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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Magnifying our Probation

I have been thinking lately of what our expectations ought to be - of what God expects of us, more accurately.

It seems to me that if we are blessed with healthy bodies and minds that we are put here not only to survive and be good, but to use those blessings and magnify them. We should be doing so by exercising our spiritual abilities, because that is where we can achieve our highest potential even in our temporal lives.

As we travel in our mission, we have been listening to the Journal of Discourses of Brigham Young as edited by John A. Widstoe. In several of his lectures, he points out that to God, nothing is temporal; all is spiritual to Him. It is a completely logical conclusion, of course. All we do should be balanced among the physical, mental and spiritual in order to achieve our highest potential.

In 2Nephi 9, we read of the dangers and consequences of becoming out of balance. Most of the 54 verses talk about the atonement and how we must qualify ourselves to receive the great blessings of the atonement by repenting. Jacob then makes this observation:
v. 27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!

Then he elaborates further:
v.28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. and they shall perish.
v. 29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

He then goes on to say similar things about those who focus on their riches and don't listen to the counsels of God. Similarly, he points out the vanity of those who will not open their spiritual eyes and ears.

He concludes this line of thought with these verses:
v. 42 ...and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich who are puffed up because of their learning and their wisdom, and their riches -- yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.
v. 43 But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever--yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.

Brigham Young states that even the atheist can receive the Holy Ghost as he or she devotes time and energy in efforts to accomplish things that will benefit mankind. What is missing is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost that will allow that person to achieve the highest of their potential.

It also occurs to me that we cannot be lazy as to the things of this world and simply cloister ourselves  only in what we consider to be spiritual matters. We have an obligation to expand our minds, exercise our bodies, care for our family members, and make a success of our financial situations, but with spiritual purpose. With proper balance, we can achieve more of our potential; more of God's expectations for each of us, individually.

We must not become prideful of whatever it is that we achieve, but we must not sell ourselves short by making excuses for our failure to try. Will we ever be totally in balance? Probably not, we have to make constant course corrections, but we are only expected to stay on the path. Perfection comes only through the grace of Christ, but we magnify our gifts as we exercise them with proper focus.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Promise and Prosperity

As I read again the books of 1st and 2nd Nephi I wondered what it means when the Lord calls a certain place a land of promise and what it means to prosper in that land.

The land to which Moses led the children of Israel was a promised land. It was to be a land of milk and honey, implying a land of plenty. It does not compare, however, to the abundance of the promised land which we know as the Americas for fertile soil, varieties of edible and beautiful flora, abundant deposits of precious and useful minerals, or animals useful for milk, meat, or bearing burdens. The Americas, however, seem to have no more of these natural resources than the African continent. The term "promised land," or "land of promise" has to have a different meaning.

The problem with the term "prosper" is that it is relative. To modern society it would mean something entirely different from a tribal society in the distant past. A closer reading of the context in which these terms are expressed gives me a different meaning for each of them.

Lehi teaches that the land is "consecrated," or in other words, it is blessed and set apart to bring the prophecies and promises f the word of God to pass. Further, it will be a land of peace and liberty so long as the inhabitants are more willing to follow God than to hearken to Satan. The evidence that such is true is in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Societies enjoy peace and abundance until they love the lies of Satan more than the words of eternal life. Then societies fail, are lost in wars or are taken captive by an enemy who knows not the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Query whether all lands where the people are righteous are lands of promise. They will be blessed and their people favored by God, but their lands are not consecrated. No prophet will arise to open a dispensation, and no scriptural record will emanate from there. Those are evidences of a promised land, in my limited observation. A promised land is a land set apart for a chosen people. A chosen race is not distinguished by skin color, ethnicity or even by ancestors, rather it is a people which has the honor and the obligation of receiving and then sharing and spreading the word of God that comes through His prophets.

What of prosperity? If we prosper are we then prosperous? If so, what does that look like? What one person considers prosperous, another finds scant, and yet another may find fabulously wealthy. Few I have met would define their personal circumstances as prosperous, but consider other's to be so. That is because we equate wealth, money and other material acquisitions with prosperity. Some equate freedom from want of the basics of life and the ability to live independently from the largess of others as prosperity. Others would see prosperity as the ability to afford to do whatever they want or to do nothing at all. That is why we think of prosperity as a relative term

Is that what God promises those who dwell righteously in a promised land? It doesn't seem that He would use a relative term to make such a promise. Otherwise, we could assume that one who suffers a business failure is unrighteous and that the opposite is righteous.

2Nephi 1: 20 states that if we in a promised land keep His commandments, we will "prosper in the land." If we do not, we shall be "cut off" from His presence. Is  prosperity, then, to be in the presence of God? It seems to me that it is. It is also liberty. Verse 23: "...put on the armor of righteousness" and "shake off the chains" of captivity.

Satan makes no such promise; he cannot. Instead, he turns prosperity on its head. Freedom from the restraints of the commandments, as he and his minions would phrase it, always results in captivity in one form or another. When our goal to achieve prosperity is one of accumulation (of wealth, friends, followers, or whatever) the result is insatiable pride. What matters is not what we have, but only that we have more than others.

True prosperity is, no matter what your personal circumstances may be, to live in God's presence.