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

Taking notes

I wanted to write a little bit about some of the methods I use when studying the scriptures. I have a few personal ones I like to use, such as coloring schemes, but they aren’t universally applied. I’ll cover those in later posts. The major part of all my studying can be summarized in two words: take notes. I have plain notebooks that I write in regularly, one for each area that I’m studying. And that’s it. I just grab a pen and jot down whatever I think when I’m reading.

For me, studying the scriptures has to be as simple as possible, because I tend to drift in and out of it. I need to make the barrier to entry to resuming scripture study as small as possible for myself, and I can’t make it any simpler than this: to study the scriptures, just get pen and paper and write down whatever pops in my head.

What happens is that as I take notes, it causes me to actually read the scriptures more closely than I normally would. Instead of just making it a ritual experience that I’m getting through as part of a daily routine, I pay attention, take more notes, and the cycle reinforces itself as what I write causes me to think more about the content.

The approach towards note-taking is unstructured as well, so that it can apply to different levels of study: either in-depth or simple. That is, while it’s good to have personal scripture study methods, it’s unreasonable to expect myself to meet certain guidelines all the time. Doing that pushes me away, because it feels like I can’t meet my own standard of success. I’ve found that the blessings come from the desire to learn first and foremost, and I always feel like the Lord is pleased with me if I can at least have a desire to learn. On the other hand, effort without desire makes me not enjoy or look forward to the experience.

For reading the Book of Mormon, I jot down one-liners because I’m not interested in an in-depth study at the moment. Every once in a while though, I’ll go into more detail about questions or thoughts that I had about a certain verse, but for the most part, it’s always a short sentence and anything beyond that doesn’t exceed a few lines. It works well for me. Plus, it’s fun to go back and re-read my notes that I’ve done previously. That always has the effect of making me want to study some more.

I have only one book at a time that I would say I’m “studying” in-depth. Last year, I was really into Isaiah for a few months and had covered reading and taking notes covering almost all the chapters. But then I took a break from the habit, and when I eventually came back, I couldn’t resume that old level of commitment and intensity. So, I started studying the book of Luke from the New Testament instead. And this time, in place of taking detailed notes, I decided to keep it simpler.

My approach when starting over was to document the doctrine that could be found in the verses. And that’s all — a really small method that isn’t threatening or overwhelming as I get back in the habit of studying. If I have a break, for whatever reason, I don’t put myself under pressure, and I let my expectations reset as I start over again. Over time, the level of intensity will increase to where it was before, but only as I keep it a regular process.

That’s one thing I love about the Holy Ghost, is that He is always ready to help you — wherever you are at. So a lot of times I just grab a notebook, let myself relax, and let the Lord teach me. It works. :)

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Filed under Methodology

New blog

Hello there. I’ve been writing more and more posts regarding religion and scripture study on my personal blog, so I thought it might be a good idea to start a new one just for that. :)

Plus, I’ve been cleaning up my old website, nephi.org. It’s long been unmaintained, and I’m interested in poking and prodding at it a bit. Right now, it’s got a few bugs hanging about, but I’m working on it in the background on a new host and I’ll have it cleaned up proper soon.

If you want to read what this blog is about, just check out the about page.

I’m going to copy my blog posts about scriptures from my personal one over to here, just so I have them all archived in one place. So there will be a lot of content, but it’ll already be familiar to some.

Comments are enabled for the blog posts, so I’d be interested in hearing your comments if you have any to share. :)

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Isaiah, Luke, New Testament, Notes, Old Testament

Archives: when things go wrong

I have had a couple of experiences recently that have made me stop and wonder how I react when things don’t go the way I planned. And by recent experiences, I mean, I’ve had a few things not go so well lately. But I’m curious about my attitude after the fact. I’m noticing that I often use it as a justification to do something irresponsible, because, I somehow deserve it.

One simple example. I love to go driving around as a way for me to just relax. I do it a lot when I need to go think for a while, and either get my mind off of things or just ponder on something. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I also like to drive fast. Most of the time, I’m a safe, reasonable driver. When things go really bad though, and I decide to go for a drive to cool myself off, I’ll tell myself it’s okay to go speeding down the freeway like a madman to help me unwind and relax. So, somehow in my mind, when life does not meet my expectations, I’m justified in executing civil disobedience. That is not right, but it’s my attitude. In fact, in those times of anxiety, not only is it my attitude, but it *feels* right. It really does feel like I’m allowed that exception to responsibility. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out where that came from.

I have another example that seems totally unrelated, but it’s been rolling around in my head as well. Chocolate has been marketed in my lifetime as a rewarding pleasure for when things go wrong in your life. You’ve had a rough day, go lounge on the couch while sucking on a piece of candy, and all will be right. The principle marketed is that if, if things go wrong, you deserve a reward.

I’m starting to break down that assumption as well and try to rework my perspective. It requires humility. Which is hard. And that’s what occurred to me last night, after a very long day of many things going wrong. At first, like usual, I was angry, and determined to do something to “make things right.” Some way to reward myself. What got me started thinking about how maybe my attitude was wrong is I decided that I didn’t have to get up early the next morning to go to my Bible study class before work and I could sleep in instead. That’s when I realized that my attitude of self-reward was cutting me out of things that would really be blessings in my life. Once I got on that mental track, I started re-thinking the purpose of trials and difficulties. And it was then that the Lord had a chance to work on my heart a little bit, and I became humbled to a small degree. The anger and bitterness left my heart. I got to see, in part, that I had become hardened by the obstacles that He thought I was ready to face. Instead of rising to the challenge and seeing them as opportunities for growth, I was viewing them them with an attitude of “how dare you upset my stability?”

I often wonder what the purposes and reasons for the Lord sending us here to earth are, and I believe that one of the main ones are that we are here to experience hardship and difficulty, so that we can grow. Honestly, that’s a really hard concept for me to swallow. But as I tried to see things from a better perspective last night, it just felt *right*. So I think I may be onto something, and I’m going to try and see if I can’t figure it out some more.

I’m not really excited at the prospect of more things going wrong, but I’m starting to wonder now if it’s one way the Lord is trying to tell me something. For instance, that my load is too heavy and I’m not keeping balance.

I think there are a lot of things I can learn when things go awry, and they include lessons about myself. How to keep calm and cool under pressure is one that is really difficult. At work, I’ve learned to solve it with one change in attitude: we pull together, not apart. I’ve found that a lot of my stress and anxiety comes when I try to get myself out of a predicament. But if I focus on getting through it, working with others, then it requires a lot more self-resolve and patience. Both are areas I could use some work on.

I’d like to leave one last note, for myself at least, that this is certainly not a new principle acquired. It’s just something I’ve started to figure out. I’ve got work to do on the area.

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Filed under Notes

Archives: truth and trivia

At work today, I randomly commented to my friend, Jason, “It’s interesting to note what drops out of your life when your time gets filled with important things.” That seems to be the trend my schedule is taking lately. Not to say my schedule is a paragon of efficiency and order. I just had pudding for dinner. But I have noticed that as my surplus of resources diminishes, things change. And it’s curious to note what gets dropped.

It makes me think of this talk I heard some time:

“When compared to eternal verities, the questions of daily living are really rather trivial. What shall we have for dinner? Is there a good movie playing tonight? Have you seen the television log? Where shall we go on Saturday? These questions pale into insignificance when times of crisis arise, when loved ones are wounded, when pain enters the house of good health, or when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Then truth and trivia are soon separated. The soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we leave this life? Answers to these questions are not discovered within the covers of academia’s textbooks, by dialing information, in tossing a coin, or through random selection of multiple-choice responses. These questions transcend mortality. They embrace eternity.”

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Filed under General Conference, Notes