30 April 2010

New Website: By Study And Faith

I have decided that it is time to move from Blogspot and to my own server and domain. My new gospel blog site is: http://bystudyandfaith.net (note the .net and not a .com)

I will no longer be posting updates on this blog but it will remain online. All posts are on the new site. I will update the feed via Feedburner so it should transfer over for you fine for those of you who subscribe to my feed. Everyone else, please update bookmarks and whatever else you need to update. I know it is a bit of an inconvenience for you but it was time to have my own domain. From this time forth, my gospel blog will no longer be A House of Prayer; rather it will be By Study and Faith. Same content, same goals, same everything else except for a new name, a new design (it might change; I'm trying out a few templates), and a new name [there's a gospel lesson in this but I won't go into it at the moment].

Again, please visit my new blog and begin reading over there. Let me know if you have any problems with my new site.

27 April 2010

Tools for Gospel Students and Teachers

I hold the opinion that the most important tools for teachers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the scriptures and the Holy Ghost. Sensitivity to the Spirit and knowledge of the scriptures will allow a teacher to teach powerful lessons that help those being taught have a stronger desire to live the gospel. "Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together." (D&C 50:21-22). Having the Spirit of the Lord is vital in gospel teaching.

There are other tools that can benefit gospel teaching and learning. The LDS Church recently released their Gospel Library iPhone app. While there were other LDS library apps out previously, none were official apps of the Church. I use this app on my iPod to both prepare lessons and to teach my lessons. In the app you can annotate the scriptures or lesson manuals by adding your own cross-references and notes. The other boon for my lessons is the fact that most of the Teachers in our quorum (okay, 2 out of the 3 active young men) have either an iPhone or an iPod Touch. This means that not only do they always have their scriptures with them, they also have the Aaronic Priesthood manual that we use for the lesson. This allows them to follow along with the lesson (at the portions of the lesson when I'm using the manual) and find the scriptures quickly. For the one youth who does not have an iPod or iPhone to use, the lack of the device has not been an issue because I never make it one.

If everyone had an iPod Touch or iPhone or iPad then I would make the app a little bit bigger portion of my lessons but for now I'm just glad that some of the Teachers can follow along with the lesson. This will help them remain a little more focused on the lesson, or at least the gospel if they are browsing through the app during the lesson.

One thing I like about having the LDS Gospel Library app on my iPod is having scriptures and lesson manuals and conference addresses with me at all times. If I have some down time I can read the scriptures or prepare a lesson or listen to General Conference whenever I want to and wherever I am (within reason, of course!). Many times I've been riding the bus to or from the campus where I attend school when I had a gospel insight - or rather, when one came to me through the Holy Ghost - that I jotted down in my iPod note app. Now I can also jot down these thoughts right in the LDS Library app near an appropriate scripture. Soon these notes or highlights or cross-references will sync with the new LDS Gospel Library website. Or, if I annotate my scriptures online, it will sync with my iPod app. I'm looking forward to these tools.

Most of my gospel study and reading is done on a computer (iPod included). This has been the case for nearly two years now. While I occasionally pick up my hard copy scriptures and read them (something that I miss but not enough to make it my primary method of study), I mainly use electronic forms of scriptures. I do this in part because this blog is a large part of my gospel study. Having tools that allow me to better consolidate and correlate my study is a step forward in adding consistency to my study. Being able to sync my mobile study with my at home (or school) study allows me to transfer information to this blog better. It also allows me to have all my notes for my Sunday lessons in multiple places but synchronized between those places. This will also allow the young men that I teach to highlight scriptures on their iPods or iPhones in class or in Seminary and have that information also available online.

One issue I can see is when they go on missions but I think it is a good idea to have a new set of scriptures just for a mission that get read and annotated and cross-referenced with things that are most meaningful to the missionary at the time. I have to admit that I have not added much in the way of notes or cross references in my scriptures since I returned home from my mission almost 9 years ago. I added some notes but I haven't generally been able to devote hours per day to scripture study like I could as a full time missionary. I figure that between studying in the mornings before we went out, studying sometimes at lunch time, and studying and reading at night before bed or at other random times, I got in a good 2-3 hours of gospel studying every day. I did not have to learn a new language (something that is both fortunate and unfortunate) so I could devote much time to studying the gospel. I cannot often devote that much time to gospel study now due to family, school, and church responsibilities. However, what having this LDS Gospel Library app on my iPod does is allow me to make better use of my 'downtime' (such as when I ride the bus or walk across campus). As a related note, that is also why I enjoy having the General Conference podcast on my iPod - I can listen to talks as I walk across campus or ride the bus. On weekdays I typically get through at least two talks. They are great sources of knowledge and Spirit, especially because I often miss talks the first time around due to dealing with young children.

These are all tools the Lord is helping make available so gospel study and hearing and reading the words of His prophets are more accessible than ever. While we should never let technology overwhelm our lives (not that I'm one to preach much about that because I am almost never away from a computer or my iPod - due in part to what I do as a student but also due to my preferences for leisure time), technology is a part of our lives. It can be used for both good and evil. If we spend our time with the good we will not have time for the evil (not that that is sufficient reason to not do evil - "I'm only not sinning because I do not have time to" - rather, our reasons to not sin should be because we are sanctified and have no more disposition to do evil; however, crowding out the evil with the good is certainly a start). If you are going to spend the bulk of your time using technology (e.g., computers), at least make it productive and worthwhile and do good.

Whether we are teachers at church or home or simply studying for ourselves, there are new tools that allow for easier and more frequent gospel study. I'm thankful for the technology that allows me to have access to God's words wherever I am.

18 April 2010

On Christianity

Update: Here is the link to a discussion of this same topic on the LDS Newsroom blog.

One discussion I really do not understand is whether or not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are Christian. Let's ignore the name of the LDS Church for a minute - after all, any church can claim that they are the Lord's (however, only one church is claimed by the Lord as His: "And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually" {D&C 1:30}). Again, if we ignore the name of the LDS Church, we can move on to a discussion of the Christianity of the LDS Church and if that Christianity or lack thereof really matter. My view is that the discussion is silly.

Be that as it may, why does it matter to some people whether or not the LDS Church is Christian? I have read many blog posts and articles and statements about how members of the LDS Church are not Christian. I had the discussion with a number of people while I was a missionary. In essence my question is "What is a Christian?"
  1. Are Christians people who believe the Bible to be God's word? If that is part of it then we Mormons pass that criterion.
  2. Are Christians people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world? We believe that as well.
  3. Are Christians people who believe that Jesus Christ is divine, even God? We believe that as well. I recognize that LDS conceptions of Jesus Christ as God might differ slightly from the official doctrines of many other churches but Mormon doctrine of the nature of God is supported completely by the Bible (and clarified and expanded by latter-day revelation).
  4. Are Christians people who believe that the Bible is all of God's word? Well, we Mormons do not meet that criterion. However, that is a belief that is not supported by the Bible. How could the Bible rule out "modern" (i.e., concurrent) revelation when that is exactly what it is?! I know many people would quibble with me on this point because they have before but nowhere in the Bible are we taught that the Bible contains all of God's words and that there is no more need for revelation or prophets.
  5. Are Christians people who try to live as Christ intended - doing good to those who hate you, helping those in need, lifting burdens, teaching His gospel, and so forth? Mormons meet all these criteria.
  6. Are Christians people who accept Jesus as their Savior and recognize that salvation comes only through Him? Mormons fit that criterion as well (I can't speak individually for all LDS Church members but it is the doctrine of our church).
  7. Are Christians people who are either Catholic or Protestant, at least in theology? I've heard and read serious arguments that boiled down essentially to this. The problem is that that position is anything but Biblical. It's based on the acceptance of the Creeds of Christendom - which is ironic because the people who accept the Creeds generally do not accept continuing revelation from God (i.e., the Bible is a closed canon); in short, many people accept the teachings and interpretation of theologians but will not accept what many claim to be direct revelation from God in our day. I might be a little cynical in this example but I've heard a lot of people imply that they have the Bible and that was (more than) enough of God's words for them: "We already have a Bible, we don't need another one."
I could go on but those points should suffice for now. My other main question besides what are the criteria for being Christian, is why is it so important to some people to demonstrate that Mormons are not Christian? What are their motives for this position? I can put forth some guesses but I won't because I try not to ascribe motives to others, especially when I have no idea.

For me, and I think most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and most other Christians, being Christian means as a start "one who believes in Jesus Christ." That's it. However, truly being Christian means more than a profession of belief in Jesus Christ, it requires a life of striving to be like the Savior in deeds, words, and thoughts. On one level, being Christian is completely personal. On another level, being Christian is evident in how one lives one's life. Trying to give or deny Christianity using other criteria is, I believe, misguided.

14 April 2010

One Word

On Sunday in our Teacher's quorum we talked about prayer. One point I tried to teach our Teachers is that God really does answer our prayers. The topic of prayer and answers to prayers leads naturally, at least for me and especially when teaching 14-15 year old boys, to the prophet Joseph Smith.

When Joseph was a preteen he starting thinking about the universe and the nature of God. He started seeking for truth. As he entered his teenage years he became surrounded by tumultuous teachings and preachings. A religious revival was underway - Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists were all preaching their gospels and vying for converts. Each minister had the same Bible (more or less) and each read the same verses but there was little agreement of key doctrines of the gospel (there still is little agreement). Joseph Smith was confused by all the controversy. If there was one Bible and one God, should not there be one gospel?

In order to sort out his confusion, Joseph did what the faithful have done throughout history - he sought the Lord in prayer. Joseph went into a grove of trees near to his home and knelt down in humble prayer. Joseph wanted to pray aloud, something he had not done before. But as soon as he started to pray he was attacked by a dark being; Satan himself tried to snuff the life out of the boy Joseph. This was one prayer Satan did not want uttered. Joseph felt the will to live flowing out of him; he started to despair but continued to pray in his heart. Then the darkness was gone and Joseph saw a light that was brighter than the sun. When this light rested upon him, Joseph saw two Beings - radiant, glorious, perfect Beings. Then came what was one of the most powerful words spoken in this dispensation - "Joseph" said one of the Beings.

The particular word "Joseph" was not what was powerful, the implications of the word were. With this simple word, Joseph's name, the boy learned a powerful lesson, a lesson we all can learn. God loved Joseph Smith; God knew him. God loves each of us; He knows each of us by name. We are not faceless entities created to worship the Almighty God (although we should!), we are His children. He sees us with his perfect love. That is what the utterance of Joseph's name taught - that God knows us; He hears our prayers and He answers them. Our prayers will likely never be answered in a similar manner as Joseph's but our sincere prayers are heard and answered.

That is the lesson I wanted my Teachers to learn - they are loved of God. He knows each of their names and cares about their lives. Joseph Smith was a special person, he was called to be the Lord's prophet but each of us are special too - we are all sons and daughters of God. While Joseph's experience was powerful, each of us can know with the same power - the power of the Holy Ghost - of God's love for us.

11 April 2010

A Heart of Charity, Part 1

C. S. Lewis explained his belief in Christ in this way: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else" (Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?, 1945). Christ said, "I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness..." (John 8:12). Christ also said, "Ye are the light of the world...let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works..." (Matt. 5:14,16). What is this light? Did Christ mean that He was merely a physical light, an electromagnetic radiation that brightens the world around us? It is true that Jesus Christ shines with a radiance above the brightness of the sun, as Joseph Smith described. But this is not really what Christ meant when He stated that He (and, by our following His example and through His spirit, we as well) is the light of the world. Christ is more than electromagnetic energy; He is more powerful and deeper than this physical light.

One powerful source of energy is love. Love is energy, you can feel it - it radiates like the sun. Jesus is "the light of the world"; He created the earth, the moon, and the heavens above. He caused the sun to shine upon the earth to give us life. Jesus lights the earth around us but He also does more than that - He lights our souls with His love. Christ is love. When we are told to "let [our] light[s] so shine" the Savior is telling us to follow His example by lighting others' lives by love; we are to warm the hearts and souls of all humankind through the warm radiance of charity. When we follow our Lord by keeping His commandments, He lights our souls with His love. When we have His love, we can share it with others. This means that it is not possible to light someone else's soul without a burning in your own. This is a light that is in all people's souls. In some it burns with a dazzling brightness, in others it flickers like a dying candle, but it is there. C. S. Lewis said, "[We are] in a society of possible gods and goddesses...[in which] there are no ordinary people. [We] have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit." (Lewis, The Weight of Glory). When we have charity we keep in perspective who those around us really are - we are all sons and daughters of our Eternal Father in Heaven. We have His divine spark within us. We all have the potential to become as He is.

But that is a process - the becoming as God is. None of us is perfect; people are not perfect. We are in an embryonic stage, trying to grow up and control these wonderful, mortal, physical bodies the Lord blesses us with. As premortal beings, all of us here on this earth as mortals subjected our spiritual bodies and wills to the will of the Father; that is why we are here in mortality - we accepted the opportunity to follow God's plan for us. Now as mortals we are trying to subject our physical bodies to the will of the Father, a difficult task at which we much work each day. Once again Christ was the consummate example. His will was completely in subjection to His Father's, which subjection culminated with His death on the cross and His triumphal resurrection from the tomb.

07 April 2010

How Many Children Do the Apostles Have? A Statistical Exercise

After General Conference was over my mother (who was visiting to help out with our new baby) remarked about how most of the Apostles had only a few kids. Being a scientist and a bit compulsive about my statistics I put together a little spreadsheet with the number of children each apostle has from which I calculated the mean, median, and mode number of children. My mother was correct in that more apostles have 3 children than any other number; however, the mean (4.93) and median (4.0) are higher.

Here are the numbers (Apostles are sorted according to seniority):

Apostle       # of children
Monson 3
Packer 10
Perry 3
Nelson 10
Oaks 6
Ballard 7
Scott 7
Hales 2
Holland 3
Eyring 6
Uchtdorf 2
Bednar 3
Cook 3
Christofferson 5
Andersen 4

Anyone surprised by the numbers? I was that the mode was 3 but my guess of the average was 5, which is what the mean turned out to be. We cannot really throw out Elders Packer and Nelson as outliers because the sample size is small, plus it would defeat the purpose of the analysis to remove them from the analysis just because they create a slight positive skew to the data (skewness = 0.85, kurtosis = -0.30). In any case, I think it is interesting that 9 of the 15 apostles have 5 or fewer children (most of those 9 have 2 or 3 children). The rest have 6, 7, or 10. There is a moderate correlation between number of children and age (r=0.49, p=0.06; should you feel a non-parametric correlation is more appropriate, Spearman's rho = 0.40, p = 0.14).

When I looked at the above chart, it looked like there were two clusters of apostlesXchildren based on seniority. I thus created two groups within the Apostles based on seniority; the 7 most senior (through Elder Scott) were one group and the 8 left were the other group (beginning with Elder Hales). This group split was as close to a median split as possible. A t-test revealed that there was a significant difference in the number of children between groups (mean for group 1 = 6.57, mean for group 2 = 3.5, t = 2.68, p = 0.02, Cohen's d = 1.35 - a large effect). There also is a significant difference in age between the two groups (which is not surprising; group 1 mean = 83.57, group 2 mean = 68.38, t = 4.99, p = 0.001).

Should my split of the groups be criticized based on the fact that Elder Hales only has 2 children and so placing him in group 2 might be undue manipulation of the data, here are the values with him in group 1 (group 1 mean number of children = 6.00, group 2 = 3.71, t = 1.79, p = 0.097; this is no longer significant but the sample size is also small {although, it could be viewed as large because the entire population of living apostles is 15 and I 'sampled' the entire population}. In any case, the effect size of this difference is still large - Cohen's d = 0.95). I think the split should be between Elder Scott and Elder Hales because Elder Hales is the first of the apostles called while Pres. Hinckley was the prophet (technically, Elder Hales was called to fill the vacancy in the Twelve when Pres. Hunter died; Pres. Hinckley was called to replace Pres. Hunter); in other words, Elder Scott was the last of the apostles called in the 1980s and Elder Hales was the first called in the 1990s (there was about a 6 year gap in between when they were called). Either way I split the groups, the difference in number of children is large between the more senior Apostles and the newer Apostles. There are the outliers in the groups (Pres. Monson and Elder Perry for group 1 and Elder Eyring for group 2) but overall, the groups cluster together well (see the "Within Cluster Variation" chart).

If seniority roughly equals age (remember the significant difference between the ages of the two groups), does age explain the difference in number of children? In part it does. Age explains 24% of the variance in number of children (R = 0.49, F = 4.166, p = 0.06), which is a moderate amount but it is obvious that age alone cannot account for the difference in number of children. There are other testable (e.g., number of children in their nuclear family, age at marriage, income, etc.) and untestable (e.g., personal choice and how many children the Lord let them know they could or should have) factors that might explain the difference. Frankly, it does not matter in the end. Can we really explain why people have the number of children that they have? Sometimes we can if there are fertility issues but the number of children a couple has boils down largely to personal choice. That is why I am not going to try to explain why we see these differences in the number of children between the more senior Apostles and the newer Apostles.

I hope you found this an interesting analysis - I certainly did! I think it would be interesting to expand it to include the 1st and maybe 2nd quorums of the Seventy as well but that is an analysis for a later time.

05 April 2010

Easter Births and Rebirths

Having a child born on Christmas day and now another one born at Easter time (he'll have an Easter birthday some years), my children's births serve as a reminder to be of the Savior Jesus Christ. As I was involved in the birth process of my son I thought of Jesus' birth but more importantly, His rebirth through the resurrection. On that first Easter morn, Jesus escaped the cold clutches of the grave. Jesus is not only the Conquering King of His death but also of all our deaths. What a miraculous and supernal gift! All who ever lived on the earth will be given the gift of immortality. All will live again.

There is another rebirth to which all are entitled should they follow the Lord's commands. This is a spiritual rebirth, a shuffling off of the old man of sin into a new creature in Christ. When we are born we are born through water (amniotic fluid), blood, and the spirit. When we are spiritually reborn, we are buried in the waters of baptism, sanctified by the blood of Christ, and justified by the Holy Ghost. A spiritual rebirth really is just that - a rebirth; we become completely new spiritual beings. Just as birth is merely one stage in our development - and quite early at that - so is our spiritual rebirth merely one stage in our development. It is just a start to our new lives in Christ. Our spiritual rebirth is not the end, it is the beginning to a glorious new life!

In honor of this Easter season, I hope we all take more time to think about our Lord's sacrifice - His blameless life, His agonizing Atonement, His painful death, and His glorious resurrection! Many of you might have seen this video before but it is worth watching again in order to ponder its message.

03 April 2010

The Importance of Family

Because family is so important, I'll probably be a bit lax in posting on this blog for a couple weeks.

30 March 2010

The Savior Lives!

At this Easter season, I hope we all take time to think of the Savior Jesus Christ and of His great sacrifice and love for us. Most importantly, think of His resurrection. He lives today; He loves us; He is watching over us. As preparation for Easter, here are the testimonies of some of His living Apostles.

28 March 2010

On Scripture Study

This post is partially in response to an interesting comment I received on my previous post. My post is in no way meant to be critical of the comment or commenter.

My previous post was not fleshed out to really get into the topic of understanding Isaiah. That wasn't the purpose. It's purpose was simply to present one perspective of the issue that I had not really thought much about before (an insight provided by Hugh Nibley). Between that post and one comment I received, I spent some time thinking about what it means to understand the scriptures. So here is my reply to the comment as well as my expansion on the theme.

Here is part of the comment to which I am referring: "So while your point is well taken, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. This point of view does not usually come by praying and studying Isaiah. It requires considerable historical background and immersion in tradition, ancient history, comparative mythology. That is, it requires a real investment in time and effort to understand. But I highly recommend it to you."

That's the other side of understanding Isaiah that I did not fully address. Historical context always helps elucidate the scriptures. Once you understand Isaiah's symbolism, his prophecies become clearer. I've read a book about Isaiah that provided insight into the symbolism and historical and cultural context of Isaiah - it was very helpful - but I've found (this might just be true only for me) that my keenest insights that have direct and personal application to me (in other words, the most important lessons that I can learn from Isaiah) have come simply from reading and praying.

Gospel and scripture commentary books (or blogs or websites) are beneficial - I do keep posting quotes by Hugh Nibley and other gospel scholars (I certainly hope that I am considered one) - but the real power is in the scriptures themselves, especially when coupled with the power of the Holy Ghost. This is not to say, again, that we should not do in-depth studies of the context of the scriptures - it can be very helpful and informative; however, I do not believe that it will ever be as important and personally meaningful and converting as simply reading the scriptures and turning to the Lord for understanding. This is a balance I try to maintain. It is too easy to get caught up in the 'intellectual' side of the scriptures (e.g., history, culture, symbolism, linguistics) while negating the spiritual side (i.e., the side that leads to repentance and sanctification through the Spirit and the Atonement of the Savior). Studying about the gospel or the scriptures is not the same as studying the scriptures. So Isaiah can be difficult to understand but then again, it really is not as difficult as we often think.

Nephi provides the key to understanding Isaiah: "Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn" (2 Nephi 25:4; emphasis added). The spirit of prophecy comes to those who are filled with the Spirit of God and who ask to the spirit of prophecy. The spirit of prophecy is founded upon the testimony of Jesus Christ; in essence, a prophet is someone who testifies of Christ (note however, that a testimony does not give authority; one does not become an Elijah or a Joseph Smith or a Thomas S. Monson just because one has a testimony of Jesus Christ - that particular calling as a prophet comes only to those called by God by those who have the proper priesthood keys). To those filled with the spirit of prophecy (which comes by asking God for it and through righteousness and the Holy Ghost), the words of Isaiah will be plain.

We have been commanded to search the words of Isaiah (see 3 Nephi 23:1) and while it is important to try and "understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, [by being] taught after the manner of the things of the Jews" (2 Nephi 25:5), I would hope that we as students of the scriptures will focus more on conversion than context. If context strengthens your conversion, then it is wonderful but we need to have balance in our studies of the scriptures. Pharisees and scribes became overly focused on the symbolism and the "nitty-grittiness" of the scriptures and laws that they lost sight of the spirit of them.

I am not disagreeing with toekneenose's comment, I am merely offering my opinion in that I believe that we need to be moderate in our approach to the scriptures; moderate meaning that we should not let our study of context outweigh our study of the scriptures themselves (I'm not implying that toekneenose does that at all). We miss a lot of meaning in the scriptures if we do not understand the context and the language and whatever else - I think that increasing our knowledge that way is important; however, we miss the most important aspect of the scriptures if that is our main focus. Again, what is most important is what the scriptures mean to you at a particular moment in your life as you listen to the Spirit. Are the scriptures effecting change in your life, are you being converted, or are you simply becoming a knowledgeable Pharisee? Is your faith in Jesus Christ increasing, or is only the perceived circumference of your head increasing? Those are questions I ask myself and ponder upon with regularity. My personal belief is that, on average, I should be spending most of my 'scripture study' time reading and thinking about the scriptures and the basic doctrines of the gospel with only a smaller portion of my time spent on commentary or context.

27 March 2010

Isaiah Spake Many Hard Things

"Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews." (2 Nephi 25:1).

What did Nephi mean when he said that Isaiah spake things that were hard for his people to understand? The obvious answer to that question is elucidated by the last part of the verse: "for they [knew] not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews." His people did not generally have the education or experience or knowledge to fully understand Isaiah's prophecies. Maybe they didn't have the desire to understand Isaiah. I think this holds true for many people today. The common 'complaint' I hear about Isaiah is that the book is difficult to understand. It can be if you do not understand that Isaiah's language is highly symbolic but at the same time it is very direct and literal, meaning it refers to specific events. It's also repetitive; meaning that Isaiah states the same thing multiple times in multiple ways.

I will not get into ways of understanding Isaiah - the best way is to spend time reading the book and praying for understanding - because that is not the purpose of this post. I wanted to share another quote and insight from Hugh Nibley about what he thinks is the reason that Isaiah is "hard...to understand". I have been quoting him a lot recently because I have been reading his Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, which is a transcript of lectures he gave in his Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University in the 1980s.

"'Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand.' Isaiah himself often mentions the fact that the people ask him to speak smooth things [i.e., the people want Isaiah to tell them only things that make them feel good and that they want to hear]. They want to hear smooth things. I am not going to teach you smooth things, he says. If I just gave you the smooth things you want, you wouldn't need them.... If the scriptures told us only what we wanted to hear, of course we wouldn't need them.

"You notice it all changed under the rabbis; the interpretations became different. Isaiah is much too literal [for them], etc. Then, of course, they accepted the University abstractions and became more philosophical and intellectual in the interpretation of everything." (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, 2004, p.249).

In short, Hugh Nibley's explanation of why Isaiah is hard to understand is because Isaiah does not speak "smooth" things to the people, he told them things that were hard to hear because he condemned their wickedness. He was a prophet who simply "told it like it was." I think Hugh Nibley's insight adds to our understanding of Isaiah. Yes, his writings can be difficult to understand because of his language and his symbolism, but then again, the book of Isaiah is not as difficult to understand as many people believe. Isaiah simply wrote many difficult things for the wicked to understand, for he prophesied about the Messiah and the temple and the way to salvation. He wrote of many things that would transpire in the last days - in our day - the restoration of the gospel, the building of temples, and so forth. Great are the words of Isaiah.

24 March 2010

Geography of the Book of Mormon?

Hugh Nibley sums up my view of discussions about Book of Mormon geography: "[The Nephites] journeyed in the wilderness for many days [to get away from Laman and Lemuel]. We don't know how many many is. Book of Mormon geography is a waste of time. I wouldn't touch it with a forty-foot pole. Never have; it's not necessary. Some day we'll get more information, I suppose. Everybody has tried their hand at it. I don't know why; it doesn't make any difference." (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, 2004, Covenant Communications).

I know some, maybe even many LDS Church members, disagree with that sentiment but we do not know where in the Americas the Book of Mormon events took place. We can speculate all we want and say, "Well Joseph Smith [purportedly] said this" or "This narrow neck of land is the Panama isthmus or this particular area in modern Mexico or Guatemala or the Great Lakes region." Whatever; we do not know where the Book of Mormon events took place and speculating about them is a waste of time. Again, I know some disagree but I wanted to offer my opinion on the matter. Maybe we'll learn more in our lifetimes but for now there are much better things upon which to focus, like the basic doctrines of the gospel: faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the Holy Ghost.

Do I have no intellectual curiosity about matters such as Book of Mormon geography? To the contrary, I find it a fascinating topic; fascinating but a waste of time. We simply do not know and even if we did, it is not important. Knowing just where King Benjamin was exactly when he gave his marvelous farewell address does nothing for our salvation but knowing, believing, and living what he taught does. I would love to know Book of Mormon geography - we have fairly compelling evidence of how and where Lehi and his family went after they left Jerusalem but after that? It's anyone's guess.

21 March 2010

A Random Missionary Experience

I wanted to share an experience from my LDS mission so I opened my journal to a random entry. Here are a couple entries (with mild editing to clean up any errors and to edit out names):

From Tuesday, January 4, 2000: "Today was a good day. We did not have too many referrals to do, so that was a good break [I worked in the office at this point and making all the phone calls in the morning when we had to send out information about people who had contacted the LDS Church stating they wanted to receive a movie or book {and who said that they wanted to be contacted by representatives of the Church} to the various missionaries in the mission. The process took up to three hours some days.]. We did get a lot done, mostly busy work but it was fun. I was talking to Sis. Larson [our mission president's wife] about the piano and school and all [that]. She is really neat. Today she asked me if I did finger exercises so I would keep up on my skills. [She and President Larson [make] sure I keep up on my piano skills. Pres. Larson always asks me if I get enough piano practicing in.... An older couple took us and the Hermanas to a buffet restaurant for dinner. It was good. We went and met with Bill [recently baptized] after dinner and just talked with him. We set his son's baptism date for January 26! We have a lot do in between now and then, especially since he won't be here for half the time because he stays part of the time at his mother's place. Bill is such a great man. He is intelligent and wants to learn so much. I know that he will be a great strength to this ward [he was called to be the ward executive secretary about 7 months after his baptism]. Life is great. I do want to help a lot of people in this world. I only hope that I may be a Christ-like person and really be kind and generous. =)"

Why did I share this entry? It was simply one that I opened up to. I also thought it represented a typical day as a missionary - at least as an office missionary. We worked in the mission office until at least lunch (we had the occasional day where we were there until almost dinner time) and then went home and did 'normal' missionary work for the rest of the day. As missionaries we spent out time talking with people - everything is about the people. We have good news of Christ's restored gospel that we want to share with all people. It is the world's most important news and so all our time was spent trying to share this news with people. We spent all our time with others - teaching, talking, serving, and loving. Even the hard days of rejection and sadness were uplifting in their own way.

One thing that strikes me as I go back and read my missionary journals is how often the words, "Life is great" or "Life is beautiful" or some variation on that theme. I've always tried to be upbeat and optimistic about life but my mission journals generally just ooze with positivity. It is not mere melodrama - serving as an LDS missionary is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Within the Church you frequently hear people refer to the years they spent as missionaries as "the best two years" of their lives. For me, life continues to get better with each passing year but my years as a full-time missionary were two of the best years of my life; I know that seems a bit contradictory but there really is not a better way to explain it. There is something about full-time missionary service that is incredibly rewarding. It's not a service done for personal benefit - taking two years out of schooling or other life seems like a waste of time to many people but it was anything but that. I have never been happier for as long as I was than when I was a full-time missionary.

Being a missionary is about the people though. It is about the Bills and Andrews and Karens of the world who hear the gospel preached to them, feel the Spirit, and rejoice at and accept the good news they hear and feel. Those of us who served (and serve or will serve) full time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are 'normal' people. We were called of God to do a great work - spread His restored gospel.

15 March 2010

Hugh Nibley on the Council in Heaven

I'm going to share one more Hugh Nibley quote for now. This quote provides an interesting perspective (not necessarily entirely true, but interesting) on the Council in Heaven during our pre-earth life.

"I was going to say that the Council in Heaven is quite a theme here [in newly-discovered early Christian documents], especially that Doctrine of the AbbatĂ´n by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria. We won't go into that. The accounts of the Council in Heaven are that when the creation was proposed, it was voted down because the Earth complained that she would be defiled. The people up there all decided that there would be too much suffering, too much wickedness, too much defilement in this world. There was a deadlock, and they didn't know what to go on until one person volunteered and said, 'I will pay the price; I will take the blame.' You know who that was. When he did that, the whole chorus broke out and 'the morning stars sang together, and all the Sons of God shouted for joy.' That was the famous Creation Hymn. See, our word poem comes from Creation Hymn. The poem was the original Creation Hymn, the hymn that was sung in the heavens to announce the glory of the creation - all the earliest poems are. The Greek poiema means creation. It was the Creation Hymn. The muses first sang it together with the Greeks, etc. You have many references to that. They broke out in hymn because it was the Lord that made it possible to go on with the creation, carry this out, and allow this to happen. Even in spite of all this wickedness and corruption, he would pay the price. Only one person could clean up that mess, and he would do it." (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, Covenant Communications, 2004, p.215).

One thing I love about Hugh Nibley's writings and teachings is that he was able to take diverse sources - anything from ancient Egyptian writings or histories to modern events - and link them to the gospel. Hugh Nibley was someone who could see Truth in just about anything. That is something that Joseph Smith taught - that we should seek the good and true in all things. "One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism' is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may" (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith, annotated by Richard Galbraith, Deseret Book Company, 1993, p.351).

14 March 2010

Hugh Nibley on Law

While reading Hugh Nibley's Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, I came across this insightful quote (of course, almost everything he wrote was insightful):
Our word law comes from lag, the old Scandinavian, Norse word.... Well, the law is the guidance, and you have to have it to get there. It's not the goal - it's the way that gets you there. It's like the iron rod; you cling to the iron rod. We love iron rods, and think is we have an iron rod we already have it made. We just keep the iron rod, and that's our goal. The iron rod is just to get you to the temple. That is not supposed to be the temple. It's not supposed to be the object. You don't stick to the law all the time.

We have the Ten Commandments, the laws of Moses. Ah, yes, there is the law as far as this goes. But it is written for barbarians, as Paul tells us.... In chapter 2 [of Hebrews] here, it says the law is going to get your there. Now what are the Ten Commandments? Do you have to be told every day that you shouldn't kill? That you shouldn't lie? That you shouldn't commit adultery? That you shouldn't bear false witness? Do you have to be reminded of that? No, the time comes, the Lord says, when 'the law is written in their hearts.' Only a savage or a barbarian would have to be told over and over, 'Now, you mustn't kill anybody today.' But we still have to be reminded. We think if we've kept the law, then we are saved - that's all there is to it. But that's not it at all. That's where it begins. This is the least requirement. It starts out with the Word of Wisdom, for example. Do we have to tell people every day, 'Well, don't go out and get drunk'? We don't have to be told that. Even with smoking now, people are warned; we don't have to go to the Word of Wisdom for that. Most of you [BYU students] would never think of doing those things. It wouldn't occur to you because, as it says when it is given to us in Doctrine and Covenants 89, this is adapted to the weakest of all Saints; this is the lowest requirement. This is the mere beginning - the least thing that can be expected of you. We start with the Word of Wisdom. It's the same thing with tithing." (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, Covenant Communications, 2004, p.208).

What Hugh Nibley said reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures: "For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified" (Moses 6:60). When we are baptized we keep the commandment. When we follow the commandments, when we keep the law, we are simply doing just that - keeping the commandments and the law. The laws are not saving - they are not the goal, they merely help us get to our goal, which is "the temple" as Hugh Nibley said; I would like add that it is really the temple in heaven that is our goal (see Isaiah 6:1 - "In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.").

Even the Holy Ghost is not enough; yes, we are justified by His presence, we are absolved from guilt, but that is not enough. If keeping the commandments and feeling the Spirit are not enough for salvation, what is? The blood of the sacrificial Lamb; the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. It is only through Him that we are saved. The law does not save us, it simply provides a path; Jesus is the Way. He is the only way to salvation and exaltation. The point Hugh Nibley made is that laws do not save us, Jesus does.

12 March 2010

Lessons from the Brother of Jared

"16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.
  17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.
  18 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
  19 And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
  20 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
  21 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded." (Ether 2:16-21)

Jared, his brother, and their families left the area near Babel to travel to a promised land. After a long journey over land and water, they camped on a beach. After staying there for a few years, the Lord commanded them to travel across the ocean. The brother of Jared asked how he should make the boats. The Lord told him to make them small and light and "tight like unto a dish". These boats may or may not have had some sort of sail. They might have been rowed. They might have simply followed the currents of the ocean. In any case, the boats were built well and did not leak. I imagine they were something like a submarine, except they were designed to mainly float on top of the water. There were times, however, when they would be buried in the ocean before bobbing back up to the surface. Because they were water-tight, they were also air-tight. Air holes were constructed in the top and bottom (as the Lord instructed) so that if the boats were covered in water or upside-down, there were at least two holes to try and open to let in air. The hole on the bottom, if opened, would not let water in due to the internal air pressure of the boat. The hole on the top could let in fresh air.

The times would come when the Jaredites would be buried in the darkness of the depths of the sea. They would be without light and seemingly without help. It was of these dark times that the brother of Jared pondered when he approached the Lord in prayer and asked "What shall we do for light when we are buried in the depths of the sea?" The Lord asked the brother of Jared what he thought the solution was. After some thinking and problem solving the brother of Jared came back to the Lord with a solution. I'll summarize and paraphrase the dialogue. "Here are some stones I created out of molten material. If Thou would but touch them, they could shine forth with Thy light." The Lord then touched the stones with His finger and they lighted. The brother of Jared saw the finger of the Lord and was surprised by the Lord's appearance. Once the Lord taught the brother of Jared about the nature of His spirit body, the brother of Jared asked to see all of the Savior - for the Lord Jehovah is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Then the Savior appeared to him (see Ether 3).

There are some important lessons for us in these stories of the Jaredites. Like the Jaredites, there will be times in our lives when we will be buried in the depths of the seas, so to speak. We will feel lost, alone, scared, and in the dark. At such times, we can remember the story of the Jaredites and how the brother of Jared was blessed by God with a solution. The brother of Jared was able to come up with his own solution to the light problem but the solution still required to miraculous power of the Lord. God provides us with power to overcome the darkness in our lives.

One other lesson we can learn from this story is that the brother of Jared first had to see the hand (finger) of the Lord in His life in order to receive a greater manifestation of the Savior's power and presence. Once the brother of Jared saw and comprehended the hand of the Lord in his life, he was blessed with greater light and knowledge from the Lord. He was blessed with one of the greatest of all blessings - to stand in the presence of the Lord and be taught by Him. Once we recognize the hand of the Lord in our lives, we can be blessed with greater knowledge of the Lord; maybe we will not actually see Him, but we will be able to feel of His power and love. As we are caught up in the depths, over our heads in life, if we see and recognize and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in our lives, we will be blessed by the Lord and protected through the stormy seas and darkness of life.

10 March 2010

Website changes - a work in progress

Let me know what you think of the new design. I want to leave this as my site template for a day or two to see what I think. I'm not completely sold on the template. In the meantime, feel free to poke around and read some of my posts you might have missed. Please be patient with my website changes

09 March 2010

BYU Speeches - The Sacred Gift of Agency

Today I listened to Dr. David Dearden's BYU address given on 31 March 2009. He is a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University. As a fellow scientist (although I am in the neurosciences and psychological sciences) I appreciated his views on science, faith, and agency. His talk is entitled The Sacred Gift of Agency. He states that all he sees in science affirms his faith in God; in other words, all he learns about nature, chemistry, physics, and the universe strengthens his faith and belief in God. He believes this way because he chooses to: "Well-meaning people may honestly disagree with my interpretation of how the universe is put together. Agency allows and requires this possibility. But for me, as I noted above, science is faith affirming because I choose to believe, and everything else follows."

That is exactly my experience. Everything I learn about the brain or behavior or other sciences, strengthens my faith in God. I look at someone's brain and I see God's work. My faith in God is strengthened by science because I too, "[first] choose to believe, and everything else follows." However, science is not sure; it is never sure. What I mean is that science is not perfect - our methods of science are not perfect. Even more than that, being completely, 100 percent sure goes against the very fabric of the method by which we conduct science. This does not mean that we can never trust science but it also means that through science we can never be entirely sure of what we learn from science. We can be reasonable sure about most things we learn from science but fully trusting all science is placing 'blind faith' in a fallible knowledge system. Science is the search for knowledge, it reveals little about Truth. I love science, it is what I spend most of my time doing; I love research and discovering knowledge and learning but I recognize the limitations of science.

There is something about which we can be sure. That is God. Those who have not felt the influence of the Holy Ghost (or at least did not recognize it) might not understand this principle. Those of us who have felt this Spirit and recognized it for what it is know this principle - certainty only comes from God. There are other things we can know for certain - we can know of someone's love for us or our love for them. We can know other things but even with my love example, how often have you heard someone say, "I thought I loved them" or "I thought they loved me." Even love can be deceiving some times (but thankfully, not all the time).

There is something about the influence of the Spirit that is absolute. What I mean is that His influence is certain. This is not to say that we can not deny it - we certainly can, that is part of our agency - but by denying it we are only lying to ourselves and to God. An example of someone who knew the truth but chose to deny it is Korihor. Here is part of the exchange he had with Alma:

"37 And then Alma said unto [Korihor]: Believest thou that there is a God?
38 And he answered, Nay.
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God." (Alma 30:37-42).

Alma knew Korihor believed in God and have felt the Spirit. Korihor was simply lying to himself and others. He acknowledged as much after he asked for a sign from God and then lost his power of speech.

"52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.

"53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me." (Alma 30:52-53).

Korihor used his agency to choose to not believe in God, even though he always knew there was a God. His actions stemmed from that lie. I choose to believe in God, to not deny the feelings I have felt; I try to let my actions follow from my belief.

I'd like to share an experience from Dr. Dearden's BYU address. It strikes a melodic chord with me because in many ways, I'm in a similar situation as he was in this experience.

"One of the great experiences of my life came as I was beginning my independent career as a faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington. Paul had a great experience on the road to Damascus, and I had my own on the road to Dallas. No, I did not see the Savior as Paul did, but I did experience His love, and I got to see how many little, seemingly less-important choices added up to bless me.

"I was trying hard to raise a family and to serve faithfully in the Church. It is challenging to do this as a young assistant professor. I had taken the job planning to pursue a certain course of research that appeared to have good opportunities for funding. I set up my lab and needed a test problem to check whether or not my instruments were working. I wasn’t quite ready to do what I had originally planned, and I remembered some work I had done years before as an undergraduate at BYU. This gave me an idea for a new experiment. It wasn’t a big deal, but I tried it, and it worked.

"I wanted to attend a scientific meeting I thought would further my career. I needed something to present at the conference because the university required me to present in order to fund the trip, so I took the results of my test experiment and drove 700 miles from Dallas to Nashville to attend the meeting. It was just a poster presentation, one among hundreds, but I was shocked at the strong positive response I received.

"I had to drive the 700 miles home by myself, and that was when the revelation began. All
the way home it was as if I heard a voice saying over and over, 'Drop your original plans and pursue this other course of research.' I did, and that choice laid the foundation for my entire subsequent career. In part, that is why I am here at BYU today. It may not have won a Nobel Prize, but the choice was a good one. It came after much thought and hard work and led to much more thought and hard work. I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot. It has blessed my life."

Let me repeat my favorite part: "I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot."

God loves each of us. We can know Him beyond doubt, even though we do not see Him (at this time in our existence). "All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator" (Alma 30:44). All things denote there is a God to those who choose to believe and serve Him. "Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15). We all have agency; what is important is that we use that agency to believe in God and do His will.

08 March 2010

Follow-up on City Creek Center

The Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper, posted an article that gives more insight into why the LDS Church is spending so much money and effort on the City Creek Center and other developments in Salt Lake City. Because I previously posted on this topic, I thought I should link to the article. The article is based on an interview with Bishop Burton, presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The following short quote offers a summary of why The Church spends money on land development projects: "'We are committed to do our part to make this a safe, beautiful and enjoyable community where people can enjoy one another, can enjoy the blessings of living in the tops of the mountains and can have safety and education for their families,' Burton said. 'That's what we're about, in part — to help with community enhancement.'"

I think Salt Lake is a beautiful city already but the work the LDS Church is doing is only making it more beautiful.

03 March 2010

BYU Speeches - Pres. Monson's Principles From Prophets

I love reading and learning about the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their lives are inspiring and their teachings powerful. I also love reading about and studying the lives of the scriptural prophets - Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, Nephi, and Alma. I try to picture what the prophets looked and sounded like. What were their personal characteristics? How was their sense of humor? What did they like to eat or do for fun? But most importantly I focus on what they taught and how they lived. All the prophets testified of Jesus Christ. He has always been the central theme of their messages, in fact one cannot be a prophet without testifying of Jesus "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). A prophet is one who testifies of Jesus so anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ is a prophet. However, in a more specific sense, prophet is a calling given to only a few men who, in our day, are set apart and ordained and given priesthood keys to administer the Lord's kingdom here on earth, namely The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Recently I have been listening to the podcast of devotional and Church Education System (CES) addresses given at Brigham Young University. I listen to the talks as I ride to and from school on the bus or as I am walking across campus. Devotionals are one thing I miss about BYU. When I attended there as a student I did not always attend the devotionals, I know I missed many great talks, but I attended often. Every Tuesday at 11 AM we could go and listen to a talk given by a BYU faculty member, a General Authority, the prophet, or someone else. All these speeches are available online at BYU's Speeches website as MP3s or PDFs or other formats. Recently I started downloading the PDFs of the talks I most enjoyed so that I'll have them ready to use in talks or essays or simply to re-read for enjoyment and knowledge and spiritual uplift.

One talk I particularly enjoyed was Pres. Thomas S. Monson's address given on Sep 15, 2009. It is called Principles from Prophets. Text and audio are available here. In his talk, Pres. Monson shares experiences and lessons from the various prophets with whom he had personal experiences. Pres. Monson is witty, poignant, and humorous as he shares stories and lessons from the prophets' lives. Pres. Monson has known every prophet from Pres. Heber J. Grant, President of The Church from 1918 to 1945, to Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, who was President of The Church from 1995 to 2008.

I'll share a couple of the stories Pres. Monson shared. The first is about Pres. George Albert Smith.

"I believe one of President Smith’s most noble accomplishments was after World War II. Starvation was rampant in Germany and in other nations of Europe. President Smith met with United States President Harry S. Truman and said, 'We'd like to send welfare supplies to the starving people of Europe, but the bureaucracy and the red tape in postwar Europe are keeping us from doing so.'

"President Truman heard his plea and opened the way. He asked, 'How many months will it take for you to assemble your supplies?' President Smith replied, 'President Truman, they’re already assembled. All you need do is say go, and they’ll be rolling within twenty- four hours.'

"President Truman was taken aback by this slender man who spoke rather softly—but oh, could he move things along. The supplies were sent, and Elder Ezra Taft Benson was also sent to oversee their distribution. Lives were saved as a result."

Pres. George A. Smith was a compassionate man.

The other experience I would like to share is about Pres. Howard W. Hunter. He was President of The Church for only 9 months but over the course of his 35 years as a general authority he had a large influence on many people. He was a soft and gentle man who was concerned with the needs of others.

"One of President Hunter’s hallmarks was that of courtesy. Whether in a moment of pleasant conversation or in times of constant pain, he was ever courteous. On one occasion a man who had been painting in President Hunter’s home said to me, 'President Hunter is so remarkable. He graciously thanked me and my crew for painting a room. He commented on the color match, the absence of brush or roller marks, and repeated a hearty thank-you as he shook my hand when we finished our work and departed his presence.'"

There are many more stories and teachings in this talk. The talk is based on the principle that knowing the prophets better as people is inspiring. They lived what they taught; they taught what they lived. While knowing the character and personalities of the prophets is not as important as knowing and living the doctrine of The Church, getting to know the prophets can help us see how the Lord was able to take ordinary men and help them do extraordinary things.

28 February 2010

C.S. Lewis Quote du Jour

"Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.... It follows that this Bad Power...must have things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them.... To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things - resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself.... Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel." (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. HarperCollins, 2001, pp.44-45).

There was a war in Heaven between Jesus Christ and Lucifer. Satan rebelled against God and God's plan of salvation. At one point, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, Lucifer was good. He had intelligence, light, knowledge, and free will. He had the moral agency to choose right from wrong. These are the good things Lucifer received from God. He took these gifts and used them to become evil. It is only in this manner that God created evil. There are eternal principles - God's laws - that are not breakable. Agency is one of them. God gave Lucifer - and all of us - agency, which agency Lucifer used for evil. Lucifer rebelled and was exiled to the earth. "Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down" (Moses 4:3).

With this agency we all have been given comes the responsibility to choose that which is right. "That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment." (D&C 101:78). With this agency - the same gift that made Lucifer's fall possible - we can choose good or evil. Do you choose good?

23 February 2010

C.S. Lewis Quote of the Day

"He [God] wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love - a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy [God]; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left." (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, HarperCollins, 2001, pp.71-72).

This new love God wants us to gain is called charity. One of the greatest definitions of charity was given by the prophet Mormon.

"46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:46-48).

21 February 2010

Master Mahan - Part 3

"32 And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.
  33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.
  34 And the Lord said unto Cain: Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said: I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?
  35 And the Lord said: What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground.
  36 And now thou shalt be cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.
  37 When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
  38 And Cain said unto the Lord: Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks. And I was wroth also; for his offering thou didst accept and not mine; my punishment is greater than I can bear." (Moses 5:32-38).

This was not a crime of passion, it was calculated murder. Cain's purpose in seeking out his brother Abel was to kill him, to deprive Able of his life. In his post-murder phase Cain gloried in his power. He had power over life - like God. He could take Abel's flocks and be rich. Then the Lord came to Cain asking him where his brother was. Cain's reply? "I don't know. Am I supposed to baby sit him? Am I his shepherd? Am I his keeper? I am a keeper of secrets, not my brother." Then when the Lord exposes Cain for what he is, a murderer, Cain starts blaming Satan, the temptation of riches, and anger. "Satan made me do it. I was blinded by the rich, white coats of my brother's sheep. I wasn't myself, I was in a fit of rage." These are all common excuses people still give when they get in trouble. It's always someone (or something) else's fault. Cain did murder for money but for a number of years before this he had loved Satan more than God. He did not just see Abel's flocks one day and decide to kill him, Cain was wicked already, had covenants with Satan, and already had a plan to kill Abel.

What I want to focus on though is Cain's question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain was not simply answering in annoyance - "I don't know where my brother is!" - he was revealing his callousness towards his family and other people. Cain revealed his self-centeredness and his selfishness. He was Satan's protege and as the protege he adopted some of Satan's characteristics, most predominantly, pride. Cain thought he could hide his sin from the Lord - that was a manifestation of his pride. He thought that he was not responsible for his brother, especially because Abel's sacrifices were accepted but Cain's were not; Cain felt offended by the Lord and by Abel. Cain took every opportunity of aggrandizement. He sought power and glory and riches (sound familiar? Satan sought the same things in heaven) at the expense of all else. No one would stand in Cain's way, especially not his brother, who was the favored son.

In some ways this sounds much like the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers. His brothers were jealous of Joseph's favored status (which was based in part on his righteousness); they wanted to kill Joseph but were convinced not to by Reuben, the oldest son. Maybe the brothers hoped to gain Jacob's favored status; maybe they just wanted to kill Joseph because they were evil people and not necessarily just to get gain. In any case, there are repetitions of themes throughout the scriptures - wickedness and righteousness are found in cycles in the Book of Mormon and Bible. Cain was only the first of many murderers. But because he was the first he became Perdition and (future) lord over Satan.

18 February 2010

Master Mahan - Part 2

Continuing with the story:

"18 And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
  19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
  20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
  21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
  22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
  23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;
  24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
  25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent.
  26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.
  27 And Adam and his wife mourned before the Lord, because of Cain and his brethren." (Moses 5:18-27).

The commandment and covenant Adam and Eve and their children had received was to offer up animal sacrifices in the similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of God. It was a blood sacrifice in expectation of the Atonement of the Son of God. Abel offered up a blood sacrifice, Cain did not. Cain listened to Satan and tried to offer up the fruit of the ground - whatever he farmed - instead of offering up an animal sacrifice. He offered a sacrifice but not the sacrifice the Lord required; Cain offered up the sacrifice Satan wanted him to. Satan knew the sacrifice would be rejected. Satan knew how Cain would react - he knew he would be upset and curse God. He was and he did.

Then Cain started off the deep end - he made a pact with Satan; it was a pact of secrets and murder for gain. "And it came to pass that Cain took one of his brothers’ daughters to wife, and they loved Satan more than God. And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands. And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret. And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness." (Moses 5:28-31).

Cain dealt with Satan in secrecy. Cain became Perdition - a destroyer (Latin: perdere - to destroy) of truth; one who gave away his covenants for new ones with the devil. Cain was promised that he would rule over Satan - Cain had at least kept his first estate whereas Lucifer did not. From God Cain received the title Perdition, from himself (and possibly from Satan) he received the title of Mahan, which is of unclear meaning but based on context probably means something close to "master [owner, holder, keeper] of [a] secret." (This interpretation agrees with what Hugh Nibley believed the title meant. See Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, p.12. In this document Dr. Nibley suggests that the word Master is not the English word master, but derives from Arabic word Mustirr ("keeper of secret") and Mahan is related to the Sanskrit word maha ("great"); source). Cain's covenant with Satan included a penalty of death for those who revealed it (this was a covenant that Cain's friends, some of his brothers and sisters and their families, made too). Satan promised to deliver Abel into the hands of Cain. Cain would also reap the riches of his brother - his flocks.

16 February 2010

Master Mahan - Part 1

"Wherefore Lamech, being angry, slew [Irad], not like unto Cain, his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the oath’s sake. For, from the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark, and they knew every man his brother." (Moses 5:50-51).

This murder is best understood in the context of Cain. Cain was one of the sons of Adam and Eve. He was the older brother of Abel. By the time Cain and Abel were born there were many people on the earth - many children and descendants of Adam and Eve - but by this point many were wicked. It does not take people long to fall away from the truth and to become wicked, even degenerate. Here is the story as found in the book of Moses:
"And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish. And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commanded them that they should repent; And as many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned; and the words went forth out of the mouth of God in a firm decree; wherefore they must be fulfilled. And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God. And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain, and said: I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words. But behold, Cain hearkened not, saying: Who is the Lord that I should know him? And she again conceived and bare his brother Abel. And Abel hearkened unto the voice of the Lord. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground." (Moses 5:12-17).
It is clear that many of Adam and Eve's children followed Satan. They had more children, hoping that they would follow their counsels and teachings. Many did not. Cain was not the first of the wicked children but he became one of the most wicked. Cain was a farmer, his brother Abel was a shepherd. Abel followed after the statutes and commandments of God. He was a righteous man who performed his sacrifices with exactness and honor.

14 February 2010

Updates to Two Posts

I made some edits and additions to my Voice of Thunder posts. You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2.

I have some more posts nearing completion, I just find myself starting a post then having an idea for a different one and so on until I have a number of unfinished posts. School is also keeping me busy with research and work on my dissertation. :)

04 February 2010

The LDS Church and City Creek Center

Jesus told the following parable.
14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
  15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
  16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
  17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
  18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
  19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
  20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
  21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
  23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
  25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
  26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
  27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
  28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
  29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
  30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30).
In summary, a man had three servants to whom he gave different amounts of money. One received five talents, another two, and another one. What was important was not how much the servants were given but what they did with what they had. The servants who took their money and increased it were praised and given more when their master returned. One servant hid his money, doing nothing with it, and certainly not increasing it. This servant was punished for his wickedness and sloth.

This parable is not really about money but I'm going to draw some monetary parallels. Some people criticize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for spending as much money as they are on the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Would not this money be better spent on the poor? First, any who criticize The Church for not doing as much as they can to care for the poor is being disingenuous. Besides, does all money The Church has have to 'help' the poor?

We read of a time when Judas criticized the use of some expensive ointment when he thought it would be better to sell that ointment and give the money to the poor:
"1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always." (John 12:1-8).
Now how is City Creek Center like this example? There are times when it is appropriate to not just spend Church money on the poor. There are more ways than one to build His Kingdom.

I'll share one last example. Let's say that I loan you $100. What are you going to do with it? Will you spend it on some new clothes? Will you pay your cable bill with it? Will you repay part of a student loan? Will you give it away to help the poor? Are any of those things bad? No, they are not. Helping the poor with the money is wonderful. However, what if you decided to invest that money or take it and buy some supplies that you use to make something else and sell for a profit. Pretty soon, with your ingenuity and diligence, you have $1000 where before you only had the $100 that I loaned you. Now you have enough money to pay me back and to continue to grow your wealth. As you continue to make more money you never stop helping to poor but soon you have enough money to build an entire orphanage. You have enough money to teach indigent farmers around the world how to improve their crop yields so they no longer are merely and barely surviving but are able to have an excess of food.

So what is a better use of money? Giving all of what you have away or using the money to increase what you have so you can be in a secure financial position to be able to help more people? Do you hide your money away or even give it all away, or do you work hard and increase it?

The LDS Church is in a similar position. It has tithing funds that are used to build temples and church buildings, to fund the upkeep of those buildings, and to help the poor and needy, among many other things. There are fast offerings that go to help the needy - both in and out of the Church. There are humanitarian funds that go to help the needy worldwide. The Church has an education fund that loans money at low interest rates to people so they can get the education they need to pull themselves out of poverty.

Then there are the commercial arms of the Church, like Property Reserve that is paying for City Creek Center. With this massive expenditure the Church is renovating downtown Salt Lake City. This benefits the businesses in the area, it benefits the people of Salt Lake, it beautifies the surroundings, and it is a good investment for the Church. They will be able to continue to grow their real estate holdings. The Church is trying to take its talents and increase them.

Simply giving money to the poor is not always the best way to help. I'll end with some words by Arthur C. Brooks, who gave a forum address at BYU in 2009. He said:
"Rockefeller was famously quoted...as saying, 'God gave me my money '.... Now, that’s sort of troubling to Christian people. God gave him his money? Some have used the quote as evidence that John D. Rockefeller was a bad man—that he believed he deserved to be rich when other people were poor. But that’s not actually what he meant.

In 1906 Rockefeller went on to tell a newspaper reporter for the New York American: “I believe the power to make money is a gift from God . . . to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind”.... What Rockefeller meant was this: He believed that he made money because he was charged with helping others with his money, and he honestly believed (as he wrote at other times) that if he stopped giving his money and giving it in the right way, then God would take his money away.

Now, that still might trouble you theologically that God would intervene in the direct finances of John D. Rockefeller, but you have to admit that it doesn’t sound so weird at that point. John D. Rockefeller believed that he was rich because he gave so much, and throughout his life, before he was a rich man, he gave a lot. He was a charitable person." (Source).
There is charity and there is charity. What I mean is that where some would simply give all their money away - again, not that that is bad - others will increase their talents and strive to help more and more people as they grow their holdings. You can help as many or even more people through business as you can through donations. I am not advocating we all become business owners but for good or for ill, businesses are at the heart of our world.

This post isn't meant to be a commentary on economic theory. It is simply my opinion on matters of LDS Church spending. Critics will find any way they can to attack the Church. You might disagree with what the Church does but it is the Lord's church. He directs the Church. This does not mean that leaders do not make mistakes but even if they do, it is not our place to be critical of them. Instead of attacking we should be building up the good we see in all around us. The LDS Church is doing many great things all over the world - things that benefit people both temporally and spiritually. This is the Lord's work and He works in diverse ways and through diverse means.

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