Sunday, October 29, 2017

President Uchtdorf: Yearning for Home

A Yearning for Home

Something Pres. Uchtdorf said several times throughout this past conference is, "blessings come not from our abilities, but from our choices." He first mentioned it Saturday when he spoke in the Women’s session and repeated it again in this talk.

He spoke about it in the context of his talk on our “yearning for home.” His talk and Elder Holland’s talk both addressed the relationship we have with Heavenly Father and of His great love for us. I feel within each of us there is a divine spark and like Bobbie, the wonder dog, that yearning motivates us to seek out a higher purpose in life. To wonder and ask, “Is this all that I am?” or “If I didn’t have all these weaknesses, who would I be? What could I become?

This divine spark is the force behind our desires to find happiness, to be better, to do more, to be more than who we are now. Becoming better is innate to our being. I read this morning a quote by Heraclitus, it goes along with this…

The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny . . . it is the light that guides your way.  (Heraclitus. ca. 535 BC to ca. 475 BC)

Pres. Uchtdorf also spoke of discipleship… the process of making choices which shape who we are and our destination require us to “swim upstream when needed.”

There is so much more which he talked about, I don’t have the space to talk about it. Suffice it to say, his is one which stood out in a conference filled with great addresses.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dallin Oaks, “The Plan and the Proclamation”

No other talk in conference generated as much press as did Elder Oaks talk on the “Proclamation on the Family.” I think had the killings not occurred in Vegas Sunday evening after conference, this talk would’ve gotten a lot more coverage in the news and by critics of the Church.

So, what is all the fuss about? It centers on two paragraphs uttered by him and the tenor of his admonition to the Saints:

“The family proclamation begins by declaring ‘that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’ It also affirms that ‘gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.’ It further declares ‘that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.’”

I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life. It has been the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future. Consider it as such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.”

In effect he’s saying, this is the revealed will of God to man about the role of the sexes, families, and marriage. While man has passed laws which go against this, God is not beholden to them. True disciples of God will pay the price to follow His law over man’s laws.

Additionally, he made it very clear what God’s standards are regarding chastity and marriage and then contrasted that with what the world thinks of those two concepts. He then pointed out where our loyalty and devotion should lie if we really mean to be disciples of Christ. It wasn’t harsh against those who choose to not live these principles, but rather “if you intend to be a disciple, you will be opposed and criticized by the world.”

That said, it was his story of how the proclamation came to be which was most interesting to me. It was “a surprise to some,” said Elder Oaks. The general thought at the time was the doctrines about marriage and family were well understood and not in need of “restatement.” Nevertheless, he said, the spirit confirmed to them the need to proceed, so they did. After nearly a year of fasting, prayer and counseling with each other, the document was presented to the First Presidency. After they made further changes, it was announced by President Hinckley to the church in September, 1995.

Elder Oaks followed this with a sobering observation. He said forty years ago, President Benson taught every generation [of Saints] has its test and its chance to stand and prove itself.” Our stance on the proclamation is one of the tests for our generation.

He’s right.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Adventure Continues... Conference Talks

One of the great messages that came to me again and again in this last conference is that I need to be more diligent in my scripture study. As I pondered and listened to the closing address by Elder Anderson, the thought came to mind I should blog my weekly pondering of the conference addresses. There are enough of them I can write about one a week between now and the next conference in April. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

At this point, there’s no particular order in which I will take them. However, since there’s so much being said about Elder Oak’s comments, I plan on writing on his talk next week. I start this week with Elder Anderson’s closing address.

There are three themes which struck me during his talk:
1. Praying in the temple: “I am on my knees in the Temple with my brethren and I attest to the goodness of their souls. Their greatest desire is to please the Lord.” It reminds me of the prayers we offered in Bishopric meeting while I served as Executive Secretary. I have always felt we accomplished more in those morning prayers than in anything else we did. This resonates with my soul.

2. The effort which goes into preparing an address: “The Lord wants no pretense diminishing His voice to His saints.” They view it as a recurring burden and a sacred trust. Elder Holland spoke of this before. They fast. They pray. They study. They write and re-write. Elder Oaks would go through 15 drafts. I remember reading something about Elder Maxwell where he would make as many as 40 re-writes of his conference talks. I thought of this and Elder Oak’s comments on Saturday. He was testifying to the reality that their words are inspired.

3. He finished with a promise: “As you hear the voice of the Lord to you in the teachings of this conference and then act on those prompting, you will feel Heaven’s hand upon you and your life and the lives of those around you will be blessed.” What a marvelous promise!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What the Angel Said...

What the angel said to Alma the Younger when he appeared to him is insightful into how God operates. This is the significant text in its entirety: 

“Mosiah 27:14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. 

15 And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.

16 Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.”

What struck me most as I studied this, this morning, is while his father wanted Alma to change, to be different, the angel doesn’t force him. He just explains what's at stake. He shows him God’s power. Then he encourages him to remember what God has done for his fathers. He closes with a warning that his fate is tied to his choice.

It’s a lesson in God’s recognition of our agency. It's also a clear warning that while we have our agency, we are also inextricably bound to the consequences of how we use it.

A corollary to this theme is a quote by Elder Renlund where he says, and I’m summarizing, God’s love for us is perfect, not unconditional. In this context, unconditional implies he doesn’t care what we do. In reality God cares a lot about our actions and choices. The “perfect” part of it is He never quits. He is always focused on helping us become our best, happiest selves.

The cool part of the story is many years later, the same angel appears to Alma to give him an assignment and encouragement. In my opinion, the angel enjoyed that second visit much more than the first.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Drops of Oil

When speaking with news anchor Katie Couric after landing his airliner on the Hudson River, Chesley Sullenberger said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, 2009, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

The Parable of the 10 Virgins, found in Matt 25:1-13, is a powerful lesson and warning that we must be vigilant with our spiritual preparation too. These two themes fit together. There’s another aviation saying that applies: “Flying is hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of terror.”

Our lives can be looked at the same way. We live our day to day lives making small deposits to our spiritual reserves accompanied by small withdrawals. In this mode, we go on, perhaps for weeks, months and even years. Then, when we’re not expecting it, we face the moment when we must draw on all our experience and spiritual reserves to survive. And by survive I mean our enduring a trial with our faith in God and Jesus Christ intact when we come out the other side.

That we will have such trials is certain. What we do to prepare for them is up to us and if we prepare daily… easily done. The promise of Helaman 5:12 is that by so preparing we will survive.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sacrifice and Consecration... what's the difference?

This isn’t a Book of Mormon related entry, but it’s something I wanted to share just the same. Our Gospel Doctrine lesson today was on the Law of Consecration. As I sat in the lesson listening to what was being said, I wondered what the difference is between consecration and sacrifice.

As I did, I began to wonder why in the temple endowment session there was a section on each. The two concepts seemed to be synonyms. So after pondering on it, this is my answer… it works for me.

In simple terms, sacrifice is an investment: you trade something of value in exchange for something of greater value. There’s always a personal payoff involved. I sacrifice my comfort by exercising with the expected payoff of becoming more physically fit.

On the other hand, consecration is a gift. There’s no personal payoff other than the feeling of gratitude or satisfaction of having contributed to something you believe in.

In the temple, we covenant to comply with the law of sacrifice in the sense that we are willing to live in exchange for blessings which come personally to us… hence it is the first of the main covenants. We’re saying in effect, “I’ll give up this, in exchange for that.”

When we covenant to comply with the law of consecration, we are saying, “I’ll give whatever is asked of me, not for a personal reward but because of my love for God.” There’s no personal gain expected, therefore it is a much “higher” or demanding law.

In that light, it’s easy for me to see why they are separate and why sacrifice comes first.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Tale of Two Peoples

In a recent talk in Sacrament meeting, I touched on the concept of how important it is to repent quickly. I used the story of the people of Zeniff as an object lesson to teach the following concepts: Heavenly Father takes us where we are. Repentance is better sooner than later, and our choices directly affect what He does to help us. In other words, while He allows us our agency, He will also exercise His in choosing what to “do” for us.

A quick recap: The people of Zeniff returned to live in the land of Nephi among the Lamanites. They wanted to live in the lands they fled from a generation earlier. In time, Noah becomes the king and leads them from one degree of wickedness to another.

Finally the Lord sends the prophet Abinadi to warn them. He gives the first warning: repent or you will be brought into bondage. They ignored his warning. Two years later he comes again. The warning now is; they will be brought into bondage and destroyed if they don’t repent. (Note that the course correction is more severe.) Here is where the tale of these two people splits.

Converted by Abinadi, Alma preaches to and converts a small group of the people of Noah. They are discovered and flee for their lives into the wilderness. They establish a community and live for years in obscurity and peace. The rest, people later called the people of Limhi, travel a much different path. They are conquered by the Lamanites and after several failed attempts to fight their way to freedom endure years of virtual slavery.

Over a period of time, they too are converted to Christ, (Mosiah 21:33) and want to be baptized but have no one with authority to do it. They send out a team of people to find Zarahemlah. They fail in this but they do find the plates of Ether. Finally, two generations after Zeniff left, Ammon and his group find them and help them escape. A Lamanite army is sent after them to capture them and bring them back. It fails to do so, but in the process finds Alma and his group. The Lamanites enslave them for a short period of time, fulfilling Abinadi’s prophecy.

The good news of this episode is both groups become religious stalwarts among the Nephites. God delivered and guided both of them to where they were, but they both took different paths because of choices they made along the way. The sobering point of the story is how different those paths were and how much more difficult one was than the other.

The same holds true for us. Heavenly Father will work with us to get us back to His presence, but our choices affect the path we need to take to return to Him. I’d rather do it the easy way.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Chiasmus that is 1 Nephi

I’ve mentioned in the past about the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. I’m not a meticulous or careful enough scholar to find these by myself. Rather I’m borrowing and presenting the work of John Welch. So, this entry is not the result of my work but that of Bro. Welch. I present it here, because it’s fascinating to me and is one more piece of evidence of the Book of Mormon’s antiquity.
A chiasmus is a Hebraic literary art form, much like a sonnet is an English literary art form. Like a sonnet, a chiasmus has a clear set of rules which the work must conform to, to be labeled as such. Where sonnets have a set meter and rhyming pattern, a chiasmus must follow a specific structure and order of meanings and expressions. Rather than rhyme, a chiasmus has a set order for its structure.
This is the chiastic structure:

In this structure, A and A’ say the same thing with slight variations in nuance, often using the same words such that read together they carry more meaning than if read alone.
In the same way, B and B’ do the same thing. But they build on A and A’ to the apex statement C, which is the heart of the expression. For a further exploration into what a chiasmus is, I suggest you read this article by Bro. Welch.
What I wanted to write about is this: 1 Nephi is written as a large chiasmus. While it was taken from the records Nephi wrote, it was something which took him a considerable amount of time to read and produce. It is far more complex than it seems when you simply read it through. Here is the chiastic structure of 1 Nephi:
A.    1 Nephi 1 - Lehi’s dream which is a warning to the Jews.
  B. 1 Nephi 2 - Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem for the Promised Land
    C. 1 Nephi 3-5 - Nephi performs a great feat with the help of his brothers in getting the Brass Plates from Laban. God intervenes to complete the assignment.
      D. 1 Nephi 7 - Ishmael joins the group with his family
        E. 1 Nephi 8 - Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life
          F. 1 Nephi 10 - Lehi’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah to the Jews.
             G. 1 Nephi 11 - Nephi’s encounter with the Spirit of the Lord and his testimony of Christ, the Messiah
          F’. 1 Nephi 12 - Nephi’s prophecy of Jesus coming to his descendants
         E’. 1 Nephi 15 - Nephi’s interpretation of his vision of the Tree of Life
       D’. 1 Nephi 16 - The marriages of Ishmael’s daughters to Lehi’s sons and the death of Ishmael
     C’. 1 Nephi 17 - Nephi performs a great feat with the help of his brothers in building the boat. God intervenes to protect Nephi from his brothers.
   B’.  1 Nephi 18 - Nephi’s departure from the Old World and arrival in the Land of Promise.
A’. 1 Nephi 19-22 - Nephi warns the Jews

What I find particularly interesting is the apex is the testimony of the mission of Jesus Christ. Ever after in the Book of Mormon, the Savior is referred to as Christ by the Nephites. Up until this point, Lehi’s group were Jews looking for the coming of the Messiah. Afterwords, they were Christians.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

By the Weak and Small things...

If you’ve read my essays on the creation of the Earth, you know I’m an old Earth advocate. I also think Heavenly Father uses natural laws to order and run the universe. That being the case, the footprints of the Earth’s creation and terraforming are left in the geological record for us to read. At best, the geological record is incomplete in that it can tell us what happened. It can only imply the "how" and nothing at all about the "why."

That’s where a belief in God and revelation come into play. They tell the "why" but leave you to figure out the "how."

So, in the temple this week, the thought came to mind as I watched the recounting of the creation that it is by small and simple things which God brings to pass great works. I also thought how there’s evidence now, found in Australia of prokaryotes which lived just 400 million years after the Earth formed. They are the hardiest life forms today: they live in the most inhospitable environments on the Earth. The extreme conditions they live in were global back then. So, what did they do? They “ate” methane and carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans and released oxygen. The carbon they took to make themselves, the freed oxygen combined with the minerals and got stored in the ground. When they died, their carbon settled to the ocean bottoms and became the fossilized sludge geologists found.

The net effect of this is they ate the primordial atmosphere and sequestered all that gas in the crust. Did you know, the most common element in the ground you walk on is oxygen? At one time it was in the atmosphere… a much thicker one. The patina of carbon is where life exists. All that was “put in place” by these early prokaryotes.

From an engineering standpoint it’s marvelous. They were a distributed, fault tolerant, self-replicating process… life… which brought the Earth to life. As each step neared completion, God began the next step. In time the dirt was saturated with oxygen and the gas began to collect in the atmosphere. Under the bombardment of UV radiation, some of it formed the ozone molecule… a gas which absorbed this lethal radiation.

The point is, Heavenly Father does work by small means to bring to pass great works. So if He can use single celled organisms to terraform a planet, He can make use of us to do great things too. And that’s the kind of stuff you can learn by going to the temple. I love it!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Worthless and Fallen... Really?

While studying Mosiah 4, this verse of scripture struck me:
“For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—“ (Mosiah 4:5) This is Benjamin talking in one of the most profound “conference talks” ever given.

When I first read this, I thought, “this is rather harsh.” Yet, the passage goes on to talk about all that Heavenly Father has done for us. Why then call us worthless, fallen and nothing? So, I asked Him what it meant. How can we be so important yet worthless at the same time? This is what the Holy Ghost answered:
“Worthless and fallen” This isn’t about us being worthless, but the state we are in. Without God in our lives, without any acknowledgement or awareness of our relationship to and dependency upon Him, we are in a state of mind that from an eternal perspective is worthless and fallen: it’s pointless. Not because we are but because it is of no value to us. There’s nothing to be gained from it. In it we won’t progress, we won’t learn, and we won’t become better people, hence it is worthless to us.
Fallen just means we no longer share the close connection with God we once had. Our relationship used to be much better. So comparatively, we’ve fallen away from Him. It doesn’t mean we are any less important to ourselves or to Him.
Nothingness in this case is a measure of relative capability not of intrinsic value. God created the universe… worlds without number move according to His faith and will. By comparison, I can't even manage my own life. My capabilities are nothing compared to God’s. But I’m still important enough that His Son died for me.
In the end, this passage doesn’t condemn us, it prepares us to learn the truly valuable lesson of this passage: through the Atonement and by the grace of God, we can become like Him and return to be with Him again. There's a better way to live... live with God in your life.