Tuesday, August 26, 2014

1 Chronicles 13-15

(August 26, 2014)
                There were two thoughts that I had as I read through these chapters.  The first was on David’s efforts to seek out the Lord’s will constantly – even when doing things that should appear to be well within his temporal stewardship.  As a king, it was his obligation to protect his subjects, and the decision of war and peace (and tactics) were his to make.  And yet twice he took the matter to the Lord, and did so in a way that demonstrated his willingness to obey the Lord regardless (‘shall I go against the Philistines?’).

                Likewise, I think I make the mistake of believing that there are some elements of my life too temporal to take before the Lord.  But this ought not be the case.  I should be willing to take the matters to the Lord and ask Him, ‘shall I go against Dr. Such-and-such’ in litigation, for example.  And I should be prepared to modify my tactics or strategies based upon the answers that I receive from the Lord.

                The other thought that I had was on Michal.  I have been struggling to come to some understandings between what the world wants and what the Lord wants.  It seems that effectiveness in the world (including, ironically, effectiveness in presenting the Gospel) seems at times to require actions contrary to the Lord’s will.  I look at my life and see changes that I could easily make that would improve my circumstances, but they seem inappropriate to do even though the consequences would all be positive.  I am pushed at times to priorities ends over means.

                But I see in this a lesson to be learned.  David was correct to rejoice in the Lord (he had not yet fallen from Grace).  Michal, on the other hand, was embarrassed and ashamed at David’s actions.  This was not a problem with David, it was a problem with Michal.  And David was correct to rejoice in the Lord – even though that brought Michal to despise him.

                It is fine to be aware of the world, but when we are placed in a position of prioritizing following the Lord’s will or improving the reactions of others (even to things that we think are very, very important) we must always put the Lord first.  He is able to make up the difference.  This has been a struggle for me to reconcile my mind to lately – I have seen an easy path to something important, but I have not been willing to take it because while it is easy it is also wrong.  This has left me feeling very conflicted because of the pain this also causes others.  But reading this, I realize that the important thing is to be right with the Lord and if that isn’t enough for others, then they can despise me or not as they choose and I will rely on the Lord to make up the difference.

Mosiah 5-6

(August 26, 2014)
                I am convinced that one of the greatest difficulties we will face in mortality is learning to “hear and know the voice” of the Lord.  He speaks to us, pulling us towards Him with a gentle pull that is ever so easy to ignore or mistake.  We must learn to accept this pull – setting aside our own wills, because our will can easily overpower the gentle whisperings by which He leads us.

                C. S. Lewis, in Experiment in Criticism, spoke of the first rule of encountering art – setting aside our own preconceptions so that we can receive the art as it was rather than using the art for what we would use it for.  Likewise, the first rule of revelation is setting aside ourselves, our own wills, and those things that we desire.  There have been times when I have received what I thought were revelations that were ultimately nothing more than the subconscious expression of my desires.  That is a constant danger when the voice of the Spirit is at times maddeningly still and frustratingly small.

                But it is there.  And those few experiences when I have unquestionably been blessed with the Lord’s Spirit have helped me to recognize the ‘flavor’ of the Spirit.  I find myself more cautious than I once was – less willing to declare something inspiration quickly, more prone to patience in trying to fully understand the Lord’s instructions for me.  I find that the Lord is understanding of this, so long as I make clear that when I am sure of my marching orders I will carry them out.  When I make that commitment, I find the Lord is patient with me and will gently pull me in the direction He wants me to go until such time as I truly understand His will and feel empowered to follow it.

                It is a consistent challenge, but one that I am resolved to work on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

1 Chronicles 12

(August 25, 2014)

                If there is a trait that we have lost in our modern society, and which causes us damage, it is the idea that we should seek to follow worthy leaders.  In the days of David, the strong and the righteous sought out the best leaders they could and they followed them.  Now, we have become a culture of weak and unrighteous who run from any leadership that seeks to improve us.  In this, we need to become like the strong and the righteous of old – turning away from the false ideas of the present, swimming against the tide of culture, and finding and following righteous leaders where they may be found.  This determination to follow is not a weakness, but a strength.

Mosiah 4

(August 25, 2014)
                In reading this chapter today I was struck by King Benjamin’s words on the importance of remembering that the Lord created all things.  Why should this be important enough for Benjamin to cite?  But as I thought about it, I began to realize the implications of just what it meant when we say that the Lord created all things.

                One of the big issues that philosophy had with religion was the argument of evil.  Why, if God is omnipotent and all loving, should evil exist? Why couldn’t He simply end evil through Divine fiat?  Many of the answers to this deal with respecting agency, and these can be persuasive.  But the better argument to me seems to be the one that there are certain things that we can only learn through encountering evil and through suffering.

                Viewed in this light, it becomes clear why it is so vital that we remember that God created all things – both Heavenly and earthly.  If we see the others’ behavior causing us pain, we may be tempted to condemn or blame others.  But if we understand that all things that happen (both good and bad) happen because of Divine will, and if we likewise remember how much God loves us, then we are capable of shouldering the load placed upon us and carrying it – learning the lessons the adversity has to teach us without becoming bitter or angry.  For all eternity, assuming that we live such that we are able to participate with God in bringing to pass immortality and eternal life, we will be dealing with those who make decisions that are wrong and which hurt us deeply.  If we do not show a willingness now to develop the character that will learn from such experiences (rather than condemning the perpetrator), how can we hope to be chosen to help in such circumstances in the future?

                The second thought I had was on us being beggars.  It is surprising to me a bit that my mind didn’t make this connection before, but when we judge a beggar because they placed themselves in the position they were in (even if we are correct in that estimation), we likewise condemn ourselves.  Not only will we be beggars to the Lord, but we will be beggars to Him precisely because we placed ourselves in that position because of our failures and weaknesses.  If we turn down a beggar because they don’t deserve our help, what does that do for our opportunity to claim similar blessings from the Lord when we beg Him for aid?

1 Chronicles 10-11

(August 24, 2014)
                Is there a more tragic reality than the fact that Uriah the Hittite was a valiant servant of David, a loyal confident, and trusted friend?  It is bad enough that David sent a man to die in order to hide his sin, or that he committed adultery with Bathsheba, but that the woman he committed adultery with was the wife of a friend and that man he condemned was a loyal and longtime friend makes the whole sordid affair that much worse.

                Of course, the scriptures aren’t for us to read and imagine to ourselves how much better we are – rather, they are for us to read and apply the lessons to our own lives and identify shared weaknesses and the ways we likewise fail.  Perhaps we might not be willing to condemn our friends to death (or steal their spouses), but do we take advantage of their friendships?  Do we fail to properly respect their thoughts and feelings – considering that they, as friends, should ‘accept us as we are’ (a phrase often used to justify disrespectful and selfish behavior, as often as not)?

Mosiah 3

(August 24, 2014)
                There are those, even within the Church, who believe in a sort of ‘universalism,’ or the idea that all paths lead back to God.  In one way, that is true – we know that each nation is given prophets to speak to it according to their own language and understanding.  But the conclusion drawn from this idea (that all paths are equally beneficial to man) are tragic for those who believe them.

                King Benjamin’s words were unambiguous.  There is no other name nor means by which we can be save except for Christ.  Perhaps it is true that being a good, say, Hindu can prepare you for being a good follower of Christ (and I don’t doubt that is true), but it is also true that striving to follow Christ now will better prepare us for becoming what we need to become than being a good Hindu would.

                The flaw in thinking arrives when we take the truth that the Lord teaching all men in their language and understanding and erroneously extrapolate from that to the idea that any path is equally effective and bringing us back to God.  Only one path takes us back to God – that is the path of Christ.  Many paths lead to that, shall we say, strait and narrow gate but once we are through that gate there is only one path.  While we can take comfort that many who wander and taking paths that will eventually lead them back to that gate, these paths are in no way better than actually spending time on that path to begin with.

1 Chronicles 9

(August 23, 2014)
                There are those who claim atheism, but who see their attempts at immortality to be achieved through the arts, or science, or some other manner.  But immortality – at least in a worldly sense – is fairly easy to achieve.  Have children.  Reading the huge genealogical lists demonstrates that.

                If I were an atheist, it would be clear that the only thing that would really matter was the ‘stuff’ I was made of (and I have heard reductive materialists say this).  If I had three children that survived me, that would mean there would be 3 x ½ or 150% more of me in the world, even after my death.  If they each had 3 children of their own, that would mean that there would be 9 x ¼ or 225% more of me than when I was alive.  It is fairly easy to establish a genetic lineage that exceeds your 100% that you have at your birth, assuming you survive long enough to reproduce.

                Of course the irony is that no atheist actually believes in achieving immortality in this way – as evidenced by the fact that atheists have fewer children than believers.  But having had four children, there is twice as much of me outside of me than in me, and if they each have large families of their own it will only grow and increase.  The other irony – the positive irony – of this situation is that those who are the least in need of temporal immortality (those with firm hope of spiritual immortality) are those very people most likely to live in such a way as to achieve that temporal immortality.

Mosiah 2

(August 23, 2014)
                As one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon, it is sometimes a struggle to open my mind to what the Lord wants me to know from this chapter on this reading – my mind is filled with past experiences from reading it or things that I have learned.  Each new encounter with it in search of what the Lord wants me to learn this time is like attending a party filled with close friends that you know and love and being tasked to find and acquaint yourself with the person you haven’t met before.

                But yet, each time there is something to be found.  For example, I was struck by the fact that Mosiah did not ascend to his kingship until such time as he obeyed his father in facilitating the people receiving Benjamin’s message.  Could there be a better template for each of us in our roles as sons or daughters of Heavenly Kings?  We each may want to go our own ways – follow our natures or our hearts, as did more than a few Jaredite kings and others – but if we are focused on fulfilling the commands of our Father and King, and serve His will in helping all the people to hear His Voice, the day will come when He will raise each of us up as kings in His Heavenly Kingdom.

1 Chronicles 7-8

(August 22, 2014)
                One of the things that I think we will struggle with (and which we are meant to struggle with) is the search for our ancestors.  It is something that easily could have been made a simple matter (DNA tracer? Better records?), and yet we are in the position that we are striving to find our recent ancestors now and the task of distant ancestors seems insurmountable.

                But adversity is meant to be, I am coming to believe.  And so, I have to imagine that uniting the great family of man is ultimately possible, and that the effort to do so will bring about blessings in our lives.  

Mosiah 1

(August 22, 2014)
                I have always enjoyed Mosiah (it is my favorite book of scripture, containing my favorite verse of scripture), and I admit to feeling a certain excitement about reaching it this time.  There is comfort to be found in the book of Mosiah, and I am glad that I will be spending the next little while within its pages.

                One thing that struck me as I read, and it was a relatively minor thing, was the fact that Benjamin taught Mosiah the language of his fathers.  That raised an interesting idea for me – if teaching people the Nephite language was the common practice (even among Nephite families), then wouldn’t that have been something never mentioned?  After all, I don’t spend a lot of time mentioning that I teach my children English.

                The way that was phrased makes me believe that perhaps Mulekite had become, by this point, the default language of the people.  Or, perhaps, the language of the first Mosiah was already something corrupted by intermixing with indigenous people.  However it happened, I think that it is fair to say that Hebrew is not the (primary) language of Mosiah, which brings a number of interesting facts into play.

1 Chronicles 5-6

(August 21, 2014)

                These chapters have an important idea – the idea that when we are in need and we pray to the Lord, He will be entreated of us if we are willing to put our trust in Him.  If we do not trust Him, why then would He be quick to answer our prayers?  If, on the other hand, we trust in Him in good times and bad, we will find that He responds to us in our time of need – sometimes by solving our problems, and sometimes by showing us that we have the capacity to solve them ourselves.

Words of Mormon 1

(August 21, 2014)
                One of the most uncomfortable aspects of mortality is those times when we feel compelled to do something by inspiration, but which doesn’t really make much sense to us.  On the one hand, there are those times when this feeling of compulsion is legitimately from the Lord (i.e. addition the Small Plates).  On the other hand, there are those times when this feeling really seems unlikely to be from the Lord (‘don’t open that closet!’).  How are we to tell the difference?

                This is a question that I have struggled with throughout my life.  I have discovered a couple of general rules that sometimes serve to help to distinguish between inspiration and just thoughts.  First, the Lord is patient with us when we are clearly willing to obey but we are struggling to know our marching orders.  If the Lord gives us ambiguous inspiration, and if we demonstrate our willingness to comply, the Lord will continue His gentle pull as we struggle to sort out truth from error.

                Secondly, there is a different ‘flavor’ to inspiration that does not occur with the thoughts of our own minds.  As I have tried to follow inspiration in my life, and as I have seen the result of those efforts flow, I find myself better able to tell the difference between the Lord’s instruction and something else.  I look at the results, and remember the feelings, and it becomes ever so marginally easier to distinguish.  I believe that this is what the scriptures refer to learning to hearken to the voice of the Lord.

                It is still a difficult problem, but bit by bit I find myself learning over time to tell the difference.

1 Chronicles 3-4

(August 20, 2014)

                Just to build off what I said a couple days ago about Enos, we have here another example of a grandson (Zerubbabel) who is referenced as a son rather than as a grandson (an acceptable Hebrew practice).

Omni 1

(August 20, 2014)
                Verse 26 is a powerful verse that I have read over a number of times without really understanding it until I reached this point in my life.  We tend to want to live our lives such that we give pieces to the Lord – we might want to excise out a bad habit or a vice, but want to keep our will and our to our self.  But the Lord is not satisfied with us giving away a couple of weaknesses (because giving away a number of weaknesses, even if they are the most significant weaknesses we have, has no power to save).  We are to give our whole souls as an offering to Him – holding nothing back.

                This is not something that we are capable of doing as well as we might like.  I have struggled to give the Lord my will and my whole soul, but I find myself haltingly putting my will on the altar, then pulling it back, then working up the capacity to offer it again to the Lord.  This brings us to the second half of this verse.  We must be willing to offer our whole soul to the Lord, even if we are not capable of doing so now.  But if we are willing, then we need to continue in fasting and prayer and enduring to the end and we will find our capacity to offer our whole soul as an offering to the Lord increase as we continue to progress towards Him.

1 Chronicles 1-2

(August 19, 2014)
                The preservation of genealogy in the scriptures is an interesting thing.  Understanding the Gospel the way we do, we can understand why this genealogy was kept, but I wonder how much the writers of these genealogy understood things.  On the one hand, I think that there is a general belief that historically these genealogies were provided to support a claim for power or authority – and I think that is possible that this is the motivation for some.  But I think that there is a danger that as we look at things anthropologically and historically we ignore the truths that were known among those we might believe to be unaware of certain Gospel truths that we now know.

                I think that there must have been at least a sense of the importance of the great family of mankind, even if the full importance of the sealing ordinances was not known.  After all, Malachi’s revelation did not come from nowhere.  In fact, one of the most amazing thing in my study of the Old Testament is just how many elements of the restored Gospel can be found – perhaps not in its fullness, but clearly evident.

Jarom 1

(August 19, 2014)
                The language of verse 4 is both as frightening as it as unambiguous.  All who are not stiffnecked and have faith will have communion with the Holy Spirit.  Currently I am blessed to experience that communion in my life, but there have been significant periods of time in my life when that communion was absent.  I think it is clear that the absence of that communion is indicative of an absence of faith or the presence of stiffneckedness in my heart.

                This, I think, is an important test to keep in mind in my life going forward.  If there comes a time when I do not feel that communion with the Holy Spirit, I will need to be extremely concerned and take what steps I need to take in order to correct whatever problems exist.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2 Kings 24-25

(August 18, 2014)
                It is hard to envision that the destruction of Jerusalem came because of the wickedness of one man (Manasseh), and I find it unlikely.  It is clear that the narrator believes that to be true, but one benefit of our understanding that the scriptures are inspired but not inerrant is that we can understand that the judgments of God are not placed upon others for our sins, nor are we punished for the sins of others.

                Yes, there will be suffering in our lives for the mistakes of others.  I have both been the victim of such suffering and the cause of it in others.  But we also know that there is a purpose for suffering and for pain, and that purpose is our spiritual growth.  Reading the fall of Jerusalem as it is written, it is clear that there is a certain desire to say that everything is Manasseh’s fault, and that there is an effort underway to explain the pain and loss and failure that doesn’t likewise include self-examination.  Having been in significant pain, I understand the natural human response to blame that pain on others rather that deal with it.

                But when we do that, we lose out on the benefit of the pain.  If we are even at part responsible for our pain, then by shifting that blame on to others we lose the impetus to repent and to change.  If we are not even at all responsible, blaming others still results in us failing to focus on what the pain can teach us (even if nothing more than teaching us to learn to endure to the end).  Pain is a harsh teacher, but since pain comes upon each of us in full measure, I would rather learn the lessons pain teaches then to blame others for the pain and gain no benefit from the pain I experience.

                Jerusalem fell because of the wickedness of Jerusalem and their failures to heed the prophets of the Lord.  Manasseh may have contributed, but he did not cause Jerusalem’s fall.  Countless other evil kings had reigned in wickedness, but when the people repented, the Lord provided and protected.

Enos 1

(August 18, 2014)
                The time frame of this book presents a problem (how is it possible that a grandchild of Lehi could be alive 179 years after leaving Jerusalem?), but it is not an insurmountable one.  This is one of those occurrences where if you have a testimony you can look at the problem and find a solution, but if you lack that testimony looking at the problem seems almost overwhelming.

                There are at least four resolutions to this issue.  The first is that Enos is the son of Jacob in his old age.  If Jacob was in his late 70s when Enos was born, and Enos lived into his 90s, then the number line up (remember that Jacob was born in the wilderness, so the number 179 is actually between 179 and 171).  This is a genuine possibility, although unlikely.  The second possibility is that Jacob describes Enos as his “son” in his book, but Enos was in actuality a grandson.  This is consistent with the Hebrew usages of son – meaning male descendent as well as a literal son.  It is possible that Enos was given the plates by his grandfather Jacob because of the experience that he had (and which was recorded in this book) made him particularly appropriate for caring for the records (remember what he was praying about).  It is also possible that Enos’s father died for some reason (war? disease?), and thus Enos was adopted or the records passed to him in that way.

                The third possibility is that the Enos of Enos is the son of the Enos of Jacob.  It was not uncommon for fathers to name their children after their own names, and if Jacob gave the plates to Enos, who wrote nothing on them, who then gave them to his son Enos, who wrote on them (and remember that Enos talks about his father being a just man, but noticeably he does not mention him by name), then that would resolve the timeline issue.  Finally, there is the possibility that a year simply meant something different to the Nephites than it means to us today.  After all, the best calendar we can build from the latter times of the Nephites appears to only have 360 days – we cannot know for certain what calendaring they were using at this point.

                I am of the mindset that the second of these possibilities (Enos was Jacob’s grandson) is the most likely, but of course there is no way of knowing.  The one thing that I do know, however, is that the 179 years is ultimately not a problem because of the testimony from the Spirit that I have of the Book of Mormon.  And this is a reminder of just how important that testimony is – although there are evidences galore for the Book of Mormon, there are just enough of these sorts of things that it is impossible to come to an intellectual confirmation of its truth (or falsehood) – we are obligated to rely on God for that information.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

2 Kings 23

(August 17, 2014)
                This chapter teaches us a number of lessons about fully consecrating ourselves to the Lord.  The first lesson we need to draw, using the destruction of the idols and groves as a symbol for the destruction of those elements in our lives that are not fully given over to the Lord, is the importance of being thorough – how many times do we read about this king or that king doing something good in the sight of the Lord, but not uprooting the groves or destroying the altars to Baal?  It is because of these halfway efforts that the Israelites found themselves in bondage – it may not have happened during their lifetimes, but they were the cause.

                Secondly, we cannot repent and turn ourselves to the Lord out of an expectation that the Lord will protect us temporally.  Sometimes, when we talk about repentance and obedience, we seem to focus on the temporal aspect of the Lord’s care for us.  It is almost as if we are repenting for the Lord’s protection rather than repenting because that is what the Lord requires.  Josiah, a worthy king from everything we read, could not forestall the Babylonian Captivity and could not even save his own life.

                Far better to take the view of recognizing that whatever the current temporal situation that we find ourselves in, the Lord is capable of bring us temporal salvation.  We can call upon Him, with faith that He is mighty to save, ‘but if not’ we must still be willing to obey and repent because of our love and trust in Him and for no other reason.  Christ did not promise temporal salvation as a consequence of obedience (how many prophets and apostles have been martyred?), but His offer is Salvation of a much more valuable kind.

Jacob 6-7

(August 17, 2014)
                Jacob teaches us in chapter 6 the secret, as I understand it, to life.  It is not enough for us to want to repent of the surface problems we have, or even the serious problems that we have.  It isn’t enough for us to want to be good people, because setting our sights on being good is setting our sights on being Terrestrial.  Our obligation, and the grand secret (if I have learned one in my life) is to come unto God with “full purpose of heart.”

                We need to be willing to have Christ’s Grace fully eliminate our character weaknesses, and to repent of all of our sins.  It isn’t enough to repent of the sins we see making our lives a mess today – we need to repent of those sins we think make our lives better, or those weaknesses we are comfortable with.  Only when we are prepared to fully turn our wills over to God do we experience the power the Lord has to offer in our lives.

                I have often wondered why it has been in my life that I have experienced the blessings that I have been able to be a part of.  After all, I have not lived a particularly righteous life, I have made some tragic and significant mistakes, and I have fallen frequently.  But, in considering this, I recognize that one of the greatest strengths that I have is a genuine desire to lay my will upon the altar of the Lord and give it fully to Him.  I have tried to do it in the past, but I find myself questioning and becoming willful and prideful, but I work within myself (and the Lord’s gentle but constant pull helps me) until such time as I again put my will upon the altar.

                I keep telling myself (and I believe) that if I keep putting myself in the position where I am putting my will upon the altar, over time I will reach a point where I will leave it on the altar.  I am anxious for that day, because while I know that it will bring inevitable challenges of its own, I have felt the power that comes from the Lord with my feeble efforts in this regard, and I can only imagine the power that will come if I am able to fully give up my pride and self-will.

Jacob 5

(August 16, 2014)
                My thoughts recently have focused on prayer, so it was not surprising to me that there was where my mind went as I read this chapter.  I don’t know what to make of the idea that the servants persuaded the Lord to spare the vineyard.  Was He genuinely persuaded?  If so, does that mean that He is persuadable?  The implications to that are very profound in my mind.

                I have always thought that the Lord had His plan, and that would be what would happen.  When we pray to Him, we are conforming ourselves to His will, rather than bringing His will around to our own.  And I think that there is strong doctrinal evidences that this is the case.  But then there are chapters such as this, or Moses pleading for the people, and it makes me wonder.

                I suppose that this is a matter that I have allowed myself to be confused on.  I don’t pray with the intensity that I ought to, because I believe that the Lord’s will is what will ultimately be done.  I don’t believe that persuading the Lord is possible (and still don’t, despite what I have read here).  But I understand why this true doctrine might be leading me into a false behavior.

                There is no question that my prayers need to drastically improve.  If, perhaps, the truth is that I cannot persuade the Lord to change His mind, then that is the truth and I accept that.  But my behavior should reflect that of the prophets, who seek out the blessings of the Lord.  Actively seeking the blessings of the Lord certainly resembles persuasion far more than the passive prayers that make up the majority of my interactions with the Divine.  I need to call upon the Lord, seeking His blessings that He stands ready to give me, and if I need to act as though the Lord is persuadable in order to achieve that, I think it is something that I should consider.

2 Kings 21-22

(August 15, 2014)

                These chapters teach an important lesson to us, by analogy.  Josiah did not fully know the Law or the covenants that he was under.  That has been lost to time.  But when he began to usher in the repair of the temple, the Law was again found and he was given an increased capacity to follow and serve the Lord with knowledge.  So, too, with our lives.  Sometimes we feel we are short of knowledge that we need.  Rather than feel for that knowledge (and allow ourselves, often, to be misled) we are better off being about the work of the Lord.  Then, as we serve Him, we will often find the very things that we needed or desired to learn are provided to us in the time of our service.

Jacob 3-4

(August 15, 2014)
                Not surprisingly, my thoughts are on Abraham and the sacrifice he was called to make.  Perhaps we will be so fortunate that the Lord will not require of us to sacrifice the things that are most important to us in life.  Perhaps, though, we will be called upon to sacrifice them only to find a ram in the thicket at the critical moment.  Or, perhaps, we find ourselves truly called upon to sacrifice the things most important to us to the Lord.  But whether we are never called to sacrifice, called to sacrifice and then spared, or whether we are required to go through with the sacrifice – in each and every case we must be willing to give up everything (especially those things most important to us) to the Lord.  No matter how painful it may be, that is a necessary cost of discipleship.  Knowing now that we must be willing to pay that price, I wish that I had prepared to sacrifice everything so that I might have avoided the requirement of needing to actually sacrifice everything (although I still hope for a ram in a thicket).

2 Kings 20

(August 14, 2014)
                There are times when we are tempted to believe that our situation is one that is impossible for the Lord to resolve.  We may think that we know, doctrinally, the limits of God’s power.  For example, we may be in a position where we may think that God’s capacity to answer our prayers may run up against a firm law that He is unwilling to violate anyone’s agency (and I believe that to be true – He will not violate anyone’s agency).

                But during these days, presumably the people thought power over death to be equally remarkable (and for some reason this power over death seems easy for me to now believe about the Lord).  Hezekiah was so doubtful (despite his great faith) that he needed a sign to know that he would be saved.  The Lord was able to act to save Hezekiah, in spite of his deficiencies of faith and his own weaknesses
                I think that there is a common thread, here.  I struggle with praying for things that involve the agency of others.  I pray for others to make correct choices, but I know that their agency means that the Lord will not compel them to do what is right.  Sometimes that affects my faith, or even my willingness to pray about these importance issues.  This is a failure of mine, and something that I need to repent of.  Because though I do not understand or see it, the Lord is capable of performing His miracles even when the agency of others are involved.  After all, in the battles which saved Israel, where their enemies turned on one another, presumably they still had their agency as well.  Yet the Lord still did His work.

                I think it is fine to understand that others have their agency.  But when that understanding diminishes our willingness to pray for miraculous intervention in our relationships, that becomes a problem.  Perhaps the Lord will not intervene, but that is no reason to believe that He cannot intervene in some fashion to see His work completed.

Jacob 2

(August 14, 2014)
                In this chapter, Jacob condemns three separate sins (greed, pride, and unchastity), but it appears more and more that there really is only one sin – pride.  I am understanding why pride is the universal sin.  Everything in this chapter is something good and worthwhile (money, intimacy), but because of the people’s pride, they sought out more than they should.

                It is fine to have desires for the good things of the world.  The problem, though, is that we want those things the way we want them, in the quantity we want them.  If we were willing to constrain ourselves to the bounds that the Lord has set, then the problems that faced the Nephites would not likewise plague us.  This is true not only about money and sex, but about everything (work, recreation, or pick anything else).

                The trick to this, I believe, is being willing to give everything to the Lord and be willing to accept back only such things as He chooses to give us.  In this way, the United Order was a great educational tool for teaching us about consecration.  If we are willing to give to the Lord all of our hopes and wishes concerning, say, intimacy and then accept back whatever He chooses to bless us with, then we can be happy.  If, on the other hand, we demand that things go our way and we get what we want, we will be unhappy by those unmet expectations.  And, of course, the distinction between happiness and unhappiness could have nothing to do with what we actually receive – we could get more of what we want and still be unhappy if we are not willing to consecrate things to the Lord.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2 Kings 18-19

(August 13, 2014)
                There are a number of powerful ideas in these two chapters, but I wanted to focus on two that struck me (one I don’t think I understand, and one that I do).  The first is in Hezekiah paying the tribute to Assyria.  This seems bad enough, but what is more he paid the tribute by giving of the silver and gold from the temple (carving gold out of the very woodwork of the temple).  To my mind, I do not see how this is consistent with a person who trusted in the Lord God of Israel.

                My best understanding is that it is showing that the trust that he developed in the Lord was not always there.  It was intermittent, and periodically weak.  When confronted with his challenge, he at first was not up to meeting it.  He feared, and he caved.  Then, over time and with determination, he became the sort of man that would follow Isaiah to the brink of destruction only to have the Lord intervene.  This interpretation gives me some comfort as I continue my halting path towards giving my will over to the Lord.  It is frustrating to me to see my efforts fail in this regard – I turn myself over to Him, and He cares for me.  Then I lose trust in Him (not for any failure of Him), and I take my life back for a time.  Slowly, but hopefully surely, I am learning to fully trust the Lord, and this is the path that I presume Hezekiah was on.

                The second thought was on monotheism.  I suppose that between the groves and the high places and everything else, I envisioned a polytheistic society in Israel even at this time.  But it is clear from these chapters that Hezekiah understood that there was only one God and He was the God of Israel.  Hezekiah didn’t presume that His God was stronger than the God of the Assyrians – instead he understood that the God of Israel was the only God (including being the God of the Assyrians, whether they worshiped or knew Him or not).

Jacob 1

(August 13, 2014)
                As I read this chapter, my mind was drawn to Nephi and his actions in crafting the Gold Plates.  It is clear from the limited history that we have that Nephi was a skilled metalworker.  We see that by his crafting of the two sets of plates, and we see that by his preparation of weapons of war for the Nephites, and we see that all the way back to when he prepared his forge and made tools for the ship.

                If we were to catalogue skills that the Lord might need in a prophet of God, I don’t think many of us would instantly leap to metalworking.  And yet, here is this prophet who was able to accomplish the Lord’s work in large part because he was so skilled in a relatively mundane profession.  Presumably he spent his youth learning this trade – what if he had been lazy or undisciplined?

                In my life, I often wish that I could devote myself in my career to the Lord.  But Nephi’s example shows that whatever our vocation, the Lord can and will make use of that – but He requires us to become the best we can become at our chosen profession in order for us to accomplish the greatest amount He can with us.  It may seem that time spent at work is not time spent serving God, but on the contrary if we perform our profession with determination, develop our skills, and become the best we can be – and do so with integrity – the Lord will find a use for that and we will find opportunities to serve Him. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2 Kings 16-17

(August 12, 2014)
                It is easy for us, in our modern world, to look down our noses at the people of Israel for looking to other gods rather than the Lord.  But it is more difficult to look at ourselves and to see the ways in which we are no different from them.  After all, the people of Israel were being led by those who had no respect for the Lord, and they had an existential fear, for if Urijah the priest had not violated the law Ahaz would certainly have killed him.

                What would we do if we were in that position?  What do we do when we face our greatest fears now?  Do we turn to the Lord, or do we turn to the arm of flesh?  I know that my greatest fear now is one that I spend a great amount of time working through in a very mortal, arm of flesh manner.  Am I prepared to turn that fear over to the Lord, and trust Him regardless of the outcome?  Let’s just say that I am working on becoming a person that can do that, but at the same time I recognize how very hard it can be to release your fear and trust in that way.

2 Nephi 32-33

(August 12, 2014)
                Both of these chapters highlight the importance and power of prayer.  If there is one element of my life that I have struggled with, it is prayer.  You wouldn’t think that I would have such a problem with it, as the Lord has been so kind to me and answered so many of my prayers.  But yet, I struggle to remember to pray, and to pray with the proper intensity.  The only comfort I take is that I am in good company in that respect, as I feel much like the brother of Jared.

                I don’t think it is an accident that we are commanded to pray always and not perform anything unto the Lord without first praying.  And if we have consecrated our lives unto Him, then are we not always doing everything (even our recreation) unto the Lord?  And therefore, shouldn’t we be praying before each and every thing that we do?  I think that is right, and yet I still struggle to say my morning and evening prayers.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

2 Kings 15

(August 11, 2014)
                Sometimes it is difficult to empathize or understand people.  I think there is a general conceit that we like to believe that people are generally good.  And I think that is true in two senses.  First, I believe that most (if not all) people arrive in this world with the Light of Christ and a working moral compass.  Second, I believe that most (if not all) people who choose to can become good through the steady application of the Grace of Christ regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

                But we know, doctrinally, that murder is a sin which defies particularly the latter of those generalities.  Thus, when we read about Menahem ripping apart the pregnant women, it is something so inconceivable to me – even to an enemy – that it makes you cringe and wonder how someone could become so evil.  I suppose that there is a certain amount of self-sorting that is taking place (those who have desire to be good – even those like me who are only trying [and often failing] to be good) among those who read the scriptures.  If you are one to read the scriptures, you likely are not of the mindset who would rip apart a pregnant woman and kill her.  I suppose we must concede that some people truly see the world differently than we do.

2 Nephi 30-31

(August 11, 2014)
                There are core doctrines that I think I understand until such time as I really begin to try to articulate what I think that I know.  One of these is the Millennium.  It was surprising to me, when I read about Satan being bound and then loosed, how little I understand or know about this time period.

                We know that there will be communications between the Heavens and the Earth.  We know that the Earth will be essentially in a Terrestrial state (I wonder if there will be those who cannot believe the Telestial state that we live in is real?).  But then, amazingly enough, all of that will end and there will again be a brief season of conflict until the final winding up.

                Ordinarily, I can put myself in the state of mind where I can envision what is actually happening (or, what it could be like), but I lack the imagination to do so here.  What’s more, many of the ways that I imagine the Kingdom of God unfolding in the future are actually at variance with what little doctrine I understand about this time.  Long story short, as I read through these chapters it came to my attention how deficient my knowledge was and how this deficiency was affecting other areas of my Gospel understanding.  It is something worthwhile for future study.

                The second thought I had was when the Father confirms the words of the Son.  This is a significant thing – we understand that most of the time the words we hear from Divinity are the words of the Son coming to us.  When the Father likewise speaks, it is very dangerous to trifle with His words.  He does not speak unless it is vitally important.  And what does He say here?  “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”

                I have learned over the course of the last several years how very important the doctrine of enduring to the end is.  I had lived, up until a couple years ago, a very charmed life.  I wasn’t so much enduring to the end as I was coasting to the end.  Then things changed, and I found myself challenged as never before.  Some of my challenges come from self-inflicted wounds, while other are as a result of the decisions and mistakes of others.  In both cases, however, the result is the same – I have, from time to time, found myself hanging on by my fingertips to the Iron Rod and the Gospel.

                What I have learned through this challenging time, however, is an internal strength that has supplanted my false beliefs about myself.  I used to think that I was somehow special.  I thought that I was different, more important, or similar thoughts.  Now, however, I realize that each and every one of us will be tested to our breaking point (whatever form that test needs to be in for us), and we will each get the opportunity to choose how we react to those challenges.  I now realize that I am not special, not more important, but yet I have value because I am holding on.  And that confidence that comes from a choice rather than a chance – the choice to endure, and to do your best to endure well – is a blessing.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

2 Kings 12-14

(August 10, 2014)
                It is human nature to be greedy, and to want more than we should.  But our efforts to overcome this element of our nature can at times conflict with the blessings the Lord offers us.  On the one hand, it is greedy and unthankful to demand certain blessings from the Lord.  On the other hand, it is likewise prideful and unthankful to not accept the full measure of blessings offered by the Lord.  If we demand what the Lord does not offer, we offend Him.  If, on the other hand, He offers us something we likewise offend Him not to take advantage to the fullest extent our mortal capacity allows us to.  His blessings for us will not run out, because we receive too much.  When the Lord gives us arrows to beat the ground, may we beat and beat until the arrows are broken and the ground has become a hole.

2 Nephi 29

(August 10, 2014)
                This is a chapter that at first glance would seem to present little challenge for a modern Mormon.  After all, we have no trouble recognizing that there is more than just the Bible that represents the word of God.  But when this scripture is likened unto ourselves, we find that it is in fact a much more challenging situation than we thought.

                For example, are we truly open to the new revelation that comes to us?  It is easy to look at the confirmation of doctrine that we have long become accustomed to, but revelation often is difficult for us to accept when it comes from the Priesthood leadership if that revelation contradicts some of our beliefs.  Do we, at that point, speak up and say “A Book of Mormon, a Book of Mormon, we already have a Book of Mormon and we don’t need more revelation on (gay marriage, illegal immigration, or pick your poison)!”

                The other thought was something I have seen several times – how the Lord has never left His people without someone to build them and draw them closer to Him.  The language in verse 12 is as clear as it could be – “I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.”  What does that mean for the Koran, or the writings of Confucius?  I would dare say that we can posit with some confidence that these sacred books likely have not only truth, but revealed truth prepared for the people who would receive them.  We may have the fullness of the Gospel, but that does not mean that we should not have a holy envy for those elements of other faiths that are more developed than our own.

2 Kings 10-11

(August 9, 2014)

                It was interesting to me that even knowing the great wickedness that Athaliah had performed, the priest recognized that she was not to be slain on the grounds of the temple.  I think there is a lesson to take from that, both in our Ward and in our homes.  We may feel like we have just reasons for anger, bitterness, or revenge against someone.  But in the Ward and in the home, we find ourselves on sacred ground.  As such, it is important that we put aside these feelings and recognize that this is not the place for vengeance.

2 Nephi 28

(August 9, 2014)
                We see in the debate between those who believe in Priesthood authority and those who believe in certain social positions an example of Satan’s tactics.  A hypothetical member of the Ordain Women movement, for example, might see some inequality and begin to rage in her heart and turn away from the Church.  A hypothetical opponent of the Order Women movement, on the other hand, might claim that all is well in Zion, and Zion prospers, and thus be cheated from making the concerted effort to improve Zion.

                We must always remember that the Church is imperfect, but it is still the Church of the Perfect Man.  Thus we can see the problems in the Church with open eyes, while still understanding the importance of Priesthood leaders, following them, working to better build the Kingdom of God on the Earth, and avoiding steadying the ark.

Friday, August 8, 2014

2 Kings 8-9

(August 8, 2014)
                There were two thoughts that I had as I read through these chapters – both of which focused on Jezebel.  The first was Jehu’s wise words concerning peace – “What is peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?”  We all seek out peace and happiness in our lives, but oftentimes we seek these things out in the wrong places.  We seek peace and happiness through sin, or through selfishness, or through control of our own life or the lives of others.  But the thing that we must each learn (and, in my case, learn over and over again until it hopefully finally sticks) is that wickedness never was happiness.  We will have no peace, and no happiness, except through the Lord – all other attempts to pursue peace and happiness except through the Lord do not increase our peace and happiness but rather numb or mask the pain of the absence of peace and happiness.

                The second thought again was raised by Jehu’s comment, “Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her:  for she is a king’s daughter.”  Even though she was horrifically wicked, and slaughtered the prophets, and brought the people to ruin, Jehu recognized the respect owing to her as the daughter of a king.  Likewise, each and every person that we meet is the son or daughter of a King, and regardless of how we might feel about that person it is important that we offer them each respect, so as to not disrespect their Father and Creator.  It is impossible to disrespect the creation without disrespecting the Creator.

2 Nephi 27

(August 8, 2014)
                What was fascinating to me was the description of Joseph Smith giving the plates to Martin Harris, as described by Nephi through prophesy.  It is particularly fascinating in light of the fact that this part of the Book of Mormon was translated near the end of the entire process, meaning that Martin Harris had already lost the manuscript by this point, so Joseph Smith knew what had happened and knew the response of Charles Anthon.

                This has been said by some people to discount the application of the prophesy, since it is “clear” (at least in their minds) that Joseph was just detailing what happened and applying scripture to it to provide plausibility.  But that isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the ways that Nephi’s narrative differs from what we know of the history.

                It seems clear that Nephi was not told of the failure of Joseph Smith in giving the manuscript to Martin Harris.  Joseph had no reason to hide this – we have details of the revelations that he received about his failure, and he never hid nor minimized the fact that he made a huge mistake.  But yet Nephi describes this same incident in simple terms – the Lord said to Joseph, take the book and show it to the learned.

                This would not be the way that Joseph would have written this event, had he been an author.  The loss of the manuscript was such an important thing, so central to the translation process, that Joseph would have mentioned it in some way if he was an author.  But he wasn’t writing, he was translating.  And Nephi, being millennia earlier, had no need to know of the Lord of Joseph’s failure – thus he was merely told the words that the Lord spoke to Joseph and not of the circumstances that led to the Lord saying those words.

                There are so many evidences throughout this book that it is translated, and not authored.  Even the voice of the Lord seems to leap off the page in this chapter, reading differently from the voice of Nephi and the voice of Isaiah.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

2 Kings 7

(August 7, 2014)
                I think that there is a valuable lesson to be learned in this chapter.  How many times have we received promises of gifts from the Lord through His mouth or the words of His prophets?  How often do we find ourselves, like the servant of the king, doubting these words and questioning how the Lord can fulfill those promises?

                When these promises come, do we have the faith of the lepers?  Or do we openly rebel, like the servant?  Or are we more like the great middle who resided in Israel until proof arose that the prophet was correct?  I would hope, in my life, that I would hear the words of Elisha and make my way to the camp of the Syrians and like the lepers receive the bounty that the Lord had prepared for me (or, at the very least, be among the great middle that survive thanks to the prophet’s words).

                One last point that seems very interesting to me is that the lepers trusted Elisha because they had no other hope.  I have seen that in my own life.  My trust in the Lord has increased as I have been placed in a position where I had no choice but to trust Him because there existed no other hope for me.  Now, having had experience in trusting Him, I find myself better able to trust Him even as I am stabilizing my life.  I am being cured of my leprosy, but at the same time I am not forgetting that the words of Elisha are true and following them.

2 Nephi 26

(August 7, 2014)
                C. S. Lewis advocated the approach that ultimately each person would be invited back into the presence of God.  Our Final Judgment, then, is a simple question of whether or not we want to live with Him and like Him.  On the day that anyone is condemned, says Lewis, the one pleading for the sinner to stay and repent would be the Savior.

                Ultimately I find this very persuasive.  Between what we know about righteousness and wickedness (and the discomfort the wicked have in the presence of God), this is not surprising.  Add to that the fact that this chapter is filled to the brim with language that seems to support that position, and while I don’t know I wouldn’t be surprised if Professor Lewis was correct.

                Of course the problem with this is that it is too easy for us to allow ourselves to be confused by it.  We think to ourselves that if we ultimately choose, we will just choose to be with God and receive Exaltation and all will be well.  But that isn’t the way things go.  I have seen people so immersed in sin and self-deception that they would almost certainly turn away from the Lord if given the chance to today.  I have been sufficiently immersed in sin and self-deception myself that once upon a time I would likely have been in the same position.

                The Judgment analogy is valuable, even if we are the ones doing the judging.  That is because the decision that we make at that point will be the culmination of a lifetime of decisions along the way.  Do we live our lives so that we want to live the life that God lives?  Or do we live a life that compels us to settle well below our potential?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

2 Kings 6

(August 6, 2014)
                It is always astonishing to me to see how quickly those who are unwilling to follow God turn with anger towards those who are His servants.  There was no logical reason for the king of Israel to be angry with Elisha, but yet he was.  The king did not serve the Lord, but when something went wrong he was ready to blame Elisha for it.

                We must each be careful of this in our own lives.  I think that far more often than we care to believe, our own states of happiness or misery are the results of our own actions and attempts to live closely to the Lord.  As C. S. Lewis has said, man is a machine built to run on the love of the Lord, and happiness comes no other way.  

                When we see that our happiness is the result of objective, outward measures we then blame others for our unhappiness.  We can become bitter or prideful.  But ultimately, if our happiness is the result of our relationship with the Lord and not these external things, we can come to understand that if we are unhappy it is because we need to examine ourselves and our lives and determine to live better and more aligned with our Father.  

                It would be easy for me, in my current situation, to blame others for my happiness or unhappiness.  Whether it was the one making false charges against me, or the cascade of events from different people along the way, I could easily find others to blame if I were unhappy.  But that is not the Lord’s way, and I am trying not to have it be my way.  And, as I have turned my focus from what others have done to instead focus on how I can better my relationship with the Lord, I find myself happier than I have any right to be (objectively).  With everything going on in my life, I ought to be absolutely miserable.  I would have thought that I would be absolutely miserable.  That I am not – that I have found comfort, peace, and happiness – is a tribute to the fact that improving your relationship with the Lord is more valuable than anything else that can happen to you in mortality.

2 Nephi 25

(August 6, 2014)
                My thoughts were once again drawn to the idea of captivity, and I placed myself in the position of an Israelite hearing the prophesies of Lehi.  What should I have done in that situation?  Clearly, the answer was to repent and to follow the Lord.  But, even assuming that I did that (and there likely were some few who did), that would still place me in the position of waiting out the years until Babylon invaded and took away everything I loved and had worked for.

                What should I have done in this situation.  I couldn’t leave, because the Lord had not given me the command to (and the temple was in Jerusalem).  I couldn’t take adequate steps to protect myself and my family, because the calamity was coming regardless of what I did.  All I could do would be to repent, put my house in order, and hope for the best when the captivity arrived.

                This is a matter of non-trivial concern for me.  I foresee things coming in my life that are not going to be good for me or for my family (foresee in the natural, rather than prophetic, sense).  I do what I can to put my life in order, and I do what I can to prepare for what is coming, but ultimately it is beyond my ability by myself to escape this temporal calamity.

                The comfort through this, of course, is the same comfort given to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail.  Would Daniel have been the man he was without the captivity?  Would Peter, James, and John have been the men they were without the captivity of their fathers?  The Lord will do His work – even if it is frightening and uncomfortable to us in our limited perspectives – and in the end faith means to trust Him that all things will work out for the best.  As we see those temporal hopes and aspirations fall apart around us, we must remember and hold tight to the spiritual promises that will never fail.  Even in temporal captivity, we may find spiritual freedom.

2 Kings 5

(August 5, 2014)
                Having fought my wars with sin in the past, and being finally in a position where I am not regularly losing those battles, I believe I have a bit of a different approach to the story of Naaman than some others.  Naaman, when he receives the command to bath in the River Jordan, states that there are better rivers in Syria that he could wash in.  But it is ultimately when he bathes in the River Jordan that he is healed.

                Understanding the recurring symbolism of leprosy as sin, there is much to be learned here.  In my life, I have faced down a persistent moral weakness that led me into sin such that it nearly consumed me.  I sought out all sorts of methods for overcoming that sin – from self-help books to willpower to anything else you can find.  Ultimately, none of these things worked – it was as if I were bathing in the rivers of Syria.  The only thing that ultimately won the battle was turning my life over to the Lord and giving Him control.  

                Like bathing in the River Jordan seven times, there were multiple parts to this.  It started with my reading of my scriptures daily, then progressed to improved prayer.  It involved me learning that I could rely on the Lord in moments of moral crisis, and then choosing to do so.  Bit by bit, as I bathed in the symbolic River Jordan of the Gospel, I recovered from my leprosy until I arrived at the point where I became healed.

                I wish, for all that I could wish anything, that I hadn’t gone through the struggles that I went through in dealing with my sins.  But at the same time, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.  Now that I am on the other side of this problem, I feel compelled to say (as did Naaman) that I know that there is no God in all the Earth, but in Israel.  I know that there is no spiritual change or growth that I can create in myself, but such growth and change is a gift from the Lord – a gift that He stands ready to give to us if we are willing to accept it on His terms.

2 Nephi 23-24

(August 5, 2014)
                When we look at the course of the world, from its creation through its destruction, we see the course that each of us must take in order to return to live with God (even this is a type to inspire us to repent).  If this is the case, then our lives must ultimately face the chaos and struggle and destruction that accompanies the transition from living a Telestial life to living a Terrestrial one, just as this world must suffer as it passes from its current Telestial state to its Millennial, Terrestrial state.

                Babylon in our own lives must be destroyed.  Everything that holds us back from giving ourselves wholly over to God must be destroyed.  To a certain extent, the amount of sorrow such destruction entails depends on how deeply we have embedded Babylon in our lives.  If it is as minor skin blemish, it can be easily removed.  If it is as a wart with deep roots, it might need to be pulled out again and again.  It may even be a systemic problem that needs treatment over and over again, bringing pain into our life from beginning to end in order to excise it.

                But, at some point, if we are willing to go through the treatment we will find ourselves on the other side of the transition and be prepared to learn to live the still-higher law that the Lord has to offer us (and to receive the still-greater blessings that accompany living such laws).  As such, we should not shirk or shun trials or discomfort, but should rather embrace these difficult times with a determination to do what is right throughout.

2 Kings 3-4

(August 4, 2014)
                I have noticed a pattern among the prophets of the Lord.  There seems to be a habit of performing the miracles of the past in order to confirm their prophetic mantles.  Moses parted the Red Sea, and Joshua parted the River Jordan.  Elijah parted the River Jordan, and Elisha did likewise on the way back.  Elijah multiplied the widow’s oil, and raised her son from the dead.  So too did Elisha.

                Sometimes there is a criticism of our modern Prophets and Apostles that they don’t perform the miracles that we read about from the lives of the early Christian fathers (or even Joseph Smith and others).  This is fallacious for a pair of reasons.  First of all, I am not at all confident that these miracles are not taking place.  I have seen enough miracles in my life to have little doubt that they are occurring on a regular basis to others, and yet there is no reason to think that these miracles are known to the Church at large.  Why should we think that any time a Prophet or an Apostle experiences something miraculous, they would instantly set it out for the whole world to see (most of the most sacred experiences of my life I have been instructed to hold close, and even then there have been some experiences that I have been able to share). 

                Secondly, I think the difference is between public and private miracles.  In the Old Testament times, miracles had to be public because that was the mechanism for confirming the prophetic mantle.  Now, however, we have a different order of things where the prophetic mantle passes and everyone within the Church has an understanding of their obligations to accept the new leadership.  President Monson had no need to perform a public miracle in order to have the people of the Church follow him, so no public miracle was performed.

2 Nephi 20-22

(August 4, 2014)

                The idea of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities being a symbol of our own captivities behind enemy lines on a fallen world (prisoners of war from the War in Heaven) makes everything that Isaiah says have so much more meaning.  The promise of freeing the captives and restoring them to their inheritance conveys a profound sense of hope for the future.  No matter how immersed in sin we may become, and how many chains the Adversary has placed upon us, the Lord’s Grace is sufficient to redeem us, to free us, and to restore us to our place in His Kingdom. 

2 Kings 1-2

(August 3, 2014)
                What I find fascinating in the story of Elijah and the soldiers is how clearly it indicates where our loyalties should be in a conflict between government and Church.  How many members of the Church would put their loyalty to the government (or political party) first, and their membership second.  Perhaps they, like the first and second company, might confront the Prophet (as is happening now), seeking to bring about the Prophet’s conformance with their desired political outcome.  And, like the first and second company, we see those doing this now being consumed by fires of their own making.

                The third captain, though, clearly indicates the correct approach.  Perhaps there are some things that we are obligated to do for the government.  Perhaps our political beliefs might differ from those in the leadership.  But our central approach should be informed by the understanding that the person we are dealing with is a Prophet of God, and as the Lord’s servant we must be cautious in how we relate to them.  

2 Nephi 18-19

(August 3, 2014)

                For a long period of time in my life, I would look at the signs of the Second Coming with more than a little bit of fear and concern.  After all, it is described in such a way as to seemingly show the world coming apart at the seams (and perhaps it will be).  But as I get older, I begin to realize that the Second Coming is not a source of trepidation, but rather one of hope.  It provides both hope that there is an end to the War in Heaven, with victory for the side that God has established, and it provides a hope that no matter how significant the calamities in your own life there is a peace on the other side of that for you to receive.

1 Kings 22

(August 2, 2014)

                While I don’t know how far to interpret the literalness of this chapter, it brings up an interesting and worrisome point.  We know, beyond question, that there are false spirits abroad on the face of the Earth seeking to deceive us all.  How then are we to have confidence in the inspiration that we believe we are receiving?  This is why it is important to (a) have experience receiving inspiration; (b) accept inspiration with a humble heart; (c) view that inspiration in light of the revealed words of our Priesthood leaders; (d) live the best we can to ensure that the inspiration that we are receiving is coming from the right source; and (e) periodically review the inspiration to see if the course of events is confirming or disconfirming the inspiration.

2 Nephi 15-17

(August 2, 2014)

                Isaiah is interesting, because each and every time you read him you learn something new or notice something you hadn’t before.  This time through, it dawned on me why the angel placed the live coal from the altar on his lips.  The altar was a sacrificial one, and the ember was a remnant of the sacrifice of the altar.  It was a symbol of Christ.  Christ, having been sacrificed on the altar, thus was empowered to purge sin.  Even back then, Christ’s role was know (if only through the glass darkly, and through symbolism).

Friday, August 1, 2014

1 Kings 20-21

(August 1, 2014)
                There were two thoughts that I had as I read through these chapters.  The first was on the idea that the Lord is the God of only some things (the God of the hills, as opposed to the plains, in this instance).  There are, modernly, a great number of people who attempt to constrain God to be the God of only what they want Him to be God of.  The clearest example of that is the New Atheism that seeks to say that God is the God of theology but not of science – as if rationality were the plains, and God and His people dare not enter into that battleground.

                God is the God of the whole Earth.  He is the God of the hills and the plains.  He is the God of faith and of reason.  He can meet any army on any battleground, and He will prevail.  We seek to limit Him only out of our pride, rather than recognizing who He is and what He is capable of.

                The second thought was at the close with Ahab’s repentance in sackcloth and ashes, and how the Lord then said that ruin would come to his son rather than him.  At first this seemed very hard to me – after all, I have made mistakes and I don’t want my sons to suffer for those mistakes even if I am repentant.  But it dawned on me that had the sons repented likewise in sackcloth and ashes, they too would be spared.  In fact, each of us is required to repent in sackcloth and ashes or we will not be accounted worthy to stand.  So the best we can hope for is to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and to best teach our children and those around us to do so for themselves.  Then it is all left up to their efforts and the Lord’s Grace.

2 Nephi 13-14

(August 1, 2014)
                In the past, when I have read these chapters, my mind either drifted over the conclusion to Chapter 13 or I looked at it as something applicable to others (and tried to apply it accordingly).  But this time, I read it an entirely different way.  Sure, it might be talking about daughters of Israel, but I don’t know how literally Isaiah was using that term (and it is always safe to assume that Isaiah might not have been talking about things literally).

                What happens if we look at daughters of Israel in light of the parable of the Bridegroom and our understanding that Christ is the Husband and the Church (and each of us) are the wife?  Suddenly, the whole chapter takes on a new meaning.  How are we as a Church walking with stretched necks and wanton eyes (and I dare say that many of us are)?  In hard financial times, such as now, do we recognize that it is the Lord taking away the bravery of our tinkling ornaments?  Or do we wonder why we are being punished ‘unfairly,’ since we are of Israel?

                The good news, of course, is that if we persevere we will be washed clean and can dwell forever with Him.  But there is much for us to take from this chapter regardless of whether we are male or female.

1 Kings 18-19

(July 31, 2014)
                There are times when I wonder why Satan doesn’t exercise the powers that he has.  For example, we know from the story of Aaron and the Pharaoh’s magicians that he has the power to perform ‘magic.’  Why would he not call down some force in response to the priests of Baal (after all, he is ultimately who they worshiped)?  I had similar thoughts on Satan when I thought about the Book of Mormon and the Gold Plates.  Why, if Satan knew where they were buried, did he not ‘inspire’ a particularly wicked person to come and take them centuries before Joseph Smith was even born?

                Considering these two things, I think that the answer is that while Satan has great freedom to rampage across the Earth he is still tightly constrained in certain areas.  The Lord still holds dominion over him, and while Satan may not want to obey he is incapable of resisting.  There is great comfort in that fact – that though Satan may see and understand the work of the Lord, if we cling tightly to the Lord he will not be permitted to destroy us or the work.