Friday, July 31, 2015

Galatians 1-3

(July 31, 2015)
                I was struck as I read through this chapter about Paul confronting Peter and the significance of that.  I am a firm believer that you follow Priesthood leadership, and at this point Peter was the leader of the Church.  And yet Paul minces no words in his correction of Peter for what he believes that Peter is doing wrong.

                Of course, we understand that Paul is not infallible himself.  Do we see what Paul did as something to emulate, or is that a mistake that Paul has made in confronting Peter in this way?  I tend towards the latter interpretation because the events as Paul described them seem to lend towards contention, and we know that is not the way that the Lord operates.  But I couldn’t begin to be certain about that.

2 Nephi 11-12

(July 31, 2015)

                I was struck in my reading today of Nephi’s delight in “proving” the Christ.  Nephi does not prove the Christ in the manner that we typically expect him to – there is no argumentation or evidences or rhetoric.  He ‘merely’ quotes Isaiah.  But if his purpose was to prove it to our spirits (awakening us), then perhaps what he wrote did exactly what he said it would – prove the Christ.

2 Corinthians 12-13

(July 30, 2015)
                There is so much truth to the idea that the glory of God is made manifest in our weaknesses.  For so long I attempted to hide my weaknesses, but by opening myself up to acknowledging them and dealing with them I have become aware of vast power through the Grace of the Atonement that is available to us.

                C. S. Lewis (if I may paraphrase him) stated that Christ could appear in a perfected body yet chosen to appear with scars on His hands and His feet because those wounds demonstrated the Glory of God.  Likewise, Lewis thought that we would be healed so perfectly that our spiritual wounds could be hidden forever yet we might show them because they would demonstrate the Glory of God in the power of the Atonement to heal us.  I don’t know if that is true, but I have seen something similar in my life where an open acknowledgement of my weaknesses serves to demonstrate the Glory of God in its capacity to help me overcome those weaknesses.

2 Nephi 10

(July 30, 2015)

                Remembering that the House of Israel can be seen as a symbol for each of us, I was struck by Jacob’s language concerning those who had been broken off and dwell on the isles of the sea.  I can empathize, in my current situation, with the feeling of being Israel being found on the isles of the sea rather than in Jerusalem, but Jacob reminds me that even in difficult situations it is important that I do not hang my head because the Lord has made great promises to the isles of the sea who stay true to Him.  And I trust He will do likewise in my situation.

2 Nephi 9

(July 29, 2015)
                I struggle to understand exactly where the dividing line exists between having chosen to accept or reject the Gospel and not having had that opportunity (which is yet another good reason I am glad that I am not in a position of judgment).  Jacob here speaks of the wo that will come to the blind who will not see.  This description struck me because the modification of the blind to be limited to those who would not see (not those who could not see) seemed meaningful to me.  In my life, I have learned that I know more than I think that I know about the truth of the Gospel, but at the same time there are blinds spots in my life that I struggle to deal with.

                With those blind spots, I have had to come to an understanding that I don’t know what I don’t know.  But I am not happy being willfully blind either, and so long as I strive to take the blind spots to the Lord (as I find them) and allow Him to open my eyes, that has seemed to be sufficient.  I expect this is what Jacob is talking about (or, rather, the opposite).

2 Corinthians 9-11

(July 28, 2015)
                I don’t think I glory in the Lord as much as I should.  The reality is that I am so very blessed, and sometimes when I am facing challenges or temptations or struggles of some kind I can forget that important fact.  I become so focused on what I don’t have that I lose sight of what I do have and how greatly the Lord has blessed me.

                But if I properly gloried in the Lord, I would always remember how He has blessed me throughout my life.  I would trust Him to turn me from what I am into what I am to become.  I would be satisfied with whatever He chose to give to me, and would trust that whatever it is He would turn it to my benefit.

                A life spent glorying in the Lord seems like a far more enjoyable life to live.
prophet of God.

2 Nephi 7-8

(July 28, 2015)
                There are those who would, for lack of a better way of putting this, make the scriptures and the prophets offenders for a word.  For example, if there is a single mistake in the Prophet’s words they feel justified in discounting his stewardship.  Call it Simons Ryder disease.

                                This, of course, is utterly unreasonable.  We believe in fallible leaders and fallible scriptures and a perfect God.  So, for example, when the scriptures in this chapter speak of the fish dying of thirst, that isn’t an accurate description of how fish would actually die in the event that a river or lake disappeared.  And the fact that this piece of biology/ecology happens to be wrong has absolutely no impact on the truthfulness of the message or Isaiah’s status as a prophet of God.

2 Corinthians 5-8

(July 27, 2015)
                The concept of two types of sorrow – Godly working repentance and worldly working death – is an important one.  But to this point in my life, I have mainly been focused on the type of sorrow that I felt – ensuring that when I sorrowed that my sorrow was Godly in nature.

                But having gone through the experiences that I have gone through recently, and having had a great amount of sorrow caused me by the actions of others, I began to think about the sorrow that we cause.

                When I have caused sorrow in the past, has it been Godly sorrow or worldly sorrow?  I can think of at least one instance when it has been unquestionably worldly sorrow that I caused, and I see that worldly sorrow working the death of the one experiencing it.  I am left without any way of fixing those past mistakes (and thus forced to leave it in the Lord’s hands), but that is a sobering thought.

                These experiences, both seeing the wrongful sorrow caused to me and the wrongful sorrow I have caused, reminds me of the extraordinary importance to be certain that we cause as little sorrow as possible, and the sorrow that we cause is Godly rather than worldly.  But, ultimately, it has also brought me some comfort and reminded me that we are each agents to ourselves and have the choice in how we respond.  Just as I was able to respond with Godly sorrow despite the mistakes of others (and, presumably, some reacted to Paul’s words with worldly sorrow), so too are we each in the position whenever we are sorrowful to decide for ourselves if that sorrow will be Godly or worldly.

2 Nephi 6

(July 27, 2015)
                When there are absolute words (none, all, every, and so forth) used in the scriptures, my metaphorical ears perk up.  After all, there is something important being said when something is given universal significance.  Thus when this chapter has language that none shall be destroyed that believe in Him, this is something that is important to consider.

                At first glance, it is difficult to see how this is true.  After all, we see any number of people seemingly being destroyed that believe in Him.  What about the Coptic Christians in the Middle East, for example?  We can consider it a metaphor and take the long view on the subject, but I have discovered in my life that oftentimes the deeper doctrine amounts to nothing more than taking the words of God at face value.

                As I considered this, my mind rested on one particular concept – destruction requires a diminishment of some kind.  When we believe in Christ, even our trials do not diminish or destroy us, but rather we are built more and faster than we are destroyed.  We may be damaged in the flesh but we are quickened in the spirit.  In aggregate, so long as we believe in Him, we will find ourselves progressing towards what we need to become and when something is taken away in one aspect of our lives we will find a corresponding blessing such that our trust in Him will be rewarded.

2 Corinthians 2-4

(July 26, 2015)
                I appreciated Paul’s description of the proper way to deal with difficult situations (particularly his description of being perplexed but not in despair). Oftentimes we are confronted with things we don’t understand.  Perhaps it is a mystery in the scriptures – something that doesn’t seem to make sense to us and we cannot understand it.  Or perhaps it is something the Priesthood leadership has said or done, that doesn’t seem right or fit our political or cultural or some other viewpoint.  Or maybe it is that our life has taken an unexpected direction and we cannot see what the Lord has in mind for us.

                Regardless of what it is, the important thing is how we respond to these challenges.  Paul is correct that even when we are perplexed – even if we cannot imagine the Hand of the Lord at work in what is happening – we have no cause to despair.  We arrive at this point through the experience of being in similar situations before where we could not imagine the hand of the Lord being at work and yet, in the end, seeing that it was His Hand at work all along and we have been blessed by the very thing we feared would destroy us.

2 Nephi 5

(July 26, 2015)
                When we hear of those being cut off from the Lord, we often have the mental picture of someone being forcibly cast out never to be able to return.  But being cut off, I believe, means something different and that is shown in this chapter.  In this chapter, we read that the actions of Nephite accomplish the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Lamanites would be cut off.  But all Nephite did was to leave (taking the scriptures with him).

                This, to me, indicates that being cut off amounts, ultimately, to nothing more than being placed in a position where you are incapable of hearing the word of the Lord.  Perhaps that is self-imposed (you are unwilling to listen to the word of the Lord) or perhaps not (as the Lamanites were in a position where the word of the Lord could not be found).

                So long as we listen for and can find the word of the Lord, however, we are not fully and permanently cut off.

1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 1

(July 25, 2015)
                I have seen many miracles in my life, and received so many blessings that I am often amazed by them.  I have often wondered why I was blessed to see what I have seen, to know what I know, and to have experienced what I experienced.

                Paul, here, gives me another understanding of why that is.  The Lord has comforted me through my tribulations so that I could better know how to comfort others.  The Lord has blessed me to see and experience miracles so that I could bless others by sharing the testimony those events brought in me.  The Lord has saved me (when He might otherwise have let me go) so that I could save others who might otherwise be let go.

2 Nephi 4

(July 25, 2015)
                There are all the little elements of the Book of Mormon that lend credence to the claim that Joseph Smith translated it.  One of those is found in this chapter.  Throughout the Book of Mormon, we find reference to Nephites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, Zoramites, Ishmaelites, but I do not think I can recall a single time we read about Samites.  Why is that?

                In this chapter, we see why.  Sam is not given a separate inheritance, but rather he and his seed are consumed by the blessing of Lehi into the seed of Nephi.  There is no descendent of Sam that is not also, spiritually, a descendent of Nephi.

                Had Joseph Smith written this book, you would expect Samite to be found as often as Zoramite, Lemuelite, and Ishmaelite.  But it simply is not.

1 Corinthians 14-15

(July 24, 2015)
                I have a tendency to become frustrated with myself, with my circumstances in life, and those ways I am to living up to what I think I ought to have achieved (both temporally and spiritually).  When times like that arrive, however, it is very helpful for me to remember what Paul says in these chapters – by the Grace of God we are what we are.

                This has a great deal of meaning to me.  In the first place, it shows me that when I engage in criticism (even self-criticism) of who I am and where I am in my life, I am not showing sufficient gratitude to the Lord for bringing me to the point I find myself in now.  Were I a better man, I would likely be in a better position, but to despair at my position is to deny the capacity of the Lord to bring me from where I am to where I need to be and to deny the Lord’s hand in bringing me to where I am.

                In the second place, it is a constant reminder that even when things are going very, very badly for me that this is still a blessing from the Lord because it is often through my trials that the Grace of God is made manifest to me.  In this, like in most situations in my life, the most important thing for me to remember is to be grateful in all things and trust in the Lord to make of me what He wants to make of me.

2 Nephi 3

(July 24, 2015)
                Here we have the language that Joseph was to perform no other work save what was commanded of him.  That led me to wonder whether that is true of us as well, or it had something to do with his role as a prophet.

                Of course we are to do all of the work that the Lord commands us to do, but I think that (in certain situations) we are given less in the way of commandments than we have time to serve).  This tends to leave us in a position to be actively engaged in a good cause, but a good cause as we see it and not dependent upon the Lord to command us what we are to be doing.

                I don’t know if I am right about that, honestly.  I can only really draw from my experience that the Lord tends to fill my days pretty quickly but not to completely fill them in a manner that I could say that I am to do no other work except what He commands me to do.

1 Corinthians 13

(July 23, 2015)
                The preeminent role of charity makes sense when we realize that charity is, to a great extent, what makes God God.  Our Father spends His eternity serving and working for our betterment – not because He must but because He loves us.  Although He is omnipotent and omniscient, it is His charity that most governs His interactions with us.

                In light of this, it is no wonder that following the path of the Savior most requires us to follow His footsteps in charity.

2 Nephi 2

(July 23, 2015)
                Reading the clear doctrine of the Atonement (why it was needed, and how it was accomplished) serves to really highlight just how much our post-modern society can put blinders on us.  C. S. Lewis once said that it is important to read the book written in the past because the books of our day are all blind to the same things, and while the authors of the past have their own blindness they are also able to see what we cannot.

                Many of the post-moderns would read about the necessity of the Atonement and come to the same concern – that being that if God was all powerful he ought to be able to save everyone regardless of whether or not they repent.  That He does not, to many of them, is just a demonstration to them of the foolishness of religion.

                But they cannot see their own blind spots in this.  Who are we to say that an all-powerful God would necessarily want to save everyone (over their objections) even if He had the capacity? Doing so would destroy the ends of Creation, and it would make God superfluous.

                If I can make a tenuous corollary here, I am reminded of ‘God Mode’ on some video games.  In this mode, you take no damage and have unlimited ammunition and similar mechanisms that removes all the challenge from the game.  Games such as these are games that I would play for a few moments, but they quickly became boring and pointless.

                If God could save everyone with a waive of His Hand, would not His life become equally as pointless?  Instead, however, God has grand ambitions for us that requires not only His indispensible effort and help but also our exercise of agency.  All of the postmodern philosophy in the world cannot escape that.

1 Corinthians 11-12

(July 22, 2015)
                Paul here prophesied about heresies coming among the Church of God, to prove the faithful.  I must admit that I believe that we are in the midst of one of those times.  When you see the way that many people seem to be actively warring against the Church, and condemning the Priesthood leadership of the Church, even from within the very walls of Church buildings I think the belief that we are in a time of heresy is undeniable.

                I understand the disappointment with Priesthood leadership – I have, unfortunately, been in a position where a Priesthood leader has let me down in my life.  But to take that experience and somehow shoehorn it into a belief that Priesthood leadership in general is wrong is a heresy that seems rampant in our time.

                We have the promise that the majority of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency will not lead us astray.  That is it.  If we follow them, we will be safe.  We have a commandment to sustain our local Priesthood leadership (and often sustaining means following).  We have no promise that our local Priesthood leadership won’t be wrong, just a commandment to follow them.

                We do not believe in infallible leaders, but we believe in leaders chosen by an infallible God.  And that makes it incumbent upon us to follow these infallible leaders to the best of our ability (even when their mistakes hurt us deeply) as part of our service to God.

2 Nephi 1

(July 22, 2015)
                I am drawn again and again to the idea of sleep being the condition of Hell.  There have been times in my life when I have not been living as I should, and during those times I tended to not be as aware of my failing or inadequacies as I am now.  It is ironic, to me, that the better I live my life the more aware of my failings I become.

                Likewise, during that time period I was blissfully unaware of certain challenges that I was forced to deal with.  Only after putting my life in order did the full weight of my mistakes come crashing down on me to be sorted through and dealt with.  When I was deep in my sins, I truly was asleep.  It was only when I began striving to follow the Savior that I woke up.

                Elder Maxwell has said that the surest way to know that we are on the strait and narrow path is that it is always uphill.  Likewise, the surest way to know we are enmeshed in the chains of Hell is to be asleep to the awfulness of our condition. physically and spiritually.

1 Corinthians 9-10

(July 21, 2015)
                There is a tension that exists between a pair of concepts Paul explains.  The first of this is contained in these chapters – the Lord will not suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able bear, but will provide a way to escape. The second is that we are all sinners, which can be related with Paul’s thorn in the flesh or his description of that which he would do he does not and that which he would not do, that he does.

                How can these two principles, contradictory at first glance, both be true?  We have the capacity to avoid all sin, and yet we are every one of us a sinner constantly.  Is it really just the matter of us being in open rebellion against the Lord at all times?

                The only resolution that I can find is that.  Each of us, despite our efforts to serve the Lord, remain in rebellion against Him.  And yet He patiently serves and suffers for our sakes for the day when we turn back to Him and leave behind our rebellions.  As much as we might like to excuse ourselves, there is never a justification for our sins.  We must turn from our constant rebellion against God and beg for His help to empower us to return to Him both physically and spiritually.

1 Nephi 22

(July 21, 2015)
                The strength (if you want to call it that)  of those who fight against the Kingdom of God, is that they are willing to take steps and actions that disciples of Christ are unwilling to take.  They will lie, cheat, steal, and so forth, which puts those who are attempting to do the right thing at a disadvantage.

                But, as Nephi points out in this chapter, this behavior also leads to infighting and, as with all cartels, eventually those who do not serve God go to war amongst themselves.

                Good, on the other hand, can build itself, become one, strengthen one another, and trust each other.  It is no wonder why unity and one heart and one mind is so important among the believers – it is a huge comparative advantage that good has over evil and (in the long run) will assist good in overcoming evil and accepting the power of the Atonement.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

1 Corinthians 6-8

(July 20, 2015)
                I was struck by Paul’s comments here on the importance of putting the matters before our ecclesiastical leaders rather than resorting to the Courts.  I feel as though I have gone through the refiner’s fire on this issue.  I had an ecclesiastical leader who involved himself in a legal dispute in a way that I genuinely felt (and feel) was inappropriate.  What’s more, I could see clearly how this involvement would lead to negative consequences for both me and others.  I was left with a decision to make – do I trust the Lord to magnify His leader’s counsel to me or do I trust in the arm of flesh and the Courts.

                In the end, I followed my Priesthood leader.  Since that time, just about everything that I predicted would go wrong has, in fact, gone wrong.  But, by the same token, everything that I predicted would go right has gone right.  The Lord has blessed me for following my Priesthood leader even when that leader was wrong (and perhaps inappropriate) in his counsel towards me.  I have been so blessed to see the Lord make up the difference, and I fully expect in the end to be in a better position for following that counsel than I would have been had I followed the arm of flesh and my own mortal wisdom.  Even if I were right in my conclusion, I would have been wrong in taking that action.

1 Nephi 21

(July 20, 2015)
                We are not called to perform some minor work, even when our efforts may be limited to obscurity.  We are called to a great work, even though we may not see that magnitude of that work at first.  We think we are called to teach Primary, or to help someone move, but we are in fact called as servants of the Most High God to act in His stead to bless His children.  This is no idle task.

                What’s more, we are not called to achieve any particular result.  Even if we serve our whole lives and seem to have accomplished nothing, if we have taken the steps the Lord wanted us to take then we can stand with confidence before the Lord in knowing that He is capable of doing His own work and our responsibility is nothing more than to do what we are asked to do.

1 Corinthians 3-5

(July 19, 2015)
                It is a basic mathematical concept that it is impossible to compare two infinite numbers.  They are equal regardless of what is added or subtracted from them.  If you take two infinite numbers, add 1,000 to one of them, and subtract 1,000 to the other, the numbers are still equal.

                So too with the worth of souls.  If you take a soul of infinite worth and add power, prestige, money, and fame to one of them and to the other you give a drug addiction, a criminal history, an illness, or whatever else you may choose, the worth of these souls is still equal – infinite.

1 Nephi 20

(July 19, 2015)
                The language of this chapter contained something that I had never noticed before.  The Lord is directly saying that the reason He was refining His people is because He had chosen not to cut them off.  I have often thought of my challenges and trials as blessings because of the progress that they help bring about in my life.  But there has always been a part of me that has seen others, who have escaped such trials, and felt a hint of jealousy at the fact they could sin with no immediate consequence.

                But reading this chapter, it would seem that my assessment is very much wrong (which, of course, I intellectually knew even if I struggled to understand it emotionally).  If someone is sinning (which is all of us) and who needs to repent (which is, again, all of us) and who isn’t being refined in the furnace of affliction, axiomatically that must mean that the Lord is not deferring His anger or restraining from cutting them off.

                Of course, that doesn’t mean that every moment without trials is a wasted moment.  The Lord blesses us in various ways and gives us a happy life.  But if we were not facing challenges, trials, or difficulties in our lives that would be a time when it would be very important to be worried because that would be an indication that something had gone tremendously wrong.

1 Corinthians 1-2

(July 18, 2015)
                The more I read the scriptures, the more I am convinced that unity is a more important goal, many times, than simply being right.  There is a power that attends a unity of mind and spirit.  If ye are not one ye are not Mine is not idle language. 

                For a long time that bothered me, and I didn’t really understand it (and, so, I downplayed it).  But as I think now I can understand it better.  The Lord is often trying to teach and encourage multiple principles at the same time (while simultaneously discouraging other mistaken ideas).  If unity is of extreme importance, then He would often take steps to encourage that unity even at the cost of mistakes in planning, preparation, or execution of the goals set.  He would bless our unified efforts so that we knew how important such unity was, and would trust He could correct our other problems and mistakes along the way. 

1 Nephi 19

(July 18, 2015)
                I will sometimes forget that the Lord isn’t really in the business of saving communities, nations, or countries.  The Lord is in the business of saving souls.  So when the Lord is speaking to a people (such as Isreal), He is in fact speaking to a number of individual people rather than to a collective people.

                That understanding makes certain things that He is saying more enlightening.  When the Lord tells Israel that they shall wander in the flesh and become a hiss and a byword, He is not speaking to a nation but rather to the individual members.  When He says that in the day they turn aside their hearts no more against the Holy One of Israel, He is again speaking to individuals.

                We are of the House of Israel, and the promises that He made to Israel are made to us.  There are times, as the world turns further and further away from the truth, that we may feel as though we are wandering in the flesh and a hiss and a byword.  But the same promise holds to us – in the day we no more turn aside our hearts from the Holy One of Israel, He will remember the covenants He has made with our fathers as well.

Romans 14-16

(July 17, 2015)
                Paul highlights a key concept in these chapters – the way that we treat each other, and how that treatment ought to be informed by the treatment we receive from Christ.  If Christ has born all suffering, and He has, then any time we cause suffering to anyone we by very definition cause suffering to Christ.  And, in contrast, when we alleviate suffering of any kind (or bring joy to anyone), we alleviate in some small way the suffering of Christ.

                What an awesome responsibility we bear in our ordinary, daily interactions with those around us!  I know, for myself, I don’t properly recognize or carry this responsibility the way that I should.

1 Nephi 18

(July 17, 2015)
                I have learned in my life that, if we want to walk the pathway of discipleship, we rarely are given the opportunity to stay in our own personal Bountiful very long.  We are given the opportunity to rest there, to rebuild our strength there, and maybe pick up a few tools to help us with the next part of the journey (and maybe even a ship).  But eventually the Lord comes to us and tells us that it is time for us to enter the ship and keep on going.

                We can grumble and complain that we didn’t get a chance to stay in our Bountiful as long as we might have liked, or we can be grateful for the time we spent there and move forward with a faith that our Promised Land is out there and the Lord is leading us to it.

1 Nephi 17

(July 16, 2015)
                The Lord, in retrospect, could have gotten the people of Lehi across the ocean in a number of different ways.  He could have provided them with transportation (instead of a Liahona, they could have found a ship outside their tent).  He could have made arrangements for a shipbuilding people to be there in the land Bountiful.  But instead, he taught Nephi how to build the ship and let him build it.  Why?

                I think there are a couple of easy answers to that question that really help to teach us how the Lord works with us today.  First, there were lessons that Nephi had to learn and which Laman and Lemuel also had to learn.  But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Lord not only wanted Nephi to have a ship – He also wanted Nephi to have the capacity to make a ship.

                When he arrived in the New World, Nephi began making tools and swords and any number of other things.  We don’t know the level of technology and interaction which the Lehites had to this point (and, presumably, there was some), but undoubtedly there was some refinement and increased understanding by him through the process of building a ship. 

                So too, in our lives, we might like the Lord to give us what we need to get from where we are to where the Lord wants us to be.  But the Lord not only wants us where He wants us, He wants us becoming what He wants us to become.  Sometimes the Lord gives us a Liahona, and sometimes the Lord teaches us to build a ship.  But in both cases, we are blessed by the process.

Romans 12-13

(July 15, 2015)
                There is really no way around the clear language and reasoning of Paul – there is no power in existence other than God (and those powers he ordains to others).  That means that the petty bureaucrat that mindlessly acts to complicate your life (or even tries to crush you maliciously) is acting with power given to him by God.

                This, of course, doesn’t make them right.  Nor, of course, does it mean that you are not permitted to take advantage of those rights of redress permitted under the governmental structure.  But it doesn’t mean – whether in the Church or in secular matters – that we consent to the exercise of power even when done unrighteously because we accept that all power comes from God.

                When those exercising power use it improperly, they will be acting to their own destruction and not to ours (assuming that we place our minds firmly upon God).

1 Nephi 16

(July 15, 2015)
                I have gone through enough life to understand that the statement the guilty take the truth to be hard is absolutely true.  But the interesting question to me today is why it is true?  What is it about the truth that makes us take it so hard when we are guilty?

                The answer that I came up with is that we always know more of the truth than we are willing to admit to ourselves, and we live in more direct rebellion against God than we are willing to admit to ourselves.  If someone told me that the sky was green, and that didn’t fit my perception of things, then I wouldn’t get angry or take their statement poorly – I would just disagree.  But if someone points out a weakness in me, I will often take that very hard.  Not always, but sometimes.  And I think the times when I take it hard are the times when there is an element of truth to the statement that I am trying to hide from in an effort to not repent.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Romans 10-11

(July 14, 2015)
                I am always nervous when I read a scripture and I think to myself “this is perfect for such-and-such – if only he’d read this he’d understand how he was wrong!”  That is a dangerous sign for me, as it places me in the role of judge of someone else, blinds me to my own sins, and presumes to receive light and knowledge for someone else, rather than myself.  That isn’t the way the Lord’s Kingdom works.

                That happened to me as I was reading these chapters.  Particularly in Chapter 10, I was reading of those with the zeal of God (but not according to knowledge), and I had a particular person in mind that I thought that it perfectly applied to.  I had to catch myself, and remind myself that I am not in the position to be receiving revelation or judgment of anyone else.  Only myself.

                Armed with that new perspective, I reconsidered the scripture with a determination to apply its message to me and to no one else.  Once I did that, I began to realize that my very act of attempting to apply it to others was showing the zeal of God (but not according to knowledge).  It was yet another reminder that the things that we most likely condemn in others are those things within ourselves that we do not like (and why, when we are forgiven, we tend to be far more forgiving).

1 Nephi 15

(July 14, 2015)
                It is somewhat of a pastime among Mormons to sit around and talk about how foolish Laman and Lemuel are (as if we wouldn’t be so foolish were we in their shoes).  In fact, I am guilty of this particular vice more often than I care to admit myself.

                But am I so really different from the pair of murmuring brothers as I’d like to think that I am?  After all, how often have I been guilty of the same thing that they do in this chapter?  Presented with a difficult situation, they claim that they haven’t put in the effort to inquire of the Lord because He hasn’t made it known to them.  But, of course, the Lord supports us in our efforts rather than enabling us in our lack of effort.

                That brings up another, equally risky trait.  While Laman and Lemuel did not seek the Lord because He didn’t make the truth known to them upfront, I sometimes like to think that the Lord makes truth known to me upfront as an excuse not to put forth the effort for myself.  I will get a feeling and ascribe that feeling to revelation, when it reality it is often nothing more than a feeling.

                I can know that because, just as Laman and Lemuel were incorrect to think that the Lord would give them without asking (short circuiting the process of their learning), the Lord likewise does not short circuit our process of learning by requiring us to do our part to learn and understand.  In the end, He will guide us to the truth and He continues to reveal that truth to us, but not in a cheap or costless way.

Romans 8-9

(July 13, 2015)
                Two things struck me in my reading of these chapters.  The first, of course, was Paul’s wonderful language that nothing could separate us from the love of God.  I believe, as C. S. Lewis has described, that in the Final Judgment that it will not be us begging to stay with Christ but rather Christ begging us to stay with Him (and, if we are lost, it will be by our choice).  Of course, I don’t know that this is true, but it seems to make sense to me.  That seems consistent with what Paul is saying here – nothing (not even our own weaknesses) can separate us from God unless we choose to leave Him.

                The second thought was on the fact that not even martyrdom was worthy to be compared with our Glory we will experience hereafter.  If that is the case, and I don’t doubt that it is, what do any of us have to complain about during times of trial and difficulty?  Of course, the reality is that there is nothing we truly have to complain about.

1 Nephi 14

(July 13, 2015)

                I wonder why Nephi was given the information that the prophet’s name was John?  Clearly, once again, this is information that must have been given for a purpose (the Lord doesn’t tend to reveal things to us for our general curiosity, but rather for us to do something with that information for the furtherance of His work).  But I cannot imagine what it might have been, other than perhaps to clearly delineate for modern readers where the rest of the prophesy was to be found.

Romans 7

(July 12, 2015)

                Boy do I empathize with Paul, here, when he talks about his struggles because of his failure to find out how to do the good he would like to do.  I wonder how endemic that condition is?  Is that something that everyone struggles with, or do they just become blinded to their needs for improvement or resigned to their condition?  Because, speaking only for me, I often find the frustration at finding how to do the good I want to do (and failing to find it) crushing to me.

1 Nephi 13

(July 12, 2015)

                Maybe I am drawing too fine a distinction here, but the angel’s words struck me when he said that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew.  Why not the Jews, but was limited to a Jew?  I don’t know that I have a particularly good answer (or even a particularly good theory) on that.

Romans 5-6

(July 11, 2015)
                I appreciated Paul’s language in these chapters that hope is a result of experience.  I was very blessed to see that in my own life.  Time after time seemingly hopeless situations resulted in blessings for me, and these experiences served to prepare my mind and my spirit for the challenges ahead.  As I faced new challenges, that experience gave me additional hope.  And living according to that hope gave me more experience.

                I don’t know where I would be right now if it hadn’t been for the difficult circumstances I have gone through in my life.  The things that were unfair, or painful, served to refine me such that as I have faced far greater challenges – situations even more unfair and painful – I am able to retain in my mind the hope of the Lord turning this to my benefit as He has done so in the past.  Were I not prepared having gone through those situations before, I would likely fall away.  And this helps to remind me that my experience dealing with things painful and unfair now might be preparing me for challenges unknown that are yet to come in my life, and challenges I can only success at facing because the Lord prepared me through these experiences to have hope.

1 Nephi 11-12

(July 11, 2015)
                With the Holy Ghost falling on 12 others, I am left to wonder which 12 that Nephi was seeing here.  Was Judas included in that 12?  His replacement? How are things handled in the event that a Priesthood leader falls below what is expected of him?

                I trust that there is an answer, but I must admit that I am not really certain what it is.

Romans 3-4

(July 10, 2015)
                There was language in these chapters that caught my attention – that not only were none righteous, but none sought after God.  It struck me because, while I know that I am not righteous, I have always felt like I am seeking after God.  Yet here was Paul – an Apostle – stating that none seek after Him.

                What did this mean?  I am not sure, but I think it is a lesson that seeking after the Lord means more than just a desire to be with Him and to form a relationship with the Lord.  Seeking after Him means to genuinely seek out His will in all things, and then to follow it.  By those terms, of course, none truly seek after God.  But we can desire to seek after Him, and allow His Grace to work within us to expand that desire.

1 Nephi 9-10

(July 10, 2015)
                The language here has something to teach us – the Lord knows all things from the beginning, so He prepares a way to accomplish His work.  We have no guarantee that we will accomplish our work, but rather that He will accomplish His work.

                Now this is no problem so long as our first priority is on Him accomplishing His work as well.  If our goal is to see the Kingdom of God move forward, than we really have nothing to fear.  If, on the other hand, we have ambitions that we place in a higher priority than the work of the Lord we find ourselves in a tenuous position where everything could slide out from under us very quickly.

Romans 1-2

(July 9, 2015)
                I had two thoughts as I read through these chapters.  The first was on the issue of gay marriage within the Christian community.  While it is true that we, of all religions, recognize that not everything Paul said is 100% correct (the Doctrine and Covenants makes that explicit), we still must accept that there is certain value outside of our Church to his words from those who believe in sola scripture.

                In light of that, what Paul says about homosexuality ought to be dispositive.  That it is not shows that those who advocate for that lifestyle are putting their preferences above their religion.  So whether you believe that the truth comes only from the Bible, or whether you recognize the existence of living prophets, both combine to demonstrate that this sin remains a sin and you fight against the truth at your own peril.

                That raises another issue, of course, in that most of those pushing for gay marriage are not themselves gay.  Paul demonstrates the reason for that in these chapters as well – a deteriorating society begins to take pleasure in others committing sin.  Whether to excuse their own transgressions, or because they are being led by Satan, or whether it is merely blindness, the result is the same.

1 Nephi 8

(July 9, 2015)
                I feel like there is a lesson here in the fact that those in the Great and Spacious Building seem consumed by their desire for popularity.  I understand that we need to work towards something – some principle – and that we must maintain our influence on others in order to have the capacity to help them turn towards Christ.

                So whether we are good or evil, everything we are doing is in the service of some principle or power.  When we are righteous, we are serving God.  But when we are unrighteous, and pursuing popularity (as an example), we are no less servants.  But instead of serving a loving Master, we are serving a fickle and destructive master – the whims of the masses pulled this way and that by Satan.

                I think, in reality, that being popular (far from being something to aspire to) is actually a net negative thing.  We want to have the capacity to help others, so being hated isn’t a goal in and of itself.  But if we can have influence without popularity that would seem to be an even better option.

Acts 28

(July 8, 2015)
                There is no perfect argument for the existence of God, for the truth of the Gospel, and for the reality of Christ.  While our testimonies and our experiences can confront people with this reality, ultimately they must make the decision to accept or reject it.  After all, if faith has moral consequences, it must be an exercise of moral agency.

                Never was that more concisely demonstrated than here.  Paul, one of the great missionaries of all time and someone who had been blessed to have a firm and unshakeable testimony (received through miraculous means) of the Christ taught, but still not everyone accepted his message.  “And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”  This world is perfectly created as a testing ground, and thus faith will always be a choice.

1 Nephi 5-7

(July 8, 2015)
                I desire to be diligent in keeping a good journal, but like most things it is important that I not only remember what I need to be doing but also why I want to do it well.  My purpose in keeping a journal isn’t just to help my children know who I am and what went on in my life (though that is a part).  It isn’t to work through things in my own life and better be able to handle them (though that is also a part).

                No, the primary purpose of my journal is, as was the case with Nephi, to persuade anyone who happens to read this my journal that they need to come unto Christ to be saved.  I have been blessed so many times in my life, and I have seen and participated in miracles that cannot be explained away by secular interpretations.  It is my hope that, by reading of my experiences, someone somewhere will be blessed to know the truth about Christ and be drawn to them.  Everything else is very much secondary.

Acts 27

(July 7, 2015)
                In contrast to my thoughts from yesterday’s reading in the New Testament, today we have the opposite side of the same coin.  When a leader is led by inspiration, it is foolish to trust in experts rather than prophets.  Certainly the expert knew more than Paul about ship travel, but Paul was led by the Spirit of the Lord and those sailing should have trusted him.

                But of particular note is that they learned to trust him based upon their experiences with him.  When Paul spoke about staying with the ship, they learned that when an Apostle speaks with the Spirit, they would be wise to obey him.

1 Nephi 4

(July 7, 2015)
                Sometimes I think one of the things that brings me the most insight into the scriptures are those times when I wonder how things would have been different.  I can only presume that Nephi’s decision to go into Jerusalem alone only came about after a considerable amount of bickering between the siblings.  What if, instead of being faithless, Laman and Lemuel had accompanied Nephi?

                The Lord, certainly, would have accomplished His work.  Would the trajectory of their lives have been changed by seeing the intervention of the Lord (rather than only hearing about it)?  Or would it not have made any difference?  I tend to lean towards the former because I think that many times when we make effort to be obedient we are given those things we really stand in need of.

Acts 25-26

(July 6, 2015)
                I was struck in this chapter by the inability of the church (not the Church at this point, but until recently it had been) to recognize a truth that the courts were easily able to see.  I have seen this same situation play out in my life as well, with the courts quickly able to get to the truth of a matter when the Church (the Church, in this circumstance) struggles to get to the same truth and sometimes misses it.

                As I thought about it, I think I see some potential reasons  why.  The Lord leads this Church, and so long as we are making decisions within our stewardships in accordance with His will, we will find ourselves safely enclosed in the truth.  But when we attempt to use our reason and logic (the arm of flesh) to come to the truth, not only are we attempting to resolve things in a organization less-trained in using those tools, but I think that using the arm of flesh in such a situation may actually result in the Lord’s withdrawal of the capacity to see the truth (regardless of the goodness of intentions).  But that, I must admit, is nothing more than speculation on my part.

1 Nephi 3

(July 6, 2015)
                The thing that struck me in this reading that I hadn’t caught before was that the angel specifically said that the Lord had chosen Nephi to be a leader over Laman and Lemuel (and did so because of their iniquities).  This puts a new spin on to everything else that Laman and Lemuel did.  No wonder they thought that Nephi intended to rule over them – an angel told them it would happen (and Nephi clearly must have heard this as well).

                This makes their actions even more in rebellion against God.  When an angel told them a set of circumstances, and they fought against those circumstances, it makes their subsequent allegations that they (and the people of Jerusalem) were righteous, seem more hollow than before.

Acts 22-24

(July 5, 2015)
                I was impressed by Paul’s unwillingness to speak evil of the High Priest, even when that very High Priest was behaving unlawfully.  I have been placed in a bit of a similar situation in my life, and I have learned that when I focus on my criticisms of my Priesthood leaders (even when justified and even when just in my heart), my connection to the Lord seems to weaken.  In contrast, when I hold in my mind that my leaders are good men doing the best that they can (even when they make mistakes), I find my relationship with the Lord deepening.

                I do not think that we, as Members of the Lord’s Church, necessarily need to ignore the mistakes of our leaders (though I believe them to be very rare).  But it is important to remember that if the Priesthood means anything it means that the Lord honors the decisions of those Priesthood leaders even when they are wrong, and kicking against the pricks will bring destruction to us.  When a leader makes a mistake, I have learned to turn it over to the Lord, to trust Him to make up the difference, and to pray for charity towards my leaders.  This is the approach that brings me the closest to the Lord that I have found thus far.

1 Nephi 2

(July 5, 2015)
                I was struck again, while reading this chapter, how the Lord spoke to Nephi seemingly at the very time that Laman and Lemuel were rejecting the command of their father.  I am left to wonder what blessings Laman and Lemuel left on the table by not accepting that commandment from the Lord.

                How often do I do that in my life?  How often does the Lord give me instructions to do something difficult, but something which promises His blessings to pour down on me, and I shirk and so the blessings are given to another?  I have been blessed to see many miracles in my life, but what miracles have I missed and not been blessed to see because of my stubborn disobedience?

Acts 21

(July 4, 2015)
                There is a certain majesty in the actions of people to avoid the results that they know are coming.  Mormon is a prime example – he knows the destruction of his people is imminent, but he continues striving anyhow – and Paul provides another example here.  Through prophecy, he knows what is coming and he makes every effort to avoid it rather than resign himself to it.  Yet, in the end, he doesn’t fear it because he knows it is the will of the Lord.

                That raises, of course, the question of why we are called to fight battles that we cannot and will not win.  As I consider the issue, two possible explanations come to mind.  The first is that Paul needed to make the effort in a losing cause in order to learn and progress in the manner he should.  The second is that if Paul did not strive to avoid his fate, he would be responsible for his fate.  By doing what he could to avoid it, it became the responsibility of those who inflicted it on him.

1 Nephi 1

(July 4, 2015)
                I appreciate Lehi’s reaction to his initial understanding of the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem.  The natural reaction, I would expect, would be to despair, but Lehi’s reaction was different.  He acknowledged the tragedy (“Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem”), but his focus was something different.

                His focus was on praising the Lord.  His focus was on the goodness and mercy of God.  Everything (other than his family) that he had known was set to be destroyed, and yet he had the wisdom to recognize that this destruction was a demonstration of the mercy of God.

                In each of our lives, we will face points where everything we love seems to be on the verge of being destroyed (or, which might actually be destroyed).  In those moments, in my experience, we get an insight into the strength of our testimony.  Do we turn with recriminations towards the Lord, or with gratitude to Him?

Acts 20

(July 3, 2015)
                I take great comfort from the raising of Eutychus from the dead.  I can identify with Eutychus – here was a young man trying to do the right thing and trying to be in the right place.  Unfortunately for him, he was weak.  As a result, he fell asleep (and then he fell).

                Paul didn’t condemn him for falling asleep during the sermon.  Instead he exercised the power of God in raising Eutychus from the dead.  This, undoubtedly, strengthened Eutychus in his faith.

                Likewise, I feel many times I am weak and not able to do what I would like to do for the Lord.  But I have always felt that if I am putting forth the effort that I want to put forth, the Lord would support me in spite of my weaknesses, help correct the mistakes my weaknesses cause, and strengthen me so those same weaknesses do not bring about my destruction.

Testimony of Joseph Smith; Brief Explanation of the Plates

(July 3, 2015)
                There are times when I become frustrated with myself because it seems I am going through the same learning processes over and over and over again.  The Lord, it seems, needs to keep teaching me the same lessons.  I think that I have learned it, and then I find myself right back where I started from needing to learn it all over again.

                But I take some comfort from the testimony of Joseph Smith.  He was visited by an angel, which I imagine made quite an impact on his mind.  But despite this, this angelic visitor returned a number of times and repeated the previous lessons (each time adding a bit more information).  There seems to be a Divine principle of teaching that is being applied here.

                And that only makes sense, because it matches the way that I teach my children as well.  I will reiterate something over and again to them until they have learned it.

Moroni 10; Book of Mormon Title Page; Introduction; Testimony of the Three Witnesses; Testimony of the Eight Witnesses

(July 2, 2015)
                There are so many small witnesses throughout the Book of Mormon – the countless little things that provide small doses of evidence that the Book of Mormon is what it presents itself to be.  Orson Scott Card famously said that if he (or any other modern author) attempted to write the Book of Mormon, the fact that it was a modern creation would show on every page through countless little details that were so unconscious that they would be missed by the author.

                This struck me again as I read through the Title Page.  It speaks of the Tower of Babel, but noticeably it does not include the name BabelBabel was a Hebrew construction given to it after the dispersion.  The Book of Mormon never mentions the name – yet one more lucky detail got right by Joseph Smith (if you presume him the author) or yet one more evidence that the Book of Mormon was written how and when it said it was written if you have a testimony.

Acts 18-19

(July 1, 2015)
                I love the language in these chapters when the people rejected the message of the Gospel.  They didn’t reject or oppose Christ, nor did they reject or oppose Paul.  They opposed themselves.  I think that I lose sight of this sometimes, but ultimately we are each of us fully and completely responsible for our own salvation.  We cannot take ownership for the salvation of others.

                We may do things to help or hinder others, and by so doing we are either working out our own salvation or heaping destruction to our souls.  But we cannot force anyone to Heaven, nor can we preclude anyone from Heaven.  That is something that is simply impossible to us.  We cannot own that result either way.

                The other thought that I had was with the disciple of John who was powerful in the faith and ready to be converted.  It struck me how similar that is to many in our day.  I think of those who have accepted the Gospel, but not the fullness or the Restoration of the Gospel.  Powerful advocates for Christ, even as they stand in opposition of His Church.  People like C. S. Lewis in the past or William Craig today.  But it isn’t just the well-known believers – the world is full of good and righteous people outside our faith.

                Much like this disciple of John, they are worthy men and women and our allies in the work.  We should greet these people as brothers sharing a common goal.  We should try to bring them the further light and knowledge which we know, but at the same time we should never forget that the Savior which they worship (often better than we do) is the very same Savior that we worship. Protestants often say we worship a different Christ, which offends us.  But in our treatment of believers of Christ who are not of our faith, sometimes I think we act as if they were the ones believing in a different Christ – which is no more true when we say it than when they do.

Moroni 9

(July 1, 2015)
                So at this particularly time, Mormon was facing a people who would commit unimaginable atrocities – and was trying to lead them against a people committing only slightly less-bad atrocities.  He was doing this even though he knew (he was familiar with the prophecies) that it was highly likely that the day of grace had passed his people and they would soon be destroyed.

                Hopeless?  More than hopeless.  They would be destroyed, their history and their progeny destroyed.  All of this, seemingly, would happen to them as an action from the Hand of the Lord.  Whatever effort they put forward would be obliterated in a matter of a couple of years at best.

                And yet, they understood the importance of laboring diligently even under these circumstances.  They understood that it was possible that perhaps they would bring one soul to repent before they died, and by so doing accomplish something far more lasting and important than the mere saving of a civilization.

                It shows their understanding of priorities.  It also shows that they understood that they were not responsible for the results, only the work they put in.  This is the Lord’s battle, and He has already won.  All we need to do is find ourselves fighting on the right side and we can let Him do the rest.