Monday, October 12, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 47

(October 12, 2015)

                I think we have all been in the spot where John Whitmer is – not wanting a calling, but being willing to take that calling if it is from the Lord.  What’s more noticeable, however, is that there is absolutely no condemnation from the Lord towards John for inquiring in this way.  If the Bishop offered me a calling, I would be fearful of offending God if I asked the Bishop to confirm that it was revelation as to the reason he extended a calling.  But here is John Whitmer asking essentially that of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Lord is perfectly fine with the question.  It shows, I believe, that I am somewhat wrong in my approach to my Priesthood leaders.

Alma 35-36

(October 12, 2015)
                There are those things in the scriptures that confuse me as to the perfection of God’s judgment.  I am grateful, for example, that my sins can be forgiven (even those sins that I can not possibly make any restitution for).  But I look at a situation such as Alma, where he murdered God’s children (spiritually), and thereafter he repented and received forgiveness.  But those he murdered are, at least many of them, still lost.

                So I absolutely trust that God is just, so when something seems to make no sense to me the problem must be in my understanding rather than His actions.  And I am very, very grateful that justice works this way (otherwise I, too, would be lost). The only thing I can view as a resolution is the intercession of Christ.  What Christ does for each of us is so much more than what we can do to damage each other that it is fair to be forgiven for our mistakes.

                For example, had Alma not rebelled but Christ not come, then the people would still be lost and damned.  Christ Atoning for Alma and for their sins empowered Him to say that His forgiveness is available to all of us (regardless of how difficult our road has been or how difficult we have made other’s road) so long as we ultimately accept Hm.  This, in my mind, does make sense as a matter of justice and is once again another necessary reason for the Atonement (assuming I am correct in my thinking here).

Doctrine and Covenants 46

(October 11, 2015)

                I love the Lord’s words here – He provides for His words (and, truly, all of His blessings) for the benefit of those who love Him and keep all His commandments – and those who seek so to do.  Despite my best efforts, I find myself falling frequently, disastrously short of keeping all of His commandments.  But, being among the many who seek to be among the few keeping His commandments, I have felt His power and His Grace working to my benefit to help to change me into the person that I want to be and the person that He wants me to be.

Alma 34

(October 11, 2015)
                I am convinced that we make the application of the Atonement in our lives much harder than it needs to be.  Logically, of course, it makes sense that the process of repentance must be difficult and painful (and it is), but that doesn’t mean that either Grace or forgiveness is slow in coming – rather it is merely a recognition that the process of sanctification takes longer in the event that the damage to our souls is greater.

                But the moment we turn our hearts to God, we can receive forgiveness and begin on the path back.  This chapter describes it in the language that if we repent and harden not our hearts immediately is the great plan of redemption brought about unto us.  I can testify that the word immediately is the exact right word – the moment we desire to give our everything to the Lord, that is enough and He begins the application of His Grace to change us from what we were into what we must become.

Doctrine and Covenants 44-45

(October 10, 2015)
                I won’t deny the fact that the fabric of our society seems to be coming unwound.  Identity politics almost demands that neighbor be set against neighbor in the victimhood Olympics.  It has almost reached a point where it is difficult to make it if you are unwilling to participate in this farce (put in other words, it is almost as though you need to flee if you are unwilling to take up a ‘sword’ against your neighbor).

                The comforting fact through this is that we know and understand that we can flee to Zion as the society becomes worsened, and those of us in Zion will not need to take up our sword against our neighbor.  I am, to be honest, in a bit of a unique position in this regard – I have had the ‘sword’ of identity politics used against me in particularly destructive ways.  But, in the end, by fleeing to Zion (symbolically, of course) I have found the strength to survive despite what has happened to me and, probably more importantly, without returning sword for sword or allowing myself to become a victim of what was done to me in the past.

Alma 33

(October 10, 2015)
                Dealing with enemies, if we draw counsel from the scriptures (and I think we should), can still be maddeningly complex.  For example, in this one chapter we have two separate examples of dealing with our enemies from Zenos.  It describes Zenos praying and the Lord mercifully turning his enemies to Zenos.  Shortly thereafter, it showed Zenos praying and the Lord speedily visiting Zenos’s enemies with destruction.

                Of course, I may be making things far too complex.  The consistent lesson through this chapter is that if we turn to the Lord we, in the end, will be alright.  Perhaps our enemies will be mercifully saved and turned to us.  Perhaps they will instead be destroyed.  And perhaps the lesson to be learned is that it ultimately doesn’t matter to us which of these options is chosen.  Ultimately the key is that we can trust that we will be alright either way and leave them to the hand of the Lord.

Doctrine and Covenants 43

(October 9, 2015)

                Outer Darkness is something that is perversely fascinating to me.  It catches hold upon my imagination (which, I suppose, is the intent).  But I wonder how it is possible that no man knoweth the suffering save those who experience it.  Does that mean that the Father does not understand?  I would have to doubt that – I expect that He fully understands everything.  So, I suppose, the only way to understand it is to either be Exalted or Damned.

Alma 32

(October 9, 2015)
                There really seems to be a dividing line between those who seek out repentance when they are compelled to be humble, and those who do not.  I don’t know what the difference is (and it would be important to know that, I think, so that I could ensure the appropriate response when difficulties strike).  But to me it seems so obvious to turn to the Lord for help (and repentance is part of acquiring that help) when compelled to be humble.

                I also though again about the fact that there are times when we can only desire to believe (my conversion started at that point).  But it isn’t only belief, sometimes it is applicable to obedience as well.  There are times when I face commandments that I don’t want to obey.  I may obey out of fear or I may choose not to obey, but for whatever reason I don’t want to keep that commandment.  In such circumstances, I have learned that I can go to the Lord and be honest with Him.  I can tell Him that I don’t want to keep this commandment, but I desire to become someone that wants to keep that commandment.  That has always been enough for Him to work a change in my heart through His Grace until I am ready to keep His commandments.

                Finally, I noticed the requirement that we continue to nourish the strong tree of faith.  There is never a time when we are strong enough to stop striving for progress (after all, we believe in eternal progression rather than finish-line salvation). The moment we stop nourishing our tree of testimony, in that very moment we are damned by our own choice.

Doctrine and Covenants 42

(October 8, 2015)
                I can still recall when President Hinckley’s wife died, and the Salt Lake Tribune running a picture of him weeping at her funeral.  There were those who made light of that scene, claiming that if President Hinckley truly believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ he would not have cried – after all, she was going to her eternal rest!

                Here we have the words of the Lord expressly telling us differently.  Weeping for those who have died is a normal, human reaction.  We are told by the Lord to weep for those who die, and most especially for those who do not have the hope of a glorious resurrection. 

Alma 31

(October 8, 2015)
                I struggle to imagine what Alma must have been feeling as he began his mission.  He fully well knew what it was to be persecuted, to be hungry, and to be hated.  When he was crying for patience to deal with the afflictions that would come upon him, he wasn’t praying in the abstract – he was praying for patience to deal with a particular set of afflictions that he was familiar with.  And, despite this, he was praying for this patience so he would be able to help the very people who would afflict him.

                What faith and courage, and especially what love, to knowingly approach persecution for the purpose of saving the people who would be persecuting you!  Not unknowing, but likely still bearing scars from persecutions suffered in the past.  The example of Alma here is astonishing.

Doctrine and Covenants 41

(October 7, 2015)
                We tend to organize and gatekeep and do so many other things when it comes to our brothers and sisters.  But the Lord is pretty clear on discipleship – whosoever keepeth the law is His disciple.  To the extent we are keeping His law, we are on the path.  To the extent we deviate from keeping his law, we are deviating from that path.  And, since we cannot know fully the path that another is to walk (they are, after all, ultimately outside of our stewardship and answerable only to him).  But just as we cannot put someone else beyond the pale, we cannot be put beyond the pale ourselves.  If we walk the path Christ lays out for us, that is all that we need to worry about.

                The other thought was on Christ saying that these words were pure before Him and we must beware how we hold them.  I think this was a commandment to us in our day, just as it is to the people at the time the revelation was given.  There are those who would claim that Joseph Smith manipulated others to get ‘stuff.’  Reading this Section, they would undoubtedly find evidence of their belief.  But the Lord’s warning, I think, is applicable to them now – we must be cautious to not impugn the motivations of prophets (present or past). 

Alma 30

(October 7, 2015)
                There are certain times when a scripture really speaks to me (I assume it is like that with all of us, from time to time).  Every verse, almost, seems to teach me something that I need to apply in my life right now such that it is hard to know what is the most important because absolutely everything is important.  I love when these moments happen for a pair of reasons – first, because I appreciate the enlightenment that I receive as a result.  Second, it is a blessing to be reminded that the scriptures are so full that inspiration is available with every verse.

                I had one such experience today, and I can only share a few of my thoughts.  I was struck again at how the just law was established that held that there was no law against a man for his beliefs.  I wondered how that applied to the moral consequences of the absence of faith – I know that faith has moral consequences and is therefore an exercise in moral agency.  But I suppose that implicit in  at least a portion of that faith must be developed over time and it is impossible for man to judge according to his imperfect laws whether a man is progressing or regressing according to his faith.  Would we judge a man at the bottom of the staircase of faith looking upward harsher than a man at the top of the staircase of faith looking downward?  I believe so, and that is why the law which takes belief into account in the eternities would be unjust in mortality and why it is crucial that we not judge those around us for their beliefs.

                Second, verse 17 is the inevitable conclusion of the naturalistic, atheistic philosophy.  There are those who are atheist who bristle when believers point out that their philosophy is ultimately amoral (red of claw and tooth), and believe that theists condemn them as immoral.  But that accusation is both inappropriate and misses the point.  Many atheists are very moral, but to the extent they are moral they defy their own philosophy.  Their philosophy demands, ultimately, an amoral approach to life because there is no ultimate source of morality.

                By the same token, we see around us so often the “spiritual but not religious” approach.  And, as is so often the case, the philosophy was shared with the underlying goal of causing women to commit whoredoms.  Since I have begun dating, I have encountered a number of women who escaped that philosophy once they realized how is was being used to lure them into destructive and immoral behavior.

                I was struck again my the idea of lifting up our heads in wickedness.  I think that each of us have experienced times when we have (frankly) not lived up to the standards that we should have.  Looking back on it, however, there is a key difference mentioned in this chapter – whether, when we are wicked, we hang our heads (and look towards the Savior) or whether we lift up our heads in our wickedness.  Put another way, do we rejoice and take pride in our sins or are we humbled by being brought to acknowledge our weaknesses?

                Korihor, millennia before our modern times, spent his time trying to focus the people away from their duties and blessings, and get them instead focused on the enjoyment of their ‘rights.’  We see that same language today – too much focus on rights and not enough focus on duties (even Conference talks have addressed that).  I suppose this is another indication that Satan has always been preaching the same anti-Gospel as he does today.

                Alma, being faced with Korihor, is not angry with him.  It must have been painful to Alma to hear the arguments of Korihor, because he perhaps made those same arguments earlier in his own life as he preached against the Gospel.  And, in my personal experience, when someone confronts me imitating my own weaknesses I tend to over-respond.  But Alma didn’t, which is an indication of just how completely his heart had been changed through his repentance and the Atonement.  Alma, rather than hating Korihor, grieved at Korihor’s hard heart.

                Finally, Korihor reveled in his logic and reason (and condemned the believers for not using that same logic and reason).  And yet, Korihor was more illogical than them all.  An angel appeared to Korihor, saying that there was no God, and he taught the absence of the supernatural (which he was convinced of due to supernatural visitation).  It is often those who cling so carefully to logic and their basis for the condemnation of others that use logic so flippantly or poorly.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 40

(October 6, 2015)
                Ok, so I have to admit to a little doctrinal conceit that I have carried around with me.  I have often thought to myself that, if ever we lived in a Celestial fashion for any given time, that the Lord would end our lives at a point where we were worthy for Exaltation rather than allowing us to live longer and screw up our opportunity to return to live with Him.  After all, said I, if we were worthy at one point it would be loving to take our lives at that point rather than allowing us to continue to live only to have us make a huge mistake that puts our salvation in jeopardy.

                You might be thinking that you have never heard anything supporting this position from the scriptures – and you would be right.  Sometimes we just get ideas in our heads that say a great deal about us and about the way we think the world ought to work, but much less about the way that it actually does work.  This was one of the times when I allow that to happen to me.

                In reality, we have the example of James Covel to directly contradict my belief.  James Covel lived in such a way that he was right before God.  Presumably, had he died the day he was baptized, he would have been on track for Exaltation (though, of course, how could we know for certain).  Instead, however, he continued on in life and reached the point where fear of the world and his cares caused him to leave the faith and (again presumably, though we cannot say for certain) lose his Exaltation.

                It is important to remember this because it is important to remember that we are likewise holding on tightly to the Iron Rod because to lose grip on it threatens our Eternal destiny.  We cannot idly let go and still hope for things to ‘work out’ based upon where we were in the past.

Alma 27-29

(October 6, 2015)
                Once again, the Ammonites are a great example to each of us.  They did not fear death, which can only happen as a result of two key points – they had a firm testimony and they were living their lives in accordance with God’s will.  This provides the power to overcome not only the fear of death, but really empowers us to overcome all fear.

                After all, if we truly understand that God has prepared a perfect Plan, and this Plan is perfectly designed to bring about our happiness, and if we are doing what we can (however limited that may be) to do what the Lord wants from us, then what is there to fear?  Job loss?  The Lord will take care of it, and it is part of His Plan.  Death?  The Lord will take care if, and it is part of Him Plan.  Illness?  Children straying?  Whatever the concern may be, if we have faith and if we do our part (whatever it is that the Lord may ask of us), there will be no need for us to ever fear.

Doctrine and Covenants 39

(October 5, 2015)
                Certainly we are not always the source of our own suffering.  After all, Christ was acquainted with all types of suffering, and He lived a perfect life.  But I am convinced that many times our suffering in mortality is designed by a loving Father to bring us to the point where we are finally ready and willing to confront our weaknesses and apply the Atonement in our lives.

                This is shown in this Section.  The Lord tells James Covel that he as seen great sorrow, and the reason for that sorrow is that he rejected the Lord many times because of pride and the cares of the world.  So, to, with us I believe.  We have each likely seen great sorrow – not all the sorrow we have experienced, of course, but a substantial portion – because we rejected the Lord because of those things we placed as more important than Him.

                Honestly, this is great news.  Because to the extent that we repent, we will find these self-generated burdens and sorrows relieved.  Of course, if my experience is any guide the moment you choose to repent you will also find the suffering to open our eyes to our weaknesses magnified to the Nth degree, but that suffering is a blessing as well.

Alma 25-26

(October 5, 2015)

                It dawned on me, while reading these chapters, how the Law of Moses is a symbol of the Church.  As with the Law of Moses, we understand that salvation does not come by the Church.  As with the Law of Moses, we understand that the Church can serve to strengthen our faith in Christ.  As with the Law of Moses, we are not permitted to disregard the Church even though the Church ultimately is a means to an end rather than an end of itself.

Doctrine and Covenants 38

(October 4, 2015)
                We are part of a culture that, for whatever reason, values weakness.  We value victimhood, and the struggles that we have faced and the difficulties and heartaches of our past have become almost a currency for us to operate with.  Forgotten in all of this, of course, is that facing difficulty is not something to be cheered – overcoming difficulty, however, is.

                I love the language of the Lord here – “be ye strong from henceforth.”  It doesn’t matter what we have faced to this point in our lives, or how we might have failed, or how others may have abused positions of trust or power to inflict admittedly painful wounds.  None of this matters because, on balance, the infinite Atonement stands more powerful than all of that combined.  No, we are not given license to dwell in our past error or past difficulty.  Instead the Lord invites us to be strong from henceforth.

Alma 24

(October 4, 2015)
                I loved beyond measure the king’s speech to his people.  At the time this speech was given, the people (and the king) faced death.  Almost certainly (assuming a Mesoamerican tradition) the king was looking at not only being killed but being tortured to death is exceptionally grisly ways.  I have faced difficult times in my life, but I don’t think any of them are nearly as dire as those the Ammonites faced at this moment.

                So what does the king do?  He gives a speech, and the entire first half of it is focused on gratitude.  He expresses his gratitude for the deliverance they have been given spiritually even as they face destruction temporally.  What a wonderful example to each of us, as we face our own challenges, to remain focused on gratitude rather than mired in concerns.

                The other thought I had was on the prayers of the Ammonites as they were being cut down.  Surely, as people willing to die rather than defend themselves or risk taking the lives of others, they were righteous.  The scriptures all but say they received Exaltation, so the Lord must have heard their prayers.  And yet, they were cut down all the same.  What lesson is there for us in this?  Just because we are worthy, and just because we are seeking a worthy goal (and something greatly important to us), does not mean that our prayers will necessarily be answered…at least, not in mortality.

Doctrine and Covenants 35-37

(October 3, 2015)
                The closing of Section 37 is fascinating.  Here we have the commandment of Jesus Christ to His people, and yet despite who He is and what He knows, He continues to respect their agency.  “[L]et every man choose for himself until I come.”

                There is profound guidance in this to us who are in any position of stewardship – whether Bishop or Stake President or Elder’s Quorum President or father.  We may think we know exactly what needs to be done, and we might be right.  We may think we know exactly what mistakes those under our stewardship are making, and we may be right.  We may think we know the tragic consequences if our counsel isn’t followed, and we may be right.  But none of these justify our overstepping of our stewardship and failing to respect another’s agency.

                If Jesus Christ can give a commandment to His people and close with a reminder that their agency permits disobedience (unwise though that is), then I had better do likewise in any situation where I am acting in His place.

Alma 23

(October 3, 2015)
                Behind the scenes, throughout the Book of Mormon, there is an undercurrent of discord between the Nephites and the Mulekites.  Alma, to be honest, is a book about these disputes (with the Lamanites serving a side role even as they are the bulk of the antagonist combatants).  If the Book of Mormon matches the idea that books are written to enshrine the narrative of the ruling class (and why they should rule), then this book certainly fulfills the model.

                Of course, it takes some effort to see it – most noticeably because the Mulekites are almost entirely absent from the book (at least explicitly).  There are reasons for this, of course – primarily that as a Nephite (and a pure-blood one at that), Mormon was focused on his lineage and their history and right of rulership.  Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mulekites didn’t have a major role in one or both sides of the final battle that Mormon was witnessing.

                It is all there, just behind the curtain.  The Lamanites converted to the Gospel – after all, they were only kept from it because of their unrighteous ancestors.  Meanwhile, the Amalekites (almost certainly Mulekites) and Amulonites (of which there is some textual indication they may also be Mulekites) refused to convert.  Even the one Amalekite that did convert (and you can bet there is a good story behind that conversion, and Mormon likely had record of his name, or else why would it be mentioned) was mentioned in passing rather than being given detailed description.

Doctrine and Covenants 33-34

(October 2, 2015)
                Time and time again, through the scriptures, we are given commandments and examples that seem perfectly crafted to test what we really prioritize.  Do we love money or God?  Do we crave pleasure or association with God? Do we want popularity or a close relationship to God?  So many times, our willingness to keep the commandments is a good indication of what we truly want – we may tell ourselves we want what is good and right but if our decisions demonstrate otherwise it is illuminating.  To paraphrase Bill Parcels, you ultimately are what your record says you are – the you want the decisions you actually make rather than what you say you want.

                I was thinking about that as I read through the times the Lord reiterated the instruction to “open your mouths.”  If our priority is the Lord, then we testify – it really is that easy.  We may be shy, but we have the most important truth that ever existed so we find a way past our shyness and we testify.  We may feel inadequate, but we have the most important truth that ever existed and so we study and put for the effort to share the message with power.  We may feel unworthy, but we have the most important truth that ever existed so we get our lives in order so that we can share the message with the Spirit.  We may not want to offend, but we have the most important truth that ever existed and so we recognize that an offense now from an inartful presentation is nothing compared to an eternal damnation.

                In all such cases, though, if our priority truly is God then we open our mouths.  If we are not opening our mouths, our problem is not with our mouths but with our hearts.  We need to look at our hearts and find out what about our priorities are out of line and ask for the Lord’s help through the Atonement to bring our hearts back into alignment with Him.

Alma 22

(October 2, 2015)
                We see an important truth in our relationship with Deity in this chapter.  We are, each of us, called to become willing to give up all that we possess to the Lord.  We are not, however, always called to actually give up all that we possess.  The king offered, but instead of being obligated to give up all that he possessed, he continued to live and serve as king until his death shortly thereafter.  All of the losses of power and prestige happened under the reign of his son.

                Likewise, we need to each be willing to give absolutely everything to the Lord.  Our wealth, our time, our hobbies, our relationships, our good name – anything, whether good or bad, we must be prepared to sacrifice to Him.  When we reach that point, the Lord may choose to take some or all of what we offer or He may choose not to, but that is ultimately irrelevant to our eternal progress (King Lamoni did not need to give up everything and yet we can presume he was save – while Anti-Nephi-Lehi was called upon to give up everything and yet in the end we presume he was also saved).

Doctrine and Covenants 30-32

(October 1, 2015)
                Once again we are given difficult counsel from the Lord, but it is important to examine just what we are being told.  The Lord instruction is to revile not against those who revile.  Notice some key elements here.  First, the instruction to revile not is given against people who are, themselves, engaging in the exact behavior that is counseled against.  It is not an excuse to say that they acted first – they reviled first – but rather even when they revile the Lord’s instruction is not to revile in kind.

                The second thought is that this instruction is given to those on an errand from the Lord.  So not only are they being reviled, but they are being reviled for doing what the Lord told them to do.  Surely there could be no more unjust reviling than this one.  And yet, even then, the Lord’s instruction is to revile not.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Alma 21

(October 1, 2015)
                Here we have another perfect example that suffering is not always tied into unrighteousness.  I have heard that belief espoused from time to time (ordinarily by those who are living comfortable lives and wish that to be evidence of their righteousness), but there is no evidence from the scriptures that adversity and suffering are solely self-generated.

                The best example, of course, is that of Christ.  He suffered all things and yet He lived a perfect life.  But we have another example in Aaron, who was righteous and converted to the Gospel, and yet he suffered greatly at the hands of the Nehorites.

                When we face suffering, there are times when that suffering is our fault.  There are times when it is the fault of others.  And there are times when it simply seems to be the naturalistic consequences of living in mortality.  We do not have a promise that if we dedicate ourselves fully to the Lord He will take away all of our suffering (in fact, walking the path of discipleship often seems to bring with it greater challenges than the comfortable path of religious apathy).  But what we are promised is that if we turn ourselves fully over to the Lord He will use our suffering to help us to progress and none of our tears will be wasted.