Nearer, My God, To Thee

A few weeks ago, I learned something I thought already knew.

It reminded me of those pictures that have hidden images within the artwork. The art is nice, but if we spend a little more time looking, we can discover all the secrets that are hiding there. These images have always been there, we just didn’t look closely enough at first glance.

hidden animals

I learned all over again, that the temple ordinances really are the pinnacle of our gospel goals, and should be the focus of our own individual spiritual development, and the best way that each of us can really be connected with Heaven.

I knew that temples had always been and important part of our religion. But, I didn’t quite realize how prevalent the ordinances, endowments, blessings, and promises were throughout the scriptures.

The temple has always been taught in scripture. If we look specifically for the word “temple” we can find several obvious instances in the Bible where it is mentioned. When Jesus went missing at the young age of 12, Mary and Joseph found him teaching the elders in front of it.

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Jesus again visited the temple during his ministry. This time to turn over the tables of the money changers right outside its walls.

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There are many, many other references to the temple, or its ordinances that are in the scriptures. To find them, we just have to look, and listen a little more carefully to see more clearly.

Even if we are familiar with the existence of these ancient Temples, we sometimes don’t seem to associate them with our modern temples. Especially when we think about our own ordinances. We don’t think Solomon’s temple has much to do with the one we drive by on the way to Costco.

Model-of-the-Temple

We seem to think that what takes place today inside these beautiful buildings is somehow vastly different than what took place anciently. But, while there may be some differences in the implementation of the temple ordinances, I think there are many more similarities than we really understand. After all, we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored, not created anew.

Tijuana_Temple2_2015

The importance of the temple has always been taught. Whether by word, or by actions. The Lord’s Prophets have always gathered The Lord’s people to the temple. Why? It is the perfect place to gather for anyone looking to be closer to God.

Here are just a couple examples…

“Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord.”
-Jacob 1:17

“And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.”
-Mosiah 1:18

And of course, the most famous chapter in all of the Book of Mormon. This section describes where the people were in the very moments right before Jesus Christ appeared….

“And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; …..”
-3 Nephi 11:1

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We also know that the Lord himself taught the Apostles about the temple and the power it endows us with…

“And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them…And [they] were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.”
-Luke 24:49-53

So the question becomes, what is it specifically that makes the temple so significant to God’s people? What is it that draws the most sincere followers of Christ to its doors? What is it that happens there that makes such a difference? Why do we go? Why should we go?

I think the answer is really plain and simple.

We go for the ordinances.
We go for the covenant blessings we receive.
We go for the endowment of power.
We go for the feeling we get when we enter the Lord’s house.
We go for the assurances we feel when we participate in those ordinances.
We go to be instructed.
We go to become elevated.
We go to be lifted up, and
we go to connect with Heaven.

The covenants we make there literally connect us with Heaven. When we covenant with God, we are connecting ourselves with Him. What closer connection could there be with God, than a covenant connection?

This has always been the case. This is not something that originated in 1836 when Joseph Smith dedicated the Kirtland temple. This has happened since the beginning.

Lets look at a few scripture stories and instead of skimming the surface, and seeing them for what is sitting out in the open, lets look a little closer, and see if anything pops out to us as we read the words. Lets examine these verses through lenses that filter everything into a temple context. Not just the idea of the temple, but specifically the ordinances, blessings, and connections that all happen inside. Lets see if we can pick out any similarities to what we experience today.

We can start at the very beginning. Before any of us are allowed to enter into the temple, we have an interview. In this interview we have the opportunity to really consider ourselves and evaluate our worthiness to enter into the Lord’s House, and participate in the ordinances. During this interview we are asked simple questions regarding our faith, and our relationships with God, and others.

Lets apply the context now. Do we suppose that a similar process to our modern interviews may have taken place 3,000 years ago when someone wished to enter into an ancient Temple?

Lets read Psalm 15 to get a little glimpse…

“Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?
Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?

He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”
-Psalm 15

Or, again in Psalm 24……

“…Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or
Who shall stand in his holy place?

He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
-Psalm 24

One of the most descriptive scriptural passages that highlights the blessings and promises from God in a “temple” sense is the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. It describes a vision/dream that Jacob has on a journey from Canaan to seek for a wife from his own people. In that context, let’s read the highlights of the chapter and imagine ourselves preparing for our own temple marriages, and the blessings/ordinances we received in the temple beforehand…

“…And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, … And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place;… this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el:”
-Genesis 28:10-19

The name “Beth-el” translates into “The House of God”.

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So, after Jacob has this amazing experience, he promptly calls the place where this took place, the “House of God”, and the “Gate of Heaven”, and builds an altar, and consecrates it with oil. Then, just a few chapters later in Genesis 32, as Jacob returns towards Caanan, he again meets God, face to face, and receives a new name…

Marion G. Romney lays it out nice and plain for us…

“Pondering upon the subject of temples and the means therein provided to enable us to ascend into heaven brings to mind the lesson of Jacob’s dream. You will recall that in the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis there is an account of his return to the land of his father to seek a wife from among his own people. When Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, he had a dream in which he saw himself on the earth at the foot of a ladder that reached to heaven where the Lord stood above it. He beheld angels ascending and descending thereon, and Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord.”

Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob. Even more, they are also the gates to heaven for all of our unendowed kindred dead. We should all do our duty in bringing our loved ones through them.”
-Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, March 1971, p. 16

The Brother of Jared had a similar experience when he went high on a mountain to converse with the Lord, and inquire about how to light his barges that he had constructed to cross the ocean. During this visit, he heard the voice of the Lord, and saw his finger. Because of his faith, the Lord allowed the Brother of Jared to see him as he was. Listen to the specific words the Lord uses during that exchange…

“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.”
-Ether 3:13

Ether

Isn’t this what we all want? To be brought back into His presence? The temple does this both literally and symbolically. It tethers us to God. We become his. We commit to Him and He, in turn, empowers us, or endows us with unbelieveable blessings and promises.

The scriptures are rich with these plain and simple truths that are right in front of us, if we just scratch under the surface and look a little deeper. They teach us of the importance of the temple. Not just to redeem the dead, or help us feel the Spirit, but to literally connect us to Heaven. This is our purpose here on earth. And we can be more clear in emphasizing its importance! We are here to learn, and to become what we are meant to be. And the Temple is the earthly place that teaches us how to do just that, and connects us to our Heavenly home.

We all know the famous hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. But, what we may not know, is that it is a hymn about the vision of Jacob’s Ladder from Genesis. In its 3rd verse, it describes in simple words the steps we can take towards heaven, and that all along the way, we will have angels to beckon us upwards along this temple ladder that leads to God.

There, let the way appear, Steps unto Heav’n
All that thou sendest me, In Mercy giv’n
Angels to beckon me, Nearer, My God, To Thee
Nearer, My God, To Thee
Nearer To Thee.

 

The nethermost part of the vineyard

grafted

In the plant world (horticulture), grafting is a technique whereby tissues of different plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. This process involves two parts, the scion (the upper part) and the rootstock (the base or roots).  For interest, some of the reasons why grafting would be used include the following:

  • Repair damaged plants
  • Increase the growth rate of seedlings
  • Optimize cross-pollinations
  • Take advantage of particular rootstocks or root systems

It just so happens that this same word – grafting – is used in the medical field as well.  Similar to the plant world, this process refers to a surgical procedure to move tissue from one site to another, to replace diseased or injured tissue in order to spur or increase growth.

That was all a brief background and context for Jacob 5 – the infamous allegory of the olive tree in the Book of Mormon.  There have been many commentaries on that chapter, and detailed descriptions of its various fulfillments as they relate to the house of Israel but I am going to talk about us as everyday members of the church, and what Jacob 5 can mean today.  As a quick reminder or summary; Jacob 5 is the story about the Lord, his vineyard, and a few of the methods that he uses to take care of it and help it grow.

The first thing we need to remember is that it is not just a story about a vineyard, it is a story about his vineyard.

The next thing we need to remember is that beyond the grafting that I described above, there are various methods that the Lord uses to care for his trees (we happen to be the trees in the vineyard, but at times we are the branches as well, so stay on your feet).  We read in verses 3-4 that the three ways in which the Lord of the vineyard works are 1) pruning, 2) digging about, and 3) nourishing.

Just so we are crystal clear on what the Lord does to all of the trees his vineyard (us), the words repeatedly used in Jacob 5 are as follows:

  1. Prune: to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches or roots from, to rid or clear (of anything undesirable)
  2. Dig about: to break up, turn over, or remove earth as with a shovel, spade, bulldozer, or claw, to unearth, obtain, or remove by digging
  3. Nourish*: to sustain with food or nutriment, supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth. To strengthen, build up, or keep alive.
  4. Graft: to insert a portion of a plant (tissue) into the stem or stock of another plant in which it continues to grow. To transplant, or to attach.

It is interesting when you look at this list of gardening terms, that 3 of the 4 tactics appear to be very uncomfortable and unpleasant for the trees in the vineyard.  Aside from number 3 (nourish), I don’t think I would be looking forward to being pruned (cut down), dug about (ruffled up and turned inside out), or grafted (ripped apart, moved, and/or completely transplanted) – yet that is exactly what the Lord does to encourage growth and ultimately produce fruit from the trees in his vineyard.  That is without mentioning the the actual pain that is involved in the grafting process: cutting, inserting, flaring, etc. It’s worth remembering.

Early on in the story, the Lord recognizes some of his trees have begun to decay, and are in need a bit of help, so he starts rearranging things and mixing it up.  He proceeds to ‘pluck’ (to pull with sudden force) some young and tender branches and graft them in to other locations within his vineyard.  Here, the Lord makes an amazing statement (in verse 13) about these young freshly plucked branches which reads “these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard”.  The word nethermost is awesome, and if you can ever work that into a normal conversation you should do it, but the actual definition of nethermost happens to be the lowest, or farthest down.  If that’s not bad enough, verse 14 teaches us that he hid the branches there.  He didn’t just graft them into the lowest or furthest tree, he actually hid them there – on purpose.1

Let’s take a time out and relate the vineyard to our lives and wards for a second.  We as individuals and families are all trees within the vineyard or branches within the tree and often times we have callings within that vineyard.  Sometimes it feels like we are part of the tame tree at the entrance to the vineyard that is nice and visible, but other times we feel like we are the wild tree a hundred rows back.  Even more than that, sometimes we feel like we are the young and tender branch plucked right from the tame tree and grafted into or hid in the nethermost part of the vineyard 3 years or 13 years ago.  What the Lord is telling us is that sometimes he plucks the YW President or the bishop or the Stake president off the tame tree and grafts them into the nethermost parts of the primary never to interact with anyone over the age of 5 ever again.  It could even be that after we’ve been transplanted, we feel like the Lord hid us so well that he and his other servants can’t even remember where we are at all.  We soon lose hope of ever being found or put back into the visible tame tree up front where we came from.

If we find ourselves with this mindset, we need to just keep reading Jacob 5, because it will help us understand what the Lord’s purpose is in grafting (hiding) the branches, and it helps us understand his timeline.  In the very next verse after he grafts these young and tender branches into the nethermost part of the vineyard it reads that “a long time passed away”.  A long time.

I know that many of us after several months or even years feel like we should be done hiding and start being found, but we learn here that the Lord is perfectly content to let ‘a long time’ pass away while we are hidden.  Maybe this even means 20 years.  Perhaps this is to let the graft take effect, after all, isn’t the point of a graft to allow tissue (actual nutrients and substance) to be shared between the scion and the rootstock?  Yes.  True grafting is not a quick process.  Let’s also try to remember the next time we are feeling hidden that the reasons for a graft included:

  1. To repair damaged plants – often times the tree in the nethermost part of the vineyard is damaged, and we are grafted there to help with the repairs.
  2. To increase the growth rate of seedlings – such a great sentence when we are trees and branches and seedlings.
  3. To optimize cross-pollinations – what better reason to be hidden than to optimize the growth of the entire vineyard?
  4. Take advantage of particular rootstocks (root systems) – 100% of the time that a person is grafted into a tree (given a new calling), they can learn from and have their testimony strengthened by the root system they are trying to help grow. 100% of the time.

For those of us who find, or who have found ourselves in what we think is the nethermost part of the vineyard – just read verses 20-23 for the amazing promises that are in store for those who are strengthening the tree (as grafted in or hidden branches).  Nursery, primary, scouts, the library, activity days, the bulletin board person, or any other seemingly unimportant or low profile callings are exactly what the Lord of the vineyard needs.  What about that ‘seasoned’ member of the Elders Quorum who feels like he’s been forgotten and should have been made a high priest by now? He may even start to attend the high priest class because he thinks he’s ready and relates more to the members there.  And what about my job, or where I live in the world, can’t we relate that to the vineyard?  What if I feel like I am being severely under utilized in the kingdom or in the workplace and that I have so much to offer but never seem to get the call?  What happens when my entire life is spent in the nethermost part of the vineyard?

Even when we’ve been there for what seems like ‘a very long time’ – the lord may decide to leave us there (as it states in verse 27) a little longer.  This statement comes after the ‘very long time’ already mentioned.  This additional time is for some extra love as it states the Lord will ‘prune it, and dig about it, and nourish the tree a little longer that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit’.  That’s ‘a very long time’ plus ‘a little longer’ to get the desired results.  The nethermost part of the vineyard appears to require branches that are fine with being plucked and then hidden for long periods of time – which also means that the branches that he chooses to place there have plenty of substance to share.  Substance that will repair damaged tissue, increase the growth rate of seedlings, optimize cross-pollination, and branches that have the spiritual maturity to recognize and take advantage and blessings of the rootstocks to which they’ve been grafted.  That last one is code for ‘learn to love the nethermost part of the vineyard, share your substance, and become one plant together’.

The Lord knows exactly what he is doing.  He is a master of the vineyard.  Let’s not think we can counsel him.

In closing, there is one more phrase of this awesome chapter that I would like to point out.  It’s in verse 59.  At this point, there have been multiple rounds of grafting, pruning, digging, and nourishing the branches and the trees all in an effort to produce fruit from. Here the Lord of the vineyard the indicates that part of the reason (if not the biggest part) that the grafting is successful in rejuvenating the tree is ‘because of the change of the branches’.

This highlights the importance of item number 4 above (in the reasons for grafting) – which is to take advantage of particular rootstocks.  If we aren’t careful, while we are considering ourselves healthy, young, and tender branches (perhaps focusing too much on being so awesome or when it is we can return to our mother tree) we may start to see only the damaged parts of the tree that we are grafted into and the slow progress their damaged parts are being repaired.  We could then miss a valuable opportunity to grow.  It very well may be the case that we are the damaged branch grafted into a healthy tree and we are the ones in need of repair of growth, and the very reason we haven’t been moved out of our current position is because we haven’t allowed the tissue to be shared (or received) and the Lord is actively ‘watching the tree’ (v 12) and waiting for the desired effect.  Ultimately, this verse and this phrase teach us that the Lord expects the branches to change as much as he expects the roots to change, and that it is good (for the overall health of the tree and the branch and the vineyard) that things ‘change’ a bit and learn to work as one by sharing all that they have and all that they are – and that it was for this reason there is a never ending process of evaluating, grafting, pruning, digging about, and nourishing that takes place in all the vineyard so that all of the roots and all of the branches and all of the trees ‘may take strength’ and ‘that the good may overcome the evil’.

 

 

 

Notes

1 – See 1 Ne. 21:2 for some additional reading on being ‘hid’ and how the Lord uses that word.  I think ‘prepare’ might be a good synonym for hid in these two cases.   Also, even though it’s been fun to highlight the word ‘hid’ as used by the Lord of the vineyard – he obviously never forgets where he made the grafts, and he doesn’t ignore the grafts once they are made – as it states in verse 12 of this chapter, and despite what we may think,  he reminds us several times that he is actively watching, and he nourishes all his trees, and he is grieved at the thought of losing any of them.

* – Editor’s note (added after the initial post):  As Colby commented, the Lord also uses the verb ‘dunged’ in his descriptions of what he does to nurture the trees in verses 47, 64, and 76.  In the case of verse 47 and 76 it is used in addition to the word nourish, but in verse 64 it appears to be a synonym to nourish.  Either way, dunging is essentially fertilizing, which means to supply a plant with nutrients to aid in growth, or to make fertile, which happens to be very similar to nourishing.  The interesting part about this verb as it’s used in Jacob 5, is our perception of being dunged as plants in the vineyard.  I mentioned above that 3 of the 4 methods were uncomfortable, and if we consider being dunged the same as being nourished, there is a case to be made that all 4 methods are less then awesome.  Often times as trees in the vineyard we see the Lord or his servants digging about us, only to then dump wheelbarrows of dung all around us and we think that life is pretty rotten – not understanding that nourishment comes from being ‘dunged’.  The idea is the same that when the Lord appears to dump a pile of turkey poo on us, he is only doing it because he wants us to be nourished.

 

 

 

 

 

Dust thou shalt eat

bowl of dust

In Moses, we have the account of the earth’s creation, the story of Adam and Eve, their partaking of the fruit, and their subsequent fall and removal from the garden of Eden, followed by the explanation of the role that the Savior will play as redeemer for all of us.  As part of this account we are able to read the dialogue between God, Adam, Eve, and Lucifer (referred to or symbolized as ‘the serpent’) as these events unfolded, but I would like to pay particular attention to verse 20 in chapter 4 .

At this stage, Adam and Eve have already partaken of the fruit, and are in a discussion with God about what happened, and what will happen next.   After a confession of the fruit eating incident, God tells each of the parties (Adam, Eve, and the serpent) some of the consequences that they will enjoy because of their choices.  But for today, we’ll highlight his words to the serpent.  God tells him:

“Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” …

I don’t think I’d ever wondered specifically about why the Lord would say this to the serpent, or what this consequence really means.  Out of all the punishments and curses that he could give – God said that “dust shalt thou eat.”   It seems like he could have said “nothing but old soggy asparagus shalt thou eat all the days of thy life”, and we would have known just how seriously bad that curse is.

When I was growing up, my dad used to use a related term all the time.  “Eat my dust”.  I always thought it meant if I ran faster than you, you would ‘eat my dust’.  I assumed this meant that because I was running (or riding a bike or driving I guess) so quickly, and since my feet (or tires) were generating such power and force upon the road, it would somehow kick up dust in your face as you trailed me and you would ‘eat it’.  Pretty simple imagery right?  Perhaps this is what he meant for the serpent – that he would always be trailing Adam and his posterity, always chasing them, attempting to get ahead or even with them, and never quite catching up – eating their dust all the days of his life.  Maybe that’s part of it, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

I have learned that dust or earth carried and should still carry the symbolic connotation of things temporal, wordly, or fleeting.  This could mean that the serpent ‘eating’ dust is symbolic of him looking for and/or destroying or convincing those who are earthly minded or who have placed their trust in the things of this world.  I don’t think God was necessarily cursing the serpent to a physical diet at all (he doesn’t have a body, so a physical diet curse would make little sense), I think this is a spiritual curse, and one that drives him absolutely crazy.  One writer asked “is it the earth that we tread underfoot that the devil eats?  No, it is the people who are earthly minded, sensual and proud, who love the earth and place all their hopes in it.  They labor entirely for carnal advantages,… and think little or nothing of the salvation of their souls.  People like these, then, the devil seeks.”1   And, in turn, that is what he is cursed to eat – all the days of his life.  Sounds a whole lot like soggy asparagus to me….

If this is the case, it makes sense that part of this curse (eating dust) is the fact that he will then be relegated to spend eternity with this dust – like minded souls who love and look to ‘dust’ as the great goal of existence.  We have all heard that you are what you eat, and If we think of people as food there is real food; food like fruits and vegetables and those that are ‘good’ and give life.  The kind that is nutritious and fills you up and make you satisfied, and then we are left to review the opposite of good food (bad food), which we can call ‘dust’.  Food that turns out contain no nutritional value at all, and just teases you with the promise of nutrition.  This curse may essentially indicate that the serpent gets to spend all of eternity searching for and wishing he had fruit, but only eating dust.  The ironic part of this is that the serpent is the one who makes promises to all of the dusty people that he has stores full of delicious fruits, but at the end of the day, all he ever has and all he ever gets is ‘dust’.

This makes me think of a guy sitting down at the table to enjoy a nice bowl of delicious marshmallow mateys or maybe Reese’s Puffs (we know how exciting this moment is), except when he pours the cereal into the bowl – dirt comes out.  It looked just like regular cereal on the way out, but as soon as it leaves the bag or box it turns to dirt.  He lowers his head, consigned to the fact that despite all his hopes and dreams and goals, and the awesome picture on the box, his bowl is just full of dust – again and again and again and again and again.  Dry, dirty, cough inducing dust.  Then he pours what he wishes was milk onto his cereal and is humiliated again that it’s just more dust.  Not even water to make mud.  Just more dust.

In the end, the serpent was cursed by God to receive the exact same reward that he offers to all of his followers.  Dust – and broken dreams.

 

 

 

 

Notes

1 – The ideas in this paragraph are found in Alonzo Gaskill’s book The Savior and the Serpent, Doctrines of the fall, pg. 205-208.

 

 

 

 

Substance

Tags

Substance_P

Often, when we read the Book of Mormon or the scriptures in general, we may pass over certain words because they are common, or because of the surrounding context in which they are used. Let’s take the word substance for example; as it is used in several scriptures we understand substance to be goods, flocks, herds, food, money, or other temporal and welfare type of goods.  This seems to be the case in Mosiah chapter 4 (verses 16,17,19, and 22) where substance is used repeatedly, which all seem to relate to sharing your ‘substance’ with the poor and the needy.

One of my very favorite scriptures, if not my absolute favorite, is Jacob 2:17 which reads “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” At first glance, this context seems to fit the paragraph above.  Jacob is denouncing the people’s love of riches, and indicating that the antidote to pride is the sharing of one’s substance.  There are other several other scriptures that support this idea, but I think we can learn quite a bit more if we think of this word substance in it’s modern day definition.

Substance:

  1. That of which a thing consists
  2. The actual matter of a thing
  3. The real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence.

Certainly you could argue that substance can mean material goods and flocks, but I would like us to think about why the word substance is used in Jacob 2:17 (and other verses), and how sharing our substance is much more than just sharing our temporal goods.  I like to think of it as “the actual matter of a thing”.  The charge to “be free with your substance” tells me that sharing what I am actually made of – the matter of a thing, or that of which a thing consists – is what is expected of me (and not just to give of my material blessings).  I love that challenge.  In part because it seems harder, in part because it helps us understand that what we are and what we are made of – the sum total of all our experience and trials and strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important and that is what we need to share it with everyone.  We need to be free with our substance.

Another reason I think this, is because of the way substance is used in another verse – Alma 27:24.  At this point in the Book of Mormon, the people of Ammon (the Anti-Nephi-Lehies) are traveling with Ammon to see if the people of Zarahemla will let them live with the Nephites (since the Lamanites keep destroying them).  Of course, the Nephites say yes because they are good – and in verse 24, it indicates the condition for which the Nephites will give up the land of Jershon and provide their army for their protection: “we will guard them from their enemies without our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.”

So far, this reference can still be thrown into the temporal goods category, since it makes 100% sense that the Nephite army required these newcomers to provide food and supplies in return for their possession of the land of Jershon.  But, there is always more…

There happens to be a footnote on the word ‘portion’ in verse 24 which takes us to Alma 43:13 where it says that “the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies”.  I’ve read these verses, and all of the verses related to sharing substance several times, but only recently I’ve noticed the connection between Jacob 2:17 and these that I’ve listed.  The ‘large portion’ of substance that the people of Ammon shared probably included temporal goods (food, supplies, etc.) but it was WAY more than that.

Let’s just do a quick review of exactly what it was – the actual matter of a thing –  that the people of Ammon shared with the Nephites through the end of Alma.

This group of new converts comes into town, having made some new covenants, and they were “distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men”, and they were a “beloved people”.  A people who were “compelled to behold their brethren (the Nephites) wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances”.  This people was renowned among all the Nephites for their convictions, and their commitments to covenants that they had made.  Do you think that substance – the actual matter of their being – was shared?  I certainly think so.  The sharing of their substance, was way more than just providing the Nephite army with granola bars and water jugs.  It was a spiritual substance that changed the course of Nephite history, and culminated with 2,060 of their stripling youth volunteering themselves to go right into the heart of battle, leaving home, and placing themselves right in the middle of the Nephite army, an act which caused them to “rejoice exceedingly” and ultimately, an act of love that cannot be measured.  Remember that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).  Even though the stripling warriors didn’t lay down their lives, they were willing to, and that is some serious substance.

I think that this people – the people of Ammon – were the epitome of sharing their substance, which is why I love the condition placed upon them in the very beginning when they come to town.  The Nephites themselves probably didn’t even realize how amazing that condition was when they required it in the first place.  I think that this condition to give the Nephites ‘a portion of their substance’ was paid in full many times over.  When we think of the blessings that the Nephites received and the testimonies that were shared and strengthened from the people of Ammon – I am amazed at the simple phrases in the Book of Mormon that are so jam-packed with awesomeness.  So, the challenge for all of us today, is the same as it was for the people of Ammon and the people in Jacob’s time; let us ‘be familiar with all, and free with our substance”.

Entropy

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It can get really hot in Arizona. Especially in the summertime. Not really news to anyone, just a basic fact, but somehow living in this desert gives you a better appreciation for how draining this hot can be. In the Arizona summer, as we open a door to go outside, it can literally become indistinguishable from opening up the oven to take a nice up-close look at baking cookies. No sane person would ever consider actually living in an oven, even with delicious cookies. So, for good reason, not a lot of outdoor activities are done here in the months of June-September. There is a reason why summer golf in Phoenix is so cheap.

Because of this temperature challenge, my stay-in-shape training has taken a back seat. I had been on a pretty good regimen while training to get ready for some simple triathlons over this last year. It was nice, almost perfect all throughout the winter, and up until my last race in St. George, Utah last May. After that, it got hot. Really hot. Arizona hot. I remember texting a picture of the dashboard temperature gauge to Riley one afternoon when it read 126℉. I nearly suffered 2nd degree burns just by putting my hands on the steering wheel that afternoon.

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The problem with summers here, is that no matter what time of day or night, it feels like the inside of a toaster. “Why don’t you just swim in the pool during the summer?” you might ask. Well, that is a great idea right up until you jump in the pool, and instead of instant coolness, refreshment, and bliss, it feels like an overheated hot tub under a fast-food heat lamp. Instead of achieving solace from the scorching rays while floating through the water, it feels more like you are a piece of meat slow roasting in the crock pot. You don’t last too long swimming when the mist coming off the pool isn’t really mist, its more like steam arising from a pot of boiling water.

And that’s not all.

You may think, “Well, if you cant run or swim outside during the summer, maybe the bike would be better?”. “Maybe the wind blowing over you as you pick up speed would cool you down as you ride?” Yes, that would be a great idea, and, yes, there is a nice wind that is created, but it feels more like a industrial sized blowdryer set right at your face. So, needless to say doing any physical activity outside of scrambling from one air conditioned building to the next, is almost out of the question.

So, long story short, I took a bit of a break. The funny, not so funny part of that break, is that after the temperature “cooled” down to around 90℉ at 10:00 pm, and I started to try and train again, I noticed that because of my self-imposed break to wait out the summer fires of Hades, I had become out of shape. It was the consequence of inactivity.

Instead of running several miles and feeling great, I was lucky not to quit after just 1. It was almost like I had to start over. All the benefits of the months, and months of training had seemingly melted away just like an ice cube on Arizona asphalt. I felt like I had reverted all the way back to square one. I guess walking from Splash Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t adequate triathlon training.

This has been a painful reminder that our fitness or “in-shapeness” really is something that is constantly changing, for better or worse. It never really is static. Just when we get comfortable, content, and happy with where, or how we are, we relax. And this little relaxation is when we start to slip. It requires constant, consistent, and repeated work to maintain ourselves with where we want to be. If you aren’t going forward, you’re going backward. And that is exactly what had happened with me.

As I was further contemplating my physical regression after just a few weeks, I realized that I was living out a vocabulary word that I had recently rediscovered in a Sunday School class. The word was “Entropy”.

This word is a shortened idea of a more sophisticated physics law known as the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I wont even pretend to be a physics guru, or attempt to explain the intricate details of closed and open systems, energy, or its predecessor the 1st law of thermodynamics. But, it has a simple definition. The one that fits the best in this case is….

a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder”.

That is just a fancy way of saying that everything is constantly wearing down. Its kind of like rusting. Everything is becoming less orderly, and unless we put energy into reversing that natural process, it will take its toll, and we will digress, regress, and lose all the progress and order that we have achieved.

So, my “in-shapeness” had degraded, devolved, and definitely trended towards disorder. In even simpler more personal terms…

Unless I keep training to stay in shape, I become more out of shape.

Unless I put energy into improving, I get worse.

Unless I continue learning, I forget what I had learned.

The process is universal, and applies to all sorts of things. This concept may even be the most valid in a spiritual sense. This degradation can happen to each of us in our lives. There are times when we are in great spiritual shape, and we have been “training” hard, working on getting better every single day. During these times, we continuously work to build up endurance, feel strong, and healthy. Then, inevitably, there are the other times when we take some time off to rest a bit, and then, before we know it, we are feeling like are running around with a plastic bag over our heads.

King Benjamin knew all about this concept of spiritual entropy. He simply described it using different words. He understood that each of us needed to work continuously to become more like our Father in Heaven. It was something that doesn’t just happen naturally. In fact, it was the “natural” part that we had to fight. It is human nature to oppose God. It is human nature to only think of ourselves, and to drift constantly away from God, his plan, and his laws. It is human nature to be selfish, greedy, and secular. King Benjamin described this condition perfectly in the Book of Mosiah…

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” -Mosiah 3:19

But, just as I needed to get back into shape by working constantly, continuously, and repeatedly, King Benjamin explains exactly how we can fight the natural man, or spiritual entropy and stay in spiritual shape. He specifically singled out several words or phrases that can act as our workout list.

First, he said we must “..yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…” This is tough in todays world. We need to listen. Not just hear. My wife has been trying to teach me this concept for 18 years. I must be a very natural man, because she still has to constantly remind me of this. Yielding means to allow the Spirit to work in us, to allow someone else to drive, to let the spirit guide us rather than depend on our own supposed knowledge. We don’t always have to be in charge, or know everything because, “His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” -Isaiah 55:9

Second, King Benjamin teaches that we need to become a “Saint”. Becoming a Saint is to be associated with, and bear upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. This entails, or necessitates, using the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is only through his atonement that we can become something “unnatural” or improved. It is by utilizing his atonement that we become something better than we thought we could be. And, the only way that this is even possible, is to work on developing the character traits that King Benjamin lists in the same verse. These required traits are, “becoming as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient”, and being “full of love”. -Mosiah 3:19

These traits do not occur naturally. They must be developed. They need to be practiced. Just like running a marathon, or swimming 2 miles in the ocean, or riding a bike for 6 hours straight. We are not born with these traits. We cant just decide to be an ironman on Monday and race in the Kona World Championships on Sunday. They must be learned. They must be developed. We all have the potential to do these things, or become these things, but we need to work at them constantly and continuously. We need to practice, and we need the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Each of us needs to fight this entropy all day, everyday. There is a perfect phrase used in the Doctrine and Covenants that teaches us the best way to start, and keep going in our own spiritual exercise regimen.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;” -Doctrine and Covenants 58:27

As we try our best to be anxiously engaged to do good around us, to be happy, to be kind, to look at people in a more loving, forgiving way, to look at life through a gospel lens, we will slowly be changing our character. We will be slowly getting in better spiritual shape. We will be fighting the “natural man”, and spiritual entropy. If we combine these efforts with a steady dose of the cleansing and enabling power of the Atonement of the Savior, we can be who we want to be, and stand on the highest podium at the end of our mortal race.

Nature’s Entropy

Our hearts and minds continually,
Are pulled by nature’s entropy,
Unfocused, dimmed, erroneously,
To earth, and not to Heav’n.

But, if we struggle faithfully,
And look up, kneeling, pleadingly,
And seek forgiveness constantly,
Our flaws can be forgiv’n.

And if we then walk steadily,
And try to live more righteously-
More loving, and more honestly,
A spark of Faith begins-

In Him, who suffered willfully,
So we can look up hopefully,
To see his hands spread willingly,
to bring us home again.

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Zombies and Tree Saplings

Tree Sapling

For those of you like me, who weren’t blessed with the natural ability to be a morning person, you understand me when I say some mornings, I not only look like, but I act like, and feel like a zombie. The bags under my eyes are so big and heavy that Delta would charge extra for them If I was booking a flight. My early morning reflexes are in a different time zone and covered in molasses… all while there may be a little drool sneaking out the corner of my mouth. Yes, I think we all agree my wife is a lucky woman.

After a quick shower though, I’m usually “awake” and back in reality. I hop in the car as drive to work. There has been days though where on my commute there has been nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds blowing across my mind. Other days, I’ve already become “busy” and I’m analyzing or working on things mentally for work. Some day’s I’ll listen to music or an audio book. Yet other days I find myself in totally pointless debates like who would be a better stand up comedian between Chris Farley and Sponge Bob Squarepants.

My point with all this is: all too often on my morning commute or in everyday life I miss a perfect opportunity to relax my mind, clear my mind, quiet the noise of life, and focus on the Savior. Lately as I’ve been focusing more on makign that a priority, I’ve found myself circling back to the same simple thought and understanding:

It’s so easy, to be so busy, that we overlook how beautiful life is.

Does that mean our life has to be perfect to be beautiful? No. Does that mean our situation is what we’d like it to be? No. Does that mean we can’t work and be busy? No.

It simply means taking a moment to let the REAL reality sink in. It’s as simple as takign a moment to allow yourself to see the miracles all around you. To take a moment to see the beauty in others, and how blessed we all are. It’s taking a moment to feel God’s love for you. Suddenly it’s easy to “count your many blessings” and “name them one by one”.

I’ve also found it interesting how many lessons we can learn from the most common of God’s creations. For me, as funny as it sounds, i’ve found one the best examples on how to live life comes from somthing as simple and common as: A Tree.

 

The Little Seed

For God so Loved the World, that he gave His only Begotten Son,

In his infinite love for us, that’s not the extent of what he’s done.

He created our flesh and blood, gave us Temples to house our soul,

We’re each proof of his divinity, and testament to our Father’s role.

He allowed us the opportunity, to live and learn upon this earth,

To grow and strive and struggle, to prove our individual worth.

Yet all too often in this life, we forget just why we’re here,

We forget to stop or breathe it in, or prioritize what we should hold dear.

Yet life through Heaven’s eyes, suddenly makes everything so clear,

Heaven once so far away, for a moment feels so near.

Suddenly lessons appear around us, examples plain to see,

Of faith, and trust, and focus, shown by every single tree.

Each strong and mighty tree now standing, was once a tiny seed,

With nothing more than hope and faith, and determination to succeed.

Each seed starts life in different soils, locations and conditions,

Yet all so full of life and energy, drive, focus and ambition.

The seed first thrusts it roots down deep, to establish a firm foundation,

Only then can its small leaves reach for Heaven, it’s only desire in its creation.

Nourished by the sun and rain, the season forgiving and so kind,

The little seed grows stronger, taller and more defined.

The little seeds wants nothing more, than to be tall, mighty and strong!

Heaven knows this and has a plan, it’s been the plan all along.

Then unexpected by the little seed, the days continually grow colder,

The Sun seems to have hidden its light, the season away turns its shoulder.

The elements now combine their fury, against the little seed,

Howling winds, and snow preside, as the little seed gives plead.

Yet the sky seems dark and gives little aid, as snow now blankets the ground,

Comfort, warmth, and light seem gone, instead cold winds and storms abound.

Refusing to concede this fight, though it’s situation not ideal,

The little seed instead digs deeper! With all its might and zeal!

Its little roots grow stronger daily, all its energy focused on its foundation,

For the seed knows the Sun will come again, and that day will be jubilation!

Then one day the Sun appeared, from behind the clouds,

Only then the seed saw his shadow tall, he was now a sapling proud!

It was then the little seed realized, the Heavens are so wise!

The trials it had faced, were simply blessings in disguise!

Now years and years gone by, the wise and mighty tree has learned,

Not every day or even season easy, but eventually back they turned!

Just because the skies are dark, and snow freezes the ground us beside,

Doesn’t mean you are forsaken, or alone in the world you abide.

It’s in the bitter cold, and strongest winds you find,

They are what make you strong, it’s according to design,

For the tree can only grow as high, as its roots grow deep,

It’s foundation the most important thing, the main priority to keep.

The Sword of Laban

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Sometimes, the right tool for a job, is a sword.

“Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thresh the nations by the power of my Spirit; And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them.”
-D&C 35:14

Last week, myself, my wife, and two oldest kiddos got to do something pretty amazing. We all went camping. Well, I was enjoying the camping in a regular tent with my wife, while the two kids were in survival mode in group tents covered in about 4 inches of dirt and dust. Bear Grylls might have even called it quits. I think the front door of the kids’ tents acted more like a vacuum sucking in the dust, than a barrier to keep it out. Every time I went to visit the Young Men’s tent, I thought I was experiencing an indoor haboob.

It was quite a bit more than just a regular campout however. It was a four day youth camp called Moroni’s Quest. While we were there, we were able to watch several reenactments of the stories from the Book of Mormon. It was like watching a 4 day long play or a production.

All of the scenes were awesome. Every single one. But one theme really stood out to me. It was the reoccurring presence of the sword of Laban. His sword was obviously a big part of how the story of the Book of Mormon really got started. It was the “means” by which Nephi was able to obtain the Plates of Brass, or scripture record, from the very beginning…

“Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.”
-1 Nephi 4:18

In addition to being a fatally convincing tool for Laban, it also was on Nephi’s hip as he pretended to be Laban as he then convinced Laban’s servant to give up these records containing the law of God. These plates of Brass were the beginning of the record that Nephi and his descendants would keep from that point forward.

A few years later, and several thousand miles away, across a sandy wilderness and a vast ocean, this same sword acted as the template that Nephi used to make other swords that were needed to defend themselves against their splintered off nemesis, the Lamanites.

“And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people“
-2 Nephi 5:14

It didn’t really stop there either. If we fast forward even more, we catch glimpses of it all through the Book of Mormon. Nephi, who had used the sword as a defense against the Lamanites, had also kept the record that always seems to accompany the sword. He passed the record keeping and protecting duty to his brother Jacob. Jacob then wrote in and guarded the record, and then passed it on to his son, Enos.

After Enos, it gets interesting. The records, and likely the sword also, passed from father to son from generation to generation. So, from Enos it went to to Jarem, then Omni, and all the way through Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki. Then the chain of the record keeping by the direct descendants of Nephi gets broken, and the record then goes to the next best thing- a righteous king named Benjamin.

With King Benjamin, we see the Sword of Laban again mentioned, and this is what gives us the clue that it always accompanies the record, as King Benjamin was not a direct descendent of the line of record keepers since Nephi.

“And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.”
-Words of Mormon 1:13

Benjamin then, just as before, passes on the record and the sword and a few other extra goodies to his son, Mosiah….

“And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him.”
-Mosiah 1:16

Its funny, but because of my previous thoughts about this amazing sword, my wife and I had mentioned it to our tribe (the great group of kids we were in charge of) on the first day. We mentioned how they should try and watch specifically for it, and try and see how many times this sword would come into play. And, come to find out, it did. Over and over again.

I feel there is something really extraordinary about that sword and what it represented. Its amazing to think about how long it survived right alongside the record that was being kept. It was almost like a constant reminder to the one entrusted with the care of the sacred record, that God would protect his words.

If we fast forward again, many, many years, the record passed through all the prophets. And finally made it all the way to Mormon, who abridged the massive accumulation of plates documenting the last thousand years. This abridgment, known now as the Book of Mormon, ultimately then passed to Moroni, who buried it along with the sword in a continuation of the protection of the record of the people.

Moroni burying the plates

This sword had passed from the hands of Laban in 600 B.C. in Jerusalem. It had then traveled all the way across the ocean, and through the hands of many writers and prophets, until it was buried in A.D. 421 by Moroni with the gold plates. That is a 1000 year old sword. Amazing. It then laid interred under that stone on a hill in New York for 1400 years, when the same man, Moroni, now in angel form, showed where the records had been deposited to Joseph Smith. Im sure that today, it still stands by the record just as it has for the last 2600 years and counting!

It is a testament to me of the power, and importance of the Book of Mormon. God’s hand protected it by any means necessary from the time it began, until it was finally translated, and beyond. I now have a better appreciation for the Book of Mormon, and the sacrifices, and lives that were given so that I could enjoy it.

It was a special 4 days. I watched and felt the stories and saw them come to life and change the lives of several young people over the course of the camp. But having my wife with me (and a real tent), as well as my older two kids to experience this amazing book in such a different way, was the icing on top!

 

The Sword of Laban

From deep within Jerusalem,
The sacred, Holy land,
Came precious gleaming sword – born of
the forge, to Laban’s hand.

Its sharpened blade of precious steel,
And hilt of purest gold,
Would slay its way through history,
To see God’s plan unfold.

Its master, one who’s greed was blind,
Cast pearls before the swine,
And spent his time in sinful waste,
His love, on casks of wine.

Then God, through angel tongue, inspired
A visionary man,
To seek, procure, his holy words,
From evil’s clenching hand.

This sword protected Plates of Brass,
Upon which lay the law
Of God, but lay unused, unread-
dormant treasure sent by God.

By fate, and lots, one night a son,
Was led by Spirit voice,
To Laban’s side- as he lay still,
Then struggled with the choice

Of taking life, and thus providing
Hope of gospel light.
Or shrinking, and condemning
All to ignorance’s night.

This son, this valiant, faithful, son
Then took that stainless sword,
And severed Laban’s guilty head,
As soldier of the Lord.

It traveled then through deep travails,
And miles of wilderness,
Arriving then in promised lands,
Protecting righteousness.

It never left the side of all
The records of the Lord,
Standing up as symbol of the
Power of God’s word.

From Father down to son it passed,
And fought, defending truth,
For centuries, and then beyond,
Endured, providing proof

That God protects his record still,
And does what must be done,
Ensuring all his people will
have knowledge of his Son.

E’en then, when God’s own people fell,
In sinful, prideful ways,
The sword remained as pure and clean,
As truth, that never fades.

Lastly, now its day had come,
Its final duty shown-
Remain interred with record pure,
Its angel now had flown.

And in the earth it stayed, alone,
For fourteen-hundred years.
Until its flying angel once again
Returned! Its time was near!

To once again defend God’s word,
Against its wicked foe,
God’s record, pure, inspired, now lay
Inscribed on plates of gold.

The record now has gone throughout
The world in purity,
Translated by God’s gift, and pow’r,
Through his divinity.

This sword of Laban, precious steel
And gold, endured, survived
A people blessed, and holy, who
Had faltered in their pride.

But warning words remained, engraved,
To help all come to Christ,
And teaches of the Son of God’s
Atoning sacrifice.

This sword, this symbol of the pow’r of God
Now still defends,
The sacred record, as it has,
And will, until the end.

The Whole Need no Physician

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“…Jesus…said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”           -Mathew 9:12,13

Back when I was a kid, I loved to watch baseball. I loved to watch the best players in the world throw 100 mph fastballs, or hit 100 mph fastballs, or crank out 4 home runs in one game. Every once in a while, we even got to see an all out brawl because of a well placed pitch right between the batters shoulder blades in retaliation for some perceived slight an inning or two earlier. …Ahhh, the good ‘ole days….

One of the most entertaining players to watch was a guy named Bo Jackson. Now, Bo only played a few seasons, but was one of the best athletes to ever play. He was an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals, way before the Royals were cool. Or even remotely good. He also starred as a running back for the Oakland Raiders. He bounced back and forth between professional sports like it was no big deal. He was iconic. And, maybe the best part of all, he had his own cross training shoes that, quite possibly, could be the best shoes ever created in the 90’s.

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Bo was famous for his home runs….and his strikeouts. He looked a lot like Dwayne “the Roc” Johnson at the bat if you can imagine. Or like Disney’s Moana playing baseball. He was huge, ripped, shredded, swole, or buff as you might say. Even though he never lifted weights in his life.

He was a good hitter, but he did strike out more than average. He didn’t particularly like striking out, as you can imagine. It frustrated him. It tended to make him angry. We were able to deduce this fact because he would often, after striking out, break his bat over his knee, or his head, on his way back to the dugout. He had a little bit of a mean streak in him. But, his anger management issues, were fun to watch, because snapping a bat over your head, and making that piece of pine look more like a toothpick was totally awesome.

So what does Bo Jackson’s anger issues have anything to do with anything? Well, maybe nothing, but it came to mind this week as I read through a particular chapter in the Book of Mormon. Last Sunday, because of a new calling, I got to sit in a lesson in the Deacons quorum in my ward. The lesson was on the reality of all of us having real problems, and how we all have flaws, and we will make mistakes, and how we have to pick ourselves up and go to the Lord, and make ourselves better because of it. It was awesome.

The chapter that we talked about was 2 Nephi chapter 4. This is one of the best chapters ever.  In this chapter, Nephi talks about how even he, Nephi got down on himself because of his sins. This is the same guy that never complained about anything, the same guy that made a homemade bow, probably out of sharp rocks, animal sinew, and leftover crow feathers while in the wilderness. Only to then have to fashion his own arrows, even when everyone else, including his prophet father, Lehi, was complaining directly to the Lord about thier sufferings. This was the same Nephi that was willing to make a boat to cross an unfamiliar ocean simply on faith. This same, seemingly flawless Nephi, admits he had struggles with temptations, and sin. He was a normal guy after all!

He explains his thoughts in verses 17-19,

O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities….I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins…”

Don’t get me wrong, Nephi was one of the most faithful men to ever live on this earth.  But it is nice to know that he, just like us, wasn’t perfect. He had struggled to overcome sin. He quickly though, reminds himself, and us by proxy, that there is no reason to dwell on the struggles. And, that remembering the greatness of God, and His ability to lift us out of sin, is our real key to happiness.

He says in verses 20 and 21…

“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh”

He continues in verse 26…

“O then, if I have seen so great things…why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow…?”

Then, and this is the new part that stood out to me yesterday for the first time, Nephi gives us this little glimpse into one of the things he may have struggled with. He explains in verse 27…

“And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?”

and again in verse 29…

Do not anger again because of mine enemies…

I think we have to look at Nephi’s life as a whole, and wonder how in the world he did it. He continued to be faithful through thick and thin, trial after trial, living on the edge of life threatening situations every single day. He maintained his faithfullness even when his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, tried at every possible moment in time, to make his life completely miserable. They beat him, tied him up several times, mocked him, complained about him, demeaned him, and ultimately tried to kill him. Multiple times. Nephi and his family and others literally had to up and get out of dodge to avoid being  murdered by his own brothers. If anyone had the right or reason to be “angry” it would have been Nephi.

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So, do I think Nephi had anger management issues? No, I don’t. I don’t think he went all “Bo Jackson” and broke his nice steel bow over his knee after a missed shot at a giant 8
point buck somewhere in the wilderness. It just doesn’t fit. But, I do think he was subject to being a normal human, and having normal human responses to living continuously under the threat of being killed, beaten, mocked, and ridiculed. Some people, unfortunately in this world can relate to that.

And that is the beauty of the scriptures, and of the gospel. Its a real life thing. The stories and principles that we read about in the pages of the Book of Mormon apply to us. Even if the prophets in those stories have flaws and struggle. We all have flaws, and we all struggle. Thats kind of the point. If Nephi struggled with the temptation to be angry, given his circumstances, then its also ok if I struggle sometimes with the same thing.

We all have our things that we need to overcome. Nephi, in this same amazing chapter, finishes it off with his advise on how to recover from those sins, and temptations…

He teaches us in verse 34…

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh”

Then finishes in verse 35..

“Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.”

Nephi, no matter his temptations and sins, looked up to God, and trusted in him. Its as simple as that. Our struggles, our problems, are real. Its simply a part of life. And that’s ok. That is where the beauty of the gospel and the atonement of Christ takes over. Nephi showed us how he did it. He survived by handing everything over to the Lord.

We are all broken or “sick” in some way. Even those who may seem to have it all together, like Nephi. But, lucky for us, the Lord can fix anything. He can heal us no matter how sick we are. He is the great Physician. The more housecalls he makes in our behalf, the better we get to know him, love him, and really appreciate what he does to heal us. And when we allow ourselves to be healed by him, we are changed. And that is how the atonement really works. Maybe we can stop looking at our temptations and sins as weights, and see them more as oppurtunities to be healed by the Great Physician.

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A Reason for Suffering

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All of us on earth go through hard times.  Each one of us has a gamut of difficulties that we go through.  Some are short lived, some are chronic, and some seem to be permanent.  All of them are hopefully teaching us a lesson, but there also happens to be the trials, struggles, difficulties, and pain that just won’t go away (or the continue to reappear) that we just can’t shake no matter what we try.  We plead with heavenly father to be free from them or to overcome them, but to no avail – they just linger and we wonder to ourselves why this must be, or why we as individuals are selected to suffer so much.  We may even agree to suffer through them but plead for a clear answer why.

Beyond the normal answers like 1) opposition provides us with joy, and 2) struggles bring us strength, there is something that I discovered a few weeks ago that I hadn’t realized before that helped me understand why some of these difficulties seem to never leave (and the Lord may never intend for them to leave) – even after the person suffering has likely learned plenty of great lessons about suffering and/or dealing with trials, exercised much patience, and even submitted fully to the Lord’s will.

Alma 17 is the beginning chapters outlining the missionary service of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites.  In verses 10-11 the Lord is speaking to Ammon and his party (on the eve of them splitting up to preach) and “visits them with his spirit” and tells them to “be comforted”.  Then the Lord gives Ammon some instruction that I think is fascinating.  He says: “ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls”.

For the first time, I understood very clearly that there are people in the world just like Ammon, who are or have been instructed by the Lord to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions” (some of which may not ever be schedule to subside), just so that I can see their good examples of righteousness while they are ‘in the furnace of affliction’.  This thought was a light bulb for me, and I began to think of the many people who I have seen deal with trials, hard times, struggles, and a multitude of outside circumstances that aren’t a direct result of poor choices and yet they seem to show forth their good examples of patience and long suffering over the years – and now I am even more inspired when I think that they agreed to this trial and are enduring it well, just so that I can be provided with their example and have my faith strengthened.  Unbelievable.

This thought also helped me read through the remaining stories of Ammon and his brethren in a different light.  For example; Alma 24, Alma 28, and Alma 30 all contained stories that could be directly tied to how one individual’s faith filled and kind actions (a.k.a patience in long-suffering during a hard time) is what caused the spirit and subsequent conversion of another to take place.

I also started to look at my own life and those around me, and I asked myself the question – are my trials teaching me something?  Maybe.  But if my trials or hardships are recurring or seemingly unending, does that mean I’m missing the point repeadetly?  Not necessarily.  It might just mean that the Lord trusts me and expects me to be patient, kind, and good all along the way so that other people may see my example and be inspired.  Thus, when we continue to look for the end of a particular struggle, we may be looking for something that will never ever come.  Talk about a lesson in patience in long-suffering.

Part of why the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon in particular resonate so strongly with us is that they are filled with stories about people who wrote about their daily and repeated struggles with hardship, and were able to keep the faith and inspire other people all along the way (which happens to inspire us many years later).  After all, isn’t that why the Lord places us in families, and wards, and neighborhoods? So that we can watch each other suffer, and be inspired by their examples?  I never thought of it that way, but I definitely have been inspired by them.

With that in mind, and the idea that other people’s struggles are in place (partly) for us to be inspired, there is another scripture passage that I would like to share.  It comes from Alma 53 where the people of Ammon were almost ready to break their covenant of peace (where they buried their weapons of war) in order to help the Nephite army.  Helaman convinces them not do that, and by not breaking their covenant, and by not joining the army, the record indicates that they (the non-fighters) were “compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time”.

These uber-righteous, and faithful saints who just wanted to help their friends were left to watch these Nephites, who had already sacrificed so much on their behalf “wade through their afflictions” during this dangerous circumstance.  Imagine with me the mental pain and suffering that these great people endured just by watching their brethren suffer.  It is no wonder that their children were then inspired to join Helaman’s army.  I don’t know if Helaman knew that helping them to keep their covenant would cause greater suffering, which in turn would cause greater conviction and motivation in those who were watching – but that is how sacrifice works.

One of the blessings of the spirit is that we have the ability to “see things as they really are”.  And ‘things as they really are’ include a whole lot of suffering.  Every single day and every single week in your neighborhood and in mine there are people (old and young) who are in the absolute throws of suffering.  But you and I wouldn’t necessarily know it because maybe we don’t look for it, we misunderstand it for something else, or because of how well they are showing their patience in long-suffering – and they do it because they love the savior, and they trust him, and their faith is so strong.  I can promise that if you pay attention, the Lord will bless you with the eyes to see, and the heart to feel the unlimited love that he has for these faithful saints as they continue to come and worship him.  You will be inspired by them and their strength, and you will see their example “in him”.

The Lord Jesus Christ went in to the garden of Gethsemane and suffered unspeakable pains and anguish.  This left the rest of human history with the opportunity and charge to “behold [our brother] wade through [his] affliction, in [his] dangerous circumstances.  From this one event, and his perfect love and unselfish action during his most intense suffering we are inspired, and we feel love, and we feel gratitude.  Although his sacrifice satisfied all of the necessary elements (justice, sin, death, etc.) for salvation and for our path home – I imagine that Heavenly Father indicated to him at least once or twice that a large part of his mission here on earth was to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them”.  He is the ultimate example of love and sacrifice – and he is the one who can accompany us during our hard times because he has felt them, and he will feel them, and he wants us to know him.

I hope that the next time we are suffering, stressed out, full of grief, or burdened by weights we feel are too heavy, we can look around and think of the people who are looking at us, who are watching us (they are watching), and who – through our faith filled actions – will see the savior and his love overcoming the trials.

Retain in Remembrance

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You know all the images that we’ve seen of family scripture study right?  The ones with reverent children sitting peacefully on the couch listening attentively to the one reading? Yeah, I do too…..

Our family scripture study efforts are probably a lot like your family scripture study efforts.  What I mean by that is that it’s not anything like the one in the pictures. Sometimes I wonder if what my kids are hearing and reading actually goes into their brains.  I wonder that because I see all sorts of things going on during our study time (other than silent and diligent study).  Our 1 year old is usually running around growling and slapping people, our 6 year old is usually wrapped up in a blanket watching videos or playing a game, and most of the time our 9, 11, and 14 year olds have their books out and do their best to not pay too much attention to our 1 year old who is a lot more entertaining than the books in their hands.

Case in point – I want to share two real life situations from our scripture study not long ago.  We happen to be reading Alma chapter 5, which as we know is totally amazing.  Alma is asking some soul piercing questions to the people of Zarahemla, which happens to be his first main sermon after giving up the judgment seat in order to devote his full time and attention to preaching the gospel to the people.  As I recapped what we had read the previous day (the earlier part of chapter 5), and outlined this I was naturally expecting them to be glued to the edge of their seats and scream out “tell us more, this chapter has been so excellent”!

Yet, what happened is that instead of being riveted by the words in the book, all of my children were riveted to the donuts that were being guarded by my 14 year old.  Every verse or two my 11 year old would indicate to the rest of the group that his big sister was still not sharing the donuts, that he wanted some, and that life wasn’t fair.  This continued as we read through verse 28, when my 14 year old (the one with the donuts) seemed to see an opening.  She asked her own question in a fairly loud voice “Luke, are you crying?  Over donuts”?    She pointed to him (claiming to see tears in his eyes) – to which he naturally defended himself with a loud “no”.

I hope that you can all imagine this scene in your minds.  Two tweenaged children escalating to level 8 on the sibling fight scale over some mini powdered donuts – right in the middle of scripture study.  Pretty normal day at the Alexander house.  As a note, we make an effort to apply or liken the scriptures to our every day lives and sometimes that works out really well, and other times it doesn’t, but on this day there happened to be a miracle in store – because the next verse to be read was 29 which asks the question “is there one among you who is stripped of envy”?  Naturally I took the time to explain what envy was (using a real life example of my 11 year old expressing his envy towards the donuts that happened to be in the possession of his big sister).  Pointing this out to the group seemed to please his big sister all the more – until we asked her to read verse 30.  “Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?”  It was fun to see (and point out) that by Alma asking all these questions, it allows us to ask ourselves how we are doing….and not necessarily pointing out everybody else’s flaws.

Now, the spirit that we felt that day as we read the scriptures wasn’t the bawl your eyes out kind – it was the have some fun and laugh really hard at our crazy family kind.  And I for one was amazed (again) at how specific reading the scriptures can be.   And if I am honest, they will probably remember Alma 5 and the day that they really understood what Alma was asking them – more than if we had just read it peacefully.

The second experience was from a day or two days earlier, when we happened to read verse 6 (still in Alma 5).  It’s the first question (3 questions really) that Alma asks: Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers ? Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?  Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Now, that’s a lot of retaining in remembrance, right?  We thought so, and somehow after that verse (I honestly don’t recall how it got to that point), it was (humorously) suggested that when we pray as a family we start including the phrase “help us to retain in remembrance the captivity of our fathers, and their subsequent deliverance”.  It came up at least 4 or 5 times the next couple of days as the kids asked “what were those words again?” as we were preparing to pray.  It never actually made it into a prayer, but it helped us remember that our kids really were (and are) listening and that hopefully at some point – they will understand exactly what that phrase really means.

I say at some point because that’s exactly what happened for me (the one who should already be better and understand it).  I was encouraged and reminded during that week to “retain in remembrance” that specific phrase, which happened to help my mind “remember” the deliverer a little more.  With that added emphasis, I discovered something that I hadn’t seen before. Something that I thought was great.

I happened to be reading in Mosiah 27 in my own personal study shortly after the events of this week – and I read the account of Alma the younger and his visit from the angel (while he is out and about with the sons of Mosiah being naughty).  During this latest reading, I happened to notice the command from the angel to Alma.  The angel says “Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers…for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.”  I hadn’t understood the implications of that command, or the significance of it before.  Honestly, I hadn’t remembered it at all.  But because we had recently read Alma 5, and because we had been focusing on “retaining in remembrance the captivity of our fathers” – I was able to see where Alma’s question came from – which added additional context to chapter 5 as well.  He had been told that very thing by the angel, which happened to be the crucial turning point in his own conversion.  We all know that he then spent the rest of his life being good – and “bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.”   He “retained in remembrance” the cycle of bondage and deliverance – and wanted everyone else to remember it as well because it makes us focus on the one who is doing the delivering.  That’s why the very first (3) question he asks in chapter 5 are “Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance”…  He asks these questions repeatedly during his ministry (Alma 5, 29, 36 to name a few), and it happens to be a major theme of the record – All because that’s what the Angel told him to do.

So, the whole point in this particular entry, is for myself and all of us as parents to “sufficiently retain in remembrance” a few things.  1- Scripture study is awesome.  It’s important, and it’s a wonderful time to relate the scriptures to our own lives – even if it’s with donuts and making a mockery of your brother and if we look for lessons there, we will find them.  2 – It (family scripture study) is worth the effort.  I can promise that our kids will “retain in remembrance” our best efforts, and they listen and it will make a big difference in their lives.  I do know that they are listening, and that this study time is incredibly beneficial.  I have been surprised and will continue to be surprised (and grateful) when they recall things that we have discussed during our scripture study. 3 – let’s not take ourselves and this scripture study too seriously.  What I mean by that is don’t think because they aren’t glued to your every word that it’s not effective – it is.  Don’t think that because they aren’t completely silent that they aren’t listening – they are. 4 – Just because it’s awesome doesn’t mean it’s easy.  In fact, because it is awesome, we should expect it to be really hard.  Just keep trying.