Monday, December 24, 2012

The Actual News

Alma 13:25

"And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice"

Joyful news.  I have yet to see much or any of that on the current day "news" stations or outlets.  I sometimes watch or read about local and broader events, but rarely find joy in it or find it edifying.  The joyful news I'm interested in is hard to come by from those kinds of sources.  

News is a "coincidental acronym" for North East West and South. We often miss the connection between that word and the four cardinal directions representing the earth.  Although the origin of the word is a matter of debate by etymologists I wonder if the word news has it origins in the Gospel, and the "good news" and "glad tidings" intended for all four corners of the Earth.  That's the actual news that matters.

Unfortunately the need and desire for humans to know of the events and goings on in other places can become merely a lucrative business.  Fear can be employed, along with emotionally charged headlines and endless debate.  Things can get twisted, left out, and other agendas sometimes distort the truth to draw in a bigger audience.  USA Today will report things very differently than say a Prophet of God relating a vision of the same events or time period.  Where you get your news is important.

The real news hopefully can still be what the Lord is doing in the north east west and south. That "news" is based on faith, the opposite of fear.  However to get the best quality news I think you have  to go to the scriptures and not major news outlets.  On that note, I think Isaiah is one of the the best news anchors the world has seen.

Isaiah 9:6 "For unto us a child born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

May we not miss this evenings news.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Out of the Heart

Proverbs 4: 23:  "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."

Out of the heart are the issues of life. What could that mean?  Is it really possible that the issues of your life are due to, and come from what is within your own heart?  There's trouble everywhere in our world, but the most far-reaching trouble is the kind in your own heart.

How troubled are peoples hearts these days?  Not just physically with heart disease, but with anger, hurt, sadness, regret, pain, hopelessness and despair.  The state of our society can sometimes be an indicator of the sate of our collective hearts.  It's no wonder that out of the heart are the issues of life. 

In our culture it's not always common for your external circumstances to be consciously connected to what is in your heart.  But imagine if we made that connection, and explored it. Imagine what could be revealed?  Imagine how much more responsibility and thus influence we would all have in our own lives.  Imagine the doors that would open for progress  The heart is a tender place, with defense mechanisms akin to a large country and with a logic all it's own.  But it's often not all that complicated.  It's simple, but requires humility to to unlock.

We each know our own heart.  We know what is in there, we keep things hidden that we think no one else knows about.  We may even forget the things we have kept hidden.  But they affect our lives whether we recognize it or not.  The past burdens, the pain, the anger, the bitterness that has been locked away, and for the most part forgotten about effects every moment of our life for good or bad.

If we are to "keep our heart", we may need to treat it as we treat "keeping" the commandments (Hebrews 8:10, 2 Corinthians 3:3).  It can bring us freedom.        

The implications of Proverbs 4:23 are profound.

There is some interesting research being done and being published about the heart and the mind.  Here's an interesting sample of some of the scientific research on this topic.

"In 1991, one of the early pioneers in neurocardiology, Dr. J. Andrew Armour, introduced the concept of a functional "heart brain". His work revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system of its own. The heart’s brain is an intricate network of neurons, neurotransmitters, protein neuropeptides and support cells identical to those found in the head brain. Its elaborate circuitry enables the heart to act independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember, to feel and sense.

Since 2004, scientists like Rollin McCraty have researched the bio-electricity of the heart. Electromagnetic fields generated by the heart permeate every cell of the body and may act as a synchronizing signal for the body in a manner analogous to information carried by radio waves. This energy is not only transmitted internally to the brain but is also detectable by others within its range of communication. The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body. The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram (ECG) is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brain waves recorded in an electroencephalogram (EEG).

The magnetic component of the heart’s field is 5000 times stronger than that produced by the brain. It is not impeded by tissues and can be measured several feet away from the body with SQUID* based magnetometers. (*Superconducting Quantum Interference Device)"

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nothing Wasted

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”

 - Orson F. Whitney

What an affirming statement. It's comforting.  It helps us know and understand more of God's nature.  I believe what Elder Whitney said to be true.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Truth in a Sentience

This is perhaps my favorite shortest verse of scripture.  It says it all.  Moroni penned it, or engraved it into metal plates to be more correct.  

"Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith." 
(Ether 12:9)

His one sentience truth uses the word "Ye". So it's clear he's talking to the reader, whomever that reader may be. Which means you and I. We can partake if we will but have faith.

If we don't qualify, it's because we didn't have faith. Or in other words we had "unbelief", were full of false doctrine, followed errant leaders, were obsessed with vanity and were terminally blind, by choice. Once you read that verse you can't claim ignorance.  If we will but have faith we too can have hope and can partake of the heavenly gift. 

So if we don't qualify we were too stiffnecked, proud, or too distracted to be humble and give place in our hearts that the seed (The Word) may take root in us.  And by so doing we end up rejecting the gift. But we ask, Lord when did we reject you?  Lord, have we not attended Church?  Have we not worn fine apparel every Sunday?  Have we not adhered to the traditions of our fathers? Are we not part of the true Church?  Have we not done many wonderful works in your name? 

In the end we need to know the Lord, not just know about Him.  If we will but have faith in the true and living God, we can have hope, and partake of the heavenly gift.

Love that.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Faith causes things to happen

God worketh unto man according to their faith (Moroni 10:7), (Ether 12:29).  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).  This idea of God working with us according to our faith was the first thing Moroni chose to say after being comforted by words of the Lord regarding weaknesses and humility (see Ether 12:26-29).  

Faith is a principle of belief, of action, and of power in all intelligent beings, both in heaven and on earth.. (See Lectures on Faith, 7:2).

President Boyd K. Packer described faith, saying:

"There are two kinds of faith. One of them functions ordinarily in the life of every soul. It is the kind of faith born by experience; it gives us certainty that a new day will dawn…It is the kind of faith that relates us with confidence to that which is scheduled to happen… There is another kind of faith, rare indeed. This is the kind of faith that causes things to happen. It is the kind of faith that is worthy and prepared and unyielding, and it calls forth things that otherwise would not be. It is the kind of faith that moves people. It is the kind of faith that sometimes moves things… It is a marvelous, even a transcendent, power, a power as real and as invisible as electricity. Directed and channeled, it has great effect." (Boyd K. Packer, "What is Faith?" "Faith" [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1983], p. 42, emphasis added)

As I think about faith being a principle of action and power in all intelligent beings, it becomes clear we are all creatures of faith.  No matter what we do, it's faith based, experience and faith cause us to do what we do.  Although for the most part it's not viewed that way.

I got to wondering about when faith seems to result in things that are at first viewed as bad or uncomfortable. Sometimes it's easy to view such things as either God's displeasure, or even a lack of faith. However if bad things (as you perceive them) happen at what seems the very moment you try and exercise faith.....yet is your faith not working? The challenge then becomes to not misinterpret and falsely accuse, or charge foolishly (Job 1:22) what God is using to answer or teach.  I had the thought that just because some circumstance or answer didn't look perfect and pretty at first doesn't mean the faith was bad. May just mean there were lessons or important events or development that needed to occur first.  Faith causes things to happen....and probably a variety of things, some of which will be uncomfortable.    

Monday, December 10, 2012

Angels

This is a great piece on Angels from the Book of Moroni.  It's part of a series over at In Mount Zion blog.

"Mormon's sermon on faith, included in Moroni 7, enters the topic of the ministry of angels (Moro. 7:22).  Angels were sent to minister "unto the children of men" to teach them about Christ.  This statement about angels ministering unto men is general, not limited to a small group of leaders.  All men and women may and should receive angels, or true messengers.  These messengers are sent from the presence of God to teach them how to "begin" to exercise faith in Christ (Moro. 7:25).  This is the beginning of revealed religion.

It is by this faith that men are saved, and "become the sons of God" (Moro 7:26).  Mormon tries to convince his audience that miracles haven't ceased because Christ left and ascended into heaven.  Miracles haven't ceased, and angels haven't ceased to minister unto the children of men (Moro. 7:29).  They are subject unto Christ and are sent by him unto men (Moro. 7:30).

As long as there is one man left upon the earth to be savedso long as time shall last, angels will be sent to minister unto that man (Moro. 7:36).  Does this not imply that the ministry of angels is in some way inescapably tied to your salvation?  Can you be saved without the ministry of angels?  In other words, can you be prepared in all things, and be brought to the veil to meet your Lord without the guidance of true messengers?  What does the temple teach about this?  Do the teachings of the temple validate Mormon's testimony?

It is by faith that angels come to minister unto man (Moro. 7:37).  If angels have ceased to minister unto men, it is because of unbelief, and their religion is vain (ibid.).  "For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name (Moro. 7:38).


Both Mormon and Moroni speak unto you as if you were present (Morm. 8:35).  In order for their message to have the intended impact, you must actually believe the text is speaking to you personally.  Many in the Church insist passages like this are not meant to be taken personally.  You should read the text carefully and ask yourself if you're willing to believe that."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Book of Job

This is a great excerpt by John S. Tanner, at a symposium down at BYU “Hast Thou Considered My Servant Job?

"If you are like me, you can scarcely keep your mind off Job. His trials come to my mind almost daily as I read or hear or experience fresh instances of unaccountable misery—especially the suffering of innocent victims. The book of Job is as timely as today’s headlines telling of blameless children starving in the Sudan or beaten, raped, and murdered in Midvale. It is as timeless as the cry of the widow and the fatherless, whose collected tears over the course of world history would fill a great sea of grief. When life forces us “to feel what wretches feel” (King Lear 3.4.34), the book of Job stands as a permanent scriptural referent for our anguish. This power to sensitize us to suffering is alone reason enough to “consider Job,” long and hard. For in our quest to become more compassionate disciples of Him who “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4), it is good for us, like Him, to be “touched with the feeling of [others’] infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).

I'm convinced that strictly speaking, the book of Job’s central concern lies not with the philosophical problem of evil but with the personal problem of despair; not with God’s relationship to evil but man’s relationship to God out of the midst of “evil.” Job’s sense of godforsakenness is the real problem he must endure and overcome. To put the matter succinctly, the problem Job treats involves relationship; the answer it provides entails revelation. The book of Job teaches us how to endure suffering, not the reason for it.
Let me explain. If we look at the text, we observe that Job is never told the reason for his afflictions. We also note that the text devotes but a few brief (albeit vivid) verses to the description of Job’s physical pain. To be sure, Job’s boils are deeply etched upon our memories, but they are not the main source of his suffering. In fact, Job endured physical pain in silence. When he finally cried out, after abiding seven days and seven nights in complete silence, Job complained not of boils but of betrayal: “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul” (Job 3:20). It is as if Job’s cancerous skin disease ate its way inward during his long week of brooding, ulcerating his spirit until he became “bitter in soul.” However difficult to bear, Job’s physical pain was most embittering for what it seemed to him to betoken: a violated relationship with God.
Job’s relationship to God remains the focus throughout the dialogues. Physical affliction forms but the occasion, not the main topic, of the ensuing dialogues, which make no further reference to Job’s specific personal losses or boils. Instead, Job’s friends come with glib explanations about why Job suffered. Their pious advice—accept your suffering, Job, as punishment for your sins—not only provide him cold comfort but, if accepted, would have perverted Job’s absolutely honest relationship with the Almighty. To follow their counsel would have forced Job to live a lie by confessing to the Lord that he felt he deserved his affliction—which he did not, and should not feel. Such “comfort” exonerates God by charging man with depravity, so that no matter what happens to man, the pious religionist can always say, “God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth” (Job 11:6). 

The book of  Job warns us against reasoning backward from peoples’ external circumstances to the condition of their souls. To do so traps us in a logical fallacy of an “if-then” argument called “affirming the consequent.” If-then sequences are not reversible: If A then B does not permit the reverse conclusion, B therefore A. If a man is a millionaire, then he may buy a Mercedes, but if he buys a Mercedes, he is not necessarily a millionaire. Or, to apply the same principles to Job, if a man is wicked then he may (and ultimately will) suffer, but if he suffers he is not necessarily wicked. Sinfulness may result in suffering, but suffering does not necessarily imply sinfulness. The same holds true for the corollary: virtue may result in prosperity, but prosperity does not necessarily imply virtue. You cannot reason backwards from the fact of prosperity or suffering to the state of the soul, as Job’s comforters try to do. “Affliction is not necessarily evidence that one has sinned,” the Bible Dictionary wisely concludes."

Tanner, John S., “‘Hast Thou Considered My Servant Job?’” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 266–282.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hugh Nibley on Isaiah

The following are a few excerpts from a piece by Hugh Nibley on the book of Isaiah.  The title is "Great are the words of Isaiah"   This stuff is amazing.  Click on the citation at the bottom for the full essay.  It's awesome.  

"There is nothing authoritarian about him (The Lord); he is constantly willing to discuss and explain. His most threatening statements are instantly followed by what seems a reversal of mood and judgment. He is always willing, ready, waiting, urging, patiently pleading; it is Israel that will not hear, it is they who break off the discussion and walk away, turning their back upon Him and asking Him to please be quiet."

"You can always find somebody who is worse than you are to make you feel virtuous. It’s a cheap shot: those awful terrorists, perverts, communists—they are the ones who need to repent! Yes, indeed they do, and for them repentance will be a full-time job, exactly as it is for all the rest of us."


(Addressing idols and idolatry)
"There is the famous story of the Eloquent Peasant from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt that tells how the rascally manager of an estate, when he saw a peasant passing by on his way to the market with a load of goods, cried out, “Would that I had some idol that would permit me to rob this man’s goods.” A dumb image would offer no opposition to any course he chose to take. That was the beauty of idols: they are as impersonal and amoral as money in the bank—the present-day as well as the ancient equivalent of a useful idol."

"For the rest of the time I want to talk about those human qualities Isaiah describes as pleasing to God and those qualities He despises. They both come as a surprise. As to the second, the traits and the behavior Isaiah denounces as the worst of vices are without exception those of successful people. The wickedness and folly of Israel do not consist of indolence, sloppy dressing, long hair, nonconformity (even the reading of books), radical and liberal unrealistic ideas and programs, irreverence toward custom and property, contempt for established idols, and so on. The wickedest people in the Book of Mormon are the Zoramites, a proud, independent, courageous, industrious, enterprising, patriotic, prosperous people who attended strictly to their weekly religious duties with the proper observance of dress standards. Thanking God for all He had given them, they bore testimony to His goodness. They were sustained in all their doings by a perfectly beautiful self-image. Well, what is wrong with any of that? There is just one thing that spoils it all, and that is the very thing that puts Israel in bad with the Lord, according to Isaiah. The Jews observed with strictest regularity all the rules that Moses gave them—”and yet . . . they cry unto thee” and yet they are really thinking of something else. “Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, . . . all their precious things . . . their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish” (Alma 31:27–28; emphasis added)."

"He describes the party people, the fast set: “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” (Isaiah 5:11). They are stupefied by the endless beat of the Oriental music that has become part of our scene: “And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands” (Isaiah 5:12). And of course there is the total subservience to fashion: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go” (Isaiah 3:16)—in the immemorial manner of fashion models. An instructive list of words from the boutiques that only the fashion-wise will know tells us that “the Lord will take away . . . their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels” (Isaiah 3:18–21), and of course clothes, “the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins” (Isaiah 3:22). Their beauty aids will defeat their purpose as their hair falls out and their perfumes are overpowered (see Isaiah 3:24)."

 Nibley, Hugh W., “Great Are the Words of Isaiah” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 177–195.

Grace

This is a great piece on grace.  Black words are mine.  Green are the quote.
"The relationship of grace helps us understand more fully this passage in Doctrine and Covenants: “[Christ] received not of the fullness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness. . . . I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace” (D&C 93:12–13, 19–20; emphasis added).  

(Sometimes emulating the grace Christ had seems impossible.  However within the context of our own lives, jobs, families and neighborhoods, we too can follow and do as Christ did and receive grace for grace)  
By this scripture we understand that as Christ gave grace to those around Him, He received from His Father increasingly more grace to give. Thus, receiving grace for grace, Jesus grew from grace to grace: a model for us. “Freely ye have received, freely give,” the Savior told His disciples (Matthew 10:8). The Lord has blessed each of us individually many times over with many more forms of grace than we now know or could count. Perhaps all of the Lord’s grace to us—His many kindnesses to each of us, our talents, our gifts of spirit and personality, our bodies, our material resources—is given to us so that we will have something to give one another. As we give of this grace in countless ways to those around us, especially where it may not seem to be merited, the Lord increases His gifts of grace to us; in this process of our receiving grace forthe grace we give, we grow from grace to grace, as Christ did, until we obtain a fulness.
Living in such a relationship as the Father and the Son’s, either on earth or in heaven, requires a total willingness to dethrone oneself as the regent in one’s own kingdom and to enthrone Christ as He enthroned the Father. President Ezra Taft Benson observed that “Christ removed self as the force in His perfect life. It was not my will, but thine be done.

"In scenes recorded in 3 Nephi, the resurrected, perfected Christ gave abundant evidence of His continuing dependence on His Father. He makes frequent reference to the commandments and will of His Father. He seems very eager to return to the full presence of His Father (3 Nephi 17:4); we see Him kneel and bow Himself to the earth, pouring out both His troubled heart (3 Nephi 17:14) as well as His joy (3 Nephi 17:20–21), His thanks (3 Nephi 19:20, 28), and His needs (3 Nephi 19:21, 29). Perhaps this relationship of divine dependence and atonement continues far into the eternities. It is revealed to us in this life so we can learn to live in that relationship and thus gain admission to that community of grace-linked Gods.

Thomas, M. Catherine, “The Provocation in the Wilderness and the Rejection of Grace” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 164–176.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gospel Reading List

Solid Gospel Reading

  • The Scriptures of Course (all standard works) 
  • Teachings Of The Prophet Joseph Smith 
  • The Words of Joseph Smith 
  • Lectures on Faith 
  • The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil 
  • Any of a number of works by Hugh Nibley (Approaching Zion is a foundational one) 
  • Beloved Bridegroom: Finding Christ in Ancient Jewish and Family Customs 
  • Preserving the Restoration

(Updated 2015) These books, in my view are a great foundation if you want to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They provide an organized place to study and understand the doctrine and teachings of the fullness of the Restored Gospel. The Church does a wonderful job of distributing and publishing basic curriculum manuals and doctrines for members and new converts. Their focus is basic, as it should be. Beyond that, study of the Gospel fullness is primarily an individual responsibility. I personally believe that some things are intended to only be found by personal study and searching.

You can purchase all of these books on Amazon for around $55. About what you'd spend on 1 tank of gas for your car these days. If your willing to read electronic versions of one or two of them, it really doesn't cost much. There are of course other books I still need to study that may be added.

The Standard Works (Holy Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price)

They are "The Standard" to which we can/should compare or validate what we learn. The Scriptures are obviously the foundation. How many people have they inspired? How many questions have they answered? How many precious truths are in them? How important are they? The living word, revelation, and Gospel ordinances should also be in this paragraph about Scripture.

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and The Words of Joseph Smith.

A testimony of The Prophet Joseph is part of the baptismal interview, so it's presumed that if you are a member you have some degree of a testimony of his calling. What sometimes happens is we stop there. We gain a testimony of his calling, and that his experience in the Sacred Grove is true, but then we don't search out and study a large portion of the things he taught. Seems so simple, but having grown up in the church I see how common this is. Many of his priceless and crucial teachings can get left by the wayside as members do our best to live our religion in these modern times. The words of Joseph, his sermons, his life, and his teachings have a focus that we need to retain before it gets lost. As the visionary prophet of the restoration it would seem highly important to find and study his teachings that are available to us. Not just the bits and pieces that are published in the approved curriculum church manuals. Those can be good, and they offer the basics. But their purpose isn't to include everything, and more and more the curriculum dept of the Church dictates what is and is not in them. So our personal study should probably at some point include continuing to learn as much as we can of what the Prophet said and taught.

Lectures on Faith.

These used to be part of the D&C. They were prepared for the School of the Prophets. In fact they were why the D&C is called Doctrine and Covenants. Previously the book was called "The Book of Commandments". The lectures were removed without a vote by the Church which should have taken place for such a change to occur. I enjoy the lectures every time I read them. They are very informative. If you haven't read them and studied them you need to.

The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord through the Veil. 

This book is a manual for anyone seeking the fullness of the Gospel. The doctrine of the Second Comforter and related teachings have been gathered together in one place and published alongside scriptural examples and personal testimony. The back cover states "This book is about the process of receiving the Second Comforter". It's presented in such a way that any sincere reader can read, understand, and then apply what's taught in their life. It describes the process as set out through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and uses the scriptures to illustrate the path Christ walked and taught. It's intended for the reader to follow it as well and receive what is offered. The author asks no one to read or accept the book unless they get confirmation from the Spirit that what is written and the testimony given are true. I got that witness and it has never left. This book is a well of truth. Read and see for yourself.

Approaching Zion (and or any number of works by Hugh Nibley)

This author's blunt essays are enjoyable if you feel inclined to press further into Gospel topics. Hugh was never a General Authority yet he taught incredible and profound truths to the Latter Day Saints. His perspective about Latter Day issues along with his gifts and talents with regard to Egyptian studies, languages, and history, make him great company. After a few chapters it will be clear he is much more interested in the truth than being liked, or making money, or trying not to offend people. The content can be a bit shocking or uncomfortable at times. He pits Babylon against Zion and shows how easily we in our present day religious culture can become deceived and seduced by counterfeits, and errant beliefs. This work deals with how we become customers of Babylon thinking we are in Zion. The World and the Prophets is another classic by Hugh. He addresses key issues with such clarity that my eyebrows often raise and I ask myself "Is he allowed to say that?" Approaching Zion is a must read. It helps our eyes open to the situation we find ourselves in.

Beloved Bridegroom: Finding Christ in ancient Jewish and Family Customs:

This book addresses Christ's title of "The Bridegroom" as well as offers a light filling perspective on Christ's culture and background that often gets little time or attention. Sometimes in a modern American LDS church viewpoint Jesus becomes Americanized. We see him through our vantage point more than the one he actually grew up in. This book adds lots of meaning and understanding to many scriptures by addressing what it meant to grow up with a Jewish Family and Jewish Customs. Important context for the background for Christ's words and teachings. This is one of those books where the content is many more times as dense as the written words on the page. If we want to know the Lord and to understand Him, can we skip seeking to understand the culture, customs, and religion he grew up in? I love this book. The symbols the authors addresses and the tone are simple, yet profound. The title says it well. "Finding Christ in ancient Jewish and Family Customs".

Preserving the Restoration 

"There is currently a groundswell of change taking place in Mormonism. Various denominations, including the largest sect, the LDS Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, are confronting serious questions about the truthfulness of their claims to be the "one true" religion. This book deals with many important events and teachings of the restoration through Joseph Smith. Any who either believe or dispute that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and any who are interested in or are participating in the various denominations of Mormonism will benefit from this book. Joseph Smith founded a religion intended to revolutionize the world. He was restoring ancient truths that were lost through apostasy and endeavoring to guide its adherents in establishing a New Jerusalem in the Americas. None of the various Mormon denominations, from the largest to the smallest, have been faithful to Joseph Smith or his revelations, and therefore have little chance of accomplishing the prophesied promises. This book discusses the earliest roots of Mormonism. It relies extensively on early Mormon documents, diaries, journals, contemporary correspondence and contemporary news sources to trace back to the beginning of the Mormon faith. It examines the social, legal and political influences that have reshaped key doctrines in Mormonism."  (taken from amazon.com)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

At The Very Same Time

"False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets, and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones... the devil always sets up his Kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God"  -  The Words of Joseph Smith (pg 4604 in the electronic edition)

The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,’ and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 206.

Human skill, tradition, or outward membership are not the tools the scriptures teach to discern the truth from the false.  Discernment would not be a gift of the Spirit if mere human capacity would get the job done. Joseph gives some sobering teachigns about how the kingdom of the Devil is set up at the same in opposition to God.  The way to avoid deception is by the Spirit of God. Not by science, not by sincerity, not by a white shirt and tie, not by a recognized religious title, and not by earthly credentials or status no matter how impressive.

When we think of false prophets and false teachers, we tend to think of those people who we see on the news who falsely predict the end of the world, or those who begin break off groups from mainstream religions who carry extreme views.  Or maybe those televangelists who  promise miracles if you will pick up the phone and pledge them money in the next 30 seconds.  Another assumption is that false prophets or teachers refers to small radical groups, or people with non traditional beliefs.  

We've been taught by many authorities that there are false prophets and false teachers who have or at least claim to have membership in the Church (Elder Ballard Conference Oct 99).  

I wonder if the most dangerous problems are not so much those foolish groups who can sell products piggybacking off of a church endorsement when they actually had none.  Nor is it the small non traditional group who sees things differently than the masses.  I wonder if the real problem, or the one that impacts the most people are those who actually do have church endorsement but who but put forth false teachings. Or as Joseph put it, "so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones".  Near the truth is no good.  99% truth is no good if the rest is misleading.  It still misses.  But it's prophesied that we live in a time when we are vulnerable to being deceived by "near" truth tellers.

The Book of Mormon was written to Mormons.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

America's Favorite Sins

Based on the top movies out right now a pretty noticeable theme.  America's favorite sins!

When I say favorite sins, it's cause it's true.  We have our favorites.  They are the most common, the ones people are entertained by the most, and they are the sins that bring the biggest box office rewards.  Watch some new releases yourself.  I'm not being a sour puss and trying to wreck everyone's entertainment.  This stuff just needs to be called out once in a while for what it is.

"Murder", "immorality", and "calling evil good" are some of the biggest hitters.  We Americans LOVE our sins.  Or love to be entertained by them, one of the two.    

The names of the sings get changed which can make it slightly less noticeable.  But that all gets forgotten while we sit in the dark, eyes gazing at the man made stars.       

Friday, November 16, 2012

Doubting Doubt

There is a really good interesting interview on Mormon Stories.org.  Found here.  http://mormonstories.org/?p=2471    (for some reason the link takes a while to load)

In the comments section the interviewee was responding to some comments about the difficulty and process involved in developing and strengthening our belief and closeness to the Lord. He said the following which I loved and found very profound.

"There is reason to doubt. There is reason to believe. There is pain, longing, and there is a choice to be made. Choose to believe, and then choose to seek for Him. It is that choice in the face of reason to doubt, and the decision to press forward to Him that develops within you the capacity to find Him.

If you choose to believe, and to leave the reasons for doubt aside, there will be more proof of both. More reason to believe, and yet more reason to not. This will lead you to the point in which you can choose at last to doubt doubt itself. Why trust doubt? Why is it the more compelling view? Therein lies deliverance.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Revelation and Visions

"It is the privilege of the children of God to come to God and get revelation . . . When any person receives a vision of Heaven, he sees things that he never thought of before."

(The Words of Joseph Smith, 13-14)

I wonder if revelation is not but a bringing to light of something that already exists but is unknown or unrecognized, or has yet to dawn on on the consciousness of the audience.  This would perhaps alter ones approach to seeking it.  Rather than be persuaded by the carnal mind, or the illusions of the eyes and mind we may want to be humble instead, and allow God to teach us of what already exists, what was, is, and is to come.  Things that as of yet, we have not thought of.  Revelation is the privileged of those who follow God.

Fullness

There are a couple references to the Gospel in the scriptures I think are worth a lot of thought.

These are the phrases:

"The lesser portion of the Word" (Alma 12:10)

"The greater portion of the Word" (Alma 12:10. 3 Nephi 26:9)

"Preparatory Gospel" (D&C 84:26)

"Much of my Gospel" (1 Nephi 13:34)

"Fulness of the Gospel" (3 Nephi 16:10, 3 Nephi 20:30, 1 Nephi 15:13..there are many)

"Preparatory", "Much", "Fullness" These are interesting words that suggest the Gospel has levels. Sometimes the meaning of these words can degenerate over time, especially if they are not taught or are not present in the publications or manuals we study.

It says in the introduction of the Book of Mormon that that the fullness of the everlasting gospel is contained inside it. So does that mean we, as a church, have the fullness? I hear frequently at church that "we have the fullness". I wonder if it would be more correct to say that we have the fullness available to us. Bit of a difference. One suggests we need to take action, the other suggests we don't really need to do anything as we've already obtained everything God offers and it will be handed to us on a platter at some future time due to how special we are. The fullness existing in a book you believe in, or Book the religious organization publishes is not really the same as "receiving a fullness".  Huge difference.

To know the fullness is in the Book of Mormon can be a great thing. But that knowledge may also lead to the members having a nice quantity of misleading assurance.

Isn't it comforting to have that assurance that we have the fullness?  That makes one feel wonderful, special, chosen, and..... complacent.  Why reach for a fulness which you already have? 

The thinking also sometimes goes that if we have it (the fullness), that means no one else out there has it. This may all lead to mistakenly assuming we are uniquely superior, and can sit back, relax, chant that "all is well" and smugly think we can coast along and just do what we're told. And if it so be we missed some stuff or were wrong on things, at the last day God may beat us with a few stripes, but in the end we'll still be saved in the Kingdom of our choice. Because after all, we had the fullness. As if having a recipe for bread was the same thing as being filled by the bread you chose to prepare cook up, and partake of.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This day, our daily bread

A portion of the Lord's prayer reads "Give us this day, our daily bread".

This day. Not some other day, yesterday, or tomorrow. The present. Give us THIS day our daily bread. This calls to mind the manna of the Old Testament. It was daily. They could not collect more than they needed and store it to have "additional security". It shows that God is and wants us to know he is a God of our everyday life.  He wants to be relied upon because "man shall no live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of The Lord."

How much more clear could he have made it? He wants to be part of our lives, each day. So much so he uses the analogy of bread. A staple food. Something we consume which sustains us and becomes part of us. Then we weekly participate in the sacramental bread. And then he tells us "I am the bread of life".

If we ask in faith He truly can give us our "daily bread". Not just that made of things like wheat or the like, but that bread made of His life, His Spirit, and His love. The one pointing to the other, pointing to the One.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Sacrifice of Praise

Hebrews 13:15-16

"By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

Thanksgiving is coming up soon and I thought this post appropriate for the coming season of offering thanks. Although not pagan, Thanksgiving in America often is not kept in honor of God. One day (or even a few hours) after being thankful for what we have is when hoards of people rush retail stores willing to trample and injure others to support the biggest shopping day of the year. And all to save a few dollars on often meaningless merchandise. Not everyone participates in that but it illustrates that our thanks can become just something we do outwardly for a few minutes, rather than something we are. 

The Sacrifice of Praise from Hebrews calls to mind the Peace Offering of the Old testament. The Peace offering differed from the Sin offering or Burnt offering in that it wasn't to make a covering for sins, and not to consecrate or dedicate an offering completely to God. It was more a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. This offering signified a close relationship with God. 

There are a few different Hebrew words for “praise.” The different words indicate different nuances of meaning. I found at least five concepts behind the words for praise. They are thanksgiving, joy or rejoicing, adoration or worship, blessing and boasting. When we praise God, we feel inclined to do these things.  It prompts song, dancing, or shouting.  It would be a moment where you couldn't stay still. Such things are often spontaneous, and filled with joy that must be expressed before it becomes too much to be kept inside. Of course praise can come with emotion, but praise seems to be something a little bit different than just strong emotion. 

The fact that the Sacrifice of Praise is called a sacrifice may indicate that you may not feel like praising God. Sometimes our circumstances are not conducive to praise. This is when it can be a sacrifice.  At a certain point may also be an exercise of faith.  Doing so can show that we value what God has to offer more than this world.  

Job is a great example of a sacrifice of praise.  After loosing all he had he said: 
"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:20-21 (NIV)  Or in the King James version the last part reads: "Blessed be the name of the Lord".

That is one of the best examples of a sacrifice of praise that I have ever read!

When thinking of praising God I can hardly call to mind a typical sacrament meeting. Not that there needs to be shouting or a bit of chaos to qualify, but in the Latter Day Saint community there seems to be a bit of uncertainty as to what praise looks like for us. Or how it should be displayed in a culturally acceptable way. Sometimes we seem to be so caught up in being reverent that few stop to consider that praise may sometimes be lacking in many of our services. Of course we can also worship and offer praise in many more places than our "synagogues" (to use a phrase from Alma 32:10 in the book of Mormon). Praise can be a witness of God wherever it occurs.

Only through the Lord can we praise and give thanks in spite of our circumstances.  I've seen it in writing, and also seen it in person.  However, the irony is that it may be frowned upon in many church settings.  It may even be termed "irreverent" or "improper".  Our cookie cutter Utah LDS image may not be one that accommodates forms of worship that please the Lord.   But that's another topic.  

If we are to offer the sacrifice of praise, we may need to give up some inhibitions, or let go of various traditions, and in their place have enough of the Spirit burning inside us that praise becomes the natural fruit of our lips. If you've never felt the love of God that fills every cell of your body full of joy, causes your bones to burn, and motivates song and praise to God then the Gospel has many rewards yet to come. Have you ever felt that spontaneous surge of praise? The desire to shout praises to the holy one of Israel? (2 Nephi 31:13). When you just can't hold it in?

I guess the question we all need to ask ourselves is what do you need to sacrifice in order to be able to shout praises to God?

This is another one of those things where you almost need to have the spiritual experience first, then the idea or scripture makes sense in light of the experience.  But before or without the experience, the idea, outward acts, worship, or praise are more like hollow acts, gestures or just words on a page.  But it can be so very much more.  This thanksgiving I'm going to think on the Sacrifice of Praise.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Things below testify of things above

Before the snow yesterday I've been doing a lot of work outside.  Didn't take long before my skin was noticeably more tan that it was before.

When you spend a lot of time in the sun we all know that your skin starts to look different. Since things on earth testify or bare record of higher things I thought it merited some thought. If we abide in Christ as scriptures teach, would we begin to take on a somewhat different appearance? Would our countenance change from who's presence we spend time in?

We can't look directly into the mid day sun without hurting our eyes.  The light intensity is too much. But we benefit, find joy, and can see from the presence and indirect effects of the sunlight.

If things below testify of things above than we needn't look further than our own front yard or our own skin to learn interesting truths.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gathering

When scriptures speak of the gathering of Israel, or gathering to Zion, is it possible there are different degrees of being gathered?

To gather implies that people are gathered "around" something. The center point is crucial. People can gather around all sorts of things, people, organizations, causes, or heroes, but none of them can or will do what the Lord does.  So that's something to think about. And how close you are to that center point is also interesting to ask yourself.   Both physically, as in geography, but also "close" in the sense of a personal relationship.  Like we would say "are you and your brother close?"

If Joseph Smith said referring to The Book of Mormon that a man could get closer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book, than it shows there are degrees of closeness one may seek to obtain.  How much we want to be gathered then has a lot to do with the Book of Mormon.  And of course it always has a lot to do with what we do about the word repentance.

The Lord doesn't just offer to gather us and then keep us at a distance.  The Lord offers a fullness, He invites us to be one with Him and the Father.  He says: "how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not"  How close is The Lord willing to gather us?

And who does this gathering? Is it an organized Church? There are many answers, but one interesting one is D&C 77:11 when it talks about the 144,000 of the last days. It says angels gather or bring "as many as will" to the Church of the Firstborn. "As many as will." That means we choose. Our agency is hugely important. What we seek today, here and now matters. Do we seek to simply follow our leaders?  And relax at that?  Or do we follow the scriptures counsel and example to seek the face of God? Do we look forward to General Conference, and then rest at that?  Or do we look forward to that day when Christ's promises to comfort us as Second Comforter are fulfilled? Some of our traditions may have blinded us to where exactly we should be focusing.

It's very possible to be a member of the church and hold a temple recommend but still be as chickens who will not be gathered.  Why would they do this?  Why would they reject their parent?  We all know the answers... it's pride, and blindness, and vanity.  But when your the ugly duckling for a while you become willing to drop your traditions and look past your own blinders.  Then you find the truth.  God was not, nor has ever been anything other than our faithful Father, inviting us home.

Should we rest our salvation on hopes that at some point a program will be developed or some initiative offered by an organization to finally motivate us to do what God has been asking all along?  God, angels and those ordained by God himself are prophesied to be going about performing this work of gathering.  May we not be blind to it all.

What signs would be present if someone or people were truly gathered, and as one?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Being a wittness

Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death. Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus." (New Testament, John, Chapter 12 9-11)

There are no recorded words of Lazarus in the Gospels. And yet, because of him, many people believed in Jesus. They heard what happened, that Lazarus was dead, in the tomb for four days, and then he was alive because of Jesus.

Jesus did not really ever tell us to DO our witnessing. Rather, we are to BE a witness of His love, His healing power, His ability to take a life that is spiritually dead and make us alive. And even if it's a case where words are spoken, they are simple to their core, like: "Come and see".  Scriptures teach we are to "abide" in Him.  These all suggest a state of being.  Our very being can be a witness of the reality and goodness of our God.

I think of the words credited to both Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi: “Witness all the time and when necessary use words.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Story of the student and the pool

Random little story story.  My mind has been on parables lately and this came up. I can't really say there is a particular meaning intended.  Just thinking out loud.

A beginning martial arts student was told there was a Master instructor that lived in his neighborhood.  He knew of the man, but wasn't aware he possessed any knowledge or special ability of any worth or interest.  However it did come to his attention the the last week of school that he may have passed the man off too quickly. A rumor had circulated that the old man in the neighborhood had .....     The boy decided to pay the old man a visit and find out for himself.  After a long discussion the boy was intrigued, and seeing the boy's desire to learn this art, the instructor said that if he really wanted to learn he would need to dedicate his entire summer to his initial training.  Friends, games, and TV would need to be put on hold.  The eager student agreed.

Day one began with the instructor telling the student he needed to empty a nearby pool of all the water.  Confused, but before having a chance to complain, the teacher abruptly handed him a bucket and went on about his business.  The student, looking upwards in total disgust debates whether or not the old crock of a teacher actually knows anything at all.  But he snatches the bucket and walks over to the pool.  After gazing into the murky water he realizes he can hardly make out is own reflection in it.  Just then the instructor called from the background and said: "if you want to learn, your going to have to first get that dirty water out of the pool".  Again rolling his eyes in disgust the boy wonders how long this is going to take.  Then begins to wonder where on earth he supposed to put the water?  The lawn?  After the enormity of the task settles in, he wonders why people buys pools at all.  But he began anyway.  After a few bucket loads of water to the nearby storm drain, and already tired, the student contemplated telling the teacher that people get paid good money to clean pools.

Day one ended tired and sore and a bit bitter.  Day two didn't go much better.  The boy decided to take his time as well as a few days off.  After almost half the summer is gone the instructor seeing the task almost complete, and the student's arm, back, leg, and core muscles toned and developed, then shows the student where the pool can be drained, and where the drain pump switch was.  The instructor smiled a smile that was too much for the boy to handle.  With this new revelation all doubt in the students mind had been removed about the competence of the old man.  "Why didn't we just pull the plug and use the pump and save me all the work" he demands?  "You never asked" the old man said.  But before the boy could respond, the instructor says that he is now ready, and not to worry, that it was for his own good.  "Ready for what? More manual labor?" The student sarcastically muttered to himself.  But glad to not have to use a bucket anymore he was curious what was to come.  So the training moved forward.

"The pool now serves as our dojo to practice in" the teacher said.  "It wasn't all about emptying the pool".

The student hardly heard what he was being told due to the oddity of practicing in an empty pool where the echos are not only distracting, but for the most part obnoxious.  The student's doubt about these training methods turned into a casual "whatever".   At least now he was going to learn something new that may impress his friends and help him win a fight.  Training began every morning at sunrise.  As the days went on he did notice his body felt much stronger from his physical labor.  He thought perhaps this has been at least a little bit more productive that playing video games with his friends.  After all, not many people can say they alone emptied an entire pool with a bucket.  The old pool was so dirty it was starting to smell anyway.

With time the student mastered the basics, and as he progressed they would fill the pool little by little with water again.  As the water level slowly rose they would practice their movements and combinations against increasing amounts of water resistance.  This isolated parts of the body for focused training.  The student got used to the dojo acoustics and sometimes found them helpful especially when training with a blindfold.  Oddly he also noticed that the water, when still, would give a reflection that allowed him to see more sides of his instructor.  He could pick up on subtle movements quicker.  After a while the pool became too full to work in without having to swim and so the day came when the only training was to sit on the pool deck and meditate while the pool ever so slowly was filled the rest of the way with a half trickle pace from the garden hose.

By now the seasons had changed, and a leaf or two would fall into the water.  Summer was over.  As they sat in silence looking at their reflection one day, the student began to ponder, and meditate.  His mind was calm, his body keenly aware of all of his surroundings, his ears attuned to the most slight and subtle shift in air pressure. The acoustics of the empty pool had caused a change in his perception.  He noticed everything happening around him but wasn't particularly distracted by it.  Noticing his heightened senses, he closed his eyes and reflected.  He didn't notice the instructor had left him alone.

With his eyes closed he could almost sense his friend sneaking up on him from behind.  It was perhaps the last weekend before the weather turned cold, and his group of friends were going to make it clear the pool had been out of service long enough. They grew tired of their lazy summer days spent in front of the TV and wanted to go outside have a BBQ and swim.  With swimsuits on, and towels in hand, the group came to enjoy what might be the last remaining hot day of the year.  They were gong to swim that day even if (perhaps especially if ) it meant pushing or dragging their unsuspecting friend into the pool with them.

As they made their final approach, they were sure they would be undetected thanks to the soft grass and the sound of the passing noisy garbage truck.  Assured of their stealth, they took off towards him.  When they got within arms reach, without looking and hardly thinking, the student did what surprised even himself.  As the leader approached from behind intending to push his closed eyed friend into the pool, with perfect precision he took one step to the side, turned, and with a small but perfectly placed foot and arm movement tripped the leader, directing him face first into the pool, which sent him and the closely following group all stumbling and splashing into the pool.  Fully dressed.

When they surfaced the student was just then barely opening his eyes.  Despite their taunts that he somehow "cheated", he remained still and quiet...and dry.  

The instructor just smiled from the porch.

Later the friends asked how he knew they were coming and how he managed to pull that off.  "Empty that pool with a bucket and I'll tell you" The student cleverly said.  But they didn't have time for such nonsense, so they they pestered him for tricks and secrets instead.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Faith Cometh By Hearing

Romans 10: 16-17:   But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Who hath believed our report? Who was reporting? And who was this unbelieving audience?  What did the report include?  Why was the audience not accepting of the report?  Did it not look right? Did the messenger come as The Lord did, which was humbly, without credential, leadership position, and without an impressive bibliography? As I read the scriptures I see that unbelief in the face of authentic testimony is typical.  The authentic reports are not believed.  Yet the misleading reports are applauded.

"17: So then faith cometh by hearing,"  

Hearing what? Sentimental feelings or stories? Fables? Carefully crafted phrases? Truth mixed with error? Does faith come from hearing those things?  Or does it come from hearing something totally different?

Joseph taught "faith cometh by hearing the word of God through the testimony of the servants of God. That testimony is always attended by the Spirit of prophecy and and revelation".  (Words of Joseph Smith)

One purpose of hearing true testimony is so faith can come to you. I've experienced this. It's real, and you can feel it emanating from Spirit given words. You can hear the Masters voice when someone gives a report that originates from Him. It sparks faith.  An authorized representative speaking the words of God and not altering the message will trigger faith. 

Not all testimony or sermons or articles or talks do this however.  Some testimony is to just fill a square because that is what you do at the end of a talk or lesson.  Some testimony is to satisfy a social pressure, impress an audience, or is simply a memorized habit of speech. Sometimes strong soothing emotion, or a long distinguished bibliography is substituted for The Spirit.  Would faith come from hearing that?  Is that the report Isaiah speaks of? 

Can true faith come from hearing a soothing but false message?  Can faith come from hearing a messenger who The Lord has not sent? Who speaks his own message?  Or own opinions? Prophetic messages are known to irritate people and trigger various non "warm fuzzy" feelings. And as the scripture above says, "who hath believed our report"? Which says to us that we need to be careful to not turn away in disbelief when we hear something that is maybe new, foreign, different from our religious traditions.  Just because it's not flattering doesn't mean it's not true. Isaiah's remarks suggest not many people believe the report.  Why?  Why is it difficult to believe? Perhaps people think the message is coming from someone we perceive is not the kind of person  who The Lord should be sending to deliver a message.  Unlikely messengers are easy to disbelieve and dismiss. 

A true report can instill confidence.  Even if it's the basic testimony of a new convert. You can still notice faith stirring inside you from hearing it.  There is also a testimony of Gospel Fullness. "The Testimony of Jesus".  This is what we are all invited to have.  Scripture authors possess this and invite us to as well.  Yet we oddly don't hear this kind of report very often now days.  But I think deep down we all want to.  We desire on some level to hear true authentic reports of those who testify they have seen, heard, and experienced the Lord's ministry in a literal, personal way.  Those who report and bear testimony that the Lord still visits his followers today just as he did anciently, as promised in the scriptures.  Plain, simple words.

This is what scripture authors testify of. It doesn't come across as vague, it doesn't stop short by pointing to men, or preach just one disjointed principle.  It does hide it as "too sacred to share".  It doesn't cause you to be dependent on an organization, or men.  Instead this kind of true testimony or report points you towards being connected personally to heaven, and coming to the Lord yourself. It's plan, simple, direct, and clear.  It points to actually experiencing Gospel fullness. At some level we as church members are hungry to hear this. It's fulfilling. Faith can come and stir within you from such truths.  It motivates you to act on your belief, develop faith, and offer such sacrifices as please God and to obtain heaven's approval for yourself.

Yet what seems to occur over time in place of authentic reports are memorized phrases or mindless cliche's and endless "touching" stories.  Sometimes certain "testimony phrases" have been repeated so often by so many in authority that none of us are very clear what the words even mean anymore.  They are vague, they rely on cultural assumptions, and sometimes stop short of pointing the hearer to God.  The sea of repeated words and testimony habits can sometimes drown out those who's words carry a different meaning entirely.  The humble authentic report of someone with no status is often demoted in favor of carefully worded phrases from those with status, speaking from large pulpits.  This isn't always the case but it's worth noticing.  Sincere testimony involving the fullness of the Gospel is always found in the scriptures. What a loss it would be if scriptures were taught to be less important than modern voices who's words and testimony are often not as complete, as clear, or as full as the testimonies found in scripture.

Sometimes we doubt God will do for us what he did or is doing for others. That's another aspect to this.  We usually believe God spoke to Moses, Paul, Nephi, or Joseph Smith, and perhaps modern leaders.  The issue is we often doubt He will do the same for us.  We sometimes believe that scriptural promises are not meant to be taken personally, but instead are only for a small group of church leaders, or those in the past.  True reports from heaven do not support those conclusions.  Hearing faith via a true report can help us overcome those things by instilling confidence that we too can obey and qualify just as those in scriptures did.  The Lord is no respecter of persons.  This is evident in the story of Lamoni's father in Alma 22.   Faith came by hearing the word of God (as preached by Aaron) and it bore fruit for the hearer, and both rejoiced.

If our culture, or a body of people denied or used pressure to curtail the sharing of authentic reports or testimony it would be a great loss.  If there are none bearing "The testimony of Jesus" than what does that say about us as a people?  If there were those who were jealous, or sought for power, a sort of testimony prevention or "silencing" could occur.  What would result would be a heard mentality who relied on a leader as their intermediary.  This in contrast to how Hebrews 8 says it which is: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest."

Testimony can instill confidence about who God is, and that you too can receive and connect back to God's presence. To a sincere searcher, this is like music, the effect is real and deep.  It goes deep to your core.  You can feel confidence grow and stir inside you and spark an increased desire to exercise faith in our Lord.  But if what we ingest as "testimony" time after time does not accomplish that, it may in fact be that either we are not hearing correctly (something I'm prone to), or we may just be hearing uninspired vain words of men.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Prophet Ether and Our Day.

I have a deep interest in the Book of Ether.  I've looked around and have not found very much written about the book and the doctrine found there.  There are a few commentaries here and there, but not much.

The history of this prophet is an interesting one.  He wrote on plates of gold.  His father was not a prophet, his grandfather was not, his great grandfather was not.  This guy didn't have an impressive pedigree.  Lots of the male line before him are called wicked by Moroni who's abridges his record.  It it just says: "And Ether was a Prophet of the Lord".

His ministry wouldn't fall under our typical definition of "successful" while he lived.  The account says the people "rejected all the words of Ether".  All his words, not just some of them.  And "They esteemed him as naught, and cast him out".    

That reminds of of what Nephi prophesies that churches of our day will do.  It says people will "turn aside the just as a thing of naught" (2 Nephi 17:32) (2 Nephi 28:16).  So the same pattern we see with Ether is what Nephi says will happen in our day.  People will mistreat and esteem as worthless people and messages which actually should have been treated very differently.

How is it that people make these kinds of mistakes? And why is it so common? Are people sent from God or "the just" that difficult to recognize? They must be because esteeming them "as naught" happens all the time in the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon says we will do it too. So what is it about Ether (or in Nephi's prophesy "the "just") that makes them so easy to dismiss? Is it their lack of political influence? Their lack of credentials? Lack of titles? Lack of calling? Interesting questions.

It's not common for LDS church members to turn away the Quorum of the 12, or First Presidency as a thing of naught. Quite the opposite. So for us who read the Book of Mormon and believe in it, chances are those being turned aside as a thing of naught are not those in the Church hierarchy. It must be speaking of others that are getting written off. People who perhaps are devalued due to lack of calling, young age, or lack of some other perceived outward emblem of authority. Christ was treated this way. His lack of credentials or lack of membership in the religious hierarchy of the day was reason for some to ignore or reject Him.  The patterns are usually the same.  Which is why we are continually invited to learn from history.

The Book of Mormon does not say who ordained Ether, and doesn't say where he got his authority.  In our day without those things, is it possible we too may have reacted in a similar way to someone like him? The record states the same year the people cast Ether out, a great war began (Ether 13:15). I think casting our a prophet and destruction or war are equated enough time in scripture that we should take notice.       

Moroni twice calls Ether's prophesying "great and marvelous".  He didn't need to confine what he said into an approved topic list based on what a correlation department deemed appropriate.  He was free to speak and prophesy.  There was no question that what he said was prophesy, it was obvious and frequent   He was a prophet based on word and deed, not exclusively based on official calling or title.  His prophesies were not hidden, or made politically correct by an organization.  It's said of him "he could not be restrained because of the Spirit within him".

What a contrast to our day. Our leaders teach us how much we need to strive to even have the Spirit just come be with us. But here's this guy Ether who can't be restrained because of the Spirit within him. The contrast helps us see the spectrum. What's "common" doesn't necessarily mean that is all the Lord is willing to give or desirous for us to have.

But back to Ether.  When the big battles happened it says everyone fought but him. (Ether 15:12).  He lived to see his prophesies fulfilled about the peoples destruction, but it all left him alone.  His final words are a lot like Abinadi's final words.  They both say that what happens to them didn't matter "If it so be that I am saved in the Kingdom of God".

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Power of the Small and Simple

Alma 37:6

"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise."
  
There are a couple really interesting differences between a beginner and a master, in any given subject.  Beginners need to focus on basics, and fundamentals, but the master will appreciate the small, simple subtleties of his art.  He knows their power.  Whereas the beginner will often be a bit caught up in how "cool" or "popular" or "powerful" or "rich" a particular skill, art, ability, or possession will make him/her.  Beginners tend to try and force things, whereas the master will use power and wisdom. To the beginner, the beauty of it all looks somewhat like "magic" and is a bit of a mystery.

The master will have mastered the basics, and therefore, knows the advantage of small adjustments.  He knows when to use them for maximum effect.  He develops wisdom.  The beginner typically just wants to know the secrets, shortcuts, or techniques. Who, if told, either can't reproduce it, or will misuse them, and get himself and others in trouble.  A master is not just proficient at his art, it goes beyond that.  Many learners in any subject will stop at "proficiency" level.  In fact most will.  But there are a few who will press on, and learn the keys to whatever it is they are doing.

In a cultural sense, what develops from this are initiation rituals, or "puberty rites". Our culture has all but lost them, however remnants of them are scattered through every culture that has ever lived on earth.  In ancient cultures when a male reached a certain age, had been proven and tested, he was taught  the "keys" or "secrets of the universe" by a group of aged "Elders" in the community.  The person acquired a new title through the ritual and was reintroduced into the community.  Separate rituals existed for the females.  These are interesting to read if you want to look them up.  But that is a topic for another post.

The master and the beginner do have some things in common.  They both share a "beginners" mind.  They are childlike, humble, and desire to learn more.  The master has gone through all the stages of learning until the foundations have become part of his subconscious.  But he returns again to the basics, this time at a whole new level, and with a whole new mindset, as if seeing them for the first time.

Here's just a few examples of small and simple things that everyone can recognize.

Martial Arts:

The beginner martial artist will tend to rely on physical force to try and overpower their opponent.  The master uses the other persons energy and simply redirect it.  The beginner wonders how long he will have to lift weights in order to throw his opponent over his shoulder.  The master knows how the bodies joints work, and what can be used as leverage points. He positions himself in just the right place, and with perhaps one movement someone 3 times his size can go right over his shoulder to the floor.  We've probably all seen it happen.

A Ship

A small trim tab can turn an entire ship. Or you could have the workers put the oars out the side of the boat and try and turn it by rowing.  It will work, but the captain only needs to adjust the control surfaces.  But a wise captain knows when to use each.  A battling crew who are at each others throats may benefit from working together with the oars.  An exhausted crew may benefit from rest while the rudder helps steer for a while.  Again the subtleties.  The small and the simple can accomplish great things.  The master uses them with wisdom, like the captain who knows his crew.

Communication

This is a field which I love.  There is way more to say than I will write, but a few basics for thought is a good start.  In communication, there are times when "less is more".  Of course this isn't always the case.  But it's worth noticing.  One well timed and well worded sentience, with the correct voice tone, can speak more than something of much greater length.  It's small and simple, yet very powerful.  Indirect messages, or elements of body language are much the same.  They often go totally unnoticed, yet can have a greater effect than anyone would imagine.  Picture a Hollywood chick flick   A simple well placed moment of eye contact can trigger feelings in someone else no amount of words or convincing could.  These things are not hidden, we all know it when we see it.  But yet we often don't "see" it.  The body is an amazing tool for communication, but we don't pay much attention to it.  

In almost any area, the subtitles are often the most powerful.  But curiously they are guarded in a way. Only some will appreciate them.  For the rest, they go undiscovered.  For those who know them there is a sense of obligation not to share them with the unprepared who will misuse them, and thus cause harm.  So a sort of built in "safety mechanism" exists.  It's that the unprepared will not value, nor truly recognize the subtleties, so they usually forget them, and or pass them off as inconsequential.  "Slothful" is the term Alma uses.

Things like a ship trip tab, or various types of communication are just broad examples of small and simple things that most people will relate to at some level.  We've all seen a ship rudder, seen a martial arts guy get thrown, and watched as Hollywood portrays the boy girl drama with all the associated subtle forms of communication.  The discussion gets really interesting however when it turns to matters of Faith, the Gospel, and God.  The Lord is a Master Teacher.  When I've been able to learn something, I've been truly in awe that a being with that much light, and that much wisdom, and that much love would even communicate with me.  But He does.  And it's unlike anything else.  We all need to be in contact with God and His Spirit.

Back tot he scripture this post began with : "Great things" in the verse no doubt refers to eternal things, like people's salvation.  For Alma to say "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass"...those are the words of someone who knows, someone who has joined in the cause of peoples eternal life and immortality.  These are the words of someone with a profound yet simple message.  I think it's informing us about one of the ways the Lord works.  Small, simple.  These verses are not the product of Joseph Smith's fabrications.  This is real.

So how do small means in many instances confound the wise?  Because the wise are blind to it.  They think they already know. They are confounded when something so simple evaded them, and when something small presents higher intelligence than they had.  They think things like "what your eyes do" when a boy first meet a girl are small and stupid. Or maybe they think things like bathing 7 times in the river Jordan are foolish.  "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage." (2 Kings 5:12)  And too often we too find things foolish which are not.  It's our own pride that blinds us to what is often staring us in the face.  But we think we are wise, and so we remain blind.  The irony is awesome.

One note here: The adversary also knows that being subtle is a an effective method to deceive.  So awareness of these things can be very helpful on multiple fronts.  That is a major idea to consider.  The Lord worketh not in darkness, so His ways can always be discerned by their light, and by the Spirit.

Small and simple by their nature are "easy" (in one sense of the word), and so they go unnoticed.  You've perhaps already stopped thinking about what subtleties I'm referring to.  Don't miss them.  Remember not to pass them off because they look small.  You have to pay attention, because they will not command much notice. Yet such things are used frequently by the Lord.  It's easy to be slothful because of the easiness of the "the small and simple".   

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Repentance - the other side of the word

Repentance isn't just stopping something, stopping needs to balance with starting.  The other side of it all is to "start", or "add to ourselves" the things God asks, by His Spirit, and with His help.  Getting answers to prayer, getting revelation, getting to know the mysteries of God.  That's part of repentance too.   The additive and positive side of the word repentance sometimes gets less focus but it shouldn't.  

To quote my bishop from a few weeks ago:  "You don't need to wait for a calling in the ward before you can do good, and offer service to ward members".


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A closer look at scriptural words

Repentance is a top Gospel priority (D&C 133:16).  So then it would make sense understanding what it is and what exactly it is we are supposed to repent of.

Some not so nice scriptural words get glossed over so much and other times have a dark blinding veil that covers their meanings. We teach each other that the words don't apply to us.  So rather than head down that treacherous line of thought I thought I'd attempt to look at some of these words as perhaps they may be helpful. And for us to see perhaps how they apply to us.  We sometimes DO in fact have things in common with the "bad" guys in scripture. (link) Scripture authors (Book of Mormon) had to etch words onto metal plates. So I want to additionally show respect to carefully chosen words that required a chisel to write.

Here's just one sample list of scriptural warning words in no particular order.  While I did research and include things from multiple sources, and various dictionaries, I also will say there was inspiration from the Spirit.  You are welcomed and encouraged to verify all of this for yourself.  And yes I should have included a footnote citing each dictionary and source.  I will at some point go back and do that.

So much could be said about each word, but I only want to provide enough to spark thought.  I hope it's a bit of a resource.  If you have a definition or clarification that adds light, understanding, or applicability, leave a comment.  Some specifically chosen scriptural links were added to each one that shows the word in context.

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Filthiness -  Not personal hygiene.  It's religious practices that fail to clean.  When a rite or ordinance is changed or altered it doesn't clean and so the result is filthiness.  It would be a "form" of godliness without the "power".  When false teachings and false doctrine are accepted they will not lead to Christ, and therefore the person will remain in a state of unclean filthiness before God.  (1 Nephi 15:34) (Mormon 9:14)

Pollutions -  Not the smog that currently covers Salt Lake City.  But more spiritual degeneracy.  It's teachings, actions, doctrine and beliefs that are no longer pure, but instead have become contaminated.  Just because we inhale things and ideas that are common in our religious culture, in business, or shown on the news does not mean it's not polluted.  A "church" becomes polluted not by environmental waste, but by spiritual contamination. We Mormons are the subject of these pollutions according to Mormon.  (Mormon 8:31) (Mormon 8:38) (2 Peter 2:20)

Whoredoms  -  Whoredoms implies both sexual imagery along with a very interesting analogy to an intimacy with "false lovers" or "false Gods".  The root word is whore.  The great illusion of a whore is to imagine she likes you. To imagine she cares for you. To imagine she (or the relationship) desires what you desire and is cooperating with you because she finds you attractive, appealing, and that you fulfill her longing. It is a lie, an illusion, and a fraud.  Folks would not be a customer of such services if not for the lies. The seductive character "Babylon" is prophesied to be great whore in our day.  People sell themselves to it,  purchase her goods, and are under the illusion she loves them and that she plans on satisfying them.  But it will not.  Fidelity to Christ, not men, no matter their calling is where the longing of the soul will find true lasting fulfillment.  (Mormon 8:31)

Pride-   The natural man "me" and the "I" that fails to accept and perceive the reality of our utter dependence and reliance on God.  A fallen nature cannot evict it's own pride, it cannot even "see" the need, so we must yield to the Holy Spirit and follow Christ through the things he sees fit to inflict upon us.  Otherwise we remain in our competitive, stubborn, blind, stiff necked, and puffed up state.  Alma asks us all a brutal question:  Are ye stripped of pride?  Believing we can save ourselves comes from pride. (Mormon 8:36)  (2 Nephi 28:12)

Abominations-   These involve actual religious justification of wrongdoing.  Something becomes "abominable" when it is motivated out of a false form of religious observance, or is justified because of religious error.  But of course it's not viewed as "wrong" until it's exposed.  These are altered ordinances, wicked practices which pervert, and blind the people.  Often the people participating do not think their religious actions have become corrupt. Quite the contrary, they think themselves justified by them, and see themselves as devoted.  It all serves to increases their pride.  Scriptures teach that abominations bring destruction upon a people.  Things "most abominable" either affect children, or involve secret combinations. (Mormon 8:31)   

Apostasy - Not helpful if we think apostasy is "what other churches are in".  Even (especially?) God's chosen people are prone to fall away, depart from the truth, let it erode, neglect it, abandon it, reject it, or be part of some a unrecognized "revolt" against the truth.  Prophets in scriptures have fallen.  We apostatize from the truth when we refuse to believe people who lead us are incapable of being astray. The Book of Mormon prophesies we will depart from the ways of the Lord, and we're the Church that believes in that book.  Part of the difficulty with understanding the word apostasy is that the people are almost always distracted from the fact it may currently be under way.  They think it's not possible, and they can cite a number of foolish reasons why. (1 Nephi 1:19)    

Wickedness-  One of Satan's titles is "the wicked one" (D&C 93:39).  Wickedness therefore an alignment of some kind with the father of lies.  It's a parallel behavior or action with something Godlike but which has become ineffective and therefore unable to elevate the soul.  According to our culture wicked refers only to things like Ted Bundy.... Satan worshipers....or various villains.  However in Hebrew wicked means "to destroy," to break something into pieces and destroy it.  Satan also carries the title "the destroyer".  When God gives us something, like a true prophet, true doctrine, or scripture and we neglect it, correlate it, reject it, circumvent it, pervert it, destroy it, or eliminate it, we play the part of destroying what it was intended to do.  It's wicked.  Isaiah  says wickedness is like a troubled sea, who's waters cast up mire and dirt. (D&C 133:14) (1 John 5:19) (2 Nehpi 12:5

Iniquity -  The wrong course.  In hebrew the root is twisted, or crooked. Christ quoting a final judgement day scene responds to a few statements with this phrase: "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (3 Nephi 14:22-23) Unrighteous rulers/leaders/presidents can cause a lot of it.  Isaiah 53:5 Adds an interesting thought: “He was bruised for our iniquities.” Iniquities are not superficial. They are under the skin; they are deeply embedded.  Iniquity can sometimes gets a "politically correct" name by society which blinds.  When people become increasingly determined or committed to the wrong course, the prophets call this sort of thing "waxing strong" or "ripening in iniquity".  (Mosiah 29:17)  (Ether 2:9)

Arm of the Flesh - Not your upper bodies extremity. It's "trusting in man" (relying on "man" to save instead of God). It's trusting in man's credentials, degrees, theories, formulas, tools, methods and philosophies that are substituted for, and then relied upon, instead of the Spirit. It would be relying on and trusting in man made things as if they were the Spirit. Such things as public opinion, or academic inquiry, or social science, opinion polls, mood lightening, musical manipulation and any such thing dependent on man's unstable wisdom instead of the simple, meekness of the Spirit. The alternative to the arm of the flesh is to trust in and learn things of Salvation from the Spirit and revelation. (2 Nephi 28:31)  (2 Nephi 4:34)  

Corruption - Infected with error.  Something corrupt has been made useless due to alterations or or errors. Truth being mingled with philosophies of man denotes corruption. (D&C 33:4) (2 Nephi 28:12)         

False doctrine -  When everyone believes it, or "disbelieves it" that means it must be true, right?  False doctrine is anything that prevents or misleads a person from coming to Christ.  It's all around us by the way.... we are up to our ears in it but for the most part are oblivious.  (2 Nephi 28:12) (Mormon 8:33)

Murder -  not restricted to physically ending someones life, but also leading them towards the destruction of their soul through lies, deceptions...etc.  (Alma 36:14)

Robbing -  Not breaking into someones car and stealing their laptop, although yes that is stealing.  In the scriptures the idea here is that it's the poor and God that so often get robbed.  It's to deprive one of what they should receive.  Robbery occurs when the poor are passed over in favor of puffing up and lavishing the rich.  It's when "fine sanctuaries" deprive those in need.  It's when value is taken from people who have inherent worth and instead extended to "things" which will all pass away.  (2 Nephi 28:13).          

Unbelief  -  Doesn't only mean you don't have any beliefs inside you, it means the form of your belief is not correct, and produces no fruit.  Your belief produces no signs (signs follow them that believe D&C 63:9).  So unbelief denotes you have the wrong understanding, or such false perceptions that it causes you to continually miss the mark. (D&C 84:55)

Vanity -  is not a slave to fashion, or the sink/mirror combination in your bathroom.  It means ineffective or lacking power. (i.e. your faith is vain)…  Vanity is also "That which is empty".  It's making your self look good in the eyes of others.  Drawing attention to self in favor of pointing to God.  The self centered, self flattering, or self vaunting mindset that leads to ignoring or denying God's presence, and influence.  Vanity is focus on the wrong thing, and ascribing value where there is none.  (D&C 84:55)

Idolatry -  Not just bowing to a gold calf, but mistaking the "thing", or "symbol" for the underlying truth or meaning.  Idolatry includes beliefs and thus actions that idolize or pay undue adoration to someone, or some thing which distracts you from God.  People can make a church, a person, a thing, or an obsession into an idol.  Tradition can be an idol.  It's possible to hearken to the President of the Church's inspired counsel.  It is also possible to make him, or the Church into an idol, and participate in a form of idol worship.  Idolatry seems to be one of the most common errors scriptures say people fall into.  (Alma 31:1) (Amla 50:21)

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