Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's Still True

I know I haven't been writing here nearly as often as I would like. Nonetheless, I want to put in a quick bit that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still true. I know it. It's important. I still don't understand everything or even as much as I would like. I find my faith challenged regularly, but out of each challenge, I find that the Lord can teach me, and I come out of it grateful. I know the Gospel is true, and I cannot deny it. Whatever else may hit and whatever else may come as a challenge, I know the Gospel and the Church are true. I have seen and felt things that I can only describe as from God. He is real, and He manifests real power and miracles in and through His church. I have seen miracles. I have felt Him do His work through my feeble hands. I know the Gospel is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I cannot deny this. It is true. Above all, however, I know that God lives and that He loves us. Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to return to live with God again. He is my Savior and Redeemer. I know this. It is true. This really is His work, and I am so grateful that he mercifully allows me to be a part of it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lineage -- It's about Families

Earlier today, I was reading a blog post here. The author begins with referencing a quote in the Old Testament Sunday School manual and then a passage in the new Gospel Principles manual regarding the concept of lineage. Reading through the post and the subsequent comments, it appears that this really opened up a can of worms. Rather than tack on yet another comment onto that same page, I decided to post my views here.

Personally, I find the concept of lineage to be among the most powerful and beautiful doctrines of the restored gospel. Even with all the glory and power of the higher law as taught by the Savior, the fact remains that the Lord made a covenant with Abraham about his family. "And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever." (2 Nephi 29:14) What a promise! I still just feel chills every time I read that! As a father, I can really think of nothing that I would want more than to have this promise from the Lord -- that He would watch out for my children, and their children, and their children's children forever! Wow!

Many people have argued that the amount of DNA or genetic material that one would inherit from an ancestor living however many thousand years ago is essentially nil. I'm not arguing this, but that argument seems to me about as relevant as saying "Well, you must understand that this has nothing to do with his literal descendants because we don't even know what hair color Abraham had, so you can't say you have the same hair color." What does hair color, or DNA, or anything of that sort have to do with families?!?!?!? The Lord did NOT promise to Abraham anything in relation to "those who inherit your genetic material" or "those of your descendants who inherit X percent of their genes from you." He promised that He would remember Abraham's seed -- his children. It doesn't matter what genetics they have. What matters is that this is Abraham's family.

In Genesis 17:1-9, Abraham had received an amazing series of promises from the Lord. Surely, as Lehi felt after eating of the fruit of the tree in his vision, and as any righteous father would feel, he must have wanted his family (all of them) to receive these blessings as well, and even worried for their well-being, physically and spiritually. This makes the promises that follow all the more powerful:

  • "I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee" (Genesis 17:6)

    • i.e. You're going to have a lot of descendants.

  • "I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:7)

    • i.e. I will covenant with your descendants just like I've covenanted with you -- giving them the same opportunities for the same blessings I've given you.

  • "thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations" (Abraham 2:9)

    • i.e. I will bless your posterity with the opportunity of holding the priesthood, doing missionary work, and carrying these blessings to all nations.

  • "I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father" (Abraham 2:10)

    • i.e. I'm not only going to bless you with a numerous physical posterity (i.e. seed of the body), but I'm also going to bless you to have numerous adopted posterity -- specifically, every man, woman and child who ever accepts the gospel will be counted as your posterity and will count you as their father. (As we can see from other accounts, this adopted lineage is every bit as good as the physical one (if not more so, since the most important blessings promised are really available only to those who receive the gospel).)

  • "in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal." (Abraham 2:11)

    • Several parts: "in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) ... shall all the families of the earth be blessed ..." (Abraham 2:11) -- You, through your Priesthood will be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
    • "... and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee" (Abraham 2:11) -- The right to the priesthood will continue in you and your seed (again, of both types). Your seed (physical and adopted) will continue and will not die out. (Perhaps I'm inserting a bit of my own interpretation in this last sentence, but I imagine that this was something that Abraham must have worried about from time to time. I'm sure he had seen entire families wiped out -- people he knew who once had a large family, suddenly left without any posterity. This would have been somewhat common in his day. For the Lord to say that his seed would have the right to the priesthood, Abraham could well have wondered if his seed would eventually die out, and this right with them. Such a promise from the Lord would have surely been a wonderful comfort to anyone feeling such worries.)
    • "in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood) ... shall all the families of the earth be blessed ..." (Abraham 2:11) -- Your seed, through your Priesthood will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. (This appears to most specifically apply to the adopted seed and those who specifically accept the gospel and receive the blessings of the priesthood.)
    • "in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Abraham 2:11) -- Your seed, your physical seed of your body will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. This is an amazing promise that Abraham's physical children would be a blessing to the earth. This is obviously contingent upon their agency, but it is impressive that the Lord would grant this blessing to Abraham's seed, specifically separated from whether or not they ever accept the gospel and receive the priesthood. (Again, perhaps I'm inserting my own reading into this, but that's how I see it.)
    • "... shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal." (Abraham 2:11) -- You and your seed, of all types will be a blessing to all the families of the earth, specifically blessing them with the blessings of salvation and eternal life. i.e. The good that you and your children will do will have eternal effects.

These are truly amazing blessings for any righteous father. No wonder Abraham's reaction was "Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee." (Abraham 2:12) Abraham must have been awe struck by the overwhelming magnitude of benevolence and grace that the Lord had showed him. Truly, the Lord blesses parents who seek Him. (See Hymns 296:1)

This approach also seems to me to show the irrelevance another point: "Statistically, just about everyone on earth is already a physical descendant of Abraham. So, why is being Abraham's seed at all special?" The fact that most likely everyone now living already is a physical descendant of Abraham just makes these promises that much more important. In day to day life, we are used to items increasing value with scarcity. Diamonds and gold are expensive and valued because they are rare. A few hundred years ago, technological conditions made pure aluminum extremely rare. As such, it was highly valued. These days, due to much more efficient ways of refining aluminum, it is much more common and thus much more cheaply valued (to the extent that we wrap leftovers in it, and then toss it away (or hopefully recycle it) without a second thought). Things of real worth, however, are exactly the opposite. Which is more valuable, the Bible in the hands of only a few priests and scholars, or the Bible such that every man, woman and child can have access to it, read it, and understand what it says? Isn't it true that the real value of my Book of Mormon increases, rather than decreases, when I share a copy with someone who doesn't have it? Aren't the blessings of the temple that much more precious when we bring them to the whole world? The point that basically everyone already is a descendant of Abraham just makes these promises that much more important and special.

Part II -- What this means to me. I've talked a lot about what lineage must have meant to Abraham. However, I also feel that this knowledge should have direct bearing on us, today. We honestly don't deal with lineage very much any more in a day to day setting. I currently live several thousand miles away from my parents, so no one here can identify me as "so-and-so's son" or anything like that. These days, we are much more likely to identify someone by the person themselves rather than by their families. This has pros and cons. On the positive side, people are responsible for their own actions. They don't have to carry about the stigma from some family member who made some bad choices. On the negative side, we tend to lose our sense of belonging.

In 1 Nephi, when Lehi sends his sons back to Jerusalem to get the plates, he makes the point several times that not only did the plates contain the scriptures, they contained the genealogy of his fathers. Apparently this was something very important to Lehi. Lehi already knew the covenants. He knew that he was in good standing before the Lord. He knew he was a descendant of Abraham, and what that meant. I'm sure he even knew he was a Manasseh-ite. Why did he care so much about his genealogy? Why are ancient scriptures so saturated with lists of ancestors as to lead us to joke about "endless genealogies"? Why is it that when King Mosiah I first encountered Zarahemla that one of the first things he did to identify himself was to give his genealogy by memory (see Omni 1:18)? Our genealogy gives us a sense of belonging, identity, duty, purpose, and testimony.

We are not just individuals. We are members of a family. Our earthly families are a type and reflection of our Heavenly Family. My identity is very much tied in with who my family members are. They give my life identity and purpose.

We also hold a duty and a responsibility to our families, both living and dead. The Lord has made it very clear that "they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect." (Doctrine and Covenants 128:15) We must seek to have our families sealed together -- not just our immediate families, but our entire families. We are all in this together. We hold a responsibility to our families. As in President George Albert Smith's dream, we owe it to our ancestors to think about "what [we] have done with [their] name[s]." They lived and died to give us what we have. We owe it to them to do our best with the families they gave us. The Abrahamic covenant also gives us the responsibility to bring the gospel to all the world. The Lord promised Abraham that this would be the case, and it is our job to make sure it happens. Abraham's seed (by some accounts this would include everyone on the earth) has a right to the priesthood. (This is, of course, contingent on their worthiness and faith.) It is our job to fulfill that right by bringing the opportunity for such to all of them. We also have specific and personal duties from our lineage as declared in our patriarchal blessings. It is not coincidental that a blessing meant to provide direction and guidance for us in our lives would be the place where the Lord would chose to declare our lineage.

Our genealogy also gives us a sense of testimony. The Lord promised Abraham that "[He] would remember his seed forever." (2 Nephi 29:14) Our family histories -- our lineage -- give us a chance to see that promise fulfilled with our own families. This is not to say that if our line appears forgotten that we must not be children or Abraham, or that the Lord has not kept His promise. We should instead take it as an opportunity to look harder and see how, not if the Lord has kept His promises. I know He has and does.

Finally, the fact that I have a declared lineage relating me to Abraham is a testimony that the Lord, somehow, can possibly see fit to covenant with someone like me, as unworthy as I am, and with my family, just like he did to my father, Abraham. I know that He does covenant with me, and with my children, just like He did with Abraham. It doesn't so much matter to me whether I am a physical or adopted son, because I know I am a child of Abraham, and as such, can be an heir to my father's covenant. This is the amazing blessing I am seeking for, "desiring ... to be a greater follower of righteousness..." and to know that I can "[seek] for the blessings of the fathers" (Abraham 1:2) as Abraham did, and he surely found them (see Abraham 2:12).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Random Parenting Thoughts and Life Lessons

Wow! It's been a while since I've last posted. There have been a lot of things going on, not least of which is the brand new adventure of potty training. After vehemently resisting for months, our oldest finally responded positively to our efforts to begin potty training. To say it's been an adventure would be an understatement. However, it has been a real eye-opener in a number of regards.

Like any parents starting off with this adventure for the first time, we quickly procured all the necessary supplies: child's potty seat, training pants, potty treats, books, etc. We quickly learned, however, that "our ways are not always his ways." Shortly after our son finally was able to figure things out on his small potty seat, he immediately decided he was big enough for the real thing. What he soon discovered, however, that an adult-sized potty seat was not designed for small child-sized posteriors. Apparently, the only position in which he could properly use the toilet is also the most uncomfortable position, having to hold himself up in a rather awkward position to keep himself from falling through.

A similar experience happened just yesterday when we worked through his Saturday night hair washing. Like any little kid, our son detests washing his hair. For the most part it comes from the pain of getting the soapy water in his eyes. Usually during dinner, when he knew it was Saturday night and time for a bath, he would commence a sort of bargaining with us:
--"I don't want to wash my hair with the pitcher."
--"Don't worry, we won't wash your hair with the pitcher."
--"I don't want to use the red cup. I want to use the yellow cup."
--"The yellow cup is too small, we need to use the red cup."
--"But I don't want to use the red cup. I want to use the yellow cup."
--"Ok, if you eat five carrots, we'll use the yellow cup."
--"Three carrots."
--"No, you need to eat five carrots."
[Eats five carrots.]
--"Ok, we'll use the yellow cup"
--"No, I want to use the blue cup."
--"Thank you for eating your carrots, but we need to use the yellow cup."
--"But I don't WANT to use the yellow cup!"
I think he would have tried to argue us all the way down to washing his hair with a thimble if he could have. Well, despite his best efforts and all his debating skills, it was apparently in vain, because no matter how small a cup we used to wash his hair, he would still get a little bit of soap and water in his eyes. We finally found that if we had him hold on to the faucet and look up at the shower head, we could shield his eyes from almost all the water. So far this method has worked pretty well, but given his traumatic past experiences with hair washing, he still gets himself scared to tears each time we try it. It must seem very opposite his intuition to keep water out of his eyes by looking up, but that really is what works the best.

Looking at my son work through all these new challenges and experiences, I wonder what a loving Heavenly Father thinks when we are learning to struggle through our own life lessons. How often are we in too big a hurry to "grow up" and do things "our way," and thereby force ourselves into an admittedly uncomfortable situation, completely ignoring the help a loving Father tries to offer us? Do we have the faith to "look up" in our hardest trials, even when we are terrified to do so, and our own limited intuition doesn't understand it at all? I know our Father loves us and really tries to reach out to us. Looking back I feel so silly for all the times I try to proclaim myself "the boss" of my own situation, when I find that all my wisdom and learning is really no more than a preschooler's over-zealousness to "grow up." Well, it appears it's time to learn about buttoning a shirt and rushing off to church. Maybe there's a lesson there too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Giving Thanks

This time of year is, personally, one of my favorites. I grew up in an area that, honestly, didn't have much of a Fall. We joked that the weather went from August to Winter. Now that my family and I are living here in the Midwest, I've really come to appreciate Fall. About my favorite part of Fall is, and has always been, Thanksgiving.

I know that for most people Thanksgiving is about Turkey, football, and a few days off of school, but I think that's along the lines of saying Christmas is about gingerbread houses made out of graham crackers and cheap Santa Claus hats. Just as we try every year to remember the true meaning of Christmas, I try to make a special effort to remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Just like "Christmas" is the day for the "Mass" about "Christ", "Thanksgiving" is the day for "Giving" "Thanks". We all learn about the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and the celebration with the Native Americans in 1621, and that gets close to the point, but it doesn't quite hit is. The point is that we have so much to be grateful for. We have so many blessings that we would do well to remember from day to day. It is wonderful thing to celebrate how much we have to be grateful for, and to remember Him from Whom we receive it.

In 1789, George Washington proclaimed a national "day of public thanksgiving and prayer" to commemorate the end of the Revolutionary War, and the new Federal Constitution. In his proclamation, he reminds us the reason for such a celebration -- that we may "[acknowledge] with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God".

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

The Lord has also reminded us to "live in thanksgiving daily" (Alma 34:38) and that "he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more" (Doctrine and Covenants 78:19).

Someone once taught me that if you want to feel hear the Lord speaking to you, kneel and pray in thanks, thanking Him for every blessing you can think of. When you have thanked Him for every blessing you can think of, His Spirit will whisper to you, reminding you of other blessings that you can be grateful for. (Suffice it to say, you need to allocate a good deal of time for such a prayer.) This year, let's spend a little less time counting how many calories we can consume, and a little more time counting how many blessings we can remember.

In the comments, I'd like to start a list, with whoever would like to contribute, of all the blessings we have to be grateful for. Perhaps by remembering how much we have, we can take our minds off of how much we want. I don't think it should come as any surprise that by remembering the true meaning of Thanksgiving we are better prepared to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Proposition 8

As you all surely know, this November, voters in California and other areas will have the chance to vote to determine, in large part, the future of marriage in this country. Of all the issues this fall, this is the one which will have the most lasting and profound effect on what kind of world our children grow up in. Presidents come and go. Economies rise and fall and rise again. Funding programs and international relations and all of these things are really very temporary when compared to the eternal Divine Institution of Marriage. I've blogged on this subject before. First of all, the most important thing we can do is get out and vote! and encourage others to vote! We need to vote and make sure that this proposition passes. This is not just a California issue. This is an issue for the entire country. We have seen very clearly how the issue of marriage cannot be simply left to the states. (Marriage opponents will surely make very obvious use of the Constitution's "Full faith and credit" clause (Article IV Section 1), notwithstanding the Defense of Marriage Act.) Fortunately Massachusetts law has prevented exportation from that state, but California has no such statute.

In a letter from the First Presidency, we have been asked to "do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman." In the early days of the church, members were asked to live the Law of Consecration and give of their skills, labor, time, and earthy possessions (sometimes even all of them) to the work of the Lord and for the building up of the Kingdom. The church today has generally asked very little of us, but shouldn't we be willing to give and live and fulfill our covenants of discipleship to the same measure as our ancestors did?

Once again, I'd just like to encourage all of us to do everything we can to see that this Proposition passes. "Behold, I sent you out warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. " (D&C 88:81) Let us each do all we can to "warn our neighbors" and fulfill the call that we have been issued.

Chruch's Website on Proposition 8
lds.com newsroom articles here and here
BYU Daily Universe articles here, here and here (bottom left of pg 1 on this last one -- I couldn't get the article all by itself)

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Come Listen to a Prophet's Voice"

This weekend is a special event that happens only twice each year. This weekend is the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For those who aren't members of this faith, this may not, at first, seem like a big deal. However, those of us who belong to the church know how significant and important this weekend is. Every six months we have the privilege of hearing from the men and women that God has selected to represent Him on earth.

We all know the power and inspiration that can come from reading the words of Isaiah, Paul, Peter and Moses. We know that the Lord was able to use these people to speak to us, personally, even though we live centuries after them and in a culture that is completely different from the one they knew. God can do this because He is the same, and He cares about and sends His words to all His children. God sent His words through His prophets anciently because He cared about His children and desired their salvation. He again sends His words through His prophets today because He still cares about His children and still desires their salvation.

The prophet of God today is Thomas S. Monson. The Lord leads His church through His prophet, as well as through those others whom He has chosen for this work. We are so blessed to have a prophet on earth today, and even more blessed that, through modern technology, he can speak to the whole earth at once. Peter, Paul and the other apostles struggled to visit and write to the members in their relatively limited geographic area. They knew that even though these people had the scriptures and their earlier writings, they needed continual admonishing to help keep them in the right way. We are the same. God loves His children now just as much as He loved His children then. He knows that they still need His continual reproving and reassurance, His hope and guidance, His nourishing "by the good word of God." Today we have the great blessing of hearing the word of God through a living prophet. The Savior invited everyone to come and hear His words. Similarly, everyone is invited to hear the words of God's prophets today. "Come listen to a prophet's voice, and hear the word of God."

Conference sessions will be held from 10am-12noon and 2pm-4pm Mountain Daylight Time on Saturday and Sunday, 4-5 October 2008. In addition, a General Priesthood Meeting will be held Saturday night at 6pm MDT. Information about how to attend, watch or listen on-line to General Conference. Also, General Conference will be broadcast by satellite to most LDS Meeting Houses and on BYUTV (General Conference page here). The priesthood session will only be available in person or at local meeting houses. If you have any questions, feel free to ask a representative here.

The Purpose of Life

And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead. -- Alma 12:24

Well, this last month or two has been rather interesting. I'm a graduate student, and as part of the program I'm in I need to pass a major test known as the qualifying exam. Part of what makes this exam so stressful is that you only get at most three chances to pass it. Now, most people do end up passing, but, honestly, it's hard to really feel accepted in the program, like I'm really a degree candidate, until I get this out of the way. Another part of being in graduate school is, of course, finding an adviser to work with. I've been looking around for about a year now, and I think I've finally found someone that I really think would be a good match. He doesn't have money to hire me right now, but he basically said that we can try it out and see if it works. If I can do good work during this semester, hopefully I'll be able to get funding in the group later.

About now, you might be wondering what all this has to do with "The Purpose of Life" or with the scripture that I posted above. This morning I was reading the scriptures, and I ran across Alma 12:24. One of my first thoughts was "That is just about exactly how I feel." I felt like I had been given a finite (and often seemingly all too short) space of time in which to prove myself, a space of time to prepare, a space of time on which a lot of stuff depended. Just like with my qualifying exam, and just like my search for an adviser, this life is a time to prepare.

In this life, we're not really in any way trying to "convince" God that he wants to "hire" us to return to live with Him, nor is it true that He only has enough "funding" for so many of us. What we're really trying to do here is to become the type of person that we need to be to be able to enjoy living with Him again. I would really not enjoy working with my adviser or my research group if I couldn't contribute. I would always be struggling to understand what was going on, feeling guilty about not contributing, etc. Similarly, we wouldn't really enjoy living with Heavenly Father and Jesus if we couldn't present ourselves before Them with a clean conscience. It's not like They wouldn't love to have us there, just like I'm sure my adviser would love to have as many people participating in his group as possible. But we wouldn't enjoy it. We wouldn't be happy. God's plan is all about trying to make His children happy forever. He wants us to be happy. That is why we need to prepare for happiness. That is why we need to prepare to meet God.

The next question is "So, how do we prepare to meet God." This has been the theme of many of the prophets throughout history. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way before the Savior. "As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Luke 3:4) John taught the people how to prepare for the ministry of the Savior by "preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" and telling them to "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance." (Luke 3:3,8) About a century earlier, another prophet named Alma taught his people how to prepare for the coming of the Savior.

For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.
Behold, I do not say that he will come among us at the time of his dwelling in his mortal tabernacle; for behold, the Spirit hath not said unto me that this should be the case. Now as to this thing I do not know; but this much I do know, that the Lord God hath power to do all things which are according to his word.
But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.
-- Alma 7:7-9

In the end, what Heavenly Father wants for us is what any father wants for his children: to grow up, do what's right, and be happy. The Gospel, the Atonement, the commandments, repentance, the scriptures, prophets, and everything else is really to help us grow to overcome all the weaknesses and problems that we need to get rid of anyway. It's not in any way God trying to impose His will on us or trying to go on some sort of power trip. Quite the opposite. It is about helping us be better people and helping us be happy. It is about teaching us to love and be happy like He does.

God lives! He loves us! His love is so incredible and incomprehensible that it really should help us focus our every day to be a little better. God loves us so much that He sent His Son so that we can overcome our weaknesses and prepare to meet Him. His plan is the Plan of Happiness. Happiness will follow us if we follow the plan.

Related Talks: here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Story of Faith

My wife and I were reading tonight in Ether chapter 12. It was pointed out to me once that since Moroni didn't originally think he would life long enough to write anything beyond the Book of Ether (Moroni 1:1,4), Ether 12 was originally Moroni's finishing words for the Book of Mormon. Reading it this way, I could really see the first part of this chapter as Moroni's summary of the Book of Mormon as a legacy of faith.

"For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him ...

"Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.

"Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.

"Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled. ...

"Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth.

"Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

"Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites. ...

"And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; ...

"And behold ... so great was [the brother of Jared's] faith in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith.

"And after the brother of Jared had beheld the finger of the Lord, because of the promise which the brother of Jared had obtained by faith, the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil.

"And it is by faith that my fathers have obtained the promise that these things should come unto their brethren through the Gentiles;" (Ether 12:7-22)

And he could have gone on:

And it was by faith that Lehi was warned to take his family and flee Jerusalem.

And it was by faith that Nephi obtained the Brass Plates and found food for his family and was guided by the Liahona in the wilderness and built a ship to cross the sea and was warned to depart from his brothers.

And it was by faith that Mosiah I was warned to leave the land of Nephi and found the people of Zarahemla and translated the stone containing the "account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people."

And it was by faith that King Benjamin was able to give his people a "name ... that never should be blotted out, except it be through transgression", and it was by faith that his people were able to make a righteous covenant with the Lord.

And it was by faith that Abinadi prophesied to King Noah and his people. And it was by faith that Alma believed him and established a church in the land of Nephi. And it was by faith that the people of Alma were warned to flee, first out of the land of Nephi and Mormon, and later out of the land of Helem.

And it was by faith that the people of Ammon "buried the weapons of war, for peace."

And it was by faith that the young warriors, sons of the people of Ammon, were delivered.

And it was by faith that the people of the judge Lachoneus were delivered and were able to defeat the Gadianton robbers.

And it was by faith that Ammaron was able to hide up the records, and it was by faith that he was able recognize Mormon as the boy who would become the man to whom he should deliver the records.

And it was by faith that Mormon and Moroni were able to survive the destruction of the Nephites "to write the sad tale of the destruction of [their] people."

The list could be much, much longer, but these all add to Paul's great "cloud of witnesses" that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Let us always remember that "faith, hope and charity bringeth unto [the Savior]—the fountain of all righteousness." So, after we see this faith, what should we do? Moroni gives us the answer to this as well, "And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen." (Ether 12:41)

The Simple Gospel

First of all, I want to apologize for what a slacker I've been. When I realized it had been over a month since I've posted, I felt really bad. At first I wanted to blame it on the rigors of grad student life, or the fact that I've been spending so much time with my family, but to be honest, the reason I haven't been posting is because I've been slacking off. I need to change that.

Speaking of my family, I was reading with my two-year-old little boy in the Friend, and I really started to realize how simple the Gospel is. It's like the saying "Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten." Well, it's kind of like "Everything I needed to know I learned in Primary." Now, I'm not saying that there aren't complicated things in the Gospel, nor am I saying that we don't need to learn anything beyond Primary, nor am I saying that there isn't an immense, infinite, beautiful expanse of important and essential truth beyond even what we can learn here on Earth, but rather that the essence, the core of the Gospel is beautiful and simple.

To illustrate, we teach that "I am a Child of God? and "I Know my Father Lives and loves me too." Little children learn that "I lived in heaven a long time ago, it is true;" and that "My life is a gift; my life has a plan." They know that the foundation of gospel living is in "Trying to be like Jesus." They memorize the Articles of Faith and learn the other fundamentals of the restored gospel. They also learn that "[they] can be a missionary now."

Primary may not teach us everything we need to know to get through this life, but it seems to me that the foundation for the solution to any problem we might have can be traced back to the pure, simple, fundamental and beautiful truths that we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that we can all "humble [ourselves] as [our] little children, and ... be saved with [our] little children." (Moroni 8:10)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Interpreting the Scriptures

My institute teacher recently gave us some material that made a lot of things make a lot more sense. A lot of times in the church we tend to split hairs over things like "What did Isaiah mean," or "What was Nephi trying to say with this." We also look very strongly at our own personal feelings and the impressions we get when we read Isaiah or Nephi or any of the other prophets. While I was at BYU, some students almost drew up battle lines over this issue, trying to divide the religion department into the more academically trained teachers and the more seminary / EFY type teachers. Each group of students had their own reasons for claiming that their teachers, and their corresponding methods of interpreting the scriptures, were superior.

In the end, we can all see that all these different methods have value in their own place, but sometimes it can be hard understanding how all the different ideas fit together. My institute teacher said that this was actually a problem that the Jews have had for centuries, and we can actually learn quite a bit from the way they approached it. (He also basically said that any time he wanted to understand academically how to deal with issues like this regarding the scriptures, he would usually look to the Jews because they have been studying the scriptures longer and more faithfully than just about anyone.)

Essentially, for hundreds of years the Rabbis had been interpreting the scriptures to help the people understand how to apply, and how the Law of Moses did apply to their lives. Then, about the 11th century, people began to take a more academic, contextual, historical, even archaeological view of the scriptures and they found that many of the interpretations were actually quite the opposite of what Moses probably meant in context. This caused a major controversy. What interpretation should the people use to guide their every day lives? Should they throw out the Rabbinical interpretations because of the work of the academics? After a great deal of discussion and debate, they decided that the Rabbinical teachings were still authoritative because (and this is the part that really hits home with me as a Latter-day Saint) the Rabbis held independent authority to interpret the scriptures. In other words, even though what the Rabbi said may not have been exactly what Moses meant, it is still the word of God, because he has authority to give (or at least interpret) the word of God. The work of the academics was still important, but it did not negate the Rabbinical interpretations.

This is a lot like what we see today. If we look at Isaiah 2:2, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." We all know that this refers to the temple, or even specifically the Salt Lake Temple. (one reference here.) However, we read in verse 1, "The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." Most likely, if we were to go back in time and ask someone who heard Isaiah speak, "What did he mean by this paragraph?", they probably wouldn't have understood it to be a talk about Utah or the Salt Lake valley. Most likely, they would have understood it to be a talk about their temple, in Jerusalem. (However, knowing Isaiah, he might have had both fulfillments (and several more besides) in his mind when he gave the talk. He was really good at keeping two or three different epochs straight in his head at any given time. The whole "eternal now" thing must have really rubbed off on him.) Nonetheless, I can say with complete certainty that Isaiah 2:2 refers directly to the Salt Lake Temple (as well as other temples), Utah, and the 2002 Winter Olympics, not because I have to go back and ask Isaiah or his listeners or some literary scholar what he meant, but because I know that the modern prophets have authority to interpret and give the word of God. (This exact example might not be the best one, but I hope my message is clear.) (Wow, I'm really getting long-winded on-line too.)

Well, this is summed up in two kinds of interpreting the scriptures that (according to my institute teacher) are known as Dera&scaron and Pešat (pronounced "Derash" and "Peshat").

Two kinds of interpretation
Pešat Dera&scaron
When? Then Now (whenever "now" is)
Who? As applied to, or understood by, original audience(s) Us (whoever "we" are)
How do we get this interpretation? Academic means
(knowledge of languages, history, culture, etc.)
The Holy Ghost
Main Difference? Contextual
-- "What did Isaiah mean?"
-- "What does Isaiah mean to me?"
Examples? FARMS, commentaries, scholarly papers, etc. The scriptures, the Ensign, General Conference
How many interpretations? One or a few Many possible
(The Lord can help different people understand the same scripture in different ways to give them the individual help they need.)

(Most of the previous table comes from a handout my institute teacher gave us, so this is not my original work.)

The main point of all of this is that both types of interpretations are important! Even though I doubt that Alma or Mormon had my, specific mission in mind when they penned Mosiah 24:13-14, doesn't mean that the Lord can't use that scripture to speak to me on that subject. (And I imagine the Lord had me, and each one of us in mind when He inspired those words -- He just might not have let Alma or Mormon know all the details, but that's beside the point.) So, that interpretation is valid and authoritative for me. Even Nephi did this exact same thing when quoting Isaiah. Elder McConkie tells us that Nephi "gave, not a literal, but an inspired and interpreting translation. And in many instances his words give either a new or greatly expanded meaning to the original prophetic word." (Source: "Keys to Understanding the Bible" in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, ed. Mark L. McConkie, 290-291.)

I guess the point of what has turned into a very long-winded post (my wife knows I get long-winded in real life too) is that we don't need to think that a personal, spiritual interpretation is any less authoritative then trying to understand what Isaiah "meant". Nor do we need to put down all the academic and archaeological scholars as second rate, because their work is valid and important too.