Thursday, December 17, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 128

(December 17, 2015)
                We recently have heard a great deal of complaining by some Members of the Church about the policy that has been promulgated.  They focus their criticism (honestly, some focus but some likely mask) on the policy rather than the underlying principles.  They complain that the changes that were made should not have been made via policy but instead should have been made via revelation (presuming the two to be different in all – or at least this – cases).  They like to say that this wasn’t the way Joseph Smith led the Church.

                This Section, though, is clearly Joseph Smith setting policy.  In no place does he indicate that what he is speaking is direct revelation.  Instead he is applying the revelations (and the scriptures) to the facts and determining a policy that works and is consistent with those revelations and scriptures.  This is exactly the kind of behavior those critics condemn.

                The other thought that I had as I read this Section was on Joseph’s statement that “[f]or him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men.”  I am tempted to deal with this in relation to my personal situation, because I am in a situation were the facts that I know with certainty (because I was there and experienced them, along with contemporaneous journals and extensive efforts to ensure I wasn’t engaging in self-deception) were, at the very least, difficult for a Priesthood leader to obtain (and, to be honest, he got them flat out wrong).

                But rather than make it personal, I can instead draw from other circumstances.  There are explicit examples where Priesthood leaders have gotten things wrong (we are not in the business of believing in infallible leaders, after all).  It does no good for us to look at our leaders as if they are always wrong, or even occasionally wrong (much less wrong on a given piece of counsel).  But we must also acknowledge that Priesthood leaders get things wrong from time to time (and the honest and fair ones admit this – even the Brethren admit to mistakes).

                So how is that consistent with this statement by Joseph Smith?  Priesthood leaders can get facts wrong in a couple of ways as I read this.  First, notice the clarifying clause – “in relation to the salvation of the children of men.”  There are some facts that would not satisfy this clause, and thus were outside of this promise.  Second, the knowledge is promised to be not difficult to obtain, but it still doesn’t magically distill upon the Priesthood leader.  Bias, inattention, or unwillingness to listen all could play a role in these sorts of mistakes.

                Having been in the unfortunate position of having one of these mistakes bring about such turmoil in my life, though, I can testify that even the worst mistakes can still be a blessing in our lives if we allow the Lord to carry us, we trust Him, and we hold close to our Priesthood leaders even when those Priesthood leaders make mistakes.

Ether 1

(December 17, 2015)
                I know, as we look at the world around us, it can sometimes be disheartening to think of the inevitable slide that seems to be happening.  There are many who I talk to who, seeing the same things I am, draw the conclusion that the world is (metaphorically, or even sometimes literally) ending, and take a very dark view of their future and their children’s future.

                I am not so pessimistic, even though I see the same things that they each do.  While I think it safe to say that society at large will continue to move further and further away from God (with the resulting inevitable unhappiness that such a move will bring), it does not need to affect us and those we love.

                Historically, we can look at the continued progress experienced by those living in the monastic orders during the Dark Ages.  While society around them came apart at the seams (leading to tremendous misery and deprivation), those who held closest to the Lord were often able to avoid the slide and frequently advance their lives despite what was happening.

                We see the same thing in this chapter.  Because of wickedness, the whole world was coming apart at the seams.  The destruction of their culture and society was clearly visible to them (or else, why would they pray?).  And yet they were spared the consequences and even blessed by fleeing from wickedness and trusting in the Lord.  I think that is something that we can each imitate in our own lives and the lives of our families in the difficult times ahead of us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mormon 9

(December 16, 2015)
                It has always been striking to me how many otherwise orthodox Mormons have such a problem with miracles.  They use any and all means to explain away the absence of miracles.  There seems to be a pendulum that swings back and forth – from recognition of small miracles (a good thing) taken too far to the point where larger miracles are denied (as if God only works through small miracles) to a denial of the small miracles (as coincidence or circumstance or personal effort) which also leads to a point where larger miracles are denied.

                As I have said before, I want my tombstone to read “A Man with Experience is Never at the Mercy of a Man with an Argument.”  And, in this case, that phrase is no less applicable.  However miracles can be argued or explained away, there are a couple of truths that are found both in the scriptures and in my life.  And my life has likewise shown some corollaries that I have learned to be true.

                The first truth is, as my life shows and Moroni clearly states, the day of miracles is not passed.  The great judgment day is not upon us, and therefore miracles continue in this world.  I have seen both small and large miracles, so even if Moroni hadn’t written it I could have testified to it.  If we deny miracles, we deny Moroni, and we deny Christ.

                Second, small miracles happen on a daily basis.  There are five prayers that, in my experience, are always answered (and answered quickly).  A prayer for the tender mercies of the Lord to communicate His love for us.  A prayer for humility (answered, in my experience, with some catastrophe [incidentally, this makes for a good prayer experience for someone doubting the existence of God – encourage them to pray for God and then watch as their lives fall apart, which then becomes evidence of God hearing and answering their prayers]).  A prayer for an increase in gratitude, which is answered with opening my eyes to blessings that I have missed.  A prayer for charity for someone in particular, which tends to be answered by that person doing something painful (intentional or otherwise) to me, giving me an opportunity to practice that virtue.  And finally, a prayer for an opportunity to serve, which is answered not by callings or responsibilities but rather by the Lord opening my eyes to the needs that I can meet of those around me.

                These are just some of the small miracles that we can see in our lives if we just open our eyes.  There is nothing wrong with looking for and finding these small miracles – indeed, we should be grateful for them.  The problem comes when our focus on these small miracles deceives us into believing that these are the only way the Lord works.

                The Lord works through large miracles as well.  Certainly not as often as the small miracles, but if we deny them we won’t be able to experience the larger miracles.  Large miracles, at least in my life, do not come around every day.  But they didn’t come around that often in the lives of the prophets, either.  For example, Nephi was a prophet that we think of as having a number of miracles in his life.  But what do we legitimately have from the record in front of us?

                Off the top of my head, we have (1) the vision to trust his father, (2) the angel protecting him when his brothers were beating him, (3) the miracle of protection when securing the Brass Plates, (4) being freed from his brothers tying him up in the wilderness, (5) the receipt of the Liahona, (6) the vision of the Tree of Life, (7) directions on how to build a ship, (8) shocking his brothers, (9) the storm on the sea, and (10) instructions to flee before his brothers killed him.

                Of those ten miracles (and forgive me if I have missed any compiling this list on the fly), four were inspiration or revelation (1, 6, 7, and 10), three were things that could easily have had naturalistic explanations (3, 4, and 9), and three defied naturalistic explanations (2, 5, and 8).  This in a lifetimes of experiences, and for which we have records of over a decade.

                Along with denying the larger miracles, I think we might sometimes have unrealistic expectations of how often those larger miracles should occur (and I think the latter may feed into the former).  Nephi was on an errand for the Lord – quite possibly the most important thing happening in the world at that point and time.  And, yet, he was having on average one miracle that denied natural explanations every few years, one miracle with a naturalistic explanation ever few years, and a revelation or inspiration just slightly more often.

                As I think back on my life, that is pretty consistent with what I have experienced (taking out, of course, the times when I was not living my life in a manner worthy to experience any miracles at all).  I certainly was not as central to the Lord’s Plan as Nephi was, but He blessed me with miracles as well – a few that defied naturalistic explanation, a few that could be explained away (but which were clearly miracles), with the occasional profound inspiration or revelation.  These larger miracles exist, and support the smaller miracles that we can receive on a daily basis.  We don’t need to expect frequently, but we must also realize that the Lord can and will bless our lives with them from time to time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 127

(December 15, 2015)
                It is interesting to see the juxtaposition of Joseph Smith’s view of suffering and adversity in this Section and contrast it to the way that he felt just over three years earlier (as found in Section 121).  Whereas before, he was overwhelmed by his adversity, by this point he had acquired a strength sufficient to handle it with relative ease.  He couldn’t always glory in his afflictions, but to the extent he could at this point it is encouraging.

                When I find myself facing what seems to be overwhelming adversity, it oftentimes feels like it is a permanent state of affairs.  And, to be honest, that might actually be accurate – after all, it was for Joseph.  But in addition to that truth, there is also the truth that I often forget – the Lord strengthens us through times of affliction.  While my adversity may not be over in three years, is it possible that – like Joseph – I could be strengthened such that no matter the adversity I am able to handle it with ease and confidence?  I think it not only possible but likely, based upon what I have seen and the changes that I have made.

Mormon 8

(December 15, 2015)
                It is hard to reconcile our intellectual understanding of the Gospel with our emotional responses to the world around us sometimes.  For example, I am certain that Moroni is correct when (discussing his bleak future) he says that it doesn’t matter what happens.  I can say the same thing about my own future – I don’t know what will happen, but whatever it is that future will have been designed by a loving God.  So it really doesn’t matter what will come.

                But that intellectual understanding is at war with my emotional reaction to my future.  There are things that I want to accomplish in my life.  And there are blessings that I want to receive.  And far from saying it doesn’t matter, my soul cries out that it does matter – a lot.  What’s more, there are opportunities that have been lost forever.  Once again, it isn’t something that doesn’t matter – it matters a lot.

                I suppose that is part of our progression.  Our mind may understand that we need to trust the Lord, but our emotions lead us to deal with things ourselves.  It is only after we have placed our trust in the Lord that we learn that we can trust the Lord.  Faith leads to obedience, which leads to faith.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 125-126

(December 14, 2015)
                I take some home from the Lord releasing Brigham Young from the obligation to leave his family and travel to preach the Gospel.  It sometimes feels (and reading the close of the Book of Mormon drives that feeling home) that this mortal life is a dark and dreary situation.  Yes, the time will come that we, like Mormon, will receive our release into the welcoming arms of the Lord but unto such time, it feels as though trials and tribulations are our inevitable lots in life as we strive to walk the path of discipleship.

                But while that is true (growth and comfort will never occur at the same place and same time), that doesn’t mean that the challenges we currently face are slated to necessarily persist indefinitely.  The day will come when whatever we are suffering through today reaches its conclusion (perhaps in the next life, but perhaps in this one).  Another challenge may take its place, it is true, but the Lord will walk with us through that challenge as well and continually grant us the strength that we need.

Mormon 6-7

(December 14, 2015)
                The numbers of people in this chapter can cause some consternation for some people.  After all, there is no record that we can find of hundreds of thousands of people being wiped out in a giant battle around this time period (though we can find clear evidences of large-scale warfare around this time period).

                But that really isn’t that big of a deal.  I suppose my view on the matter is skewed a little bit because of my understanding of some other languages, but ten thousand does not need to be a clear indication of a number.  Instead it can mean (depending on the language) a lot, an uncountable amount, a large group, or a powerful group.  Any of these (assuming similar linguistic history) could be applicable here.

Doctrine and Covenants 124

(December 13, 2015)
                There is an important truth in the way the Lord views us contained in this Section.  We sometimes, as Members of the Church, see the formalities as inflexible.  There is some importance to that – if the policies exist, they should generally be followed if possible.  But what about the times when they are not possible to be followed?

                The Lord gives instruction here on how He views such things.  He gives us a period of time to get ourselves in compliance with His will – grants us sufficient time to build a house unto Him, for example.  In the meantime, He accepts our offering (even though it may be limited).  For example, during the time the temple was being built, the baptisms conducted were acceptable to Him.

                So if we are ever in a position where we cannot comply with a policy or commandment, it is not an either/or situation (we follow or are damned on one hand or the commandment is irrelevant on the other).  Instead, our efforts are acceptable to the Lord, so long as included in those efforts is a determination to bring ourselves to the point where we can keep the full commandment or policy.  We are not condemned for our efforts when prevented from full compliance, but we are not justified is we do not make efforts or arrangements to come into compliance.

Mormon 5

                We are, each of us, in the same position that Mormon describes in this chapter.  We are all in open rebellion against God (despite our potential desires not to be).  Our only hope of Salvation is to repent and humble ourselves before Him – we must do it today, and if we do it today, we must do it again tomorrow.  We must do it over and over and over again throughout the eternities until such time as the Father welcomes us back home.

                We can never repent enough today to remove the necessity of repenting tomorrow.  And no obedience of yesterday removes the necessity that we repent today.

Doctrine and Covenants 122-123

(December 12, 2015)
                There was a time when I struggled with Joseph Smith – I felt like I had a good testimony of the Savior and of the Atonement, of the Priesthood, and of the Book of Mormon, but my testimony of Joseph Smith was lacking.

                That has changes as I have been forced to go through difficult times.  I see so much of myself in him, it has helped me to realize that he was a real person.  Seeing him in that fashion, it makes it all the more clear to me that he did what he said he did and experienced what he said he experienced (because that is true of me, as well).

                In these Sections, I was struck by the Lord’s statement about the testimony of traitors.  The Lord recognizes that their influence would cast Joseph into trouble (and it did – ultimately costing Joseph his life).  The Lord also spoke of other consequences to Joseph from the false testimony of traitors (much of which I could empathize because of my own experience with false swearing).

                Fortunately, though, I do not expect to be a martyr for the Gospel.  Still, having experienced what I have experienced, I know how hard it must have been for Joseph to hear that all these things would give him experience and be for his good.  It is true, of course, but it is hard doctrine to accept.  Still, its acceptance is the pathway to peace.

Mormon 4

(December 12, 2015)
                We tend to want to see the Lord come down and smite our enemies (after all, if they are against us they must be against the Lord…right?).  But if we wait for the Lord to smite those who hurt us, we will likely be waiting a long time.  The Lord spends His efforts supporting each and every one of us in our attempts to become like Him (and like our Father).  He leaves the smiting to the wicked.

                It is the nature of the wicked to hurt one another.  When we are living as we should, and turning to the Lord, we find His support for us during our suffering at the hands of the wicked.  The wicked, once hurt by other wicked people, have no such support (because they do not want it), and find themselves destroyed as a consequence.  The Lord stands ready to defend and protect and support each of us (even those who have hurt us deeply), but it is their own character that causes them to refuse such assistance.

Doctrine and Covenants 121

(December 11, 2015)
                I had a pair of thoughts as I read through this Section.  The first was the fact that the Lord Himself acknowledged that there were those people who loved to have others suffer.  We are taught not to judge in this Church, and I think that sometimes we allow that commandment to carry over into our view of mortality.  While we are not to make any decisions as to whether this or that person is evil, it is unquestionable (because the Lord explicitly states it) that there are those who are evil.  As He says here, there are those people who love to cause suffering in others.  It is beyond our stewardship to say that a particular person is evil, but it na├»ve to believe that non one is evil (or even that few people are evil).

                The other thought was the Lord’s statement that people cry transgression because they themselves are the servants of sin, and the children of disobedience.  As much as I would like to apply this to my current situation (and I think it applicable), it seems even more beneficial to apply it to the situation we find ourselves in overall.

                Since the Church released its policy change on homosexual marriage, there have been countless attacks on the Church.  I have been tracking some of those making these comments, and reading prior comments that they have made.  What seems almost universal is the fact that the people for whom this was the “last straw” are almost always people who have criticized the Church for years.  They are people who have left the Church, or don’t believe in the Church.

                Perhaps there are exceptions to this general rule – I cannot see into anyone’s heart.  But there is enough evidence there, combined with this scripture, to make me feel certain that criticizing our leaders (especially unjustly) is a sign of significant sin in our own hearts.

Mormon 3

(December 11, 2015)
                We mortals continually seek the impose limits on the forgiveness of the Lord.  We like to think that His forgiveness is just broad enough to cover our sins, but not broad enough to cover those of our enemy.  This, put in these terms, is obviously ridiculous, but it doesn’t stop it from being true.

                There are two pieces of this chapter that elucidate this concept.  The first being that Mormon was instructed of the Lord to preach to the people that they were to repent and they would be spared.  Does anyone doubt that if they had followed the path of the people of Nineveh (when Jonah preached to them) that they would have been saved?  What makes this illuminating is just how far down the road of wickedness they had gone at this point – and despite that, the Lord still remained read to forgive them if they repented.

                The second piece was the Lord’s statement that vengeance was His and He will repay.  Although at first glance it might not seem like a statement on forgiveness, but it really is.  If we are pursuing vengeance, what we are saying is that we are justified in seeking the destruction of our enemies.  This is only true (absent immediate self-defense) if our enemies are beyond the reach of the Atonement.  Otherwise those we destroy are those who may have received the Gospel, repented, and acquired their eternal birthright.  If we acknowledge that the Atonement is broad enough to cover those who hurt us, we must also acknowledge that vengeance belongs to the Lord and no one else.

                When we are hurting, it can be a bitter pill to swallow.  But the blessing is that attached to this bitter pill is the promise of forgiveness for our sins as well – and that is a blessing that makes the rest worthwhile.  And, eventually, perhaps we reach the point where we are sufficiently filled with charity  that we find the pill no longer bitter, but rather sweet.

Doctrine and Covenants 118-120

(December 10, 2015)

                So many times we worry about things beyond our control.  We worry about the things that we feel we need to accomplish, but which are beyond our capacities at that moment (or, potentially, ever).  But the Lord reminds us here what we need to focus on.  If we focus on the Lord, and maintain our humility before Him, He will open the doors that need to be opened for us to receive what we need to receive (and to prevent us from receiving what we shouldn’t receive).

Mormon 2

(December 10, 2015)
                I struggle sometimes with some of the things that seem unfair to me about mortality.  For example, I am in a position now where I have been forced to suffer through a great amount of sorrow and affliction because of the wickedness of others – people willing to lie in order to cover their own sins.  These lies have caused a great deal of pain for me, and I look at the future and do not see a reckoning coming for those who were dishonest in mortality.

                Of course, that is a shallow view on my part.  After all, their dishonesty is its own reward, and wickedness never was happiness.  And I have seen the impact their continuing efforts to cover their sins have had on them – an impact they steadfastly deny.  What’s more, even my thinking in this way is ungrateful, as I have been blessed by the Lord tremendously as I have struggled with the consequences of their dishonesty.  I certainly have nothing to complain about (though I do still complain).

                Experiencing that tension, I can empathize with Mormon and at the same time see him as a positive example for me.  He talked of experiencing sorrow because of wickedness all of his days, and we know that is true (he ended his mortal experience the way he lived it – suffering because of the sinfulness of others).  If he had lived in the time of Christ’s visitation, his life would have been far more pleasant, but that wasn’t what the Lord had in mind for him.  And while the context seems to indicate his sorrow because of wickedness was just sorrow for their sinful nature and what would happen to them, I do not doubt that he also experienced temporal trials (if nothing else, his death) because of those sins.

                But Mormon kept an eternal perspective through those trials.  He knew that even if he suffered the remainder of his days because of the wickedness of others, it would not change the fact that he would be lifted up at the last day.  And that reward made everything else worthwhile.  It is the eternal perspective that gives us the strength to exercise patience in our trials (particularly those trials caused by the wickedness of others).

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 115-117

(December 9, 2015)
                Reading about the Nicolaitane band led me to think about secret combinations in our modern society.  One thing that I have learned and internalized is that the Lord does not work through secrecy and through darkness and through deception.  His works are works of openness.  And yet so many people think that they are doing the Lord’s work and yet simultaneously attempt to hide what they are doing.

                It may be something that seems relatively simple.  For example, maybe it is a group of disaffected Members meeting together on a message board (under pseudonyms – not uncommon) to share thoughts on why the latest action of the Church is wrong or why something demonstrates the Book of Mormon is untrue.  They wouldn’t recognize themselves as members of a secret combination, but what else would you call that?

                Or it may be something more complex.  Maybe it is a Priesthood leader engaging in deception of some kind – for a good cause, of course – with the belief that the deception is not a bad thing in this instance.  With such a justification, the leader deviates from his stewardship and the direction given to those in leadership for the protection of those they are to serve.  Before long, immense damage can be done.  They would certainly bristle at the thought that what they did was a secret combination, but again what else would you call that?

Mormon 1

(December 9, 2015)
                I think there is significance to the fact that Mormon came from the north (he was raised there) and yet lived in the south in his formative years.  His editing makes it painfully clear that he views the north as a dangerous, evil place (and you wonder what happened to make that belief come into place).  Were he only familiar with the south, he likely would not have been as aware of the machinations of the secret combinations (they always tended to be tied to the north – to the Jaredites, perhaps, or some other people or group).

                There are exceptions, of course.  In 3 Nephi, for example, we see just one such exception.  But the general rule for Mormon is that the north is the source of evil and destruction, and it is apparent that he perhaps could have been drawing from some personal experience.  Could that experience have been the reason why Mormon and his father went south?  Could he and his father have been fleeing?

Doctrine and Covenants 114

(December 8, 2015)
                This is a short Section, but it has two key thoughts in it.  The first, of course, is about our priorities.  But beyond that, it is a reminder that the Lord is in charge.  There are those who misuse their Priesthood, and there are those who have been hurt by the mistakes (well-intentioned or malicious) of leaders in the Church.  And, to be fair, there are those who are hurt by their correct decisions as well, when the decision that saves one soul hurts another.

                I put myself into one of those categories above (though I don’t claim the wisdom to know which one it might be).  But there is a comfort in knowing that, despite the hurt that I have felt, that the Lord is still in charge.  The leaders that He chose He can easily replace.  And I can count on Him for protection, regardless of what happens, if I keep my focus on Him.

4 Nephi 1

(December 8, 2015)
                I may have mentioned this before, but there are those who attempt to make a great deal of hay out of the chronology of Amos in this chapter.  They attempt to use his apparent age to discredit the entire Book of Mormon, and thus weaponize it.

                There are explanations for this, and I think I have included them in the past (if my memory is correct).  But rather than focus on the general, I think I will focus on one idea I had when I was reading this time.

                We know that Mormon was an editor, and included things that others had written.  And we know it was not uncommon to name parents after children (in this chapter, we already have Amos son of Amos).  So all that would be needed would be for Mormon to have missed the death of an Amos, or the record to not be correctly written, or something happening to damage the record where Amos’s death was mentioned.  Simple things – Mormon couldn’t mention the death and the succession of the new Amos if he didn’t have the details.

                Can you imagine the loss of a record from 200 years ago?  The record of a single death?  And that is with our modern capacity to catalog.  If you can, then the chronology of this chapter should not be a problem.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 113

(December 7, 2015)
                It was interesting to see the differing approaches to the questions brought to the Lord, and I think it was instructive as well.  First we have questions that lack a specific speaker.  Were they raised by Joseph Smith himself?  I think there is some indication in the text that they were. In any event, these questions were answered by the Lord – verily thus sayeth the Lord.

                The second set of questions were raised by Elias Higbee.  These questions were answered, as best as we can tell, by Joseph Smith (in any event, the Lord is not declaring that He is the speaker).  I think that many of our interactions with the Lord are handled in this way.  Our Priesthood leaders act often as intermediaries between us and the Lord, while they are able to communicate directly with Him within their stewardships.  This is particularly valid, I think, when it comes to the Prophets.

                Some argue that this ‘isn’t fair’ in some way – that the Lord should not expect us to work through prophets, but should interact with all of us the same way.  This is very much a conceit of our age and one that likely is not of eternal significance – the Lord’s house is a house of order, and I don’t see that changing in the hereafter.

3 Nephi 28-30

(December 7, 2015)

                I spent some time today thinking about the physiological change that was associated with the permanent transfiguration of the Three Nephites.  We know so very little about it, but I wonder whether we can make any deductions from what we read.  For example, it seems from the description that the physiological change was instrumental in making the Three Nephites immune to the temptations of Satan.  If my interpretation is correct, that would seem to indicate that there is a physiological mechanism by which Satan’s temptations are effective.  But that leads to a host of other considerations that I not confident that I could think through.

Doctrine and Covenants 112

(December 6, 2015)

                It is particularly interesting to me, viewing this with the benefit of hindsight, to see how much of this counsel was for Thomas Marsh (even when ostensibly directed at others).  The Lord gives us commandments and revelations, but He doesn’t expect others to change based upon what He reveals to us.  Instead, He expects us to change, because the one and only source of evil that we can truly ever combat is what is contained within our own heart.

3 Nephi 26-27

(December 6, 2015)
                There is a common refrain that I frequently hear from those opposed to the idea of a the Gospel that a loving Heavenly Father would not have designed a Plan that would result in so many of His children not returning to live with Him.  Some of those who believe this end of leaving the faith (saying that the Gospel must not be true), and other try to enlarge the faith (saying that the gate must not be as narrow as we think that it is).

                I have even seen articles that have taken the perspective that, ultimately, all (or almost all) of us will ultimately be Exalted.  While that is a delightful thought (and I wouldn’t mind at all if it were true), I don’t think that we can justify that perspective from the scriptures.

                The reality is that the gate is narrow and the way is hard.  If there was an easier way, chances are God would have worked that into His Plan.  But there isn’t, and the older I get the better I am able to understand why.  When we try to refashion the Gospel into something universal (rather than universally applicable) we cease worship God and following His Plan and instead worship our own ideas of what the plan ought to be.

Doctrine and Covenants 111

(December 5, 2015)
                I wonder how many times this last verse is applicable to me.  How often have I been on my knees, begging for a blessing, and the Lord has been standing patiently waiting to give me the very blessing I needed, only delaying because I can’t yet receive it?

                Right now, there are some things that I am desperately craving from the Lord.  I can envision Him readying His angels, determined to provide all that I have asked for and more.  But He has advised these angels to wait until the time when I am ready to receive those blessings, and then (and only then) to provide them to me.

                It is a comforting thought, and one not that far off the mark, I imagine.

3 Nephi 23-25

(December 5, 2015)
                We believe, in this Church, in prophetic fallibility.  We understand that prophets are mortal men and subject to making mistakes the same as others.  Anyone who has given a Priesthood blessing, and struggled to give voice to the promptings of the Spirit, understands just how difficult that can be at times.

                But I think that, as a culture, we carry that too far sometimes.  There seems to be a great divide being created where on one side are those who think the prophet is always right, and on the other side are those who think the prophet is fallible and thus can be disregarded.

                I thought of this when I read through 3 Nephi 23:3.  Here we have the words of the Lord saying that “all” of the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for prophetic fallibility.  I think that, between the two positions, the greatest danger lies in disregarding the prophet.  But the true position is very close to (but not actual at) believing the prophet is always right.  We should accept that the prophet is the prophet, we should not assume that just because he disagrees with our political or social or moral views that he is wrong and we are right, but if he happens to make a mistake (and we can trust that, when this happens, the Lord will rectify it without our help) we can accept that as part and parcel of working with mortals and move on.

Doctrine and Covenants 110

(December 4, 2015)
                Here the language is use “thousands and tens of thousands.”  This must have been an amazing amount for those who heard it in 1836, but in retrospect it is so far below the full extent of the blessing given.  We know that the number is not tens of thousands, but millions or tens of millions.  Who knows what it will be in the end.

                I wonder how often the Lord does this when He communicates with us.  He has a blessing to offer us, but our minds are so limited in our imagination of what we can receive that He is obligated to promise us something far less than the full blessing because otherwise we wouldn’t believe it.  I think that this is more common than we might think – that the joy which He has to share with us is so wonderful that He has to downplay it in order for our limited minds to believe and understand it.

3 Nephi 21-22

(December 4, 2015)
                I love 3 Nephi 21:10, for its simplicity in establishing an eternal perspective (and subverting a mortal one).  The Lord bluntly says three things that are inherently contradictory from a mortal perspective.  Premise one – they won’t hurt him.  Premise two – he will be marred.  Premise three – Christ will heal him.

                Each are, in a mortal sense, exclusive.  If he won’t be hurt (1), he won’t be marred and won’t need healing.  If he is marred (2), he is hurt and being marred is permanent (thus, no healing).  If he is healed (3), he must have been hurt, and couldn’t have been marred (because, again, he was healed).

                But this incoherence (temporally) is clear spiritually.  His spirit will not be hurt, though his body will be marred.  And whatever damage that is caused (emotional, pain, sin) will be healed.  I take this as a reminder that we really are not mortal creatures, nor are we intended for mortality.  We are, instead, immortal creatures with a spiritual nature.  It is important to maintain that perspective in order to understand the world in which we live.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 109

(December 3, 2015)
                Its funny how the Lord prepares, and then teaches, us.  Yesterday I read about how the Nephites prayed for an extended time for the Holy Ghost to be given to them and I couldn’t in my mind imagine how that was done.  How did they not repeat themselves?  What could they have prayed about?

                Then, just a day later (and a mind prepared by wondering about the issue), I read this Section which answered many of those questions.  We have Joseph, not multiplying words and with a prayer guided by revelation, asking for the Holy Ghost.  I was able to read how the Lord taught Joseph to pray, and several times as I read I was struck by thoughts of the way that I should pray and returned to my knees to pray.

                In addition to what I learned about prayer, though, there was also something that I learned about mercy.  Joseph prayed for those who were horribly oppressing them (after noting that the Lord certainly knew of those who were being oppressed by the wicked), and his prayer was that the wicked who hurt the Saints would be shown mercy by being empowered to repent.

                I thought that was a fantastic way to look at those who hurt us.  I have those people in my life right now who strive to hurt me whenever the opportunity presents itself to them.  I have prayed for relief from their actions, but I realize that it would be better for me to pray that they will get relief from their actions – that they will be moved upon to repent and return to the Lord.

3 Nephi 20

(December 3, 2015)
                What struck me today as I read this chapter was the number of times that the Lord quoted the prophets.  We understand, of course, that the prophets are fallible in ways that God is not.  But, by the same token, we are on dangerous ground when we take upon ourselves to choose what the prophet is right or wrong about.

                As we can see from this chapter, even the Lord Himself is prepared to quote from large portions of writings from prophets.  What would our reaction be if we rejected something a prophet said only to have the Lord later quote that writing back to us?

                This isn’t an idle question.  I know, in my own life, that at various decision points I have felt the Spirit whisper reminders of thoughts or language that the Brethren have used in General Conference or similar venues.  If I had rejected the words of the prophets then, would the Spirit quoting the prophets have had the same effect on me?  Would I have been closed off from the guidance that I needed?

3 Nephi 19

(December 2, 2015)
                I’ll admit that I oftentimes struggle to say prayers that last more than about a minute.  I love the Lord, and He is always there for me, but my prayers are decidedly lacking (though better than they were in the past).  So I couldn’t help but wonder what the people prayed for without multiplying words.

                The only thing we see in the scriptures is that they prayed for the Holy Ghost.  With the understanding that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a priceless thing, I don’t see how you could ask for that for the amount of time that people were praying here without multiplying words or repeating themselves.

                What such thoughts demonstrate to me is how much I still have to learn about prayer.  I imagine my prayers might be more intense and meaningful if I were praying in the presence of the Savior, but in effect that is what we are always doing – the Savior is always there if we allow Him to be.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 108

(December 1, 2015)
                Forgiveness from sins, because of the Atonement, is a surprisingly easy thing to receive.  It feels somewhat counterintuitive that mercy’s reach could be so broad, but the examples we have from the scriptures makes that clear.  In this Section we see that the obeying the voice of the Lord and receiving counsel from His servants is sufficient to have sins forgiven.  We have similar examples throughout the scriptures – it seems that the moment we truly seek to turn our wills over to the Lord and obey Him, forgiveness is available.

                Of course, this just highlights the fact that the larger challenge is receiving sanctification (or the change in our natures) rather than merely (merely! – as if it were a small thing) justification (or forgiveness for our sins).

3 Nephi 18

(December 1, 2015)
                It is interesting to me to see the way that the Sacrament is presented here by the Savior.  The Sacrament is a testament that we always remember Christ, but the promised blessings don’t come from the Sacrament.  Christ’s language is clear that the blessings of His Spirit is promised to those who remember Him, and not merely to those who partake of the Sacrament.

                It may seem like a distinction without a difference (because, presumably, those who love the Lord and always remember Him will want to partake of the Sacrament as well).  But the outward ordinance, when it comes to at least the promised blessing of His Spirit, is not a necessary condition to that blessing but rather an outward manifestation of the inward condition required to be deserving of that blessing.

Doctrine and Covenants 107

(November 30, 2015)
                We are to always be learning our duty.  Of course, sometimes (in some circumstances) we may feel we have no duty.  Or we may feel we know and understand our duty.  I am a father, but do I fully understand my duty towards my children?  Do I understand what duty I have towards the Church and my fellow travelers in mortality?

                I think the question that we can always, always ask is the simple one we heard about in General Conference this year – what lack I yet? – and if we are continually asking that we are giving the Lord the opportunity to continually educate us as to our duty.

3 Nephi 16-17

(November 30, 2015)
                As a parent, I read these chapters wondering what my children would have done when they saw Christ.  In my imagination, they said something funny or my youngest tugged on His beard as though He was Santa Claus or something similar. In truth, though, I can’t imagine any of them doing that if they were blessed to be in the presence of the Savior.

                I think that the children were likely on their very best behaviors at that point (am I wrong on that?).  I think that sometimes we assume that children misbehave because we as parents accept too little responsibility for their behaviors.  I can’t be sure on any of this, of course, but it is something to think about.

Doctrine and Covenants 105-106

(November 29, 2015)
                The Lord introduced an interesting phrase here that I am not sure I know what to make of it.  The Lord here says that he was displeased with the transgressions of the Church and not the people (paraphrasing Him, of course).  The key question that strikes me out of this is the fact that the Church can transgress while the people don’t.  What’s more, the Lord is not mad at the leaders of the Church, but rather with the Church.

                I am not sure what to make of this, to be honest.

3 Nephi 14-15

(November 29, 2014)
                So I must make a confession – at times, particularly recently, it has felt as though each time I have gone to the Lord asking for bread I have been given a stone, and when I have gone to Him asking for a fish, I have gotten a serpent.  I know the problem is my perception – I am asking for the wrong things, and I am not sufficiently grateful for the things that He is giving me.  It seems so clear and easy for me to understand what should happen (from my perspective), and yet time and time again it doesn’t happen.

                The only way to understand this is to trust the Lord that what I think I am asking for as bread is in fact a stone, and when I am getting something that I think is a stone I am in fact getting bread.  It is so very hard at times (fatiguing, even), to bear the adversity that seems to come down regardless of my prayers for relief, but through this process I am blessed to know that He has thus far given me the strength to not fall.  And that is far more important than anything else.

                We know that the rains descend and the flood come and the winds blow and beat upon the houses built on both the good and sandy foundation – building on the right foundation does not spare us from the storm.  It just enables us to weather it, as the Lord has thus far enabled me to weather the storms in my life.

Doctrine and Covenants 104

(November 28, 2015)
                Sometimes I believe the Lord includes language in His revelations to us just to bring things to our attention so we can consider them and acquire more light and understanding.  One such example is found in this Section.  The Lord presents it as an immutable and unchangeable promise, which is powerful language, but we also know that this is a revelation later changed by Joseph Smith (changing terminology).

                So which is it?  Is it an immutable and unchangeable promise, or is it subject to revision by Joseph Smith?  The answer, of course, is that it is both.  Joseph Smith changed the terminology, not the covenant.  We have examples of this frequently throughout history (including the major changes to the temple endowment in my lifetime).  Terminology isn’t important – the meaning of words change through time anyhow, and a misplaced word here or there is just part and parcel with dealing with imperfect vessels.  These sorts of things really should not worry us.

3 Nephi 13

(November 28, 2015)
                I was struck by the Lord’s statement that God knows we have physical needs.  That may be a common-sense proposition, but it made an impact with me today.  I think that sometimes I set things up as a false dichotomy at times – between renouncing physical needs (an impossibility) in order to focus on  the Lord or focusing on physical needs in a way that interferes with my relationship with the Lord.  Satan, I have discovered, loves to establish these traps where either option chosen leads to destruction.

                Of course, the secret is to not choose either option but to find the third.  Christ here teaches that option – we are not to renounce our physical needs but rather to call upon the Lord to meet those needs while we put Him first in our lives.  If we make serving God our priority, we can have faith that all of the other things that we need will be provided by Him.  Thus we don’t have to  renounce those things we need, but still don’t vary our focus on the Savior.

3 Nephi 12

(November 27, 2015)
                We are taught, over and over again, that we are to follow Christ’s example.  And following Christ’s example inevitably means that we must love our enemies.  The reasoning behind this is simple – you see, we are all enemies to Christ.  He is not our enemy, but we are His enemy.  Our sins pain Him, and we act in rebellion to Him continually.  And yet, through it all, He loves us (as He loves our enemies).

                So if we want to be like Him, and if we want to show our gratitude for His sacrifice on our behalf, then there is little that we can do that would be better than loving all of those that He loves (even if they are enemies to us).

Doctrine and Covenants 103

(November 26, 2015)
                One thing my children like to say as definitive proof that they should get what they want is that the alternative is “not fair.”  I am trying to teach them that fairness isn’t an essential part of mortality, but part of my struggle with doing so is how often this same thinking creeps into my own mind.  Things happen in life that simply are not fair, and the more I focus on them the less happy I become.

                The defense against that is to remember that the Great Mediator has made all things unfair – unfair to our advantage.  Yes, someone’s hateful behavior has hurt me.  But were it not for Christ I would have been damned forever.  So fairness may have me not hurt by those who hate me, but it also has me damned – that is the fair result.  Me being hurt, then healed, then Saved is a substantially unfair result in my favor.  So long as I can remember that, it helps me to understand and accept the unfairness of life that inevitably will occur.

                My thoughts focused on this because of the doctrine that we are taught in this Section.  The unrighteous persecute the righteous (or the more righteous) in order to chasten and bless the righteous and fill up the measure of the iniquities of the unrighteous.  Note what is not said – it is never alleged that the righteous deserve their persecution or that the persecution is fair.  That simply isn’t the case – to quote Elder Maxwell, if it is fair it isn’t a trial.  And it is through trials that we accomplish growth.

3 Nephi 11

(November 26, 2015)
                I don’t think it was an accident that the people were gathered around the Bountiful Temple when the miracle of Christ’s visitation happened.  So many times in my life, I have discovered that miracles tend to happen when I am in the right place, and when my focus is on Christ (they were conversing about Him). 

                My other thought was the realization that Christ’s commandment to have no disputations concerning His doctrine was given to those (especially His disciples) who best understood His doctrine.  He was giving that counsel to avoid contention to those most likely to have the correct doctrine.  Because ultimately it isn’t about who is correct and who isn’t – it is a question of charity.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 102

(November 25, 2015)
                There is an interesting phenomenon that I discovered as I read through this Section.  I always attempt to focus on who is speaking as I read the scriptures, because that is oftentimes enlightening as to what the Lord is trying to teach us.  In this Section, there is no indication that what is being related is revelation (though it might be).  It is instead put forward as policy to be followed.

                Nowadays, of course, we have a large number of people prepared to leave the Church because a policy was issued that they disagree with. The common refrain is that because it is merely a policy, it isn’t of the same force and effect as revelation (which is true, but not nearly as far as they take it).

                As I understand the difference, revelation does not change because truth does not change.  The Lord may, if He has revealed a policy, change that policy when circumstances change.  But it is not given to us to change them when circumstances change because they were given to us by Him.

                Policy, on the other hand, when created by those who are in authority, is no less binding on us than is revelation.  The difference, of course, is that it may be amended or changed through decision of those in authority (it does not require a revelation to change the policy on music in Sacrament Meeting, for example).

                I will readily admit that this represents my own, imperfect understanding of the difference, but the main thing to highlight is that just because something is policy and did not come from the Lord in a cloud of smoke does not justify us disregarding it.  I have both been hurt by those who disregard policy and hurt others by disregarding policy.  When the Lord places leaders at our head, we would be wise to follow them.

3 Nephi 9-10

(November 25, 2015)
                There is a great deal of hope that I draw from these chapters.  Here the people were in a place of great destruction – and, despite the people being comparatively righteous, they were still being destroyed because of their wickedness.  They were thus brought to a point of mourning for their losses and fear for their future.

                In such a very short period of time, however, they were changed from that state into a state of joy.  The difference, of course, being the hope that they found in Christ for their future.  Likewise, I understand that I am in a painful and difficult spot right now (and it feels, at times, as though it will last forever).  But just as happened here, the stands ready to help me to change from mourning to joy if I will only turn to Him and fully welcome Him into my life.

Doctrine and Covenants 101

(November 24, 2015)
                The old canard about lawyers is really true (straining a gnat and swallowing a camel), but at times the problem isn’t so much straining the gnat (no one wants a cup of soda full of gnats).  The problem is when we allow our intellectualism to be misappropriated into swallowing camels, and not when we are able to strain a gnat along the way (or, at least, that is the way that I understand things).

                With that in mind, I was struck by something as I read through this Section.  It was one word, and focusing in on that word made a substantial difference in my understanding of what was being said.  The Lord taught us that if we cannot endure chastening, we cannot be sanctified.  Not will not be sanctified – cannot be sanctified.

                That cannot (as opposed to will not, or anything similar) is informative.  It shows us that the process of sanctification has, as a necessary component, both chastening and the necessity that we endure that chastening.  There is no other way (cannot, not will not) – if we are seeking a comfortable route to Exaltation, this is another reminder that we are not going to find it.

3 Nephi 8

(November 24, 2015)
                Why is it that we continue to expect infallibility from our leaders (or even from our scriptures)?  There is no doctrinal basis for it, and it drives us to idolize men rather than focus on the Lord.  For example, in this chapter we have Mormon’s description of the writer he is redacting.  This man was a righteous man, he performed miracles, and yet Mormon acknowledged that he could still have been wrong as to the date of the upheaval that took place.

                It is as though Satan has created a Scylla and Charybdis for members of the Church.  On the one hand is the Scylla of infallible leadership – one mistake, and those who hold to this position are ready to turn their backs on the Lord.  On the other hand is the Charybdis of focusing on the leaders faults (real or imagined) and failing to acknowledge that these leaders are called of God and chosen by Him to perform their functions.

                Yes, leaders are imperfect.  No, that does not excuse us from the obligation to follow them (and they are put in place by the Lord).  We do not follow our mortal leaders, but rather we follow the Lord, including when His instructions reach us through these fallible leaders.

Doctrine and Covenants 99-100

(November 23, 2015)
                I wonder what lesson I ought to take from John Murdock.  I think there is a lesson or a principle there to be had, but I am not certain of what it is.  But I think it might be this: I think the Lord may, from time to time, give us tasks to complete and challenges to overcome, and when those challenges are complete He will give us the thing that we desire.  Sometimes it might be after this life, but sometimes it might be during this life.

                I admit that I am almost to the point now where I think that with certain adversities I will not be given relief in mortality.  It is a bit of a dark perspective, tempered with an understanding that the Lord is still there with me and continues to bless me.  But I have arrived at a point where when I receive a bit of news, I almost expect it to be bad (and I am rarely disappointed by that).

                I know that sounds glum and gloomy, but it really isn’t.  The painful process I have gone through has been such a wonderful blessing in my life, and I appreciate the refiner’s fire that I have been forced to pass through.  Honestly, I wouldn’t want things any other way.  But I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I wonder whether I will be allowed to see one before the bright tunnel of light that we all pass through at the end of our mortal experience (speaking metaphorically, of course).

                I think that, but there is still a part of me that hopes that the day will come when the hopes and dreams that I had for my mortal life might (in part) be realized.  If not, of course, by this point I understand and accept it.  But maybe, after a few years, I too will be given the opportunity (if I desire it of the Lord) to go unto a metaphorical goodly land to possess my inheritance.

                Either way, I will praise the Lord for what He has done (and continues to do) for me.

3 Nephi 7

(November 23, 2015)
                Let’s face it – tribalism is already happening.  Rather than breaking apart as a society into families, we are breaking apart as a society into ideological groups, identity groups, or political groups.  Regardless of what we call it, though, it is still tribalism.

                The frightening thing, of course, is the clear indication that tribalism leads to unrighteousness.  And it is no wonder why that is – once we break apart into tribes we create excuses for being uncharitable and we establish sacred beliefs outside of the revelatory process.  We think that we are right on everything, and things that differ (including the Lord) should be ignored or attacked.

Doctrine and Covenants 98

(November 22, 2015)
                There are certain scriptures that bring a lot of hope to me as I read them, and this is one of them.  I can empathize with the early Saints placed in positions where they were surrounded by enemies who sought their destruction, and being hurt by the selfish actions of others.

                But, like the Saints, it ultimately isn’t about the enemies that we have and their efforts to hurt us – they cannot do anything to us save the Lord allows it.  Like the early Saints, we will each be tested to determine if abide in our covenants with the Lord.  Each of our challenges might be different, and I dare say that each of our challenges will be the most difficult way our challenges could be made to confront us, but if we hold to the Lord then the efforts of others to hurt us will only work towards our betterment.

                Of course, the other thought I wondered about when reading in this Section was on the thought of children making restitution.  I imagine it means adult children, but it does bring up some interesting thoughts about the nature of our accountability and responsibility that I am not sure what to make of just yet.

3 Nephi 6

(November 22, 2015)
                Self-deception is a painful thing to confront.  Perhaps worst of all, it makes us doubt everything that we tell ourselves when we are forced to confront our self-deception.  It leaves us in such confusion as to whether we are truly who we think we are, or whether we are once again lying to ourselves.  It leaves us at risk of those who, knowing of our past mistakes, would profit off of those mistakes by condemning us for their own personal gain.  Or, on the other side of the ledger, it leaves us at risk for failing to recognize our true mistakes and properly repenting of them when we should.

                But here we have a key to help us to understand when we are being self-deceptive.  If, when truth is testified to us, we find ourselves angry at it, then we know we are lying to ourselves.  If we are told to repent, and we instead become angry (who are they to tell me I have to repent?!?), we are lying to ourselves.  If we are told to forgive, and we instead become angry, (but he doesn’t know what such-and-such did to me!), we are lying to ourselves.  And, I dare say, if we are instructed to hold close to the Brethren and follow them, and we instead become angry (but they are just out of touch!), we are lying to ourselves.

                Anger (particularly anger at the truth) is a potent was we have of determining when we have placed ourselves in a position of spiritual jeopardy.

Doctrine and Covenants 96-97

(November 21, 2015)
                Conditional language in the scriptures is a powerful thing – if there is something added to the text (especially by the voice of the Lord), then we can fairly place particular emphasis on whatever happens to be added.

                For example, in these Sections we read that we must observe covenants by sacrifice.  Note that it isn’t sufficient for us to merely observe covenants (as though observing our covenants could be considered ‘mere’), but that we must observe our covenants by sacrifice.  It is safe to say, based upon the text from the Lord, that if we believe that we are obeying our covenants and yet we are not sacrificing, then we are fooling ourselves.

3 Nephi 5

(November 21, 2015)
                I am continually shocked by how quickly society can regress from a point where everyone believes to a point where almost everyone is apostate in a matter of a few years.  But, of course, when I look back over the course of my own life I can see similar swings in myself – there were times when I was living the Gospel, only to turn from it a short time later (less years than it took the Nephites in this chapter).

                The takeaway, of course, is that we can never become complacent in what we are doing and turning our wills over to the Lord must remain a constant struggle against sin and our natures until we can present our whole will to God as an offering.

Doctrine and Covenants 94-95

(November 20, 2015)
                In our modern society, all too often we believe that love goes hand in hand with acceptance – if someone doesn’t accept us where we are, then they do not love us.  But the Lord’s view (which, of course, we should emulate [like everything else He does]) is different.  In His view, love and chastisement go hand in hand – because He loves us, He blesses us with trials, adversity, hardship, and pain.

                Of course the nature of our relationships with one another is different than the relationship of Christ with us.  We are not in the position to heap chastisement and adversity on each other, nor would we have the wisdom to correctly do so.  But we also should not seek to assist those that we love in avoiding the chastisement that the Lord wants to bless them with for their unrighteous behavior.  That is the point where we go from loving those around us to enabling their disobedience.

3 Nephi 4

(November 20, 2015)
                The actions of the Gaddianton Robbers is illustrative of what we sometimes see from those who claim to aspire to a honorable goal but in reality seek out power and control.  When the Nephites retreated back into their centralized location, the Gaddianton robbers could have achieved their stated goals (acquisition of the lands of their inheritance).

                However, this was always an excuse and their true goal was to achieve power over the Nephites.  Likewise, whenever there are those who come forward with stated goals that seem laudable, but which require the acquisition of dangerous amounts of power, we should be cautious.  Power, history has shown, is addictive and it leads to horrible conclusions if we ignore those who engage in efforts to consolidate it.

3 Nephi 2-3

(November 19, 2015)
                In these chapters, we see that a just man is not frightened by the threatenings of a robber.  I couldn’t help but contrast that with the response of Pilate to the mob – because of his mistakes he lacked the political capital to resist their bloodlust and spare the life of Christ (who he recognized to be an innocent man).

                So many times, our own weaknesses are used by those who would hurt us.  And yet we cling to those weaknesses in spite of the damage that they cause and the power it gives others over us.  If, instead, we follow the example given here and turn our weaknesses over to the Lord we would not be afraid of  the threats of those who would do us harm and could resist them with both charity and strength.

Doctrine and Covenants 93

(November 18, 2015)

                This is a Section that is so full of doctrine that it is almost impossible to choose what to write about (honestly, a book could be written about this Section).  The one thing that I will highlight (among many) is that every soul who forsakes his sins, comes unto Christ, calls on His name, and keeps His commandments will see Christ’s face and know that He is.  This is absolute language, and establishes a very high standard for each of us in our lives. 

3 Nephi 1

(November 18, 2015)
                There is a scene from the movie “Galaxy Quest” that I thought of as I read this chapter.  In it, there is a self-destruct sequence which the heroes are attempting to cancel.  They make it to the place where they can cancel it, only to have it not stop when they push the button.  Why?  Because the countdown only stops when there is one second left – only when the destruction was imminent (for dramatic purposes) did the salvation come.

                But, of course, the Lord doesn’t work for dramatic effect (or maybe he does?  Doctrine and Covenants 19 would seem to lend some credence to that position).  In any event, the Lord waited until the last possible day before saving the people.  I think there is a powerful lesson that we need to learn from this – so many times in my life I have looked for a convenient salvation from the pains and difficulties that I have faced.  I have hoped for rescue from those who seek to hurt me to come in my time and in my way.  The reality, though, is that the Lord has His own timetable, and if we trust Him it will be soon enough (but perhaps only barely soon enough).

                The other thought that I had as I was reading in this chapter was on the teaching that the Law of Moses should be revoked.  This is the danger from having an intellectual rather than a spiritual understanding of the Gospel (a problem that I had in the past, and likely still carry to a certain extent [though less so now]).  Those advocating the repeal of the Law of Moses were doctrinally correct that the Law must end.  But they were spiritually wrong because there was a detail that they were mistaken about.

                Putting that in context of the present day (or the recent past), consider the issue of the blacks and the Priesthood.  There were those who, reading the scriptures or researching the history, came to the conclusions that blacks should have the Priesthood.  Some left the Church over that issue.  But for all of their intellectual acumen (and the fact that they were doctrinally [almost] right), the reality is that the change had to come by revelation and in the time that the Lord required.  Doing things early is not acceptable, and they must happen in the appropriate time and through the appropriate channels.

                This is something very important for me to remember.

Doctrine and Covenants 91-92

(November 17, 2015)
                I love the emphasis included in this about the way that we receive things being important.  There are so many things in our lives that, if we receive them by the Spirit, we can benefit.  But those very same things, if we receive them in some other way, we do not benefit from them.

                One that comes to mind off the top of my head is science.  Science is a blessing to our lives, it has brought technological achievement and comfort and access to information and countless other blessings.  When we receive these things with gratitude and the Spirit, we are blessed by them.  But when we abandon the Spirit it is easy to allow ourselves to be swayed into a reductive materialistic (and ultimately atheistic) worldview that brings nothing but misery to our lives.

Helaman 15-16

(November 17, 2015)
                There are those (and I put myself into this category during my weaker moments) who seem to believe that all they would need in order to be unshakably converted to the Gospel would be to see miracles (or more miracles).  Of course, that is not true at all – we can see evidence of that scripturally (Laman saw an angel, and where did that get him?) or anecdotally from my life (I have seen miracles that lack any naturalistic explanation, and yet I nearly lost my testimony at one point).

                In this chapter, we see another example of that principle.  People who once believed were regressing into unbelief despite continued and more miracles.  Miracles can bless our lives, and they can teach us important truths, but they are not something that can convert us.  Only turning our wills over to God can accomplish that.

Doctrine and Covenants 90

(November 16, 2015)
                When facing adversity, it is comforting to remember that all things work together for our good.  But common experience shows that this isn’t always the case – sometimes adversity drives us and others away from the Gospel, damages our souls, and leaves wounds and scars that feel nearly irreparable.  How are we to understand this, then?

                I think the problem is that we remember the Lord saying this to Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 121 and forget this earlier reference in this Section.  Verse 24 gives the requirements for all things working together for our good.  It is not merely that something painful or challenging has to happen, but that we must also search diligently, pray always, and be believing.  When we do these things, all things work together for our good.  When we refuse to do these things, we are hurt or potentially destroyed.

                The Lord, in Section 121, did not reiterate these things presumably because Joseph Smith was searching diligently, praying always, and was believing.  Thus all things worked together for his good.  Had he not been so living, he could have been destroyed or turned away from the Gospel.

                Inevitably we will face challenges, trials, and painful events in our lives.  The way we respond to them will make all the difference, and the Lord here gives us clear guidance on how to do so.

Helaman 14

(November 16, 2015)
                Verse 13 has a clear indication of the principle that faith inexorably leads to repentance.  In my experience this is true, and it is also true doctrinally (and through common sense).  When we better understand the Lord, His love for us, and the truth of the Gospel we naturally want to bring our lives into conformance with the Gospel principles.

                This leads me to a pair of additional conclusions.  The first of these is the recognition that when someone is engaging in sinful behavior, it is often the result of a lack of faith rather than a wicked nature.  Perhaps, from time to time, it truly is someone evil but of course how could we know.  When confronted by those who have and do hurt us, if we can remember that they may simply be suffering from a deficiency of faith (a painful situation for them) it will help us to maintain charity for them.

                The second conclusion is that when we want to positively influence behavior the best mechanism for accomplishing that goal is something that would help the person we are working with the increase their faith.  Criticisms may make us feel good (and morally superior) to those who engage in wrongful (or hurtful) behavior, but this approach is often counterproductive.  Better to engage in behavior that is designed to build up the faith of those we deal with and aid them in developing a closer relationship with the Lord, and then allow their behavior to sort itself out.