“and they were filled with madness”

I’ve always had a bit of difficulty studying the Gospels because of their unique structure.  The often summarized stories don’t make sense to me, because I look for continuity and structure, and it’s not always clear how one event flows to the next.  And so, this time around, instead of doing a methodical study of everything, I’m instead skipping to sections that do make sense to me, and reading those and thinking for them a few days at a time.  It’s mostly parables and short sequences where the Lord interacts with one person or a group of people.  Those seem to make more sense to me, and I’ve been able to learn some cool lessons.

This last one that I’ve been looking it is the story in Luke 6 about how some of the scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus and his disciples for infractions in the law, and then criticizing them.  In verses 1 to 11, there are two events: first, Jesus and his disciples are walking through corn fields, and eat some of the corn as they are going through.  The second, he is being scrutinized to see if he will heal on the Sabbath day.

For full context, I’ll quote them here:

1. AND it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.

2. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?

3. And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him;

4. How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?

5. And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

6. And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.

7. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.

8. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth.

9. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?

10. And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

11. And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.

It occurs to me that in the first example, that “certain of the Pharisees” must have been watching him very closely, to notice that what they were doing.  Their hatred and dislike of the Master had driven them to a level of pettiness, where they are intent to watch his every move and criticize at the first chance of possible disagreement with their interpretation of the law.

They knew of his miraculous healing power, and instead of being healed themselves, they devised a trap wherewith he could use his own powers to do good, and turn it against him.  Their strict interpretation of the law of the Sabbath completely overlooked the principle of doing good, and focused on the minutia instead.

The Lord looked over the audience, knowing their thoughts, and posed the rhetorical question as to what was the greater law, hoping to teach them.  I also have to wonder what the story of the poor man with the withered hand was.  Was he invited there by Jesus’ accusers, or was it known that he was a regular member of the synagogue?  The verses don’t say, so I won’t speculate.  Either way, Jesus healed him.  “And they,” his accusers, “were filled with madness.” (Luke 6:11)

I wonder sometimes why I “enjoy” hating things some times.  In using social media, I’ve noticed that I often have the temptation to let everyone know as soon as I find something wrong that needs to be vocalized, exposed, and made aware of.  In trying to correct this attitude, I’ve noticed that there’s a certain rush in finding something that can be thrown out there, with my own words of criticism, sarcasm, and glee, as I’m glad to be pointing out someone’s mistakes or errors.  I see past all the good that a person or project is accomplishing, and instead focus on the small things, and loudly vocalize them.

It makes me think about how I want to be remembered years from now, if the only memorial to my name is “he was filled with anger.”  I really don’t want that, of course, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can change that.  Why is there so much drive to hold onto something that hurts so much?  I really can’t understand it.  The negative energy that it requires to tear others down is ultimately destroying me instead.

I like the hymn “Did You Think to Pray?”  One part in particular asks “When your heart was filled with anger, did you think to pray?”  I ask myself that sometimes and my answer is usually “Well … no …”, because praying doesn’t really seem like the obvious thing to do at that time, and it doesn’t really fit in with what my train of thought was that time anyway.  Generally, thinking of it stops me in my tracks, and at least resets me a bit.  It’s okay to get upset and frustrated at someone or something, but I’d rather work towards making things better, and one way is to learn how to deal with things that are out of my control.

The amount of things that I can control or be certain of are infinitely small in comparison to what I can’t.  And so, in choosing my battles of what to change and what not to, I cede the fight where reasonable, and try to use some positive energy to work around some things.  It’s not really that hard, I’m finding, once I let go of the anger.  I’m learning lately to label the situation instead of working it up in my mind.  “That is irritating.”  “That seems unethical and wrong.”  And so on.  Labeling it as something bad helps me categorize the situation instead of attacking the person.  Accepting that things are not right is often enough to satisfy my desire of “something must be done.”  I can internally observe and interpret, without publicly highlighting and criticizing.

I suppose some examples are in order, but they are all such minor things that it doesn’t matter.  My hair gel smells weird.  The price tag on the shirt at the store is missing.  Someone left a glass bottle in the parking lot.  Small things, really, that are anything between annoyances to someone else’s poor decisions.  It matters, yes, but it doesn’t need to matter a lot.  And that’s the hard part, is letting go of the desire to fan any flames of disagreement and dislike.

I wish I could say I had a real solution to the problem, but for me it’s a combination of observation and re-evaluation.  Lately I’ve been trying to backtrack why there are some things I get so aggravated about, and wonder what the source of them was.  There are wounds that I’ve carried for so many years, that I don’t even know what dealt the first blow.

I have found one thing, though, that works well, but it is really hard to honestly do.  I go to the Lord, and I say that I am willing to drop all the baggage that I bring with me, and simply obey whatever he wants me to do.  It’s really, really, really hard to honestly do that, and I can say I’ve only been able to actually do it about twice.  There’s a certain fear that comes with it, that by being so open and vulnerable that I’ll be exposed to scrutiny by the Lord.  That doesn’t happen, though.  I don’t really feel much as a response to what he would say to me, but I do feel like I’m making good progress in that I can try to let more things go, and let him replace them with something else.  It’s a difficult experience to describe, and I’m probably not doing it justice in trying to here.  Regardless, I do know it’s the direction I want to go.

What I *can* do right now, though, is let go of the pettiness, the small things, the ones I like to get annoyed about.  It’s so easy to hate, and so hard to let go, but it does get easier each time I do it, and I’m grateful for that.

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Luke 15

I really love the chapter of Luke 15 in the Bible.  I love parables, and two of my favorites are in here: the prodigal son and the lost sheep.

It occured to me tonight that the first few verses set the the tone for the audience that these parables are directed towards:

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. … And he spake this parable unto them, saying …

He was speaking to the spiritually outcast, those who, through their own actions, had strayed, and in each case probably felt lost, without self-worth, and not worthy or redemption.

Just as light and truth help us to see things better and understand more clearly, the same is true in reverse.  Sadness and uncertainty can make things a little confusing, and cloud our thinking.  We can come up with fixes that seem reasonable but are really not beneficial.  We can’t see things as they really are if we have wandered for some reason onto another road.  It can be hard for us to find the right way on our own.

I think a lot can be said about the social situation and emotional status of the people he’s addressing based on the circumstances of the stories.  In each case, someone is lost, but he starts at the smallest, one of a hundred, then one of ten, then one of two who are lost, and with each story, he gives more detail on how much work God goes through to rescue them.

In the parable of the lost sheep, an owner already has one hundred to his name.  Surely the loss of one is nothing major, and he could have even planned for such circumstances.  Also, this is a sheep that has been lost, not a lamb.  Meaning, it probably did not wander off innocently (the same as in the case of the prodigal son).

Something else that stood out to me tonight about the story of the prodigal son was how the father entreats the son who had not left home.

Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

The elder brother, who was faithful, didn’t know what had happened, and the last he had heard, was that his brother had disinherited all and left to go on his own.  There was a division between the two brothers, and he preferred to interact with his own family at first indirectly through other people.

The good father intervenes on behalf of the sinner in restoring good relationships among others.  It is a very difficult position to take as an intermediary, and feelings against those who “have returned” are not uncommon, and without mediation, things may never be completely restored.

Becoming lost, being searched for, being welcomed, restoring relationships and rejoicing are also parts of repentance, and the effects of sinners returning to the Lord are felt by others as well.  While there is joy for “the ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance,” there is more for “one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:7)

I just think it’s fascinating that when there are problems, people who have drifted or become lost, that there is more to the process of coming clean than just repenting and becoming whole.  There are other factors that play a part in welcoming the person home.  They long for that connection not just to God, but to others as well.  To be outcast no more, among family and friends as well.  It makes me think about the principles of healing that need to take place when someone is lost.

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The Liahona: a type of the scriptures

I love, love, love the story of Nephi and his family in the book of 1st Nephi.  There is so much cool stuff that’s going on, and we get to see the details of a person’s life in much detail.  There’s nowhere else in the scriptures that someone’s life is given so much detail to their daily life and interactions with others.  I would argue that it’s even more detailed than the Gospels, because we have greater amounts of text in one situation, time an time again.

I love examples from people’s lives, because for me it brings it home a lot to the realm of practicality.  It’s easy for me to forget that life is full of both short-term and long-term application.  I tend to focus on the here and now of productivity, and don’t think much about the long-term stuff.  These samples of personal life are really rare in the scriptures.

One story that I love so much in the Old Testament is a great example, that I come back to so much.  It’s in 2 Kings 4:8-11:

8. And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
9. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.
10. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.
11. And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there.

The lesson here is, that the woman recognized that something good had come into her life, and she made room for it that it could stay longer.  There’s a lot more to the story that can be picked apart, such as the specific items, and how it was his decision as to when to come by and for how long (which is how Christ acts as well, in his actual appearances to people).  You could dwell on the spiritual perception of the woman as well, how she not only noticed his positive attributes, but also knew what he would need.  Also, she was prepared, since she was ready to feed him whenever he came by — which too demonstrates that she was selfless and happy to serve.  There’s no mention made of the sacrifices she’d have to make in her life or her schedule to see that the prophet was made comfortable.  Surely there were some, but they are not a part of the story, in the sense that they meant little to her.  So it is in the lives of selfless people who serve — they discount the sacrifices they have to make, considering them of little worth compared to the benefits.

Anyway.  Back to Nephi’s life.  I’m reading in 1 Nephi 16 right now.  This is the chapter where Lehi finds the Liahona on the ground one morning.  They use it in their journey to the promised land, to guide them.  The Liahona in itself is a type of the scriptures, in that there are so many parallels.  However, the one I really like is how the Lord uses it.

Lehi and the rest of his camp had been complaining about the lack of food, but more particularly, had been doubting in the Lord and complaining against him.  After they repent and are chastised by the Lord, he then directs them to look at the Liahona:

26. And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.

It’s these three scriptures that really stand out to me.  First of all, it shows how the Lord acts in a certain situation.  He points us to use the resources that he has already given us.  The Lord did talk to his prophet, and he could have talked to the entire camp if he wanted to, but it’s more practical to let everyone have access to the scriptures, so that they can read them at any time, as they want, and ponder on them.  Plus, it gives them the opportunity and choice to actually look to them or not.

It’s the second part that I find really cool, too, in that it is exactly how the scriptures work:

29. And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.

The words always stay the same, but the meaning changes, based on life circumstances, or on the level of spirituality that we have at the time.  I’ve seen this principle in action over and over in my life.  One thing that makes a big difference, is how closely I’m studying the scriptures.  If I’m just reading them, compared to doing a study, or thinking about them during my day or whatever.

28. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

Five important elements there: reading the scriptures (he beheld the pointers), acting on them (faith), persisting in living the gospel (diligence) with conviction and determination, not indifference (heed), which are all brought about by our own choice (“which we did give unto them”).

Good stuff. 🙂

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Old Testament

“Here am I; send me.”

I’m taking a morning Bible study class again during the school semester, and we’re covering just the book of Isaiah.  This is the second time I’ve taken it, the last time was probably about two years ago.  It’s the same teacher, which is cool, because I really like his style and his methods.

Recently, we were talking about the calling of Isaiah as a prophet, in Isaiah chapter 6.  He said that this chapter is a pattern of how the Lord calls prophets, and I’m still trying to understand that principle.  But, there is one thing I like that is really cool — it was Isaiah’s attitude towards the calling.

First of all, Isaiah feels unworthy in the sight of the Lord. A prophet feeling inadequate is not uncommon — it was difficult for Moses, Jeremiah, and Peter … or even Jonah for that matter.

The part I love the conversation between the Lord and Isaiah:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
Then said I, Here am I; send me.

I love the idea of anyone being able to stand before the Lord, and in His presence, have the confidence to look at Him and say that they are ready to do His work.  I imagine that it requires a lot of spiritual development to get to that point.  Surely, Isaiah must have prepared himself for years before this moment, obeying the Lord.

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“Dear God, I’m broken.”

I was looking at the Ensign today, and I was noticing how all the people in there looked happy, balanced, and everything, and I thought to myself, “Man, I want to see an article that just says, Dear God, I’m broken.” I txted my friend about that and she said someone should write it. So I guess I’ll give it a try.

I have a hard time with … life. I don’t think I can really get more specific than that, because that pretty much covers it. Just daily living is a real struggle. I could go into more detail about how depressing and sad it is, but I don’t really wanna focus on that.

I was over at a friend’s tonight, and she asked how I was doing. I responded, “Well … you know.” And she said, “Yah, I do know.” She understands what I’m going through, because we have a lot of the same issues. It’s just life.

In those times of struggle and difficulty, where I really don’t feel like I can keep going, I often turn to the Lord, so frustrated and confused and all I can say is, “Dear God.” I often don’t say more than that. Those small prayers, though, are filled with so much emotion and sincerity, that I know he hears them. And that he is concerned for me. At times I often say, “Lord, help me to know what to even pray for, because I’m just lost.” I don’t usually get an answer to that one, but what I do tend to do is just chat with him and let him know what’s going on. In some small way, that I don’t notice, it somehow helps. I don’t magically jump off the floor with a renewed spirit, but I do somehow keep going.

I absolutely love these verses in Isaiah 5 (verses 1 and 2):

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes …

I have learned that the Lord always puts lists of actions like this in a particular order for a reason — they are not arbitrarily thrown together. And in these scriptures, I see how to order my life when it feels like it is out of control.

The first thing the lord of the vineyard does, is fence it. For me, this means that my priority is to set boundaries — where I will go, what I will do, and what I will not do.

The second thing is, he removes the rocks, or the things that will impede the vineyard (see also, the parable of the sower). For me, this usually means the things that have caused me to go off course for whatever reason. Not just spiritually. There are so many scriptures that apply both spiritually and practically, and there are so many principles that apply to both areas of life. Sometimes I set my boundaries too large, which is usually the case if I’m overwhelmed. There’s too many stones to move. I must have done something wrong.

I like to think there are three kinds of stones. Those that are small, simple things that we can take care of ourselves, really without much effort or difficulty (reading the scriptures, saying prayers, etc.). Then there are the medium-sized stones that require all our strength, either to maintain where we are, or to push us slightly forward. Finally, there are the boulders, the big rocks that I can’t move by myself, and I have to have the Lord help me to move them out of the way.

Once all that is taken care of, then the vineyard can be started, started with a transplant of the choicest vine (even at the beginning, we need an infusion of power from somewhere beyond ourselves).

Finally, a tower is put up, to watch over the vineyard and see that it is maintained properly (spiritual and practical habits become routine, and not just initiated). Last of all, we can begin to have expectations of reaping the rewards of all the work.

I like this parable because the Lord doesn’t start with the tower, or looking for the grapes, first. The Lord is very practical. He starts simply, and builds from there. There are two steps before the planting of the vineyard, and two steps afterwards. Equally so, when I fall, and fail, and sin, and err, I can’t expect to just climb back on the tower and hope everything’s going to be great again, and just wait for the nice grape juice to just flow my way. I have to start all over. It’s usually because I’ve crossed some boundaries that I need to start all over, so I have to spiritually reset myself and go back to the beginning.

There’s another scripture I like in the Book of Mormon that mirrors this same principle, in Alma 28:1:

And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla …”

The background for this verse is that the people of Ammon were refugees, and had fled to the Nephite country for security.

I think the order of priorities again, is interesting. They don’t start with setting up the church first (filling your life with good, regular things), but instead, get the people established. There’s little chance for spiritual growth if my practical one is completely out of whack. There’s a great church video I saw once, that said, “You can’t draw water from an empty well.” That’s always stuck with me.

At church today, I was looking at the presidents of the Church manual, and I saw this quote from Joseph Smith, that I really liked. “Let us this very day begin anew, and now say, with all our hearts, we will forsake our sins and be righteous.” Now, normally when I would read that, I would be like, “heck yeah! I’m gonna do *all* the good things, *all* the time! Woo hoo!” But reading it as I did today, as I’m going through a rough patch, I read it in a much more sincere, and practical, and simple way. One where the Lord is quietly saying that we are going to start from where I am now. There’s no need to build any towers just yet.

Going along with that, it’s easy I’ve noticed to get excited about wanting to do the right thing. Excitement can have energy at the offset, but the strong emotions fade with time. Maintaining a gospel-driven life is not powered by a momentary elation of dedication, but rather through daily decisions of continually desiring to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances.

So, starting over again, I sat down and flipped open an issue of the Ensign magazine that covers the General Conference talk. I read a bit of it, and went about my way just doing little stuff around my apartment like cleaning it up to just get going back in the right direction.

What happened next is hard for me to explain. I had decided to do the right things again, but I didn’t think about it. That is, I didn’t say to myself, “well, if you do this, the Lord will bless you, and you’ll be happy.” That thought never occurred to me … I just *started* doing it knowing that living the gospel would set things right by themselves. When I thought about that later, I realized that I had a testimony of it, because I had instinctively acted on that knowledge.

Cool stuff. 🙂


Filed under Personal commentary

“Keeping watch over their flock”

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Earlier this week I was thinking about the Christmas story in Luke 2, and the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. It occurred to me, that the visitation came to them while they were working. I think that’s kind of interesting. I’ve noticed that when God sends a message, the method of delivery contains interesting lessons as well.

In this case, the lesson I learned is that God visits people as they are going about and fulfilling their responsibilities. Speaking for myself, I can say that the majority of personal revelation that I receive in my life comes while I am going about my day-to-day tasks … in small quiet moments when I am either pondering the scriptures, or thinking about God. This method is far more common than something coming to me while I am sitting in church or places of worship.

James Faust gave a great talk about this in a church conference that I really enjoyed, called “Some Great Thing.”

Small things can have great potential. Television, which is a great blessing to mankind, was conceived by a teenager in Idaho as he was plowing straight furrows in his father’s field with a disc harrow. He envisioned that he could transmit straight lines from one image dissector to be reproduced in another. Often we cannot see the potential in doing seemingly small things. This 14-year-old boy was doing ordinary day-to-day work when this extraordinary idea came to him. As Nephi once commented, “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”

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Filed under Luke, New Testament

Notes: Habakkuk 1

I decided to add a new category to my blog posts, just for notes that I take down while reading or studying the scriptures, or whatever I write down while in my Bible study class. These aren’t going to be full blog posts, just a collection of thoughts and ideas.

I’m going to start out today’s post with the book Habakkuk, since that’s what we covered in class this morning.

According to the Desires of our Hearts, Neil A. Maxwell, November ’96 Ensign

– Habakkuk, “to embrace”

– Habakkuk’s ministry coincided with the appearance of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) in world history

– May have written in connection with the battle of Carchemish in which Nebudchadezznar defeated the Egyptians in 605 B.C. and before the first deportation of the Jews in 507 B.C.

– It is believed that Habakkuk lived in Jerusalem, thus making him a contemporary with Lehi in Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4).

Habakkuk 1:2-4

2. O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

3. Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.

4. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

The prophet is frustrated. The Lord is teaching him a lesson here.

The Lord suspends judgement in our mortal realm for a while. God acts the same way with the righteous — He lets them go about their way for a time, He will not instantly correct them, but respects their agency.

Habakkuk 1:12

12. ¶ Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.

The Lord uses the wicked to punish the fallen covenant people. I think that, even in our fallen states, the Lord can still use us. 🙂

In one way, it occurs to me that it could be a blessing, in a sense, that the wicked are doing the will of the Father. Not in being wicked, but in punishing these people. I think that the Lord has purposed these people.

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Camels and gnats

My commentary this time covers Matthew 23 a little bit. I love the whole chapter. When I was looking at verses 23 and 24, they got me thinking.

23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

The Lord is coming down hard on the scribes and Pharisees for not keeping the weighter matters of the law, or the gospel. The same thing happened in Isaiah’s time as well, and he covers it beautifully in chapter one:

13. Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16. ¶ Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

One problem I’ve noticed in my own life is that as I start getting into a good rhythm — as I am observing the camels — there creeps into my life a tendency to start to focus on the small things a little bit. It is borne out of either temptation or anxiety, I’m not really sure which, but my focus on the smaller matters of the gospel tends to cause problems for me, almost to the point of superstition or karma (if I don’t do this small thing, I will lose God’s favor, for example). This has the effect of putting a huge burden on me, for every little action is filtered through the judgement of morality, or, I suppose, a strict interpretation of the law. This intense focus on small things, the gnats, becomes such a burden that I usually give up trying to be religious at all for a time, because of all the expectations I put on myself.

This week, in fact, I was wrestling with this problem. On Sunday I was considering the principles of observing the Sabbath, trying to think of what’s okay to do and what isn’t, and I was in my mind going over the minutae of things. Later on, though, I realized that I hadn’t been seeing to the more important things that week — I hadn’t done any scripture study, I missed my Bible study class because I couldn’t make it, I hadn’t been to the temple recently, and I missed my church meetings for some reason. I was skipping the big stuff and focusing on the small, and it was causing my mind to torment itself. That’s one thing I love about living the gospel, is that when you take care of the big things, everything else just falls into place and naturally makes sense. There are small course corrections, to be sure, but they do not come when you are neglecting the basics.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I find myself in any state of spiritual apathy, I tend to think that there is some special action that I should do that is tailored to my condition. But when I seek for special instruction, the answer is always the same: to do the basics. Read my scriptures, pray regularly, attend services, fast, go to the temple, and do whatever practical things I can with my immediate environment to invite the Holy Ghost. It’s not gnats at all that the Lord is concerned about, it’s the weightier matters.

After finding this revelation, it has been hugely rewarding for me to let go of my focus on the small, imperceptable matters. I know that we are commanded to watch ourselves (Alma 13:28), but again, this is to be done in wisdom and order (Mosiah 4:27).

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that if a camel dies, that small flies would devour it’s carcass. I think that’s what had happened in Jesus’ time, and it’s certainly what happens to me when I push myself too hard.

The grace of God will cover all the imperceptible imperfections. I’m grateful for that. 🙂

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Filed under New Testament, Personal commentary

My testimony of the Old Testament

When I started going to Institute this semester at the university, on the first day our instructor asked us to write down our thoughts about the Old Testament. I did mine that night, but wasn’t able to make it the next class. I finally showed it to him this morning, and I thought it’d be cool to post it here too.

As is common when giving my testimony, I often learn new things while I am giving it. This case was no exception.

Here’s what I wrote:

The Old Testament is a fabulous, amazing collection of works that it is a real blessing to have. It is the story of the ancient covenant people of God. Although its authors, prophets and people spanned many years and geographical areas, there is a unified message throughout. As we sojourn through our wilderness, if we obey God, we will be blessed with peace and rest in a promised land.

The fullness of the Gospel was had among the ancients, and though we are not treated to read of its plainness as in the Book of Mormon, the Lord has preserved it hidden in the scriptures, for those who search diligently to see. To gather the gems, I have to examine the settings and the characters closely. It makes studying the scriptures a rigorous process. By using faith in the Lord, I am able to unlock the scriptures and find applications in personal life.

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Archives: “Depart from me, O Lord”

For some reason, this phrase entered my mind today. I remembered it as “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” I didn’t remember where it was, somewhere in the New Testament, so I looked it up and it is found in Luke — the book I have been studying most recently. The actual wording is a little different than I recalled: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

What made me think of this was the conflict in actions that the man was displaying. I remembered that he both fell down to worship, yet at the same time beckoned for some distance. The act seems interesting to me because I believe it represents some emotional conflict. A desire to serve and be righteous, with some degree of outward performance even performed, but internally a feeling of inadequacy, observant of his own weakness. For me, that feeling can be overwhelming. There are times when it is all I can do to kneel, or some similar act, something simple, and yet feel unworthy to press on or do more. I want to do good, yet I feel like I cannot approach the Lord because of the mistakes I have made.

I think Jesus’ reply is interesting as well. “Fear not,” is the first part of his reply. Why does the Lord say that? What is the effect of fear and how does diminishing it at this time help? I believe that, in this same scenario of mixed emotions, that the feeling of inadequacy and failure robs a person of courage and then causes them to fear moving forward. I know in my own life, in the midst of confusion, every option seems fearful, full of uncertainty.

I also love how the Lord pronounces a prophecy regarding him (and his companions). The Lord is directly contradicting the vision, direction, capability and mission that Peter has set for himself. The Lord knows what he can become, and shares in small measure, a glimpse of that future.

It occurs to me that there’s some significance to the fact that they were on the water, a place of unrest and uncertain surface. Before they could follow the master, they had to bring their ships to land (5:11). I have noticed in my own life, that when I am uncertain and unsteady, that if I return to doing the small things (reading a bit of scripture, for example), that it grounds me, and makes me able to do more. In contrast, a sense of despair and discouragement is often accompanied by a stage of apathy.

Finally, the efforts of following the Lord may seem sacrificial, but are really beneficial, for “they forsook all”. Not only their past possessions, but their past difficulties, to be replaced with anxiety and cares and the other feelings that come in the service of others — the yoke of the Lord — completely displacing their old woes. While the actions are first, the feelings will follow.

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Filed under Luke, New Testament