Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jesus Forgives Sins

Today I read Mark 2. In this chapter the most notable story to me is the story of Jesus healing the man who was sick with palsy. When Jesus came back into the city of Capernaum from the wilderness, people quickly found out about it and thronged the house where He was staying. The man who had palsy was on a bed and four of his friends were carrying him and saw that they would never be able to get the bed inside the house. So they took off the tiles from the roof and lowered him into the house.

When Jesus saw their determination and their faith, He was moved with compassion to help the man. So Jesus tells the man sick with palsy that his sins are forgiven. Now that to me is interesting. It kind of hints to me that the reason the man had the palsy in the first place was because he had been doing things he ought not to do and the palsy was, at least partly, psychological. It certainly conveys to me that the man with the palsy was more concerned about his spiritual health than the physical health. I think that even if everything else was the same, the reason he had palsy etc, if the man had been more concerned about the fact that he cannot move, then Jesus would have told him first to take up his bed and walk.

Now, it can be argued that perhaps the man was concerned with his spiritual status too, but Jesus just used it as an object lesson to teach the scribes that were around. I do not think that is the case personally. I think that Jesus focuses on the individual and what they need most and if it can be used to help others, such as in this case with the scribes, then so be it. But I think Jesus would have healed this man in this fashion whether there was an audience or it was just him and Jesus alone.

Now, I can't really blame the scribes for feeling the way they did. They are sitting there, listening to Jesus teach and then the man with the palsy comes into the house from the roof and Jesus tells him that his sins are forgiven. Can you really blame the scribes for thinking in their hearts that only God can forgive sins? How would you have reacted if this were you? I'm not sure I would have reacted any differently, because only God can forgive sins. I was actually just talking about this very thing with a friend of mine who is not a Latter-day Saint just last week. We were discussing how some religions have people that absolve them of their sins and some do not. I personally think such practice came about from the true method of confessing certain sins to the proper priesthood authority that was certainly in place in the church Christ established after His resurrection. The difference is, a bishop or Stake President, or even the Prophet in the Latter-day Saint church does not forgive sins. They merely listen to the Spirit to determine if they have repented and if God has forgiven them. All the bishops or Stake Presidents do is restore the status of that member back into the church when they feel the person is repentant and the Spirit confirms it.

So again, how would you react if you saw a man forgiving the sins of another? I bet your thoughts would be very similar to the scribes in this story. I'm pretty sure mine would be. But the Savior I don't think is condemning them, merely teaching them who He really is and trying to help their unbelief. At least that is how I read the story. But regardless, you really can't blame the scribes in this story for being skeptical.

The rest of this chapter we have covered before in our reading of Matthew. The Savior calls Matthew to be a disciple, the Savior and His disciples pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath and eat them. Although, the JST version of the story of the disciples eating the corn adds something that Matthew did not have. When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, the JST adds a line that states that the Sabbath is for man to glorify God, not that man should not eat. I had not thought of it that way before, but it seems like the Pharisees way would have a person go without food if they had not prepared sufficiently before hand. I've actually known some Latter-day Saints who feel this way too, that they prepare all their Sunday meals the day before so they won't have to cook on the Sabbath.

I, like the Savior before me, feel such people do not understand the spirit in which the Sabbath day was given. The Sabbath was given so that man may glorify God and rest from their labors. I do not think it is pleasing to God to make such a big to do about how we keep the Sabbath day holy. Just focus on doing what God would have you do and be about His work and you will be fine. And if your life is in order and the Spirit is your companion, you'll know if what you are doing is considered breaking the Sabbath. But if your life is in order and the Spirit is your companion, I don't think you'll have to worry about keeping the Sabbath, such people tend to keep it naturally. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jesus Heals Peter's Mother-in-law and a Leper

Today I started the Book of Mark, chapter 1. Mark, as best as I can tell, was written to the Romans, those who were not familiar with the concept of a Savior and who did not look for His coming. One of the articles I read about Mark states that his audience was particularly those who placed a lot of emphasis on action and doing. As such, Mark has always kind of felt like the cliff notes version of the Gospels to me. He just speeds along and touches on quite a lot of things the Savior did without dwelling on them too much. Now, Mark was not one of the Savior's Apostles but rather was a young man during the time of Jesus. It is commonly thought that Mark's family owned the house that the Savior and the Apostles used to hold Passover on the last night of Jesus' life. Some believe that Mark actually learned all he did from the Apostle Peter and that the focus on the miracles and the actions of the Savior were Peter's and not Mark's own. Some day we will know for sure, but as we mentioned, Mark does read very quickly and has a tendency to focus on the miracles and the actions of the Savior as opposed to His teachings like Matthew and Luke did.

In the first chapter, Mark cover's the Savior's baptism, His sojourn in the wilderness where He is temped of the devil and the calling of His disciples, most notably Peter, James and John. And that's just the first 20 verses! The rest of the chapter focuses on miracles that Jesus performed in and around the city of Capernaum.

When I was younger and was going through seminary, I had the unique experience to have a different teacher all 4 years. For the New Testament I had the wonderful opportunity of my teacher being my very own mother. She is very knowledgeable of the scriptures and a good portion of my knowledge comes directly from her, as is probably true of most people. But I remember in seminary reading the Gospels and at times being confused about certain things and it was a real treat to be able to discuss them at length with my mother even after class was over. But I bring this up because I used to be confused by the story where the Savior cleanses a man of unclean spirits and the spirits loudly acknowledge the Savior as being the Son of God and Jesus rebukes them to be quiet. I had always wondered why when He was trying so hard to get the Jews to recognize Him for who He was that He would silence one who could most assuredly proclaim who He was.

I asked my mom about this and she told me that it was the wrong type of endorsement. Yes, the unclean spirit could, and in this case, did proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, but it is not a good thing to have the testator of who you are to be a devil. I like to think of it as if you were on trial for something and the only character witness they could find to vouch for you was a drunken drug addict. Would that look very good upon you? Absolutely not. So it is in this case. I certainly would not want to be associated with an unclean spirit in any form or fashion. So I can understand that while yes, Jesus' mission was to save all mankind and He was the promised Messiah to the Jews, He did not want endorsement from the wrong crowd.

The next miracle that Mark records is Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law. You know, the scriptures do not often talk about women or even bring them up except in a few notable instances such as Ruth and Esther. But you kind of have to wonder in this case with Jesus' Apostles, what did their wives think of them just up and leaving their livelihood like that to follow after Jesus? Now, I may be guilty of analyzing this under New Historicism and imposing American culture upon the 1st Century Jews, but it seems to me that if I came home one day and told my wife that I had quit my job in order to follow around the Messiah, she'd have me locked up and shipped off to the funny farm! But perhaps Jewish society was not that way and the women were very understanding and perhaps when Peter's wife saw Jesus heal her mother, any doubts she may have had were dispelled. We are just not told. But we do know that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law and word spread quite rapidly and Jesus spent all the rest of that day healing all those with infirmities and when night came He left the city to go into the wilderness to be alone.

The final miracle Mark records in this chapter is Jesus cleansing the leper. The leper had great faith stating that he knew Jesus could heal him if he only wanted to. Jesus replied that He did wish to heal the leper and did so. He then tells the leper to go show himself to the priest but to tell no one about how he got healed. The leper does not heed this counsel and immediately begins to tell everyone he meets how Jesus healed him and Jesus is soon swarmed to the point that He has to leave the city. This is another one when I was younger that I was a little confused. Why would Jesus not want the man to tell anyone. Somehow I managed to miss the very next verse where it answers that very question. Jesus did not have any problem healing all those that came to Him, but when it because known that He could heal leprosy, He knew no peace. People came from all around to see Him and to be healed by Him and there were so many that Jesus could not stay in the city but rather retired outside the walls of the city.

You can definitely tell Mark had a much different audience in mind than did Matthew. Mark does not even touch on the divine circumstances concerning Jesus' birth and instead jumps straight into His ministry and the miracles that Jesus performed. We will see more of this focus over the next 15 days as we read the book of Mark. But it will be a very worthwhile journey as Mark has a few stories not in the other Gospels and a different take on some of the same stories. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

He is Risen

Today I read Matthew 28 where the Savior is resurrected. This is a very brief version and does not go into as much detail as the other versions of the story do. It is interesting to me that all the Gospels say it is one angel that talk to Mary Magdalene and Joseph Smith corrects it to read that it was two angels. I have always wondered of all the things to change in a manuscript, why change the number of angels that were present, either maliciously or otherwise. All I can think of is that it is important that it was two angels because of the law of witnesses, namely out of the mouth of two or more witnesses shall every word be established. I just find it interesting but I am not sure there is anything of significance beyond it.

The part of Matthew's account that is different than the others is that Matthew makes a point to tell us that the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin bribed the guards to report that it was Christ's disciples that came and took away the body and not that He was resurrected. That is not in any of the other accounts which makes sense considering Matthew was writing to the Jews. So it would make sense that Matthew would make mention of the fact that the leaders of the Jewish church would want to cloud what really happened. In a way you gotta wonder about the smallness and pettiness of these men. The first person in the history of humanity is resurrected, and these men refuse to believe it and pay to try and cover it up. It is really quite unbelievable.

With the resurrection, Jesus' work is complete. What began in the Garden of Gethsemane, what continued on the cross was made complete by the Savior conquering death and overcoming the grave. He is rightly called the first fruits of them that slept as He was the very first person of all those who lived and died, to be resurrected and He paved the way for all of us to be resurrected too. Everyone who was ever born on this earth and received a body, even if only for a second, will be resurrected and receive a body again. The only ones of all of our Heavenly Father's children who will not receive a body are Satan and his followers who were cast out and denied the privilege of being born into mortality.

It seems kind of strange to me that I don't have more to say on the single most important event that has ever happened. But everything I could ever write has been said and spoken a dozen times over, and Matthew's account is so brief compared to all the others, I mean he only covers the very bare minimum, pretty much that it happened and that's all. There will be other things to talk about in the other Gospels when we get there, but for now I will just bear my witness and testimony that I know He lives and was resurrected. I was not there and have not seen Him with my physical eyes, but I don't need to. The Spirit has borne His witness to me, as is His role and I know just as if I had seen and handled His wounds with my own two hands that the Savior lives. He died so that we all might live and He is still watching over us and paving the way for us so that we can all return to live with our Heavenly Father. This I know to be true and I so testify in His sacred name, even Jesus Christ, amen. Until tomorrow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Savior Dies

Today I read Matthew 26 where the Savior is crucified and completes the Atonement by dying so that we all might live again. There are many interesting things in this chapter and a couple of them only appear in the Matthew account. For example, Matthew records that Pilate's wife sent to him and told him to let Jesus go free because she had a dream about Him the previous night that discomfited her.

I once read a talk about Pilate that I believe was by Elder Maxwell. He states in the talk that Pilate was a pretty ruthless man in his youth and a very ineffectual governor. I only bring this up because I have always been extremely interested in why Pilate didn't just tell the Jews they were crazy and release Jesus anyway. From what I remember of the talk, Pilate feared if he did that an inquiry would be made back to Rome and it would cause him a lot of trouble and he'd rather forestall it by just having Jesus killed than to risk the civil unrest it would cause. I do believe that Pilate honestly believed that if he had Jesus punished and whipped the people would recant their desire to see Him killed. That is of course not the way it happened.

I've heard it said before that nothing will cause an argument quite like politics or religion. I say that because as many times as I read this account, I cannot get over the fact that the Jews asked to have a murderer, a convicted killer mind you, released into public society as opposed to letting Jesus, who was only accused of blaspheme go. They would rather run the risk of having one of them die at the hands of Barabbas thank let Jesus go, who the only thing they were upset about with Him is that He states He is the Son of God, a blasphemer in their mind. I just cannot get over that, no matter how hard I try.

I also find it almost incomprehensible that Pilate would think a simple washing of his hands would actually not put the Savior's blood on his hands when it was him and him alone that gave the final order to have an innocent man, acknowledged by him, put to death. I remember hearing a talk once by either Elder Neal A. Maxwell or Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that stated that Pilate was never more guilty than when he washed his hands in front of the Jews. His cowardly act always reminds me of those scenes in movies when the bad guy is threatening the life of some innocent person and they tell the hero that unless they do something for him, they will kill the innocent and their life will be on the hands of the hero. I always shake my head in wonder at such scenes and wonder if the villain really believes that, or if they are just trying to unnerve the hero. Regardless, I sadly think that Pilate really believed his act was enough to foist the blame off of himself and onto the Jews. I can only imagine what the judgment must have been like for Pilate to have knowingly killed an innocent man, let alone the Son of God Himself. I shudder to have been in that judgment.

Matthew records that when the Savior died, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom and there were many earthquakes. He also records that after the Savior was resurrected, that the graves of many of the Saints opened and the dead appeared unto many. I have often wondered why this particular piece of information was included at the time of Jesus' death since it cannot have happened until after Jesus was resurrected from the way it reads to me. But it happened when it happened and we will know someday the sequence of events.

A final note on this chapter, Jesus gave up His life voluntarily. Yes, He was put to death and He was on the cross which makes it extremely hard to breathe we are told, but Jesus died willingly and gave up the ghost on His own. When He had finished the Atonement, what He had been born to do and what all of creation waited for Him to do, He let His body die and returned to His Father in Heaven triumphant. Being half God, Jesus could have survived even crucifixion if He had so chosen. He could have kept His body alive, but He voluntarily gave up His life so that we all might be resurrected after death. There has never been a greater sacrifice in all of creation. Is it any reason why so many have declared they will bathe His feet in their tears? Without His selflessness, all of Creation would have perished and been for nothing. Thank Heaven for the sacrifice of Jesus. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Atonement Begins

Today I read Matthew 26, the chapter where the Savior is betrayed and performs the Atonement. There are several interesting things in this chapter that I have often wondered about. I also wonder why Matthew's account leaves out certain things that John puts in since they were both in the room at the last supper. I wonder if it has to do with the difference in audiences or if it has to do with John has the better memory and wrote his account after he was transfigured and so perhaps he had divine help in recalling the events. We will probably never know in this life.

Matthew records the last supper and gives almost a cliff notes version of the highlights of what happened in that room leaving out certain elements completely such as Jesus washing the Apostles feet and Judas leaving to go betray the Savior. But Matthew's account includes the sacrament and what it represents without going into too much detail. The Joseph Smith Translation adds a little more, but I think all religions are familiar with the sacrament and what it stands for and don't really want to focus too much on that.

Matthew then moves on to the act that is commonly referred to as the Atonement in the scriptures, that which was done in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew records that Jesus prayed to have the burden removed off of Him if at all possible, but stated that the Savior concluded that He was willing to put aside what He wanted and do as God saw fit. Matthew does not record the visit from the angel that Luke does nor the fact that He bled from every pore which Luke also recorded and Joseph Smith restores to the account and is confirmed in Doctrine and Covenants section 19. In Alma chapter 7 we learn that Jesus was not only taking upon Him our sins, but all our infirmities, our sicknesses, our times of loneliness, our hurts and pains, every negative thing and emotion that a person can feel. All at once. I often wonder if while He was going through it, if He saw our faces and it helped to bolster Him to know that He had saved Fred, or George, or Amy or Mary and so on. I would like to think that all of us, having yet to be born were standing silently around Him giving our support and praying with all our might for His success. We would have known that everything that had happened up to this point was hinging on that one moment in time. Again, we may never know in this life how it happened and the circumstances.

After it was over, the Savior came out of the Garden and woke Peter, James and John. What a sight He must have been. He was covered in blood, I'm sure He was filthy from kneeling on the ground and being wet from the blood all kinds of dirt and other things must be sticking to Him. I'm sure the Apostles exclaimed in shock at the sight of Him, though no such record is given. Then Judas came with the priests to take the Lord and valiant Peter stood forth to defend Him, still not understanding that this was all foreordained.

We will end on the denial of Peter. I have often wondered if the scriptures are not so much recording a revelation Jesus gives to Peter as it is recording a command that Jesus is giving him. Was Jesus rebuking Peter for his valiance saying that tonight you will yet deny me three times. Or was Jesus saying instead to Peter that he needs to deny knowing the Savior three times. Did He in fact take Peter aside and talk to him and help him understand that this is what needs to happen in order to save his life and that Jesus needs Peter to lead the church while He is off the earth? Did Peter cry out of shame at his own personal betrayal of the Lord, or was he crying because it hurt so much to not shout from the rooftops how proud he was to be associated with the Savior? We are not told and will not be told in this life I think. But it is my opinion and thought that Peter was in fact commanded to deny the Savior 3 times in order to save his life and preserve him. I have a hard time picturing the man who just cut off the ear of a guard to save the Savior's life suddenly being a coward and denying that he knew the Savior. To me, Jesus is not revealing that Peter will deny Him, but rather is commanding him to do it. But that is just my thought.

That is the account in Matthew and it is pretty much the same as the other three but there are things that are left out that are contained in other accounts that we will read in the coming months. However, we must remember that Matthew was writing to the Jews and so it makes sense that certain things are not included. I always get sad when reading about the Atonement and what the Savior did for me, because I know all too well what I have contributed towards His sufferings. I pray each and every day that I can become a better man so that I don't contribute too much more than I already have towards His suffering. I know that when I see Him again, I will fall at His feet and weep for joy and thanksgiving at what He did for me. I think most of us will in fact. But you know what, He was glad to do it and spare us that suffering, He volunteered because He loves us. Let us not betray that love and trust by willfully sinning and causing Him to suffer longer. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

10 Virgins, 5 Talents, Sheep and Goats

Today I read Matthew 25, which is the parable of the 10 virgins, the parable of the talents and the parable of the sheep and the goats. Most people I think are familiar with all 3 of these parables and in fact, in church last Sunday our Sunday School lesson was about this very chapter. It's funny to me that so many people when they first hear the parable of the 10 virgins, they usually react with harshness towards the 5 wise virgins for not sharing their oil with the 5 foolish virgins. I never did though, it always reminds me of that saying, a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

Even as a child when I heard this parable, I was always more curious why the 5 foolish virgins did not just plan ahead. It made sense to me that the 5 wise virgins only had brought enough oil for their lamps and did not have any to spare. Perhaps that makes me selfish, I don't know, but I've been on both sides of the equation where I was the one who planned ahead and someone else did not, or where I did not plan ahead and someone else did. There have been times where the other person shared with me or I with them, but there were far more times where they did not or I did not. Yes, it is a very Christlike thing to do to share even if you only have a very little. But it is also not wise to harm yourself to help another.

Put into spiritual terms, if someone was struggling with a problem, a sin, it is not pleasing to the Lord that you help them shoulder that burden by also partaking of that sin. If someone has a drinking problem, we should not accompany them to bars. And that goes the same for all other sins too. It is a wonderful thing to help others through their sins and burdens and I think God smiles upon us when we help others with their burdens or help clean up the effects of their sins. That is how we help shoulder the load that others bear. That is how we can have extra oil for our lamps if you will and help those others in need. But just like the 5 wise virgins, we cannot pull someone into heaven, it is a toll road that each must pay on their own. We can only help and encourage.

The parable of the talents is a pretty straight forward parable. We have each of us been given talents of the Lord and He wants us to use them and maximize them. However, on Sunday during the lesson, I had a thought that the talents could also be a type or a shadow for righteous living. As we live righteously, we gain in righteousness and we begin to change so that we desire to be even more righteous and grow and progress. To me that could be likened to this parable how the servant with 5 talents took them and made 5 more and the 2 made 2 more talents. These two servants took where they were and built on it. They took their love of the Gospel and their ability to follow the commandments and built upon that foundation so that they were able to keep the commandments a little better and a little more perfectly. But the servant who took and hid his 1 talent, he did not improve himself and is stuck in a rut and perhaps has even gone backwards a little bit. With such behavior the Lord is not pleased. As we have read in the Doctrine and Covenants, we should be anxiously engaged in a good cause of our own volition. We should not have to be commanded or compelled to be righteous. Just a different way to look at the parable and I don't know if it is more correct than the standard parable but it is food for thought anyway.

The parable of the sheep and the goats always brings Mosiah 2:17 to mind for me. The basis of the parable is that the sheep are those which served the Lord by serving their fellow man, whereas the goats did not. Mosiah 2:17 of course tells us that when we serve our fellow man we are only serving God. In the context of becoming who we want to be, serving our fellow man is the easiest way to become the type of man or woman we want to become. The Lord also uses mankind as His tools to perform His work. He comforts us best by sending one of his servants to us to say the right thing at the right time, or to help out in a time of need. And it is a good feeling to be the one providing that service as we have discussed in the past. Service begets love and our ultimate goal is to become like God is who loves all mankind. There is a reason He uses us to serve and fulfill the needs of others when He could do an infinitely better job Himself. It is because we need to do the serving as much as the person on the receiving end needs it. Remember, it is by small and simple things that He accomplishes His will. We are those small and simple things.

All 3 of these parables are pretty straight forward and are easy enough to understand. However, we need to put them into practice and make sure that we are preparing ourselves through righteous living and giving service to those around us that we see are in need of help, whatever that help is, even if it's only holding open a door for them. Like the hymn says, "there are chances for work all around just now, opportunities right in our way". And work for our Heavenly Father is bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, which for us translates to service. Don't let them pass you by, you will regret it if you do, I can promise you that. Until tomorrow.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Preparing for the Second Coming

Today I read Matthew 24, which is all about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming of the Savior. Jesus gives the Apostles some signs to look out for and warns them to be ready because no man knows the mind of God, or when the Second Coming shall be. He warns them that there will be many false prophets who will attempt to deceive many and will even be successful.

As I was reading this chapter and wondering what I was going to talk about since really we have already covered this chapter a few weeks ago during our reading of the Pearl of Great Price because this is a chapter where Joseph Smith added so much to it that it was added to the Pearl of Great Price, I had a thought. The Savior spends a bit of time in this chapter warning the people that no one knows when the Savior is going to come again and obviously if we knew when He was coming, we would try and prepare, much like a homeowner whose house is broken into would have stayed awake if he had known at what hour his house was going to be broken into.

But I got to thinking about it, and really there is no point in even wondering when He will come again. If we are focused on that, we are focusing on the wrong things. People look around today, including myself, and see the way the weather is acting and say it is a sign of the times. I am guilty of it too. People see all the wars that are going on and declare the end is near. Any of a half dozen other signs from the scriptures are taking place and we rightly attribute them to the end of the world being near because that is what we have been taught in the scriptures. However, I think that those who are truly prepared for His Second Coming are those that do not worry when He will come again.

What I mean by that, is that we have talked many times over the past year on how the final judgment is not some checklist of what we have and have not done, but rather a thorough, no holds barred examination of who we have become. So, I think that the right person who is ready for the second coming will not worry about when the Savior comes again but will instead focus on living their life they way they should be. And while it is true that no one is perfect, the person who is truly converted to the Gospel will be ready for the Savior to come tomorrow just as much as he will be 50 years from now. Because you have to remember, it's about what is in our hearts that is important, it's who we are.

Now, this is not to say we should not be concerned with the Second Coming. I personally am very concerned about it, because I look around at how crass and crazy the world has gotten and can't imagine it getting even worse. The thought literally sickens me. So I wonder and I hope and pray for my family and my children having to grow up in this constant deluge of filth and garbage that is always on display for them. And so I pray the Second Coming will be sooner rather than later. But even in that I err and should be instead focused more on teaching my daughter the Gospel and on being the best Christian I can be and living my religion to its fullest.

It interesting to me how we can read the scriptures and as good as we think we are doing, we will still find ways to improve. But that stands to reason because we are none of us perfect. We all have room for improvement and we all need to make sure we are focused on living the Gospel in the best way we know how and focusing on those things that matter most. Focus on the weightier matters, true discipleship as my bishop calls it. When we forget ourselves and go to work living the Gospel, amazing things can happen. If you want to see just how much a force for good you can be in this world, just pray and ask God to use you as His instrument in this life and you will be amazed and what you can accomplish and the experiences you will have. Don't do it unless you are ready for it though.

It's hard not to be caught up in the things of this world sometimes. There is a lot of good in this world and a lot that is ok. There is even more that is bad, but most Christians are not entangled in that. It can be a challenge to pass up that which is good for that which is best. But that is part of why we are here, to learn and decide where our hearts lie. It is up to us to choose for ourselves where we want to be, and we make those choices a dozen times everyday. Just make sure you can live with the choices you are choosing. They will be with you for eternity. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Beware of Hypocrisy

Today I read Matthew 23, which is one big long warning from the Savior against the Pharisees and the Scribes. It is really unfortunate that as a group, the Pharisees were so corrupt that the Savior felt He had to spend so much time making sure that the people knew not to be like them, because they were the leaders of the people. It is natural that the people would want to be like the Pharisees and the other leaders of the church, for that is who they would perceive as being the most righteous. I think most people are that way, whatever faith you have, you believe that those who are in positions of authority in your faith are the most righteous, the best able to follow the commandments. So it makes sense to me that the Savior would feel so strongly that He needs to condemn the Pharisees and make sure the people know not to emulate them, but it is really sad.

This chapter is one big long comparison of the Pharisees to other things and how they are hypocrites. For example the Savior compares them to a sepulcher that is white and pristine on the outside, but as with all graveyards, on the inside are full of dead bodies. And He gives many other comparisons of a similar nature. I remember when I was in BYU, I took a course on the first half of the Doctrine and Covenants and the professor told us that in the scriptures, God had condemned hypocrisy more than any other sin. He was basing that statement on the sheer number of times it comes up in the scriptures. But it makes sense again to me, because there are few things we as human beings will tolerate less than a hypocrite. Think about it, what is the very first defense children give when confronted by a parent as to why they did something they know they are not supposed to do, "But you do it". Children hear what their parents say but they follow what their parents do. Have you ever heard the phrase I can't hear what you are saying because your actions are too loud, or some variation?

It is a hard thing to avoid hypocrisy, for one thing because no one is perfect. We all know the 10 commandments, and the great commandments we talked about yesterday. We know what we are supposed to be doing and we want our children to be better than we were. So we teach them, and others, the right way to behave. But if we cannot put into practice what we are teaching, is it then wrong to teach our children to be otherwise? A parent who smokes tells their children not to be like them and to not start smoking because it has ruined their life. A trusted friend tells us not to commit adultery because it destroyed his family. Do we take these lessons as one from those who have gone before and have the benefit of experience and wisdom? Or do we look at someone touting ideals they themselves are too weak to put into practice?

I personally think there is nothing with telling those in our care, or who we have their ear, the right way to live and the right way to be. Hypocrisy is more of trying to pass yourself off as doing something a certain way when you are not. For example, the Pharisees were all about making sure everyone around them kept the Sabbath day holy, but they were doing it based on the traditions of their fathers, and not keeping the spirit of the law. They were guilty of telling the people to be like them when they were heading in the very wrong direction. There are many such people in this day and age and it seems every month we have a new person who we find out was living a completely secret life and we condemn them not for making mistakes, but rather for trying to hide them and pass themselves off as something they are not.

We generally will respect someone who gets up and freely admits they made a mistake and are prone to forgive them, most of us. But the sure fire way to get everyone mad is to maintain you did nothing wrong when the evidence is mounted against you. People hate to find out they have been lied to. It is the same now as it was back in the time of Jesus. I think perhaps the saddest part of Jesus' warning against the Pharisees is that it was in regards to all of them. It's very easy to typecast and to generalize and say everyone does that, but that is not true, it is only a select few that do that. However, in the case of the Pharisees, it was the vast majority that were the hypocrites and those whose hearts were actually in the right place were so misled by others that they were duped into thinking they were in the right. At least that is my thought and it saddens me. It is always sad to me when I see good men and women led astray because they want to do what is right but have fallen in with the wrong crowd.

Fortunately, we each of us have the light of Christ in us that helps us decide what is right and what is wrong. We need to make sure we are listening to it, it will tell us when people tell us things, or teach us things, if they are right or wrong. We especially need to teach our children to hearken to it and to make sure they are prepared for the challenges of an ever increasingly evil world. It might be the only defense they have. The scriptures state that if you teach a child the right way to live, they will not depart from it when they are grown. That is a comfort to any parent, but the most surefire way to get them to live a proper life, is to live a good life and pave the way for them to follow. Children want to be like their parents. Give them something good to aspire to and you won't be disappointed in them. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Two Great Commandments

Today I read Matthew 22. It's interesing that the Pharisees are smart enough to understand Jesus' parables, but not wise enough to understand that Jesus was the son of God. In a way, it was not their fault as all references to the Savior's first coming had been taken out of the scriptures. The ancient leaders did not believe the prophecies of the Jews killing their Savior to be true prophecies since they were waiting for the Savior to free them so they removed them from the scriptures, thus ensuring that it came to pass.

The Savior tells the Pharisees another parable, the one about the king who throws a marriage for his son but the guests do not show up. A clear reference to the Jews rejecting the Savior. The part of the parable that I don't understand is when the king notices one of the guests does not have a wedding garment on, he throws him out. I think this references those who desire to enter the kingdom without the proper ordinances being performed. It doesn't matter how much we desire to enter into the kingdom of heaven, if we are not properly prepared and have not done the ordinances necessary or taken upon us the proper covenants, we will not be allowed in. Nor would we honestly want to. We would be extremely uncomfortable in the Father's presence if we are not prepared, much like coming home too late after our curfew and having to answer our earthly father's questions of where we were and why we were late. It would not be a comfortable experience.

The part of this chapter that I enjoy the most though is the Savior's answer to the question of which of all the commandments is the greatest. We have talked before about how the 10 commandments are not so much do's and don'ts as they are a list of the traits our Father in Heaven has. And unless we exhibit the same traits as He does, we will not want to be around Him. I personally would not be surprised in the slightest if the final judgment is nothing more than the Father sitting down with us and explaining the type of people that will be in each Kingdom and asking us where we would like to go and where we think we would be most comfortable. Again, that is just my opinion, but it would not surprise me at all if that turned out to be the case.

But the 10 commandments can be easily sectioned into 2 neat categories, those that dictate how we are to act towards God, and those that dictate how we should act towards others. Though shalt not have any other Gods before Heavenly Father, thou shalt not make any graven images, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain, thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy. All of these commandments have to do with how we are supposed to treat Heavenly Father. Some might wonder what keeping the Sabbath day holy has to do with how we treat the Lord. To me it's about honoring the day He has set aside as holy. Heavenly Father has asked us to do no labor on the Sabbath and to cause no one else to do labor. He has also asked us to do His work on that day, and so by honoring those requests we are honoring His wishes. That is how I feel keeping the Sabbath holy is more about how we treat God than our fellow man.
The rest of the commandments, honor thy father and thy mother, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet. All of these have to do with loving our fellow man, or woman, more than ourselves.

If everyone followed these two commandments, there would be no crime, there would be no hurt feelings, there would be no people allowing their tempers to get the best of them, it would be a virtual paradise. During the millenium, the reason Satan will be bound is most likely because people will be following the 2 great commandments and treating others the way we want to be treated. As the scriptures state when there is Zion, the Saints have all things in common and they are one heart and one mind.

Sadly, we know this will not happen until the Millenium and the scriptures state that after the Millenium the people will go back to being carnal and devilish again. The scriptures teach that the nature of man is an enemy to God and has been since the fall of Adam. When man is taught to overcome that nature and to do what is right and to treat others they way they want to be treated, then society is pleasant and life is how our Father in Heaven wants it. Following the 2 great commandments is the best way to ensure a happy home and a happy family. Teaching our children to follow them is the best way to ensure a happy society and the effects continue to spiral out from there. It's nice to dream what the world would be like if we all lived the way the scriptures teach us to. Maybe some of us will live to see the day where we actually do. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Savior vs. the Pharisees

Today I read Matthew 21, which begins the last week of the Savior's life. This chapter starts out with the Savior sending two of His disciples into town to go and fetch a colt, according to the Joseph Smith translation, or an ass according to the King James' version. They then bring it back to the Lord and sit Him upon it and then He rides into the city of Jerusalem while the people lay palm fronds and other leaves and their clothes in front of Him for Him to ride over, thus fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah.

As usual, the Pharisees have a fit when they see the people revering the Savior and tell Him that He should stop them. Also as usual, He quotes scriptures to them so that they will understand that He cannot stop the people from recognizing who He is, and frankly at this point, He does not care. At this point in His life, the Savior has come into His glory and there are few things left to do before fulfilling His final mission. Matthew does not record the first instance, but the Savior actually cleanses the temple twice in His lifetime. The first time, He refers to the temple as His Father's house. However, this time, He refers to the temple as His house. I think it's after the Mount of Transfiguration that He comes into His glory and refers to the temple as His house.

You would think, after 3 years, that the Pharisees would be tired of trying to trick Jesus and trap Him in His words. But it would seem, like some people I have met in my life, they are just not happy unless their plans are dumped on their heads and they land on their faces in front of the people, who they fear to offend. It's just so funny to me that Jesus is SO much smarter than the Pharisees but they keep trying anyway. In this chapter, they want to know where Jesus got His authority to preach and perform miracles from. So Jesus states that He will answer them if they will answer His question of whether or not the baptism of John was divine or made up.

As usual, their fear of losing their power and upsetting the people is their downfall. They know that if they say it was divine that Jesus will rebuke them for not believing in it and being baptized, but they knew that it they said it was made up, that the general people would get upset because the people all believed that John was a prophet. So, they thought they had come up with the perfect answer and instead just plead ignorance. Which is not a bad answer considering their predicament, however, since they could not, or rather would not answer His question, Jesus declines to answer theirs. It is so funny how every time they try and trap Him, all He does is turn it right back on their heads and trap them instead.

The Pharisees were not stupid men. They know the scriptures and despite being a little overzealous, they understand Jesus' parables and when He is referring to them. Jesus gives them the parable of the unjust husbandmen who of course, represent the kingdom of the Jews. The Pharisees recognize at the end that the parable is about them and are quite upset about it, but once again they are afraid of upsetting the people and so they do nothing to Him. Now, the JST continues the story just a bit by stating that His Apostles came to Him and asked about the parable He just spake unto the Pharisees and Jesus reveals that the Kingdom of Heaven will pass from the Jews to the Gentiles. But it will not reside with the Gentiles forever since they too will be destroyed at His Second Coming. It is interesting that the Lord reveals to them that He will give His Kingdom to Gentiles here, but when Peter receives his vision later in the book of Acts to take the Gospel to the Gentiles there is resistance. Of course the Apostles were also flat out told that the Savior would be crucified and resurrected 3 days later and did not understand that either so I guess it is not all that strange.

I wonder if it was hard for Jesus, to have no one understand you like that. He had no one to confide in or rely on except for His Father in Heaven and the Holy Ghost. When He tells His earthly friends what is going to happen they do not understand, either because they choose not to, or because they are still expecting a military Savior. That is a very lonely place to be when you feel no one understands what you are being asked to do. I remember when I was preparing for a mission and I was very sad because I knew that despite their protests to the contrary, that my serving a mission would mean losing all my friends. I would come home a very different person and 2 years with virtually no contact would allow us all to drift apart quite a bit. Everyone around me told me I was worried for nothing that it would not happen that way. Unfortunately, I was right. I came home and while 90% of the friends I had left behind were still there, it was very, very different and we all eventually drifted apart again. Now, some I still keep in touch with but partly we drifted apart because we were all teenagers then with no responsibilities. Life happens when you grow up and now I have a wife and a daughter. Even if I were still in Kentucky where most of them reside, I would not really have the time to be with them like before.

Now that is a very weak comparison to make with the Savior and how no one seems to want to believe Him when He tells them He will be killed soon, but it's the only one from my personal life I can really make. I'm sure it must have been lonely for Him. Luckily, for us, because He has trod that wine press alone, He knows how to comfort us in our times of loneliness. We can turn to Him because He does know what we are going through, perhaps He is the only one who does. It is a comfort though that at least someone understands. And the best part is, He is never too busy to listen. All you have to do is pray. Until tomorrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Parable of the Labormen

Today I read Matthew 20. I have often wondered about this chapter and the parable that the Savior opens up with. He starts this chapter with the parable of the labor men in the vineyard. The natural man in me which desires the world to be fair, agrees with the laborers in this parable that the lord of the vineyard did that which was wrong. I don’t know why I should feel that way since I am well aware that the world is not fair. Not only that, the lord of the vineyard did exactly as he promised each of the laborers. It is not up to the laborer how much he will be paid for his labors once it has been agreed upon. He only has a say in the matter of saying yes he will work for that amount of time for that amount of pay. That is simple economics. But like I said before, the natural man in me can’t help but feel if I were one of the men who worked the entire day and received the same wage as a man who only worked an hour, I think I would be upset. And if I were one who only worked an hour and received an entire day’s wage, I think I would be embarrassed.

The really strange thing to me about this parable though, is that it is meant to highlight that no matter when a person joins the kingdom of God, their reward will be the same. That is how I have always heard it explained and how I have always interpreted it. And when it is viewed in that context, I am perfectly fine with it. I have no problem with someone who lived a life of sin and debauchery, finding the missionaries in the last year of their life and completely repenting and becoming converted to the Lord receiving the same reward as me who lived my whole life serving Him. I don’t have a problem with that at all. For some reason, I only have an issue with it when it is in the context of money. I wonder why that is? It could be because I realize that even though the person has now become converted, he/she still has to work on changing their personality and becoming the type of person who would want to be around the Savior and God. There is no such thing as a death bed confession as we have talked about before now. I truthfully don’t know if that is the reason or not, but I do know that it does not bother me in the least that a person’s eternal reward has no bearing on when they performed the sacred ordinances and became converted and started serving Him.

The other part of this chapter that struck me as interesting was when Jesus speaks to the mother of James and John, or the mother of Zebedee’s children as the scriptures state. She asks Jesus if her sons can sit at His right hand and on His left hand in the kingdom of Heaven. He responds back that she does not know what she is asking and that in order to grant such an honor, they would have to drink of the same cup that He shall drink of, as well as be baptized after the manner of His baptism. They respond in the affirmative that they will indeed do these things and Jesus agrees with them that they will. I’m not exactly sure what we are to take away from this though? We know that as His Apostles, these two men did indeed suffer greatly in His name, and I believe James was even martyred for His sake and we know that John did not taste of death but rather chose to stay on the earth to bring souls unto Him until His second coming. So I am not sure what exactly He means by this statement to James and John.

However, it did lead into the discussion with the rest of the Apostles that we mentioned a few days ago. Jesus tells His Apostles that if any of them would be the chief among the rest, that man would be the servant of all the rest. He goes on to give Himself as an example of what He is referring to. He states that the Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto, but rather to minister unto mankind and to give His life as a ransom for all mankind. Jesus could have chosen any life He wanted. He could have been born as a prince for a throne that was not deposed by a foreign nation. He could have come as the military commander the Jews longed for to throw off their oppressors and create a kingdom on this earth that would never be overthrown. However, He chose instead to be born in a stable, with animals and a midwife for His only witness besides His own mother and step-father. His first attendees were shepherds that were watching their flocks on a nearby hill. He chose a life of service to His fellow man.

If that is the role and life He chose for Himself, shouldn’t we look at our own life as well and see where we stand and what we can be doing better? The noblest thing we can do in this life is to serve our fellow man. I firmly believe that. Parents do it every time they have a new baby. The baby relies on them for everything, it cannot take care of itself in the slightest. That is why it is so easy to love a baby, because service begets love, like we talked about in yesterday’s post. If you need another reason to lose yourself in service, think on this: if we are trying to become like Jesus, shouldn’t try in our earthly life to emulate how He lived His? It makes sense to me. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Marriage and Riches

Today I read Matthew 19, which the first half of the chapter reminded me of when we read Moses 3 and talked about marriage being eternal, even from the beginning. Once again, the Pharisees, come to Christ trying to trap Him by, supposedly, hiding behind the law of Moses. This time, they are trying to trick Him on the matter of marriage. They know Jesus is trying to teach the Jews to live the higher law and rightly so, they guess that Jesus will say that one should not get divorced. So they try and trap Him by stating that Moses taught it was ok to get divorced as long as you give a written bill of divorcement. Jesus replies that it was because of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews that Moses was allowed to teach that divorce was an option.

Jesus however teaches them that one should not put away their spouse save in causes of fornication, or adultery, is in the wrong. I have always wondered about this. Because there are most certainly instances where people get divorced for reasons other than adultery and I personally think it is justified. For example any form of abuse in my opinion is simply intolerable and if it is not rectified immediately, should not be allowed to continue. So on the one hand I don't want to say I disagree with the Savior, but I do I guess. I agree that any man and any woman who both go into the marriage agreeing to put the others interest before their own and actively work at making it work all the days of their lives, will have a good, solid, and perchance even a happy marriage. The problem though, is one or both parties do not actively work at it all the days of their lives. One side gets tired of trying and starts to become selfish, doing only what they desire or they want to do all the time. The other side resents the first side and so starts to complain and cracks in the foundation start to appear.

There are many, many, MANY ways a marriage can fail. But thankfully there are also very many ways that a marriage can succeed as well. There is no 1 surefire method that is going to work for every couple. There are principles though that will work in every marriage and will keep it strong and keep it going but the implementation of those principles are vast and varied as many married couples will tell you. We've already mentioned one of the principles, to put the needs and desires of your spouse ahead of your own. As long as both partners do that fully and completely, nothing will tear you apart, nor will you WANT to be torn apart. Service begets love and you cannot serve someone for very long without growing to love them. When you couple that with the romantic love that begins most marriages, it will forge a bond stronger than any superglue could ever hope to match.

Another principle that every marriage needs is a willingness to forgive. Everyone makes mistakes and especially a newly wed couple. You are learning all about the person and what makes them tick and what you can do to please them etc and you are bound to step on toes at least once, it will happen. But if you are willing to forgive your spouse for the things she/he does that will drive you crazy, or worse, break your heart, then you will be able to weather any storms life throws at you. In my personal opinion, it is not enough to stay married no matter what, you need to stay happily married. Why else did you get married if not to be happy? Again, that is my personal opinion and I understand some might disagree with me. But I plan on not only being married to my wife for eternity, but to be happy about that fact!

Those are really the only universal principles I can name for a happy, lifelong, or eternal, marriage. Everything else is semantics and how people make it work for them. Because I believe in God, I personally think that one needs to involve God in their marriage to make it work, but there are plenty of atheist couples out there who make it work so that is why I did not name having God be part of your relationship as an essential key to making marriage work. But don't let anyone tell you their is the only way it is going to work, unless their way is selfless love and service with forgiveness in their heart. Many people will tell you ways that it works for them and I think that is wonderful. We can always learn something from others experience. Last October in our church's general conference, one the Twelve Apostles, Elder Richard G. Scott, gave a very wonderful, very helpful for many talk on how he and his wife made their marriage work and made it so wonderful. I took away many things that I could be doing better in my own marriage from that talk. I hope all those who listened to it or read it later also took away something they could use in their own marriage. It is always wonderful to hear good advice and examples of those who have gone on before and how they managed it.

The rest of the chapter contain a story of a person coming to Christ and asking what they need to do to obtain eternal life, to which the Savior replies they should live the commandments. When the young man replies that he has lived the commandments all his life, the Savior then replies he should sell all he has and give it to the poor and come follow Him. This the man does not do because he has great wealth and is loathe to part with it. The Savior then tells his Apostles that it is very hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. He says this because, at least in those days, the rich are generally very haughty and full of pride and in love with their possessions. Now, I think in this day and age we have a great many men and women who are wealthy but not necessarily full of pride and frequently give generous donations to those in need. But having wealth is a great challenge and stumbling block for a lot of people, one that not many overcome on their own. As we will read later, Paul tells the early Saints that the love of money is the root of all sin. And right he was. Think of all the horrors that are committed out of the desire for money. People do things they never would have considered doing in their wildest dreams when offered enough money. I can never understand such thought processes. You can't take the money with you and it will not buy you eternal life, all it will do is make this brief snippet of a sojourn here on earth a little more comfortable.

But, I can understand if you come into money by good, wholesome means of your own labor, how it can be a stumbling block. A few years back when President Obama gave America some money as part of an economic stimulus package, the first thought I had was all the things I could buy with the amount of money I was to receive. I realized how foolish such a thought was almost immediately and I am happy to report that I paid some bills instead, but the first impulse I had was to go spend it and do exactly what President Obama wanted me to do, go stimulate the economy! Wealth is indeed a stumbling block few people overcome on their own, if at all. I firmly believe that those who can't handle it, are not tested with it and that is one reason why some people never become wealthy beyond what their needs are, because they would not be able to handle the temptation. Again, that is just my belief and opinion. But Paul tells the saints in Corinth that they will not be tempted above that which they are able to bear, so it makes sense.

I have always been content to make enough for my families needs, and a little more to make our lives a bit more comfortable. I'm not sure I could handle the test of wealth. I guess time will tell. I know that if I am called upon to face that test, the first thing I will do is fall to my knees and ask for help. Fortunately, if such a thing happens to me, I know it will because I am strong enough to pass the test if called upon and will be able to move the work forward for the Lord wherever I am. And that is what we are here to do after all. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pride and Forgiving Others

Today I read Matthew chapter 18. In the first part of this chapter, the Apostles approach Jesus and ask Him, who is he greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord calls a little child to Him and explains that all must become as a little child and become humble. This would have really confused me I think if not for Mosiah 3:19 which we know tells us that the natural man is an enemy to God and always will be unless we become like a little child and become humble and willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him. The Savior is trying to teach the Apostles here that they need to overcome the natural man, much like King Benjamin did a hundred or so years earlier in the Americas.

Pride is a strange thing and it affects people in so many unique ways. But one thing is for certain, if we have pride, we are not ready to meet God and we will find it extremely difficult to submit to God's will. When we are full of pride we think our way is the best and are unwilling to back down if another idea is presented, or if we do, it is only so that we can prove how foolish the other person's idea was when it fails and will be quick to gloat. Can you ever imagine the Savior gloating or happy that we have failed? It's a tough mental picture to conjure up isn't it?

I think that is another reason the Savior encourages us to do so much service, and why He tells His Apostles that who so ever would be the greatest among them must be the servant of all. It's hard to be prideful when you are performing service. It can most certainly be done and I think most if not all of you have seen it being done, but it is a lot easier to forget yourself and think of others first when we are performing service. By the way the scriptures are written, it seems like that was a difficult concept for the Apostles to understand at first. But we know from later scriptures such as the Acts that they do come to understand what the Savior was teaching them.

It's interesting to me that one of the most important things to ever happen on this earth, the Lord giving the Apostles the sealing power, is only given 1 verse in this chapter. The sealing power, as we know, is so important that if we didn't have it and were not able to use it, the whole earth would pass away and we would be left without hope because we cannot be saved without our dead. We have to have the sealing power to connect the generations together otherwise we earth would be laid to waste the scriptures tell us. In order to accomplish this, the Lord gives His Apostles this authority and it is only mentioned in passing in verse 18. Of course I'm only mentioning it in passing in my post today as an interesting aside so I guess it's fitting.

The last half of the chapter is about forgiveness. The Lord gives the parable of the man who owed 10,000 talents to his lord and his lord forgives the entire debt when it cannot be paid. But this same man finds a man who owes him only 100 pence and puts him debtors prison when the man cannot pay. This story was one I had known since I was a child but did not become real to me until a few years ago. Just before I met my wife and consequently started dating, my life was really on the right track. I had a good job where I had just received a promotion, I bought a house and a new(to me) car. I invited 2 friends to live with me in my house since I was alone and life was good.

Life got even better when I met my wife and then decided to make her my wife. Well, as you would naturally assume, my two roommates had to move out. Both of them had fallen behind on paying their rent, one by only a month or so, but the other by several months. When they were moving out I reminded both about the debt, but knew since they were moving into a new place money would be tight for them and to pay me when they can. Not long afterwards I read this chapter during my personal scripture study and decided that I would give them 6 months where I would remind them once a month and that was all, but after the 6 months I would never mention it again regardless if they had paid or not.

My wife wasn't too keen on the idea but decided it was not her call since it had happened before we were married. Well the friend who only owed one month of rent paid after only a month and half, he felt bad that it had taken him so long and wanted to square the debt and did so. The other friend who owed several months rent, made promises that it would be paid, but eventually the 6 month mark that I had set myself passed and true to my word I never said another thing about it. Now, it was not a lot of money, only about $600-700 or so, but it was money that was rightfully owed to me and we could have used it for several things. But as I reflected on my situation I felt really good about my decision and the peace I felt completely swallowed up any bitter feelings I may have had about losing that money and not having the debt paid to me. But I remember thinking around that time how much I would want someone to do that for me if the rolls were reversed and I was unable to pay it. Now, not to slander him, but my friend could have indeed paid me if he had so chosen. The times I saw him after he moved out and before the 6 months were up, he bought a new(to him) car, a new cell phone and a few other things that easily could have waited. But through it all I would just remind him of the debt to me until the 6 months were up and then not another word about it. I honestly haven't thought of it in months until I read this chapter this morning.

As I stated, my wife had a hard time with my decision at first, but eventually agreed to let it go also. I have never asked her how she feels about it, maybe I should to see if she ever came around. I am confident she has as she does not appear to have any bitterness towards that friend. And she was in her right to be upset since he had the money and was choosing to buy other things instead of pay off the debt, but that was his choice and we have to remember that not everyone was raised the same way we were so we can't expect everyone to react the same way we would in a given situation. But we are commanded to forgive everyone no matter what they did that was wrong. And it is, or can be, a challenge to forgive everyone, especially as the things that people do to us get more and more severe. But if we don't forgive others when they do things against us, then the Lord will not be as quick to forgive us our trespasses either.

Few things in life can hold us back as effectively as not forgiving someone who has harmed us. And few things in life can feel as liberating as finally letting go of a grudge or forgive someone who has harmed you. When we forgive others it lets us move on and progress. It also is very soothing, almost like removing a splinter that you had forgotten it was there. And fortunately, forgiving others is something that gets easier the more you do it. If you find it difficult to forgive, again, this is something the Lord will help you get better at. You gotta love how anytime we want to improve, the Lord is right there cheering us on and ready to give all the help He can! Until tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jesus is Transfigured and Pays Tribute by way of Fish

Today I read Matthew 17 where the Lord is transfigured before Peter, James and John. When I was in seminary and right before my mission I had often wondered why Moses and Elijah, and others, were taken up into heaven without having to taste death. It wasn't until my mission that I put two and two together and realized that they could not have appeared to Jesus, and did whatever it is they had to do at this point in time without their bodies. Since Jesus is the first fruits of them that slept, or in other words, He is the first person to be resurrected, they could not have performed this mission if they had died. So it was necessary that they be taken up without having tasted death.

It also begs the question, where do those who are translated go? Do they go to the Celestial Kingdom and reside with God? Do they go to where the City of Enoch is with all those who were translated then, that is if they are not in the presence of God? We are not told actually. No is it entirely important for us to know I think, or we would know. Sometimes though it is fun to just think of these type of questions, knowing there is no answer that we have and just ponder on them. After all, who knows what we might learn if we do that? That is the way Joseph F. Smith saw the vision that led to Doctrine and Covenants section 138.

I doubt that Peter, James or John fully understood the import of what they were viewing at the time. They became frightened when God the Father spoke from the heavens and proclaimed who Jesus was. And who wouldn't be a little perturbed if the heavens themselves just started talking? I mean honestly, wouldn't that cause you to freak out just a little? But as they pondered on what they had seen, I'll bet that at first it didn't make a whole lot of sense. However, since they were forbidden to tell any man of it until after the Savior had been resurrected, they had some time to ponder on it and think on it. And perhaps the events that led to the Savior's death and the Holy Ghost coming to them after the Lord's death helped them understand the full importance of the event.

This chapter also contains a story of a man whose son had a devil in him and none of the disciples were able to cast it out of him. The Savior laments their lack of faith as the reason they were unable to cast out the devil. It is here he gives his famous analogy of the faith as a grain of mustard seed that we talk about a few weeks ago when we read Moses chapter 4. He also tells His disciples that devils are only able to be cast out through prayer and fasting. There is a power in fasting that I think most people don't realize. That is why when we read Matthew 4 and the devil picks that time to tempt the Savior it just seemed so incredible to me because that is when the Savior would have been at His absolute strongest Spiritually speaking. When we fast and do without food for a period of time, and it is accompanied by prayer I should add, we allow our bodies to diminish a little bit and give our spirits dominance.

When we fast appropriately, meaning we accompany our fast with prayer and with a purpose, we grow closer to our Heavenly Father and are able to commune with the Holy Ghost that much easier. Is it any wonder that fasting is the preferred method of learning new doctrines or gaining the faith necessary to perform miracles such as casting out devils? I sometimes wonder if we as a people, or perhaps it is just me that has this problem who knows, do not put enough stock in fasting and what it can accomplish.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus performs a miracle at the end of this chapter, largely to fulfill something Peter said to the publicans. They asked Peter if Jesus paid tribute and Peter of course replied back that He did. So Jesus tells Peter to go down and cast a line into the water and take the first fish that he pulls up and look into it's mouth and it would contain enough money to pay both their tributes. Just think about the sheer logistics involved in this miracle for a moment. First of all, the Savior was aware of the fact that a fish swimming in the very sea bordering the city they were in at the time, Capernaum by the way, has swallowed a piece of money, of a large enough denomination to fulfill two persons worth of taxes. Second, of all the other people fishing that day, He made that fish only bite on Peter's line. I for one am impressed by this miracle, similar to the new star appearing over Jerusalem that we talked about when we read 3 Nephi 1 all those months ago.

It really causes me to think when I read something like this because this is not just a miracle like moving a mountain that can be done on the spur of the moment, not to sound flippant or make light of such a mighty miracle. But a miracle such as this one or having a new star appear at the precise moment of His own birth requires careful planning, in the case of a new star perhaps centuries in advance. It really gives me a new insight into the mind of God and a grater appreciation for all that He does for little old me. I hope it does for you too. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Spirit Testifies of Christ

Today I read Matthew 16. It always surprises me how often the Savior's disciples did not understand what He was talking about. I would have thought that after following Him for several months and seeing Him do so many miracles, not the least of which include calming the storms and walking on the sea, that they would be more in tune with the Spirit. For example, when the Savior warns them to beware the Pharisees' and Sadducees' teachings, but instead uses the example of leaven, they think He is rebuking them for not bringing any bread. I just can't for the life of me think why they would interpret what He says to them as a rebuke about true bread.

I'm sure by now they should have been used to the Savior's way of talking, but then again perhaps not. The teaching in parables was probably still pretty new for them, so I guess I can understand their being confused by it but it is just so strange that they would think He would rebuke them in such a round about way. Maybe He had in the past and we don't have a record of it, who knows.

The meat of the chapter, or the part that stood out to me the most was the verses that most Latter-day Saints will recognize as a scripture mastery. Jesus asked His Apostles who the general populace thought He was. They gave several answers but the general consensus was that Jesus was a prophet. Then He asked them who they thought He was. Peter answered that He was the Christ, or the Messiah, the son of the living God. Jesus then tells Peter that he is blessed and that he did not come to this conclusion on his own, but rather the Holy Ghost had revealed it unto him. This goes back to one of our previous discussions about how active the Holy Ghost was during the life of Jesus.

The Holy Ghost was still testifying of the truthfulness of the Gospel and the divinity of Jesus, but to my knowledge, they were not giving people the gift of the Holy Ghost while Jesus was on the earth. But we do know from this verse that people could still feel the power of the Holy Ghost and feel the truthfulness of the Gospel through His influence. It brings up an interesting question, can one be convinced of the truthfulness of the Gospel without the Holy Ghost? It is the Holy Ghost's job to testify of the truth, and we can infer from that, to give people a testimony and help grow and existing testimony. So that begs the question, is it possible to gain a testimony, without the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the truth? The question is most likely moot because I do not think there will ever be a case where someone gains a testimony without the help of the Holy Ghost. Because even if you are convinced of it intellectually, the Holy Ghost would still testify of it to you to give you a Spiritual witness as well. Just food for thought.

The last thing that stood out to me is in verse 26, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man given in exchange for his soul?" Too many people don't realize that they are doing just this, I think. They are giving up their Spiritual lives for almost nothing. They are doing things that make our Father in Heaven weep and are reveling in it, not realizing what they are giving up. There are people that desire power in this life above all other things and are willing to give anything to get it. I've never understood why people do that, power is such a fickle thing. All it takes is 1 person to stand up against it and poof the supposed power is gone. Power does not make you stronger, it does not protect you and it for sure does not give a better Spiritual life. And yet people desire it. It's very sad to me.

And yet even as I sit here and type this, I have to wonder and do a self examination to see what I am giving up my soul for? What am I trading my spirituality for in this life? In other words, what sins am I too fond of to give up? What will keep me from becoming like my Heavenly Father? It's a very sobering question and thought and one that each person needs to answer for himself/herself. But each of us has that one sin that either they enjoy too much, or is too strong for them overcome themselves. It is only with the Lord's help that we can overcome it. Thankfully, He wants to help us and He wants us to return to Him. All we need to do is ask in sincerity and He will help you. Of course, just getting up the courage to genuinely ask is probably the hardest part. But once you pass that hurdle, it's all downhill from there and the rewards are SO worth it! Until tomorrow.