Tuesday, September 29, 2015

There 4-5 - A Promise to Us

It’s fascinating to read the Book of Mormon, especially when something you’ve read for years jumps out at you and for a moment… it’s new and fresh. That happened for me as I read Ether 4-5 today.

Ether 5 is a note from Moroni to the latter-day translator of the book, Joseph Smith. I won’t say more on that. Ether 4 is filled with the words of Christ to us the readers of this book. In it the Savior is speaking to us and Moroni's voice is no where present in the most of the chapter.

Two things stand out: one is the declaration that the rest of what Jared’s brother saw has been withheld from us because of our unbelief and that it will be revealed only when we repent and rend the veil of unbelief. The first time I read this, it seemed to be written to us all, but this morning as I read verse eleven, it became personal.

“But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit and he shall know and bear record.” This is a promise that if we believe the Book of Mormon, and live its teachings by repenting and praying to the Lord often, then by the power of the Holy Ghost, we can learn these hidden truths.

How cool is that! And with conference coming… it’s a perfect time to start.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ether 3 - The Lord Speaks to the Brother of Jared

Heavenly Father used the need for light as a way to prepare Jared's brother to see the pre-mortal Savior. As I commented in the previous posting, God knew exactly what He was doing when He pushed the question back on him.

One take away from this is God doesn’t always telegraph His intentions. So our best attitude when interacting with Him is one of gratitude, faith, patience, and trust.

Another take away is when you ask for anything from God, you just never know what it is you’re going to get in reply. In this case Jared’s brother, not only saw the Lord’s finger, he saw His entire spirit body and then the whole history of man on the Earth. He’s then told to write it down but to tell no one what he saw. As a result, the Jaredites never knew of this remarkable encounter.

My guess is only trusted prophets, who kept the records knew, if anyone did, of what they contained. I say that because Ether had to know what was in them to include them in the twenty-four plates which Limhi’s party found. Not to mention, Alma warned Helaman about their contents and that it should not go to the people. Then again, there’s nothing to state the 24 plates were all the same nor that they were made at the same time. The only known transposing of the record is when Moroni wrote the account into the Book of Mormon. We do know in 3 Nephi, Mormon says he’s told not to write all that he knows because our faith needs to be tested. Surely some of what he withheld is the rest of this revelation.

Who's to say the history of mankind upon the earth is what’s in the sealed part? I think it is, but we’re not in a position nor frame of mind to deal with it. As I’ve said before, mercy is the motivation behind us not knowing as much as anything. So, we move forward in faith, grateful for what we’ve been shown and looking to the day when we no longer see through the glass darkly.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ether 2 -3 - More on Prayer

The powerful lesson on prayer begun in Ether 1 sees its profound conclusion in Ether 2 and 3. While I’m saving the crux of the answer in Ether 3 for my next post, there are still some amazing answers to questions we have about prayer to be had in what leads up to it. Answers to questions like: What does God expect of us about prayer? What does He expect of us when dealing with questions and matters we bring to Him for help? These are answered.

There’s also a profound promise about this continent, this Land of Promise. But with any blessing from God, there is also a penalty affixed (see Lehi’s sermon to his sons on opposition in all things ) equal to the blessing. In the case of this land, since it’s a land of promise it’s also a cursed land. If you obey God and turn to Him then the bounties of this land are yours and it will be a land of liberty. Turn away from God and in the fulness of your wickedness, you’ll be swept off.  We’ve just seen that with the Nephites, the American Indians likewise were driven off of their lands into reservations, we’ll read about it at the end of this book. God not only keeps His promises to our detriment or blessing.

Regarding prayer, we have the chastisement of Jared’s brother… three hours worth from the Lord for not praying. In contrast we have the amazing prayer where the Lord reasons with him about the air and light situation on the boats he built. In effect, the Lord leaves the question of the lights to him by saying, “You can’t have windows because they’ll get broken by the waves. You can’t have fire because I won’t allow it.” (Not to mention fire would burn all the oxygen out of these enclosed spaces.) So what was left? He puts the matter in the Brother of Jared’s hands…

Have you ever struggled with challenges? Or faced perplexing dilemmas and turn to God for help only to be told, “go figure it out.” If you have ever felt that way, you’re in good company. The lesson is this: God knows the answer to the problem, just as He did with the air, but He needed to teach a lesson and so that’s what happened. As it was for Jared’s brother, it is likely so for us. Heavenly Father always knows the answer, but this life isn’t a test for Him. It’s our test and as we see here, often times, the only answer is to choose, ask God and go.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ether 1 - The Power of Prayer: God

With the end of the Nephites' story, Moroni still had room on the plates, so he gave us the story of the Jaredites. I'm grateful for what he wrote, but I wish he'd thought differently about including the creation story. While we have an account in the Bible and two in the Pearl of Great Price, I would love to have read Ether's version. Sigh.

The standout message in this chapter though is the powerful story about prayer. I wonder though, why Jared didn't pray? Why did he feel the need to go to his brother instead? Yet he did and that's what we have. But here is the lesson...

Three times Jared asks his brother to cry to the Lord for help. Each time he does and every time, God answered. The first is to ask the Lord to not confound them and their families so they could still understand one another. Which makes me wonder, did they know it was going to happen by revelation? Or, was the process such, they could see it happening in real-time and wanted to avoid it? I don't know, but either scenario is plausible.

The second time was to extend that blessing not only to their families and kin but to their friends as well. Again the Lord granted their request.

The third time was to ask... "if you're going to drive us out of the land, where do you want us to go? And if so, could we go some place nice?"

In reply, God says, and I'm paraphrasing here, "You are going to be scattered, but since you asked, I will lead you to a choice land and there I will make you into a great people." And we'll see, that's exactly what happened.

My take away is this, it never hurts to ask God. You just have to be willing to do what He says when He answers, if you want His answers to continue coming.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mormon 7-9 Mormon's parting words

After Mormon gives his parting testimony, Moroni finishes writing the things asked of him. Where to begin… you know the story, so again I’ll comment on just a couple of items.

One is the first date Moroni gives: is it’s been 400 years from the coming of Christ. With the battle occurring 385 years after, that means he and his father had fifteen years to finish compiling the book. Mormon started the work of editing the book after he renounced his command of the Nephite armies. Even in peacetime commanders need staffs to keep from being overwhelmed by all that must be done. Combat is worse, there is NO spare time for anything but directing it. He took a break from editing to wage the final battles, but afterwords, he and Moroni were running for their lives and writing when they could.

In my life, I find that my daily circumstances draw my attention to various events, scriptures and modify my awareness. I’m certain Mormon was similarly affected. That said, it’s a rather interesting exercise to wonder what was happening when he wrote what he did. I suspect his lamentation for the weakness of men in Helaman 12 came after his failed missionary attempt with the Nephites. He had time to ponder when he wrote the Savior's appearance in 3 Nephi and thoughts of war were fresh in his mind when he wrote the war verses of Alma. He wrote the Words of Mormon at the end when he gave the plates to Moroni. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Another thing that stands out to me is Mormon 8 and 9. Chapter 8 is written to believers in Christ. It’s an excoriating chapter where he calls us out for our pride and hypocrisy. The last part of the chapter I think is written to members of the LDS faith… it makes me uncomfortable to read it because of his observation… “I see your day and I know your doing.”

Chapter 9 is written to the atheists and is a powerful exposition on God and how He thinks and what He does. I see His mercy in the realization that we’d be more uncomfortable in God’s presence if we’d lived our lives in wicked pride than living with other people who lived the same kind of lives. I think its why there are different places, because where we go is where we’d be most happy.

Ponder that…

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

4 Nephi and Mormon - A Fall from Grace

The most heartbreaking part of the Book of Mormon is in 4 Nephi and most of Mormon. They chronicle the Nephites’ self-inflicted fall from grace to abject apostasy and open rebellion against the Lord.

A few things that stand out to me in this section, namely how I wept for the Nephites when I first read this as a teenager. Another is Mormon 5:15 where he observes how the people became a dark, a filthy and a loathsome people, more so than existed at any time in their history prior to that. It’s a pretty clear indication the “darkness” spoken of wasn’t so much a changing of skin pigment but something more along metaphysical lines. I think you’d almost have to see it to comprehend it because there’s no easy way in our language to describe it. The closest I can come to explaining it is seeing someone who has turned away from the Gospel who once had its light in their countenance. In such cases, the best word to use is they’ve become dark. It’s quite a sad story.

The last observation is Mormon getting the plates from Ammoron. There are two reasons why he got them: Ammoron had no sons worthy of the role or the Lord told him to give them to someone else. Given the Nephite tradition, my guess is the former. It represents the end of a dynasty of prophets from Alma the Elder, down through seven intervening generations to Ammaron. For what it’s worth, the Book of Mormon is recorded by twenty generations of prophet-record keepers over a 1000 year period. In three generations, one brother gave the record to another brother, who then gave it to a son or nephew or in the case of Benjamin, the prophet-King.

By the end of Mormon 7, the Nephites are gone and Mormon and his son Moroni speak to generations of unborn people they know only through prophetic vision: us.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Joseph Smith, Cosmology and Revelation

The cosmology of Joseph Smith stands as one of the great evidences of his prophetic and visionary insights into the nature of God and the universe which He created for us. The universe described in Moses fits surprisingly well with what astrophysicists are observing today. Yet it was ridiculed by Joseph's critics when they were revealed.

Consider the following:

The scope and size of the universe: Moses 1:34, 37-38 “Worlds without number have I created… the heavens they are many and can not be numbered unto man, but they are numbered to me for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away… another shall come and there is no end to my works…”

Based upon data from the Kepler Observatory, scientists now conclude every star has at least one planet and most have more. Based upon the Hubble Deep Field, the Hubble Deep Field South and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the number of galaxies in the universe is estimated to be two hundred billion. And in each of them on average, a hundred billion stars. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand in all the beaches on the Earth combined. And virtually all have had or do have planets. Think of that the next time you scoop up a handful. The number is ming-bogglingly large.

Not a bad “guess” for an upstate New York farmer of 1830.

The most profound statement of all these writings: “This is my work and my glory…” they were made for us.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

3 Nephi 27-30 - The Three Disciples

We call them today, the “Three Nephites” but in the Book of Mormon they are never referred to by that appellation. Instead they are referred to as the “three disciples” or the “three who should tarry.” When you realize by the time the Savior visits, the people are actually starting to be homogenized having had several decades where Nephites and Lamanites travelled freely among each other.

Starting with the great siege, they even lived together. Yet, tribes being what they are, I’m certain the majority still lived in insular communities, but the church by then was certainly not a Nephite-only organization. It’s safe to speculate, based upon the wide spread wickedness of the Nephites before the Savior’s coming, the majority of the leaders could have been Lamanite.

While there’s nothing doctrinally significant in this, the thought still occurred to me as I read this, this morning that this could be the case. Yet the account of these three disciples is intriguing. From the record, it’s safe to assume, their existence will never be “proof” of its truthfulness. You’ll never see them paraded on the rostrum in General Conference where they are exhibited as evidence of the Book of Mormon. That’s the job of the Holy Ghost to bare that witness.

Rather they are to minister almost unseen for we read in 3 Nephi 28:30 they must pray to the father to reveal themselves to other men. They will go about their work and only when they think it necessary will they show themselves to someone. I wouldn’t mind having such a visit… I have so many questions to ask.

I digress. I’m closing in on sixty and it wasn’t until this summer that I remembered a particular Primary class back when I was a Webelo almost fifty years ago. A member, my next door neighbor actually, came and talked to our class and shared his experiences with them. He’d been promised in his patriarchal blessing that he’d get to see all three. By the time he spoke to us, he’d visited with two. He was forbidden to tell their names, although they told him who they were. Both visits were in public places: once in a store and another on a sidewalk in downtown Mesa. Yet, during the visits, there was no other person or even traffic on the street so it was as if they met in private.

So do they exist? You’ll have to decide for yourself. But for me… they most certainly do and who knows, maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to get a visit with one of them. It won't affect my testimony if I don't, but as I said, I have a lot of questions they are well qualified to answer.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

3 Nephi - 24-26 - Expounding All Things

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sci-fi geek kind of guy and the movie teasers and trailers that are out right now, fill me with anticipation. I’m really looking forward to seeing them. I get a similar sense of anticipation and yearning about the scriptures when I read this passage.

On the second day of His visit with them, the Savior starts reciting scriptures which they don’t have, particularly Malachi chapters three and four. So, there I am, reading this and all I get in chapter 26 is the line “and He did expound all these things unto them.” What? Nothing for us? In verse three it says, “And he did expound all things even from the beginning of time until the time that he should come in his glory…” How cool is that!

Instead all we get is Mormon’s comment, “Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: “I will try the faith of my people.” That’s us, just in case you were wondering. They had access to the whole record.

Talk about a teaser!

It makes me wonder if this future history is in the sealed part of the record Joseph was not allowed to translate. I can only guess but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Think about it… the entire history of man from Adam to the Savior’s return in glory. Then again, as I think about it… I think of Nephi who saw the future history of his people and what befell them and how it broke his heart (1 Nephi 15:4-5). We would likely see similar things. Instead of being separated by a thousand years of history as Nephi was, we will likely live through it. Are we ready for that? Could you handle it? I'm not sure I can.

So, while the Lord said He would try our faith by not allowing all His words to come to us, I half suspect mercy also had a role in that commandment.

Friday, September 4, 2015

3 Nephi 22-23 - Isaiah

Surely one of the greatest Old Testament prophets is Isaiah! After quoting him extensively, the Savior gives a unique endorsement found nowhere else in all the scriptures: “Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.”

Isaiah didn’t just prophecy with clarity and power, he wrote it in poetry. We don’t see it so much because much of the artistic beauty has been lost in the translation from Hebrew into English. Some of it remains: Hebrew poetry doesn’t so much rhyme, as it is very structural in nature, like a Shakespearean sonnet. I’m by no means a Hebrew scholar much less an Isaiah scholar, but I know enough to see the strong parallelism in the writing. I’ve seen a book which had Isaiah rendered in verse form. The imagery and messages were much easier to see in that version.

Isaiah was a poet and a prophet.

Because he wrote in verse, the face value meanings are less clear than simple prose. Once you see the verse and get what he’s doing however, the power of the meaning is amplified. It’s my opinion the depth and scope of his prophecies were protected from ignorant editors because of it. It’s also why Nephi chose to incorporate so much of Isaiah in his record. He understood him. He saw the verse, he was educated enough its power and beauty and messages that he could read and understand it all.

Today, while few of us understand Hebrew poetry, we can all understand the power and insights of the Holy Ghost. Just as Isaiah’s words were translated from Reformed Egyptian to English for Joseph Smith by the power of God, by that same power, we can have the meaning transmitted across the centuries to our hearts. What a great blessing!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

3 Nephi 21 - A Tale of Two Prophecies

This is an interesting chapter in that the Savior tells the Nephites of a sign of when the redemption of theirs and the Lamanites descendants occurs. He says, “here’s a sign.” Then He speaks about how the sign is given when the Gentiles learn of the things He’s reveals to them.

Then He launches into a prophecy of how the Father will lead the Gentiles to this land and establish them here and then warns them about living righteously. After this, He finally gets to saying what the sign is: the restoration of the Gospel to the Gentiles and then to their, the Nephite’s and Lamanite’s descendants and Israel.

He speaks of the prophet who will do this…. Joseph Smith.

Then He gives another conditional prophecy. If the Gentiles don’t repent, they will suffer severe judgments in the form of their societies and cities being laid waste. If they do, then they will be allowed to help the house of Israel be gathered in.

I sometimes wonder if the desolation spoken of in this chapter isn’t already being fulfilled before our very eyes this day. Consider this… in Viet Nam 41,000 soldiers died in action over a 10 year period. But at the same time, 400,000 died in car crashes, most of those alcohol related. It hasn’t gotten any better. In the US alone a million unborn children are killed each year by abortion. One-fifth of all pregnancies in the US end in abortion.

Closer to home on a less dramatic but equally real note, in a recent Stake Priesthood meeting, those in attendance were asked to raise their hand if they knew someone either in their immediate family or close relation who was struggling with their testimony of the Gospel. Virtually everyone did.

At the same time, there are people having amazing experiences with the Spirit. Temple attendance is up and, according to Elder Cook, by every measure the church is stronger now than ever. So, to borrow from the story… it is the best of times and the worst of times. We are living through the fulfillment of the Savior’s prophecy this very day.