Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pride and a Haughty Spirit

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

It is a scripture with which most of us are familiar. Often it is shortened to "Pride goeth before a fall." Either way, it is a volume of wisdom expressed in a short sentence.

In reading Alma 39, again, I found a verse to which I had not paid much attention, before. The chapter concerns Corianton's leaving the ministry, going after a charming harlot, setting a bad example for the people who then cannot believe Alma, and Alma's invitation to him to listen to counsel from and follow the example of his older brothers.

What I had missed was the verse that describes the root of Corianton's fall from a powerful missionary to an adulterer.

It is found in verse 2. "... Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on  unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom."

C. S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters has the demon Screwtape instructing his student imp. In one case, the imp explains that he is getting nowhere with his "patient" because of his humility. With humility, comes a heart willing to hear and obey God.

"I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. "

Obviously, Corianton had wisdom, strength and abilities to influence others. At first, he was a powerful missionary. At some point, he began to feel that it was all him; that is, he forgot that these were gifts that should be nourished and strengthened by humbly receiving counsel. Having focused on himself and his personal strength and wisdom, his pride led him to believe that his superiority exceeded the wisdom of his father and brothers. In fact, it exceeded what they taught and he, like so many others before and since, thought he was being a spiritual pioneer when, in fact, he was simply heading for destruction.

We get the feeling in reading the chapters dedicated to him that he had hit bottom, was prepared to humble himself and repent. Alma lets him know it will not be easy because Alma had to rehearse all the sinful acts and "harrow up" those difficult feelings. (v. 7) Also, Corianton would have to return to the Zoramites and admit his folly. (v. 13)

It is an easy trap to fall into. There is some emotional reward when we recognize that we have done a good thing, become a person of some repute, accomplished some spiritual feat or that we have gifts not possessed by others. It is a good thing to know, when it leads to gratitude. If it turns to pride, we are in danger. It requires vigilance.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Innocent Adam and Eve

I gave the lesson in Sunday School yesterday about Adam, Eve, and the Fall. A couple of thoughts were developed from the scriptures I read.

First, there seems to be a struggle with the idea that the partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a transgression and not a sin or that it was a necessary evil. We know it was necessary, because they were in a state of latent mortality. Bodies that were incorruptible, but also incapable of producing mortal children. Absent the Fall, they would have remained as such. 2Nephi 2:22-23 states: 

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. (Emphasis added)
It seems to me that we are missing an important concept: they were " a state of innocence." Have you known someone who was in a state of innocence? They will believe anyone. Until children have adequate experience, they are completely gullible. For example, we recently received an email letter from our grandson, Jacob. Here is an excerpt: "One time I had a CTR but then I lost it, I made a wrong choice because I didn't have my ring, then the Holy Ghost gave me back my ring, he was keeping it, forever. Then I made a right choice and I got my CTR 💍ring."
It is so laughably cute that it is precious to us, because Jacob is only a young child. It would indicate serious problems if he wrote this at age 18, for instance. 
Adam and Eve were without experience. The whole idea of consequences for sin, or even sin, itself, were unfamiliar territory. Eve partook of the fruit innocently.  When the consequences became obvious, Adam apparently recognized that Eve was not going to be able to remain in the Garden and he partook of the fruit, also. 
I have heard some people state that Adam was trying to shift the blame to Eve with his response to God. I don't think so, because he was innocent and incapable of that kind of sophistry. Moses 4: 17-18  has the exchange. 
17 And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?
18 And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat. (Emphasis added)
My thought, as I expressed above, is that Adam was given Eve as his wife and commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. Without her, it would be impossible. He ate because he had been commanded to remain with her and would not have been able to do so if both had not partaken of the fruit. I suspect that after the Fall, innocence would go away rather quickly. As mankind advanced over the millennia, sophistry grew along with the loss of innocence. 
Maybe you have a different take and would like to share it. To me, it explains a lot.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Time is not Your Time...

Alma 29: 8
8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.

Another scripture I have read so many times and have not noticed. Perhaps it seemed appropriate this time because President Youngberg and I had a long conversation regarding what to do about the problem of immigrants and refugees in this country. Apparently, there are some who have discovered that being Christian is a way of not getting deported back to a Muslim country, so they fain interest in the Church. However, only one has requested a letter of good standing for that purpose. They are refused baptism if, after a close interview, they are determined to be in danger of returning to a country where being Christian is a dangerous status.

The problem that generated the conversation is that there are no Farsi or Arabic speaking missionaries in Europe, so interviews are conducted by Skype with missionaries in Los Angeles, CA rather late at night due to the time difference. I argued that there ought to be some of those missionaries appointed to Europe where they would be accessible to all missions in the same or a close time zone.

I have wondered for some time how the Gospel will go to the people of these Middle Eastern countries where it is a capital crime to change religions. The solution seems to be the refugees that receive the Gospel in adopted countries who then share with their families and friends. Over time, it seems to me, they will create enough political pressure to change things in their homelands. Maybe it is rose-colored glasses, because I have no real inkling how God will accomplish his purposes.

This scripture put me in my place by stating that not only will the Lord grant to all nations, in their own nation and tongue, but it will be done in wisdom, as he seeth fit.

I suppose we all, in some degree, want to see the signs of the end times and second coming of Christ. We know that it will come as a surprise, but we would like it to be obvious and in our own time. Time to let God do what he will as he wishes and in his time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Short on Faith? Make a List

Alma 9:20+

Background: Alma has been instructed to return to the city of Ammonihah after having been unsuccessful in calling them to repentance. He meets Amulek and asks for shelter and food. Amulek had been prepared by an angel to receive Alma and complies with the angel's instructions. It seems that Amulek was not a religious man, but a man of integrity. Therefore, he enjoyed a good reputation in the community. While he had thoughts of religion, he was busy building his business and had little time for anything else, it seems. The visit from the angel and then from Alma allowed his spirit to be open to receiving the message of repentance and living the standards of the gospel.  Alma stays with him and teaches him for some time. He is a quick study and obviously has learned spiritual concepts deeply. He loves and teaches them as he accompanies the high priest of the Church.

Alma and Amulek step out to teach the people and to call them to repentance. Alma begins in an interesting way. He restates how many times God has blessed this people, provided spiritual gifts, prosperity, provided prophets, revelation, visions, healings, relief from famine, delivered them out of bondage, and preserved them in battle. It is quite a long list of only some of the blessings received by the people of Nephi as well as the others who joined them as recorded in Mosiah. Reading it, my thought was that if they were not touched by this recitation,  they would have predetermined that no matter what this prophet said, they would not hear, but would reject it out of hand. "...your hearts have been grossly hardened against the word of God..." (v. 30)

Many times I have thought about why in moments of weakness I have chosen to hold fast to faith. This time the thought occurred to me that I have had numerous spiritual blessings in my life when I was especially inspired, blessed, healed, provided blessings, received direction, was in the right place at a time when someone needed my insight, and other gifts of the Spirit.

If that is the case, maybe I should do like Alma and write them down. I hesitate to do so here, as it may appear prideful or it may expose sensitive spiritual blessings that should be kept sacred. I am fine with sharing them on a personal basis, so when we meet sometime, you may ask and I will do so.

As I think of something that is a direct blessing of the Spirit or an answer to a prayer or fulfillment of a blessing, I write it down in a notebook that I carry with me. So far, I have written 28 instances. I know there are many I have not yet remembered and more to come. It has been a blessing to me on so many levels. I know many who keep a gratitude journal, and this is similar because these are experiences for which I am profoundly grateful, but different in that I am not recording everything for which I am grateful (though I am glad that so many do), just about those instances where divine intervention of one kind or another has been evident in my personal life.

I recommend it. I don't know how long I will keep it up, but for now it is an amazing blessing of strength and joy.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Joy without Affliction and Sorrow

Alma 7: 5-6
5 And I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow.

6 But behold, I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren; I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea, I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world; yea, I trust that you do not worship idols, but that ye do worship the true and the living God, and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come. (Emphasis added)

The chapters of Alma comprising his leaving the office of Chief Judge and acting only as high priest over the church are filled with insights about the need for authority to administer ordinances and ordinations; the need for repentance, being born again, retaining the Spirit in our lives, and the power of testimony, among other important principles. As I re-read these chapters, I find my focus is not as sharp as it ought to be, because I have already read, highlighted and commented in the margins about those principles and concepts. I have tried to be alert to promptings as I read, now, because I have a good deal of experience that tells me that I will learn more that I missed in previous reading.

Yesterday, I read chapter 7 and was struck by the verses above. Again, experience has taught me that 2Nephi 2:11+ is true. Without opposition in all things, we would not appreciate the good, happy, building, strengthening experiences in life. I have wondered, however, if joy must always follow affliction. I remember distinctly a few years (now they seem like short years) when life was particularly abundant. I also remember being exceptionally grateful at that time. I knew it could not last forever, because life is meant to be a test and we have to struggle if we are to grow. But for that time I felt happy, content and very grateful.

Here, Alma expresses a similar feeling. The people in Gideon were open and receptive to his message. They were willing to listen and to repent. They were prepared to receive counsel, to establish the church with proper offices and the Spirit confirmed to Alma that they believed the words he taught.  and in v. 17 he concludes, "...great is my joy."

Alma had experienced joy in Zarahemla, but only after a good deal of contention, affliction and sorrow. He would experience persecution, affliction and sorrow again in spades as he entered Ammonihah, but for this brief period in Gideon, his joy was full.

We do have to experience affliction in order to appreciate joy; that is obvious. I am grateful for Alma's insights, however, that we do not have to always have affliction precede joy. Previous experience will sometimes suffice. The key, it seems to me, is to be constantly open to joy, whether it is fleeting or lasts for a longer period. We are open to joy, when we are constantly grateful. Being available to others with the love of Christ increases our opportunities for both the harsh and the joyful.

"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Psalm 126: 5-6

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Gratitude, New Law, Consecration, Repentance

Reading through the Isaiah sections of 2Nephi, and Nephi's commentary has provided new insights that I should have been recording, but have neglected.

I have written in the margins some of the commentary on the passages I have thought important in the past, but in reading this time other thoughts came to mind.

First, in chapter 20 Isaiah sees that the people are gathering and hoarding wealth for the sake of wealth and then being prideful about it. He asks the rhetorical question: "Shall the ax boast itself...shall the saw magnify itself...? As if the rod should shake itself... or the staff should lift up itself." The Lord then tells Isaiah that there will be famine and fire to remind the people from whom the blessings come.

Sometimes I think we concentrate on our problems to the exclusion of remembering our blessings. We may not be guilty of the pride of accumulation, but may be guilty of the pride of our personal situations. We have healthy bodies, bright minds, pleasant personalities, families with all their quirkiness, assets sufficient for our needs and then some, shelter, food, and the list goes on. Our thoughts, however, seem to turn primarily to the problems, some of which are serious and demand our attention. Should then demand our attention, solely? Gratitude keeps us grounded. When we are grateful, the Holy Ghost is more available, we find solutions faster, and in a joyful context.

In the 25th chapter, Nephi begins his commentary and shares some of his vision regarding the coming of Christ, his teachings, suffering, death and resurrection.  It is here that he writes that it is by the grace of Christ that we are saved after all we can do. (v. 23) I have expounded on that elsewhere. Here he also states that we emphasize (talk, rejoice, preach, prophesy, write of) Christ so our children may know to whom they should look for a remission of their sins. (v. 26)

In Chapter 26, he points out that the law is fulfilled in Christ. Some have assumed that means there is no law; that we go on by our best judgment or by the promptings of the Spirit for our guide. Nephi disabuses us of that notion in a simple sentence: "And after Christ shall have risen from the dead...the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law." (v. 1) A quick reading of 3Nephi 11 and the chapters that follow show that not only do we still look to the 10 Commandments, but that our obedience should be on a much higher plane.

In the same chapter he makes the following statement: "...the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish." (v. 31 emphasis added) In context, he is talking about priestcraft, but it is striking that those who have accepted the ordinances of the temple have also become "the Lord's annointed" who have consecrated themselves for the building up of the Kingdom of God and the establishment of Zion.

I don't know of any priesthood officer who is guilty of preaching for gain, as the Levites  sometimes did, but if we consider ourselves a consecrated people (as we should) we look to our responsibilities, and our opportunities as stewards of the Lord's assets. We are laboring with our families, our wards and stakes, our jobs and professions, our lands and homes for the purpose of building up the Kingdom of God and establishing Zion.

It is, in the end, an invitation for us to repent. "None of these iniquities come of the Lord...he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him..."
A good reminder of where we are, who we are and whose we are.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Elements to the Eternal Plan of Deliverance from Death

2Nephi 11: 5

In the previous chapter, Nephi's brother Jacob ends with the admonition to choose eternal life or everlasting death. The chapter then states that we must reconcile ourselves to the will of God. It goes on to point out that even doing so still requires the grace of God to be saved. 2Nephi 10: 23-25 emphasis added.

The elements required for "...the eternal plan of deliverance from death" (i.e. salvation) that was received by covenant of the Lord (i.e. Christ see 3Nephi 15:5) to the fathers are His grace, justice, power, and mercy. All of these come by the mission of Christ.

The order in which Nephi arranges these elements is interesting. If I were writing this, I would have put "power" first and "grace" last. I, obviously, am not a prophet who is intimate with Christ, as Nephi and Jacob were. On reflection, none of the elements are either relevant or possible without the grace of Christ. It should come first.

Grace: His grace is the result of the atonement of Christ. Without the atoning sacrifice, justice could never be satisfied, His power would be limited; certainly not adequate to save, and mercy would not be brought to pass. The incomprehensible act brought to us the possibility of life eternal. Because of it justice, an immutable law requiring eternal consequences for every breach of God's laws, could be satisfied by proxy, that is by Christ's suffering for us, then dying and being resurrected.

Power: His power certainly included the power to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:18). It was even more, however, because, as is pointed out in 3Nephi 15: 5, for example, He states that He has the power to "...give eternal life."

Mercy: Mercy can now be extended to the faithful who accept the saving ordinances and abide by the associated covenants. Always? We will fall short, of course, but mercy allows for us to repent and by so doing return to the path that leads to eternal life.

Therefore, Nephi goes back to the first element in verse 6, and states that without Christ (implying His willingly accepting the atonement) all men must perish.

Elder Patrick Kearon in our recent Stockholm Stake Conference stated that Christ gives us opportunities for another chance again and again. Then he said, "We must claim them!"

I have heard the advice to claim blessings and have been somewhat uncomfortable with the idea. It seems to imply that because of some degree of personal righteousness we can demand some blessing from God. King Benjamin points out that no matter how righteous we become, we will still be indebted to God because of the blessings received without even qualifying for them.(Mosiah 2:21-25).

Elder Kearon's perspective rings true. There is no greater blessing than repentance because it allows us to obtain eternal life which is the greatest gift of God. I pray for that increased commitment to overcome the lazy, natural man that holds me back from all the promised blessings.