The widow and the fatherless

Generally when I’m starting to go do a study of the scriptures again, I often have a hard time picking where to begin, especially if it’s been a while since doing a more detailed, academic study. Sometimes I just default to Isaiah because I like it for a lot of reasons.

So I started in Isaiah 1, and verse 17 caught my eye.

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

I’m a big fan of any of the scriptures that talk about practical approaches to helping people. I noticed a couple of patterns in the reference to the fatherless and the widow in other scriptures, and also a pattern in myself.

Mine first, I realized that I read these verses sometimes and think of them as flowery proclamations, in the sense of, “yeah, that’s a nice way to put it.” A warm fuzzy, in a sense.

A pattern that the Lord uses is he describes things in different ways. The book of Isaiah itself is highly poetic, but across all the scriptures, he often refers to something in another manner. It’s the same as if two people were inspired to give a talk on the same principle, and each one explains it in their own manner, as directed by the Holy Ghost. It also lends credence to the fact that the scriptures are written by different authors with different backgrounds. 

I was looking more into the topic of the fatherless, and the first time it appears in the Bible is in the Old Testament. It’s designated as law in the book of Exodus. Verses 22 to 24 in chapter 22 read this:

22 ¶Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

The punishment for not taking care of these two social classes is pretty extreme. It’s reason for the Lord to bring war against his nation, and leave the covenant people themselves in the same situation that they were oppressing and ignoring. To keep it more simple, I personally interpret as effectively destroying the nation.

Now this is the part where I realized hat the Lord has a pattern that he uses – he references his own law. In the same chapter of Isaiah, three verses later, the judgement is pronounced:

But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Just as I sometimes write off fancy verses as just that, I also will pass over the relationship between a warning and a promise as a general association. The danger in that is that some of the pronouncements may seem arbitrary. That’s not the case at all, though. And that’s where the pattern is illuminated.

In the case of Isaiah 1 and Exodus 22, “the sword” is used in both settings, which makes the connection between the two unmistakable.

As I poked around some more, I saw that similar judgements — destroying the nation, or at least the severity of the problem — is associated elsewhere as well (I won’t quote them here since I want to move onto another part, but see Jeremiah 5:28-29 and Zechariah 7:8-14 as two more examples).

In my life, I have a really hard time shifting from the concrete to the abstract sometimes, which is why having the Holy Ghost with me while studying the scriptures is so helpful — it helps me look at things differently. 

That applies in this case here, I’m reading “widows” and “fatherless” as specific relationship statuses? But wouldn’t it be more fair to consider that these are really just words to indicate those that don’t fit in the basic family unit that is defined by the Lord? (I find it interesting as well that these two groups are referenced by the relationships they have. What is it about titling people in that way that it’s so important that the Lord uses it often? Our Father in heaven. The Son of God. Children of Abraham. House of Israel. There’s got to be some reason to for it. I have no idea what it is, though.)

In the Old Testament, the verses that talk about the fatherless and widows also mentions “the stranger”as well. This term is used to define those who are not of the covenant faith but are living with or are under the jurisdiction of the Israelite nations.

I think, though, that that’s the point I want to dwell on. That the way that we treat those who stand out from our own social norms is used as a measurement when judged according to our works. “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” (Matthew 25:35)

I wish I had my own flowery statement or verse that would illuminate the point more dramatically, but I don’t. I’m just reading and studying for now, and it was a cool find. 😃

“Be of good cheer”

My circumstances have become interesting in the last few months. I quit my job so that I could finish up my Bachelor’s degree (in Family Studies), so I can do more good. What’s really fascinating though is that the manner of instruction leading up to this decision was undeniably given to me by inspiration through the Holy Ghost.

I’m not one who comments much on specifics of what the Holy Ghost tells me, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Maybe not so much in the instructions itself, but in the pattern He uses with me.

There were certain messages that came to me over the period of weeks. I get one independently of the other, and it’s not until months later where I am about to make a decision, that I can go back and as a reference use those past messages to see that they’ve been guiding me, and preparing me to be able to make the best choice.

Okay, I will go into some specifics. I’m putting these in words the best way I can.

“Don’t spend money excessively.”

That was the first one that I can remember that lead up to the decision for me to go back to school. At the time, I was working at my old job, with a good salary where I frankly didn’t have to worry about expenses for the first time in my life. And this message came to me, and all I could think was, “um … okay?” I wasn’t really going on a spending run, but I was being a bit fast and loose in some things, and so I took the instruction (or advice … I have another great story about me *ignoring* the Holy Ghost I should post on here) as something to take into account.

“Register for school, and sign up for classes, that conflict with your work schedule.”

My friend asked me a few months ago, “So, are you going to go back to school?” I realized that I hadn’t given it much thought. I took the “year off” before, not doing anything for two semesters, and taking an Intro to Criminal Justice class because I thought it would be fun. Not related to my major at all.

So I really had to think about it. Did I want to stay where I was, or go back to school and finish up my degree? I decided I wanted to go back and get my degree. “But how can I schedule things?” I would ask myself. I’d most all of the freshman and sophomore level classes in Behavioral Sciences already. They were easy to schedule in the past because I could do them either online, or one night a week, or on the weekends. Finishing my degree though would require me to take the junior and senior level classes, which don’t have the same scheduled opportunities as the others. Some of my classes this semester were offered only at one time. And they conflicted with my work schedule. I couldn’t really schedule a class that started at 11:30 in the morning, since I figured work wouldn’t like me taking off during the middle of the day. But, that message from the Holy Ghost came to me clearly. Again, my response was somewhere in the range of “uh … okay,” and I did. I started putting together a schedule.

“You’re not going to be working at your job much longer.”

I feel like I should note again that these instructions come as feelings, more than words. A better description might be that it comes as understanding. I’m saying that so that my translation to words should be considered that — a translation.

This one really surprised me, and my response was again an “um, okay ….” I wanted to go back to school full-time, and I assembled a schedule where all my classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays or online. That made it so I could work part-time if I wanted to. Another pattern that the Lord uses with me is that He gives me lots of time to prepare for something. And everything that I was told to prepare for, or to expect, came true.

I was talking with a friend the other day who does therapy, and asked him if he ever receives inspiration when working with people. His answer was yes. I have the same thing happen to me. He made an interesting point, though. That if we learn to trust God, and we develop the skill of listening to the Holy Ghost, then we come to a point where we expect it to help us. We can make plans that include Him. I really like that.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there’s a special blessing we get, called a patriarchal blessing. I never share any of it from mine simply because it’s highly personalized. I won’t share the words specific to it, but it does make the same promise to me. That I will have opportunities to work with people who are making important decisions in their lives, and that while counseling them, that I’ll receive inspiration from the Lord. And most importantly, that I will recognize that it comes from Him.

I’ve had to work to recognize when a thought, feeling, attitude, idea or sense of understanding is from the Holy Ghost or not. I have to work harder at not ignoring it some times. It’s pretty common for me, when getting instruction or ideas to respond with, “That’s a good idea, I might do that.” Fortunately, for me, Heavenly Father has learned perfect patience. Even though it takes me a long time to listen and obey sometimes, He knows that I eventually do … and I know that, too.

If there’s “blind faith,” I think that it refers to I don’t see the exact direction we’re going, but I’m going there on faith. There is always a lot of studying things out in my mind before making major life changes such as these — like cutting off my entire source of income. What happens is that faith combines with understanding again. There is inspiration, but there is also cooperation. I do lots of research, I look at my options, and then when I take inspiration and instruction into consideration, the best option simply stands out. And that’s the one I chose.

I’m trying to get out of my lease at my apartment. It’s not a high amount of rent, it’s just that I’m not working right now while going to school, and it’s my biggest expense. I don’t know how I’m going to manage after I’m out of here, but I’m not that worried — I’ve had more difficult life transitions and things have always worked out through some foresight, lots of planning, and miracles. It’s generally not long after the fact, though, that I look back and see the pattern that the Lord had in influencing others. There’s a great phrase used in the scriptures a lot, where the Lord “softens their hearts.” I feel like that when there are times where I’m facing aggressive positions who would normally work towards making things more difficult or impossible for me, that the Lord “softens their hearts,” and I’m able to move forward.

I knew that I had to go talk to my office about getting out of my lease, and I’ve been dreading it for a while. My lease agreement simply says that if I’m looking for a buy-out, to just go talk to the office and to see what options there are. So, today, I woke up, and knew that this was the best day to do it. I was standing in my kitchen, worrying about it, when I remembered two things. The conversation I had with my friend about knowing to expect the Holy Ghost, and a passage from the scriptures where the Lord says to “be of good cheer.” I realized that if I walked in there with anxiety, that it would be hard for me to hear the Holy Ghost. So, I put aside my fears, and put my trust in God instead, and went down and talked to them in the leasing office. In cases like this, it’s never certain which way something is going to go. Nothing happened. No magical miracle. My lease is through December of 2017, and they said they don’t have any buy-out options right now. Okay, that’s fine, no worries. They also said to check back in a few weeks. Cool. I can do that, too. There’s still this lease I’m in, and I haven’t had anything from the Holy Ghost telling me to go read this clause and present this case or what not. I haven’t seen any miracles, but at least I did so far what I’ve been instructed to do, in combination with what I’d planned to do. For now, I’ll just continue to stick to my original set of plans — figure out how to pay for my apartment. Something miraculous might happen. Or it won’t.

Lest I paint myself as this all-obedient son of God who walks around with shields of blazing resoluteness, it’s worth telling a great story that I like to call “The Five Stages of Me Ignoring the Holy Ghost.” This one is very personal as well, but I felt inspired to share it with the congregation one Sunday, and so I’m marking this one as de-classified. Here’s how it goes.

The Five Stages of Me Ignoring the Holy Ghost

One semester, I had my English 2020 class, where there was only one assignment — write an original, twenty-five page paper. The paper had to have certain elements in it as well, which we worked on during the semester, and your grade on the paper was partly a pass-fail system. Either you got every major component in there and passed, or you didn’t, and you flunked the class. So there was a lot of pressure, a lot of work, and I was stressing about it quite a bit.

The day came that it was due, and I was still working on finalizing my draft. It was a Monday, which is when the mid-single adults in my area (31 to 45 years old) would have activities (our version of Family Home Evening). There weren’t a lot of people who would go, and because of that, the activities were somewhat rare. Usually once a month or so. And one of them fell on that night.

The first prompt came, “go to the singles activity.” Stage One response is “mmmmmm, no.”

I go back to working on my paper, focusing on it, tweaking it, cleaning it up, etc. I’m getting panicked because the deadline is close, and I really need to be done.

Same prompt comes again, with the same instruction, “go to the singles activity.” Stage Two response, “I believe I just told you no.”

Fine, whatever, I ignore the prompting, go back to working on my paper. It’s due soon, and I’m anxiously reviewing the assignment instructions so that I make sure I’ve got all my bases covered.

Once again, the same prompt comes, same feeling, same instruction, everything — but also at the same volume. There’s no increasing, impending doom-voice that grows and shakes the earth. Just the same, simple suggestion / instruction. “Go to the singles activity.”

Stage Three of ignoring the Holy Ghost is “I said ‘no’, and here’s all the reasons,” and I start going through them one by one, logically explaining to God and myself why I had to do this. Family Home Evening is great and all, but nothing is going to happen. I’ve been to them before, they’re pretty standard, nothing exciting. I’m not that social anyway, and so most of the time I go, sit on the sides, hang out for thirty minutes, and leave (admittedly, sometimes I submarine it intentionally as well … show up 15 minutes before it’s going to end and then leave 3 minutes later).

I’m going over my paper, and at some point in this night, I’m getting really frustrated. When I review one of my papers and it seems incomplete or just not flowing correctly, my instinct is to just throw it away and start over. I’ve got at least 20 to 23 pages in here at this point. I have the content, but it’s just not working well enough for me.

Once more, God being patient with me, “go to the singles activity.” A Stage Four response is a loud, long grunt of annoyance. “Ugggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” and then again refusing to go.

All of this took place over the course of about two hours, mind you. There’s a good distance of about 30 minutes or so between each actual incident of instruction. Part of that reason is because that the Lord knows me so well, is that he has to start a few hours before the actual activity starts, because He knows that when I do finally oblige, I’ll get there to being around on time. I’ve learned that the Lord has a perfect sense of timing.

Still working on my paper. Still frustrated because it’s almost done, and anxious about turning it in.

The same message comes again after all this time, “go to the singles activity.” Stage Five, the final one, is grudgingly deciding to do it. “Fine!” I basically shout in my response. “I’ll go.” If my table hadn’t had half a dozen piles of carefully organized parts of my paper, I would have done a table flip as well. “There better be something cool that happens tonight, though,” I think to myself, since it’s soooooooo imporant that I go to this stupid thing. “There better be something awesome … like I meet my future wife, or there’s chocolate cake.”

I go the activity. There was zero chocolate cake.

In fact, there was nothing interesting at all that was going on. No fascinating message. The same people were there. I did the same thing as usual — hung out on the sides a little bit, ate some food. I probably chatted with a few people. I did stick around for most of it though because I was curious to see if there was something special cool that was gonna happen.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that the blessing came. Now that the Lord had gotten my heart to a place where I was a little bit more humble, and willing to obey, another message comes from the Holy Ghost. “Turn in your paper as it is right now.”

The idea of doing that surprised me, but I thought about it. And I decided to do it.

When I got back to working on my paper, I put some finishing touches on it, certainly not more than ten minutes, I turn in the paper.

Since this one assignment was tied directly to the overall grade for the class, I wouldn’t find out what my grade was until they were posted with all the other ones at the end of the semester. It would take about two weeks to find out if I passed or not.

I passed the class, and I got an A on my paper. Funnily enough, mine was on autistic spectrum disorder being re-classified in the DSM-V (the reference book used by clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.), and the professor asked me, “Have you ever considered working in behavioral sciences?” Pretty cool stuff.

I love Heavenly Father, and I love how He is so patient with me. I’m grateful that He understands me so well, and that He is so willing to work with me. That developing relationship between Him and I is what comes, for me, to listening to the Holy Ghost. The grades aren’t nearly as important as it is getting me to a point that I’m humble enough to listen and obey. There’s not always miracles, but there is that guarantee that He loves us, and He will help us. “Be of good cheer.” (John 16:33). Amen, brother.

“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.

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.

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. 🙂

“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.

“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. 🙂

“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.”

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.

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. 🙂