Friday, November 20, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 88

(November 14, 2015)
                It is funny how the mind works sometimes.  This Section is probably one of the most doctrinally rich pieces of scripture that exist in the world.  There is so much contained in it that it would take years studying this one Section to tease it all out.  And yet, as I read through this Section, my mind caught on what could at best be considered a triviality.

                In the same verse, we read that Michael will bring an end to time, and then Satan will be bound but loosed again after 1,000 years.  As I read this, I couldn’t figure out how we would know 1,000 years had passed (or how 1,000 years could pass at all) if Michael had brought an end to time.

                This isn’t something that worries me, mind you – if you have read very many of these musings on the scriptures you have likely read some of my thoughts on time and what that might mean in the eternities.  But the direct contrast between the two was striking and I don’t know exactly what conclusion to draw from it – though it is admittedly fun to think about.

Helaman 12

(November 14, 2015)
                I have, reluctantly, seen some of the things that Mormon condemns in this chapter in my own life.  I have seen, when things were easy, that my attention to the Lord and willingness to give my heart and will over to Him diminished.  On the other hand, I have seen (particularly recently) when He is all that I have to hold on to that I have been greatly increased in my ability to consecrate my life to Him.  In this way, adversity is a huge blessing.

                The struggle, of course, is that the Lord doesn’t want us to live in eternal adversity of the sort we experience in mortality.  He wants us to inherit all He has inherited from His Father.  But we need to not just turn to the Lord when things are bad enough that we have no choice, but to stay focused on the Lord when things are good enough that our mortal minds desire to tell us we have no need for Him.  If we can reach that point – the point where both adversity and prosperity turn us towards the Lord – we will have taken significant steps towards reaching our eternal destiny.

Helaman 10-11

(November 13, 2015)

                My attention in these two chapters was drawn to the way that Nephi exercised his authority that had been given to him from God.  God told him that whatsoever he said would be done.  Yet despite this power and authority, it can be argued that Nephi never used it.  Instead, Nephi pled with the Lord in prayer for those things that he felt to be right, and reasoned with the Lord (particularly in ending the famine).  But even though he had been given this great power, he was extraordinarily circumspect in how he used it.  There is guidance there for each of us in our stewardships as well.

Doctrine and Covenants 87

(November 12, 2015)
                There has always been an interesting contrast between the prophesies that are isolated from the events that represent their culmination and those that are not.  For example, the prophesies of the Book of Mormon are more explicit regarding the life of Christ than are the prophesies of the Old Testament.  I think there are likely very good reasons for that – most notably the fact that awareness of the future events can create change of those future events (whether from mortal or diabolical sources).

                That being said, there is much in this Section that is accurate and beyond Joseph Smith’s understanding even in light of the geopolitical realities of the days in which he lived.  Yes, there was some indication (including problems in South Carolina), but there is still quite a bit that this Section gets right beyond what Joseph could have known or guessed.

Helaman 9

(November 12, 2015)
                On the one hand, we are repeatedly told that we should not seek for signs.   On the other hand, we have examples from the scriptures of those who did seek for signs (a certain damp fleece comes to mind, or the response of the five in this chapter).  So what makes what they are doing acceptable and what other sign-seekers do worthy of condemnation.

                First, I choose the word acceptable deliberately.  I am struck by the thought of a paraphrase of Christ’s words to Thomas – more blessed are those who do not seek after signs.  But by the same token, I have been overwhelmingly blessed by seeing signs and miracles in my life, and they have been such an assistance to me (particularly in this difficult time).

                The difference between those which are acceptable and those which are worthy of condemnation is the desire to know and do the will of the Lord.  These five clearly were willing to follow the truth – they just needed to know that Nephi was teaching that truth.  Others saw the same miracle and were not convinced, but these five not only were convinced but subsequently became converted.  That, I believe, is the difference.

Doctrine and Covenants 85-86

(November 11, 2015)

                It is enlightening to read about the wheat and tares in my current situation.  There are many who would look at me, and where I am in my life, and determine that I am one of the tares.  I have never felt more grateful for the patience of the Lord in holding off on the reaping to allow me to develop into the wheat I want to be than I was today as I read this Section.

Helaman 8

(November 11, 2015)
                Nephi speaks of what the people know and cannot deny without lying.  This struck me because of my own brush with doubt and a troubling diminishment of testimony.  At my darkest point, I didn’t know whether God existed or whether there was anything other than the materialistic world in which we lived.  I was blessed to escape that awful state of mind (and I assure you it is awful, though that is not what makes it untrue), but I can still remember being in that state.

                In such a position, I don’t think that it would have been a situation where I couldn’t not deny without lying (though I am glad I never reached that point).  But Nephi is speaking to a particular audience here (those who occupied the social leadership roles of what is apparently a quasi-theocratic society).  There may be individuals who don’t know and can deny without lying, but I don’t think that those who occupied the positions of those Nephi was speaking to could deny without lying.

                Again, I don’t know that this matters in any meaningful way, but it shows the importance of recognizing time, place, and audience when reading the scriptures.

Doctrine and Covenants 84

(November 10, 2015)
                I had two thoughts as I read this Section – one a thought that I have learned through experience (which was reiterated as I read), and one that struck me as direct counsel to me in my current situation.

                For, the principle that I had already learned in the past.  We know that it is through the ordinances of the Priesthood that the power of God is made manifest.  The purpose of the Church, and the reason why it is the one true Church (even while imperfectly run by imperfect people) is because the Church is the organization that houses the Priesthood authority which is empowered to perform the saving ordinances.  That is why we hold to the Church.

                The second thought was stunning to me.  The Lord here said that whosoever came not unto Him was under the bondage of sin.  I can see that in one respect – this hypothetical person, by choosing something other than Christ, have placed themselves in bondage.  But in another respect, that bondage can also be seen as the cause.  Those who are in bondage are the only ones who will not come unto Christ – and, knowing of the joy that is possible with Christ, this makes sense as well.

                This gives me a great deal more charity towards those who hurt me.  If they are hurtful to me (bitter, deceitful, unforgiving, and unrepentant), then they are that was for one reason alone – they are in bondage to sin. And that bondage to sin is a tragedy, and destruction, and frankly terrifying (even to me, even while they hurt me).  Keeping this in the front of my mind will help me to love those who hurt me by remembering just how awful it must be to be precluded from the joy that is available through Christ.

Helaman 7

(November 10, 2015)
                With our modern sensibilities, many of us (particular those in the legal profession) like to believe that we are beyond the idea of condemning the righteous because of their righteousness and letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money.

                But we neglect this passage to our peril, because Mormon saw our day and saw fit to include this comment.  And if we rewrite this only slightly, it becomes something frighteningly accurate for our current legal morass.  We condemn the righteous because of their unpopular stances, and we let the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their demographics or political ideology.  Is there any doubt that this happens?  It happens all the time, sadly.

Doctrine and Covenants 83

(November 9, 2015)
                The Lord’s program is made pretty clear in this Section.  The obligation for familial care is primarily in the family.  The Church then exists to support and help with that obligation only when necessary.  This is true financially, but I believe from my understanding of the doctrine that it is also true spiritually.

                Unfortunately, however, we have reached a point in our society where there are those seeking to displace parents (particularly fathers) in the lives of wives and children.  The government is taking a stronger role in this, and I have seen those who have turned to the Church to assist them in breaking up families.  I struggle to know what would be appropriate – how many marriages would still be intact if the Church was not willing to support a wife financially who left an otherwise good man?  Of course there are situations where there is abuse that necessitates divorce, but certainly that isn’t true in every case.

                Once again, it leaves me with a profound sense of gratitude that the Lord hasn’t seen fit to put me into a position to make these sorts of decisions.  Frankly, I wouldn’t know what to do (other than completely rely on the Lord).

Helaman 6

(November 9, 2015)
                Can there be a more dangerous place to be in, as a member of the Lord’s Church, than to think that you are righteous?  Mormon, as a man of his time, must have struggled to write how the Nephites (those who he proudly claims to be of his lineage) had become wicked and the Lamanites (those he had spent the majority of his book describing in stark terms as unrighteous) had become righteous.

                Coming from someone so ill-disposed to say it makes it carry so much more weight.  The truth is, we cannot claim because of lineage or Church attendance or pioneer stock or anything similar a claim on the favor of God.  If we soften our hearts and turn to Him, He will accept us regardless of what situation we find ourselves in.  If we harden our hearts and remain self-willed, He will reject us regardless of what situation we are in.  We forget this so easily, and yet there are few things in the scriptures better attested to than this.

Doctrine and Covenants 82

(November 8, 2015)
                There is so much doctrine in this Section that is commonplace for us now – fully integrated into the LDS Worldview – but which was so groundbreaking then.  Sinning against the greater light receives the greater condemnation.  To the soul that sinneth shall the former sins return.  The Lord is bound when we do what He says, but if not we have no promise.  It is so much a part of who we are and what we know that it is hard to imagine that there was a time when we didn’t know this, and it had to be revealed.

                Therein is the kicker, though.  Those who would reject Joseph Smith as a prophet also need to reject these core teachings.  What it particularly interesting is to see people who use bastardizations of these concepts (and others revealed by Joseph Smith) as their ‘proof’ that Joseph wasn’t a prophet.  The irony, of course, is lost on them.

Helaman 5

(November 8, 2015)
                Helaman’s counsel to his sons has some interesting thoughts included in it.  In verse 8, he teaches them not to be righteous to boast, but to be righteous to lay up treasures in Heaven.  But, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, being righteous for rewards in the afterlife is still only another form of self-interest.  So why was Helaman inspiring his sons to engage in such self-interested obedience?

                I think that, just as he aptly pointed out the problem, C. S. Lewis pointed out the solution.  Yes, when we act to lay up treasures for ourselves in Heaven we are self-interested.  But the treasures that we are laying up are treasures we will only enjoy if we yield our hearts to God.  It is only the righteous who would enjoy the Celestial Kingdom, only the pure in heart that would find peace in the presence of God, and only those who love to serve others who will find fulfillment in Exaltation.

                So while it may be self-interested to lay up treasures in Heaven, the only ones who can enjoy those treasures are those who are able to get beyond themselves and be focused on the Lord and our fellow men.

Doctrine and Covenants 79-81

(November 7, 2015)
                The Lord’s counsel to Stephen Burnett seemingly is non-descript, but there is a lot that is packed into that short Section.  The thing that most struck my mind as I read through it today was His statement that Stephen Burnett could pick any direction because he could not go amiss.

                The implications of that are pretty astounding.  The Lord knows all things, and has placed all things where they need to be.  So it is easiest to assume the Lord knew which direction that Stephen would ultimately choose to go.  But the other possibility (which might be more interesting, although I don’t know if it is more likely) is that Stephen was going on the mission not for the coverts but for his progression and he could accomplish that progression whichever direction he went in.

                Regardless, it is an interesting thing to consider.  I don’t really think I know which is which, to be honest.

Helaman 4

(November 7, 2015)
                There is no way that any mortal man could make it through a single day without the serendipitous help from the Lord.  There are simply too many things we don’t know that end up mattering too much.  If I take this route to work this morning, and leave at this time, I have an easy and smooth commute.  If I leave a few minutes earlier or take a slightly different route, I end up in a fatal car crash.  Determining which route and which time requires complex information that I simply cannot know.

                So we guess in mortality – a lot.  And many times those guesses are fine – we are safe regardless of which route we take or what time we go.  But other times we are vulnerable to catastrophe and the only thing that is in position to save us is the gentle promptings of the Lord.

                When we become proud of ourselves and our accomplishments, these promptings diminish.  Now we are not led to say the certain thing we needed to say in the trial, or call  the person we need to speak to at the precise time.  What was once under the control of the Lord to our benefit suddenly becomes more random (though the Lord remains in charge of everything).  Instead of all working together for our benefit, we are left to our own strength.

                I’ve been in that position, and it is terrifying.  The world can be crashing down around my ears but if I am close to the Lord I know the pieces will land where they need to (and I will be kept safe, or if not it will be for the best).  But the slightest bump in the road when I am not close to the Lord I realize can leave me swerving out of place and into catastrophe.

Doctrine and Covenants 78

(November 6, 2015)
                We are a Church that strives to be prepared for catastrophe.  Whether it be the individual members of the Church, or the Church as a whole, we truly try to be independent.  And in this chapter, we have a commandment from the Lord that makes it clear what the ultimate goal of that independence is.  We are to be independent of all creatures beneath the Celestial world.

                This has obvious implications on food storage and the like, but there is an eternal principle here as well.  We can prepare and bottle peaches and grow a garden and so forth.  This may take time and eventually we might become self-sufficient.  But we can be independent of all other creatures beneath the Celestial world today.  All we have to do is determine that we will rely wholly and completely upon the Lord and allow Him to take care of us, and we will have all of our needs met in that way (even if and when He uses mortal agents to meet those needs).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Helaman 2-3

(November 6, 2015)
                There is an expectation that we have that people within the Church (or even the Church itself) will treat us fairly.  I can certainly understand that expectation, and for 99% of my experiences with the Church that has held true.  And even for the 1% of the time when it is not true, that doesn’t make the Church untrue – just because there are those who treat the Church as their own personal billy club doesn’t mean that it is not the Kingdom of God on Earth and more than the fact that some people misuse their physical bodies doesn’t mean that God didn’t create them.

                In my case, I can empathize with those who are described in these chapters.  Like them, I am struggling through a time period when the pride that has crept in to some people within the Church has led to a great deal of pain in my life.  I can only describe what has happened to me as persecutions generated by pride, as those who would hide what they did instead cast stones at me.  I will also admit that, as of today, I was struggling quite a bit to deal with those stones and in my mind being quite focused on the ‘unfairness’ of it all (as if the Atonement doesn’t fully and completely make everything already unfair in my favor).

                But reading this today I feel to be a great blessing.  I was able to see the response of those who had to wade through much affliction brought about by their fellow Church members – people who should be supportive of them but who, for reasons of their pride, instead became their persecutors.  But in spite of (perhaps because of) these persecutions those who waded through this affliction ultimately received purification and sanctification of their hearts from yielding them to God.

                The template is made clear for me.  I am in the same position they found themselves in.  Will I fast and pray oft?  Will I wax stronger in humility and firmer in my faith in Christ?  Will I continue to strive to yield my heart unto God?  If so, this time (even with the persecution and the affliction) will be a great blessing to me and something that I will look back on with gratitude.

Doctrine and Covenants 77

(November 5, 2015)
                So I am what you would probably call a proponent of Intelligent Design.  I have no problem with macroevolution, but don’t believe the science supports the theory that it occurred naturally.  The probabilities are so low that those who are reductive materialists are reduced to presenting the argument (which I take to be a tautology) that if must have happened, however improbable, or else we wouldn’t be here to notice it didn’t happen.

                Frankly, I am not too concerned about it, however.  I somehow doubt that, in the hereafter, we will be judged on our beliefs as to the mechanism by which Creation occurred.  Instead we will ask (or remember participating in it), and that will be that.  It makes a fine test for us mortals, but I don’t imagine it to be a stumbling block hereafter.

                But I must admit that my viewpoint seems a little inconsistent with verse 6.  It appears on the face that it is directly incompatible, except for the fact that the best evidence we have indicates that Joseph Smith believed in an Earth around 2.55 billion years old both before and after this revelation.  So who knows?  I guess the key point is, after getting a testimony of the truthfulness of the Restoration, the details are not as important and our minds sometimes try to make them out to be.

Helaman 1

(November 5, 2015)
                There are those things that stand out as something completely out of character for someone like Joseph Smith to have written.  One such example is in this chapter – that Pacumeni was appointed by the voice of the people, according to his right.  The voice of the people half of the equation has often been cited as an example of Joseph projecting American democracy into the Book of Mormon, but if that was the case there is no conception of American democracy that would say that the brother of a slain leader ascends to the leadership “according to his right.”

                There are so many of these little things that stand as minor evidences of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  Taken individually, of course, they can all be explained away.  But in aggregate, they become pretty overwhelming evidence of the truthfulness of the Restoration.

Doctrine and Covenants 76

(November 4, 2015)
                This Section is, frankly, shockingly different from just about everything in the Doctrine and Covenants before this point.  As part of my reading, I am careful to delineate who is speaking at any given time (to the best I am able to do so).  Aside from a few moments of angelic ministration, or a few prophetic asides, the bulk of the book to this point has been the words of the Savior.

                And yet, in this chapter, there is a dramatic shift in speaking.  No longer are we hearing from the Savior (with some exceptions in the text), but rather we are privileged to read from Joseph’s own words what he was able to see in his vision.  There is something fairly momentous that happens here – a change in the way that Joseph fulfills his Divine calling.  Before this point, he was being directed fairly closely.  After this point, however, he has seen things that allow him to engage in his calling with more autonomy than before.  

Alma 63

(November 4, 2015)
                We are so rarely offered rest from our labors.  Moroni fought in war after war, and he wasn’t too old when he was finally able to retire.  But he no more than retired that shortly thereafter he died.  For some reason that brings me some sadness, but at the same time (knowing what would happen in the future – including the wars that his son would engage in – it was probably for the best for him.

                We might think that something as final as death would be a net negative – why can’t Moroni get a few more years to enjoy his retirement before crossing the Veil – but, of course, dying isn’t really horrible and living through those difficult times might not have been the most enjoyable experience.

                I think that is true more often than we think.  Things happen that are painful to us, and it is difficult to see to trust the Lord (except by experience) and to know that everything will work out in the way that is best for us.  But if we can remember that truth, it will certainly help us.

Alma 61-62

(November 3, 2015)
                There is a lot to learn from the way that Pahoran faces the letter from Moroni.  What Moroni said to him was anything but fair.  Pahoran was stretched to his limits, trying to save himself and save the country (and much of what he was doing was for the benefit of Moroni).  And yet here comes Moroni criticizing Pahoran in harsh terms.

                Rather that be offended, which was a justified position, Pahoran looked for the good in Moroni.  I think there is a lot to that (although I admit it would be difficult for me to put into practice).  Most people most of the time take the actions they take out of good motivations.  Perhaps not always the best motivations, but good motivations.  Remaining focused on that could only help as we deal with one another – including, perhaps especially, those who attack us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 75

(November 2, 2015)

                I love the language of this chapter that if we are faithful we will overcome all things.  Absolute language (especially absolute language from the Lord) always catches my attention (which, in light of His discussion of Eternal and Endless punishment, it is intended to).  If we take the Lord at His word, there is nothing that faith cannot overcome.  We may have setback and obstacles and pain, but in the end faith in the Lord will carry us through these times and bring us to the other side (whichever side of the Veil that other side is to be found on).

Alma 59-60

(November 2, 2015)
                Even in the darkest of times, the things that happen to us lead to inevitable blessings if we hold to the Savior.  Moroni was clearly upset about the loss of Nephihah, but had he not lost that city, what would the likely consequences have been?  He would not have recognized the cancer spreading through the heart of the civilian government, the problem would likely have grown much worse, Pahoran (who had indicated he was considering non-military solutions) might have reached an agreement that undercut the Nephites, and who knows what else.

                No, this great and destructive loss led to the ultimate resolution of the war.  I have seen that in my own life more than once.  Something happens – sometimes because of circumstances and sometimes because of the actions of others – and it is a painful and damaging event.  But, given the passage of time and distance, I begin to be aware of the many ways in which what happened blessed my life in incalculable ways. No matter what happens, if we stay close to the Lord things will work themselves out in our favor. 

Doctrine and Covenants 74

(November 1, 2015)
                It is impossible to read this Section without focusing on one of the most profound pieces of doctrine (and something that distinguishes our faith from just about every other Church that I am aware of) – Paul was wrong.  We don’t say that Paul was wrong and thus we should discount the scriptures (or even the Epistles).  No, we believe that Paul was wrong, but still inspired and the scriptures (including those from his hands) have great value.

                This should color the way we respond to all scripture, to the words of the living Prophets, and to all else that comes from the Kingdom of God on Earth.  Just because it comes from the mouthpiece of the Lord doesn’t make it right by very definition.  And just because someone in a position of authority is wrong doesn’t mean that they are unworthy of the calling or deserve being ignored.

                The truth is in the middle.  Yes, occasionally the Lord’s mouthpieces will get things wrong.  But if we follow those the Lord has placed in positions of stewardship over us (and assuming He does not give us different counsel along the way), He will magnify our efforts and make up for our losses.  Even though Paul happened to be wrong, I feel confident that the Lord magnified the efforts of every individual who followed his counsel.  Though imperfect, we must honor and carefully consider everything that comes to us from those placed in these positions of authority.

Alma 58

(November 1, 2015)
                There are certain lines in the scriptures that are life-altering (if we allow them to be), and this chapter has one of them.  “But behold, it mattereth not.”  Helaman faced an enemy abroad that wanted him dead, he lacked the resources to adequately defend the cities he was responsible for, and he had (with good reason, it turned out) suspicions regarding the civilian government.  If ever something should have mattered, his dire position should have.  And yet, it didn’t matter.

                So much of our lives are like this.  We face difficulties, betrayal, pain, suffering, challenges, overwhelming odds, setbacks, and everything in between.  We can look on these things and be burdened down by them in the realization that they can destroy our hopes and our dreams.  But this can only happen if our hopes are in this world and our dreams are transitory.  No matter what happens to us, if we keep our mind fixed with an eternal perspective, it doesn’t matter.  All will work out in the end, and I am convinced that one of the great tests we experience in mortality is to prove that we can keep that perspective even when those things we love are taken from us.

Doctrine and Covenants 72-73

(October 31, 2015)
                If you have read any of these, you will know that it is clear to me that stewardship is a huge deal.  Both the importance of dealing appropriately with those placed in positions of stewardship over us and in dealing with people and things that we have been placed in stewardship over – in both cases, it is important (essential, really) that we learn and appropriately handle such matters.

                But what struck me in these Sections was the Lord’s discussion of the fact that this isn’t merely a principle of time – it is also a principle of eternity.  I could not help but to wonder about that, and in so doing it became pretty obvious what was being discussed.  Peter, James, and John have their stewardships, and they are called upon to perform certain works.  They then report to the Lord, who then reports to God the Father.  I almost feel silly for having missed that particular piece of wisdom.

Alma 57

(October 31, 2015)
                There are consequences to times when we lose our heads and claim the sky is falling.  When the spies came forward and spoke about how destruction was imminent, it emboldened the Lamanites (bringing about not only chaos, but destruction of many of the Lamanites as well).

                Nowadays, we have those who are saying the sky is falling about any number of doctrinal or procedural issues.  What those who are distraught about these issues seem to miss, from time to time, is that their concerns over these issues (and the way they manifest those concerns) are bringing destruction to the very people they claim to be trying to help.  Like these spies, they are emboldening those who need the Gospel in their lives to turn away from it – to their own destruction.

Doctrine and Covenants 70-71

(October 30, 2015)
                I want to start this thought with a pair of stories – both on a similar theme.

                The first of these was when I was riding in the car with a notable politician of some acclaim.  He was speaking on the phone with a reporter, and I was amazed at this little peek behind the curtain at the political process.  When the telephone call was finished, I turned to him and told him that I didn’t think I could ever do what he did.  He began to explain to me that it wasn’t that hard, and started on the ins and outs of the political process.  I then stopped him and told him that he had misunderstood me – I didn’t think that I could ever comfortably exercise that much power over people’s lives.  The fear of the accountability and being called upon to account for my handling of such a stewardship would simply be overwhelming to me.  He paused and then responded that he had never thought of things in that way.

                The second story was shortly before my father left West Virginia.  He had been a staple in the Church for a very, very long time (being in countless Bishoprics, being a Branch President, and being on the High Council).  They were reorganizing the Bishopric and my father was being released.  He stood and said:

                “The scriptures say that a man who covets after the office of Bishop covets after a worthy thing indeed.  I say he who covets after the office of Bishop is too damned dumb to have the job.”

                There was silence after this (and you would have to know my father to know just how shocking it was that he would say ‘damned’ at all, much less from the pulpit in Sacrament meeting.

                Here’s where both of those stories come together.  The Lord, in Section 70, explicitly says that He will judge the leaders of this Church based upon their performance of their duties within their stewardship.  I can only imagine how overwhelming that responsibility would be.  Those who covet after Priesthood office (or power or leadership or anything of the sort) only could do so because they misunderstand what that leadership role is and intend to use it for exercising unrighteous dominion.  No person, in my opinion, who understands the Priesthood aspires to Priesthood office.

                So when our Priesthood leaders make mistakes (and they do – sadly I have been on the receiving end of some of those mistakes), may we extend the cloak of charity to them.  I wouldn’t want their job, I wouldn’t want to face the Lord for making mistakes while in their office, and I hope that, to the extent that my opinion matters, they won’t have to face judgment by the Lord for the mistakes they have made in reference to me.

Alma 56

(October 20, 2015)
                There are certain lessons that I have come to know intellectually, but there are other lessons that I have only been able to learn through experience (often painful).  But those lessons have tended to be the most profound and meaningful ones.

                One lesson that I learned from hard experience is one that I already knew intellectually from this chapter – that God strengthens us when we do what He requires of us, so that we do not suffer more because of what happens to us.  It is an easy thing to say, and an easy thing to get your mind around, but it has taken an awful lot of suffering for me to get to the point where I truly have a testimony of this principle.

                I have seen those who have actively worked to destroy me – something that I could never have imagined happening.  I have been hurt by lies and callous actions of others in a way that I could never have imagined.  What I have learned through all of this, though, is that so long as I trust in the Lord and leave everything with Him then He always makes up the difference.  I find myself in a position objectively worse in every meaningful way from where I was, and yet far happier than I have ever been.  I know that this is only because of the Lord strengthening me such that I do not suffer more because of what others may have done.  It is such a wonderful blessing and source of comfort.

Doctrine and Covenants 69

(October 29, 2015)
                It is our pride that resists a recognition of our weaknesses.  There is nothing wrong with being weak (a condition we all share), and our humility allows the Lord to work around our weaknesses.  Sometimes the Lord does this by strengthening us, and other times He does this by giving us those around us who can help us.

                But imagine if Oliver Cowdery had been too proud to travel with John Whitmer.  Is there any doubt that he would have come to disaster?  When the Lord puts help in our path to deal with our weaknesses, it is foolish to deny that help because we think we are strong.  Instead, may we grab on to that help with both hands and a recognition of the blessing that it is from the Lord.

Alma 55

(October 29, 2015)
                It seems like, time and again, I am struck by the difference between the way in which the prophets of old are viewed and the way the Brethren are viewed today.  For example, Mormon is very open about his praise for Captain Moroni, and yet it is clear that Captain Moroni has his weaknesses.  Aside from the criticism of Pahoran (coming shortly), we have Moroni not honoring the agreement he had just struck with Ammoron concerning the exchange of prisoners.

                Captain Moroni made a deal of a Lamanite for a Nephite and his family.  Ammoron was deceitful when he accepted the deal, but he did accept it.  Captain Moroni, though, was so angry he wouldn’t take the deal he had proposed.  This was obvious enough that Mormon clearly tried to disguise this fact through a soliloquy with Captain Moroni explaining his rationale.  And, to be blunt, his explanation doesn’t hold water (unless, of course, there is something that was redacted that we don’t have).

                And yet, it is clear that Captain Moroni is a prophet and a man of God, and miracles happened under his watch.  Mormon appreciated him enough to name his son after him.  Were he a modern prophet, though, the weaknesses on display would be enough for any number of people to metaphorically crucify him for being a fallen prophet.  Can you imagine how many of us would criticize a Prophet with a temper?  A Prophet who didn’t keep his agreements?

                The important thing to realize is that the leaders aren’t necessarily chosen because they are better, and they are certainly not chosen because they are perfect.  They are chosen because they are chosen, and we are to follow them because we choose to.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 68

(October 28, 2015)

                The Lord’s statement here, for us to be of good cheer because He is with us, is profound in its implications.  Having been through a trial or two in my day (in fact, being in the midst of one right now), I have learned that my happiness is directly proportional to my trust in the Lord.  If I trust Him, and believe that He will make everything alright (and any suffering that I have is not wasted, nor is it permanent), I find myself with the capacity to stand up to the challenges of the day.  If, on the other hand, I focus on the unfairness of it all I begin a downward spiral that ultimately results in misery for me.  The situation is the same either way, but remembering the Lord makes all the difference in my happiness.

Alma 53-54

(October 28, 2015)
                When we make the determination that we want to be aggrieved, we can certainly find evidence to support that.  If we want to sacrifice our moral agency and instead consider ourselves victims of our circumstances (and, it seems to me, this most often comes as a mechanism for avoiding accountability), then we can view the world in that twisted light.

                Just as Ammoron was able to point to all of his grievances (his brother’s death, Zoram being ‘pressed’ into service), so too can we always find things to complain about if that is what we choose to do.  We can always find things to show that we are the victims of circumstances beyond our control, should we so desire that result.  But doing this is ultimately far more destructive on our souls than on the souls of others, and if we become victims it is to ourselves.
pan>No amount (or lack) of proof will change that.

Doctrine and Covenants 65-67

(October 27, 2015)
                These three Sections have two examples of ‘proving’ the Restoration.  From the five questions being answered to the challenge of writing a revelation from God, there was ample ‘proof’ of the nature of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling.

                Of course, McClellin apostatized (as did a number involved in the attempt to write a revelation), so we learn once again that proving the work of the Lord does not accomplish much.  It is ultimately a choice to decide if we will give our will to the Lord (rather than ignorance or knowledge) that will determine our eternal destiny.  If we are willing to trust the Lord and give ourselves to Him (in the gift of a broken heart and a contrite spirit), we will be blessed.  If not, we will fall away.  No amount (or lack) of proof will change that.

Alma 52

(October 27, 2015)
                It is important to remember that we are not required to labor more than we have strength.  Teancum was wise to not attack the Lamanites when there was no hope of victory, and the ultimate success of the operation was dependant on, in part, his unwillingness to sacrifice his men in a futile endeavor.

                Likewise, we need to have an eye single to the Glory of God, but at the same time we are to show wisdom and discretion in our efforts.  God is all-knowing, and when He tells us to do something we do it (or die trying).  But when the instructions come from imperfect people, we are to show forth a certain amount of wisdom in what we do.

                Of course, where does that leave us in the current situation.  After all, a big problem right now is that too many people are putting their own wisdom over and above the counsel of our leaders (and that is a problem).  What makes what Teancum did a good thing, and what they are doing now a bad thing?  Certainly it is not merely the result.

                I don’t know that I have an answer right now, but the one thing that I see that might explain it is the focus on the Lord versus the focus on self (or political agenda).  Someone who believes that the Lord’s will is best accomplished one was is different in nature from someone who believes that the Brethren are evil because they disagree with a certain political or social philosophy.  But I will be blunt – I just don’t know.

                This is, once again, why the Spirit is so essential.  It is impossible for me as I think through things here to come up with a logical rule or test to determine the appropriate course of action (in the abstract, fortunately).  But I know the Lord knows, and will direct me in the individual situations that I may find myself in.

Doctrine and Covenants 64

                There are those who seem to fall apart the moment a Priesthood leader makes a mistake (or even doesn’t make a mistake, but doesn’t behave the way they believe they should).  I can still remember when President Hinckley’s wife died, and the pictures of him crying at her funeral were released.  A number of people viewed those pictures and argued that this indicated that the Church was not true – after all, if he was the Prophet, he ought to believe in eternal families and therefore shouldn’t shed any tears.

                Leaving aside the absurdity of that argument, I want to focus on the underlying premise – perfect leaders.  I have learned a thing or two about imperfect leaders along the way, and I can certainly understand the frustration that they can bring.  But at no point does that generate in us a reasonable excuse to leave the Church.  After all, our scripture (including this Section) explicitly recognizes that even the prophets and apostles may be liars or hypocrites!

                I have confidence in the Brethren, of course, but even if I didn’t it wouldn’t excuse me of my obligation to follow them (because I follow Him).  We have seen Apostles excommunicated, we have seen Bishops and Stake Presidents excommunicated.  We have seen any number of horrible things done by Priesthood leaders from time to time.  But focusing on these things ignores two important facts.  First, they are (thankfully) extremely rare and the vast majority of those who the Lord calls to lead us at this time are good men responsive to His will.  Second, even if they are bringing about their own personal destruction because of their deviations from the Lord’s will, that gives us no excuse to disregard their position as servants of the Lord and leaders He has established in His Kingdom of God on Earth.

Alma 51

(October 26, 2015)
                There is a place for anger, it seems, in the Gospel.  Moroni was exceedingly wroth, Nephi was angry with his brothers (though he regretted it), and Christ overturned the money-changer tables.  God Himself is referred to as being angry from time to time.

                It is one thing to say that we shouldn’t be angry in a selfish manner.  But, by the same token, if we are to become like God we must learn to be angry when He is angry.  I understand the idea that an imperfect anger causes a number of problems, and if our hearts are not in tune with the Lord it is better to be meek (and, frankly, that is where I am right now in my progression).  But I don’t think it is fair to say that anger is by definition wrong.  I don’t think that the scriptures support such a position.

Alma 50

(October 25, 2015)
                I was struck reading this chapter by Mormon’s commentary that those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times.  In contrast to that blanket statement, we have the evidences of the Ammonites (slaughtered, at least in part, by the Lamanites).  We have the evidence of the women and children burned only a few chapters earlier.  Heck, we have the example of Mormon himself, who would ultimately be killed even though he was faithful in keeping the commandments of God.

                There are two thoughts that I have from this.  The first is that this is another perfect example of the dangers of proof-texting the scriptures (picking a phrase or sentence out of context and using that to prove or disprove a proposition).  I absolutely believe the scriptures are the word of God, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot find a verse somewhere to support just about any proposition that I might want to support.  This is the essence of wresting the scriptures – focusing in on what we want the scriptures to say rather than learning from the scriptures what is true.

                The other thought was in my current situation.  Yes, I haven’t been slaughtered the way the Ammonites were, and I am still alive and kicking.  But it is clear that, from at least a certain point of view, I was not delivered from my enemies.  Lies, hatred, and deception brought about no small amount of pain into my life, and while I believed that deliverance was just around the corner, it never materialized.

                But reading Mormon’s comment in context, and understanding that he could not be saying what it appears on the face of things he is saying, I can come to understand what is actually going on.  What Mormon is promising is not temporal deliverance (though spoken of in a temporal context).  Instead he is speaking of true deliverance, and of that I can truly testify.

                Even as I have not been delivered from the temporal consequences of those who seek to destroy me (and there is, of course, carryover into the spiritual dimension with this), I have found that the Lord has always been there to carry me each and every time I have needed it.  The Lord is quick to answer a prayer where I ask Him for confirmation of His love for me.  He is quick to give me whatever support I need – so quick that, on the rare times I do not get the support that I am requesting I have learned to trust that it is because He has confidence that I have the strength that I need to overcome the challenges that I am facing.

                So yes, those who are faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord are delivered in all times.  For what can you call it when you are struck down by the sword, praising God in that moment and going on to receive Exaltation if you don’t call it deliverance?  And what can you call it when everything you love is taken away from you out of the hatred of others and you find you life richer, fully, and more blessed with happiness than before if you don’t call it deliverance?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 62-63

(October 24, 2015)
                Once again we see a reminder of the central fact that faith does not come from miracles.  Having gone through a crisis of faith myself, I can attest to that fact.  I have been blessed, in my life, to have seen (and participated) in things that can only be described as miraculous.  And, yet, when I found myself struggling with my faith (as a consequence of my own poor choices), these miracles were not sufficient to grant me faith.

                Even when, intellectually, I understood that the miracles that I had seen were not possibly consistent with a reductive materialistic view of the world, I managed to work myself into a point where I doubted everything.  It wasn’t the miracles that brought me out of this dark place (and it truly is dark – I pity everyone living life without a testimony of the Savior, having been in that place myself), but rather it was a choice.  When I chose to believe, then the things which even in my darkest times I understood intellectually grew and developed into something that amounted to genuine faith.

Alma 49

(October 24, 2015)
                The symbolism that is common of the war chapters (the symbol of our fight against the Adversary for our souls) leads to some important understanding here.  In the time when Moroni was building the walls around Ammonihah and Noah, there were no Lamanites attacking.  They were at, if not peace, a time with an absence of conflict.  And it was during this time that Moroni laid the foundation for winning the next conflict.

                There is a military dictum that you don’t want to be caught fighting the last war (meaning that you must update strategy and tactics).  This is also true with us in mortality.  When Satan has attacked us in a given way for a long period of time, we may come to believe that the point of conflict will always be there.  But, during those times when we are at relative peace we must use those moments to shore up our defenses and prepare for the next war – to prepare for Satan’s next attack.  We may not know what is coming, but the Lord does and with His help we can be prepared for it.

                But just because we are in a period of relative peace in our lives doesn’t mean that we have reached the point where Satan has abandoned his designs for us.  No, it is a pause to allow us to prepare for the next war and we must always use it in that fashion.

Doctrine and Covenants 60-61

(October 23, 2015)
                Sometimes in this Church I think we still confuse justification (being clean before God) and sanctification (being cleanse from even the desire to sin).  Justification is, thanks to the Atonement, fairly easy.  When the time comes that we desire to give our lives and our hearts over to the Lord, and when we repent and confess and forsake our sins, we are forgiven.

                But as becomes clear in this Section (‘I can make you holy, and your sins are forgiven’), becoming holy or sanctified is another matter.  This, too, is possible only through the Atonement of Christ. But this is a lifelong (at best) process, and one that will require constant sacrifice.

                I think that many of us desire some sanctification, but not enough sanctification.  We want the particularly noticeable warts in our character removed (sometimes we want them removed, but just not quite yet).  But this isn’t enough for us to be holy – we must be willing to allow the Lord to completely change us in His imagine until every part of us that is not worthy of Him is gone.

                The greatest blessing of all, of course, is that He is speaking the truth when He tells them (and us) that He can make us holy.

Alma 48

(October 23, 2015)
                There are, of course, those times when calamity befalls us because of our own unrighteousness.  We become prideful, or succumb to lust, or act in rebellion against God – there are dozens of ways we can sin, of course.  When we live in that way, one of two things will happen.  We can find ourselves without experiencing temporal consequences of our sins (a dangerous situation), and merrily live on in that manner.  Or we can find ourselves in a disastrous circumstance, where exterior forces have brought home just how destructive sin inevitably is.  And while the first option is transitory at best, the second tends to be at the end of every track that doesn’t lead to the tree of life.

                But there are also times when we suffer from painful circumstances not of our making.  Just as not every sin leads to painful temporal consequences (at least, not right away), not every righteous action leads to temporal peace.  Sometimes we find ourselves facing a determined opposition who desires our destruction (in matters small or large), and our attempts to walk the pathway of discipleship become irrelevant to them (or may actually increase their determination to see us destroyed).  And this doesn’t even consider the non-human events – it is rarely our level of righteousness that determines whether we get cancer, after all.

                So when we confront painful experiences that are not of our making (or in response to our unrighteousness), what should we do?  I have learned that it is important to recognize the difference between those situations we bring about because of our sins and those we do not (and the Lord can help us to know the difference).  But while it is important to know the difference, we respond in largely the same way – we view these difficulties as opportunities to help to refine us and assist us through the repentance process.

                No matter how much we strive to follow the Savior, we will not achieve that goal completely in mortality.  We will, of necessity, continue to need to repent and to change.  Tribulation is useful as a mechanism for creating and assisting us in making that change.  Just as Joseph Smith was blessed by the refinement he encountered through countless days in horrible prison conditions, so we too can be blessed so long as we continue in faith and gratitude and allow our hearts to remain soft and humble before the Lord.

Doctrine and Covenants 59

(October 22, 2015)
                Such a simple obligation – “thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things”—but so profound in both implications and blessings associated.  All things allows for no exclusions, which changes the way that we view the world dramatically.  Get into a car accident?  Thou shalt thank the Lord for the car accident.  Get terminal cancer?  Thou shalt thank the Lord for cancer.

                Is this merely wishful thinking, ignoring reality, or the worst of Panglossian excess?  Not at all.  What it truly is amounts to a fundamental shifting in how we view the world.  Central to that fundamental shift is the recognition that (a) the Lord is fully in charge; and (b) He loves us and works out everything for our good.

                When my children don’t want to go to bed, they view me imposing a bedtime on them as the most cruel thing in the world.  But I understand that a little bit of discomfort now (missing out on crucial playtime, in their minds) will bring them greater happiness tomorrow – and understanding these consequences better than them I am able to appropriately judge and determine that the aggregate of happiness they experience will be increased if they go to bed now (even with some weeping and wailing), leaving them better able to enjoy the coming day.

                This is applicable to so many things we experience in mortality.  I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the path that I find myself on – in fact, there was more than a little bit of weeping and wailing on my part.  But, ultimately, I am able to see that in the long run this will lead (frankly, it has already led) to more happiness in my life (and, presumably, in my eternity).

                So thanking God in all things is not Panglossian – it is simple trust that He is in charge and He loves us and conspires to make us happy.  When bad things happen, we are able to take comfort from the fact that we know that in the end it will lead to our good and joy.  This empowers us to not merely survive the hard times, but also to appreciate and find joy in them.  And, when times are at their very worst, I have discovered that a prayer of gratitude for blessings yet unseen has brought me immense relief as I struggled to deal with the burdens that have been placed on my shoulders from time to time.

Alma 47

(October 22, 2015)
                In the current situation I find my life in, it is not surprising that I find my mind focused on stories containing false accusations and their consequences to both the accuser and the accused.  Reading through the process by which Amalickiah rose to power, my attention was drawn to the fate of the servants who were brazenly falsely accused by the very individuals responsible for the king’s death.

                They were obligated to flee, and presumably at least a portion of them left behind possessions, family, children, and similar losses.  And yet, how blessed were their lives as a result of the false accusations they encountered!  If they had not been falsely accused, they would have likely remained as servants to the king, living without the Gospel in their lives, and ultimately perhaps losing their chances as Exaltation.

                Instead they were forced through the false accusations they suffered from to flee to the Ammonites, where we can safely assume they were taught and received the Gospel in their lives.  Meanwhile, those who engaged in false accusations as a mechanism of covering their sins ultimately reached a point where they were cut off in the very act of rebellion against God (not a good fate, of course).

                Now I certainly don’t want that for my accusers.  But I do take comfort in seeing how the Lord watched over the falsely accused in this case.  And, I trust (both through the scriptures and my own experience these past few months), He will likewise bring about great blessings in my life that will draw me closer to Him as a consequence of enduring the false accusations I am confronted with so long as I allow them to drive me towards Him rather than choosing to allow them to drive me away from Him.

Doctrine and Covenants 58

(October 21, 2015)
                Within a couple of verses, we have what could be considered a contradiction.  First, the Lord tells the judges in Israel that they are not to consider themselves as rulers, but rather to ensure that Christ rules over them.  Then, a few verses later, we are told that it is not appropriate for the Lord to dictate to his servants (including, presumably, those judges) in all things, but rather that they should be anxiously engaged in a good work.

                The contradiction seems to arise when we think that judges should be engaged in only doing what the Lord tells them to do.  That makes them slothful servants, according to the later verses.  Of course, that isn’t what is actually happening.  But by examining the apparent contradiction, we can come to a better understanding of what is actually going on in the two sets of instructions.

                The judges are not given instructions to not judge or act according to their wisdom and understanding, but rather are given instructions that they are not to rule (or even consider themselves rulers).  If a Priesthood leader (or us as parents, for example) act in a manner that is consistent with ruling then we have gone astray.  But, by the same token, we are to be actively engaged in a good cause (doing the best that we can for them, rather than selfishly for ourselves).  And, of course, if and when the Lord directs us that we have gone astray we must recognize our obligation to bend our wills to the Lord.

Alma 46

(October 21, 2015)
                When we seek out charismatic leaders, leaders who happen to share our current ambitions, we set ourselves up for failure.  Just as those who sought out the leadership of Amilickiah were destined to be tossed out the moment they no longer served his interest, we run the same risks when we allow ourselves to be used by those seeking temporary power out of a desire to get something out of the arrangement ourselves.

                This could be equated to any number of disputes currently in the political arena, but it seems far better to view it for the current purposes in an eternal perspective.  We may seek out and follow the path of Satan because we believe that he will give us what we want in return.  And, in all honesty, if what we want is selfish oftentimes pursuit of this selfish end is best achieved through servitude to the Devil.

                But, as the scriptures say, the Devil doth not support his children at the last day but instead speedily drags them down to Hell.  And that is the inevitable end of those who seek such an arrangement to satisfy temporal desires.  Better to fail to achieve any worldly aim than to have them all achieved only to experience an eternity of regret.

                Unlike Satan and Amalickiah, Moroni and the Savior have as their aims selfless blessings to those around them.  Moroni fought for freedom for all, for their wives, children, and for the Lord.  The Savior completed the Atonement for all – He alone didn’t need to, and yet He alone completed it.  This understanding of selfishness and selflessness should give us a better capacity to judge the leaders of our day, and to examine our own behavior in our leadership roles (Church, family, etc.) as well.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 56-57

(October 20, 2015)
                There is something to be said about recognizing that the Lord gives commandments when He chooses and revokes them when He chooses.  There are certainly eternal laws that need to be complied with, but there are applications to particular situations that may differ from those laws.  Murder was and is against the commandments – except when the Lord commanded Nephi, for example, when not killing Laban would have been violation of Nephi’s obligations towards the Lord.

                The desire to seek consistency in commandments from the Lord is little different from the desire to seek consistency in the commandments of an army leader.  It would be foolish to believe that if the charge order comes in, that the soldiers must either always charge or ignore the charge order as invalid.  No, instead when the soldier is told to charge he should charge until he is told to stop.  Likewise, when a commandment or policy comes to us, we should follow it until it is conveyed to us that we should not follow it.

Alma 45

(October 20, 2015)
                There are so many times that the Lord has taken such good care of me, and yet I have never been in the mindset where I was inclined to fast for joy.  I fast for things I want help with, or to help others, but I cannot remember a time when I fasted just to say thank you for the blessings that I have received.  I am guessing that says something about me.

                Either I don’t fully understanding fasting, or I am not as grateful as I should be (and I think both of those prongs are likely true, to be honest).

Doctrine and Covenants 54-55

(October 19, 2015)
                In a crisis, I tend to look forward with anticipation for the time when the crisis will have passed.  I think of problems as short-term, and generally resolvable (and believe that once they are resolved things will be better).  Honestly, that is foolishness on my part.

                Contrast that view of dealing with tribulations with the one taught by the Lord here.  He doesn’t instruct Newel Knight to be patient in tribulation until they find land in Missouri, or until the Church gains financial solvency, or even until the Saints settle in Salt Lake City and build a huge Conference Center.  These would have alleviated his immediate, short-term problem, but it would obscure the reality of the situation.

                Newel Knight needed to be prepared to deal with tribulation for the rest of his mortal life (and beyond).  The Lord instructed him, even when he was focused on the immediate problem, that he was to be patient in tribulation until the Savior comes again.  I think this is consistent with the obligation of us all.

Alma 44

(October 19, 2015)
                We will, as we strive to live the Gospel in a pluralistic (and, increasingly, unrighteous) society, fall into situations where it is necessary to take a stand to defend not only our beliefs but also our rights to hold those beliefs.  Just as Moroni realized that he needed to take his sword and kill his enemy in order to preserve his right to worship God, we too will ultimately find ourselves in conflict (hopefully not mortal conflict, but that is largely outside of our control) to preserve this very same right for us.

                There is much to learn about how we should respond in these situations from Moroni.  First, he backed off when he had control of the situation.  He did not back off before, when the issue was in doubt, nor did he continue to fight when the situation was in control.  He backed off once he was certain of the victory.

                At this point, he gave his enemy an opportunity to escape the consequences of his own unrighteous behavior.  In all honesty, this is somewhat amazing to me.  He faced an enemy that was seeking for power, who unjustly hated him and his people, who had undoubtedly killed those he loved (and would have gladly killed him).  And yet, despite all of this (and despite perhaps his enemy ‘deserving’ destruction), he backed off at the moment he had control of the situation rather than pursue justice or retribution.

                Seeing this, in my current situation, is really quite amazing to me and brings home what kind of man Moroni was.  I aspire to that level of love for those who intentionally work to hurt (or destroy) you, but I am not there yet.

Doctrine and Covenants 53

(October 18, 2015)

                The Lord here states that the only those who endure to the end will be saved.  We all want to find some way around this, I imagine – some great deal of valor that will excuse us from the daily grind of conversion and sanctification.  Of course, in wishing for this we wish for something that will never be.  We must be perfected, and perfection comes only through growth.  And growth comes in no other way than accepting the Atonement and Grace and continuing and continual repentance.

Alma 43

(October 18, 2015)
                It has always been the way of things that the Lord’s people would divide themselves into groups based upon what they think is right.  Unquestionably, the dissenters from the Nephites referenced in this chapter believed that they were the true “good guys” and in was the Nephites who were the problems.

                Of course, we can see that is not the case.  We may think it silly in retrospect, but it is not obvious at the time of a sifting whether we are with the right group or the wrong one.  But one pretty clear rule to go by is if we are on the side of the schism that is favored by the world, we are on the wrong side.

Doctrine and Covenants 52

(October 17, 2015)
                Over and over, time and again, the Lord is very upfront about who His people are.  There is not a checklist, but rather simple things that indicate them.  Do they pray, do they repent, do they keep the ordinances, do they consider the poor.

                The Church is the Kingdom of God on Earth, but it is unquestionable that a culture has developed around it that is separate and distinct from this role.  The Church is in the world, but as any institution with imperfect people constituting it would necessarily be it is also somewhat of the world.

                The takeaway from that is not to condemn nor disregard our leaders, nor is it to look for fault amongst those around us.  The key takeaway is that we must constantly be on guard in ourselves for the ways in which we may be judging others (or excusing ourselves), and to be charitable when mistakes are inevitably made.

Alma 42

(October 17, 2015)
                In our current society, there is a war of ideas going on.  Like many such conflicts, Satan is doing his very best to drive both sides (contention, of course, being of the devil).  On the one side are those preaching justice, obeying the law of chastity, and so forth.  On the other side are those preaching mercy, love, and kindness.  Somehow Satan has managed things so that these two groups of people are at each others’ throats.

                Of course, this scripture highlights the importance of both elements – justice and mercy.  We show no love or mercy by ignoring sin or attempting to cover it to assuage the conscience of those who are violating the commandments of God.  But, at the same time, we show no justice by condemning Another’s servant and doing what we can (those of us outside of Priesthood authority) to excising them from the body of Christ.

                The answer, of course, is to recognize that these virtues must not be in conflict and to continue to study and pray until we find the way to reconcile them.  To stand for the truth and encourage obedience, while remaining loving and eternally hopeful that repentance will be accepted.  And, of course, to spend less time seeking for the sins of others and more time seeking for our own sins to eliminate.

                The other thought I had as I read through this chapter was on Alma’s language regarding evil and repentance.  He explicitly states that if we have the desire to do evil, we must repent or we would suffer the consequences.  Notice what he didn’t say – he didn’t say that if we did evil we needed to repent.  Our desires alone are sufficient to indicate who we are at a core level, and if (in our deepest hearts) we are evil, then we must repent or change of that evil heart if we hope to fully accept the Atonement.  It is not enough to merely control behavior (though that is a necessary part of our progression) – we must change the very nature of who we are, and that can only be accomplished through the Grace of Christ.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Doctrine and Covenants 51

(October 16, 2015)
                I have never noticed before the clear language regarding stewardship in this section.  Of course, I have always recognized its importance as a principle, but never to the extent that I needed to – clearly, if “whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life” then stewardship is of the highest importance.

                Mind you, of course, there is more than just the fact that he needed to be a steward over the immediate calling – I think the Lord is instead referring to stewardship over all that we have been entrusted with.  But it really makes things so very easy for us.  We don’t have to accomplish some great task to receive Exaltation – we need only accomplish the task the Lord has placed six inches in front of our nose, and then keep doing that until we are done with this mortal life.

Alma 41

(October 16, 2015)
                It has been said that the easiest way to know whether we have been forgiven of our sins is to see how easily mercy flows to those who have sinned against us.  This principle is also taught in reverse (if you won’t forgive, you will not be forgiven), and of course it is true in that way.  But I believe that it is true in both ways – not only must we forgive to be forgiven, but when we are forgiven we forgive.  They are linked because they are two ends of the same stick.

                There are those who have hurt me, and who did so cruelly (or unthinkingly).  The wounds they have caused cannot be healed through mortal means – there is no source I can go to for ‘justice’ for what was done to me.  The natural temptation is to rage against this injustice and the harm it has caused me and to seek vindication (or even vengeance).  But the truth is that the moment I do so – the moment I believe that I have the right to demand that what cannot be made right must be made right – is the same moment I condemn myself.

                After all, I have made mistakes in my life (many of them quite bad).  Some of these mistakes were ones that I could correct, but a large number of them are beyond my capacity to make right through any mortal means.  If I demand ‘justice’ from those who have hurt me – if I insist they make things right – then I condemn myself in I am held to the same standard.

                That is why those who have been forgiven of much  are so ready to love and to forgive – they recognize the great gift the Lord has given to them and they do not want to trivialize it or dishonor it by their selfish demands.  Elder Maxwell spoke about the fact that the older he got the less interested in justice and the more interested in mercy he became.  I can certainly understand that.