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.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Is That a Commandment?

I have been adding to my study journal lately, though not as much as I thought I would be doing. Much of it is notes from meetings and General Conferences, but as I read something that makes me ask a question, study it out and draw conclusions, I have tried to put it into my study journal. I am now transferring them into this blog, again.

You will recall that Nephi inquires about the Tree of Life dream of his father, Lehi, and is given a vision that includes an interpretation of the various components of the dream, but many other revelations, as well. Following this awesome experience, he finds his brothers disputing among themselves. They report that they cannot understand the vision of their father.

Nephi asks if they have inquired of the Lord and they respond that they have not because He would not make such things known to them.

Nephi chastises them saying, "How is it that ye do not deep the commandments of the Lord?"

Query: Is it a commandment to ask God for revelation? I know of no such commandment, per se, but Nephi goes on to explain that if we keep the commandments with diligence, and approach the Lord in humility with faith, these things shall be made known unto us.

It occurs to me that keeping the commandments keeps us worthy, but if we do not remain humble and exercise our faith, we are 1. living below our privileges and 2. living below our Father's expectations of us, and his blessings for us.

If we are not living up to his expectations, our privileges, or our potential, how do we rectify our situation? The only possible answer is to repent and to let the atonement boost us forward.  If repentance is necessary it is because a commandment has been breached. At least that is what we are usually taught. What commandment has been breached? Perhaps it is, "Be ye, therefore, perfect..." a commandment that is impossible without the atonement of Christ.

I think it must mean that Christ, through the atonement will make up the difference, but we still must have the discipline to use time wisely.  For example, when does recreation (admittedly a good, even necessary activity) tilt to become a waste of time or even an addiction (admittedly not getting us to His expectations of us)? Attention to video games when the opportunity to have the Spirit teach us the words of eternal life, or wandering endlessly on the computer when opportunities for service are all about us are other examples.

If anyone still reads this blog, I would like to know what you think of my interpretation and what activities have you observed in yourself or others that keep us from enjoying all our privileges?

Lehi in the Mist - Tree of Life

Lehi was led into a mist of darkness by a "man dressed in a white robe," and then apparently abandoned there. He traveled many hours in darkness. He prayed for mercy "according to the multitude of his tender mercies." It was then that the darkness dissipated and he saw a large field, and then the tree of life.

Why didn't the man in white lead him at least to the iron rod, if not out of the mist of darkness entirely?

What tools did Lehi have to avoid discouragement and to press on to eventually arrive at the tree of life?

The man in the white robe is not identified and there is no interpretation in the vision Nephi saw as recorded in the later chapters. There are a number of comparisons, but I think of him as a missionary, friend or other member who introduces someone to the Gospel. When the person is baptized and confirmed, and receives the lessons again, the missionaries transfer, the member has his/her own life, the new member starts feeling abandoned. With ridicule, persecution or just loss of friends, a mist of darkness settles in. It is then that he/she needs to have adequate tools to come out of the mist and find their way to the Tree. Lehi could have just back tracked and gone back home to what was familiar, but he chose to keep pressing forward prayerfully. It is not just new members who can become discouraged. It happens to us all. It is then that we rely on the tools in our possession and keep pressing through the mist, prayerfully, until the tender mercies of the Lord allow us to see the Tree again.

The tools are our experience, testimony, commitment, scriptures, patriarchal blessing, and daily nourishment by the "good word of God." They must be earned, used frequently and available when needed. To neglect them gets us lost in the mist with no way out, but back. That must not happen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dumping our Excuses

We all have numerous excuses for not attending to our duties, attending church, or putting off what we have committed to do in taking upon us our ordinances with their associated covenants.  Discouragement due to unrealized expectations; nervous that we are not accepted because we are too old, too young, too poor, too whatever; perhaps there have been serious mistakes that are known to all and we feel uncomfortable; I may seem to have it all together, but God knows my dirty little secrets; I have a disagreement with another member or a leader in the Church.  I think you get the idea.  There are plenty of excuses to go around. So, why don't we take advantage of these excuses and drop out?  Unfortunately, some do.

We choose not to because we know that is not where the promised blessings will be found.  We sometimes wonder why our prayers are not answered right away or not at all. We discover that God is not our butler.  Sometimes we get tired of the search and take the attitude to God, "Just show me or tell me what you want and I will do it." We discover that God does not need us to be his butler.

In his talk in the April 2012 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about the parable of the landowner and the workmen.  He pointed out that there was an area in the market place where men who needed work could go to find employment as day laborers.  Here the landowner or his agent came several times during the day to get men to perform the harvest. (See also Matthew 20)

Most would expect that the harvest would begin at the break of day, so they would be there early.  The householder chose from among the men who were there and agreed to pay them the appropriate wage for a day's work.  I suspect that there were those who came late, saw that the workers had been chosen and left in discouragement.  Others, who were there on time may have thought, "I have done all I can to make myself available, but the lord of the harvest has chosen someone else.  Isn't that just the story of my life," and in discouragement also left to beg or find some less profitable work.  Others, however, stayed on in the hope that some other grower will need their help or that the householder will return as the day wears on to acquire more laborers.

Some of those were rewarded for their patience and faith as the agent returned again at 9:00, at noon and even at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Incredibly, he returned again at 5:00.  These other shifts were only told that they would receive a fair wage for the time they worked.  When they were all paid at 6:00PM, they all received the same wage as the first laborers. All were incredulous for one reason or another.  The first, because they had born the heat of the day and had labored 12 hours and yet received no more than the last who had worked only one hour.  Those who came later in the day because they only expected a fraction of the wage those before them had earned.

To the early arrivals the lord of the harvest said, "I have paid you a good wage and one to which you agreed. As to the others, am I not free to spend my own money has I see fit?  These others were there when I needed them and I was glad of the assistance.  Otherwise, the harvest may have been lost."

Envy and its close cousin covetousness rob some of the blessings God has in store for us.  I recall that early in our married life another couple with whom we were close could not have children.  The wife was sad and disappointed, but never envious.  We were with them when another of our acquaintance announced that she was pregnant with their second child. Quietly, our friend said to my wife, "I truly am happy for her." 

This young couple continued faithful in the Church and did all they could despite their unfulfilled desire to enlarge their family.  Sometime after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the plight of the Romanian orphans came to light.  This couple had been very successful in business, so they had the means to travel to Romania and adopt a child.  When they arrived, they discovered that the child had a sibling just a year older, so they arranged to adopt them both.  Because of the unrest in the country, they were not able to fly out and had to travel across the continent in the famous Orient Express.  Now I became envious.

We are not diminished because someone else has good fortune.  In the end, we are promised that those who receive the Priesthood (follow the inspired counsel of the brethren) receive Christ and that all who receive Christ receive the Father.  All those who receive the Father receive all that the Father has. (D&C 84:36-38)  If you receive all that the Father has, what is left for me? Put that way, we see how ridiculous the notion of envy is.

We cannot allow discouragement to destroy our lives any more than envy.  In the end they have the same root.  They are used masterfully by the same being.  Neither leads to an increase in faith, patience to endure, serving the needs of others or finding the will of God in our lives.

On the other hand we are promised that when we forsake our sins, call on Christ's name, obey His voice and keep his commandments will see his face and know that he is and that it is his light that gives us our light. It is that light that allows us to grow from grace to more grace (the enabling power) until we achieve the fullness. Like the workers who chose to become agents to the wrong master, our agency can be our condemnation.  We will receive some wages, but they will not be the fullness. (D&C 93:1,2,12,13,19,20,31).  "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

That is why we dump our excuses.