Monday, September 29, 2014

Nehemiah 8-9

(September 29, 2014)
                There are times when the Old Testament is a struggle to try and make applicable to my life, but this is not one of those times.  As I read these chapters, I really felt a great deal of applicability of what I was reading into what I am experiencing in my life right now.

                First, I was struck by the languages of Ezra and others concerning their reading of the Law to the people of Jerusalem.  The people, recognizing their sins and wickedness before God (having received the Law, and understanding how significantly they had deviated from it), were justifiably sorrowful for their actions.  But Ezra, being wiser, taught them that they should not weep.  After all, this was a day of joy – it began with them in wickedness and in ignorance of the Law, and it ended with them having understanding.

                I have felt to weep for my mistakes as well.  But, while I am often mournful about my situation I don’t often mourn my mistakes the way that I thought I should.  In fact, I actually have felt guilty about not feeling as guilty as I thought I should – my mistakes were plentiful and significant.  But I realize, reading this chapter, that I am experiencing just what Ezra was teaching the people of Jerusalem – yes, my sins were significant, but today is a day of rejoicing rather than regret, because the Law that I was violating I now understand and am keeping.

                This made my think of my own life and the pattern of the children of Israel.  I have often done this with the Book of Mormon, but never as much with the Bible.  But I see how appropriate it is.  Like the Israelites, I was blessed to be in a covenant relationship with the Lord.  But I didn’t live that covenant like I should, and I violated it in ways big and small for a long period of time.  The Lord would send people to teach me (like the prophets in ancient Israel), and I would from time-to-time turn back to Him, only to return to my sins later.

                Eventually, the Lord for my benefit ceased to protect me from the consequences of my sins.  I was fully taken into bondage, and everything that I once valued I lost.  Like the Israelites, I realized in bondage just what I had squandered – I was fortunate enough to turn to the Lord in my extremity rather than turning away.  Over time, He has brought me back and freed me from my bondage.  What was lost may never be regained, but I am nonetheless blessed beyond measure by Him.

                Finally, I took note of the language that the Lord has done right and we had done wickedly.  I have had some problems in the past (though less so lately) with feeling bitterness towards people who placed me in the situation I am in – a false witness against me that did incalculable damage.  But I realized reading this that the matter of their actions are between them and the Lord, and that the Lord has done right and I must focus only on the ways that I have done wickedly (and I have).  Whether it is Judah taken into captivity by the Babylonians or my situation brought about by false witnessing, in either case the Lord has done right.  The Babylonians and my accusers will need to deal with the Lord themselves, but for me I need to just focus on continuing to draw myself ever-closer to the Lord.

Alma 19

(September 29, 2014)
                I still find it astonishing how hard some people try to avoid the truth of the Gospel.  These people had seen the king, queen, servants, and Ammon all fall to the Earth as if dead.  Then they saw someone struck down when they tried to kill Ammon.  They then saw each of them lifted up to preach Christ.

                If I saw that, I hope I know what my reaction would be.  But the moment they began to share the message, some people chose to leave – they would not hear.  Ending up in the Church, and accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not something that happens accidentally.  Those barely exposed to it can accept it wholeheartedly, while those put in the best situation to accept it can choose to reject it.  Ultimately we make our own decision whether we will hear or whether we will not hear.

Nehemiah 7

(September 28, 2014)
                In this chapter, we read about a group of people who were unable to prove their bloodline and were therefore refused the opportunity to partake in the ordinances.  As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of others who in a similar situation in our modern day leapt to condemn the Church for requiring documentation of bloodline for ordinance purposes.

                I don’t presume to know whether everything that was done was done correctly or not (and while some explanations have shown to be false, I don’t think we have any evidence that the actions were incorrect).  But those who condemn are doing just that – they are saying that the Church was wrong and are utterly unwilling to give the Church the benefit of the doubt.  Reading this chapter should give those who feel that way pause.

Alma 18

(September 28, 2014)
                As we go through different stages in life, we find ourselves working on different things.  Right now in my life, I am focused on respecting the agency of others and allowing the Lord to do His own work (whatever that ends up being).  I am being careful in my conversations to avoid anything that even hints at manipulation, coercion, or pressure.

                But in this chapter, we see Ammon working by guile with King Lamoni.  It would seem that this is something that could be seen as appropriate at certain times.  But I don’t think it is appropriate for me.  Just as with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, would buried their weapons of war, I think it is appropriate for me to bury my weapons of persuasion.  I believe I can still be useful to the Lord, but because of mistakes that I made in the past (well-intentioned mistakes, but mistakes nonetheless) I think that burying my weapons of guile never to take them up again is a necessary action for me.  I can bear testimony and speak the truth about doctrine, but persuasion and guile I will need to leave up to the Lord to do His own work after the mess of things that I have made trying to do it myself.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nehemiah 4-6

(September 27, 2014)
                Apart from having one of the great quotes for putting our priorities in the right place in all of the scriptures (“I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down”), it also has a great deal to teach us about our modern Church.  Today there are those within the faith (nobles of Judah) whose true allegiance is to something other than the faith.  Whether by family, or politics, or philosophy, they put something else before they put their membership in the kingdom.

                You cannot go online without seeing them – they are those who will condemn the Church the moment the Church deviates from their approved political, social, or philosophical positions.  They spend their time exchanging letters (Facebook posts, texts, and tweets) with the Tobiahs of their movement – often a leadership that is openly hostile to the Church.  And these Tobiahs work to set the leadership of the Church to fear, and to drive a wedge between the members of the Church and their leaders.

                If your politics set you against the Kingdom of God on Earth, it is time to change your politics, not the Kingdom.  If your social views set you against the Kingdom of God on Earth, it is time to change your social views, not the Kingdom.  A good first step is this – if you are communicating regularly with someone who shares your political, social, or philosophical views yet is an enemy to the Church, stop sending and receiving letters with your Tobiah and return to the faith of Judah and repent.

                Of course, it is once again easy to see this in others but only valuable when we see it in ourselves.  I need to spend my time evaluating who I speak with and what my priorities are, so that I never put anything before the Kingdom of God on Earth, either.  That is something I have been guilty of before – one time in my life particularly comes to mind (which has led to some catastrophic damage).

Alma 17

(September 27, 2014)
                One word, used a couple of times in this chapter, really struck me.  The sons of Mosiah were blessed, not because they turned to prayer and fasting but because they turned to much prayer and much fasting.  In my life, I think myself doing well to pray in the morning and pray in the evening and a couple of times a day (although lately that has been increased dramatically – I would love to say out of personal righteousness, but it reality it has been done out of need).  I am also fasting more than at any other point in my life, but out of need rather than out of a desire or a conversion to the principle of fasting.

                I really should be converted to the principle not only of fasting and prayer but of much fasting and prayer.  I have felt the power that can come from turning to the Lord more regularly and with more urgency.  I have received immediate answers to my prayers in a way I couldn’t have imagined before, and even those prayers that aren’t answered the way I pray them (such as last night) are answered in a different and better way from the Lord (1 Nephi 7:18).

                Prayer is such a comfort and such a power, and I hope that through my experiences of the last several months I am becoming converted to both prayer and fasting.  I truly believe that I am.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nehemiah 1-3

(September 26, 2014)
                There are times when I just want to kneel after reading the scriptures and pray the prayers which I have just read.  Particularly in Nehemiah’s case – with only the slightest changes, I wanted to pray this prayer to the Lord for deliverance from the mistakes of my past and for His miraculous power to intervene on my behalf.

                The other thought that I had was in the people who were the enemies of God criticizing the work of rebuilding the walls based upon arm-of-flesh, practicality questions.  It is shocking how often we see the leaders of the Church criticized on practicality concerns – you shouldn’t say that because it communicates this wrong message, you shouldn’t say that because it is ‘victim-blaming,’ or it is unrealistic to expect someone to do something or they are asking people to run faster than they have strength.

                As Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said (and I paraphrase here), we seem to believe in eternal progression but not daily improvement.  We are to be perfect, and we become perfect by being better today than we were yesterday.  If we are better each and every day from now until the eternal end, we will ultimately be perfect.  So the standards are to be set high, just as the goals of rebuilding the walls were established with Nehemiah.  Those who argue against the possibility of accomplishing the grand task (as being too big) fail to realize that the progress that needs to be made does not need to be made all at once.  We must build a piece of the wall every day (and be cautious not to tear it down as we go), and if things are better today than yesterday, we can consider it a victory and set our minds to doing even better tomorrow.

Alma 16

(September 26, 2014)
                Zoram, for what little we know of him from the Book of Mormon, is an impressive character.  Leaving aside the obvious fact that he raised a pair of sons who would go on to become heroes in their own rights (an accomplishment worthy of mention), we see that even though he was the military leader of the time, he still trusted in the Lord to fight his battles.

                In my life, I see something good or something that I think I want, and I do what I can to get the result that I think is right.  I am learning (more slowly than I should) that this isn’t the right way to be.  There are things properly in my control and things properly outside of my control.  I am learning to let go of the things that I should not control (no matter how important to me and no matter how “obvious” it may seem to me that the end result is good).

                I cannot say for certain, but I think almost no one wakes up in the morning to be a villain or to choose wrongly or to perform evil – as Orson Scott Card says, we are all the heroes of our own stories.  And yet, though we may each set out with different goals in mind that we think are good, if they are outside of our stewardships or outside of our control (and that, frankly, amounts to most everything) we are far better off surrendering the control we really don’t have to the Lord and letting Him do His work.

                Zoram did that.  He had a goal, which was to rescue the people kidnapped by the Lamanites.  This was clearly a worthwhile goal, but it was also something that was outside of his control.  Rather than take actions relying on the arm of flesh, he went to the Lord to get direction as to what He wanted Zoram to do.  Once he received counsel from the Lord, Zoram had a stewardship – he had been told what to do by the Lord and by completing that stewardship he was able to see the results that the Lord wanted and Zoram wanted.

                When there is something that I want, even when it is “good” (in my mind) and even if it is “important,” I must remember to always take things to the Lord.  I must surrender my desires to control a particular result, and instead simply take the matter to Him for His guidance on what he wants me to do.  Zoram could not rescue the kidnapped people on his own, and he could not do it if the Lord did not want them rescued.  Likewise, no matter how important something is, I cannot accomplish it on my own and I cannot accomplish it if the result is not what the Lord wants.  I instead need to focus on my marching orders from the Lord (where He wants me to go and what He wants me to do), following those orders with exactness, and leaving the ultimate course of the battle to His hands to reach the result that He wants.

                One other brief thought I had as I was reading – sometimes I think we think that calamities are always brought about by wickedness.  Doctrinally I know that isn’t true, but I am still tempted when something goes really wrong to wonder how I have screwed up to make the situation so bad.  To be fair, that is often the cause of the disasters in my life, but not all of them.  In this chapter, we read that much inequality had been put down among the Nephites (especially those converted to the Lord), and the preaching of the sons of Mosiah converted a large number of Lamanites, but those two factors together led largely to war.  Not wickedness on the part of the people struggling through war, but wickedness in the people around them.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ezra 9-10

(September 25, 2014)
                When I was in the depths of my worst sins and vices, I would sometimes need to take airplane rides for various reasons.  At the time, I was deathly afraid of flying, so when I had a trip coming up I would repent and get out of my issues for a week or two before my trip.  As the plane taxied down the runway on take-off, I would desperately pray that Heavenly Father would protect me on my flight so that I could make my repentance more permanent.  When I arrived back home, I would try to keep that promise, but days, weeks, or months later I would be back to my old ways – forgetting the promises that I made to the Lord for my deliverance.

                It has been a long time, and I have finally moved beyond my wickedness in this way, but I think back to those unkept promises and I realize that I need to repent of them.  Like the people in the time of Ezra, I was so quick to forget my deliverance when I reached a point of comfort.  But the Lord was always there to answer my prayers (and not just by keeping a plane in the air, but in every way I needed Him to be there for me).  I was not a good son to Him for such a long time, and I am still not.  But I am beginning to understand what being a good son to Him means and to desire that result.

                I think that is a major difference.  Rather than attempting to bargain with the Lord (“help me and I’ll repent!”), I am beginning to want to do the right thing just because it is the right thing.  This week, I purged a significant weakness out of my life – not in negotiation for some result or protection from some fear, but just that the Lord asked if of me.  Despite challenges since then, I find myself so overwhelmingly optimistic about things that I am feeling the Lord’s influence holding me back – I want to rush out and find the next thing I can repent of or sacrifice to the Lord (and I think He wants me to make the changes I made this week stick before I move on).

                When we promise change for deliverance, we tend to forget the promises after being delivered.  We don’t repent because we need a particular result, we simply repent because it is the right thing to do (and we let the results come as they may).  This, to my mind, is the only way to achieve lasting repentance and is a big portion of the reason why I am actually getting over some of my weaknesses.  Where before I repented because of some external fear or desire for reward, I am now learning to repent because of who God is and who I am.

Alma 15

(September 25, 2014)
                I have recently been having a discussion online about miracles, and when and how it is appropriate to share those experiences.  There are one group of people who say that any time you share a miracle (even a small one, the example given of being led to find your keys when you pray), you are reminding every person with an unanswered prayer that the Lord helped you find your keys but didn’t help their love one fight cancer, for instance.

                I took a different approach.  I brought up the fact that we should share these miraculous experiences, when appropriate, because they serve as reminders that the Lord has the capacity to bring about His work through miraculous intervention (whether curing cancer or finding keys).  

                I have been praying for some significant things in my life recently – blessings for myself and blessings for others that I love and care about.  So far, these prayers have remained unanswered.  I hope that the day comes when He grants me the miracles I am praying for – I know that all of the sorrows that I face could be fixed with a word from Him – but if He does not I trust that it is for my benefit and the benefit of those I love.  I trust that no ounce of sorrow will be wasted, and no tear will fall in vain.  He is perfectly loving, and He could fix everything – that He chooses not to is a testament to His confidence in me and in those I love to rise above the challenges we face and to become what He wants us to become.

                I know this because of the miracles that I have seen in my life – both the dramatic miracles, that remind me that the Lord’s word can do all things, and the small miracles, that remind me that He loves me and others perfectly and is ever-present and wants only the best for me.  In light of this, and despite my pain and suffering, I feel blessed to hear of the miraculous experiences of others even when my prayers are as-yet unanswered.

                I see in this reading a similar approach from Alma and Amulek.  They arrive back to a people living in exile.  They greet them with the distressing news of their wives and their children being slaughtered and suffering death by fire (I cannot imagine the thought of one of my children suffering such a painful death!).  Then they told the people that they had been delivered from prison by the miraculous power of God.

                That used to bother me somewhat, because I would have struggled to understand why these men were saved and the Lord did not spare those who I loved.  But now I have learned what the message was to communicate – the Lord saved Alma and Amulek, and could have saved everyone.  That He did not was a testament to His perfect love, and He brought them unto Himself.  Alma and Amulek being miraculously saved meant that their wives and children reached their eternal reward, and that miracle was a comfort rather than a source of jealous desire for similar salvation.

                I don’t doubt that the people understood that (even though they must have been suffering), because even before this time they were caring for Zeezrom.  With his illness, I cannot imagine he could care for himself – so instead, he was at the mercy of the men that he had helped to get exiled and whose wives and children he had helped to destroy.  And yet they continued to care for him until he recovered – again by a miracle that was not there for their wives and children.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ezra 7-8

(September 24, 2014)
                The actions of Ezra in this chapter in not asking for help from the king during their travel is instructive.  Ezra understood how important that it was to communicate their faith and trust in the Lord to one who was only beginning to understand their religion.  He understood that the reputation of the Lord mattered, because it affected whether or not others would be more or less likely to accept the faith.

                We have countless ways we are called upon to defend the reputation of the Lord.  From what we post online to how we interact with our neighbors or our families, our decisions and our actions are constantly praising the Lord or putting His name to shame.  We have been given a precious gift when we were granted the opportunity to take His name upon us, and we must act to protect that name at all costs.

Alma 14

(September 24, 2014)
                One thing that seems consistent over time is that the truth is content to be the truth – it doesn’t need to be proven.  Only when we work to lie to ourselves does the demonstration and acceptance of this ‘truth’ become important to us.  It is enough for us to merely know the truth, so long as it is the truth.  When what we believe is not the truth, however, it suddenly becomes important that those around us accept our version of ‘truth’ – for them to do otherwise runs the risk of us discovering the ways we have deceived ourselves.

                We see this behavior in this chapter.  Alma, preaching to the people of Ammonihah, realize just how hard-hearted they were.  They would not accept the truth, and so he chose to move on to teaching other people (because the truth was the truth regardless of what the people of Ammonihah thought about it).

                Now he turned back when an angel told him to, and he started to preach again to the people.  And he had some success.  Now the shoe was on the other foot.  The leaders of the city of Ammonihah were now confronted with people who disagreed with their version of ‘truth.’  What did they do?  They slaughtered the women and children and burned the records.  But Alma and Amulek, they spared.

                They had to spare Alma and Amulek, because their lie was at risk for self-discovery.  They needed Alma and Amulek to reinforce what they had told themselves.  The truth is strong enough to stand on its own without any other support, but a self-generated ‘truth’ needs confirmation and validation.  So they tormented Alma and Amulek, hoping they could bring the pair of prophets to agree with them (and thus solidify their ‘truth’).  Of course, that never happened.

                The lesson that I take from this is an important one in knowing how to judge myself and what I believe.  If it is important to me that someone else come around to my way of thinking, chances are I am lying to myself.  If, on the other hand, I have accepted a genuine truth then I find myself unconcerned whether others believe me or not.  The truth stands boldly, nobly, and independent.  

Ezra 4-6

(September 23, 2014)
                Those who demand things of the Church, and of the believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are often enemies.  Nothing in the Gospel, in our families, or in any other important aspect of our lives is done through demand.  We do not demand the right to hold this calling, or that office, or anything else of the sort any more than the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin were justified in demanding that Ezra allow them to work on the temple.

                In anything Celestial (or potentially Celestial), agency and stewardship are preeminent aspects.  Those given stewardship are given agency within their spheres.  A member demanding from their Bishop, a child demanding from their parent, a spouse demanding from their spouse, an organization demanding from the Brethren – all of these things show a similar ignorance to the importance of stewardship and agency.

                When we disregard the agency of others (especially that agency operating within the bounds of stewardship), we set ourselves as enemies to the Lord.  We see this all the time with children who have parents that disregard their agency – in the end, these children often turn from the Lord.  It is a hard thing when we see something that we think is good – it was inarguably a good desire to want to work on the temple – but when we attempt to force something (even a good result) we are acting contrary to the Lord’s methods and His plan.

Alma 13

(September 23, 2014)
                Do we recognize what a privilege it is to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood?  I know that I often do not understand the magnitude of the blessing that I have been given in this regard.  I use it less frequently than I ought to, I magnify it less than I should, and it constrains my behavior less than I know that it should.  But this privilege, one that we have been blessed with as a result of our faith, is such a large blessing.

                By that same token, it is no accident that we hold the Melchizedek Priesthood.  In this Church, because we advance in Priesthood ranks by age, we sometimes forget that it is an important thing to progress to holding the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Looking back on my life, I can see the ways that I could have gone astray at a number of points along my path, and now I hold the Priesthood worthily at the culmination of a number of trials and challenges that I have been blessed to overcome.  

                Holding the Priesthood, then, grants me a great deal of confidence (I can see why those terms are used together).  As I am beginning now to understand what the Priesthood is and what it is not (and yes, I had and have much to learn in this regard), I find that my confidence to approach the Lord for those things that I stand in need of increases – I am beginning to recognize just what that privilege means.  I may be foolish and weak, and have so many faults, but I am a Melchizedek Priesthood holder and the office which I hold matters in the same way we can disagree about politics but the President of the United States is worthy of respect because of his office.  Holding the office of Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood is a matter of eternal significance that dwarfs the simple holding of the office of President of the United States.

                This knowledge should fill me with confidence, and should fill me with the intense desire to never live below the level of this privilege.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ezra 3

(September 22, 2014)
                Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but it is ultimately pointless.  The people wailing over the creation of the temple in Israel were not, I argue, doing so with any sort of understanding of the importance of the very temple they lamented losing.  Likewise, we have nostalgia for the trappings of our time, but fail to recognize the limitations or progress that the new challenges we face provide us.

                I may long for a time when the Prophet made a comment and the people accepted that comment, as opposed to now when a dozen blogs have twisted or corrupted what the Prophet said before he even sits down.  But that same technology that facilitates their attacks on the Church have also facilitated my testifying to countless people of the magnificence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I have gone through the process of repentance and given my will over to the Lord.  And the latter seems to outweigh the former as far as what really matters in the end.

Alma 12

(September 22, 2014)
                I am a fan of science (I imagine that has come through over time), and I am a fan of religion.  I especially enjoy trying to figure out what the two are saying that is consistent.  Elder Oaks advises us to understand that both support each other, but we must be careful not to let either water down the other.  I try to take that counsel to heart.

                When I read about corruption (as in this chapter), my mind always goes to the concept of entropy.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics is so prevalent in the world that we know that it is almost impossible to consider any alternative.  But what if entropy was merely the consequence of the Fall?

                Suddenly, without entropy, the idea of immortality and Heaven and so many other things becomes easy to accept rather than contrary to the understood laws of the universe.  I have often thought that one of the things that we would learn on the other side of the Veil would be just how difficult and complex it was to introduce entropy into this world.

                In our universe as we perceive it today, like repels like.  Order becomes disordered.  But in my experience, that is not the case in our spiritual lives.  As our spiritual lives become ordered, they tend to increase in order.  As they become disordered, they tend to increase in disorder.  Likewise, when we are righteous we tend to gravitate towards others who share our values and beliefs, while when we are unrighteous we tend to find the presence of righteous people uncomfortable.

                It speculate (and that really all I can do at this stage) that this attraction of opposites and repulsion of likes and increase of disorder over time is a condition unique to mortality and this Fallen world (however broadly you want to define world – whether planet, universe, galaxy, or whatever).  On the other side, I imagine that conditions will change – not because the Second Law of Thermodynamics isn’t a true scientific principle today, but that it is a condition brought about much like a magnetic field is brought about through the application of a current and when the current is turned off the field ends and conditions return to normal.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ezra 1-2

(September 21, 2014)
                Cyrus the Great is an interesting figure, and one from whom we can learn a great deal.  Here is a man who did not have the truth, nor was he part of the chosen people of the Lord.  And yet, because of the virtues he did develop (administration, respect, and so forth) he became someone that the Lord was able to work through.

                We may be imperfect, and we may see imperfections in all of those around us.  But if we work to develop into the best people we can be, the Lord will find a use for us and we too will be able to be a part (great or small) in the Lord’s plan.  And that should be enough for each of us.

Alma 11

(September 21, 2014)
                As I read through this, one thing stood out to me – why did Zeezrom tremble in fear?  We look at him questioning Amulek, and the responses that he generates and the questions he asks makes him seem to be firmly in control (or, at least, so he thinks) of the conversation. Then Amulek goes off on a little speech for a short time and Zeezrom is terrified.  Is it because of part of the speech that Alma redacted?  I suppose that is possible, but I doubt it.  While Alma admits to redacting Amulek here, I would think he would have included everything we need to understand the narrative.

                If that is the case, then the only thing that we have to go on is the short speech that we have.  The only thing within that speech that would seem to have the capacity for terrifying Zeezrom would be the understanding of the final judgment and the eternal nature of life (both the righteous and the unrighteous).  Of course, that was all mere assertions from Amulek (true assertions, but as an unbeliever it would appear that he could easily have refuted them).  They were not internally so logically compelling that no listener could help but be persuaded when he heard – obviously not, as most listeners were not persuaded.

                But that is where this gets really interesting.  Amulek testified of a truth – simply stated that it was true.  Most of those listening disbelieved, but Zeezrom was clearly pricked in his heart – he felt the Spirit testify of the truth.  We can tell that by the fact that he ultimately converted, while so many did not.  It wasn’t the argument that convinced Zeezrom that made him afraid – no, most of the listeners were able to ignore the Spirit.  No, Zeezrom felt the Spirit from simple, direct testimony (without the need of a cogent argument) and once he heard the truth and had the truth confirmed to him by the Spirit, he became terrified as he realized what he had done.

                There is a powerful lesson to be learned here for each of us as we work with others in the Gospel.  In my life, I often want to find just the right words or just the right argument to bring others to an understanding of the truth. This is putting too much of the emphasis on me.  While I need to craft the argument to the best of my ability (so as to help those listening to listen with an open heart), no argument that I present on any issue will be convincing.  All it can do is invite the Spirit and the Spirit does the convincing.

                No matter how clever the listener, nor how wicked they are, they may (like Zeezrom) be only one born testimony away from feeling the Spirit and starting their lifelong journey of conversion.  May we each do our best to present the Gospel in the best way we can, but ultimately may we do our best simply to present the Gospel and our testimony and rely on the Spirit to confirm its truth.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2 Chronicles 36

(September 20, 2014)
                From the chaos that led to the Babylonian captivity, we can find a great deal of comfort.  Judah had been called time and time and time again.  As their destruction grew imminent, they were drawing not closer to the Lord but further away.  As this chapter describes, there reached a point when the Lord’s anger could no longer delay, and Jerusalem was sacked.

                Why is this a source of comfort?  Each of us, in our individual lives, makes mistakes and falls short of what we know we should be doing.  But when we struggling and strive to improve, though painful, we find ourselves making progress towards becoming the people the Lord would have us to be.  This is very unlike the Babylonian captivity.

                The grave problem among the people of Judah was that they were drawing further from the Lord and living in their sins rather than drawing closer to the Lord despite their sins.  As long as we are on the second path, we may expect to be chastened but we may also trust that the Lord will not give up on us.

Alma 10

(September 20, 2014)
                The longer I live, the more examples I find in the Book of Mormon.  For a long time, my hero was Corianton, for his capacity to repent of his great sins and become an instrument in the Lord’s hands.  But, really, just about everyone was once an enemy to God and became over time His instrument.  Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, Amulek (called many times but would not listen), Corinaton, Ammon, Aaron, Omner, Himni.

                There are times, when I feel overwhelmed by my mistakes, when I look at the shattered mess of my life that I have created through my mistakes and I wonder whether there is any reason to hope going forward.  Is there a purpose for me, or have I through my failures ended any usefulness which the Lord could have put me to.  But the Lord uses us all – just as soon as we are ready.  Perhaps there are some, such a Nephi, who grew to know the truth and be converted in their youth.  That, unfortunately, is not me (though I long though it was).  But, like Amulek, though I have been called over and over again and would not hear, I have reached the point where I am finally ready to listen and heed the call.  And the Lord has a purpose and a use for me, and that is enough.

Friday, September 19, 2014

2 Chronicles 35

(September 19, 2014)
                I read the close of this chapter with great interest, because something dawned on me as I read.  If we were to examine the prophets of the Old Testament of whom we have the most information and writing, it would be Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Both of these prophets had something in common – they wrote during a time when sympathetic and righteous kings presided over the land.  Hezekiah was a sponsor of Isaiah, and Josiah sponsored Jeremiah.

                The point of this is not to say that prophets require righteous kings (Elijah did just fine for himself, although little of his teachings remain).  But, rather, it is to point out that temporal leaders make a difference.  We have so much truth from this time period because the kings of this time period were devoted to the search for truth.  When we select our political leaders, it makes a big difference in the spiritual health of our community and our country.

                It isn’t determinative – we can still follow the Elijahs when they preach in the wilderness – but more will be saved if we have Josiahs and Hezekiahs in leadership rather than Ahabs.

Alma 9

(September 19, 2014)
                If there is one terrifying thought that I have, it is contained in this chapter – what if I had been cut off before this period of time.  I certainly deserved being cut off – I have made mistakes that have resulted in others losing their testimony, their faith, and their place in the Gospel.  And yet, for some reason, the Lord in His mercy persisted with me long enough that I was able to finally come to an understanding of the Gospel and a determination to give my will to Him.

                I don’t know why He was so merciful to me, but it helps me to be merciful to others when I remember it.  And to be more dedicated to obedience, since I do not know but when the mistake I make may be the one that causes me to cut myself off from His presences forever.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

2 Chronicles 33-34

(September 18, 2014)
                It is human nature to avoid pain – we do it in so many aspects of our lives.  But ultimately, pain is nothing if not a blessing to us.  We are commanded to bring to the Lord an offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and pain greater than we can bear on our own breaks our heart and humbles our spirit.

                Manassah was proud, and lived unrighteously.  Then his past caught up with him, and he was taken prisoner and suffered greatly for it.  All that he once enjoyed was lost to him.  In his time of great suffering, he called out to the Lord in prayer and in time his prayers were answered.  He was returned to his home, and once there Manassah never departed from the way of the Lord.  “[T]hen Manassah knew that the Lord he was God.”

                From a mortal perspective, we struggle to understand pain.  But from a Heavenly perspective, I imagine it is quite easy to understand.  Manassah was not living the way that he should live.  Because the Lord loved him, the Lord blessed Manassah with sufficient pain to bring Manassah back to Him.  When he humbled himself enough, the Lord welcomed him back.  In an eternal perspective, then, our pain is a great and glorious blessing when it serves to develop those attributes that we need to develop or turn us to the Lord.

                In my times of great pain (and they seem frequent now), I used to ask the question why.  Why am I in pain?  Who should I blame for my pain?  Is it my fault or someone else’s fault? What do I need to do to stop this pain?  Over time, and much experience (more experience than I would have chosen for myself), I have learned that there really is only one question to ask: what do I need to be doing so that this pain brings me closer to God, rather than moving me away from Him?  If my pain is bringing me towards God, and I am improving in the characteristics that I need to develop to enter where He is, then my pain is a blessing.  If, on the other hand, I am not getting closer to God then I cannot blame my pain (or whatever caused this pain).  The pain is the constant, it is my response to it that is the variable that I can change to get the result that I want.

Alma 8

(September 18, 2014)
                The Book of Mormon, upon close reading, is so full of little tidbits demonstrating its verisimilitude.  Monte Cook, a game designer, always throws a single shoe in one of his designs because that is the way life is – occasionally there is just a shoe lying there (not two, just one).  But what we sometimes fail to realize is that such imperfect verisimilitudes are a relatively new creation, and were almost unknown in the 1820s.

                Into that environment, look at Amulek’s words “I am a Nephite.” At first glance, it seems silly – of course he is a Nephite.  He is living in a Nephite city, which Alma went to in order to preach the Gospel.  But careful examination of the text reveals the depth that is there.  We know of only three Ammons in the Book of Mormon.  The first one led the mission to rescue the people of Limhi – he was explicitly mentioned as a Mulekite.  The second one was his nephew, who was the great missionary (and, by careful reading of the text, at least part Mulekite).  The third is Ammonihah who founded the city.  Why would Mormon point out that Ammonihah founded the city?  Because Ammon is a Mulekite name – and that means that Ammonihah is a Mulekite city.

                Suddenly Amulek’s words make perfect sense – he is a Nephite, yes, but a Nephite in a city full of Mulekites.  Mulekites always had a fickle relationship with the Gospel – they brought us such luminaries as Amilici (and, apparently, Ammonihah).  After Amilici’s rebellion, they took up position on the outskirts of Nephite society (and literally on the outskirts of Nephite territory when they built their city of Ammonihah).

                Thus the simple phrase – “I am a Nephite” – becomes meaningful to Mormon when he is writing (once we tease through his assumptions), and becomes meaningful to us as we read.  It becomes just one more in a long line of evidences of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

                My other thought in this chapter was on the people of Ammonihah.  When they realize that Alma has no power over them, they turn away from him.  They do not recognize that he has willingly given up his power over them out of love for them and a desire for their welfare.  They speak of freedom but they only respect power.  It is a sad state of affairs – when we see those who have given up power over us our first thought should be to welcome them, instead of demonstrating that absence of power by fighting against them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2 Chronicles 31-32

(September 17, 2014)
                The mocking of the Sennacherib towards the people of Judah was not new in his day, and it has not ended in ours.  Many people who have abandoned God use Sennacherib’s reasoning as their rationale.  They claim that others pray and receive no help, so why pray.  They claim that a Muslim believes he has received confirmation from God that Islam is the true faith, so we can we believe the confirmation that we have received.  They claim double-blind studies have shown marginal or no measurable improvement in patients when prayers are offered on their behalf, so God is not listening or powerless to help.

                In their pride, they miss the point.  I have often said the line that I want on my tombstone is “A man with experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”  There are those who have undoubtedly been worshiping the works of men’s hands, and thus their forms of religion lack the power that is available.  There are others, such as the honest believers of other faiths, who are able to find the truths therein and through them access the power of the Divine (albeit in a limited fashion).  All of these things can be explained.

                However, my life is one great example of the power of God.  I cannot imagine how someone could look at the totality of my life and determine that God does not exist.  He has been there for me in too many ways (great and small) for that to be possible.  Too many coincidences to be explained even by the laws of large numbers.  Too many prayers answered almost immediately after being prayed (especially in this last year).  Too many things known that could not be known.  And, a few precious times, experiences that simply cannot be explained by mortal means.  I have experienced these, as the people of Judah experienced the Lord.  Thus there is no argument that can be contrived to draw me away from Him – no matter how clever the agents of Sennacherib may be as they call down at me from the walls.

Alma 6-7

(September 17, 2014)
                One lesson that I am just beginning to learn (a lesson that I understood intellectually before, but am becoming converted to) is of the importance of expressing gratitude and feeling gratitude for whatever happens.  Alma clearly says that in this chapter – we are to return thanks for whatsoever we receive.  It is not limited to returning thanks for those things that we identify as beneficial, nor is it returning thanks for those things we want – we are to return thanks for whatsoever we do receive.  We are to be thankful for the sunny days and the thunderstorms.

                Some may say that makes us Panglossian in our approach, to which I am coming to understand my answer is yes, because Pangloss was (half-)right.  We do live in the best of all possible worlds, if we understand that the world designed by God is designed to take us from what we were and are and to make us what we must become to have a fullness of joy.  Understanding that, everything that we experience is designed to bring us towards God (if we allow it to).  Our difference with Pangloss is on his passivity – there is no excuse for passivity.

                I find it ironic that I am coming to this understanding during a period of time when I have shed more tears than at any other point in my life – almost certainly the hardest time of my life thus far.  But upon second thought, that isn’t so surprising.  After all, Joseph Smith was given similar counsel only in his extremity in Liberty Jail.  The lesson that all things work for our good, and we should be grateful for everything (including our great trials), seems to be a lesson we are often taught during periods of great trials.

Alma 5

(September 16, 2014)
                Alma advised the people in this chapter to prepare quickly, because the hour was close at hand.  Sometimes I think that we read language such as this and we naturally think of the grand winding up of the time in mortality, but I doubt that is it.  After all, the world is still trucking along several millennia after Alma gave this sermon.  No, Alma is not talking about some hour for all of us but rather some hour for each of us.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the hour of our death.

                There comes a point – a point of divergence in our lives.  If we choose one path we go one way, and if we choose another path we go another way.  Often the end result of these minor choices are massive.  This is the hour at hand, and the choices that we make are informed by our preparation to that point.  Do we hold to the Church when we are exposed to some fact from Church history that is suspect or appears bad?  That largely depends on how prepared we are before the hour when we are presented that fact.  Do we give in to temptation when we are presented with it in a moment of weakness?  That largely depends on how prepared we are before the hour when our temptation is before us.

                The hour truly is close at hand – the hour is now.  And next hour, and the next.  And, as the hymn states, we need Him every hour.

Monday, September 15, 2014

2 Chronicles 30

(September 15, 2014)

                The center of this chapter is humility – do we have the humility to bow ourselves before the Lord?  All of the children of Israel were, at this time, corrupt – unworthy to even partake of the Passover.  And yet, only a portion was willing to conceded that they were corrupt.  And ironically those who recognized that they were corrupt and unworthy were those who ultimately accepted the sacrifices and became clean, while those who saw themselves as above the sacrifices in Jerusalem became more unworthy still and ultimately were destroyed.

Alma 3-4

(September 15, 2014)
                Each time I read these chapters, I am against struck by the idea that we bring upon ourselves our own curses.  Curses, I am coming to understand, have a great deal to do with how we feel and whether we are progressing.  Our worldly situation really has very little to do with whether or not we are cursed, except perhaps in extreme circumstances.

                There are those who are wealthy and powerful, who are undoubtedly cursed.  They are cursed because they are miserable in their wealth and damned in their progression.  Likewise, there are those who are blessed in their poverty and adversity.  They are blessed because they are happy in their circumstances and progressing towards being more like their Father.

                This isn’t, of course, some idle matter – it is one of the most important principles in mortality.  We must learn to live after the manner of happiness, and that commandment is not conditional upon us getting our way or other people coming around to do things the right way.  No, it is up to us to learn gratitude (even in adversity) and happiness (even amid life’s reverses).

                With that in mind, it is only too clear how we bring upon ourselves our own curses.  We choose each day whether to be blessed by accepting the Lord and His Atonement, or to be cursed by denying the Lord’s Atonement in our lives and the lives of those around us.

2 Chronicles 29

(September 14, 2014)

                The thing that struck me in this chapter was how quickly the temple could be cleaned.  The temple had become wholly corrupted, and yet when it was cleaned and turned to the Lord again it was made ready in a period of only eight days.  There is an important lesson to be learned from this.  I have found myself burdened under the weight of sins that have built up over a long period of time – mistakes made over years.  But, when I turned fully away from those sins and chose to give my will over to the Lord, I found myself cleaned in a period of time far shorter than I would have expected would have been required.

Alma 2

(September 14, 2014)
                Alma and his army, in this chapter, found themselves in a horrible tactical position.  They were met when they were fording the River Sidon, which put them at a significant disadvantage.  But they were ultimately able to prevail and achieve victory, because they looked to the Lord for their salvation rather than trusting the arm of flesh.

                Tactical advantage is good to have, and in a conflict it is better to have the advantage than the disadvantage.  But all the temporal benefits or detriments in the world are not dispositive.  If we isolate ourselves from the Lord, we can be in a perfect position and still lose (spiritually it is inevitable, and it can also happen temporally).  Likewise, we can be in the worst possible position and still win if we turn fully to the Lord and call on Him for aid (spiritually, again, it is inevitable and it can likewise happen temporally).

2 Chronicles 26-28

(September 13, 2014)
                We each are going to face times of trial and distress, but the key question is what we are going to do during those times of trial.  The scriptures are full of examples of those who suffer, and in their suffering and distress turn to the Lord and find peace.  At the same time, there are other examples (such as Ahaz), who when life’s pain inevitably comes they turn and look for those to blame or continue their behavior that resulted in the pain coming in the first place.

                Is there a more tragic statement than that attributed to Ahaz here – in his time of distress did he trespass more against the Lord.  Our suffering and pain is often designed to turn us towards the Lord – and even if it is not by His will or design that we suffer, yet He stands ready to succor all of us who turn to Him.  Instead of turning to Him, however, how often do we turn from Him further and further all while increasing the pain and distress that we suffer through this mortal life? 

Alma 1

(September 13, 2014)

                Is there a better promise than the one that is in this chapter – that we may experience continual peace again, notwithstanding all persecutions.  The righteous – those who became truly converted to the Lord – found that their temporal situations were no better (if anything they became worse).  But while they didn’t find temporal peace, they instead found real and lasting and continual peace again, because that is something that cannot be taken from us when we are converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In times of adversity and trials, I have likewise found that peace and know just how significant of a blessing that it is.

2 Chronicles 24-25

(September 12, 2014)
                I had two thoughts as I read through these chapters.  The first was on Joash turning away from the Lord after Jehoiada died.  This is something that I have seen a few times in my life – a truly righteous man or women who acts as an anchor to those around him or her in the Gospel, and yet when this person dies many of the people who anchored themselves to him or her spiral out of control or out of the Church.  As I ponder how best to serve my children and teach them the Gospel, this is something that is important for me to consider – I want their testimonies to be personal and to the Lord, rather than trying to build them around me.

                Secondly, I was struck by the language that they sought after gods that could not even deliver their own people.  We do that in our day – we seek after a lifestyle that we want to emulate, whether from Hollywood or the scientific community or any other subculture.  We adopt many of these ideas, assumptions, and lifestyle choices uncritically without even bothering to ask whether they serve to make the people who practice them happy.  The Hollywood actor or starlet who is miserable, abused, or drug-addicted is almost cliché.  The miserable curmudgeon of an atheistic, materialistic scientist is all to common.  Why would we look to either example for ways to live?  Instead, let us look to the lifestyle that brings genuine happiness even in times of adversity.

Mosiah 29

(September 12, 2014)
                As I read through this chapter, it dawned on me how clearly government seeks to replace the true Theocracy, and how so many people look to government and worship it in place of God in some tragic form of idolatry.  There must, of course, be temporal governments, but these governments arise in three forms.  First, there are those who seek to build man’s relationship with Deity.  These are positive and worthwhile governmental systems, which seek to augment or administer the Lord’s works.  Second, there are those who seek to get out of the way of man’s relationship with Deity.  These are neutral – neither positive nor negative – but the Lord’s work can thrive in this environment as well.  Finally, there are those governments that seek to supplant man’s relationship with Deity.  These governments become idolatrous almost by definition through the attempted deification of its rulers.

                What seems to be the case, though, is that too often the second type of government becomes over time the third – it progresses from neutral in respect to religion to becoming hostile towards religion.  It does this, I expect, because too many of the people involved in government do not like the fact that anyone’s loyalty is to religion rather than towards the government.  When you set yourself up as a false god, it must be frustrating for people to continue to worship the True and Living God.  Thus the hostility increases over time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2 Chronicles 21-23

(September 11, 2014)
                The expression that the king had slain his brethren which were better than he was is a simple reminder that those who prosper in mortality (even those reaching the highest levels in mortality) are not necessarily more righteous or virtuous (and perhaps may even have reached that level through their wickedness).  We live in a fallen world, and it is too easy to lose sight of that fact as we struggle with our own fallen natures.

                My second thought was on the king taking the same counselors after the death of his father.  Here we have a situation where the kings father was wicked, a prophet prophesized about his destruction, and that destruction came true.  Then the king, having witnessed what happened to his father, then emulates him by hiring the same cabal to advise him.

                We see that all the time – people who have failed at some task or another (whether political, religious, family, or really anything) who are then very vocal about what should be done.  The same parasites seem to leap from administration and bureaucracy to administration and bureaucracy, never being held to account for their failures.  Advisors in religion and family make messes of their own lives, and never take any steps to correct them.  It is important that we take counsel from those who have achieved what we want to achieve, rather than the ‘realists’ who tell us that such achievements are impossible.

                Finally, the queen’s words when she saw her grandson seated on the throne (“Treason!”) were illuminating.  The queen was an illegitimate usurper – and she knew that more than anyone.  Yet she had been lying to herself and others for so long that when she saw the legitimate king having been crowned, she instantly resorted back to the lies that none would ever believe but herself.  She had lied to herself for so long that she no longer could recognize the king, and rather than bow to the legitimate king she chose destruction.

                Each of us in life have the lies that we have told ourselves – I have yet to meet an exception to this pernicious sin.  I used to think that I was the exception, until I came to realize that this sin was not something just applicable to other people but was also applicable to me.  Each of us have lied to ourselves, and in some areas of our lives each of us have falsely claimed that we are the kings or queens of our lives and destinies.  Whether that lie comes across as sin, or hatred for our fellow brothers and sisters, or anything else, it is there.

                The time comes when we are brought face to face with the King.  In that moment, we need to either bow ourselves down and repent, and allow ourselves to be forgiven, or we bury ourselves in our lies further, cry out ‘Treason! Agency!’ and reap our own destruction.  Each of us has that choice and none of us can escape it.  I have, in the past, felt the destruction and darkness that consumed me as I turned away from the Lord in pursuit of my sins.  I now enjoy the light and peace coming in to my life as I acknowledge my mistakes and seek to have the true King replace me as the director of my life.

                Having been in both positions, I can only say how much happier it is to have the right King leading my life, rather than my poor efforts to do so.

Mosiah 28

(September 11, 2014)
                One thing that struck me as I was reading through this chapter (that I didn’t recall having noticed before) was that Mosiah still had the plates nearing the time of his death.  This was at least decades after he had delegated to Alma the role of leader of the Church, but yet he was still throughout this time period acting as seer for the Church and translating the records.

                Oftentimes I think I mistake the form and practice of the Church for the Church itself.  In our modern era, the Prophet holds all the keys of the Church, and if there was translation of ancient records to be done, I would expect President Monson to be the one doing the translating.  But upon reflection, I realize that I cannot truly say that.  The Lord calls who He will call to whatever position that He will have them fill.  The Prophet is called to a particular stewardship, and that stewardship is not all-encompassing.

                Of course, this thought process can be taken too far (we all have heard from those who, having realized that the Prophet is neither perfect nor omniscient, determine that a fallible Prophet is not worth following at all – a dangerous and predictable heresy).  But it is worth remembering that the Lord assigns us tasks and within those tasks we have all the authority we need (and those given different tasks must be respected in their authorities and stewardships as well).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2 Chronicles 19-20

(September 10, 2014)
                There are two main issues that came to mind reading these chapters.  The first is the obvious question, should we help the ungodly?  I think that the clear answer here is no.  Tolerance has been so corrupted that some people believe that if we are not actively helping people to sin in the manner of their choosing, we are not being properly charitable.  That is, of course, clearly wrong.  We are called upon to love all God’s children, but we are under no obligation to help those who are actively working against the Lord.  The Lord can fight His own battles, but we are to be on His side to the greatest extent that He allows us to be.

                The second thought is on reliance upon the Lord.  Jehoshaphat demonstrates this lesson here, both in his calling for a fast and his trust in the counsel of the Lord in arraying his forces for battle.  This is a wonderful lesson and shows a profound faith.  And yet he, like so many others, lost this trust and reliance on the Lord near the end of his reign – he sought the strength of the arm of flesh, rather than trusting in the Lord.

                This is an important lesson for me to remember.  Right now in my life, I have been compelled to be humbled by the circumstances that I am in.  During this past year or so, the lessons that the Lord has taught me and the miracles that I have seen (and the tender mercies I have received from Him) are overwhelming and wonderful.  But I know that, as time moves on, this situation that I find myself in will resolve, and when it resolves (however it resolves) I will eventually find myself in a comfortable and happy position building something of significance.

                When that day comes, will I likewise remember my reliance on the Lord?  Will I remember how He delivered me from my bondage – both that I brought upon myself through my sins and that imposed upon me?  Or will I forget, as did Jehoshaphat, the lessons I learned in my extremities and lose touch with my constant need for the Lord?  When I stabilize, I must stay true to the Lord.  I feel as though I will, however, as the lessons that I am learning are being instilled down to the very core of who I am.

Mosiah 27

(September 10, 2014)
                I cannot speak for everyone, but in my life I have made some pretty tragic mistakes – mistakes that hurt a great number of people.  That, I suppose, is why I always empathized with Corianton so much in the Book of Mormon – he has made these mistakes, repents, and quietly goes about doing the best he can without fanfare or acclaim.  Many people see in him a story of failure, while I see in him a story of redemption and success – he made his tragic mistakes, but he repented and corrected his behavior.

                The two Almas are much the same – they made their own set of tragic mistakes.  One of the hardest parts to deal about having made these mistakes is trying to make things right – trying to make restitution for the wrongs that I have committed.  It is especially difficult when the people that I have wronged don’t want restitution or have become sufficiently hostile that any efforts I make to repent only make the situation worse.  I thought of this as I read through this chapter, seeing Alma and the sons of Mosiah struggling to make restitution for the serious sins which they had committed.

                What struck me was that, although they were successful in the Church at large (i.e., people who did not listen to them before and who they really didn’t harm), those that they had harmed and led out of the Church were largely unaffected by their attempts to perform restitution – they were hostile to Alma just as they were hostile to any other believer.

                Alma, though, was still able to make fully effective (presumably – I am no judge) his repentance through working with the Lord and through zealously striving to repair the damage that he had caused.  That language is telling to me – Alma was not charged to repair the damage, as he could not repair it (especially since those damaged had no desire to have the damage repaired).  He was obligated to zealously strive to repair the damage, and then leave the matter in the hands of the Lord.  That is something that I can do as well – even if I cannot repair the damage my mistakes have caused I can do what I can with zeal and then wait upon the Lord to handle everything.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2 Chronicles 17-18

(September 9, 2014)
                There will almost certainly be times when the Lord is telling us one thing while everyone else in the world is telling us something else.  I have noticed in my own life that while I intellectually understand that the Lord is omnipotent, as a practical matter I sometimes allow myself to not believe it.  Likewise, I intellectually understand that the Lord is omniscient, but sometimes I emotionally react as though He is not.

                If the Lord is telling me something – something to do or something to believe – then it does not matter who else in the world is telling me something different.  I find this characteristic in myself as I read through the various apologetics for the Book of Mormon – I think that there is ample evidence to support the historical authenticity of the book, but even if there was not and even if every expert in the world contradicted that book in every way it would not change the underlying truth of it because the Lord has told me that it is true.  And one voice (the Lord or His servants) is sufficient to counteract all the voices combined by everyone else in the world.

Mosiah 26

(September 9, 2014)
                I had three thoughts as I read this chapter, and two of them were things that I needed in my life right now.  The first of them to notice that Alma did not know of the people who were in the rising generation abandoning the faith, even though they were quite numerous.  I think there is a tendency to criticize leadership in our modern times for not knowing what sometimes some people think that they ought to know, but like everyone else they are subject to mortal limitations at all times when they are not directly provided assistance from the Lord sufficient to overcome that limitation.  It is perfectly acceptable to provide information to our Priesthood leaders to let them know of an issue, rather than assuming they know about that issue already.  Additionally, we certainly cannot complain if there is something that President Monson does not know about, because Alma here shows that there is a major movement that he didn’t know about.

                The second thing is Alma’s fear of doing the wrong thing.  This is a fear that I struggle with as well – I am at a point in my life that I am trying to make some momentous and life-altering decisions.  I do not want to make the wrong decision or do the wrong thing, but I feel that either choice could be the wrong thing.  Alma’s example has changed the way that I am approaching the matter with the Lord – I am adopting Alma’s language and letting the Lord know of my willingness to do what He wants me to do and letting Him know of my fear of doing the wrong thing in His sight.  With two options in front of me, and no clear path in sight, all I can do is rely on Him and let Him know how much I want to do the right thing (if I can discern what that right thing is).

                Finally, we know that the people who had left the Church were afflicting the people who continued to follow the Church’s teachings.  And yet, the instruction the members of the Church were given was to “give thanks in all things.”  Not just the things that we might think to give thanks in – the temporal blessings or our health or safety or prosperity – but in all things.  As I read this, I contemplated the adversity that I have been facing in my life, and the path that my spirit has been on during those times of adversity.  I would not have chosen this path for all the money in the world, and yet having been on it I can say with confidence that it has been one of the best things for my life.  I have received more blessings these past 2½ months than I have received over any period of time except for a couple of months of my mission.  I have drawn closer to the Lord, learned more about myself (and I have been blessed to continue learning about myself), and regained a fierce determination to live according to His teachings.

                In some ways, this period of time in my life has been a cleansing.  I almost compare it to a surgery, where scar tissue that has built up around my soul has been carefully cut away by the Master Physician, freeing me soul to follow Him in the way I was designed to do so.  I would have preferred to have never made the mistakes that I have made in life, but this period of trial and adversity is serving to undo much of the spiritual damage of those mistakes and repairing me to spiritual health.  I would likewise love to see the temporal damage that I have caused to be undone, but that is beyond my power.  But I recognize that I must be grateful for the adversity in my life, having seen recently just what a blessing that adversity can be.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2 Chronicles 14-16

(September 8, 2014)
                Asa is an interesting study.  On the one hand, he shows wisdom in his youth – recognizing that numbers don’t matter.  And they truly don’t – no matter what temporal measures are arrayed to bring us the results that we want (or what is arrayed against us that threaten to bring the results that we fear), the Lord is in charge and we can trust that He can accomplish anything that He chooses to accomplish.

                But later in his life, Asa has forgotten the lesson that he learned in his youth.  Instead of turning towards the Lord, Asa turns towards the Syrians for help.  I see that from time to time in my own life – as I acquire experience, I seek to resolve my own problems (sometimes through poorly-chosen methods) rather than trusting the Lord and following Him and leaving the rest to His Grace.

Mosiah 24-25

(September 8, 2014)
                The Lord, speaking to Alma, told him that He would stop the Lamanites in the valley of Alma.  Why was that?  After all, could He not have just as easily stopped them in the valley before the valley of Alma?  Presumably so, but the Lord wanted the people of Alma to move on – He wanted them among the Nephites, and He used the continued threat to push them where He wanted them to go.

                Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we would like to stay, but the Lord applies pressure to us (and often that pressure is quite uncomfortable) in order to push us where we need to be.  Sometimes the situation where we want to remain is a temporal one, and sometimes it is a spiritual one.  Sometimes we are in the job we want, and we require pushing to reach the job He wants us to fulfill.  Sometimes we are in the spiritual condition we want to be in, and we require pushing to reach the higher level of obedience and testimony that He wants us to reach.

                The other thought that I had was contrasting again the deliverance of Limhi and Alma.  In Alma’s deliverance, it was clear that the Lord had intervened, but Alma made certain to point out that it had been the Lord that had delivered Limhi, not his own efforts.  Sometimes I think the greatest risk we face when we engage in our own efforts is that we trust the arm of flesh too much and lose sight of the fact that the Lord is in charge.  Even when we come up with the plan and run it to perfection, it is still the Lord that brings our deliverance – it is important that we never forget that.