Monday, December 29, 2014

Isaiah 34-36

(December 29, 2014)
                What we have here is a wonderful example of something that we see far too commonly today.  There was a man with nothing more than political ambitions, and yet we see that he at first attempted to couch his political ambitions in the illusion of the Lord’s approval.  He even claimed to speak for the Lord, asking whether he would have come up had not the Lord instructed him to.  But when push came to shove, he revealed his contempt for the Lord and his belief in the powerlessness of the Lord.

                We see that nowadays – particularly from one portion of the political left.  They will quote scripture and state that being a good Christian (or Mormon) demands being a political liberal.  They will be offended at any slight of their political position, especially if it is backed by scripture (they would certainly be apoplectic at this entry).  And yet, when push comes to shove, they show over and over again that their true religion is their political position and they ultimately feel that God is powerless next to politics.

                This isn’t to say that all leftist are like this, of course – I know several devout believers far to the left of me.  But it is instead to point out that we must be careful to discern between those who believe in a religion that informs their politics (whether driving them left or right) and those who believe in politics which informs their religion.

Moroni 8

(December 29, 2014)
                I have often wondered why Moroni included this letter from his father.  He was running out of space on the plates, he was on the run for his life, and he decided to throw in a chapter about infant baptism.  The only thing that I could think of was that while the plates were scarce, time was even more scarce and he could easily copy the letter rather than create something of his own (or, perhaps, he felt the sermons of his father – even on a topic like this – were more valuable than what he could compose himself).

                The other thought was on Mormon’s instruction to pray for those who he believed were destined to be destroyed.  Mormon had read the prophecies, and had seen his people and their wickedness.  He was under no illusions as to the end result militarily or spiritually.  And yet, Mormon insisted that Moroni and he continue to pray on their behalf.  Just like these prophetic examples, we too need to not give up on those who may be falling short of where they need to be – even if things seem hopeless.  Perhaps, thought Mormon, the Lord might be merciful one more time to them and this would give them the chance to repent and change.  With those we encounter, we should have the same thoughts – no matter what they do, have done, or are doing we should pray for them that perhaps the Lord might give them one more chance and perhaps they might take it and repent and be accepted back with Him.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Isaiah 33

(December 28, 2014)
                Once again, Isaiah is pointing out that we serve an eternal cause, and temporal things are not nearly as important.  Isaiah points this out by highlighting the fact that there are those who spoil others having never been spoiled themselves and who deal treacherously with others having never had others deal treacherously with them.  All of us know people of this sort, and we all likely can identify ways in which we behave this way also.

                It may frustrate us when those who spoil us seem to escape the consequences of their behavior, but let us never forget that we are escaping the consequences of far worse behavior in ourselves.  Others may act against us without a cause, but that is nothing compared to acting against the Living God.  And yet, God stands ready to accept us back.  Those who harm us, by doing so, do far more damage to themselves – especially if they get away with it in mortality!  Better for them that they suffer for their actions against us, as that may give them the opportunity to repent.  But they can never escape the damage their actions cause and it must be dealt with in the end (whether in this life or the life to come).

Moroni 7

(December 28, 2014)
                It is a sobering thought, when reviewing the great sermon that was taught in this chapter, that the speaker and nearly every person who heart the sermon would be dead in only a few short years (or perhaps months?).  Mormon explicitly points out that the people who are listening to him are those who are peaceable followers of Christ, and yet they would shortly be destroyed by a warlike group of apostates striving to destroy the work of the Lord.

                We in the Church think that because there is a perfect plan that things will go well for us.  Really, there is nothing in the scriptures that we can point to in order to back up that assertion.  The reality is that we can and should expect our lives to be difficult and painful and for the bad guys to win more often than not (temporally, at least).  There is absolutely no need for us to get upset at this, or to claim that things aren’t fair, because in reality things really aren’t fair – but they aren’t fair to our benefit.  If things were fair, we would be lost forever because of our sins.

                It doesn’t matter how righteous our goals might be or how willing we are to work for them – we are called only to fight and the Lord will grant us victory at His discretion.  This doesn’t for a moment justify our slackening of our efforts (Mormon certainly didn’t slack in his efforts even though he had a pretty good idea that his cause was hopeless).  Nor should we ever worry if our efforts result in nothing temporally – we are not here to build temporal lives or temporal kingdoms, but rather to build the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Isaiah 31-32

(December 27, 2014)

                Each of us spend far too much of our lives relying on the Egypts around us.  We think that the chariots, or the warriors, or the fleshpots, or whatever will be sufficient for us.  But each of these will ultimately fail.  They may not fail during our lifetime, but no matter how good the food the day will come when our bodies fail even if the fleshpots don’t.  On that day, our reliance on Egypt will be our downfall rather than our safety.  If we lose perspective and think that this world means anything other than a test we may very well choose poorly.

Ether 15; Moroni 1-6

(December 27, 2014)
                The experience of Coriantumr is a tragic one, as every indication that we have is that he was a generally good person.  He didn’t want to repent in his prosperity, but that is sadly common amongst many of us.  When, in the time of his adversity, he turned to the Lord and wanted to repent he found himself surrounded by those who hated him and hated the Lord.  He would have made amends for his mistakes and saved his people, but the evil of others prevented it.

                Not surprisingly, I found myself identifying with Coriantumr.  I have made my mistakes in my prosperity, and now I find myself doing my best to repent.  I find that I cannot make things right because of the anger of others.  Like Shiz, the actions they are taking against me will lead to their own destruction rather than mine, but I don’t long for vengeance.  I just wish that I had the opportunity to care for others who will be hurt.

                I hope that there is room for Coriantumr in the Kingdom of God – that the Lord will look to his heart and his actions and bless him for his efforts.  Not surprisingly, I hope for the same for myself.  And, to take a pair of lessons from this, (1) we need to leave vengeance to the Lord when we have been hurt so we don’t destroy ourselves as did Shiz; and (2) we need to be willing to repent when things are going well so we don’t lose the opportunity to repent in our adversity.

                I was also struck by Moroni’s statement that he would not deny the Christ and therefore he made efforts to avoid the Lamanites so he survived.  This struck me because my understanding of the Plan is that the Plan is so comprehensive that I could be accused of being Panglossian in my approach.  I still think that is correct, but we are each obligated to do what we can to protect ourselves, to build for our families, and so forth even though we know that success or failure is wholly in the hands of the Lord.

Isaiah 29-30

(December 26, 2014)

                I have experienced in my life the sensation of ‘eating in a dream’ and awaking hungry.  We are built, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, to run on the fuel of God’s love and seeking happiness in any other way is eating in a dream.  No matter how much enjoyment we get out of whatever we try to replace God with, we will find our happiness diminishing.  The only way to generate lasting happiness is to turn our lives over to Him and anything less than that will lead us to pain and dissatisfaction.

Ether 14

(December 26, 2014)
                You could read the story of Shiz and never realize what was going on without the information we received in verse 24.  So many times we see conflict around us and we think that they are conflicts between opinions held by people of good will.  But Shiz shows that this isn’t always the case.  Shiz wanted vengeance against Ether – Shiz was fighting against God directly.

                There really is only one question – ‘what think ye of Christ?’ – and there are only two positions on any issue.  One is the right one, and one is the wrong one.  That doesn’t mean that we think that we are always right and our ideological opponents are evil (there must be a certain level of intellectual humility), but there must be a recognition that there is a good side and a bad side and our efforts shouldn’t be to promote our side but rather to find the truth wherever it is.  We run into problems when we deny that there is an objective truth.

Isaiah 26-28

(December 25, 2014)
                Moving and progressing line upon line is something that I struggle with.  I reach the point where I want to improve my life, and I desire that the changes that I want to implement will go into effect quickly.  I want the conversion of Alma the Younger or the conversion of Paul.  To be fair, one of the reasons I feel that way is the fact that the Lord has seen fit to bless me with just such a conversion a couple of times in my life.  But because He gave me dramatic change before doesn’t mean that He will give me dramatic change always.

                Instead I find myself pushing against my weaknesses – taking steps forward and steps back.  Over the course of time with my efforts, I can see the progress that I have made.  It is sometimes slow and painful, but I am a better person now than I was, say, four months ago (even though I have had no similar quick change in those four months).

                Line upon line and precept upon precept is the way that I need to learn to live my life.  I need to develop that patience and continual effort even when that effort seems to accomplish little.  Because as long as I am moving forward, regardless of the speed, I will eventually reach Him over the course of an eternity.

Ether 13

(December 25, 2014)
                A fear that I have always had was whether I could be trusted to hear the words of a prophet in ancient days.  It is easier to be obedient now, because there is no doubt that President Monson is the Prophet.  But in those days, the people were confronted with someone who claimed Divine appointment and they were obligated to know for themselves whether they had that appointment.

                Then again, we are in a comparable situation in one way – while they had to identify whether a prophet was legitimate we are obligated to determine which religion is legitimate (and determining that is likely a very similar challenge).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Isaiah 24-25

(December 24, 2014)

                Sometimes I read the scriptures, and I just want to turn my mind off.  After what I read in the Book of Mormon, that is the way that I felt.  Not because I didn’t want to learn, but rather I just wanted to enjoy the scriptures and the Spirit that came from them.  I was touched by the thought of Christ coming and that moment when we realize that we have not waited in vain.  I was moved by the mistranslation that we are to worship Him in the fire (certainly that translation works regardless of Isaiah’s original intent).  But mostly I just enjoyed feeling close to the Lord as I read.

Ether 12

(December 24, 2014)
                It is funny how we can read the same scripture (even memorize the scripture), and when our lives change and our perspectives change we approach it with fresh eyes and see things in a completely new light.  I don’t know how many times I have read verse 27, and long ago I committed it to memory.  It was, for a long time, my favorite scripture before Mosiah 26:30 finally supplanted it.  But my understanding of that scripture completed changed as I read this time.

                I realized two things.  First, having been confronted with my own weaknesses lately and seen others who have been willing to recreate their perception of reality in order to deny their personal weaknesses, I can see what an absolute blessing it is to be aware of our weakness.  Being shown our weakness is a gift – and humility is the result of that gift.  When we begin to hide our weaknesses, we become proud, then angry, then dishonest.  We have to work hard to maintain our illusion of the absence of weakness, and that leads to a cascade of problems.  Sadly, those lessons were lessons that I learned in my own life, and lessons that I am seeing taught again in the behavior of others.

                The other thing that I noticed was the language of the Lord in this verse.  It is, in fact, a promise from Him – if we come unto Him He will show unto us our weaknesses.  By very definition, this means that if we are not (painfully) aware of our weaknesses, we are not in the process of coming unto Him.  If we don’t see our weaknesses more clearly today than yesterday, we are drifting further from Him.

                This was hard for me to accept and understand for a time, because as things fell apart for me I longed for them to get put back together and to reach the point where I again felt confident in my level of righteousness in the way I did once upon a time.  But I don’t think that is ever coming back, and I think it is for the best that it does not.  My confidence in my righteousness (as opposed to confidence in the Lord or even confidence in His presence) was nothing more than blindness to my own faults.  I now hope that I am never so blind as I was then, and I hope that some who are struggling now find the strength to honestly examine themselves and see their own weaknesses and by so doing come unto the Lord.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Isaiah 23

(December 23, 2014)

                I was struck as I read through this chapter how often Isaiah was given prophecies for countries that rejected the Lord.  This, to me, served as a reminder of the fact that the regardless of whether we worship God or not, and regardless of whether we believe in God or not, the Lord is our Lord.  It is not a matter of choosing to obey the Lord – we have already made that decision before coming to this world.  We committed to obey Him, whether we were born in Tyre or Jerusalem or Salt Lake City.  The question, then, is whether we will carry out the decision that we made before coming to this Earth.

Ether 10-11

(December 23, 2014)

                Reading of Com’s efforts to fight the robbers, I was reminded of how each and every one of us is obliged not to win the battle with Satan but merely to fight.  After all, the stone cut out of the mountain rolls forth without hands.  The Lord has won the battle, and God has all power in Heaven and on Earth.  We are not called upon to prevail in our situation, but rather to do all that we can (relying on the assistance of the Lord) so that the Lord can work through us when He chooses to so as to accomplish His work.

Isaiah 19-22

(December 22, 2014)
                Isaiah here is making clear the sin of ingratitude.  How often do we, like the people of Israel, enjoy blessings we have received while giving no thought for the giver of the blessings?  Do we remember the ancestors who gave their lives so that we could have the opportunities we have, or are we bitter we didn’t have more opportunities?  Do we remember the many sacrifices made in our behalf during our lifetime from those who care about us, or do we remain focused on the way that others have hurt us or disappointed us?

                And, of course, the most important question is how we relate to the Lord.  When we have had a bad day, are we bitter and self-pitying or do we express gratitude to the Lord for giving us life and breath to have the day?  When we don’t get what we want, do we trust the Lord that He knows what is best or do we rage against Him as though He is to be judged by us?

                One other thought that I had through these chapters was the way that Isaiah changes the point of view so casually.  I try to highlight in my scripture readings when we are hearing the voice of the Lord, but that is extremely difficult with Isaiah.  Isaiah goes back and forth between Isaiah speaking and the Lord speaking, and there often isn’t much to mark the transition.  If this occurred in the Book of Mormon, it would be looked at like it was a major deal (the brief switch to third-person with Helaman’s letter being just one example).  But if we tolerate it in Isaiah (and we should), we should tolerate the much rarer instances in the Book of Mormon.

Ether 9

(December 22, 2014)
                In our modern society, it seems as though we believe something is not attributable to God just because we can unwind the naturalistic explanation of the event.  So, for example, we see a famine today and we think that it must be because of the jet stream or the ocean currents or anything or everything.  But we can no more than control these things that we can explain than the priests of Pharaoh could stop the miracles of the Lord even though they could imitate them.

                A famine may have a naturalistic explanation and, at the same time, be a miracle and a catastrophic consequence of sin.  Disease may be disease, or it may be punishment for sin.  Just because we can explain the origin of a plague doesn’t mean that the plague isn’t the Lord’s intervention in our lives.

                Science provides us with the opportunity to understand a great number of things, and included in the things we can understand is the mechanism by which the Lord performs His work.  Denying the Lord because we sometimes understand (but rarely can control) the mechanism is like denying lightning because we can build a power plant.

Isaiah 18

(December 21, 2014)

                There really is a time for everything in this world – those things that we feel are impossible are ripening even now and will soon be ready so long as we are dedicated to presenting them to the Lord.

Ether 7-8

(December 21, 2014)
                The Jaredite story is one of those things that really brings verisimilitude to the Book of Mormon.  So much of what is written doesn’t seem to make sense until you dig into it, and only after your do are you able to see what is actually going on.  Serving in captivity is a bizarre concept, until you recognize that the Mesoamerican system included over-kings and tribute kings, and the tribute kings would give taxes to the over-king – essentially living in captivity while still maintaining the capacity to rule.

                So many things like this demonstrate to me just how little I know (considering how little I understood things before I assume I have as far to go in the future), and how much depth is actually there to be found.

Isaiah 15-17

(December 20, 2014)
                One of the things that I have learned to assist me in reading Isaiah is to recognize that each of us are Israel, and each of us are the world.  We have a part of us that tries to worship the Lord and we have a part of us that wants to live as gods unto ourselves.  Ultimately it is less about geography, and far more about good and evil in conflict.

                With that in mind, I was struck by the idea that Israel is punished because of her wickedness, but those who act as the agents of that punishment are destroyed by acting as ‘executioner.’  I am in a somewhat similar situation – I am being punished by mistakes that I have made, but at the same time I see the ones ‘punishing’ me being destroyed by their actions against me.  At the very time I am trying to follow the Lord, they seem to be abandoning Him in their desire to bring ‘justice’ as they see it.

                I understand why so many of the Apostles speak so warmly towards mercy and become less and less interested in justice.  Even if justice is on our side, when we pursue it we often find ourselves condemned by that same justice we seek against others.  Though it breaks my heart to see it, those condemning me are seemingly descending into darker and darker places – there is no joy to be found in the destruction of others, even if by some chance they ‘deserve’ it.

Ether 4-6

(December 20, 2014)

                It is a simple thing, and one that I have certainly recognized before, but how often in our lives are the fierce winds that we fear the very things blowing us towards our Promised Land?  How many times do we curse the waves, when the Lord had a plan for us to surface from the storm better than we were before?

Isaiah 13-14

(December 19, 2014)
                The destruction of Babylon is an inevitability.  This is the thing that I don’t understand about the atheists – how could anyone be happy that there was no God?  I have been in a position where my faith was weak and I was very unsure of anything, and the feeling as I examined things trying to find the truth for myself.  The thing that I most remember about that experience was the overwhelming terror that consumed me.

                There is nothing appetizing about atheism and the annihilation that is the inevitable consequences derived from that theory.  Even (especially?) those who worship and idolize Babylon recognize that Babylon will ultimately fall.  Why then attach your fate to something so transitory and doomed to fail?

                I was blessed to pass from the doubt and fear of uncertainty to a much stronger testimony than I had before.  But even when all other parts of faith were gone, the knowledge that Babylon would fall was constant and inescapable.

Ether 3

(December 19, 2014)
                The brother of Jared, when he approached the Lord, was not looking for a grand miracle (in his mind).  Instead, he was looking for something small unto his understanding but which he knew could accomplish great things.  But what he experienced was anything but small – because he was looking for the small miracle with faith (ready to see it), he was blessed to see and experience the grand miracle.

                In apply that to my own life.  As I spend my days looking at what is happening in my life and trying to spot the small miracles, I find myself experiencing the grand miracles in addition to the small ones.  That has always been a question that I have wondered about – why should I experience the miracles that I experience? – but this may well be my answer.  Because I am willing to see and be grateful to the small and simple miracles they both fill me with faith and prepare me to experience the greater things the Lord sees fit to show me.

Isaiah 10-12

(December 18, 2014)
                There are two things that seem to go together in prophecies of the Last Days – calamities and the joy of the faithful.  When I was younger, I really wondered how those two things could go together the way that they did.  I then passed through a stage when I thought that the calamities would be happening to other people, and the righteous would still be happy because they were spared the destruction around them.

                Now, however, I have come to realize that there will be destruction among everyone (the Lord will cause the rain to fall upon the just and the unjust).  The difference, then, will be the righteous will understand what is happening and will see the winding up for what it is – the progress towards the Kingdom of God being established on Earth.  This, despite the personal and societal calamities, will be a reason to celebrate.

Ether 2

(December 18, 2014)
                I think we see things so temporally at times that we don’t realize how precarious our position truly is.  It is not for nothing that the Lord advises us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  We think that we can dabble at the edge of sin of whatever sort (vice, habit, anger, judgmentalism, or whatever our personal poison happens to be) and go only so far along that path but not so far that we run into problems.

                But we cannot keep ourselves on the path regardless of how hard we try – so to think we can dabble with sin and keep ourselves from going too far is foolish.  The Spirit will not always strive with us, and the time when the Spirit ceases to strive with us there is no way that we can make our way back.  It is a necessity that we do everything we can to avoid taking any steps away from the Spirit – we cannot keep close on our own, but our best efforts will allow the Spirit to continue to empower us to follow Him.

Isaiah 8-9

(December 17, 2014)

                I keep being struck as I read through Isaiah about the current failures of our materialistic society.  In his day, people sought help from peeping wizards to understand the world and the way things worked – perhaps they were correct from time to time (one would expect that they would have to be to be trusted at all – perhaps acquiring power from a hostile source).  Now people seek for truth from beeping computers instead of peeping wizards, but science and technology are no better at bring about our Salvation (and really nothing else matters) than peeping wizards could be.

Ether 1

(December 17, 2014)
                It is impressive to me how sanguine Jared and his brother are.  After all, the represented the end of everything they ever knew or loved.  Their civilization was over, their culture was destroyed, and they were to leave and go to a land they had never before known.  But they understood that the Lord could bless them much better than they could control their own lives.  And so, because of their faith, they could respond to this difficult time in such a peaceful way.

                I have experienced similar events inn my life – not that my language has changed, but I have been moved against my will and lost all those things that I hoped to achieve in my life.  The experience is painful, but I too can attest to the truth that the Lord can bring us peace and happiness from circumstances that we would never want.  It is a matter if we will trust Him or not.

Isaiah 7

(December 16, 2014)
                I am assuming, based upon my limited understanding of the economics at the time of Isaiah, that someone with a cow and two sheep are at best lower middle class.  And yet, these people who are lower middle class are going to be so wealthy that they could eat butter (a delicacy for the people in Israel at that time).

                How easily we forget that this prophecy has been fulfilled in our day.  So many people struggle and live under conditions that would best be described as poverty, and yet how many of them could have butter for every meal if they wanted to (I would assume most could).  We are living in blessed times, when the poorest among us live lives that would have been the envy of kings only a couple centuries ago.

Mormon 9

(December 16, 2014)

                I may have mentioned this before, but one of my favorite quotation is from a friend named Chris Foster (a professor of philosophy who was in a prior Ward with me).  He said, in essence, often the deeper doctrine is found when we take the words of God literally.  I thought about that as I read through this chapter and how frequently we are found under condemnation because we disregard the words of God.  I think that so much of what we struggle to find is there the whole time staring us in the face.  All we have to do is read and believe.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Isaiah 5-6

(December 15, 2014)

                Oftentimes there is a great deal of confusion in the Church about whether we are a Church of volunteers or a Church of assignees.  I think that Isaiah demonstrates well that we are both.  Something needs to be done, and we are given the opportunity to volunteer (and it is an opportunity).  Our volunteering isn’t enough, however, because of those who volunteer someone must be chosen or assigned.  Otherwise we end up steadying the ark, and that never ends well.

Mormon 8

(December 15, 2014)
                I can only imagine how difficult things were for Moroni at this time.  It is no wonder he thought he wasn’t long for the world – kin was an essential element of survival in those days, and I figure he was fairly ambivalent in how long he lived after the death of his entire society.  And yet, even in the face of those incredible negatives Moroni not only persevered but did so with a grateful heart.  He is someone that is well worth living up to.

                The next thought I had was on the mistakes of men.  I think of the ‘ageless’ Amos in 4 Nephi and how many people stumble on what could in fact be a mistake.  So let us consider that Mormon or a contemporary of Amos made a mistake in the record (or even that Joseph made an error in translation).  If Christ came to the Nephites, then none of the mistakes matter because the fact that Joseph got anything right demonstrates his prophetic calling.  There are, undoubtedly, mistakes of men in the scriptures (although there are less than at first it might appear).  But these mistakes do not somehow invalidate the work of the Lord – it is only argued that it does to excuse disobedience from the commandments.

                Finally, I thought of Moroni’s language about the day when miracles are done away with.  I think it likely that all people in all times felt like they were living in a time when miracles were done away with.  I know there are a large number of those people living in the world today.  But at the same time they declare that the days of miracles are over (if, in their opinion, they ever even existed) I find my life overflowing with miracles.  Some are improbable coincidences, some are brief moments of inspiration, some are moments of comfort and strength beyond my own being given, and (of course) at rare times the Lord has reached into my life and done things that refuse any explanation other than miracle.  One such miracle in a lifetime, a miracle that cannot be explained away by a scientific explanation (although I do believe the Lord works through natural means) and you realize that regardless of how others feel or what they believe, the days of miracles never went away.  One such experience turns all the arguments into empty words.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Isaiah 3-4

(December 14, 2014)
                I had two thoughts going through these chapters.  The first was on the idea of being oppressed by our neighbors.  We might think this doesn’t happen nowadays, but compared to the level of community that existed in the time of Isaiah I cannot help but recognize that this prophecy has been fulfilled fully and completely.  How often do we find ourselves dealing with people who don’t have our interests in mind, or for whom we don’t have their best interests at heart?  This is likely true for many of us a substantial portion of the day.  For some of us, the majority of our daily interactions are with those who seek to oppress us.

                The second thought was on Isaiah 4:5.  What a powerful scripture this is.  We know that the children of Israel were led during their wanderings in the desert by a cloud of smoke in the day and a pillar of fire by night.  What Isaiah is promising is that each house (not just the people as a whole) will be led by this cloud of smoke and pillar of fire.  In other words, Isaiah is prophesying about the day when each and every person will have the Holy Ghost and become personally directed by the Lord in what they should do.  I cannot imagine a greater blessing to be promised to us.

Mormon 6-7

(December 14, 2014)
                I have heard, recently, about those who tell us that we are not obligated to take any calling that is issued to us.  We are told that we are to consider the calling, our available time and demands, and then make a judgment as to whether we should or should not serve.  This, frankly, is hogwash – while I admit that we are able to take the issue before the Lord and the Lord may inspire us to refuse a calling we must never refuse a calling based upon our best judgment just because we might have a lot going on in our lives.

                Look at Mormon as an example of this.  He was the leader of his people during a time of war.  He was gathering everyone together for a final battle that likely was going to end in the destruction of his people, his society, his family, and his way of life.  If ever there was someone who had a lot going on in his life (and important things, too) it was Mormon.  But Mormon knew that regardless of what other demands were placed upon his time he was obligated to serve God first.  And so, we read of him putting priority on the record-keeping assignment and getting that done and prepared to hand off to Moroni.

Isaiah 1-2

(December 13, 2014)

                Isaiah’s description of the people with silver, gold, no ends to their treasures, and no end to their idols is one that should concern us.  Even the poorest among us in this country live better than the kings and queens of a few centuries ago.  We have gold, silver, and no end to our treasures.  And yet, we also have no end to our idols.  The problem for us, of course, is that our gold, silver, and treasures become our idols.  Thus at the very time we multiply those things that we want, we fill our lives with those wants to the point where they displace our needs and bring us misery.

Mormon 5

(December 13, 2014)
                So many of our problems in life come from the same source as the one that destroyed the Nephites.  We have our aims and goals, and they may even be righteous ones (the Nephites wanted to survive, and we might want to provide for our families).  The problem comes when we forget that we are in the hands of God.  When that happens, we struggle for our goals without calling on God for the blessings we stand in need of.  If we do that, we have lost what is truly important regardless of whether we acquire or lose what we sought instead.

                So if we devote ourselves to our work and struggle at our jobs, but we fail to call upon God for help, then one of two things will happen.  Either we will achieve our work-related goals (destroying ourselves in the process), or we will fail to achieve our work-related goals (the better of the two options, because it puts us in mind to call upon the Lord).  If, instead, we seek that goal but rely upon the Lord to magnify our efforts, then one of two things will happen.  Either we will achieve our goal (as a blessing from the Lord), which will enlarge our faith, or we will fail to achieve our goal, which can only happen if the Lord in His wisdom and mercy knows that failing to achieve that goal would lead to a greater blessing for us (thus we are protected from the wrong goals).

                In other words, if we rely on the arm of flesh there is no way to succeed regardless of what happens.  If we rely on the arm of faith, there is no way to fail regardless of what happens.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ecclesiastes 10-12

(December 12, 2014)

                All of this book, and Proverbs, are very neatly summarized by the closing instruction to fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  Ultimately there is really only one question in mortality – what think ye of Christ? – and only one command – “Come follow me.”  There are no half-way measures that work, we must be prepared to fully and completely turn our wills and our lives over to our Savior, and we must trust Him and exercise sufficient faith in Him that we can stand with Him and (ultimately) do all that He asks of us.  Anything short of that just isn’t enough – we must be prepared to fully walk the path of the disciple.

Mormon 4

(December 12, 2014)
                Ok, I think it is fair to say that capturing women and children and sacrificing them to idol gods is something that is pretty reprehensible (to say the least).  The Nephites, from a worldly perspective, were justifiably angry at the Lamanites for what they had done.  But no matter what is done to us, there really is no such thing as justifiable anger – vengeance is His, not ours.

                The Nephites turned to their anger, profited by it for a brief season (as is so often the case), and ultimately were destroyed by it.  This is important to remember at this time when I have so many potential justifications for anger and injustices being thrown at me constantly.  I need to remember that there is no justification for anger, the Lord is in charge, and I simply need to trust Him fully and completely and know that everything will work out for the best regardless of how others may attempt to abuse or manipulate things.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ecclesiastes 7-9

(December 11, 2014)
                Adversity and sorrow are something that each of us needs to go through in our lives.  Understanding that life is nothing more than a test, we are able to deal with this sorrow in a productive and healthy way.  If we see our sorrow as a negative thing, we can turn away from God and our fellow men (I know the temptation to do that).  But if we remember that life is a test and a boot camp for the soul, we can look to our sorrows for better understanding of God and what He wants us to become.

                Thus sorrow becomes a great decision point for us in our development.  It is truly a test of our faith, because if our faith is strong enough we will recognize that the sorrow is temporary and choose God.  If we lack sufficient faith, we will see our sorrow as permanent unless we change our circumstances.  We will begin to flounder, to take inappropriate steps to minimize our pain (taking shortcuts around rather than braving the pain to move through).  Thus we can look at how we respond to our sorrow as a clear indication of our level of faith.

Mormon 3

(December 11, 2014)
                There is such significance in the simple statement that all will stand before the judgment bar of God.  With that statement, we can let go of all of our anger, our desire for revenge, or our attempts to justify ourselves or condemn others.  In the end, I will stand before the judgment bar of God and He will treat me fairly.  In the end, the person deceitfully abusing me will stand before the judgment bar of God and He will treat them fairly as well.  I can, therefore, let things go because I know in the end all will work out.  It is such a liberating feeling – to forget yourself and the care of proving yourself against the lies of others and to rely on the perfect judgment of God.  My focus, instead of being on those taking actions to hurt me, can instead be solely focused on Him and I can know that if He is pleased with my efforts then the opinion of no other person in the world matters.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ecclesiastes 3-6

(December 10, 2014)
                I love stuff, and most everyone I know loves stuff.  But I don’t really understand why we all love stuff so much.  I love having a bookcase full of more books than I can read and a computer full of more games than I have time to play and an entertainment center full of more movies than I should watch.  These things don’t bring me happiness, which I think that we all understand.  But what is even more confusing is that I continue to chase these things even though I know that not only do they not contribute to my happiness, but they actively diminish my happiness by my ownership of them.

                There is a certain amount that we all need to survive.  There is an additional amount that we can attribute to the fruits of our labors that continue to bring comfort and pleasure.  But above this amount, our riches begin to destroy us – and yet, we continue to seek them.  The only thing that I can think of is that when we reach this point, that is an indication that we have sufficient to expand our charitable giving – we are spending too much on ourselves. 

Mormon 2

(December 10, 2014)
                Mormon makes a unique argument in this chapter that I don’t really know how to square with my understanding of the doctrine.  He states that the people of his time – having refused to humble themselves and partake of the Atonement (refusing to repent and forgive) had reached a point where the day of grace had passed, and they were lost.  As I understand things, there is no one beyond redemption in mortality save two classes of people.  First, those who have committed the unpardonable sin.  Second, those who have willingly murdered – actions in warfare do not count.

                With that in mind, how is this to be interpreted?  I don’t think that they were all murderers – even if they were in battle, there has always been a distinction made in such instances.  I don’t think that they all were Sons of Perdition, as despite their sinning against the great light they had, I doubt they all reached that point.

                My guess is that Mormon is either (1) using the phrase in a non-literal sense; (2) describing the past – he had since seen them fall (even those alive at the time), and knew that they would not repent; or (3) speaking not of any individual but rather of the Nephites as a people – the individuals might repent, but the society was doomed regardless.  I tend to lean towards the third interpretation, even though the language is still somewhat unclear.

                That being said, I have seen those who reach a point where they are clearly in misery yet despite whatever adversity or kindness the Lord brings to bear on them, they cannot bring themselves to repent.  For people like these, even on an individual level, I can understand the use of the phrase ‘the day of grace has passed them.’  I don’t think it is literally true – I think if they found a way to humble themselves and partake of the Atonement it could still be applied to them – but I think as a practical matter is it far closer to true than we are comfortable with admitting.  This is yet another reminder to me of how important it is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to avoid reaching such a point ourselves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ecclesiastes 1-2

(December 9, 2014)
                I was reminded of the emergency broadcast system that sometimes pops up on the television or the radio.  It will announce that it is a test, and reiterate that “this is only a test.”

                We need that reminder ourselves.  We ascribe so much value on our brief mortal existence – value that is completely unwarranted.  This life is a test – it is only a test.  When we try to make it something more, we lose sight of what is really important and work to bring about our own destruction.

                Heavenly Father kindly gives us blessings and joys along the way.  These serve to build our strength and give us courage to deal with the next challenge we must surmount.  But facing impossible challenges is not an extraordinary condition of mortality – it is the purpose of mortality.  If we are not facing challenges to the very limit of our capacity, either we are part of a brief resting period or there is something very wrong in our lives.  We don’t have decades without trials unless we are not living in such a way as to be able to progress.

                We don’t have to look for challenges, nor do we need to allow ourselves to be mournful in our adversity, but we should be willing to allow the Lord to refine us and to put our trust in Him that not a tear will be wasted and that He can make us into the person we need to be.

                All is vanity except this.

Mormon 1

(December 9, 2014)

                I appreciated Mormon including in his own record the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy.  It made sense in a way – I could have been unfairly disparaging Mormon in his approach when the prejudices were in the original records.  After all, by Mormon’s time Nephites and Lamanites as racial distinctions were just about eliminated.  It seems reasonable that Mormon would be less concerned about Samuel being a Lamanite (although his writings would still be focused as a lineage record) than would those alive at the time of the coming of Christ.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Proverbs 30-31

(December 8, 2014)
                There is a perilous balance that each of us seem called to walk – one that is referenced in these chapters.  When the Lord blesses us, we are tempted to find ourselves full and desert the Lord.  When the Lord gives us adversity, we are tempted to harden our hearts and resort to sin to acquire what we believe we need.  There is a razor’s edge of safety, and this area (almost a strait and narrow path, if you will) must be constantly enlarging for us to find our way back to Him.

                We need to remain grateful to Him more in our blessings.  We need to remain diligent to Him more in our adversity.  We need to allow the Lord to give us both – blessings and adversity – as He sees fit without us falling apart in the process.  When this razor’s edge decreases in size, it can eventually reach a point where neither blessings nor adversity permit us to hear the Lord’s voice (I have seen this happen, sadly).  But to be able to fully commit to Him regardless of whether He is in that moment blessing or chastening us (and they really are both blessings) must be the goal.

4 Nephi 1

(December 8, 2014)
                Two quick thoughts on this chapter.  The first was a recurring thought on the impossible ages of Amos.  I had heard that the simplest solution to this was multiple men named Amos – I cannot remember at this point but I don’t recall having found this persuasive.  But this time, I find it very persuasive.  I was thinking about it, and I realized that if Mormon had not seen one particular reference in his materials (the death of one Amos and the handing over of the records to his son, for instance) then Mormon’s record would have been put down the way that it was.  The fact that an ancient historian would miss the death of one person in an abridgment of centuries of history compressed into a few pages is not unreasonable by any stretch.

                The second thought I had was on the disciples of Christ.  The people had been falling away for centuries, the Lamanites were abroad in the land, the old oaths were being administered.  There was certainly a great deal of evil going on.  And yet, it wasn’t until the Church itself began to go astray that the disciples began to sorrow for the sins of the world.  This sorrow comes very, very late in the process.  I have to think that tells us something, but I am not confident I know exactly what.

Proverbs 28-29

(December 7, 2014)
                I admit that I know very little of bravery – fear is a pretty debilitating thing for me for a number of reasons – but the only way that I know to get past my fear is through faith in Christ.  It was with this in mind that I was struck by the language that the wicked flees when no one approaches.

                Having lived in sin, I know that the fear is constant whether I am living well or living poorly.  But when I was enmeshed in sin my capacity to deal with the fear was almost completely gone.  I still face many of the same fears today, but I find myself now able to turn towards them and work through them rather than flee from them.  Some of them are, to be honest, just as bad as I thought they were – it isn’t a situation where there was nothing to be afraid of after all – but I am able to deal with the negative consequences, work through things in the proper way, and that is so much more satisfying as a mechanism for dealing with fear.

3 Nephi 28-30

(December 7, 2014)

                It is really a very puzzling concept to me – the idea that there could be a better result than dying and entering into the Celestial Kingdom for everlasting Exaltation.  But it seems clear from Christ’s language that this is truly possible.  I think that our perspective on things must be wrong in significant and meaningful ways – there are things about reality and our eternal destiny that aren’t communicated through the doctrine (because of our failures, I expect, rather than the doctrines) that cause us to never truly catch more than a glimpse of how things actually work in the hereafter.

Proverbs 26-27

(December 6, 2014)
                We are not scriptural inerrantists (despite how we may act, from time to time).  The scriptures are to be read seriously, intently, and with the presumption that they are correct unless impossible to read otherwise.  But they are not inerrant.

                Some people, obviously, disagree.  But I wonder how they handle direct contradictions such as the ones found in Verses 4 and 5 in Chapter 26.  We are to not answer a fool according to his folly, yet we are to answer a fool according to his folly.  In a worldview that takes scriptures seriously but not inerrantly, there are a number of reconciliation approaches that provide insight and enlightenment.  In a worldview that takes scriptures inerrantly, this contradiction would seem to put an entire testimony at risk.

3 Nephi 26-27

(December 6, 2014)
                The name of the Church seems like such a common-sense thing to us in our day, but it is amazing that so many people don’t see it.  There are Catholics, who choose their name based upon the universal applicability of their church.  There are Baptists, who focus on a particular practice.  There are Seventh-Day Adventist, who focus on a particular commandment.  There are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who focus on a particular piece of doctrine.

                All of these things are good – to the extent that they demonstrate a desire to separate truth from error – but they are ‘a’ good rather than ‘the’ good.  The Church, focused on anything other than Christ, cannot accomplish its purpose.  In the very same way, in our lives as disciples of Christ if we find ourselves focused on any particular trait or virtue (good though it may be), and lose sight of the fact that we are disciples of Christ first and foremost, then we become a Church by a different name.

Proverbs 23-25

(December 5, 2014)

                There are a lot of reminders about the importance of diligence in Proverbs, but I find it very interesting that this section clarifies the purpose of that temporal diligence.  We are not to labor to become rich – we are to labor to provide for ourselves and to be the kind of people that labor.  When we are idle, it damages our spirits, but riches can be just as damaging.  Along the way, it is our duty to develop our characters into people who will labor – not for riches but for the benefits that labor itself provides.

3 Nephi 23-25

(December 5, 2014)
                I think it wasn’t an accident that the prophesy of Samuel the Lamanite (and its fulfillment) were not included in the scriptures.  Even after Christ points out that it wasn’t included, Mormon still made no clear reference to it – he noted it by its absence (rather than go back and include it).

                Prophets and Apostles are human beings – subject to the limitations that we all are subject to.  Some people think that excuses us not following our leaders – as if we are somehow free of the weaknesses that they manifest – but that isn’t the case.  But I imagine that the prophesies of Samuel were not included because of a prejudice against him as a Lamanite coming into Nephite lands.

                Frankly, this should tell us a great deal.  These are men who walked with the risen Christ, who saw Him perform miracles and performed miracles themselves.  So if these men, so clearly righteous, can have weaknesses ought we not cut our current leaders some slack?  And if these men, with their weaknesses, were still appropriate to follow ought we not follow our leaders today and spend a little (or a lot) less time searching for their weaknesses?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Proverbs 21-22

(December 4, 2014)
                If I erred on the spectrum between relying on the Lord too much and relying on the arm of flesh too much, I have been relying on the Lord too much.  On the one hand, that is a great thing – the Lord has been so incredible to me that it is beyond words how He has cared for me.  On the other hand, I understand that I need to maintain my faith and trust in the Lord while at the same time doing more and more of my part.  I understand that safety is of the Lord, but we are still obligated to prepare the horse for battle.

                I look at it more and more like a child wanting a treat.  When the child is little, he sits and cries and the father brings him a treat.  Then, as part of his development, he needs to start asking for what he wants rather than merely crying.  Then the child will be required to go and get the treat himself.  Then, finally, the child will be required to earn the treat.  Right now, I feel like I am in the stage where I have finally progressed to asking the Lord for the things that I need – and He is answering those prayers.  I am so grateful that He does, but at the same time I am aware that I want to progress in the ways that He wants me to progress while never losing sight of the fact that I am wholly and completely reliant on Him for everything in my life.

3 Nephi 21-22

(December 4, 2014)
                One of the first scriptures that I ever memorized was 3 Nephi 22:17.  I loved the lyrical format of this scripture – it just pours off the tongue – and I loved the message.  But I mostly focused on the first half of the scripture (no weapon formed against the servants of the Lord will prosper).  Today, though, my mind focused in on the second portion – that our righteousness (if we hold ourselves out as servants of the Lord) is of Christ.

                We like to think that we have value in and of ourselves, but that really isn’t true.  The reality is that we have no inherent value other than the fact that we are loved by God.  We may have potential, but even that we cannot reach without His help.  There is no place for pride in righteous living, because any righteousness that we achieve is not of us, but of Him.  By that same token, there is no reason for us to hold ourselves out as more righteous than another because that same righteousness is not attributable to us (on top of the fact that we often lack the basic capacity to judge ourselves, much less each other).

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Proverbs 19-20

(December 3, 2014)
                I loved the expression of the importance of plowing in cold weather.  It isn’t enough that we be willing to work – we need to be willing and able to work in adverse conditions.  There will never be the ideal time to work – something will always come along that will get in the way.  It will be too hot or too cold.  You will be too tired or too excited.  Something – anything.

                But we not only have to work when it is convenient, we need to change our very natures such that work is something we do consistently throughout the eternities.  Work will be one of the constants of the Exalted Life, and if we don’t develop the capacity in mortality to work under circumstances both good and bad, we will find ourselves unprepared for the work required of us in the life to come.

3 Nephi 20

(December 3, 2014)
                I have felt the chains of sin holding me back over the last year or more as I have tried to become something better than I was.  The frustrating thing about the chains around our neck – the truth that we continually attempt to lie to ourselves about – is that we have put those chains on our necks.  Not Satan, not those around us – we have willingly placed chains around our neck that we cannot escape from.

                This just shows the awesome majesty of the Atonement – that Christ would suffer and die for the things that we willingly did to injure ourselves.  I could see dying for someone – it is difficult to imagine doing, but I could see it (my children being the prime example I can think of).  What I cannot imagine right now – showing the deficiency of love I have in my life – is dying for someone who hates me, and dying to correct their willing mistake.

                But, if I close my eyes, I can just imagine loving someone that much.  And if I can imagine feeling that way about someone, I know that the Lord can bring me to the point where I genuinely hold that degree of charity for them. Such charity would be a wonderful gift, and I hope to continue until I reach that point.

Proverbs 17-18

(December 2, 2014)
                I had an interesting thought while reading these chapters, and I wanted to explore it – not because I know it to be true but because it is interesting enough that I want to see whether I think it is true.  We don’t necessarily know the full mechanisms behind the Fall, but we see all sorts of evidences of them.  For example, entropy really seems to be a good corollary of the Fall.

                But I am wondering if the Fall, ultimately, was a temporary breach in the Law of Restitution or the Law of the Harvest.  Evil can (temporarily) benefit in mortality, whereas it never can in eternity.  When we are good in mortality, we sometimes don’t see the benefits of that goodness (not that we should be good for the benefits) during our lifetime.  For this brief window of time, the Law of Restitution is not firmly applicable to our lives – to the extent it is applicable, it is often delayed.

                This is the challenge that President Kimball and President Benson both alluded to, and it seems to be a unique condition to mortality.  What little we know about the hereafter, and the time before the Fall, seem to indicate that at those times this Law was perfectly in force.

3 Nephi 19

(December 2, 2014)
                Christ is the perfect Man – He speaks and the very universe obeys.  This was why it struck me the way that Christ asked the Father for the things that He wanted – things that were clearly very good.  Christ, with all of His Divine authority, still understood His relationship to the Father and maintained humility despite His perfection (as if perfection could be achieved without humility).

                I think of C. S. Lewis’s great little essay God in the Dock, and how so many of us in these days like to pretend that we can judge God, or His prophets, or His Church.  We put ourselves above those that rightfully should be above us.  Christ never did this – He understood that the Father was above Him.  Humility is not self-deprecating – Christ certainly understood His perfection and spoke of it – but it is an understanding of our relationship to God.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Proverbs 15-16

(December 1, 2014)
                I was struck as I read these chapters on the number of references that were made to a comparison between those things that we think will make us happy and those things that actually bring us happiness.  Many of us (myself included) look to worldly things as though they could bring us joy and happiness – but there is no happiness to be found in stuff, or financial security, or anything similar.

                It is unquestionably true that a dinner of herbs where love is found is better than a stalled ox and hatred.  Doug Brinley, a friend and a marriage therapist who has written extensively for the Church, often says that no one gets divorce because of money problems.  He points out that there are countless people all over the world (even in our own communities) living happily in abject poverty.  No, the problem isn’t money (or its lack) – it is selfishness or hatred or merely an absence of love.  We lie to ourselves if we say differently.

                And it is truly better to live eating bitter herbs where love is than to live with a stalled ox and hatred at home.

3 Nephi 18

(December 1, 2014)
                I had a good friend who introduced me to the idea that sometimes deeper doctrine is simply taking literally the words of the Savior.  I often recognize in myself the desire to explain away the Savior’s words or contextualize them within my own framework rather than accept them as He said them.

                I thought of this as I read the Savior’s exhortation to watch and pray always less we be tempted and led away captive by the Devil.  Do we really believe that we must always be watching and praying, or else we will be vulnerable?  Do we act as though we believed this?  As I think through the subject, it becomes apparent to me that it is so easy to be led away – to have pride blind us to our own weaknesses or anger or hatred strip us of charity – that it really does take everything we can bring to the table to avoid being deceived and led captive.

                It is a frightening thought, but I think that is an important reminder to each of us to never forget our utter and complete reliance on the Lord from moment to moment.

Proverbs 13-14

(November 30, 2014)
                So often we deceive ourselves into thinking that the way of the sinner is easy.  After all, we know that the way of the disciple is hard (although sometimes we deceive ourselves here as well), and in contrast with the requirement of all that we have, are, and can be in order to walk the path of the disciple, the path of the sinner looks comparatively easy.

                That is an illusion, however.  Despite the requirement of our all to be a disciple, the path of the sinner is harder still.  It is harder because of the misery we bring down on ourselves and others, and it is harder because we are not yoked with the Savior who is capable of pulling our burdens that we cannot lift ourselves.

3 Nephi 16-17

(November 30, 2014)
                I have always looked at the number of people here in Bountiful (~2,500) and considered that in light of the statement at Christ’s first appearance that the people did go forth (one by one) and thrust their hands in His side and felt the prints of the nails in His hands and feet.  The sheer volume of people, the sheer consumption of time, that this must have required was awe-inspiring.  I don’t think that line moved like a receiving line at a wedding reception – I imagine that at the point anyone knelt before the risen Christ they would probably not quickly feel and move on.

                If each person took only a minute, that would still require 42 hours to complete.  My expectation is that it was less than that, but it was almost certainly hours that the Savior received those who were there – taking them one by one, making time for them the way that He makes time for each of us.  What the Savior did here is one of the most touching examples of His love for us as individuals that we have in the scriptures.

Proverbs 10-12

(November 29, 2014)
                These chapters spent time comparing the rewards of the righteous with the rewards of the wicked.  I have long thought that just as the desires of the righteous will be granted, so too will the desires of the wicked be granted.  Therein lies the great demonstration of justice, because what we want we will get.  Those who have not been sanctified, such that they want what God wants, will instead get what they want and it will destroy them and leave them in misery.  Those who are righteous, on the other hand, will want the right things and thus will be blessed.

                I imagine as if my thoughts were a true indication of my level of sanctification.  My thoughts have no external constraints – I can imagine anything that I want to imagine.  In a way, my thoughts are a demonstration of what I would do in my current state if I had the power of God.  In some ways that is good, but in others it is bad.  If I were given what I wanted at this point, it would almost certainly bring me an eternity of misery.  Fortunately, if we are willing, the Lord can change our natures so we want what we should want.

3 Nephi 14-15

(November 29, 2014)
                There is a hubris that I think we all fall prey to, in that we believe that we understand far more about the Gospel than we thing that we do.  We give up on the Law of Moses too quickly, or we cling to it after Christ fulfills the Law of Moses, or we simply don’t understand how He fulfilled it.  These are examples from the days of the Nephites, but we are foolish to not recognize that we have similar blind spots in our own attempts to follow Christ and obey the law.

                That is the reason why the road of discipleship requires absolutely everything that we have to offer – because our place is so very tenuous.  It is made even more tenuous by our ability to convince ourselves that we are well-off, or on the path, or similar things when we are always just a misplaced step from falling away.  It is clear that the obligation we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling is a legitimate obligation and not one to take lightly.