Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Luke 14-15

(May 26, 2015)
                It is such a simple truth, but so easily forgotten.  We are the prodigal son.  We might like to think that we are the dutiful elder brother, but the position of Elder Brother is taken.  All that is left for us is the role of prodigal son.

                Thus, when we look at others in judgment, we are denying the reality that those we judge are in the same position that we are in – disobedient, our inheritance squandered, and desperate for a mercy we do not deserve.  We are not the 99, we are not the nine coins, we are the sheep that has wandered and we are the lost coin.  

3 Nephi 8

(May 26, 2015)
                As I read this chapter today, I began to think in my mind what it must have been like for the people of that time.  We, of course, know that the conditions that existed at that moment were not permanent, but there is no evidence that they understood that.  In fact, it seems likely that the Nephites of that time must have thought that the end of the world had arrived.  They likely had little or no context for the destruction that had taken place, nor could they understand that it was not of a permanent duration.

                There was nothing to indicate to them that their lives were not over.  No fire, no light, nothing that they needed to survive.  And they could not know that it would be coming back.

                Yet in that time of darkness, they could not understand that within a year that the risen Lord would appear to them and they would be ushering in a golden age for them as a people.  Sometimes in our darkest moments – even when those moments seem permanent and even when we brought this destruction on ourselves – our own golden age is just around the corner.  There is no destruction so permanent that the Lord cannot fix it, renew it, and make it better than before.  Even if we cannot see how that could ever be done, He can do it.

Luke 12-13

(May 25, 2015)
                The tension between the law and charity (or the law and Grace) is one that seems routinely misunderstood.  On the one hand, so many people fetishize the law (as though we could save ourselves through obedience).  On the other hand, so many people disregard the law (as though we could partake of Grace or develop love while living in disobedience).

                The reality, of course, is that the law is dead but obedience to the law assists us in developing those aspects of character that allow us to more fully partake of the Atonement.  Living the law increases our charity (if we do so with an eye single to His Glory), and Grace becomes available to us as we seek it to assist us in living the law.

3 Nephi 7

(May 25, 2015)
                All of the tribes were diverse in their opinions, but they were unified in their hatred of the Gaddianton Robbers.  But, we learn, it is not enough to merely be the enemy of evil (though that is, of course, necessary).  After all, these people were sufficiently unrighteous that at the death of the Savior many of their cities were destroyed and many suffered death for their unrighteousness.

                It isn’t enough to just oppose evil (or even merely avoid evil).  To develop the relationship we need to develop with the Lord, we must actively seek to live the commandments and find the good.  We must become a friend of the truth and a servant of God.  Just opposing evil simply is not enough.

Luke 11

(May 24, 2015)
                It is a sad truth that each of us tend to find a point and time when we are like those the Savior describes here – we refuse to take the key of knowledge ourselves, and we see fit to bar others from entering in, either.  Fortunately this is something that we can be aware of and which following the promptings of the Lord will lead us away from.

                But we must also be aware of it in our surroundings as well as in our own hearts.  There are those (in culture, in society, in education, in the sciences, and even in the Church) who refuse to partake of the key of knowledge, and yet at the same time bar others from entering in themselves.  We must work on our own hearts to not only avoid locking out others but to also be prepared to learn from the Savior regardless of the opposition that we may face.

3 Nephi 6

(May 24, 2015)
                This chapter has more good advice to me in this situation of my life – it is often so difficult to be patient in the face of railings, though I truly want to develop that capacity.  I have the urge to rush in and to defend myself, but I also know that I am not my own advocate – I have an Advocate who has paid the price to fully and completely speak on my behalf.

                The other thought that I had was on the people wanting to be subject unto kings.  I imagine that they did not come to this conclusion with the thought in the front of their mind that they wanted to throw down the government to acquire power over their enemies.  No, I imagine they expressed similar concepts to those we see in some areas today – it is too difficult to rule a diverse society without centralized authority, that it was more efficient, and that it became more secular (which is often seen as a positive by those who seek to replace the Lord’s Kingdom with an earthly government).

Luke 10

(May 23, 2015)
                I can attest to one truth that the Savior relayed in this chapter from personal experience.  The great blessing that comes from seeing miracles in my life is not so much the actual miracle (although there are many times when it was a very precious thing that I desperately needed), but rather what the miracle conveyed about God and my relationship to Him.

                Probably the greatest miracle of my life (subjectively) was a relatively small miracle objectively (yet miraculous nonetheless).  But despite this, it was something that clearly conveyed to me the love that my Father had for me and the efforts of my Savior to care for me.  Through this small and simple thing, the Lord touched my heart and brought strength to me when I was exhausted and did not know how I could continue.

                Miracles are wonderful things – but to paraphrase C. S. Lewis it is more important that miracles exist than that you happen to receive the miracle you want or feel you need.

3 Nephi 5

(May 23, 2015)
                Mormon’s expression of gratitude in this chapter is quite interesting, because he currently faced the destruction of his entire people.  Though he might have hoped for miraculous salvation, he must have understood from the records he was keeping that this deliverance was very unlikely to come.  And yet, though he faced destruction himself he still expressed gratitude that another people four hundred years earlier had been delivered in the way that he would not be delivered.

                What faith and understanding (and, frankly, charity) this demonstrated. 

Luke 8-9

(May 22, 2015)
                One great weakness I have is that while I love and desire to serve God, it seems that I often want to serve Him in the way that I want to serve Him (rather than in the way that He wants me to serve Him).  Contrast this weakness of mine with the man possessed by a legion of devils.  Once freed from this possession, the man wanted to travel with the Savior.  But the Lord had other plans for him, and a different work for him to do.

                This man, rather than traveling with the Christ, stayed where he was and spoke of the miracle that had happened to him.  Thus Christ, who was rejected before, was greeted and listened to later.  This man, having obeyed the Savior, prepared the ground for the message that the Lord had for the people.

                I must always strive to remember that He knows the complete picture and He has a perfect plan.  Whatever He may ask me to do, that I need to do.

3 Nephi 4

(May 22, 2015)
                Sometimes in my life, I mistakenly equate deliverance to a miraculous intervention (which is true) and I downplay the necessity of both repentance and humility.  This chapter, though, makes it quite clear that deliverance requires both (really all three).  If we are to receive deliverance (which often comes through miraculous means), we must both repent and humble our hearts.  

Luke 7

(May 21, 2015)
                The Lord’s discussion of whoever has been forgiven much loves much always took on a wrong meaning to me before my time of struggling and pain.  Before, I thought that it was an indication that a person who had sin and was forgiven was better off than a person who was righteous.  That always seemed quite odd to me.

                But, of course, that wasn’t the case.  I went through the process of coming face-to-face with my sinful nature and realizing just how very much I had to be forgiven of.  Then, after receiving forgiveness from the Lord, my heart overflowed with love for Him.  Now I am in the (continuing) process of bringing my life more and more in compliance with His will.  Much was forgiven me, and as such I cannot express the depth of my love for Him.

                But the key was my understanding of my sinful nature, not the quantity of sins that I had committed.  Had I recognized my sinful nature earlier – when habits weren’t as ingrained and mistakes hadn’t caused so much damage – I would have still loved much because I would have realized how utterly helpless I was without the Lord.  But, having been forgiven, I would be so much closer to having the capacity to give my will to the Lord completely and be sanctified of Him.

                Whosoever much is forgiven loves much, but each and every one of us must have much forgiven – we must have everything forgiven.  We do not need to sin to acquire a greater love through forgiveness, but we must become better aware of our sinful natures and realize just how very much the Lord stands ready to forgive of us as we currently are.

3 Nephi 2-3

(May 21, 2015)

                There are so many things that we look at in the world and we summarize them as geopolitical (or even natural) that should ultimately be considered spiritual.  It wasn’t political unrest that caused the iniquity, it was the iniquity that caused the political unrest.  I think that we often seek for solution to the world’s problems in the ballot box (almost as a form of idolatry) instead of recognizing that the only lasting and meaningful change that can come to the world arises out of the individual repentance of the people of the world (and, really, in no other way).

Luke 6

(May 20, 2015)
                I am in a situation right now where I am being reproached for things that I didn’t do (and, frankly, where I fell I am being persecuted).  This is something that is, in many ways, tearing me up inside as I struggle to know how to respond to the lies that are told and to restrain the bitterness that threatens to swell inside me.

                I struggle to maintain a position where I am not angry at the way things are playing out.  I cannot imagine, at this point, not only not being angry but rejoicing in the trials that I am facing.  But, as I read this chapter, that is really what I need to be doing in my life.  I need to view the things that are happening to me, the lies that are being told about me, and the threatened actions being taken against me as something to rejoice over.

                I am not there yet – not by a long shot.  But I know, with the Lord’s help, I can have my heart changed such that I can ultimately arrive at that point.

3 Nephi 1

(May 20, 2015)
                I can only imagine what a great test it was to Nephi to face the challenge that he faced in this chapter.  His father, a truly mighty man in the Lord, had just left him in charge.  Almost immediately upon his ascension to the head of the Church, the enemies of the Church conspired to destroy all of the believers (and this timeframe was almost certainly not accidental on their part).

                Nephi, then, was put in this situation of great test to him.  It was a situation that I cannot imagine feeling prepared or capable of handling on my own.  I can only imagine the insecurity that Nephi felt himself.  But, to his credit, he turned to the Lord for strength rather than relying on his own wisdom – and the Lord, as He always does, came through for Nephi.

                This is an important reminder to me as I struggle with the fear of destruction coming to me.  This destruction might be headed off, or it might come, but in no event do I have the strength to manage the challenges that I currently face.  It is only by giving these burdens to the Lord and humbling myself to allow Him to carry them that I have hope of salvation.

Luke 5

(May 19, 2015)
                Ideally, in our interactions with Deity, we act with faith.  But when our faith is weak and we are consumed with doubt, we can still maintain our actions in spite of our doubts.  Here, Peter clearly was doubtful in his heart when he spoke of how he had labored through the night and taken nothing.  But while his heart was doubtful his actions were believing.  At His word, Peter let down the nets.

                We cannot, unfortunately, drive doubt out of our own hearts.  Faith is a gift from the Lord – one we must welcome, but which ultimately must be given to us rather than taken by us.  But while we cannot drive doubt from our hearts, we can drive doubt from our actions.  And, in my experience, as I have acted in faith I have had faith given to me.

Helaman 15-16

(May 19, 2015)
                No matter how overwhelming the evidence may be, we all ultimately choose to believe (or disbelieve).  Evidence may be compelling, but it may never be dispositive.  And so, even in the face of countless miracles surrounding us on a daily basis, we can still choose to disbelieve and even when we may be in a desert of spirituality we may choose to believe.

                I have gone through just such an experience in my life.  I have been blessed throughout my life to have experienced a number of miracles, and just like the people in these chapters I reached a point where I was able to lie to myself sufficient to weaken and damage my testimony.  The things that I had seen and experienced, though I never lost sight of them as true, yet I still managed to struggle with my faith because of my weakness.

                For whatever reason, the Lord didn’t let go of me through this perilous time.  And He has helped me, step by step, to regain the testimony that I had lost and strengthen it beyond what it once was.  But I now have a much greater understanding of the truth that merely seeing the miracles (or even experiencing themselves) is not sufficient to convert.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Luke 3-4

(May 18, 2015)
                Christ makes an intriguing point that we as members of the Lord’s Church should carefully consider.  Why was it that the leper that was healed was from outside of Israel, or the widow from outside Jerusalem?  What does that indicate for us?  I don’t think that it indicates that a particular curse exists for those who are part of the Lord’s Church, but rather that there is a defect that we must be cautious about when interacting with the Lord’s Church.

                In my opinion, I think I know what that is.  We who have the Church in our everyday lives begin to believe that this is an everyday Church.  It is easy to forget that this is a Church of miracles.  In my life, there have been perhaps a half-dozen true miracles (as the word is used today) – which, as I take stock of my life, seems to be a very high number (and I still don’t know why the Lord has blessed me with so many miracles of this type).  But even still, that averages out to one miracle every seven years or so.

                Now of course this doesn’t include the tender mercies that the Lord sees fit to give me on an ongoing basis, but I know that I struggle when I am in a difficult situation to expect the miracle when the miracle is needed.  I have been blessed by these miracles, but there have been other times when I haven’t seen the miracles when I thought they were necessary.  And when I have seen the miracles, they have been great distances in time apart.

                I worry in my own life that I can forget that we are a Church of miracles – even though I have seen so many in my life.  So, too, those of us who are in the Church can see the Church as a social group or a teaching group or anything other than the Kingdom of God on Earth.  And, by so doing, we have less faith than the outsider coming to the Lord fully expecting the miracle because that is the way God manifests Himself.

Helaman 14

(May 18, 2015)
                There is a powerful truth contained in this chapter – whenever we do iniquity, we do it to ourselves.  We don’t hurt others through our unrighteousness – even though it may seem that they are hurt by our actions.  Our unrighteousness hurts ourselves, and their reaction to our unrighteousness either hurts them or builds them.

                This is why hatred and revenge are so foolish as motivations (and I am speaking to myself as much as anyone, here).  We do not hurt others when we choose to hate or be offended or engage in self-pity.  We may throw additional challenges before others by our actions, but they will rise or fall based upon what they do (and not what we do).  We may, through our efforts at revenge, give them the blessing they need to walk closer to the Lord and at the same time bring damnation to our souls.

                Right now, though, the contrary corollary is what brings me comfort.  Other’s iniquity cannot bring destruction to me.  That is not God’s program.  If others choose to engage in unrighteous behavior in order to hurt me, then that can bring me sorrow (because of the destruction they bring to themselves) but ultimately the Lord will not allow it to destroy me if I do all I can to walk with Him and surrender to Him.  This is a great comfort.

Luke 2

(May 17, 2015)
                I have taken a new appreciation of the final verse of this chapter.  We know so little about the Savior’s childhood – much of what records we have are so clearly false as to be absurd (for these very reasons, these records were not included in the New Testament).  But in this final verse, we have four key areas of Christ’s development.

                Christ grew in wisdom (intellectual development) and stature (physical development), and in praise of God (spiritual development) and men (social development).  Four aspects, and He knew in His mission He would need development in all of those areas.

                I have, from time to time, been tempted to abandon one or more of those aspects of life as I have felt they were irrelevant or unimportant.  I have thought that spirituality was the most important, and thus neglected physical or social development (or, at times, both).  I have stayed interested in intellectual development, but threatened to abandon those two.

                When I have done this, though, it has always had negative consequences.  The Lord does not want disciples who are incapable of carrying out the service that He wants us to render – either because we are physically incapable or socially inept.  We must increase our capacity in those areas to better be able to carry out His work.  Ultimately there is really only one type of important development (our relation to God), but if we abandon the others we abandon this one as well.

Helaman 13

(May 17, 2015)
                No one hides their treasures to the Lord save the righteous – that language is unambiguous.  But what does it mean, and how do we apply it in our lives today, seeing as how we aren’t likely to go around digging holes and burying treasure on a regular basis in our modern society.

                I think it is still very relevant, because our treasure is whatever we desire or want in our lives.  If we want something for the Glory of God (or, at a minimum, are willing to dedicate those things we want for the Glory of God), we put things in the proper perspective and priority.

                So if I want to enjoy a movie, that is fine.  That is a treasure.  But if I place the Lord first – hide that treasure to the Lord (make sure that there is nothing He wants me doing instead, make sure that the Lord is alright with me watching that movie, and so forth), then blessings can come from watching that movie.  After all, President Monson loves the movie “What About Bob?” so movies aren’t bad by their nature – they are only bad if they are higher on our list of priorities than the Lord is.

                It is very similar, in my mind, to our responsibility to pray to the Lord before doing anything to consecrate our efforts to our gain.  This is true for whatever we do in our lives, and if we keep that in mind He will be able to guide us continually.

Luke 1

(May 16, 2015)
                It would be such a blessing to be able to serve God without fear.  Right now, fear truly dominates more of my life than I want it to.  I struggle with fear throughout various aspects of my life.  I want to serve God, but that exposes me to contempt, ridicule, and threats (even from some who I would expect to be advocating my continued service of God).  I struggle to continue to serve, but I know that (at least in a temporal sense) my service will not be rewarded.

                It shouldn’t be a surprise – we are here to be tested and our service must always be found at odds with the world around us in order for that service to be willingly given.  We occupy hostile territory, after all – we serve the Lord at high cost, and always will so long as Satan holds sway over this world.  But what a blessing it will be when the day arrives when we can give ourselves totally and completely to the Lord and serve Him without fear.

                I speak not of the afterlife, of course, but rather when our lives and hearts are so changed that we no longer feel such fear when we choose to serve Him.  It is us that needs to change, not the world around us.  It is I that need to become a better man so that I can serve God without fear – and I hope that I am able to do that.

Helaman 12

(May 16, 2015)
                In this Church, we have made certain covenants.  These covenants are not between us and the Church, but between us and God.  The Church (particularly the Priesthood authority found in the Church) exists to facilitated those covenants being made.

                When Samuel the Lamanite stood on the wall and criticized the Nephites for not allowing God to guide them, he was speaking to all of us.  Ultimately, God will teach us what we are to do, and it will be our obligation to follow whatever He tells us.  The Church can aid us in that process, but the Church cannot replace the Lord in that process.

Mark 16

(May 15, 2015)
                I go back to this truth in my own life, even as I see it in the lives of the Disciples – we all have trouble believing in the latest miracle.  After all Peter had seen, yet he struggled to believe in a risen Christ.  He knew who Christ was, he had seen Jesus raise others from the dead, he had walked on the water, and more miracles than these he had seen.  Yet when it came to the resurrection, he struggled to believe.

                So, too, in my life.  I haven’t seen all of the miracles that Peter has seen but I have seen enough that there is not really any more room for rational doubt.  And yet irrational doubt continues to creep in.  I face a situation now in my life where I fear the wrong thing will happen and I will be very badly hurt by this.  Yet there have been enough instances of the Lord’s intercession on my behalf that I should (if I am being reasonable) trust that He will intervene to fix this or if not it is because He will allow it to happen to bless my life.  Yet I still struggle.

Helaman 10-11

(May 15, 2015)
                There is a billboard on my commute to work that is for the Wounded Warrior Project.  The symbol for this project is one soldier carrying another on his back.  I have been struck by this a number of times, because I am now in a place in my life when I would like nothing better than to be the soldier carrying others and yet I feel as though I remain the wounded (spiritual) warrior.  I want to bless the lives of those around me, and yet I feel exhausted and beaten down.

                As I read through these chapters, though, I was struck by the fact that Nephi felt this same way when the call came to him.  And I realized that our calls to serve likely would not happen when we were at full strength, but rather when we were beaten down and weary and depressed.  It isn’t the healthy soldier in the War in Heaven that carries his fallen comrade.  In the War in Heaven, both soldiers are wounded (mortally) and it is the soldiers taking turns carrying each other as far as they can before being carried in return.

                The changes to my nature have come most readily when I was weighed down with sorrow and care.  They have come when I have been exhausted, and unable to continue, and forced to rely upon the Lord.  They have come when He has given me instruction that I felt incapable of fulfilling because I was so weak as to be nearly destroyed.  When I, in those moments, complied with His instructions were the times when I was blessed to be changed in my very nature.

Mark 15

(May 14, 2015)
                Once again, my mind is drawn to our own willful blindness when it comes to leaders.  The political (and religious) leadership at this time was willfully leading the people astray to maximize their own power and authority, and they brought down destruction on the heads of those who followed them.  Basic economic theory postulates that any position that offers disproportionate power over others will attract a greater than average percentage of those who seek for such power.  That isn’t to say that all politicians are power-hungry, but just to say that more politicians are power-hungry than the percentage of power-hungry people in the general population.

                What, then, about the Church?  After all, the leaders of this time were both religious and political leaders.  Here, I believe, is the great benefit of the lay ministry.  While there are undoubtedly those leaders in the Church who exercise unrighteous dominion (and we shouldn’t be surprised that most will, at some point and to some degree), the fact that we have a lay ministry comprised of leaders chosen (rather than those who chose themselves) will inevitably lead to – at worst – a composition of people proportional with the general population (which represents an improvement over the political arena).  Throw in the facts that those with propensities toward unrighteous dominion can be weeded out, and the fact that the Church teaches and inspires selfless service, and so forth and you are left with a ministry that, while imperfect, gives every indication that it is structurally better than the general population.  There may be bad apples, but as far as systems go it clearly shows the Divine inspiration behind it.

Helaman 9

(May 14, 2015)
                There is something to be learned from the fact that the five men were converted in prison.  Note that they weren’t converted by the preaching of Nephi, although their hearts were at least open to that preaching.  Also, though, note that they weren’t converted by the miracle that they witnessed.  No, something additional happened in prison – something we don’t seem to have a record of – that ultimately resulted in their conversion.

                Conversion truly is a miraculous thing.  In my life, it happened in a moment of decision in a non-descript place in a non-descript way.  The miracles I experienced didn’t convert me (although they were blessings nonetheless).  The teachings I received didn’t convert me (though these, too, blessed my life).  And my own study didn’t convert me.  It was, finally, a choice that I made that brought about my conversion – a choice to follow God.  It seems that these five men likewise made that same choice in prison.

Mark 13-14

Mark 13-14
(May 13, 2015)
                Poor Peter has become so synonymous with his denial of Christ that we lose track of an important truth – we all deny Christ.  C. S. Lewis famously said that the Lord’s will be done either way but it makes a great deal of difference to us whether we serve Him as did Peter or as did Judas.  But both Peter and Judas denied Christ.

                At first I thought the difference was that Peter struggled and served to make up for his mistake, but then I recalled that Judas tried to bargain for Christ’s life as well.  Both of them wanted to repent from the mistake that they had made.  So that was not the difference.  I think the key differences are two-fold.  First, Peter’s failure was a failure of weakness while Judas failed out of anger and bitterness.  Second, Judas chose to kill himself rather than work through the repentance process.

                Would things have been different if Judas had not committed suicide?  Christ called him friend at the moment Judas betrayed him – would Christ have come to him, as He did Peter, and invite him to serve again?  I suppose we will never know.  Judas, through his suicide, chose not to repent of his sin.

Helaman 8

(May 13, 2015)
                I struggle to understand why we allow ourselves to remain so willfully blind in some ways.  We who read the Book of Mormon know that secret combinations exist.  We can see through history that these secret combinations can often ascend to the highest levels of government.  We know that they have as their goal the destruction of our personal liberties and the binding of us down into sin.

                And yet, knowing this, we turn a blind eye to it happening right in front of us.  We seem to believe that there is no way that it could happen in modern society.  We think that the head of our particular political faction or government has our interests in mind.  Historically, we know that not to be often true.  Doctrinally, we also know that not to be often true.  So why are we so willing to turn a blind eye?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mark 11-12

(May 12, 2015)
                Christ’s reaction to the widow’s mite is a lesson for each of us in our lives.  There is the tendency, at least in my own life, to focus on those things that I do well and to think that my purpose is to donate my talents to the Lord wherever possible.  This is true, of course, as far as it goes.  But it isn’t the end of the matter.

                We are to not only give of our strengths (our abundance), but our weaknesses as well.  I’m good at teaching adults, so it is only appropriate that I do what I can in that area for the Church.  I am less skilled at teaching children, but when the Lord calls me to be a Primary Teacher, I should be contributing my widow’s mite there to the best of my ability as well.

                Sometimes I wonder whether we may be more blessed for doing those things for the Church and the Lord that we do poorly than we are blessed for doing those things which we do well – regardless of how circumstances ultimately turn out.

Helaman 7

(May 12, 2015)
                So when Nephi came out of the land of Jerusalem, he was being beaten by his brothers, wandering in the desert for eight years because of their unrighteousness, tied up and left for the wild animals, tied to the mast of the ship, and certainly other similar situations that I am missing in this impromptu list.

                And yet Nephi son of Helaman wished his days were in the days of Nephi son of Lehi…

                It is a normal human emotion – to think that the past has an allure that we miss today.  We’d like to think that the old days were easier somehow, and that the problems we face are particularly difficult and the pains we struggle with are particularly acute.

                But when we remember that the purpose of each of our mortal lives is to test and try us to the very limits of our capacity, we know better.  Nephi son of Lehi was given the tests that brought him to his breaking point to see if he would continue to choose to follow Christ.  Nephi son of Helaman was given the test that would bring him to the same point.  And each of us are given the trials that will bring us to that point.  The question is not whether we will be tried, but how we will respond to the trials that we are led to face.

Mark 10

(May 11, 2015)
                To paraphrase Elder Maxwell, we are ultimately going to be called upon to give up whatever it is in our lives that is most important to us.  Perhaps, if we are lucky, we will not be obligated to actually give it up (as Abraham was spared from sacrificing Isaac), but we must be ready to give that thing up to the Lord.

                The thing that is most difficult in my current situation is that the thing that I am asking to give up (or, at least, to be prepared to give up) is something that is clearly a good.  But Isaac was clearly a good thing as well.  And yet Abraham had to be prepared to give him up.  I have an easier time with matters similar to the rich young ruler (not easy, mind you – just easier) – when the Lord asks me to give up something that is not good, my mind can deal with that and fight through it even when my capacity to follow this command is weak.

                But when the Lord, as He has frequently lately, is asking me to give up things that are good, I really, really struggle.  The saying is that the Lord gave the challenge to Abraham so that Abraham could learn something about Abraham.  I suppose that I will learn something about myself by the end of this month.  I hope that I am equal to the task ahead of me, and I hope that unlike the rich young ruler I will be able to give up whatever I am called upon to give up (though I still desperately hope I am not called upon to give it up) and to surrender fully and completely to the Lord.

Helaman 6

(May 11, 2015)
                It is sometimes difficult to draw too much of a parallel between events in the Book of Mormon and modern events.  On the one hand, the patterns of Satan are constant and Mormon saw our day when he put what he did in the book.  On the other hand, our understanding of these patterns does not equate to a perfect analogy with modern times.

                That being said, I think there is something to draw here from the changes that we are seeing in our modern society (and even in the Church).  We see that there are elements within and without the Church who have been seduced by what are ultimately political ideologies to the point where they present these ideologies as more important than the Gospel.  On the other hand, the Church’s worldwide growth (in areas that would have been aptly described as “Lamanitish” only a while back), are remarkable and represent some of the best people in the Church.

Mark 8-9

(May 10, 2015)
                In my youth, these chapters astounded me.  I couldn’t understand why the disciples asked the same question regarding the feeding of the multitude.  After all, they had just seen Christ perform this great miracle.  Here they were in nearly the exact same circumstances only a short time later, and once again they still had the very same doubts and concerns.

                As I have gotten older, and learned from the bumps and bruises of my own life, I have come to realize what was happening here.  So many times, I have been blessed by miracles in my life.  I do not doubt that these miracles were anything less than direct intervention of the Divine (indeed, there is truly no other explanation).  My problem, and my struggle and lack of faith, is not in knowing that the Lord can intervene, but rather in knowing whether He will intervene.

                The Lord can solve my problems the same way He could feed the multitude.  In the same way the disciples had seen Christ feed the multitude in the past, I had seen the Savior intercede in my life miraculously in the past.  But I still worry and doubt and struggle with my faith over the question whether He will intervene now the way He did before.  I can see the disciples here encountering similar fears and doubts.

Helaman 5

(May 10, 2015)
                Hugh Nibley has a quote (that I will paraphrase) that seems very appropriate here.  ‘The world is not divided into the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is divided into the repenting and the unrepenting.’

                Helaman taught his sons that the Savior was coming to redeem His people, but He wasn’t here to save the righteous (notice that the word righteous is not even mentioned in the chapter).  No, the Savior was coming to save the repentant, and he was instructing his sons to preach the Gospel of repentance to the people.

                So many times in my life, I get focused on living a righteous life (admittedly a worthwhile goal) but allow myself to get distracted from living a repentant life (a more-important goal).  If we are living a 99.9% righteous life, but not a repentant life, we are as good as damned.  If we are living a 0.01% righteous life, but filled with a repentant spirit, we need only endure to the end and Christ will redeem us.

Mark 6-7

(May 9, 2015)
                Evil’s hatred of good is not rational, despite the protests to the contrary.  These chapters have a perfect example of that.  Herodias could have had anything (up to half the kingdom), but rather than ask for something to her advantage, she instead asked for the destruction of John the Baptist.

                John was imprisoned at this time, and could do little to hurt her.  Her motivation was solely revenge.  She set aside her own interests out of her hatred for John, and by so doing took his life and destroyed her soul.  Revenge, even for a justified slight (which this was not) will do the same thing – it destroys the soul of the one seeking it.  I need to remember that as I struggle through this difficult time.

                The other thought that I had as I read through these chapters was on how nothing from without could defile a man.  I understand the way that Christ was using this parable, but I also believe that it goes beyond that.  There is nothing external that can do lasting damage to our souls.  It is hard to remember that at times, but when I forget it I end up doing things that truly damage my soul.

                External pain and heartache is ever-present.  It will make weak Christians weaker and strong Christians stronger.  I suppose the question, as I go through this agonizing time, is which am I?

Helaman 4

(May 9, 2015)
                I struggle, at times, to know what battles to leave up to the Lord and what battles to take up myself.  In my current situation, I am in a painful and trying time that I know that the Lord could fix with just a word.  And yet He, to my knowledge, has remained silent.  What is my course of action here?

                Litigation is a lot like warfare, and I know how to litigate.  If I move forward in a litigation posture, that really seems to me as though I will be following the arm of flesh.  By so doing, I will become weak, like unto other men.

                By the same token, Moroni knew enough to know the importance of using the skills for battle that he had received.  He thought nothing of using stratagems to achieve a righteous purpose, because he knew that his cause was centered around the truth.

                I admit to being very confused, as I appear to be pulled in two different directions.  And this matter is not incidental – it is the most important matter of my life to this point.  Do I stand back and allow the Lord to fight this battle for me, or is that abdicating my obligation to do my part?  Do I use the skills I have learned to fight this battle myself, or does that amount to trusting in the arm of flesh?

                I don’t have an answer.  I want to do the right thing, but I really don’t know what that is right now.  And, to be fair, my fear over the course of events does not help me hear the Spirit to tell me what I should be doing.

Mark 5

(May 8, 2015)
                I think there is a lesson to be learned from the woman who touched Christ’s robes.  I think that we often look to the Savior to solve our problems for us, and that is certainly understandable.  After all, we lack the capacity to solve even our most simple problems ourselves.

                But often, as with this woman, we do not need Christ to turn His attention to us.  Instead, the very act of straining ourselves to come to Christ empowers us to partake of a portion of His virtue.  Our problems are solved by the very act of our efforts to come to Christ.

Helaman 2-3

(May 8, 2015)
                Once again, my mind is drawn to the question of why some are spared while others are not.  Pahoran was killed while sitting on the judgment seat.  He seemed, from the indications that we have of him, to have been a righteous man.  Yet for whatever reason his life was not spared.  Helaman, on the other hand, was spared – and this because of the actions of a servant in protecting him.

                The only explanation that makes sense for any of this is that there is no explanation that we as mortals can understand.  Either the world is absurd (and it feels that way to me at the moment), or there is a perfect Plan that is beyond our comprehension – one that will ultimately make everything right in the end.

                The struggle, for me, is not to be aware intellectually of the existence of this Plan, but to remember emotionally during the times of pain and challenge (such as I am experiencing now) that there is a perfect Plan and all things will be made right.  It wasn’t fair that Pahoran was struck down while Helaman was spared, and it won’t be fair to me if I am struck down either.  But if our standard is fairness, we will all be lost.  Justice condemns us all – Pahoran, Helaman, me, and everyone else.  I need to let go of my desire for fairness and accept the Lord’s Plan.

                But that is easier said than done sometimes.

Mark 4

(May 7, 2015)
                I have frequently thought of the events of this chapter – Christ stilling the storm – as I have struggled through these past several years and tried to deal with the feelings of hurt and betrayal.  But this time, my mind focused on Christ’s counsel at the end.  Though the storm was fierce, Christ still chastened the disciples for being afraid.  “Why are ye so fearful?  how is it that ye have no faith?”

                My life, particularly this week, has been dominated by fear.  I look at my circumstances and the things which have been taken completely outside of my control (and for reasons that, to my mind, are terribly unfair).  I have called out more than once for the Lord to still the storm – I have wondered aloud in prayer ‘Master, carest thou not that I perish?’

                I know that Christ can still even this great storm that beats on me with nothing more than a word.  Yet He remains silent.  Do I have the faith it will take to accept that silence?  Why am I so fearful, if I know that God has a perfect Plan?  I struggle – admittedly I have struggled more this week than any time I can remember – and I am terrified by what the future holds.  I suppose that this is nothing more than evidence of my lack of faith, which I need to repent of.

Helaman 1

(May 7, 2015)
                Once again, we have a perfect example of someone who steps back, does the right thing, and ends up getting their head crushed against the wall of the city.  Pacumeni set aside his pride and ambition, and supported the will of the people.  Yet despite his efforts to do the right thing, he suffered an ignoble death very shortly after ascending to the chief judge position.

                I feel for Pacumeni more than a little bit right now.  I have tried, consistently, to do the right thing and I feel like I am now in a position where I am about to get smitten into a wall.  I am struggling with feelings of bitterness over this, and I am trying to let them go.

                The reality is that Pacumeni, with his death, received a release from many of the struggles he dealt with.  And his death, of course, isn’t the end of Pacumeni’s story (just the end of what we have record of).  But it is so hard to see a story like that and not feel bad for him – though perhaps I am just projecting myself into that story and feeling self-pity instead.

Mark 2-3

(May 6, 2015)
                Sometimes it is difficult to see how good can possibly win.  It is a cynical view of things, to be sure, but evil is appealing and so many people seem to be blindly choosing it over the more difficult road to goodness and progression (including, when we are honest, each of us).

                But Satan does truly stand against Satan.  Carefully reading Christ’s words, you see that Christ never said that Satan was not standing against Satan – only that Satan will be destroyed because he opposes himself.  And we see that – evil, once ascendant, begins to consume itself as it is not enough for evil to achieve a goal but rather it must be forever striving for more.

                Therein is the great hope for good in the world – good will not destroy itself, while evil ultimately will.  And this is also counsel for each of us, as we purpose evil aims, that ultimately these evil aims will result in our individual destruction unless we are willing to change our hearts and seek out good instead.

Alma 63

(May 6, 2015)
                We all want to be remembered (and, hopefully, remembered fondly).  We all want to be the hero of our own story.  Some of us are, like Peter, true heroes.  Some of us are, like Judas, true villains.  But each of us like to believe that we are heroes and the day will come when we will be recognized as important and special in some way.

                But, of course, that is not a promise that has been given to any of us.  Moronihah is a prime example.  We know that he was a powerful general, and fought (and presumably suffered) for his people.  He won wars, and he lost some important battles as well.  Yet, for whatever reason, he is a footnote in history.

                Likewise, each of us is likely to only be a footnote (at best!) in history.  We will be forgotten, time will move on without us, and those who we love and who love us will move forward without us. We will have descendents we will never meet in mortality.

                With that in mind, it is important to remember that our influence must not be used for us, but for those who come after us.  Our great, great, great grandchildren will likely never know us.  But the legacy of sacrifice and attempts to live the Gospel that we pass to our children, which they pass to theirs, and on down the line will have the capacity to bless their lives.  They likely will never know in mortality the source of that legacy, but it is something that we can do for them.

                If we, by so doing, become Moronihah (barely remembered) or even if we are forgotten altogether, it will not make a difference in the end.  

Alma 61-62

(May 5, 2015)
                A recurring theme in the Book of Mormon is that external conflict often serves to merely illuminate or reveal internal weaknesses.  But for these internal weaknesses, the external pressures would not have the capacity to destroy the Nephites.  And the solution to the problem is very often dealing with the internal matters and allowing the external matters to resolve themselves.

                There is, once again, a large amount of truth to this in our own lives.  Oftentimes the external struggles that do so much to tear our lives apart (and I am in the midst of just such a struggle now) are in fact blessings because they illuminate the internal weaknesses that the external struggles are able to capitalize on.  And, like in the Book of Mormon, our solution is not to attempt to deal with external matters outside of our control but to focus on the internal matters that are within our control (with the help of Grace, of course).

Mark 1

(May 4, 2015)
                There is a great desire in each of us, I think, to do those things that are right.  After all, it wasn’t an accident that we arrived at this point in our eternal progression.  But there is more to mortality than just trying to do the right thing – we must also be willing to follow His Plan, rather than our own, in doing that right thing.

                Even when we are trying to do the right thing, we can cause significant problems for others.  For example, the Lord instructed to the leper he healed to be silent about this miracle.  The man, perhaps out of gratitude or some other potentially righteous desire to push forward the work, disregarded this counsel.  Though his motives may have been good, and his faith (as demonstrated by his being healed) was strong, he negatively affected the Lord’s ability to teach the people.  This publication prevented Christ from openly teaching in the city.

                Each of us might believe we know what is best for us to do, and we may want to do what is right.  But humility requires that we accept that whatever He wants is right, regardless of what we want (and regardless of what we think He should want).  There is no safety in doing the right thing, if the right thing is merely defined as doing what we think is right.  The only safety we have is in doing what He asks us to do.

Alma 59-60

(May 4, 2015)
                Oftentimes I find that a victory that I have over the forces of sin and Satan are of limited duration.  I will no more than achieve some victory (be it small or major) than another problem will pop up in some other area.  I will overcome one vice, only to find another vice dramatically amplified.

                Satan seems to be following the battle plan of the Lamanites here (or, rather, the Lamanites were following Satan’s battle plan).  When the Adversary is being defeated in one area of my life, he doesn’t suddenly give up and acknowledge defeat.  Instead he repositions his forces to attack a different area of my life.  He constantly seeks my destruction (and the destruction of each of us), and he will seek to accomplish this in any way that he can.

                I am fooling myself when I think a victory in one aspect of my life will bring peace from the battle with sin.  Only complete victory in all areas of my life can accomplish that goal.

Matthew 28

(May 3, 2015)
                There are certain elements of the scriptures that lead me to wonder where they came from.  In this chapter, my mind was struck my the description of the guards being bought off.  How could Matthew have known what happened in this meeting?  Is it dramatic license, or was that information that somehow came to him through reliable channels?  It is curious.

                The one thing that is not curious, though, is that this rumor being in existence at this time tells a great deal.  The believers, having heard this rumor, would have been strengthened only if they had seen the risen Lord in such a ways as to refute these stories.  A conspiracy to hide the truth from some would be impressive, but a conspiracy to hide the truth from all of those who saw the risen Christ (and who gave their lives in martyrdom to seal that testimony) would be impossible.

                Thus even as they spread the rumor to deny the Christ they left evidences which strengthen the testimony of him millennia later.  Such is the work of the Lord.

Alma 58

(May 3, 2015)
                Again, the idea that the wars in the Book of Mormon are an analogy to each of our wars with our own sinful natures is apt.  In this chapter, we learn that even the desire to ultimately eradicate evil (the Lamanites) from the land must be done in wisdom and order.  There are times when we may want to completely overcome in an instant our own sinful natures, but there are times when that is impossible.

                Instead, like the Nephites, we may encounter times when the only thing that we can do is to hold on to the ground that we have already conquered and continue to look for help to regain ground that has been lost.  We may want to win the war, but we are not called to win the war.  We are called to fight the war, as best we can, in the position that has been assigned to us.  Victory is, ultimately, under the control of Him who leads us.

Matthew 27

(May 2, 2015)
                Each of us make mistakes in our lives, and we would like to think that all of these mistakes can be corrected.  But, like Judas, we sometimes realize that our mistakes lack a temporal solution.  Judas could not free Christ after betraying Him, and sometimes we cannot fix the damage our sins and mistakes have caused.  In fact, we can never do anything to correct these mistakes – once a mistake is made or a sin is committed, we are helpless to undo the damage we have done.

                Ironically enough for Judas, he had turned His back on the one source for help.  The blessing of the infinite Atonement is that while we can do nothing to correct the mistakes and damage, the Savior not only can but will correct that and all other things.  Part of our trust and faith in Him is to remember that He will resolve the things that we cannot resolve – both for ourselves and for those we have hurt.

Alma 57

(May 2, 2015)
                We see the miraculous rescue of the Stripling Warriors and I think that sometimes I take the wrong lessons from it.  I see that they were preserved by His power, and I think that I should likewise be preserved.  But I view that preservation as protection from harm, rather than viewing it as the ability to overcome the harms inflicted on us, is where my misunderstanding comes from.

                The Lord promises that, like the Stripling Warriors, no external enemy will be empowered to destroy our souls.  But He does not promise, as He did not promise the Stripling Warriors, that our souls will not be wounded.  In fact, there were no Stripling Warriors who did not suffer many wounds (just as, I expect, there are none of us to be Exalted who do not suffer many wounds – temporal, emotional, and spiritual).

                Only when I remember this am I able to keep in mind that the pain I am going through is not something that is unexpected and to recognize the blessing of the preservation from death rather than becoming ungrateful for the pain I am going through.

Matthew 26

(May 1, 2015)
                The Savior, knowing full well that Judas was betraying Him, still greeted him with the appellation “friend.”  How far short I fall in this regard – when those who hurt me (some intentionally, others not) approach, I certainly don’t feel to call them friends.  I want to defend myself from them, to often escape them.  But not to call them friends, and sit and wait while I am betrayed by them.

                But if I want to walk the path that He has set out for me, can I respond any other way?  Isn’t the right course for me to allow the betrayal, to accept the pain, and to do whatever I can to (at the very moment of betrayal) see and call these people ‘friend?’

Alma 56

(May 1, 2015)
                Helaman’s confidence (God is with us, He will not suffer that we should fall) is comforting, but I have always had trouble reconciling it with the reality that many times the righteous do fall.  Sometimes the Lord allows the righteous to be destroyed (think of those burned before the eyes of Alma and Amulek) so that the wicked will be correctly judged.  Sometimes he allows the righteous to be destroyed to bring them more speedily to His Kingdom.  Whatever the reason, sometimes the righteous fall.

                I understand that this fall is only in a temporal sense – that even as the Stripling Warrior’s parents were cut down without defending themselves, they were victorious.  But in a temporal sense, we can clearly fall.  That is what frightens me from time to time.  I understand intellectually that the Plan is perfect and will work out to the benefit of all of His children, but this intellectual understanding often wilts in the face of seeing pain inflicted on myself and others that I love.

                I suppose it really just comes down to a lack of faith on my part.

Matthew 25

(April 30, 2015)
                In this chapter, the Lord speaks of those who are sheep and those who are goats.  The irony, at least historically, is how often the term sheep is used derogatively about people in general and believers in particular.  When an atheist online doesn’t want to deal with the facts raised by a believer, they will dismiss the speaker with the ad hominem ‘sheeple’ as if that was the end of things.

                What a compliment, to be called a sheep (even by your enemies).  Some bristle at the thought of being seen as sheep, but in reality it should be something we are grateful for and aspire to become.

Alma 55

(April 30, 2015)
                Sometimes the scriptures really stand up and demand attention.  Sometimes it becomes so very obvious that the scriptures are talking about a situation you find yourself in that it is impossible to ignore.  In my current circumstances, this happened to me in this chapter.  I could, by the changing of only minor details, have projected myself into Moroni’s shoes.  The principles I should follow, then, became very apparent.

                Likening the scriptures to our lives can sometimes be a difficult process, and there are the dangers of wresting the scriptures to get them to say what you want them to say.  But sometimes it is very clear what they are saying, and when that happens it is such a blessing because of the increase in strength that those moments provide.

Matthew 24

(April 29, 2015)
                There is a great deal in each of us of the evil servant.  If we knew that the Savior was returning tomorrow, would we not behave in dramatically different ways?  Would we not be kinder to our neighbors?  Would we not hurry out to get our home teaching down for the month?  Would we not repent, pray more fervently, and so forth.

                Why, then, are we not doing that now?  I must reluctantly conclude that in my case it is because I say in my heart, my Lord delayeth in His coming.  What a tragedy that is, for the opportunities for service I have lost.  What a statement of my faith that is, and a demonstration of the weaknesses in my heart.

                I hope that I am able to better treat each day as if it were my last and the Lord will come tomorrow – that when He does come (or my days come to an end), the Lord will find me so doing.

Alma 53-54

(April 29, 2015)
                There were two thoughts that I had as I read through these chapters.  The first was on Moroni, and his actions in judging Ammoron.  It would seem, at first glance, that calling someone a child of Hell is a deviation from the instruction to judge not.  But somehow it must be reconcilable, and I think that it comes down to the type of judgment being entered into.

                Moroni was not judging someone as beyond redemption, but rather that the person was clearly choosing a path of sin.  The obligation on each of us to be non-judgmental doesn’t mean that our minds need be so open that everything falls out.  Standards still exist, commandments still exist (even upon those who disbelieve them), and it is not being judgmental to recognize this so long as we realize that the person we are considering is ultimately His child and not ours, and ultimately His judgment is the one that matters.

                The second thought was on Ammoron, and his defense of his position.  It has been said that the worst thing you can do to someone who isn’t a victim is to convince them that they are a victim – and the worst thing you can do for someone who is a victim is convince them that they are a victim.  Once you begin to believe in your own victimhood, you have truly partaken of Satan’s plan whereby you are no longer an agent unto yourself.  Walking that path brings nothing but destruction on the person who believes that way.

Matthew 22-23

(April 28, 2015)
                There are those who like to believe that the Savior was not focused on the hierarchy of the Church or in the outward performances and obedience to the commandments.  This is an idea not supported by the scriptures, and especially by these chapters.  Two portions in particular struck me on this note.

                The first was when the Savior spoke of those who sat in Moses’s chair.  He clearly knew of their unrighteousness, and yet He also clearly instructed the people to follow these admittedly unrighteous, power-hungry  leaders.  If the Savior wanted the people to follow leaders who He openly condemned as unrighteous, how are we justified when we choose not to follow leaders who we may merely disagree with?  Even those who are legitimately unrighteous, we are still obligated to follow within their stewardships.

                The second was when the Savior confronted those who strained at gnats and swallowed camels.  He could have told them that they needed to obey the weightier matters, but He didn’t stop there.  He told them that they needed to seek justice, practice mercy, and so forth – but that they should do that all while doing all they could to be obedient (doing these things and not leaving the other things undone).

                The Christ of these two chapters bears little resemblance to the Christ some people, sadly, choose to imagine for themselves.

Alma 52

(April 28, 2015)
                In a lot of ways, this chapter is the beginning of the darkest period of the Book of Mormon (save for the ultimate destruction of the Nephites).  There is a sense of what is coming – Moroni clearly sees it, but is helpless to stop it.  Teancum may have thought that the death of Amalickiah would have brought peace, but by this point he sees it as well.

                This chapter represents a point where the future of the civilization is poised on the edge of a knife.  Here, the Nephites are able to access the Divine Favor necessary for their temporal salvation, while at the end of the Book of Mormon, they are not.

                This leads, of course, to the obvious question – what is it about this situation that is different from the time of Mormon?  And, as we continue through perilous times, which are we more like – the people of Moroni or the people of Mormon?  Thinking about both of those questions in light of our current situation, I have to admit that I don’t feel altogether confident of the implications.

Matthew 21

(April 27, 2015)
                The parable of the vineyard teaches a number of important lessons, but one of the most priceless of these lessons is the fact that we are not masters.  We are servants, and to the extend that we begin to act as though we are masters we create a cascade of consequences that ultimately bring us into open conflict with the ultimate Master.  We cannot be both masters and servants (though those given stewardships are given greater opportunities for service).

Alma 51

(April 27, 2015)

                I come back to this over and over again – the best benefit of the war chapters of the Book of Mormon is when we use those chapters as an analogy for the war within each of our own hearts.  Taken in that light, this chapter teaches us that there is a part within our soul that desires iniquity.  We must confront that part and prevail over it, but even that isn’t enough.  When that is complete, we must then turn around and do all that we actively can to pull that part of our nature down because if we do not ultimately that part of our nature will regain strength and in combination with outside forces will bring about our destruction.

Matthew 20

(April 26, 2015)
                As I read through the parable of hirelings, I was struck by the same sense of the injustice of it all (which, of course, is exactly what the parable is designed to elicit).  But I realized what the problem was, and it is the same problem as the one I experience in the parable of the prodigal son.  I mistake who I am in the parable.

                In the prodigal son, I think that I am the dutiful son without realizing that I am in fact the prodigal. In this parable, I think I am the worker that starts working in the first hour, without realizing that I am the worker who starts working in the 11th hour.  I like to think of myself as one of the righteous, but in reality I am one of the unrighteous.

                Understanding that, my understanding quickly changes from frustration to gratitude and a recognition of just how much the Lord has blessed me.

Alma 50

(April 26, 2015)
                There is an important lesson for each of us in this chapter.  Sometimes, when we have defeated significant enemies (vices, habits, and similar things) in our lives, there is the tendency to become complacent and desire to ‘rest from our labors’ for a while.  But Moroni here sets a much better example.

                When the larger battles are complete, Moroni dedicated himself to erecting defenses against their return, or in clearing out lesser threats.  So too, when we find ourselves having a rest from the major conflicts of our lives, should spend our time building strongholds for the challenges to come or weeding out the pernicious (though perhaps comparatively minor) weaknesses so they are not in place to lead to our destruction when the larger trials return.

Matthew 18-19

(Alma 25, 2015)

                Forgiveness is such a powerful (and difficult) doctrine.  It is so easy for us to seek out ‘justice,’ only to realize too late that justice condemns each and every one of us.  No, what we really want isn’t justice but rather justice for others and mercy for us.  This arbitrary and divergent standard is nothing more than selfishness.  We love neither justice nor mercy in this case – we only want what benefits us, nothing more.

Alma 49

(April 25, 2015)
                I think that in my life, I have had experiences like the chief captains of the Lamanites.  I will get off track in some way, and my life will end up cross-purposes with what the Lord intends for me.  When my (unrighteous) desires are frustrated, then instead of recognizing the limitations of what I am doing and changing my course I will instead double down on my actions and resolve to be successful where I have failed.

                And, just like with the chief captains of the Lamanites, this seems to go…poorly…for me.  It requires a humility to engage in course correction when we are taking the wrong path.  The Lord will show us when that is, the question is whether we will be wise enough to recognize it.

Matthew 16-17

(Alma 24, 2015)

                Sometimes I think that I forget the magnitude of the challenges that Christ faced in His experiences in mortality.  What is remarkable about Him is not that His Divine capacity somehow negated the significance of those challenges.  No, what is remarkable is that He was able to not only experience those challenges but was also able to conquer them all.

Alma 48

(April 24, 2015)
                The spirit of contention is a dangerous thing.  I do not see an example of this spirit of contention being used for positive purposes, and it is quite obvious why that is.  The Lord functions through a different mechanism when He is doing His work.

                I do not see how a hypothetical righteous Amalikiah could have used contention to achieve a good purpose.  Contention is one of those things that ultimately poisons everything that it touches – even those times when the original motivation might be pure, the ultimate fruit from that poisoned tree is deadly.

Matthew 14-15

(April 23, 2015)
                We each are very tempted to see things through the prism of our own narrative.  After all, we are each the hero of our own stories. But it is essential that we recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around us and most of the things that happen (though calculated as part of a perfect Plan for our benefit) are not central to us.

                For example, John the Baptist was called to prepare the way of the Christ and to baptize Him.  Yet Herod could not see past his own situation, and focused on John in his prism.  He thought of John as a gadfly trying to bother him, when John in fact had a much larger mission.

                My other thought was on the language used by Peter when the miracle happened.  He didn’t ask the Savior if he could come out on the water.  Instead he asked the Lord to bid him to come unto the Lord upon the water.  He understood, with that language, that the miracles would come in our attempts to fulfill the commandments of the Lord far more readily than when we simply wanted them for our own purposes.

Alma 47

(April 23, 2015)

                There is the old adage that negotiating with terrorists is like negotiating with a crocodile in hopes that he eats you last.  As Amalickiah proved in this chapter, whenever we make deals with evil it will ultimately end up with us being destroyed in the process.  We cannot make a truce with Satan, because ultimately his kingdom is this world and while he may give us what we think we want for a while, he is incapable of giving us happiness (or, even, getting happiness himself).

Matthew 13

(April 22, 2015)
                If I may rephrase a question posed by C. S. Lewis, why are the few only few, and the many so many?  Why don’t more people accept the Gospel and live it?  Why are many called, and yet only few are chosen?  It would seem that it should be more likely – seeing as how most people are good people – that the many would want to live like the few.

                But even though I don’t have an explanation for that, I cannot dispute that from my experience this is really true.  There are so many who go through the motions (I was part of that group for so very long), and the pathway of discipleship is so very hard that I can see why many are discouraged from walking it.

Alma 46

(April 22, 2015)
                I cannot help but to read this chapter in light of what is going on in the world today and the current state of affairs.  We see all around us men desirous to be ‘kings,’ flattering those around them also seeking for power.  We even see, as here, members of the Church being led astray by these actions.

                The truly frightening thing in all of this is that these events happened in the time just before the war chapters of the Book of Mormon, and Mormon saw our day.  Does the fact that our politics seem to be following this outline mean that the wars are coming?  I certainly worry that might be true.