Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Amos 9

(March 31, 2015)
                I loved the imagery of a sifting where not a grain of corn would hit the ground.  We are going to be sifted (we are being sifted right now), and that will be a painful and difficult process.  But I take a great deal of confidence from the fact that not a single soul that chooses to be with the Lord will ultimately be lost – if we are lost, it is because we choose to be lost.

                No matter how difficult our times will be (and they feel difficult to me, often enough), I can trust that the Lord will hold me to Him so long as I am willing (He will not let me fail to the ground).  I have seen Him do this often enough that I no longer doubt it from Him.

Alma 19

(March 31, 2015)
                I always understood the doctrine that miracles did not convert, but I never really believed it.  After all, I had seen my share of miracles in life and it left me with no doubts as to the truth of the Gospel.  I couldn’t see how anyone could engage with the miracles of God and not be likewise convinced.

                My perspective on this changed, of course, when I went through a dark period of my life where I found my testimony damaged severely.  I had been through the same miracles in my past.  What’s more, even as I went through this time period I was experiencing new and powerful miracles on an ongoing basis.  And yet my testimony remained weak and fragile.

                Thankfully, the was a temporary thing in my life…the Lord held on to me enough that I was able to work through these issues and get to the other side with a testimony and conversion far stronger than I had before my difficulties.  But it just showed to me that it wasn’t the miracles that I had experienced that converted me.  It wasn’t even the miracles that I was experiencing that were converting me.  Conversion, for me, was both a gift from God and an exercise of moral agency by choosing to believe.

                I thought of this as I read through the story of Abish in this chapter.  Abish, having been converted (along with her family) as a result of a miracle (her father’s vision), thought as I did that exposure to a miracle would be all that would be needed for those around her to likewise be converted.

                But, of course, she gathered up the people and they instantly turned to conflict.  They weren’t even converted when Ammon was miraculously preserved.  Only a portion of them were ultimately converted, and that portion was converted through Lamoni’s preaching and not the miracles that they had seen.

                As counterintuitive as it may seem, it really is true that miracles do not convert.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Amos 6-8

(March 30, 2015)
                As I read these chapters today, I was struck by the similarities between Amos and Abinidi.  The ability to deliver their message in spite of the threats against them seems to be a prophetic trait, and one worthy of emulation.  On the one hand, it appears to be a challenge to have that sort of bravery in the face of opposition.  But on the other hand, it seems only natural that someone with the outright knowledge of God would be able to stand up for that knowledge against all opposition.  After all, it isn’t difficult for me to stand up and say the Earth is round (even if someone disagrees).

                I think that many times what we incorrectly ascribe to a lack of courage ultimately boils down to a lack of faith and testimony.

Alma 18

(March 30, 2015)
                Throughout the Book of Mormon, we encounter a central apostate teaching that is reiterated over and over again – that we can do whatever we want and we will be fine.  The Nehorites taught this (it was their central dogma), and here Mormon points out that this same pernicious belief exists among the Lamanites – they believe that whatsoever they did was right.

                Mormon, by the time he is writing, has seen how that damnable belief had consumed his entire society and largely destroyed the Church of God.  Having seen our day, he also knew how prevalent that belief would be among the people of the world (including the people in the Church).  There are those who believe that many or most people will achieve Exaltation, and I don’t really have a good answer for many of their philosophical arguments in support of that position.  But I also know that Mormon (and the entire Book of Mormon) stand in opposition to that philosophy, and so I see no choice but to reject it as well.

Amos 4-5

(March 29, 2015)
                It is difficult to see it when those we care about make decisions that bring them misery and they will not hear us when we try to warn them.  Amos must have felt much the same – those around him were experiencing difficulties that resulted from their rejection of the Gospel and what was apparent to him he could not relay to them.

                No matter what sort of trauma the Lord used to wake the people, it just caused them to turn further and further away from Him. Ultimately, because of agency, each of us are free to make just that decision…we are free to turn towards the Lord or away from Him.  He may send challenges or prophets or blessings or anything else, but we ultimately retain the power to choose whether we will accept and follow Him (as does everyone else in our lives).

Alma 17

(March 29, 2015)
                It struck me how different this story would have been had it primarily been told from the perspective of Aaron.  It would have been the story of persevering over obstacles and being patient in afflictions.  It would have been the story of him likely praying in prison and his brother being inspired to come and rescue him.

                Aaron’s story, especially before teaching the king, seems to be a powerful story as a type for most of our lives.  We spend most of our lives and most of our days muddling through our Gospel assignments while the big work goes on elsewhere.  While we are getting kicked out of one city after another, the Ammons of the world are accomplishing great things which, in our weaker moments, we feel envious of.  But Ammon’s blessings were secure even before he taught the king (remember, he had been promised to survive).  And, likewise, we are successful if we are only willing to go and do what the Lord asks us to do – the battle ultimately belongs to the Lord.

                One additional thought, though – if you had been promised that your life would be spared if you went on a mission what would the one thing that would frighten you be?  If it were me, I would be frightened of being imprisoned.  After all, I couldn’t be killed, but I could live a long time in miserable conditions in prison.  I don’t think it is an accident that Aaron faced just the very challenge that could still try his faith despite the promises of the Lord.

Amos 1-3

(March 28, 2015)
                I appreciate the line “shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it” for what it can tell us.  First, it is essential to understand that evil is not talking about evil deeds necessarily (the Lord does not perform evil deeds), but rather evil is talking about misfortune or things going against what the people want.

                Viewed in this light (and again taking Israel as a symbol for us as believers), this then reads “shall any misfortune happen to a believer, and the Lord hath not done it?”  To me, this makes it clear that nothing can go wrong in the believer’s life except it be a gift (and it is a gift, regardless of the misfortune) to that believer.  Understanding this, it makes it far easier to deal with the inevitable setbacks and trials that we face – no matter the objective, materialistic source of the trial we can be assured that the ultimate source is the Lord and He has given us this trial for our benefit.

Alma 16

(March 28, 2015)
                There are the little things that give such a great idea of what is actually going on, and this chapter is no different.  Mormon declares here that the people did have continual peace for the space of three years.  Three years was a notable period of peace for them.  Can you imagine the near constant warfare (often brewing just below the surface or on the margins, but often exploding into larger conflict) that must have existed for a three year period of peace to be noteworthy?
ust alike.

Joel 1-3

(March 27, 2015)

                As believers, we often want to read the scriptures to find comfort and peace – and those things can be found in the scriptures.  But not in a temporal fashion.  Temporally, it is impossible to read the scriptures without an understanding that bad things are coming. Yes, as believers we will be spared some of the temporal consequences and all of the spiritual consequences if we are faithful, but we cannot expect to be spared from all of the temporal consequences.  We will suffer, for the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

Alma 15

(March 27, 2015)
                It is a sad, but prevailing, characteristic of the world today that there is a general disbelief for the need for repentance.  Each of us sees ourselves as justified in our own eyes (to a greater or lesser degree) – we know that we are trying to do what is right and if it weren’t for this and that or so and so we wouldn’t have the problems that we currently face.

                But this is not a new problem.  Of note, there has only been one perfect person – everyone else falls short.  So there are really only two types of people – not the righteous and the wicked but rather those that repent and those who do not.  It is essential that we find ourselves among the former.

Hosea 13-14

(March 26, 2015)

                Reading through Hosea, I am reminded again and again how Israel is a type for each of us.  And, with that understanding, how much more inspiring are the words that Israel has destroyed itself, but in the Lord is our help.  Each of us is fully responsible for our own destruction.  Each of us, on a daily basis, do and say the things that damage our souls beyond our capacity to repair.  We are hopeless, except that our Lord and Savior has made a path open to us.  In Him we have help, and no other way.

Alma 14

(March 26, 2015)
                I’ve thought about this scenario a number of times (the women and children being burned), but most of the time I thought about it from the perspective of their husbands and fathers.  But this time I really imagined the pain of a mother being forced to watch her children thrown on the fire (and being thrown on the fire herself) and the horror that would be involved in that.

                Then, having thought of that, I thought again that the ultimate reward from the Savior would dry every tear and make everything right.  How much of a blessing would be necessary to compensate for the pain of being forced to watch your children burn and being burned yourself?

                Thinking about that drove home just what an awe-inspiring blessing awaits us if we turn our lives over to the Lord completely.  He stands ready to give us an eternity worthy of this sacrifice (and any other sacrifice we make).

Hosea 8-12

(March 25, 2015)
                The law of the harvest is a simple one, but one that we so often neglect to understand.  Whatever we sow, we will ultimately reap.  If we sow wickedness, we will reap wickedness.  If we sow forgiveness, we will reap forgiveness. 

                We sometimes lose track of this truth because we are sowing so many seeds in our garden and they come up at different times.  We may sow forgiveness, and then sow dishonesty, and at the very time we are sowing dishonesty the seeds of our earlier forgiveness start to sprout.  If we aren’t careful, we begin to think that our dishonesty yield the pleasant fruit properly attributable to forgiveness and we may sow more dishonesty as a result.

                Good actions, though, yield good fruit and the more good actions we sow, the happier we will be.  It really is that simple.

Alma 13

(March 25, 2015)
                Once again we have evidence here of an apostate priesthood set up in opposition to the Nephite order.  After all, Alma didn’t pick the subject of his discourse at random, nor does it immediately follow from the previous chapter.  The only reason this makes sense is if Alma is preaching against an established order of Nehorites.

                In view of that (and it seems likely to me that the religion of Nehor is the religion of the Mulekites), everything that Alma is writing here suddenly makes sense.  He is demonstrating how the shared beliefs that they have speak against the actions of a self-assuming priesthood and the importance of ordination.  He speaks of the calling of those in the true Priesthood and their responsibilities.  All of this makes sense in light of this subtextual conflict – a conflict that it appears for all the world Joseph Smith never recognized.
able to avoid their fate.

Hosea 7

(March 24, 2015)
                It is tempting to condemn Israel for forgetting the Lord despite His wonderful blessings for them.  After all, He led them out of Egypt, He protected them during the days of David, and He sent Elijah and other prophets among them to work many miracles.

                But before we condemn them, we ought to spend some time looking at ourselves.  After all, haven’t we been blessed by the Lord?  Haven’t we seen His miraculous power in our lives?  Unlike the Israelites, who were looking backwards into the lives of their distant ancestors, we have miracles often in our own lives (or, at worst, a few generations in the past).

                It is a discouraging truth for me that so often I find that the examples of the wicked in the scriptures apply to me far more often than the examples of the righteous, but it is my hope that by keeping those examples before my face on a regular basis I will be able to avoid their fate.

Alma 12

(March 24, 2015)
                I love the little details that lend to the verisimilitude of the Book of Mormon – things that Joseph Smith could not have done as an author, but fit right in line with Joseph Smith as a translator.

                As an example, we can try a simple experiment.  Come up with a counter-argument from the Bible to the doctrine that Moses was a prophet.  It is almost axiomatic to believe (correctly) that Moses was a prophet, and there only evidence of the counter position from the Bible would be wresting the scriptures.  It would be hard to come up with something like that on short notice.

                But see what is done here.  The idea of the resurrection was similarly axiomatic during the religious fervor that surrounded Joseph Smith – he would not have encountered preachers that gave sermons against this doctrine.  Yet Antionah steps forward with the perfect counter-example (wrested, of course) from the scriptures to argue against this basic doctrine.

                This is something that we would not expect from a work of fiction – especially composed by someone with Joseph’s background and especially composed in the time that Joseph had.

Hosea 3-6

(March 23, 2015)
                It is easy to convince ourselves that the payment for our sins will never come do.  I could walk out of my office this morning and commit any number of serious sins that no one would know about, and for which there would not be any visible consequences.  This trait about sinful behavior leads many to think that they can get away with sinning – after all, they got away with it once (or twice or hundreds of times).

                But ultimately, as for Judah and Israel, the bill becomes due.  The payment must be made, and though Christ has paid the spiritual cost there will be a cost imposed upon each of us, and that cost will be everything that we are capable of paying.  I didn’t realize this, of course, until the day when my bill became due but having learned it, it has become a lesson I am striving hard to never forget again.

Alma 11

(March 23, 2015)
                I think each of us have had moments where, like Zeezrom, we thought we were being clever but those around us were easily able to see right through us.  I am convinced that a big problem that I continue to have in my life (though, thankfully, not nearly to the level that I used to have it) is that I try to make things too complicated out of a desire to rework reality into what I want it to be.

                This attempt at sophistry is likely pretty transparent to those around me (fortunately most tolerate it in me because they know and understand that I am trying to eliminate it from my life), but how much more transparent is it when we engage in the same sort of behavior when praying to the Lord?  Surely He can see through our posturing and deception (including our self-deception).  It is because of learning this that I find myself listening far more in my prayers now rather than talking as much – I have less of value to say, and so much of what I say is outright wrong.

Hosea 1-2

(March 22, 2015)
                Once again idolatry is presented as a great stumbling block to the people of the Lord.  This is something that we cannot dismiss in our day – the instinct for idolatry (and Satan’s use of the technique) is not something that disappeared at some point in our past history.  We still have the pull of idolatry in our lives today, but now we call it sports, or video games, or youth, or beauty, or any number of other things.

                Essentially anything that we put before the Lord (even good things, such as family or the Church) becomes an idol that we worship instead of the living God.  Other things in life are given to us, to help us or for our enjoyment, but we cannot ever allow any of them to supersede our determination to follow the Lord.

Alma 10

(March 22, 2015)
                A question of more than a little bit of concern to me is the fact that unrighteous lawyers and judges lay the foundation for the destruction of society.  I think it is fair to say that we are seeing that in our modern society today.  But that leaves me with the obvious question of what I am to do about it.  I don’t want to be an unrighteous lawyer, and I certainly don’t want to destroy society.

                A large part of me, admittedly, wants to follow the example of Alma and leave the judgment seat and retire to preaching the Gospel full-time.  But I don’t think that is what the Lord has in mind for me.  Instead, I need to better learn to fulfill my legal responsibilities while at the same time never losing sight of my more important responsibilities towards the Lord.

Daniel 11-12

(March 21, 2015)
                Understanding is something that is forever withheld from the wicked (to the extent of their wickedness) – and that includes each of us.  To the extent that we live our lives out of harmony with the light that is within us, we find ourselves unable to understand the words of the Lord.  We are rarely given understanding we are unwilling to live, and when we get it we often find it taken away thereafter.

                With this principle in mind (and the Lord describes it well in His summary at the end of Daniel), when there is something that we don’t understand in the Gospel the first step is to humble our hearts and repent of our sins.  The second step is to become committed to live the correct principle once we understand it (and to live it even before we understand it, if it is a principle that we can do that with).  Having done that, the windows of Heaven will open and our understanding will increase dramatically.

Alma 9

(March 21, 2015)
                So many elements of the Book of Mormon linger just below the surface, and a big part of that is the continual conflict between the Mulekites and the Nephites.  Ammon first appears as a Mulekite name, and reappears only as a descendent of Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah (who, presumably, married a Mulekite as part of the joining of the people).  Thus it appears highly likely that Ammonihah was a Mulekite city.

                Read in this light, there is a great deal more going on in this chapter (and, indeed, in the entire Ammonihah saga).  This is a people ready to rebel politically and religiously because they look to a different history and culture than the dominant Nephites.  They see the Nephite faith and political organization to be interlopers – they were willing to accept Benjamin (probably half-Mulekite) and Mosiah (likely three-quarter Mulekite), but when the judges were introduced the power shifted wholly to the Nephites and away from the Mulekites…thus bringing about the conflicts that we see throughout Alma.

Daniel 9-10

(March 20, 2015)
                Reading about the reaction of Daniel to being blessed to be in the presence of the Lord, even after all that had happened to him in his life, is illuminating.  Daniel, despite being a chief leader in the Babylonian empire and having interpreted dreams and writings and even survived the lion’s den, still recognized his weakness and unworthiness in the presence of the Lord.

                When I reflect on this, I begin to realize just how arrogant our society (and me, in particular) can be.  I think of the good things that I accomplish, and I like to try to convince myself that this somehow would make me worthy to be in the presence of the Lord.  I would not see Him, though, because I would not be sufficiently humble.  After all He has given to me and the many ways that He has protected and cared for me, I still have far too much pride in my life.  My reaction to being in His presence would be much different than Daniel’s – and that is a problem with me and not Daniel.

Alma 8

(March 20, 2015)
                One of the things that is particularly difficult for me to deal with is similar to what Alma went through – how do we continue to love people who are hurtful to us and who reject the Gospel.  I have those in my life who are making decisions that are directly contrary to the principles of the Gospel, and I am able to watch them self-destruct as they do so.  I see the pain they invite into their own lives, and that pain spills over into the my life and the lives of others that I love.  The choice of what they would need to do to bring peace to their lives and escape the pain and misery they have brought upon themselves is only too obvious to me and others around them, and yet they reject this.

                And so I am left looking towards them.  It would be easy to turn my back on them, and consign them to the fate they have chosen for themselves.  But instead, like Alma, I am instead leaving them (weighed down in much sorrow for them), and yet unlike Alma no angel is instructing me to return.  Loving those who reject the Gospel is a difficult and painful experience.  But I can see and understand why the Lord does it, and if He chooses to continue to love those that reject Him how can I do any less?

Daniel 8

(March 19, 2015)
                One recurring trend is that, no matter how powerful the mortal threat to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (and, as demonstrated in this vision, the threats can be powerful), they will ultimately be pulled down and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth will be victorious.

                Of course, there is no indication that this will happen in our lifetimes.  There are those who were born, lived, and died during a time when Babylon was ascendant.  There were those who were born, lived, and died without ever having seen Jerusalem or sacrificing in the temple there.  Presumably some of those were righteous.  That leaves us with the clear understanding that while ultimately the Lord will win and ultimately we can choose to be on His side and partake of His rest, we are given no guarantees that we will experience this rest in mortality.

                Forgetting this truth causes us to commit two sins.  The first in anger towards the Lord when things don’t go the way we think they should.  The second is ingratitude, when things go the way that we think they should and we don’t appreciate what a blessing that is from the Lord.

Alma 6-7

(March 19, 2015)
                Many aspects of culture and history are a choice, I have learned.  Those we choose as a society to emulate makes a big difference in our dedication to the Lord.  It is easy enough to say that a righteous people took on the name of Gideon, but there is a certain amount of truth to the idea that a people that takes upon themselves the name of Gideon become a righteous people. 

                Likewise, we see those who say that the morality of those we admire does not matter.  But if we look up to hedonists and nihilists, how can we expect to not become tainted by their philosophies.  We wouldn’t take upon ourselves the name of Ammonihah, nor would we look up to him (despite how well he might do in other areas of his life).  By the same token, we should carefully choose those who we look up to in media and sports, because even when we think we are only admiring them for their capacity to entertain or compete, we risk their philosophies gradually coming to be our own.

Alma 5

(March 18, 2015)
                Is there any more important concept in the scriptures than the one evidenced by Alma in his question…can ye feel so now?

                I have had moments where I was blessed with the knowledge of the Lord and a desire to give away all of my sins to Him.  I have felt the overwhelming joy that came from completely turning my heart and will to Him, and the assurance that comes from this sacrifice that the I am acceptable to Him.

                And yet, in the day to day grind I sometimes forget this feeling.  I make decisions based upon what I think I want, and not what I actually need.  I become selfish and protective of myself, rather than leaving my care in the hands of the Lord.  Despite the countless times the Lord has stepped in to protect and care for me, I struggle to trust Him in the way that I should.

                And so my challenge, so often, is just to remember and retain the feelings in my heart that the Lord has blessed me with.  So many things in life become easy when I have that proper focus – both because of the power that the Lord’s Spirit provides and because I am able to let go of my concerns for things that don’t matter.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Daniel 7

(March 17, 2015)
                It would be fair to say that I am often Panglossian in my approach to this world.  I take the perspective that the world and everything in it is a perfect culmination of God’s perfect plan.  With that firmly in my mind, it makes it much easier to deal with the setbacks and trials of life, because I can trust that they will result to the ultimate glory of God (and my happiness).

                While I believe that I am correct to do this, I sometimes carry it too far and start to mistakenly think that because I am doing what I should that good temporal results should come my way.  Of course, we have no such promise of that.  In fact, if anything we have the opposite expectations.  As Daniel said, the enemies made war with the saints and prevailed against them.  It was only with the coming of Christ and Adam back to the Earth that the circumstances were capable of being changed.

                Temporal peace and prosperity are not the natural condition for disciples of Christ, and when we have the opportunity to experience them it should be with the deepest of gratitude.  Meanwhile our trials and adversity will be for our benefit, but we cannot expect to escape these trials so long as this world is in its fallen condition.

Alma 3-4

(March 17, 2015)
                It seems that the less grounded that a belief is to the Spirit, the stronger we feel the need to defend that belief from those who disagree with us.  When my testimony was fragile (and intellectual), I would argue with those who did not hold to my beliefs with passion.  My arguments were often good, but they were rarely Christ-like.

                On the other hand, as my testimony has been changed over into the Spiritual conversion that was far too long coming (because of my weakness), I find that the arguments that I would have made I often don’t make any more.  If someone believes otherwise, I find it easier to love them and invite them rather than needing to confront them.  As my testimony is strengthened, my concern of others believing differently than I do because less pernicious.  Now I want others to experience the same blessings as I do, rather than needing others to believe as I do for my benefit.

                I think that this is a general mortal response.  I have seen in others that the strongest and most vocal advocates for many positions are those who seem to be the most fragile in their beliefs.  This correlates with the apostates now, and with the apostates described in this chapter.  After having left the faith (whether partially or all but in name), they turned on those who did not believe according to their will and pleasure to persecute them.  We see that now, as those who disagree with the Church will attack anyone who holds to the Church and its teachings (sheeple, Morbots, etc. – as though only people who had not encountered opposing arguments could possibly hold to the Church).  I think this is a similar symptom – these attacks come because of the fragility of the apostates’ beliefs in their new position rather than a position of strength.

Daniel 5-6

(March 16, 2015)
                I have always been struck by the language discussing Daniel praying – that he prayed and gave thanks “as he did aforetime.”  Daniel was able to keep the commandments in difficult situations only because he was keeping the commandments in the peaceful, easy times.

                So often we try to fool ourselves into believing that in the moment of crisis we will find ourselves standing bravely on the side of right and truth.  But we will only be there if we can be found there during the times when the crisis is yet to come.  If we don’t boldly share our testimony when the cost is a little bit of social approbation, how could we possibly be brave enough to share our testimony when the cost is our lives or fortunes?  If we aren’t strong enough to keep the commandments when we have food to eat and shelter to live in, how can we keep the commandments when our world crumbles around us?

Alma 2

(March 16, 2015)
                I think we, as members of the Church, are a bit naïve when it comes the motivations of others (particularly our political leaders – on both sides of the aisle).  The prophet Mormon, in his commentary, explicitly states that the purpose of Amilici was to destroy the Church, and all of the political machinations were secondary to that.

                The first issue is, really, there is only one question in mortality (what think ye of Christ) and everything else is an illusion to distract us from this central fact.  So when actions are taken in opposition to the work of the Lord, at best they are taken under the influence of Satan and at worst are taken by actual enemies of the work of the Lord.

                We members of the Church need to remember that there are, in fact, people who want to destroy the Church both from without and from within.  Where we run into problems, though, is when we forget that we, often, are those trying to destroy the Church.  We err when we ignore these threats, but we err worse when we fail to recognize each of our need to repent of our own moral failings and instead focus in on the failings of others.

                If we purify our hearts, the Lord will be able to speak to us and tell us when and where to defend the faith.  We must get (and stay) clean to hear the message, but then we must not allow an ideology that denies the reality of enemies to the Church to compel us to ignore such revelation if and when it comes.

                The other thought that I had was on the position of Alma’s army during the conflict.  Mormon clearly understood just what a perilous position they were in (and were forced to be in because of the threat to their children and families).  They were tactically outmaneuvered and numerically outnumbered.  Their technological advances were not mentioned here (and presumably did not exist yet, as they were mentioned later).  The only thing that they had to rely on was the Lord and the just nature of their cause.

                This isn’t always enough (there have been righteous armies that have lost), but it was enough because the Lord chose to make it enough that day.  There was no practical reason for their victory, with the challenges stacked against them (obvious even to me, with the little I understand about military tactics).  When things become hopeless, we may continue to rely on the Lord if we are about His work.  If He chooses to bring us success, He can do it regardless of how dire our circumstances.  Otherwise, we can fight the good fight and enter into His rest.

Daniel 4

(March 15, 2015)
                There are those who will make a huge deal about the change in narrative perspective in Alma 56:52 when Helaman’s letter was abridged by Mormon and the first-person narration was replaced by third-person narration for that verse.  I have seen those who have viewed this change as though it was ‘proof’ that the Book of Mormon was a fraud.

                But here we have an authentic historical document (redacted much closer in time to the original than was Helaman’s record) that does the same thing.  Notice the change in perspective starting in verse 28 and continuing until verse 33 – with no effort to change from a description of the writing of Nebuchadnezzar to the redactor’s own words, the viewpoint just changes.  I don’t know that this proves much (I certainly cannot argue that it proves a technique of ancient abridgement practices), but what it does prove is that Alma 56:52 is not, by its nature, evidence of Joseph Smith’s ‘fraud’ the way opponents of the Book of Mormon want it to be perceived.

Alma 1

(March 15, 2015)
                The heroism of Gideon reaches its end here, and it is an end of violence and brutality.  The hero does not get to die in his bed in his old age – he is not only killed, but killed by his enemy in public in his home time while the ideology of this enemy continues ascendant.

                Yet that doesn’t change the fact that Gideon was a hero.  Just because the hero doesn’t always win (in a temporal sense), we still should look to these heroes and emulate those aspects of their characters that can help us to build and become the people that we should be.  It is far, far better to be a fallen hero such as Gideon than to be a prevailing villain such as Nehor.

Daniel 3

(March 14, 2015)
                How could I focus on anything else in this scripture than to be drawn to the powerful words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego that the Lord could save them, but if not they would continue to worship the Lord.  I fear that too often my worship (or my obedience) is conditional.  If things are going well in my life, I find it easier to be obedient or kind or give service.  When my life is difficult, I will rationalize that I am too tired to serve, or while I was angry it was because of this circumstance or another in my life.

                What I am, in essence, saying is that the Lord can save me from my pain, but if not my service towards Him won’t be quite as strong as it would otherwise have been.  If I emulate Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (and, of course, I should) then my answer would be that yes I am tired and yes the Lord can remove this tiredness from me…but if not, I will still be there early in the morning to set up chairs for Stake Conference.

Mosiah 29

(March 14, 2015)
                This chapter contains a lot of worrisome truths about unrighteous governments, but not a lot of hopeful answers about how to deal with them.  We are blessed that we don’t have to worry about dethroning an iniquitous king (despite some of the hyperbole spread about our current leadership, there is really no comparison), but we are still in the position at both a national and local level (with both parties) of dealing with friends in iniquity, tearing up righteous laws, and so forth.

                So what is the solution?  I don’t see that this chapter provides a solution.  But fortunately that is one of the blessings of continuing revelation and modern prophets and apostles to guide us going forward.  And we have their counsels on good government and responsible citizenship.

Daniel 1-2

(March 13, 2015)
                The test that Daniel created was one that we should be prepared to engage in throughout our lives.  We can look at the commandments of God, and look also at those things that we think will bring us happiness (perhaps things we merely want to do, but perhaps also things that we are wrongfully doing now).  We should then engage in an experiment. 

                We sin because we want something, and that thing we want is usually happiness and a feeling of love.  We should call upon the Lord and make a commitment to Him to follow His commandments (giving up or continuing to forebear from disobedience) and contrast the happiness we feel through that obedience with the unhappiness and isolation that our sins create within us.  To adopt the symbols of Daniel, the meat may appear to bring us that health that we are looking for, but after eating the pulse and honestly looking at the result we can train ourselves to recognize that obedience to the commandments of God brings happiness (and no other way).

Mosiah 28

(March 13, 2015)
                I lose track of just what an amazing and selfless thing it was for Mosiah to have given the records to Alma the Younger.  With our understanding of the social implications of possessing a codex, the possession of these sacred records was a huge, huge deal.  Mosiah, having held these records, could easily have given them one of his sons.  Instead he gave them to Alma the Younger.  Not even Alma the Elder, who was still alive at this time, but Alma the Younger.

                Presumably there was revelation involved in that decision (and how impressive it is that Mosiah was sensitive to and follow that revelation), but it is easy to see why the Lord went the way that He did with the records.  Alma the Elder wasn’t long for the world, and the sons of Mosiah had a mission that they needed to perform (would they have gone to the Lamanites had one of them been in charge of the records? – doubtful).

                It just goes to show, once again, that the Lord has a perfect plan that will all go to our benefit it we are humble enough to follow it and put Him first above all else in my life.

Ezekiel 48

(March 12, 2015)

                To a conquered and displaced people, the ultimate culmination of Ezekiel’s vision must have been so far beyond what they could have hoped for.  And yet, that culmination could easily be accomplished as a practical matter by the children of Israel today.  The people that were conquered have become a mighty nation, but they are not a nation dedicated to Jehovah any longer.  We tend to focus so much of our ire for the tragedies in the Middle East on the Muslin population, but I have to wonder what the situation would be like if the Jewish people would renounce their secularism and turn back to Jehovah and His teaching en masse.

Mosiah 27

(March 12, 2015)
                One thing that took me a long time to understand was that the angel was not appearing there to save the Church (a heart attack by Alma the Younger would have accomplished the same thing).  Instead, the angel was there to save Alma the Younger.  Ironically enough, the work of the Lord needs little Divine intervention to come about.  The Lord has a perfect plan, and it is capable of reaching fruition without many angels coming down.  These miracles (whether healings, Divine visitations, or something else) are not done to accomplish their ostensible purpose but rather to educate and teach though who experience (directly or indirection) these miracles.

                C. S. Lewis put it best, if I can paraphrase him.  Christ did not need to turn water into wine.  God knew how many people would be at the wedding feast and how thirsty they would be at the foundation of the world.  He could have made grapes more plentiful or the rain more frequent such that the harvest would be greater.  He could have inspired the purchaser to buy more wine, and even provided the money to do so through naturalistic means.

                When Christ turned water into wine, therefore, it wasn’t about the wine.  It was a demonstration of Christ’s power – and this particular miracle (as opposed to others) was enacted to teach important lessons about Christ and His attributes.  This is true about each and every miracle that we see or read about – the lepers could have been born clean or become clean through natural means, but Christ healed them to show each of us that we too can be made clean (spiritually) through Christ.  Miracles are real (I have certainly seen them enough in my life), but their purpose is not specifically to accomplish their purpose but rather to teach us through their presence.  And, to once again paraphrase Lewis, it is more important that miracles exist than that we happen to receive the one that we are asking for.

Ezekiel 46-47

(March 11, 2015)
                There are some, both within and without the Church, that seem to think that the Church ‘interferes’ with its membership far too often.  You can recognize this perspective when its adherents say things such as “why would an omnipotent God care about things like that?”

                But look at the detail presented here.  Clearly God is one for whom the details matter immensely – perhaps because the details are one way in which His omnipotence is manifested.  It is through the details – managed or left to the devices of His servants according to principles revealed, yet still controlled with particularity when necessary – that the Lord is able to bring about perfection in His perfect plan.

                Sometimes this means this word and no other in a passage of scripture.  Sometimes it means this person and no other in a position of leadership.  Sometimes it means forty cubits long and thirty broad.  But when God gives us detailed instructions, either Himself or through His servants (such as Ezekiel or our modern leaders), who are we to chafe at this?

Mosiah 26

(March 11, 2015)
                I have to wonder what was lost between the time of King Benjamin and the time of the apostasy of Alma the Younger and others.  After all, presumably they had the words of King Benjamin, and presumably the sons of Mosiah at least would have read them.  So what changed in the intervening years that would preclude them from understanding what King Benjamin said?

                The text seems to indicate it is a form of rebellion that closed off their hearts to the message and thus left them unable to believe.  I have seen similar things in my life with both myself and others – we like to think that our belief follows the evidence, but often our belief follows our behavior.  When we are obedient, the strengthening of our faith comes (beyond confirmation bias), but if we are disobedience cognitive dissonance can cloud our minds such that we become incapable of knowing the truth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ezekiel 44-45

(March 10, 2015)
                It would be interesting to read these chapters if I were on, for example, the Church Building Committee.  I imagine, had I the requisite background in architecture, that these chapters would reveal a great deal that we continue to use in our temple building today.  Obviously we are not laying our temples out in precisely the same manner, but if I had the knowledge and could compare what the Lord revealed here to what the common building practices of the day demanded, I imagine that there is a great deal to learn.

                I think there are similar lessons to be learned about interpreting scripture in general.  There are some (many, really) hard and fast rules of behavior and morality contained in the scriptures.  But there are other truths that can only be seen by comparing what the Lord was teaching with the common practices of the day – by doing this, we can come to an understanding of the principle that the Lord is advocating.  The only way to understand which are which is to draw from the Spirit and inspiration to guide us as we strive to know and follow the truth.

Mosiah 24-25

(March 10, 2015)
                A couple of things grabbed my attention as I read today.  The first thing that I noticed was that the land of Shilom (for example) was not empty.  I think this indicates that the exodus of the people of Limhi was not a mass exodus of everyone but rather an exodus of a particular class and familial line.  This is once again consistent with the idea that the people of Lehi did not arrive on an empty continent.

                The second thought was how precisely the Lord created a duplicate set of conditions to contrast between the people of Limhi and the people of Alma.  Even their escape was identical in consequence (the guards sleeping) but different in method (Limhi relied on alcohol, while Alma relied on the Lord’s power).  I think that sometimes I am far too much like Limhi – seeking to create the conditions for the results that I want (even when those results are good and positive ones) and don’t rely enough on the Lord to bring those same good results (or better ones) about through His power and in His way. 

Ezekiel 43

(March 9, 2015)
                We don’t often think of shame as a virtue.  But it seems clear that being ashamed is a virtue, based upon the clear words of this chapter.  This is an issue that is important to deal with, considering that we are approaching a point where we have almost completely lost our sense of shame.

                That being said, there is productive and unproductive shame.  Some shame draws us back to the Lord – we see ourselves as the unworthy and fallen creatures we are and we turn to Him to give us strength and to heal us.  Other shame (the same word but a different concept) causes us to isolate ourselves – as Satan said, this shame is nothing more than him telling us ‘quick, hide!’

Mosiah 22-23

(March 9, 2015)

                The geography of this piece was interesting – the people of Limhi were chased by the Lamanites for two days, and yet they ended up wandering for an extended period of time.  There is a story there – an explanation that makes sense – but I don’t really know what it is right now.  It is not that it isn’t believable, but rather there is just such a large gap that it is fairly impossible to know how to appropriately fill that gap.

Ezekiel 41-42

(March 8, 2015)

                It seems symbolic to me the requirement that the clothing of the priest be left outside when we approach the Lord and new clothing be put on.  Each of us carry around and wear certain things (cares of the world, political ideologies, mental and emotional issues, fear, grudges, and on and on), but like the priests we need to learn and become capable of setting all of that aside as we approach the Lord.  When we do that, we open ourselves up to truly communing with Him

Mosiah 21

(March 8, 2015)

                It says something about the people of Limhi that they resorted to military force three times before getting around to praying to the Lord for their deliverance.  I am so much like the people of Limhi, despite my desire to be like the people of Alma.  I go to the arm of flesh for my deliverance and only after failing time after time do I get around to calling upon the Lord as I should.  It is better, I suppose, than never getting around to calling on Him but I wish I would learn from my experiences and begin by calling on Him for help rather than needing to be humbled to reach that point.

Ezekiel 40

(March 7, 2015)
                I am reminded, as I read this chapter, of a line from a popular show.  We are hearing only one side of a conversation between an atheist son and a believing mother.  He is exasperatedly stating that he doesn’t think that Jesus really cares about this or that, but after hearing something from the other side he is forced to conceded that he really doesn’t know what Jesus does or does not care about.

                The reason I share this is because this chapter shows that the Lord cares enough about the dimensions of the temple that He was willing to part the Veil, send an angel, and eventually speak to Ezekiel himself about it.  It seems to me, in my limited mortal understanding, to be something that the Lord wouldn’t care about – architecture, to me, isn’t an issue of morality.  But that shows something about me, and His interest shows something about Him.  I need to spend less time thinking about what should and should not interest the Lord and more time conforming my will and life to whatever He asks of me (regardless of which phase of my life it is in).

Mosiah 19-20

                I wonder what would have happened if Zeniff (or Limhi) would have been king during this crucial time.  Limhi and his people stood against the Lamanites successfully (albeit temporarily) even after they had suffered so many losses.  Could Limhi (or Gideon) have brought  the people victory?  It is hard to say, of course, but it seems likely.

                With that in mind, we can see the dire consequences of unrighteous rulers.  While it is easy to say that the unrighteous behavior of our rulers doesn’t directly affect us (or our eternal reward), this very unrighteousness can lead to drastic consequences that can be painful.  Though the Lord can bend even these to our benefit, it doesn’t negate the fact that these consequences exist.

Ezekiel 38-39

(March 6, 2015)
                It is one thing to read these scriptures in light of the Lord’s love for Israel, but it is another to read them in light of the Lord’s love for the people of Gog and Magog.  The Lord is not destroying them because He does not love them.  He is destroying them because He does love them – and, because of His love, their destruction is the greatest kindness He can offer them.

                It is useful to remember this in light of those who believe that a loving God is synonymous with an uncritical God, a smooth God (as Elder Holland calls the philosophy).  As C. S. Lewis described (referring to Aslan), we worship a kind God, a powerful God, but not a tame God.  And, despite His love for us, He will see us destroyed if we turn from Him.

Mosiah 18

(March 6, 2015)
                Abinidi likely never knew, as the flames consumed him, that he had made a convert.  Alma’s slow and steady mission, his progression to become the prophet he would become, and so forth were not something that Abinidi could have expected.  On the contrary, every mortal measurement must have told Abinidi that he was a failure, even as the painful death consumed him.

                And yet, Abinidi held fast to the work that he has been given.  It is easy enough to believe that Abinidi simply didn’t care whether a mortal result was achieved, but I don’t think that was accurate.  Instead, I think Abinidi went to his death not knowing the Lord’s purpose but trusting the Lord’s purpose.

                The Lord does not cause us to suffer an ounce of unnecessary pain.  Abinidi, I believe, knew this and trusted the Lord that his death would not be wasted even though he couldn’t see the results of his sacrifice.  And that is a powerful distinction – when we serve the Lord without seeing the results, but do so because we trust the Lord to bring about righteous and good purposes from our sacrifices (rather than merely obeying Him – a good start, but not enough), then we find ourselves truly empowered.

Ezekiel 36-37

(March 5, 2015)
                I was struck by a recurring theme in these chapters.  Some people are blessed, and by their blessing they will know that the Lord is the Lord.  Some people are cursed, and by their cursing they will know that the Lord is the Lord.  The obvious reason is that they will know this because Ezekiel prophesied it, but all too many of them will have never read or heard these prophecies.  No, I think that is too superficial.  I believe that the reason why they will know this is because regardless of what happens to us in life, it serves to testify that the Lord is the Lord.

                When blessings have come to my life, and I am grateful for them, I find my testimony strengthened and deepened.  When adversity strikes, and I rely on the Lord for my strength, I also find my testimony strengthened.  If faith has moral consequences, it must be a moral decision – and our response to the invitations of the Lord in our good times and are bad times are the issue.

Mosiah 16-17

(March 5, 2015)
                We are, each of us, stuck inside our own heads.  I cannot imagine what it must be like for any other person in this world.  Thus we are left to guess what other people are thinking.  It is in that light that it is foolish to try and judge other people.

                I was thinking of this when I read these chapters and how we learn that the rebellious have never called for mercy from God.  I couldn’t really imagine that – I am certainly weak, sinful, and foolish but it seems so second nature to me to beg the Lord for mercy and strength and Grace that it is impossible for me to really imagine living a life without doing that.

                That, of course, raises the obvious question – is this something that I am doing right, or does everyone think (as I do) that they are calling on the Lord for mercy but in actuality their pride and self-will are preventing these calls from going past the ceiling.  I don’t know the answer to that (once again, another reason not to judge) but I do know that looking inward will cause me to be more serious and concerted in my effort to accept the Grace of God in bringing about His mercy.  So whether I am on the ‘good’ side of the line or the ‘bad’ side of the line, my condition is improved by focusing in on calling more strenuously for His mercy and bending my will more and more towards His.

Ezekiel 34-35

(March 4, 2015)

                I have to admit that Ezekiel is not my favorite book of scripture.  But so many of the ideas and doctrines that appear throughout the scriptures (particularly the New Testament) can be found in this book.  Whether it be the ideas on feeding the flock that are contained in these chapters, or resurrection, or what not this book has cast a long shadow across the history of the Gospel.  That, in and of itself, makes this a book to be appreciated and makes Ezekiel deserving of our gratitude.

Mosiah 15

(March 4, 2015)
                Universalism is a logically comforting doctrine.  We know that God loves all of His children.  We know that His mercy is infinite, and we know that all eternity stretches out before us.  And so it is easy to come to the conclusion that all (or nearly all) of God’s children will achieve Exaltation…eventually.

                I will admit that I find that idea incredibly attractive and logically persuasive.  But I believe that it is just that reason that it is constantly condemned by the prophets – and why it is always attached to the idea of priestcraft in the Book of Mormon.  As Abinidi said, God cannot deny His word and not everyone will be saved.  I don’t know why this is, but it is.

Ezekiel 33

(March 3, 2015)
                One of the things that has always struck me about the Book of Mormon is the fact that it contains so much wisdom – so many thoughts that are superficially simple, but with significant depth or thoughts that aptly capture the truth of the matter in a concise and novel way.  The Lord does that here in Ezekiel (describing the mouth showing love, but the heart going out after covetousness), and having lived the life I have lived I can now recognize the truth of the phrase. 

                Throughout the Bible, there are these thoughts and nuggets of wisdom.  But save for Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, they are not done in bulk by any particular author.  But in the Book of Mormon, this wisdom is spread throughout the book – lessons that have taken me years to learn (even with the help of the book) and further lessons I certainly have not learned yet.  This makes sense when viewed as the life lesson of dozens of prophets shared throughout the centuries, but seems wholly impossible for a single unlearned twenty-sometime rural farmboy.

Mosiah 13-14

(March 3, 2015)
                The condemnation of Abinidi is one that we face often in today’s society.  If we speak the word of God, others will judge that we are mad.  And so, unfortunately, we feel pressed to keep quiet so those who hate us will not poorly judge us.  It is irrational, this fear that we have, and yet I struggle at times to overcome it.

                But Abinidi’s example is the proper example for each of us.  When we are confronted by those who would condemn us because we believe in God, religion, morality, spirituality, Christ, the Atonement, prophets, the Restoration, or anything else we must remember that we know the truth.  It only seems crazy in light of the lies that have been swallowed whole by the world (and, to a lesser extent, us) that condition us to see the Divine as something not part of our daily existence.

                It is as though we are attending a play and trying to convince the person beside us that Julius Caesar wasn’t just killed in front of us (he’s an actor, we tell them), and they tell us that we are crazy because we are ignoring the evidence of our eyes right in front of us.  He saw the actor playing Caesar scream in pain and fall, and we must be crazy to think that he is really alive (or that he really isn’t Caesar).

                Do we, in that situation, keep our mouths closed?  Do we fear that, because the person we speak to might think we are crazy, that we should just keep quiet and not try and explain the underlying truth of what is happening?  Are we so self-conscious that we fear even the condemnation of those mistaken in their fundamental beliefs?  When put in these terms, it is easy to know what to do – but in the breach, it is harder to remember.

Ezekiel 31-32

(March 2, 2015)
                I am struck, reading these chapters, as how transitory and temporary are the things that shake us.  Egypt was a mighty power (as was Babylon).  Now, however, they are almost geopolitical afterthoughts (although that might not be true for long, considering the pursuit of nuclear weaponry).  Telling an Israelite during these days that the time would come when Egypt would be relatively weak politically and militarily, and they would be astounded.  We have the conceit that we believe things will remain the way that they are forever, but that is rarely the case.  Something rises to challenge and teach us, and when that time is passed it will fade away into the background.

Mosiah 12

(March 2, 2015)
                I love seeing the progression of Abinidi.  In the beginning of his ministry, he is solely speaking the words of the Lord that were given to him.  But in his eventual defense, he speaks very little directly quoting the Lord.  He expounds some scripture, but mostly he has become someone the Lord can trust to speak the truth and so he is able to speak for himself.

                There is a pattern here that is consistent with not only our speaking but our actions as well.  First we must turn our wills over to the Lord.  By so doing, He teaches us until we are in the position to act for ourselves according to His principles and be counted on to do the right thing.  If the Lord desires something different, He will let us know.  But the first step must always be hewing closely to the Lord.

Ezekiel 29-30

(March 1, 2015)

                A theme that I have seen over and over throughout the scriptures is that Egypt is more often used as a symbol than it is as an actual country (although it is being used as both here).  Babylon seems to be the symbol of wickedness, but Egypt (due to its history and proclivities) is more often used as the symbol of false priesthoods, hypocrisy within the Church, and so forth.  Understanding that, and reading it with both of these symbols in mind, these chapters really open up and a lot of things are found in them.

Mosiah 11

(March 1, 2015)
                One of the great problems with sin, I have learned (sadly, through experience), is that it makes you more and more self-centered and self-absorbed.  Life, in general, is not about you and it is not about me.  Heavenly Father has put together a perfect plan for us, and that means that the life that I experience is perfectly tailored for me.  But it also means that it is perfectly tailored for everyone else as well.  The chance meeting with a friend in the store is as much for them as it is for me.

                But Noah demonstrates a fact of sinful behavior – it causes the sinner to become so self-focused that they cannot see that there is anything out there.  Noah denies the Lord, and claims that Abinidi is speaking out solely in an attempt to discredit and destroy Noah.  He has made something personal that really was not.  If Noah truly disbelieved Abinidi, he would have spoken of him being mad or handled the situation differently.  But because his sins had made everything about him, he reacted solely from a self-centered perspective.

Ezekiel 27-28

(February 28, 2015)

                A big message of Ezekiel seems to be idolatry – the idolatry that moves away from worshiping actual idols (although that is mentioned as well) but turns instead to the worship of power, or of money, or of popularity, or of other worldly things.  The truth is idolatry is a very broad, very common sin.  Any time we put anything before God, we are changing our worship from the worship of God to the worship of this idol. And that includes those times when we worship ourselves (a practice becoming far more common these days).

Mosiah 9-10

(February 28, 2015)

                I have always been naïve – it has frustrated me more than a few times.  While my naivety is not something that is particularly helpful in my life, I have often taken comfort in the fact that the one fooled is often better off than the one who employs cunning to fool.  By the end of Zeniff’s life, he has recognized his mistakes and seems repentant for them.  He has tried (from the record we have) to have lived a good life and encouraged his people to do the same.  After all, Noah has to put down the priests Zeniff appointed because they wouldn’t let him get away with his behavior.  The king of the Lamanites, however, lives and dies without the Gospel and as a murderer.  Give the choice between Zeniff’s naivety and Laman’s cunning, I will gladly go the route of Zeniff every time (even if it seems to have negative mortal consequences).

Ezekiel 24-26

(February 27, 2015)
                I can only imagine what Ezekiel went through, dealing with the death of his wife and continuing to be about the work of the Lord (even using his wife’s death to communicate with the people and not mourning her passing).  Presumably Ezekiel loved his wife (as a prophet, we can safely presume that, I believe).  And yet he recognized that even this special human relationship was secondary to his relationship to the Lord.

                We understand our obligations to develop strong and loving bonds with those around us – family, friends, spouses, and so forth.  But when these relationships become a substitute for our relationship with the Lord, we encounter severe and negative consequences.  It is only when our relationship with the Lord is strong that we can create the healthy relationships that bless both our lives and the lives of those we love.

Mosiah 8

(February 27, 2015)
                The idea that there is no greater gift than the gift of being a seer is an interesting one.  I read the phrase, and I think that it includes the position of prophet and revelator as well, but what is interesting is that it does not include the sealing power.

                Ammon might not have known or understood about the sealing power, but Mormon certainly did when he abridged this section.  Mormon left this phrase in the scriptures for a reason.  Is it because the sealing power is part and parcel of the role of prophet?  I tend to think that is the case – the sealing power is a part of the calling, but one that few of those called have ever been qualified to receive.  But I really don’t know.