Friday, November 28, 2014

Proverbs 7-9

(November 28, 2014)
                I have read through Solomon’s advice about being capable of receiving correction a number of times.  The more experience that I have with the world, the more that I realize he is correct.  There are some people who, when you give them criticism, they take it seriously and do what they can to implement it into their lives.  They strive to repent and struggle to become better and view correction as an important tool for overcoming the self-deception that we are all cursed with.  Others, though, will accept no correction.  They attack those who dare to point out any deficiencies in their character.  They believe themselves wholly free from the Fall, from any wrongdoing altogether (or they genuflect to the idol of ‘of course I have some sins, but nothing major’), and accuse anyone who disagrees with their position.  I have been both in my life – the person who could accept correction and the person who could not.  I can testify that Solomon is correct here.

                But when I read this part today, my mind went in a different way.  I thought of it as a speaker today rather than as a hearer.  Yes, the scorner will not receive correction, and the wise will accept it.  But the language can be read as well that when we are talking to the scorner we are not to correct them but to the wise we can share correction.  This would make sense, in light of our obligation to avoid contention.  When we are talking with someone who has placed themselves beyond the reach of criticism (for whatever reason) we are best not to criticize them, no matter our intentions.  But when someone is humble and wise an willing to accept criticism, we can at that point share with them our thoughts (or, if in a position to do so, actual counsel) when it is appropriate.

3 Nephi 13

(November 28, 2014)
                The Saviors words, talking about the eye and filling the eye with light or darkness, really struck me as I read through this chapter today.  Of course, the eye isn’t really an eye – our eye is our purpose or focus.  If we are focused towards the light, we become full of light.  If we are focused on the darkness, we become full of darkness.

                I don’t think that is an instantaneous process, nor was it really meant to be.  In my life, and in my experience, there have been times when my eye was full of darkness.  Over time, the light that was within me began to be replaced with darkness.  It took a number of years for the process to reach its conclusion – I was surviving on the light that I had accumulated from the past – but ultimately the light that was in me was gone.

                Now, however, I am reversing that process and the results are once again not instantaneous.  As I focus on truly being a disciple of Christ and learning what conversion and consecration really mean, I find myself slowly refilling with light.  I understand why the metaphor of a well of living waters is used – though there are times when it seems a rainstorm will add to my water level by a few inches, most of the time my progress feels more like water bubbling up bit by bit.  The muck and the filth had to be cleaned out (that had to be the starting point), and to get them gone the Lord needed my well drained dry (I don’t recommend that – it is a horrible experience to go through).  But now that it is clean, the water is also clean and I am enjoying the process of my well being refilled.

Proverbs 4-6

(November 27, 2014)
                I am not sure what to take from Solomon’s statements about adultery and rejoicing in the wife of your youth.  On the one hand, Solomon is hardly what you would look to as a role model.  He allowed himself to be pulled this way and that (even into worshiping strange gods, and this when he had been blessed with profound revelations to start his life), and he certain demonstrated no capacity for sexual restraint during his lifetime.

                But, on the other hand, we have a father tell his son (in essence) ‘don’t make the same mistakes that I made in my life.’  He isn’t couching them in those terms, but I think that is actually what he is trying to say.  And if there is ever a person that would know and understand (both from his life and the life of his father) the dangers of unrestrained sexual behavior, it would be Solomon.

3 Nephi 12

(November 27, 2014)
                For some reason, we in the Church tend to downplay certain things that are held in very high esteem by the rest of Christianity.  I assume that is either because we look at the continuing revelation we have been blessed with as making reliance on past doctrines less of a necessity, or perhaps because the ‘favorite’ sermons of Christendom have been displaced by other sermons that we hold dear to us now.

                But I don’t think we are necessarily justified in that.  Look at what happens in this chapter.  Christ, the Risen Lord, comes to visit the Nephites and what is one of the first things He teaches?  He gives the Sermon on the Mount.  Out of the Church, I think, this sermon is viewed as far more important than we consider it inside the Church.  Yes, we have the understanding of the Plan of Salvation, but we should have a certain holy envy for those who regard the Sermon on the Mount with its proper respect.  For myself, this is something that I intend to correct in my own approach.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Proverbs 1-3

(November 26, 2014)
                There are times that I wish that I could read Hebrew, because it would be interesting to read these in their original language to see if something was lost.  We seem to have Solomon taking different sides on the issue of the importance of wisdom.  We are taught to develop wisdom, yet to trust the Lord with all our heart and lean not to our own understanding.  We are taught that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

                What I think the distinction that we have lost is a distinction between worldly knowledge and wisdom as defined by fear of God and knowledge of Him and His ways.  The former knowledge is at best largely irrelevant and at worst counterproductive.  The latter is absolutely necessary for us to develop (to the best of our abilities) in order to please God.

3 Nephi 11

(November 26, 2014)
                I think I am far too permissive with myself with contention.  The Lord’s language here is unambiguous – we are commanded to not engage in contention.  The Lord does not say, do not be contentious if you are wrong.  He doesn’t say, don’t be contentious unless the other person is contentious.  He doesn’t say, don’t be contentious unless not being contentious wouldn’t work effectively.  He doesn’t even say, don’t be contentious except when the other person isn’t dealing in good faith.  He is clear – contention (all contention) is of the Devil.

                Not only that, but this is the second (or third, if you count His expression of His divinity) message that the risen Christ brings to the people of Nephi.  Here is how you baptize.  Don’t be contentious.  We understand the importance of baptism, but have we internalized just how important avoiding contention is.  I know it is something I still need to work on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Psalms 147-150

(November 25, 2014)
                Two thoughts through this – one specific to these chapters and one more generally.  These chapters were certainly focused on the idea of gratitude, and the longer I go in life the more I realize how important gratitude is.  We read in the scriptures about some who turn towards the Lord and some who turn away even though they are in the same set of external circumstances.  I cannot speak for them, but in my experience one differentiation in my own life between these two responses has been gratitude.  If I am grateful for my trials – even if I consider them as having been ‘caused’ by the actions of someone else – and I express that gratitude to the Lord for this sorrow, then I find my trials and suffering draw me closer to Him.

                I think it is a matter of faith.  When I think in my pride that I am suffering because of someone else (or even my own mistakes), then I am denying the perfect plan of God.  After all, He numbers the stars and knows them by name (and the better our understanding of astronomy, the more amazing that truth is).  He knows that someone is going to cut me off in traffic, or that I will get lost on the way to my appointment.  To say that the Lord’s plan is not capable of both encompassing these events and turning them to my good is to lack faith in the power of God.  No matter what suffering I go through, whether something silly like the two things I mentioned just above or something serious and significant, that same suffering can and will be a benefit to my soul (proportional – or even greater – to the level of suffering), but only if I remember and have faith to turn to the Father and thank Him for it.  I have felt the sting of betrayal pulled and peace returned to my soul (and growth begin again) when I have brought myself to sincerely thank the Lord for awful pain and the blessing of going through trials.

                And that leads to the more general comment – I am sad to see the end of PsalmsReading through them at this difficult time in my life, there are a number of points that I have been moved to tears as I read (including today).  Before I looked to the Psalms for proof-texting or to find doctrinal nuggets or similar things.  This time, I opened my heart to the passion and praise and gratitude and anguish of the Psalms and I began to understand them for the first time.  I wonder, now, what my reaction to them will be when I reread them in about two years from now.

3 Nephi 9-10

(November 25, 2014)
                I am struck by the response of the survivors after the calamities came to an end.  The Voice of God reached down to them and spoke to them, and both before and after they wept for their dead loved ones and the misery and changes that they would encounter.  And then, when the mists of darkness passed, they changed to rejoicing in the salvation that they had received.

                I think there are parallels that we can take from this.  Each of us will go through trials in the course of our lives (as President Eyring has said, the path of discipleship is uphill).  We are likely to see others fall along the way – to weep for them and the decisions that they are making.  We are also likely to weep for ourselves – the things we lose and the pain and anguish as we slough off those parts of our souls unfit for Heaven.

                And yet, no matter the pain and no matter the calamity, if in the end we are brought through to the other side of the trial we will find our hearts again filled with joy and rejoicing.  No misery is permanent, unless we choose to make it so.  Pain will last until the Lord grants us relief, but if we remain dedicated to Him then He will apply the balm of Gilead in His own due time.

                Sometimes in the depths of our trials, we may believe that our sorrow is forever.  But the day of rejoicing inevitably comes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Psalms 141-146

(November 24, 2014)
                My mind struck on David’s words that he would sing a new song to the Lord.  Now that may well be a symbolic thing, but in my thoughts I wondered what it would mean if it were literally true.  Existence has been going on forever, and will be going on forever.  Is it even possible for us to sing a new song, or have all songs been sung?

                I think the creative impulse is such that there are still new songs to sing (and hear) and will be for all eternity.  I think that is one of the joys of Exaltation – to participate in the creation of something that never before has been, even in the infinite reaches of the past.  I have felt that feeling before in the oddest places, the feeling that what I was experiencing was something slightly different than what anyone save Christ has ever experienced (and Christ experiences it with and through us).

                I have heard those who think that an eternal existence would be worse than a mortal existence followed by annihilation, and I never understood that thinking.  I suppose it comes down to this idea of a perpetual ennui that would consume the soul.  But between service and blessing the lives of those around us, the interaction with creatures of free will, and each and every moment being in some way new and different than all existence before that point, I do not see ennui but an awesome potential for joy.

3 Nephi 8

(November 24, 2014)
                It is so difficult, from our mortal frame of reference, to really understand much of anything that is going on even in our own lives.  For example, we are seeing the destruction in the land and the weep and the wailing.  Mormon recounts those who cried out that they wished they had repented earlier, but surely there were others righteous enough to have survived but still sufficiently limited in their perspective to blame God for the destruction that happened.

                Either way, what really happened in this chapter?  What really happened was that the Atonement – the single most important event in the history of the world and the great victory of the Savior – was completed.  I envision the Savior stepping over the Veil to a glorious host of angels (of which, I imagine, I was one) singing triumphant praises because our faith in the Savior was shown sound as He completed His work upon the Earth.  On one side of the Veil, jubilation.  On the other (in both the New World and the Old World), sorrow and devastation.

                Of course, jubilation was the proper response (although we cannot fault the sorrow by any means).  But we should allow our own feelings during times of trial and sorrow to be tempered by reflection on these things.  When we suffer, when we hurt, even when we feel destroyed – do angels on the other side of the Veil weep with us, or do they rejoice because they understand the purpose of our trials and the victories contained within them?  We are to endure to the end, and by very definition that means that we will face struggles and hardships, but our perspective is limited and it is important that we recognize and remember that.

Psalms 136-140

(November 23, 2014)

                I can only imagine what it must have been like to sing the songs of Zion while it captivity.  Imagine singing “I Am a Child of God” while in prison by those who mock and deride my faith.  The truth is that those songs could still bring comfort – they are true even if our circumstances might make them appear untrue – but the contrast between our hope for deliverance and the reality of our imprisonment would be hard to bear.

3 Nephi 7

(November 23, 2014)
                I wonder whether or not there is some sort of Earth-wide measure that determines what miracles are capable of being performed at a given time.  This may be a silly thought, but bear with me.  Raising the dead is a big deal – there were only a few recorded incidents of it in all the scriptures.  Christ, of course, performed this miracle during His mortal ministry, and Elijah performed it.  Then, of course, Nephi did as well.  But it was a rare thing.

                But what strikes me is that Nephi (one of only two people other than Christ to perform this miracle in the standard works that I can think of off hand) is ministering during the same time as Christ.  What that makes me wonder is whether during the time Christ was performing His mortal ministry, whether there was some mechanism that empowered the miracles and made them…more likely to occur, for lack of a better explanation.

                I don’t know that I will ever know the answer to this (almost assuredly I won’t know during mortality), but it is interesting to consider.

Psalms 132-135

(November 22, 2014)
                When the psalmist spoke of idols that cannot see, hear, or speak, he was speaking truthfully.  But we expect things out of our idols that they cannot provide, either.  The best definition of idolatry is one of relationship and priority – that which we place as a higher priority than the Lord is an idol to us.  We place these things in higher priority because we believe that these things can better meet our needs and wants than can the Lord (otherwise we wouldn’t place them above Him).

                We want security, so we place work above the Lord – making work our idol.  But even the virtue of hard work cannot generate the security that we need and want – only the Lord can truly make us secure.   We want joy, so we place entertainment above the Lord – making entertainment our idol.  But this entertainment merely masks our unhappiness rather than correcting it, so the wound in our happiness becomes infected and eventually no amount of entertainment is capable of masking the pain.  And so forth.

                No matter what we want or need in this life, if we place it above the Lord we will end up without the very thing that we found so important.  On the other hand, if we place the Lord above our wants or needs, we will find that He has met those wants and needs in a manner far greater than we could possibly have done on our own.

3 Nephi 6

(November 22, 2014)
                So much of our mortal experience can be understood better if we keep firmly in mind the idea that what we experience here is the continuation of the War in Heaven on Earth.  This war was fought over the agency of man, and over control, dominion, and glory.  Many agents who give themselves over to Satan almost immediately begin pursuing these same objectives.  They will seek control, or power, over those who they find around themselves.  They will often seek for that power to use it for ‘righteous’ reasons – just as Satan sought to bring all of Father’s children back home to Him.

                I am convinced that we in the Church do not even properly understand the importance and value of human agency, nor our tendency to circumvent it.  I do not speak of Priesthood stewardship when I say this, but rather in our interactions with each other.  We fought a war, and we fought it on the side of protecting our own agency and the agency of our brothers and sisters.  Do we engage in that same dogged effort to protect our agency, or do we casually sell this agency to habits, addictions, or character flaws?  Do we zealously try to protect the agency of others, or do we seek to circumvent that agency out of expedience – seeking, of course, a ‘good’ result in doing so?

                I think we all would be better served to rededicate ourselves to the Divine principle of agency and recognize our history and future as soldiers fighting for it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Psalms 120-131

(November 21, 2014)
                Sometimes there are chapters that deserve sermons written about them – and sometimes two verses contain so much that they deserve a sermon.  Perhaps ever verse in the scriptures is like that – if we fully understood what was contained in it we could give a sermon on each verse as we came to it.  Regardless, that is what I felt when I read Psalms 126:5-6 today.

                There were so many thoughts that could be developed out of these two simple verses.  That the righteous will suffer and sorrow.  That even when we suffer, we are to continue our work on behalf of the Lord.  That our work for the Lord continues to be precious, even (or perhaps especially) when we give it in our sorrow and despair.  That the Lord will magnify our efforts given in sorrow.  And that, if we continue to serve the Lord in our time of despair He will ultimately bring us to rejoice with Him in the fruit of that service – our tears will become joy.

3 Nephi 5

(November 21, 2014)
                It is easy to understand the behavior of the Nephites – after all, if in my lifetime I had heard a prophet tell the people that there would be a day and a night and a day with no darkness, then that had happened, then there were other miracles that occurred, and then we were spared – you would think diligence and belief would be the rational result.  But that is what makes the Gaddianton Robbers so interesting in this chapter.  Because they had experienced all of the same things as the Nephites, and yet we read that there were some who even then would not repent.

                For a long time I believed that, ultimately, we each would come around and accept the Savior.  This is the idea that we will all be Exalted eventually (or most of us), and that made sense to me.  After all, what will an atheist say the moment that he gets to the other side of the Veil?  But as time goes on, I find myself less and less believing that this is true – I think there is a reason why this philosophy is generally associated with Nehorism in the Book of Mormon.

                When we turn from the Gospel, we turn from the process of repentance and forgiveness that empowers us to benefit from the Atonement.  We close ourselves off to him.  I think that we can only close our eyes and shut our ears to His message for so long before we lose the capacity to open our eyes and to listen.  I don’t know that we can place any particular person from the scriptures or modern day in that camp (we certainly cannot judge), but I think that there are those who would be found there.

                Of course, this is all well and good – but why even think about this subject.  After all, we are not to judge others.  But the thing about reading the Book of Mormon is that the war that played out within its pages continues within each of us today.  Each of us, in some ways, are Nephites firmly believing in this element of the Gospel (say, tithing).  And each of us, in some ways, are like the Gaddianton Robbers firmly rejecting some element of the Gospel (say, kindness).  Only when we recognize and admit that we are both can we look at ourselves honestly enough to locate the evil that dwells within us.  It is painful to look at, but it is necessary to clearly see before we can begin to apply the Atonement to that area of our lives.

                I don’t think that we can cavalierly say that if we do not do what we can to repent of those deficiencies in our character in this life that we can with certainty repent of them in the next.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Psalms 119

(November 20, 2014)
                I absolutely loved Teth in this chapter – is there a better sermon on adversity than the one contained in the few verses of this section?  It was clear that his afflictions were unearned (after all, if it was fair it wouldn’t be a trial – to paraphrase Elder Maxwell), and they were even the result of lies spread about him by his enemies.  And yet, despite the evil source of his suffering, he was able to put it into proper perspective and to recognize that because of his suffering, he was able to come to better know and understand God – and that is worth any price in suffering.

                It is no surprise that I identify with this scripture in my life right now.  I am where I am in large part because of dishonest accusations made against me.  And yet, I am where I am solely because that is where the Lord needed me to be.  The lessons that I have learned through this process were lessons I cannot imagine having learned in any other way.  I have been blessed by the painful circumstances I have found myself in, and I am quickly arriving at the point where I no longer seek relief from my pain but rather express gratitude to the Lord for my pain – especially what that pain is teaching me about Him.

3 Nephi 4

(November 20, 2014)
                Usually when I read this chapter, I think I focus on the parasitic nature of the Gaddianton Robbers, but this time my focus was more on the response of the Nephites.  Particularly, I was impressed when I realized that they were able to recognize why they were saved.  It would be easy enough to believe that the Nephites survived because of good planning (in gathering together and in storing food) or good tactics (in attacking their enemies at night or getting in front of the marching robbers when they began to retreat).  But there was no discussion of that (at least in the record we have).

                Instead, we have a grateful people who recognize that despite the worldly and temporal things that seemingly benefited them, ultimately their deliverance was from the Lord.  This is important for us to realize in our temporal efforts, but it is even more vital for us to understand in our spiritual efforts.  We may mistakenly believe that we are destined to be saved because of our good planning or our good tactics, but ultimately we are saved independent of ourselves.  We are saved only through the Grace of Christ.  This, of course, does not excuse our failure to plan and put forth our best spiritual efforts – but these efforts, absent the focus on the Savior – do nothing to bring us salvation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Psalms 116-118

(November 19, 2014)
                I had three thoughts as I read through these chapters today.  The first is the interesting thought presented by the psalmist that “[p]recious in the sight of the Lord is the death of [H]is saints.”  I had never thought of it this way before, but when Abinidi or Stephen or Peter or any number of other martyrs died, their death was not accompanied by sorrow in Heaven (as opposed to Earth), but rather with triumphal rejoicing.  I can imagine the cheers of joy when we saw the Savior complete His earthly ministry and suffer death.  The Earth may have trembled and the Sun refused its light on this side of the Veil, but I would like to think that I was among the choir on the other side shouting praises to Him and overwhelmed with joy.  Death is only tragic when it is the death of someone not ready to die – but the death of a saint truly is a reason for joy.

                The second thought is on the psalmist’s line of gratitude that “the Lord hath chastened me sore, but [H]e hath not given me over unto death.”  That really fits me and my situation right now.  Over these past five months (really, this past year+), I have been chastened more sorely than I could have imagined.  But I look at the chastening that I have suffered, and I am grateful both in the improvement that the Lord has brought about in me and the fact that I am still given the opportunity in mortality to continue to grow and develop.

                The final thought was on the use of the Psalms in the Book of Mormon.  It is clear that the Book of Mormon focuses on the Northern Kingdom rather than on Judah – though it originates in Judah, Lehi and Ishmael are both of Manasseh.  Zenos and Zenock are both described as northern prophets.  Isaiah is referenced frequently, of course, but the Psalms are infrequently referenced – less than what we would expect, based upon their references in the New Testament.  Having read a summary of the references to the Psalms in the Book of Mormon, the bulk of the references to the Psalms are found in the writings of Nephi and Jacob (60%+).  This is not surprising, since they were raised in Jerusalem and would be the most familiar with them.  Of particular note, though, is that the only citation from the Psalms in Ether (a book we would not expect to have quoted the Psalms, for obvious chronological reasons) is found in what is clearly a commentary by Moroni on the original work.

                There are, with the Book of Mormon so many of these little evidences that become compelling in their volume.

3 Nephi 2-3

(November 19, 2014)
                I think we all mostly recognize that we are in a prosperous, yet wicked, time in human history.  In fact, it could well be said that we are in the King Noah era of human history.  If we look at what is said and left unsaid in that time period, it is clear that people generally prospered financially during Noah’s reign – even as they spiritually atrophied.

                So despite our prosperity (and some positive cultural improvements), we are largely stuck in a time of wickedness and immorality.  So the description Mormon gave of the time of Lachoneus was enlightening.  In particular, there was one point that was quite key – even during this time of general wickedness, there were still those who went about doing much preaching and prophesying among them.  Just as in those times, even in our wicked time there are those who do much preaching and prophesying in the name of the Lord.  What’s more, we each have the capacity to remain righteous ourselves even during this wicked time.  This is an important truth worth remembering.

                The second thought I had was related to Mormon going out of his way to speak of Lachoneus and his wisdom for gathering his people in the land southward.  Understanding the general geography, we would expect them to be gathering northward.  After all, the Lamanites traditionally attacked from the south, and more distance means longer supply chains and so forth.

                But I wonder whether that assumption is appropriate here.  After all, these are not Lamanites attacking – they are Gaddianton Robbers.  And with what we know about the Gaddianton Robbers, they are always identified and associated with north in the Book of Mormon.  It is not surprising that Mormon, knowing what he knows about the culmination of the Nephite story, imputes motives to Lachoneus for gathering southward (after all, look at where Mormon ended up fighting his final battle – and the course of the war was likely taking shape up to that point).  Lachoneus, though, may have simply been making the appropriate and practical decision to gather as far away from his enemies (assuming the Gaddianton Robbers came from the north) as possible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Psalms 110-115

(November 18, 2014)
                I loved the language of the psalmist that, to paraphrase, we will not tremble at bad news because we trust in the Lord.  There is a sermon in this single verse.  First, even those who love the Lord and serve Him to the best of their ability will receive bad news.  Sometimes we feel like, as God’s chosen people, our lives should be easy and comfortable.  In reality, of course, we should expect escalating challenges throughout our life if we hope to be refined into Celestial beings.  For some of us, these challenges are personal and for some of us, they involve those we love (the harder challenges, I expect).  In any event, however, there is no express-lane to salvation.

                But the second part is just as important – if we trust the Lord, this bad news will not cause us to tremble.  Though I am experiencing such an upheaval in my life that I would expect to be falling apart at the seams, I have found that (to the extent I place my faith and trust in God) I am actually growing both stronger and more resilient at the same time.  I am better able to carry the load that is being placed on my shoulders – a load of bad news, responsibilities, and other things.  The load is always substantially more than I can bear, but that in itself is a blessing because of the capacity of this load to turn me to the Lord for strength or fall beneath it.

3 Nephi 1

(November 18, 2014)
                Once again, we are reminded in this chapter that miracles do not convert.  The entire face of the land was blessed to see the long-prophesied day with a day and a night and a day without darkness.  This was in the 92nd year, and by the 94th year, the people were already fully apostatizing.

                This life, despite what we may fool ourselves into believing, is really just a matter of making moral choices.  This includes the moral choice to believe, and to follow those things we are told.  There is someone that I know who was given pretty specific instructions on what she should do, and is now firmly (all but irrevocably) devoted to doing the exact opposite of that.

                She admitted when her spiritual experience occurred that she knew it was a prompting from the Lord, and while she didn’t like the instruction that she received, she knew she had to follow it.  With no intervening events, she altered her approach in only two months to engaging in the behavior that she wanted to engage in rather than engaging in the behavior the Lord wanted her to engage in.  I have not spoken to her to find how she internally justified her shift, but any explanation would be superfluous anyhow.

                Sadly, her situation is not unique.  Each of us are given spiritual experiences – the decision we must make is whether to hold on to them and put the Lord first, or rationalize and excuse our deviation from them and put the Lord behind self-interest.  Our life is a test – it is ultimately only a test – to determine our answer to that question.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Psalms 107-109

(November 17, 2014)
                The first two of these psalms were wonderful.  In the first, we have the language of the Lord reaching out to each and every one of us – wherever we are in the world and whatever we might happen to be doing at that time – and we are reminded that the Lord can bring us out of the distress we are in.  In the second, the language of the closing verses – that only God can save us in our trouble, but that He can and will save us if we turn to Him…beautiful is the one word I have for those two psalms.  I felt significantly moved as I read them.

                Unfortunately the third psalm (and, particularly, the contrast between the second psalm and the third psalm) served to highlight the problem that ultimately led to David’s destruction.  He went from praising the Lord because of His everlasting mercy to desiring that his enemies (who legitimately were mistreating him and falsely swearing against him) would be destroyed, that their family would be destroyed, that their widows and fatherless children would be hurt and destroyed.

                Sadly, and I reminded of this over and over, David was a wonderful man who had that one character flaw that brought him down.  That trait was not, as it is so often considered, lust – he sinned with Bathsheba, but that was a sin he could have repented of.  His sin was pride – he hid his dalliance with Bathsheba through the destruction of Uriah and that led to his downfall.  That same pride is on display here, and is a reminder of the need of each of us to recognize our dependence on the Lord and to likewise recognize His role as the judge of all (a position we cannot fill, even if we feel we are legitimately wronged).

Helaman 15-16

(November 17, 2014)

                In our modern society, it is so easy to see Satan’s manipulations (of other people, of course – it is always difficult to see how he is manipulating us).  He stirs them up the same way that he stirred them up in the end of Helaman – he fills their minds with vain imaginations, he hardens their hearts towards prophecy, and he hardens their hearts towards that which is good.  If Satan can turn a person inward – focused on themselves and their own pride, he can lead them around by the nose without them even recognizing that they are under his power (without serious effort on each of our parts to understand and see how we are each bound).

Psalms 106

(November 16, 2014)
                The language of the psalmist regarding the people of Israel envying Moses and Aaron is interesting to me.  I cannot imagine why anyone would envy the power and influence that a Priesthood leader holds.  I see my poor Bishop, struggling mightily to assist me and my wife through this difficult time, and I know the weight of the world is on his shoulders as he attempts to discern what the Lord would have him do.  And I know that he might as well multiply that by 20, because I doubt that we are his only focus right now.  Why in the world would someone envy him his job?

                The only person who envies a Priesthood leader is someone who wants to lead for the wrong reasons.  Paul may say that he who covets after the office of a Bishop covets after a worthy thing indeed, but I think my father was more correct – he who covets after the office of a Bishop is too dumb to have the job.  I would love to be able to dedicate myself to the Lord’s service full time, but the pressure involved in participating with the Lord hand-in-hand in such a momentous way is frankly terrifying.  Perhaps it will not always be so with me – perhaps that is just a sign I am not ready.  But I still cannot see envying a prophet or other Priesthood leader as a result.

Helaman 14

(November 16, 2014)
                It is a common conceit that we have as members of the Church that because we have the Gospel and we have partaken of the ordinances of salvation, we are well on our way to the Celestial Kingdom.  Samuel is a Lamanite preaching to the Nephites – an outsider preaching to the Lord’s chosen people.  Because of that, we should be willing to pay particular attention to his words because we within the Church today are as the Nephites of old – blessed with the covenant but not always aware of our own weaknesses and failures.

                Samuel’s words to the Nephites apply to us just as much as it did in the day he spoke them – repent.  Repent, repent, repent.  Our partaking of the saving ordinances is a necessary but insufficient step along the path.  Our knowledge of the Gospel is a necessary but not sufficient step along the path.  The only hope we have, regardless of our individual level of righteousness, is to repent – today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes to be sanctified.

                We like to lie to ourselves and say that we are doing pretty good (and maybe we are – I cannot judge myself any more than I can judge someone else).  But whether we are doing well with our obedience or doing poorly, the ultimate question is whether we are repenting.  If we are, we are progressing.  If we are not, we are regressing.  It is in this light that we are told to declare nothing but repentance – because there is nothing but repentance that will empower us to partake of the Atonement.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Psalms 104-105

(November 15, 2014)
                You know, we see the children of Israel forgetting the stories from the Bible and we think to ourselves how silly that is – after all, we don’t forget the stories from the Bible.  But at the time, they weren’t stories from the Bible, they were merely family and national history.

                A better comparison would be to criticize me for not adequately knowing the history of how my grandparents gained their testimony (which is true – though I know they had a testimony I don’t know how they acquired it).  When I think of how my family must have been blessed over generations, it breaks my heart to think of the stories that I will never know, that the participants have passed on, and that I will not be able to pass on to my children.

                We each have a heritage within the Gospel.  It is our duty to seek out that heritage from those who have gone before and to do all we can to pass on that heritage to those who come after.

Helaman 13

(November 15, 2014)
                Samuel’s language is as plain as it can be – you cannot achieve happiness through wickedness.  I have seen this phrased dozens of different ways and hundreds of different places, but the principle is the same.  Human nature leads to excess, and unless we constrain our natures through obedience to the Gospel we are like children who glut ourselves on candy and become ill – yet continue to eat more and more and never learn.

                We cannot sin enough to be happy.  We cannot hate enough to be happy, we cannot judge enough to be happy, we cannot lust enough to be happy (fulfilled or unfulfilled).  We can love enough to be happy, we can forgive enough to be happy, we can serve enough to be happy.  For while we cannot find happiness in doing iniquity, we cannot help but find happiness in surrendering our will to the Father.

Psalms 97-103

(November 14, 2014)
                These chapters were just what I needed today, as I dealt with the troubles and sorrows in my heart (as I finally, ultimately recognized where things were going in my life).  I could understand the psalmist, in his adversity, calling out to the Lord to defend him and be swift to answer his prayers.  But the psalms of gratitude and thanksgiving were more important still – though I desperately want and need the Lord’s strength and support in my life right now, even more still I need to recognize with gratitude the way that the Lord has taken care of me and will continue to take care of me.  I have seen others facing challenges of life becoming hateful and bitter (and I see it around me even now).  But, for my part, I choose to not live my life in that way.

                The only way I can overcome bitterness, when facing challenges of the sort that I am facing right now, is to open my heart up to the glory of God and try to fully recognize Him for the things that He has done for me.  From there I must learn to be thankful for those who have and are hurting me – if the Lord has a perfect plan for me happiness, then their actions must be for my benefit (regardless of how they appear).  Then I need to let go of my mortal concerns and focus on the one constant in my life – the Lord.

Helaman 12

(November 14, 2014)
                This chapter was exactly what I needed right now in my life.  This was nothing more than a clear explanation of the necessity of trusting in the Lord and a description of why we can place our faith in Him.  He has the ability to, at a word, stop the Earth from rotating (and I believe that He does have that power).  So why do I have trouble trusting in Him with my petty concerns (though those concerns may loom large in front of me at the moment).

                If I were to characterize why I have difficulty trusting the Lord, it is contained in this chapter as well – we are less than the dust of the Earth because the dust obeys the Lord.  But, when it comes to human relationships, the Lord willingly constrains His awesome power rather than interfere with our agency.  So others have the capacity to hurt us – and hurt us deeply.

                How then do we trust the Lord in light of His admitted limits that He places on His own power?  We trust Him as we place ourselves in His hands and allow Him to demonstrate over time that the things that we think matter truly don’t matter.  Yes, the decisions of others (no matter how strongly we may disagree) have the capacity to turn your lifelong hopes and dreams to dust in a moment.  But those dreams – however righteous we might have believed them to be – are ultimately dust anyhow.

                The only thing of importance is the Lord and our desire to be with Him.  And nothing – no power in Heaven or Hell, no decisions (righteous or unrighteous) – can separate us from Him.  That is our faith, that is our trust, and that is our comfort as we pass through the trials of life.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Psalms 95-96

(November 13, 2014)
                Moses never saw the Promised Land (except from afar).  Those children of Israel who traveled in the desert for 40 years almost all didn’t see the Promised Land.  Do we think that Moses, though his temporal goal was never reached, missed out on Exaltation?  I think we can all acknowledge that he did receive his Exaltation (and the Mount of Transfiguration, I believe, proves that point).  Certainly there are any number of other good and decent people who participated in the Exodus who were denied the opportunity to reach the Promised Land but who now glory in the presence of God and have received a Celestial reward.

                This is important to remember.  We have no promise that we will receive our temporal promise land.  There may be goals that we desire – righteous and good goals – that may be forever out of our reach.  Whether those goals are temporal, financial, or even goals related to marriage or family – we will almost assuredly fall short of achieving some or all of our temporal goals.  But the important thing to remember is that these temporal goals are not what are important – it is our spiritual development that matters.  It is hard to recognize this in the moment when we experience the loss of temporal goals (or, especially, during times of extreme temporal setbacks) but it is far better to experience a temporal loss than a spiritual one – and our mortal promise land we may live in for a century but our spiritual promise land will make that century appear as the blink of an eye.

Helaman 10-11

(November 13, 2014)
                I had two separate thoughts as I read through these chapters.  The first was on Lehi – here was another of God’s servants toiling tirelessly (if he was as righteous as Nephi, he was doing well).  And yet, we know very little about him.  He served, but he will never be properly recognized for that even with the Church.  But in the eternities, he will have his reward.  This is something I need to constantly remind myself of – the good we do cannot be done for temporal purposes.  In the first case, we have no promise that we will receive temporally for our service (except in limited instances).  For the second, when we are focused on the temporal our service isn’t properly given.

                My second thought was on Nephi.  Here he had just had a miraculous event that he had been privileged to be a part of.  And as the crowd separated and went their own way, he received the visitation that granted him the sealing power.  When he had that power, he didn’t rest or contemplate it – he didn’t wonder whether he should go home and pray about what had happened.  No, he immediately went to work.

                I have noticed in my own life a tendency (at times – not uniformly) to follow up spiritual experiences with almost like a spiritual relaxation.  It is as though I have received confidence from the spiritual experience and thus I don’t feel the pressure to give my life over to the Lord as much.  This isn’t always the case (in fact, I don’t even know that it is usually the case), but sometimes it is.  Instead, though, I need to remain focused even when I am experiencing spiritual events and use that increase in power to drive me forward to more acts of service in His name.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Psalms 90-94

(November 12, 2014)
                Of each of these, the psalm listed as from Moses was by far the most interesting to me.  Whether it was truly written by Moses, of course, I cannot say but I can certainly believe it possible.  The doctrine that it contains – the understanding of man and his relationship to Deity – has depth to it that exceeds some of the psalms surrounding it.

                What I noticed most as I read it, however, was the undercurrent of fear that Moses had for the Lord.  He clearly loved God, and recognized that God loved him, but that love did not displace the fear of God that Moses carried.  It, of course, makes sense that Moses would understand that – after all, he had seen God’s power manifest and seen God execute His judgments against a number of the children of Israel that he knew God loved.  I think that is a trait that draws us closer to God – an appropriate fear of Him.  In my own life, when I am striving towards God I feel His love for me, but I also think I lose some of that fear – in a way that is no conducive to me developing a better relationship with Him.  Yes, God is love but He is also justice and power.  If I focus solely on the love and the mercy and lose sight of the other, I am drawing closer only to a caricature of Deity, rather than God Himself.

Helaman 9

(November 12, 2014)
                Both in and out of the Church, we are far too often like the people who gathered at the death of the chief judge.  The Lord had revealed what took place, the prophet had spoken on the subject, and here they were (and, symbolically, here we are) pontificating as to how and why things happened the way they did and arriving at the precise wrong result.  Rather than speculate based upon our own limited human wisdom, it would be a better idea to at least familiarize ourselves with the statements of the prophets on a given issue before forming an opinion – and to be extraordinarily cautious about forming an opinion in opposition to the statements given by our Priesthood leaders.

                The other thought I had was on the five men who ran to the chief judge.  On the road, they thought to themselves that they would believe – and when they were confronted with the chief judge being dead they collapsed in fear.  But what was noticeable to me in all of that was Mormon’s commentary about the situation – even after all of that, Mormon said that they were converted in prison (not before).

                I have experienced that in my own life.  I received witnesses and viewed miracles, and yet while I had a testimony I wasn’t converted as I should have been.  It was only some time later that I actually became converted to the Gospel – and I am constantly striving to deepen that conversion even now.  Miracles do not convert.  They may convince, but they often don’t even do that.  Eventually we have to make a choice – a moral choice – as to which side we are on in the War in Heaven as it continues here on Earth.  That choice, should we make it correctly, is our conversion – it starts the process of allowing the Lord through His miraculous Atonement to begin to change our natures and sanctify us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Psalms 84-89

(November 11, 2014)
                Sometimes the scriptures are wonderful because they speak peace to your soul and sometimes they are wonderful because they pointedly (even painfully) demonstrate exactly how you are failing at a given time.  As I read through these chapters, I was given a very clear understanding of the way that I was failing to walk the path of discipleship that I have chosen.

                First, I was pointedly reminded that even though I had been given a great blessing in being forgiven of significant sins in my immediate past, for some reason I had never gone to the Lord in humble gratitude for that forgiveness.  If anything, I had almost a sense of pride that I had escaped the sin rather than a proper understanding that the Lord had saved me from both the sin and the consequences of the sin.  I immediately repented of this ingratitude and apologized to the Lord.

                The second thought was on the psalmists declaration that a day with God was better than a thousand and being a doorkeeper in Heaven better than dwelling in the tents of wickedness.  I understood some of this – I cried recently as I cleaned the Chapel at the thought that I was able to clean the house of the Lord – but while I understood the first part I didn’t properly understand the second.  I still feel as though I am missing certain parts of mortality and that those opportunities will be gone never to be recovered.  This is true, of course, but while these missed opportunities won’t be recovered they will be replaced – replaced with opportunities far greater than the ones that I am missing.  By keeping this in mind at all times, my capacity to have patience in difficult situations will increase because I will understand that however mortality ultimately goes the life I live on the other side of the Veil is far more important and capable of more than adequately dealing with any setback in mortality.

Helaman 8

(November 11, 2014)
                We see throughout the scriptures that we have been given evidences enough – language like this came from Faith Precedes the Miracle as well.  On the one hand, it is hard to accept that there are not those who are legitimately lost.  But as I think about it, I am beginning to understand how it is true.  It may take time – perhaps a lifetime – for the accumulated evidences sufficient to bring about ones conversion to arrive.  But they will eventually arrive – and step by step we will be brought to Christ if we allow it.  There may be those who doubt or question and these doubts or questions may not be predicated on sin or slothfulness.  But if we avoid sin and slothfulness in time we will be brought to the knowledge of our Redeemer – no one will be left in the dark that honestly continued to try to enter the light.

                This is consistent with my own experiences.  At the time when I most struggled with my testimony I was living the Gospel to the best of my ability.  I had a genuine desire to know the truth.  I was praying and fasting and doing everything I knew to do and yet for a time I was still lost in doubt.  And yet, that doubt ultimately was replaced by a much stronger testimony than I had before I questioned.  Doubt, as a stage in life, is not a sin – but I think that if we choose to remain there it becomes a sin.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Psalms 79-83

(November 10, 2014)
                I appreciated the language in these psalms from the Lord (and I never know for sure whether the Lord is actually speaking in the Psalms or whether we have the artistic license of the psalmist) that because we would not listen to Him, He gave us up to our lusts.  I think that there is a great key to living a full and happy life (and the life of a disciple of Christ) contained in this language.

                The Lord is willing to give us whatever we want – regardless of whether it is good for us or not.  It seems that this is somehow a key part of our agency – if we want a certain type of life, we will receive that life in the end (whether here or hereafter).  But God understands that the life we want now is not the life that will bring us the most joy.  He stands calling to us to accept a new life, to desire what He desires.  Accepting the Atonement is more than simply erasing our sins, it is changing our nature so, in the end, when we are given what we want what we want is actually what we should want.

                For now, we need to cross ourselves from our lusts.  But, eventually, we must be able to allow the Atonement to change our nature so that our lusts are no longer for the things of this world and instead we desire the things of God and His life.  Then we can be given that and receive an everlasting joy.

Helaman 7

(November 10, 2014)
                I think it is a typical human response to look at certain times in the past and think ‘if only I lived then – things would be easy.’  We see that even with a prophet of God – we know from the Book of Mormon that Lehi certainly didn’t have an easy life.  His children were anything but easily entreated and quick to follow the commandments of the Lord.  If nothing else, Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring is an astounding evidence that contradicts that.  And yet, Nephi in this chapter looks back fondly (if not accurately) at that time.

                The lesson I take from that is that my life would not have been better at some unspecified time in the past, nor would it be better at some unspecified time in the future.  It may feel like it, but the Lord has placed me here and now for a reason – and the Lord does all things for the blessing of His children (of which I am one).  The time and place that offers me the best opportunity to achieve happiness and receive my eternal destiny is here and now.

Psalms 78

(November 9, 2014)
                I had two thoughts as I read through this psalm.  The first was on flattering and lying to the Lord – this was something I don’t recall having thought about in the past, but as I thought about it now I realized that sometimes I have done this.  It is one thing to use formal terms (thee, thine) as signs of respect, but they cannot cover when my heart is far from the Lord.  It does me no good to pretend to be something I am not when I am praying to Him – He knows me, and yet He still loves me.  Lately I have been working on being more open and honest with Him in prayer but this reminded me that openness and honesty includes abandoning flattery. God doesn’t need it, and it does me no good to offer it.  Sincere gratitude is a different matter, of course.

                The second thought was on the people of Israel forgetting miracles.  It seems that some people go through life experiencing miracles, and some people don’t.  I don’t think it is an issue of righteousness – there are those I have been blessed to know and to speak with who seem to far outstrip me in righteousness and yet they have never experienced a miracle while my life has at times been full to the brim with them.

                It is hard to know how to present those miraculous events in a journal, but it is important nonetheless.  I want my children to know just what I have experienced in my lifetime and why I have the testimony that I have.  But if they haven’t experienced miracles in their own lives, how should I present my life in such a way to help them to believe and understand what I have experienced?  If they didn’t see the Red Sea part, what could I possibly do to make them believe that I did?

                The way that I have approached it in my journal is to present myself – warts and all – so that it is clear that I am just a person doing my best to live the Gospel.  I don’t know but that I will go the rest of my life without seeing a miracle (Mother Teresa, after her revelation, went the rest of her life without feeling God’s presence), but even if that is the case I have been blessed with the opportunity to see miracles.  And I want nothing more than to pass these experiences on to my children and their children so that they can bless not only my life but the lives of those who come after me.

Helaman 6

(November 9, 2014)
                There is a tendency in my own thinking, from time to time, to see certain people as beyond the reach of the word of God.  I know, doctrinally, better than to think this way but I still believe it – I think that certain people need events or circumstances or something to open them up to the word of God before they can be converted.  Sure, I think, the word of God can reach those who are generally living right but those most afield from righteousness are unlikely to accept the word when preached to them.

                Contrast that poor way of thinking to what the Lamanites did.  Not only did they gather and root out the Gadianton Robbers, but they put together the more wicked part of them and caused that the word of God should be preached to them.  These were people who had left the faith and entered into covenants to murder and rob and plunder.  The Lamanites understood that not only was the word able to reach them, but also that only the word could reach them.

                I should remember this – when I see someone who I think is living too far afield to appreciate the Gospel I need to recognize that when someone has lost their way that much it is only the Gospel that can restore them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Psalms 74-77

(November 8, 2014)
                I loved the language of this chapter about God pleading His own cause.  The reality is that God can accomplish His own work – He doesn’t need our help.  Sometimes, He will give us some aspect of stewardship so that we are permitted to co-serve our brothers and sisters with Him.  But far too often, I believe, we pride ourselves in pushing forward the Lord’s work – pleading His cause for Him, so to speak – when the reality is that we are doing nothing more than pushing forward our own work under His banner.

                If we accept the fact that the Lord is capable of doing whatever He want to accomplish without us, it becomes far easier to rely on Him and accept that if we don’t have stewardship, we don’t need to interfere.  This protects us from the threat of unrighteous dominion, and protects others from being hurt from our mistakes.

Helaman 5

(November 8, 2014)
                I had a trio of thoughts as I read through this chapter.  The first was on the scale of the conversion as opposed to the scale of the military battles that were experienced.  Nephi and Lehi were successful missionaries, having going into a former Nephite stronghold and converted ~8,000 people.  We know from the battles that took place that a routine battle would include far more deaths than this – 8,000 is not insubstantial, but neither it is conclusive.

                This is another indication in the text that the accepted surface reading (that there were two homogenous groups) was not accurate.  There were people who were devoutly religious in service of Christ, and others who were members of the cult of war (or other indigenous religions) and still others that fluctuated based upon who held the current political power.  Understanding this makes so many more aspects of the text clearer.  It builds my testimony, at least, to see how consistently ideas are used that are simply not indicated in the surface text – they are the unconscious sub-text that I cannot see an author consistently controlling for accuracy the way they are controlled in the Book of Mormon.

                The second thought was just upon what an amazing situation this was.  As I read through the Book of Mormon, I come across certain events that make me reconsider people in the narrative.  As I read through their stories, it dawns on me just how amazing these people are.  They become actual people, rather than characters or archetypes, and I grow to appreciate them more and more.  This happen today as I read this event from the history of Nephi and Lehi – it illuminated just what amazing people they were and how powerful they became thanks to their faith.

                The final thought was on the reaction of people condemning Nephi and Lehi.  These dissidents (likely apostate Nephites and remnant Zoramites, according to the text) were completely lost.  And yet, as unrighteous as they were and as plainly surrounded by darkness (a symbolic situation, if ever there was one) as they had allowed their lives to be, all they needed to do was to cry out to the Lord to apply the Atonement and they found themselves no longer amid the darkness but embraced by the light.

                This obviously wasn’t the end of their challenges.  Towards the end of the chapter, they were given instructions to go and to serve, and commandments to carefully remember what they had been taught.  But the Lord stood ready to receive even these unrighteous (deliberately so) men prepared to assassinate His prophets the moment they were willing to turn from their evil and return to Him.  This is a comforting realization to those of us who struggle in trying to find our way more fully into His arms.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Psalms 70-73

(November 7, 2014)
                It was remarkable to me that Solomon composed a psalm dedicated to the Lord caring for the poor.  I could understand it coming from David, because David had been in that position in his life, but Solomon was born a prince and lived as a king.  Poor never described Solomon.  And yet, he praised that aspect of the Lord.

                This doesn’t seem like the behavior of a kind creating a religion.  There are a number of religions in the world that were created or modified by those in power, and the general trend of those religions or philosophies are to augment the power of their creators (or stabilize that power).  But the true faith, on the other hand, recognizes temporal power but also recognizes that eternal power is more important.

Helaman 4

(November 7, 2014)
                Each of us like to think that we are smart, or strong, or this or that, but regardless of how true that is none of us are capable of surviving a day in this world without the Lord’s help.  In driving to work today, I could easily have been killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if someone else had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  No amount of intelligence or talent or capacity could have saved me.

                When we are proud of our abilities or characteristics, we are left to the success we can generate with those abilities and characteristics.  At best what we generate, under those circumstances, are toxic imitations of positive things.  At worst, we find ourselves immediately flailing and facing our own destruction.

                We have to rely on the Lord – there is no other valid choice that we can make.  Unfortunately, it is difficult for each of us to remember that when our pride rears its ugly head.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Psalms 68-69

(November 6, 2014)
                I had two thoughts reading through these chapters.  The first was on the language asking why leap at high hills when we have the hill God desires to dwell in.  I am not sure I necessarily understand exactly what the psalm is saying, but the message I took from it was asking why we desire to be in a position other than the one that we find ourselves in.  The Lord took an extensive amount of time, effort, and service to bring us to where we are (often despite our best efforts to destroy ourselves along the way).  And yet, despite being in the position we are in, we tend to desire to be elsewhere – I know, at the moment, I would trade where I am for another situation in a heartbeat.

                Yet that just shows my lack of faith in God.  Because if I truly had faith in Him – if I understood and trusted that He had a perfect Plan and that if I surrender to Him with my whole soul all will eventually work out for me – then I wouldn’t want to change the position I was in moment to moment.  I could have goals and aspirations that I endeavor to reach, but I would likewise be content in the situation I find myself in based upon my trust that the Lord is in charge.  To the extent I don’t feel that way (and my trust in the Lord goes up and down, sadly), I need to repent and rededicate myself to following Him

                The other thought was on the difficulties that David was going through, and how similar our lives are in some ways (likening the scriptures are not hard for me in the Psalms).  David spoke of being hated without cause, and yet recognizing that he was full of iniquity.  This is a surprisingly difficult position to be in, as I have learned.  On the one hand, when I am falsely accused I have the desire to leap to my own defense and disprove the allegations against me.  On the other hand, I am well aware that while I haven’t committed the evil I am accused of I am still full of iniquity and my time defending myself would likely be better spent working out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

                Even after all this time and experience dealing with false accusations, I don’t know that I really know the proper balance between defending myself from those who hate me without cause and my own iniquity.  I have tried and am trying to let go of the hatred of others – you would think that if they hated me based upon an untrue accusation it would be easy to let it go, but I find it difficult – but I haven’t made it there yet.  But my hope is that with time and Grace I will be able to, and I will learn the lessons the Lord is trying to teach me and become the person the Lord would have me be.

Helaman 2-3

(November 6, 2014)
                It is a dangerous temptation, when we see society around us crumbling, to believe that we are destined to descend with society into the moral, economic, or spiritual morass (or, at times, all three).  But we have yet another example of that not happening in these chapters.  Wars and contention spread throughout the land, it was a time of conflict and suffering and pride.  And yet, Helaman prospered despite all of this happening because he personally hewed close to the Lord and was obedient to him.

                This is not a unique phenomenon.  It is repeated throughout the scriptures.  It is repeated in history – some of the monastic orders continually increased in their standards of living throughout the Dark Ages while society around them decayed.  It is a lie of Satan that when society crumbles, we crumble with it.  To the extent that we personally (or in our families or communities) are diligent and obedient and humble, we will find prosperity even amidst greater societal calamity.

                The other thought that I had was on the high priests being astonished beyond measure at the blessings of the Lord.  I often feel like that, both in my own life and as I tell others when appropriate the experiences that I have had.  It really makes no sense to me why I have been blessed to have had the experiences that I have had – there is no particular virtue or righteousness in me that would seem to lend itself to the blessings that I have had.  And yet, there are a number of times when it seems the Lord has directly reached down into my life.  It is astonishing to me, and I don’t doubt that it seems astonishing to those who hear it.

                I don’t know if I am unique – if everyone has similar experiences as I have had over the course of my life or whether they don’t.  I have often thought that the difference is that I notice the events when they happen, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case.  After all, some of the miracles that I have witnessed would be pretty much impossible to ignore.  When I think about it, though, my mind ends up going in a loop.  Instead, I am just grateful that I have had the blessings that I have had, allow myself to be astonished at the goodness of the Lord, and try to increase my efforts to give Him my will and follow His commandments.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Psalms 63-67

(November 5, 2014)
                David’s counsel in praise in these psalms was inspiring to me.  David recognized the refiner’s fire that he had passed through, and knew that he was reaching (or had reached) a place of comfort and security.  He understood what a blessing both halves of that equation were – that he had been tried like silver and that this trial was over.

                His point is very well taken, however.  He clearly recognized the importance of remembering his trials now that he was on the far side of them and maintaining the lessons that he had learned.  So it is with each of us – we are blessed with trials and hardships and difficulties (even if they don’t feel like it at the time).  These trials have the capacity to make us into the people the Lord would have us to be, if we will allow them to.  But even if we are changed by our trials, the challenge is not over because we need to maintain that change even if our lives become easier in the future.

                As things currently stand, I am in the midst of a difficult trial.  I am humbled by the growth that I have experienced over the past year – a painful growth, to be sure (and if I could go backwards in time it would be difficult to choose this path – which is yet more proof that it is a good thing the Lord is in charge).  I am anxious to reach the point where I have been refined by this trial sufficiently for the Lord to bless me with stability and peace.  I trust that I will eventually receive this blessing.  But in the meantime, I understand that my purpose is to continue to grow (both in hardship and in peace) and to ensure that the lessons I have learned this past year are not forgotten or abandoned as I begin to receive the further blessings the Lord has in store for me.

Helaman 1

(November 5, 2014)
                One of the criticisms of the Book of Mormon, and one that I considered once upon a time, was that the book’s politics were clearly taken from Joseph Smith’s understanding of democracy and are not consistent with ancient civilizations.  It is true that a modern constitutional republic is not consistent with the ancient forms of government, but the political system in the Book of Mormon is not consistent with either democracy or a constitutional republic.

                The voice of the people does not mean “one man, one vote.”  It is clear that the voice of the people means the leadership of the various clans getting together and talking through issues until they come to a conclusion that represents the agreement of the parties.  When there is a contentious issue, the various sides make claims to legitimacy and eventually enough people are swayed on the one side or the other.

                If there is any doubt about that, the language of this chapter should end it. After all, in a democracy is there ever an ascension to the leadership position according to a person’s right to that position?  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Psalms 57-62

(November 4, 2014)

                There are signs all around at what a wonderful, Christ-like man David was – but, sadly, the signs of his destruction are all around as well.  I was stung by his words to the Lord “be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.”  I don’t know when he said this, but I assume that it was before his sin with Bathsheba.  Either way, his desire for the Lord to smite those he opposed who were transgressors established the standard that he was ultimately destroyed with – he spent his life thereafter seeking mercy for his wicked transgressions (unsuccessfully).

Alma 63

(November 4, 2014)
                The Lord has a use for each of us, and we don’t need to be the same ‘Stepford Mormon” in order to accomplish His works.  Even prophets of the Lord are dramatically different.  We can see that in our own day – President Monson and President Kimball (the current prophet and the first prophet I remember) were remarkably different men and yet were and are clearly prophets of God.

                We can also see that in the days of the Book of Mormon.  We can see that in what the people focus on and what their interests are.  Mormon is clearly a man of war, and that attracts his attention.  Alma fought himself, and so there is quite a bit of military history included.  Helaman was practically a general himself, and thus his writings include copious detail of military actions.  Then comes Shiblon, who had (to our knowledge) no real involvement in the wars.  Thus, while the records are in his possession, a great war takes place in which Moronihah defeats “a numerous army” of Lamanites – and we get a verse worth of coverage.

                But that is not a problem – the Lord wanted Alma when He chose Alma and He wanted Shiblon when He chose Shiblon.  Likewise, we each have interests and predilections.  The Lord will use those if we turn them over to us – they work to our destruction, however, if we hold them to ourselves.  Mormon’s interest in war allowed him to be a great general/prophet because he turned his warmaking skills over to the Lord as a sacrifice – but there were those in the Nephite armies, even at that time, who destroyed themselves because they sought war for their own purposes rather than for the Lord’s purposes.

                Whoever we are, the Lord has a use for us.  If we seek out ourselves, we will lose everything that we have.  But if we turn ourselves over to the Lord as we are, He can use us as we are, refine us and make us better, and save us.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Psalms 55-56

(November 3, 2014)
                I can understand so much more of the Psalms than I could the last time that I read through them.  For example, my heart wasn’t ready to understand the difficulties of dealing with friends, family, and acquaintances acting as our enemies the last time I read through this – I had never experienced any sort of betrayal that would compare.  Now, having had people I felt I should trust turn against me for reasons good and bad, I can better understand what David is saying about accepting things from our enemies but having more trouble accepting the same things from our friends.

                David experienced a great deal in his life, from righteousness to sin and from loyalty to betrayal.  He lost a son to rebellion.  His father-figure turned against him.  He had a wife who mocked him.  He was a leader of men who were outcasts and a leader of men who were civilized.  The Lord taught him a great deal through all of this, and it makes what he has to share with us worth reading.