Sunday, December 27, 2015

1 Nephi 2:24 "ways of remembrance"

And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.

So last week the new Star Wars movie, "The Force Awakens" premiered. (No spoilers! I see it this coming Tuesday.) With Star Wars and "the ways of the Force" on my mind I noticed the phrase "the ways of remembrance" in the above scripture. To me this phrase implies that remembrance is a skill (or set of skills) that can be developed.

What are the lessons needed to hone the ways of remembrance? (I'm thinking one armed handstands may not be required.)

President Spencer W. Kimball taught,
"When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of [us] have made covenants … our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day—to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that [we] ‘… may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us].’… ‘Remember’ is the word" (Circles of Exaltation [address to religious educators, Brigham Young University, 28 June 1968], 8).

Clearly partaking of the sacrament each week is a critical "way of remembrance."

Scripture study and prayer are also likely "ways of remembrance."

I'll have to be on the look out for additional "ways of remembrance."

In honor of the quote above, a picture of President Kimball:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Matthew 25:31-46 "as a shepherd divideth sheep from the goats"

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

The Lord then tells us what his litmus test will be when dividing sheep from goats:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Speaking of this scriptural passage Marion G. Romney said, "the Master declared that the test on which the division would be made on that great day would be the care given to the poor and the needy." I agree with this, but would add that this Christ-given injunction also includes a hospitality component. (I was a stranger, and ye took me in.) How are we doing personally, as a religion, and as a nation?

Two things have brought this scriptural passage top of mind this month. First, the Syrian refugee crisis has many people talking about whether we should let more refugees in the United States. It is definitely a tough call, especially with the recent attacks in Paris. But the scriptural injunction to take in the stranger is clear. (I personally feel we should let as many refugees in as quickly as possible without lessening the strict immigration controls that predate the crisis, but no one of consequence asked me.)

Second, in the weeks since the LDS Church's policy changes, there has been a lot of discussion in the Bloggernacle about dividing the wheat from the tares. Many stalwart members defending the Church's new policy have taken to saying that by making this policy, the Lord is dividing the wheat from the tares (i.e., the wheat = those that support the policy; the tares = those that are offended by the policy). If this is true I am proudly a tare. But all this talk of dividing, got me wondering less whether I am wheat or tare and more whether I am sheep or goat.

With our Humanitarian Society and Bishop's Storehouses we're probably doing OK helping the hungry and thirsty. But I fear as a people we may have forgotten the scriptural charge to take in and care for the stranger. As I think of our LGBT brothers and sisters who, let's face it, can be somewhat foreign to our homogeneous, hetero-normative culture, I fear we are failing them. Even if we think homosexuality is wrong, we can stand up against institutional shunning of same-sex couples and their natural born and adopted children. We can invite them into our homes. We can become their friends and laugh with them and cry with them and just stand beside them.

Is that not what the Savior would do? Why shouldn't I?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Mosiah 18:9-10 "mourn with those that mourn"

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life--
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

Today I mourn with those that mourn. It is part of the baptismal covenant I made when I was 8.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

2 Samuel 6:6-7 "and God smote him there for error"

And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

In 2 Samuel chapter 6, David got the bright idea to move the ark of the covenant to his city. He knew that the ark has been in times past a harbinger of great blessings. But neither David nor any of the others he involved in his plan bothered to consider the strict guidelines the Lord had established for transporting the ark. Uzzah was one appointed to help with the move. Unfortunately when the ark shook and Uzzah put forth to steady the ark, the Lord struck him dead for touching the ark.

In our modern era this episode is often cited as an example that people without authority shouldn't seek to "steady the ark" or direct how the Church is moving. D&C 85 started this line of thinking, but it's still taught regularly. Take for example this quote from the Old Testament Institute Student Manual:

“Uzzah’s offence consisted in the fact that he had touched the ark with profane feelings, although with good intentions, namely to prevent its rolling over and falling from the cart. Touching the ark, the throne of the divine glory and visible pledge of the invisible presence of the Lord, was a violation of the majesty of the holy God. ‘Uzzah was therefore a type of all who with good intentions, humanly speaking, yet with unsanctified minds, interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of God, from the notion that they are in danger, and with the hope of saving them.’"(Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:333.)

The quote above is then followed by this commentary:

"In modern revelation, the Lord made reference to this incident to teach that very principle (see D&C 85:8). The Lord is in His heavens and does not need the help of men to defend His kingdom. Yet in our own time we see those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. We hear of those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, of those who would extend some unauthorized blessing to those not yet ready, or of those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. Are these not ark-steadiers? The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan."

Taking away this lesson from the story of Uzzah is not inappropriate. However I'm afraid that we get so caught up in this one meaning that we miss other, perhaps more important, implications in the story.

Lesson 1--We are responsible for our own salvation
Uzzah's first mistake was not touching the ark. He should never have agreed to David's plan for moving the ark in the first place. We don't know for sure whether or not Uzzah was familiar with the law regarding ark transportation. If he wasn't, then his first mistake was not studying and seeking out God's will in the matter before acting. If he was aware of the strict commands regarding the ark but chose to move the ark anyway, then his first mistake was not standing up to David. (If this were the case, perhaps his first error was actually giving into vanity, for surely being asked to play such an important role in the king's festivities was a great honor.) If our leaders tell us to do something we know we shouldn't, we should be strong enough to express dissent. We can do this politely, but we need to do it.

I find it interesting that this scripture says, "And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error." Here the italics are not emphasis; here they mean this word is not in the original text. The italics means the translator using context has added this word to clarify what was missing from the text. From the context, it is very likely the author meant "his error". But what if the author actually meant "their error"? I'm not a Hebrew scholar. Perhaps there's no way that this could be read from the text. But given David's reaction, I think all there that day felt reprimanded.

Lesson 2--Our actions affect other people
It was David's plan to move the ark that resulted in Uzzah's death. It was not David's fault alone, that Uzzah died (see lesson 1). But David certainly bore some of the blame. And it is apparent from the text that Uzzah's death affected David. He took it personally. We see this in the second attempt at bringing the ark to his home. This time he orders the Levites only to move the ark. Speaking to them he says, because they did not move it the first time, "the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order" (1 Chron 15:13 emphasis added).

When we approach the scriptures we need to be careful not to assume we know the message they have to teach us, lest we miss other important truths.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

1 Samuel 15:22 "better than sacrifice"

And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Part of me just wants to take this scripture out of context; that is after all what so many in the church, myself included, have done over the years. But I'll resist this urge for a few minutes. Here's a brief contextual summary.

God, after His initial displeasure with Saul for not waiting on Him (1 Samuel 13), gives the king a second chance to show his devotion. Saul is commanded to destroy the Amalekites for their wickedness. The order specifically was to spare no living thing. Saul starts out well, but in the end, he lets the king of the Amalekites live and then Saul's army keeps the best of the Amalekite livestock. And Saul goes along with them. When Samuel questions him on why they did not destroy every living thing as commanded, Saul explains that "the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal."

Then Samuel delivers this oft quoted scripture, "to obey is better than to sacrifice."

My general comments on the scripture in context are:
1.) Saul's sin here was very similar to his offense two chapters earlier. He worried more about the opinions of the people he was supposed to be leading than what his God thought. Am I guilty of this? Or perhaps more correctly, how am I guilty of this? Do I sometimes align my thinking to my perception of what my friends believe? My leaders? My boss? My Facebook feed? Do I worry about how others will view my dress or behavior? (Don't we all do this to some extent? Is this always bad?) I definitely need to do a better job worrying first about what God thinks before considering how my actions look to others.

2.) Saul seems to have rationalized his folly, such that he convinced himself he had completed God's ask of him. I know I am guilty of this, but I'm not going to list all the ways on a public blog. ;)

As I started this post I mentioned that I wanted to take this verse out of context because that's just what you do with this scripture. According to the LDS Scripture Citation Index, this scripture has been cited 28 times in General Conference (since 1942), Journal of Discourses, and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  I can't tell for certain, but this appears to be significantly above average; it seems most Old Testament cited scriptures have been used 2 to 4 times. (This verse is certainly no "stone cut without hands" (Daniel 2:44), quoted some 291 times though surprisingly not since 2008 and more interestingly its use is clearly waning).

The fact that this verse from Samuel gets so much airtime definitely adds to its perceived importance. Even biblical prophets quoted this scripture. When they did, however they often changed it. The most famous version is probably Hosea 6:6 in which the Lord says, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." In case you're curious, Hosea's verse per the LDS Scripture Citation Index has been cited only 4 times even though this was the verse likely quoted by Jesus when answering the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 (cited 6 times).

Juxtaposing these two versions of scripture raises some interesting questions. How are obedience and mercy related? How are they different? And how does "knowledge of God" fit in?

The root of obey is to hear but hearing is not enough; obedience requires action. It requires us to hear the Lord when He speaks to us and then to act on His requests.

Regarding mercy, Little Kittel writes, "In the LXX [the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible] éleos [or mercy] is mostly used for hesed... This denotes an attitude arising out of mutual relationship, e.g., between relatives, host and guests, masters and servants, those in a covenant relation. It is an act rather than a disposition with trust as the basis and loyalty as the appropriate attitude." We often think of mercy as merely an emotion, compassion for those around us, but mercy is much more than just a feeling. True mercy requires us to see and feel our relationship with both the Lord and with those around us and then to act on this relationship.

Obedience to God should turn our heart towards God. As we hear His word and act on it, we begin to see more clearly our relationship to Him; we begin to know God better which in turn makes us the type of person who acts with compassion for those around us. Obedience then is a means to making us more like our Heavenly Father.

Our latter-day preference for the Samuel's "obedience over sacrifice" instead of Hosea's "desired mercy" causes me to fear we have made obedience an end in and of itself, not a means to an end. I wonder if we more concerned with keeping the law (or pharisaical regulation) that we forget to let the law change us. Obsessing over the length of our shorts, the color of our shirt, or the number of earrings we wear, do we forget the reason the law was given in the first place?

Perhaps the best illustration of this tension between being strictly obedient and showing mercy is the parable of the good Samaritan. (I started to summarize it, but it's short and beautiful in its simplicity.)

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

I won't bother analyzing this parable. Others have done a better job than I could anyway. But reflecting on this, I have to ask myself, "Am more like a Levite than I care to admit?" As a people, are we Mormons becoming more Samaritan like or more priest like?

I'll end with my favorite version of the scripture that began this post, found in Micah 6:

Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil... ?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Monday, October 12, 2015

1Samuel 13 "the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart"

And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.

In my quest to answer the question, "What would the Lord have me do?" I naturally was drawn to the story of Saul. Here we see a man anointed by a prophet to be King. Saul actually begins to find some leadership skills following a military victory. But then sins in the Lord's eyes... twice. (Well twice that we know, perhaps more.)

The first, Samuel had told Saul that after seven days he would meet Saul and he offer a sacrifice. He would then instruct Saul how the Lord would have him fight his enemies. But when the Philistines encroached and Saul's army began to flee for safety, Saul feared he cannot wait any longer for Samuel. He took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice, hoping to muster the flagging fighters.

I had always thought that Saul's sin was trying to use Priesthood he didn't hold. This belief was reinforced by the following quote used in both the Old Testament Institute and Gospel Doctrine manuals. (So basically every four years we heard this quote.)

Elder James E. Talmadge taught that "growing impatient at Samuel’s delay, Saul prepared the burnt offering himself, forgetting that though he occupied the throne, wore the crown, and bore the scepter, these insignia of kingly power gave him no right to officiate even as a deacon in the Priesthood of God."

Given this quote it is obvious why I might think Saul's sin was officiating an ordinance he was not authorized to do. But perhaps this wasn't the case. Several commentaries on this chapter point out that the sacrifice could have been performed by an authorized Levite even though the record says Saul made the offering. Saul definitely authorized it, but is this really his great big sin?

If Saul's sin wasn't related to usurping authority, what was it? I think the lesson this Biblical author wants us to take away is that Saul feared man more than God. God would have us not worry about the opinions of man; He wants us to trust Him.

And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.

It's easy to put ourselves in Saul's shoes. The Philistines were clearly a formidable enemy. He was losing men fast. And Saul was a man of action. I too am sometimes prone to act before thinking through a situation thoroughly.

How else am I like Saul? Do I worry about what man thinks, what my boss, my coworkers, my fellow Saints think, more than what God wants from me?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Genesis 22:1 "Behold, here am I"

I have taken a break from my regular studies to ponder this question "What does the Lord desire of me?" It's a reformulation of a question I was recently asked to ponder: "What does the Lord desire of us when there is a revealed doctrine, commandment, or church policy that we do not understand, or even disagree with?" Personally I prefer the rephrased version, not just because it is my own, but also I feel it is more open to any answer the Lord may inspire. In pondering this question, I have been looking at scripture stories where someone either followed or didn't follow specific commandments. This led me first to the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.

In Genesis 22:1, the story begins:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

I had never noticed this language before and was immediately reminded of the story of the preexistence. In Abraham 3, the Father lays out His plan of salvation and then asks, "Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me."

I believe the answer to "What does the Lord desire of me?" is ME. The Lord desires me to become someone ready to do whatever He asks. For father Abraham, his test started the moment God called him by name. Abraham recognized God's voice and responded with a willing attitude.

In this verse I also appreciate God calling Abraham by name. This life is an immensely personal proving ground. Although all there are similarities in the human experience, in the end each mortal journey is unique. Our Father in Heaven calls us individually wherever He finds us and asks us to make personal sacrifices that no one else could make. The question is, how will we respond?

James Faulconer in The Old Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions writes that Abraham's response "means literally, 'See me here.' In Arabic even today a person answers a call with something similar--the equivalent of 'Ready'--and that is part of the import of this response."

When God personally calls to me, am I willing to answer, "Behold, here am I"?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2 Nephi 25:16 "infinite atonement"

And after they have been scattered, and the Lord God hath scourged them by other nations for the space of many generations, yea, even down from generation to generation until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind

Tonight for scriptures we read from 2 Nephi 25. I stopped Caleb after this verse and asked "What does infinite mean?"

Caleb responded, "It means something that goes on and on."

That wasn't exactly the answer I had in mind, but seemed right so I asked, "So what is and infinite atonement?"

Nathaniel chimed in, clearly thinking about it on the fly, "An infinite atonement would be an atonement that never runs out. No matter how many times you sin, you can always repent. It's not like the Lord is ever, 'Sorry. We ran out of atonement.'"

I like that image. Christ, the righteous storekeeper, never says, "So sorry. Atonement is on backorder this week. Can I interest you in some Hell? Maybe a little eternal damnation."

Then we got to grace with this famous verse:
for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

I asked what grace was and getting some sub par definitions had Nathaniel read from the Bible Dictionary:
A word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.

It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by His atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.

"Nathaniel, can you summarize?"

"Let's see. So grace is basically the magic love power of Jesus Christ."


"Yes. I think that about sums it up."

Monday, September 14, 2015

Genesis 42:8-9 "I will be a surety for him"

And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.
I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:

I have, of late, been rereading the story of Joseph because... well... why not? It is one of my favorites.

This set of verses (42:8-9) today struck me when compared with Reuben's offer just the chapter before. The family was running low on food and needed to return to Egypt for more, but Jacob did not want to allow Benjamin to make the journey. (It seems he didn't exactly trust his boys.) But Joseph had made it very clear that no Benjamin equaled no food.

Reuben graciously offered his two boys (or two of his boys?) as a surety, telling Jacob that if something should happen to Benjamin, he could kill his boys. What kind of offer was that? (If they were teenagers maybe Reuben was like, "Please. Have at them." But in all seriousness...) It wasn't much of a pledge. Did Reuben really say that if harm befell Benjamin Jacob could kill his grandsons? And this was supposed to assure him?

Then Judah offered himself as a surety. And Jacob, albeit grudgingly, consented.

Earlier in our tale Reuben obviously was shifting some (most?) of the blame for selling Joseph to his brothers. "And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required." Was he rationalizing (or trying to rationalize) is guilt away? Perhaps he thus felt less remorse than his brothers; if so, maybe it's not surprising that he was willing to give less to assure Benjamin's safe return.

What are we to learn from contrasting these two? I think Judah's offering shows that his heart had softened. Where he had been a ringleader in Joseph's selling, now he is a leader in saving not only Benjamin but all of Jacob's starving family.

We also learn that showing you have skin in the game is important when you want to persuade people to listen to you. And finally... don't offer your (teenage?) sons as collateral; everyone can see through that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Enos 1:11 "faith began to be unshaken"

And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. I have given unto them this land, and it is a holy land; and I curse it not save it be for the cause of iniquity; wherefore, I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads. And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord
Enos 1:10-11

It wasn't just hearing the voice of the Lord that caused his faith to become unshaken; the feeling came after hearing these words. Was it something about these words that caused that?

Perhaps how this land was prime real estate? And what exactly are we to make of this: "and I curse [the land] not be it be for the cause of iniquity"? Does this imply that there are actually other lands that the Lord curses for reasons other than iniquity? (Strictly speaking, it does not say this. And I wouldn't go there.)

I suppose it has more to do with first the Lord granting a blessing to Enos personally and then his people the Nephites. He's probably just saying, "Well I got response x which was good, and y was also good. Let's see about z."

I won't try to read too much into this verse. That said, I find it interesting that Enos's faith began to become unshaken after hearing the voice of the Lord. Jacob, his father, had the same feeling after searching the prophets and having many revelations. What does this tell us about the relationship between hearing the voice of the Lord and having unshaken faith? Am I seeking the voice of the Lord throughout my day?

Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
Jacob 4:6

Monday, August 24, 2015

2 Nephi 9:20 O how great the holiness of our God!

O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.

Family scripture study again. We got through five verses tonight (2 Nephi 9:19-24. This pace is killing my children.) Ok. "Got through" might be stretching it a bit. Tonight we got hung up on verse 20. I pointed out that it seemed odd that Jacob would use God's omniscience as proof that He is holy. I asked why but no one could come up with a good reason. A simple Google search, "define holy" did not help ("dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred").

Nathaniel had a heated argument with anyone who would engage (no one) explaining how God could not be holy because He can't dedicate Himself to Himself... or something... there was definitely a tautology going on in his argument.

I think the problem was our rudimentary definition. After giving up and ending our study session, I put the kids to bed and then in quiet consulted my Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Geoffrey W Bromiley edited by Gerhard Littel and Gerhard Friedrich. This was dubbed "Little Kittel" by my professor Dr. Dennis Rasmussen--at least it was from Dr. Rasmussen that I heard this nickname--because the editors managed to abridge 10 volumes into a mere 1,300 pages. This "little" book was one of the best investments I made in college.

According to Little Kittel, in Old Testament times, "God's holiness expresses his divine perfection." And then specific to the later chapters of Isaiah (like those Jacob was just quoting) Kittel says, "the Holy One of Israel is more fully manifested as the God of redemption rather than judgement. God is incomparable (45:25). In his holiness lies his mystery (45:15). This mystery is redemption; hence salvation and holiness are now firmly related (45:18ff. etc.)."

Given this explanation, Jacob's words in verses 20-24 make complete sense. Perhaps when we pick up here tomorrow I won't have to tune out Nathaniel. ;)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Enos 1:1 A just man

Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it

Last week I blogged about God's justice. Tonight rereading Enos 1:1 I realized that in this verse Enos ascribes justice to his father Jacob because he had taught his son "in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Often we think of justice in relation to administering the law or to fairness. Jacob's teaching his son obviously has nothing to do with fairness or the law. So what are we to make of this verse?

Maybe though it's not saying that Jacob was just because he taught his son; perhaps Enos is saying that he knew his father was just because of his teachings. Does it matter?

If it is the first way (Jacob is just because of his teaching), that would imply that if I don't teach my children then I am not just.  If we define justice in terms of doing what is morally right instead of how we administer the law, then I suppose this is an OK reading. It is after all morally right to teach our children in the ways of the Lord.

The second way of reading the verse though is interesting because it implies that teaching our children "in our language and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" allows our children to see us as just. My teenagers are highly attuned to any time I am not perfectly just. Rather than try to help them see the logic behind my attempts at acting justly, perhaps I should just redouble my efforts in teaching them "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord". (And correct their grammar more.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Enos 1:5-6 "I... knew that God could not lie"

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

Tonight for our family scripture study we read 2 Nephi 9:17. Here Jacob is giving what is essentially a General Conference talk. He is speaking of the plan of salvation and then exclaims, "O the greatness and the justice of our God! For he executeth all his words, and they have gone forth out of his mouth, and his law must be fulfilled."

We discussed how God's mercy is often extolled; we don't often rejoice in His justice. Here Jacob does just that and then points out that because God is just, whatever He says He will do, He does. It's this very trait that allowed Enos to rejoice in His promise, that allows us to rely on Him.

If we are striving to be more like Him, perhaps we need to do a better job "executing all our words." Are we sometimes a bit cavalier in our commitments? I know I am.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Enos 1:3-4 "the joy of the Saints"

Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered

Something about the teachings of Enos's father (Jacob) sunk deep into his heart. We often hear people say that the word of God has a "more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else." When I hear this I often assume that it refers to doctrine, that true doctrine changes minds. But in fact this verse teaches that preaching "the joy of the saints" changes minds too.

The question is, how do we preach "the joy of the saints" with words (Jacob taught this with words)? In my mind joy is something seen not spoken. But perhaps I need to do a better job articulating the joy I find in Christ.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Jacob 3:5-7 "how much better are they"

I find it interesting that Jacob calls his audience's attention to the righteousness of the Lamanites. It is very easy when we think we are "the chosen people" to look down on "those people in the great and spacious building" (hashtag).

"I don't drink or smoke like them."
"At the second coming I won't be burned like them because I've paid my fire insurance."
"I defend the family... unlike them [complete with head shaking]."

But Jacob teaches that they only do wrong because that's what their parents have taught them. Jacob makes it clear that family was important to the Lamanites. In fact, we can cross-reference these verses with 1 Nephi 17:20. In this verse Nephi's older brothers say:
"and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions."
While his brothers may have been wrong, they were not oblivious to their wives' hardships. Perhaps the loving of spouse and children was taught among Lamanites from their first parents.

Jacob warns the Nephites that at the last day the Lamanites will be better off because the . (Yes I avoided the potentially racist phraseology.)

What am I to learn from this? Do I remember my own filthiness before the Lord or am I too busy condemning Babylon? Do I pay enough attention to my wife's hardships (we do have two almost three teenage boys and a 5-year old drama queen)? How much of what I believe is a product of the traditions of my fathers? (Note the plural... I'm not blaming you dad specifically but more generally the erroneous beliefs that have been passed down from generations.) I suppose if I believe Jacob I shouldn't spend too much time worrying about that last question.
"but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers."
In the end, I need to worry about my own filthiness, not from whence it came, but I should remember the source for the filthiness of others.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jacob 3:10 "and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day"

Cross reference with 2 Nephi 9:3 "lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children." Note that Jacob speaks both verses.

In 2 Nephi 9:3, Jacob, after telling the Nephite nation that the Lord would restore His true church in the latter days, encourages his people to rejoice because of the blessings their posterity would see. There are a few lessons we should take away from this verse.

First, we have been blessed because of the righteousness of our forbearers. Do we give enough credit to our parents and their parents for the sacrifices they endured? I know I don't often reflect on the long hours my dad worked to keep a roof over our head and food on the table or the times my mother stayed up late helping me with an assignment that I had known about for weeks but had waited til the last minute because I was too busy watching reruns of CHiPs.

Second, in the future our posterity will be blessed by our faithfulness today. What lessons are we teaching them? Do we teach them to recognize and respond to the Holy Ghost? Do we teach them to love and serve one another and their fellowman? Do we rejoice because they will be blessed?

Ten to 15 years pass and Jacob's preaching has turned to warning. Such a short time.

In this verse, Jacob tells everyone that unless they repent their children's sins will "be heaped upon [their] heads at the last day"

Am I more deserving of the first sermon or the second?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Passing the sacrament in a blue shirt

Today before sacrament meeting, my middle son was responsible for recruiting enough priesthood to pass the sacrament. As the bishop stood to start the meeting, they were still one man short. For personal reasons, health not worthiness for those of you who are judging me, I don't usually volunteer to pass the sacrament. But for some reason today I thought to myself that I should help. It wasn't a burning impression, just a simple thought to my mind.

After I had been instructed on my route we began singing the opening hymn. That's when I realized I was wearing my power blue shirt, not the official white shirt uniform of the sacrament. For one, brief instant I actually considered finding someone else to help--I personally don't have an issue with the blue shirt, but know that some might and generally I would rather avoid anything that will distract other members of our congregation during the sacrament--but in the end brushed that thought aside.

In our congregation there is a family with Celiac disease. They bring gluten free crackers which get added to their aisle's tray for blessing with the bread. For some reason today, before the meeting started I noted the interaction as the father handed the crackers to the priests.

When the sacrament began, the hymn was sung, the prayers were said, the trays were handed out.

We began to move to our assigned rows when a thought came to my mind, "That's not right." I realized the priest had given the tray with gluten free crackers to the wrong brother. They were heading out to the foyer not to the appropriate aisle. (I'm sure that I was more tuned into this because my wife and two of my children have a gluten intolerance.) As soon as I realized it I went out to the foyer to get with gluten-free tray. Then I went to the man who was supposed to have the gluten-free tray and swapped with him so that the family with Celiac disease could participate in the sacrament.

As we finished passing the sacrament I was filled with a quiet gratefulness not only for participating in this ordinance, but for having been briefly an instrument in the Lord's hands to help make sure everyone had a chance to take the sacrament... in spite of my blue shirt.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jacob 1:5 "because of faith and great anxiety"

Is great anxiety anything like high anxiety? Sorry. Had to ask.

I find it interesting that Jacob has seen his posterity's future because of faith and great anxiety. I have a difficult time wondering what will become of my immediate children; could I really see what will happen in distant generations? Would I want to? What would I want for them? What do I want for my immediate children?

I want them to be happy and love the Lord. I want my children to be better than me; I have made mistakes that I hope they don't make. I hope they find husbands and wives that they can love and that will love them back.

Perhaps I need to spend more time cultivating great anxiety for my posterity so I can recognize the rare opportunities to influence the future today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2 Nephi 26:22* "Grind the face of the poor"

*clearly quoting Isaiah here.

Grind (v) to reduce to small particles or dust by crushing

Face is our outward appearance. It is how we express ourselves to other people. "Saving face" is all about preserving dignity. Grinding the face of the poor is all about removing from the poor the ability to express who they are to others. It removes all their dignity.

How am I guilty of this?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2 Nephi 9:28 "When we are learned..."

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

We often read this and assume that "When they are learned they think they are wise" applies to scholars or intellectuals who get a little too much book learning and then think they know better than God. After all, that's the interpretation taught in Sunday School and seminary so it must be right.

I wonder if we shouldn't do a better job applying this passage to ourselves. Do I ever find myself thinking that just because I went to all four years of seminary, or because I go to Sunday School each week, I am wise regarding the scriptures? Could this verse apply to learning from General Conference or the Ensign? Maybe the Handbook of Instructions?

Perhaps the Lord wants to counsel me, but I am so certain of the interpretation of whatever it is I'm studying that I miss His whispering Spirit. Perhaps this scripture applies to spiritual knowledge just as much as scholarly learning.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't pay attention to General Conference or read the Ensign

In short we should ask ourselves more often, "Do I set aside His counsel because I think I already know what He is telling me in spiritual matters?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2 Nephi 9:5-6

Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.
For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement

In this passage Jacob explains why the atonement is required, why the Lord must subject Himself to man in the flesh. I find it interesting that Jacob uses for the Lord not the title Redeemer or Savior or for that matter even the common Lord. Instead he refers to the Lord as the Creator. Can we learn anything from this?

In my mind the relationship between the fall and the atonement is clear: the one necessitated the other. Linking both to the creation I think helps us recognize that the fall is surely personal for the Lord. Yes, before the fall, the world was "very good", but more than that, it was the handiwork of the Lord. He created it. It was His own very good world. Surely He felt satisfaction, even a sense of pride, in His creation. ("Pride" here in the non-President Benson sense of the word.) I know I feel a definite sense of accomplishment when I make manage to get four wheels on a pinewood derby car that makes it all the way down the track. I can only imagine what Christ felt once the world was in orbit and full of all manner of beauty.

Even though He knew that the fall, thanks to His merciful plan, would be a positive thing in the long run, I'm certain He felt some sorrow for His creation. I imagine that this sadness helped motivate Him when He suffered for us. Surely knowing that His creation would be lost forever without the atonement gave added purpose to His suffering and motivation to help Him bear the agony.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The lousy samaritan

Just before Christmas I found myself hurrying home for, to be honest I don't remember what, when I got stopped by a red light. There, in spite of the cold, on the grassy median, was a man with a cardboard sign begging. His sign indicated that he was willing to work for food. My first thought was, "Do I have any money or perhaps a Chipotle gift card?" I have been taught by my children that when you see someone begging you should give. But before I checked my wallet, and besides I was in the wrong lane to help, the light turned green.

As I drove away, I had a fleeting thought that I could turn around, park across in a nearby lot, cross the street, and find out that man's story. I'm sure I could have helped him somehow. But a quick excuse--my fingers freeze at about 45 degrees (thank you Raynaud's) and it was way below that--and I was on my way.

I have reflected on this experience several times since then. The Lord I realize now was testing me. And I failed.

Sometimes when reading the story of the good Samaritan I have judged the "certain priest" and "Levite" who passed by on the other side of the road. Intellectually I could say, "There's a little more priest in me than I would like to admit." But now if I am being completely honest, I must see myself in their shoes. (Not so much the Levite's who "came and looked on" the wounded man before passing by on the other side; I am more like the certain priest who merely passed by.)

(Incidentally for an interesting examination of the parable of the Good Samaritan, I recommend Daniel K. Judd's BYU devotional on mental health. (Alas the text is not available, so you have to listen to it.) The last few minutes he reviews this parable. I had never thought of asking myself if I was like the host who was willing to help, but only for a price.)

I want to be the kind of man who crosses the street to help another in need. So I guess this is something of a confession. I make a lousy Samaritan. Hopefully the Lord will forgive me for my priestly behavior.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2 Nephi 5:10

And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses.

Why does Nephi not simply say, "And we kept the commandments?" What does adding "we did observe to keep the commandments" imply? Perhaps from this semi awkward phrasing we are supposed to learn that truly keeping the commandments requires a watchfulness, a mindful attitude of recognizing what we are doing and why. Adam and Eve were certainly keeping the law of sacrifice when the offered the firstlings of their flock. But the Lord was not content with leaving them in the dark about why He had given them this law. Thus He sent an angel to instruct them. So I find myself wondering, "Am I mindful of the commandments as I kept them? Am I waiting on the Lord to give me further light and knowledge as I keep the commandments or am I just obeying out of habit (which is probably better than not, but is it what the Lord wants)?"

From this verse we also need to ask why Nephi said they kept the judgments, statutes, and commandments? Again, why didn't he just say, "And we kept the commandments?" How are these three things different. I admit, after comparing usage and definitions from several dictionaries, I'm flummoxed.

Judgments seems to be the law as given by the Lord (our judge). Statutes are written laws. Commandments are divine decrees.

Perhaps they are just three ways of saying the same thing. So why list all three?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2 Nephi 2:1-3

Tonight my reading was 2 Nephi 2. I didn't get very far. I wonder if we should learn anything from the verb tenses in the first three verses, especially the first two. Those are about afflictions, a subject unfortunately near and dear to my heart.

I find it interesting that Jacob "hast suffered afflictions" meaning he had suffered (past tense), but that God "shall consecrate" his afflictions for his gain, meaning the suffering would benefit him (future tense). Often when we suffer we don't recognize an affliction as a blessing. A lot of cheap self-help and smarmy sacrament meeting talks teach that in our suffering we should try to find the lessons in our agony; look for the proverbial silver lining. Trying to find good in pain may help keep our attitude in check, but when we face trials perhaps we would be better off just admitting that our life stinks, accept it, and... that's it. No searching for hidden treasures or sacred meaning in our trials; God hasn't yet consecrated our trials for our gain. They're still just trials. This need not be pessimistic, We can recognize the awfulness of our situation and at the same time reassure ourselves that some day (i.e., not now) God will make something good out of our pain... and just move on.

I also find it interesting that in verse 3, Lehi says to Jacob, who is only a young man, "thou art redeemed" (present tense). I wonder what this says about redemption. Often we think of redemption coming only after final judgement and worse "after all we can do". Perhaps redemption is a state of being that we should strive for today and every day. (Tying the three verses together, I imagine that knowing today you are redeemed would aide in enduring challenges that arise today.)

I admit I don't know how we get to that knowledge/feeling/state of being of redemption today, but am heartened that Jacob was redeemed because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ and not because of anything he had done. That recognition of the source of our redemption is probably the first step.