important than the message, than the work, and (ultimately) than the Lord.  I suppose this is just another symptom of the same Tempter trying to convince us that the glory should not be the Lord’s.  We must remember that the power to do always comes from Him, and the glory for the result always goes to Him.  It just isn’t about us.

Revelations 1-2

(September 2, 2013)
There is a temptation to become desensitized to the language in the scriptures about “the time is at hand.”  You look at the things referred to and realize that they are often things that have happened in the past – and were told to the people hundreds or thousands of years before they happened.  We see this enough, and pretty soon “the time is at hand” stops having the impact that it once did.

This, of course, is foolish.  The scriptures are not written for those who come after us or those that came before us (well, they were but not from our perspective).  The scriptures are written for us today.  When the Lord tells us that the time is at hand, that means that the time is at hand for us.  What has long since lost its ability to attract our attention deserves the attention it once attracted.  We must redevelop the ability to see these things and pay them the proper heed.

The other thought I had, and this is tangential, was how similar John’s writing style is to Joseph Smith.  His writings to the seven churches could just have easily been Joseph writing to the Coleville saints.

Mosiah 15

(September 2, 2013)
It is easy to see why so many people have trouble with the understanding of the Godhead.  The problem predates Christianity and the Nicean Creed by a significant period of time.  Here, in the days of Abinidi, the wicked priests are still struggling with it.

The problem they have is a problem with the Jewish understanding of God.  They believe that the God of the Old Testament is the Father, and that the Father will bring them salvation by coming to Earth among them.  Christ, the God of the Old Testament, does come down to save them but they don’t believe in Him.  Paul, like Abinidi, attempts to teach through their prejudices by teaching the people that Christ is, essentially, the Father.  Christians then grasped Paul’s teaching in a expected, though mistaken, way.

Talking with members of other faiths can cause conflict on this issue very quickly – that is the reason why many people don’t consider us Christians.  My experience is that discussing doctrine with them does nothing to resolve the matter.  But, when I instead bear testimony of who Christ was and what He did for us, I find that we share a common ground and the Christ I believe in (and am struggling to follow) is the Christ they also believe in.

2 John 1; 3 John 1; Jude 1

(September 1, 2013)
This reading provided an interesting set of bookends to a particular topic.  On the one hand, we had John teaching us that when evil appears before us we should not encourage it will so much as “God speed,” for by so doing we become partakers of the evil deed.  This demonstrates to me that I am often too conciliatory in dealing with those around me with an evil intent.

On the other hand, we have Jude who operates as the other side of the bookend, warning us against speaking evil of anyone.  So while we should be cautious not to forward evil in any way, we should likewise be cautious to avoid condemning any in their struggles to return to God (because we cannot possibly know where they are on that path, and Heaven help us if we condemn that which God has justified).

Mosiah 13-14

(September 1, 2013)
I had several thoughts on these chapters that I will save for later.  I thought about why it was that only Alma was converted – you would think that after seeing the power of God made manifest through Abinidi that some of the others would have converted as well (I suppose they loved sin more than they loved God – that’s the only explanation I see).  I also thought about the commandment not to covet – it is not a commandment not to steal or take, but rather not to even desire the things of a neighbor.  Sometimes I think that we merge the command not to steal with the command not to covet – but they are truly separate.

But what really, really struck me as hard as anything has in my recent scripture study was the line from Abinidi that what they do to him will be a type of the fate that the priests and Noah would suffer thereafter.  For some reason it struck me that this was perfectly true in our lives as well – the way that we treat others will be a type or a shadow of how we will be treated by the Lord hereafter.  If we forgive, we will be forgiven.  If we love, we will enter into His presence and feel of His love.  If we care for His children, He will care for us.  The Atonement is a perfect restoration.

The Mosaic Law taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  We think that law was barbaric, but was a law of the Lord ever barbaric?  Of course not.  It is a preparatory law to the law of restoration.  Because now, it is us that will have restored upon us our actions towards our neighbors.  If we have a broken heart and bear others burdens, then – as an eye for an eye – we will have our burdens taken upon His back.  That verse has opened my eyes to some things that I am doing horribly wrong, and I feel blessed for the opportunity that I have to make them right.