Monday, April 30, 2012

The Use of Gold in Sacred Things

Today I read Exodus 25 where the Lord gives Moses instructions on how to build the ark of the covenant and several other items too.  It is interesting to me that everything the Lord asked Moses to build for Him was to be either entirely made out of, or at least accented in gold.  At first I wondered why that would be, but I think it was a preservation technique.  Wood will eventually rot and become as crumbly as old paper.  But metal, gold, is forever.  The Lord does not care about money, He created the world and can create more precious metals and stones if He needed them.  When He tells one of His servants to make something in gold, it is a matter of preservation.

I am reminded of the gold plates that the Book of Mormon was written on.  It was done this way to preserve them and it was written on gold because gold is a soft metal and the prophets were able to write in it with not too terribly much pressure.  But the fact that it was gold made them very tempting to everyone, even Joseph Smith at first had a fleeting moment when he saw them for the first time at how much gold was there.  It's human nature.  I wonder if that is not another reason that  the Lord uses gold?  To help His servants grow and force them to overcome the natural greedy man and focus instead on the things of the Lord.  At least that is my thought on why He always wants them to use gold.  Until tomorrow.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Exercising our Agency

Today I read Exodus 24 where Moses goes before the people and reveals what the Lord has told him so far.  This scene reminds me a lot of Mosiah chapter 5 where the people share their testimony, or of the modern day church when the members are asked for their sustaining vote.  The Lord always has us do things of our own free will.  That is why when we make a choice not to do something, it is even more detrimental in my opinion, because we made the original choice to do it freely.

I have always wondered about opponents of the Church and how we are called a cult.  Some even go so far as to accuse us of being brainwashed or duped.  Such people have never seen a church meeting and have no idea that all decisions in the church are ratified by the members of our own free will and choice.  That to me is one of the great things about this church.  We all have a say in it and we get to voice our thoughts and opinions.  Even in the temple, where we make our most sacred covenants, the Lord stresses that we are making them of our own free will and can leave at any time if desired.

Agency, or the ability to act, has always been the most fundamental and important part of God's plans.  It is what Lucifer tried to take away from us.  It's what a third of the host of heaven wanted removed from the plan of salvation.  What they did not understand is that agency is the essential to our progression.  We have to make choices in order to progress and become better than we currently are.  Only by making covenants of our own free will can we grow closer to Heavenly Father.  Everything is our own choice and that is what makes us unique.  We understand the role that agency plays in our Heavenly Father's plans.  We understand how agency works in our own lives.  We understand what it means to be agents.  And like the Israelites before us, we have an opportunity to accept the Gospel and agree to live its teachings.  In our day and age we do this through baptism by immersion.  But we still are saying as our ancestors did of old that we agree to abide by God's laws and precepts.  And by so doing we grow one step closer to our Heavenly Father.  Until tomorrow.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Common Sense and Uplifting Others

Today I read Exodus 23 where the Lord continues giving instructions for how to be a good person.  Most of the rules He gives them are just common sense to me honestly.  And yet, I started thinking about it, and why was the culture so very different?  Does the culture define the times, or do the times define the culture?  What I mean is, during the 19th century, people made a very clear change in attitude and how they were acting and truthfully it started even before that.  But what caused the people to make that change?  Why are traits that we now take for granted and view as common sense, why were they cultivated?

And truthfully I say they are common sense and yet the world seems full of people that seem to not have the very common sense I am speaking of.  Just yesterday I was reading an article about someone who sued a company over a product, Nutella, a chocolate morning bread spread, because they found out that it was not healthy for their child.  Not only that, but the lawsuit left it open for any one else who was similarly "duped" to get compensation for buying the same product.  I bring that up because the Lord talks about lawsuits in this chapter and how we should not try and subvert justice and yet, it seems like that is all we do in our country these days.  Our legal system, especially the litigation part of it, is a joke, a complete mess.  And greedy, evil people take advantage of it all the time.  I wonder what such people will do/feel when they stand before their creator and He asks them if they were honest with their fellow man?

I was surprised to see elements of what I consider to be the higher law in this chapter too.  For example, the Lord tells them that if they see an ox or ass of their enemy that has gone astray, they are to return the animal to their enemy.  That strikes me as remarkably similar to the idea that we should do good to them that hate us.  So it would seem that even though the Lord was telling the Israelites how to behave in each and every situation and giving them a very basic law, there were still elements of the higher law that Jesus taught when He came mixed in.  That's good.  It's always a good idea to help others rise above where they are.  It reminds me of President Uchtdorf's talk "Lift where you stand".  If we lift other around us, the world would be such a better place.  Until tomorrow.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tough Love

Today I read Exodus 22 where the Lord further instructs Israel on how to behave and on what His expectations are.  I had an interesting moment while reading this chapter today.  In verse 27 the Lord tells the Israelites that if they borrow a coat from someone, they need to return it lest the person pray to God and God will hear the person because God is gracious.  As I was reading this line, the thought jumped in my head that based on the last two chapters God doesn't seem very gracious to me.  And it got me thinking, is the reason God being so strict on the Israelites God's fault or the people's fault?

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about a parent here on Earth dealing with a toddler.  Little children who are just learning to walk and learning their boundaries pretty much have to be told everything.  My daughter thinks everything she wants, is hers.  If I am eating something, she will come right up to me, put her hand in my food and unless I stop her, start eating my food.  She sees nothing wrong with this and will do it, even if she has her own food.  She will grab anything and everything her little heart desires unless her mother and I stop her.  This includes grabbing cleaning chemicals, the hot stove and any number of other items that could harm her.  We have to be extremely strict with her for her own well being and for her own safety.

So it is with Heavenly Father.  We are the toddlers, who think we should be able to do everything and have anything that we set our minds to.  However, Heavenly Father knows the dangers and because we are bull headed and young, He has to be strict with us, just like we are with our children here on the earth.  But that does not mean that He is a mean God or a harsh God.  It means that we are thickheaded!  Just as it is not necessarily the fault of the parent if they are harsh with the child, I understand that some parents take this to extremes and that IS the fault of the parent, if God tries to be nice about it and we just aren't getting the hint, what else is He supposed to do but resort to loud thunderings and harsh rules to deter us?  God is a gracious God and we shouldn't let the way He has to deal with wayward children slant that reality.  He loves us and wants us to be happy.  The challenge is He is the one who knows that it takes for us to be happy, and we just seem to always need to put that to the test!  It's much easier if we just follow along with His plan in the first place!  Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Start of the Law of Moses

Today I read Exodus 21 where the Lord begins to provide the infamous Law of Moses.  I have to say, that it is quite harsh.  So many ways a person ban be put to death.  I mean, according to this chapter, even if a person curses their parents they are to be put to death.  If we followed this law still today, no teenager would ever live to reach adulthood!  And that's just barely scratching the surface.

As I was reading it, I could not help but wonder why the Lord would give such harsh laws?  It reminds me of my mission.  My companion and I were tracting one day and we knocked on a door and a man answered.  He invited us in and the proceeded to try and prove to us why the Book of Mormon was not true.  He also stated however, that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, to him at least, were two different beings.  That the God of the Old Testament was blood thirsty and vengeful.  At the time I thought he was quite out of line, and I still do.  He does have a point however that the overall theme of forgive and love your neighbor of the New Testament is very different from the theme of the Old Testament.

As I was reading today I could not help but wonder if the reason the Law of Moses was so harsh and base is because that is all the people could understand.  Paul teaches in the New Testament that the Lord never allows us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear.  Were the people just that different during the tie of Moses compared to the time of Christ that they were not able to bear the law of Christ?  I say most definitely they were not able to bear the law of Christ.  And so they were deemed slothful and not a wise servant, by God's own definition because they had to be commanded in all things.  I mean this chapter makes it seem like they had to be told in each possibility what to do and how to handle it.  That is quite extreme in my opinion.  But I guess it is what they needed at the time.  I am sure glad times have changed.  Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Ten Commandments

Today I read Exodus 20, the chapter most famous for the 10 commandments.  This is the beginning chapter in what is commonly known as the Law of Moses, or the law that God gave to Moses for the host of Israel.  This is also the chapter where the people gave up their desire/right to meet with the Lord.  Prior to this, the Lord desired to speak with the people and have them "see" Him in the cloud.  However, as the Lord spoke to Moses, it caused thunderings and trumpetings which made the people afraid.  When Moses tried to calm them and allay their fears, they wanted nothing to do with it.  They said that they would rather have Moses speak to the Lord for them on their behalf and then relay the words that God had to tell them through Him.  This is very sad to me.  That a people would willingly give up the opportunity to hear the voice of God for themselves but rather ask to have a spokesperson, a go between, for them and God.  I can understand that it was probably frightening, but for most people this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to actually hear God speak!  I would have thought that the fear would be outweighed by the awe they would be feeling.  But I suppose not.  To me it is sad.

As I mentioned, this is the chapter where the Lord reveals the 10 commandments to Moses and to the world.  They are just as relevant today as they were when God first spoke them.  I sometimes look on them in sadness and wonder what the world would be like if they were followed the way God intended them to be.  As I have mentioned in the past, they are not actually commandments at all really, but attributes of God.  They are the way God lives His life.  If this is what God does, and we want to be like God, shouldn't we be trying to live these same commandments?  If we are trying to emulate His perfect life, why shouldn't we do all that we can to live like He does?

I've honestly wondered why some people seem to have such a problem with the ten commandments anyway.  I mean, it seems like common sense and they directly align with most government's rules and laws anyway, at least the ones involving our relationship with other people do.  But what is so hard about not having any other God's before Him, no graven images, not taking His name in vain?  No graven images in particular seems to cause a lot of people and cultures a lot of challenges and I don't understand why honestly.  Perhaps it is easier to worship something you can see?  I really don't understand it myself.

As most Latter-day Saints and Bible scholars can no doubt tell you, the commandments are subsets of the 2 great commandments, love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbor.  The ten commandments are all broken down into how we should be interacting with God and how we should interact with other people.  And honestly, who was ever miserable for following them?  Yes, I can see some instances where someone might need to steal in order to live when they have no food and have no method of getting food, or might have to kill in self defense, but otherwise, where is the challenge in following them?  Even if you don't believe they are from God Himself, they are still good guidelines for being a good person.  I mean who wants to be friends with someone who commits adultery, or steals all the time or commits murder?  I sure don't!  What a world it would be if everyone followed the ten commandments as if their life depended on it.  It sure would be nice!  If I make it to the millennium, I guess I'll find out exactly what it would be like.  Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Israel Sees the Lord

Today I read Exodus 19 where the Lord shows Himself to the host of Israel on Mount Sinai in the form of clouds and smoke and fire.  When I first read this chapter today, I was confused, because the Lord has been leading the Children of Israel ever since they left Egypt in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of light by night.  But then I realized that as awesome a sight as that is, especially at night, only the first few thousand or so would be able to see it.  The Israelite host is over a million people strong and the Lord showing Himself, even in a cloud, on Sinai, will be the first opportunity for most of the host of Israel to see the Lord and His powers for themselves.

Another thought I had as I read this chapter today was why the Lord is so rigid on certain things.  I do not mean the commandments and things that are righteous.  To me, that is self-explanatory.  But no I am talking about things like, the Lord commands Moses that any of the Israelites who touch the mountain will be killed.  I wonder if it has to do with the fact that no unclean thing can be in the presence of the Lord?  This is not the only time someone is killed, or could be killed in this case, for being in the wrong place.  When the Israelites are moving the ark and it is about to tip over, an Israelite reaches out a hand to steady it so it won't fall and then he falls down dead.  I have always thought that was rather harsh, but I understand that the Lord does not do anything, especially take life, without a purpose, I just don't understand what that purpose may be.  But I have faith that the Lord never does anything without cause.  Someday I will understand.

I wonder what it would have been like to have been there?  To see the Lord in thunder and clouds of fire?  What kind of feelings would that invoke?  Where the Israelites terrified?  Were they in awe?  I can't even imagine what it must have felt like to be there and see that.  It must have been truly amazing.  I wonder though if the reason the Lord appeared like that is because that is what the Israelites expected to see?  I mean, in later instances when the Lord appears to people it is not nearly as dramatic as all of that.  So was it that boisterous because there were so many people and it needed to be so that they could all see Him?  I truly don't know.  It really isn't all that important either, it is just a matter of curiosity.  And my curiosity will be sated one day.  It doesn't need to be today.  I am a patient man.  Until tomorrow.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Take Your Problems to the Lord

Today I read Exodus 18 and I have to say that the very first thing I thought when reading this chapter is that people are prideful.  While reading this chapter I could just see in my minds eye a line of people stretched as far as the eye could see waiting to see Moses with the most trivial of matters.  I'm sure a few of the people might actually have had issues that would interrupt most people's days, but I'm quite confident in saying that the vast majority of them were probably making a mountain out of a mole hill, or making a big deal out of nothing. 

I work for a call center as a Supervisor and on any given week I take anywhere from 5 - 50 phone calls from customers who wish to speak to a Supervisor.  Of those phone calls that I take, probably only 1 of them genuinely needs to speak to a Supervisor, and even that one person, if they would call themselves down and let the representative who answered the phone talk and help them, would not need to talk to a Supervisor in a call center.  The reason people ask to speak to a Supervisor is pride.  They think that their issue is too important for some lowly person who only makes $10 an hour to fix.  But the bottom line is, these people are not telling us anything new, anything we haven't already heard and all they are really doing is wasting their time and the Supervisor's time.  It is pride.  And it is exactly what happened to Moses and why Jethro helped him organize a system of judges if you will, to alleviate his burden.

Everyone has challenges in life.  We all need to talk about them and in some instances we even need advice about them.  This is why we were born into family units and why we have friends.  This is our built in support system.  They are the people who will listen to us gripe and complain and once we have said our piece, will give us advice on what we can do to fix our problems.  We don't need to involve strangers.  It is the same way with Spiritual matters.  We have an open conduit right to the source of all truth.  We can talk to Heavenly Father anytime we want to.  We don't need to go to the Bishop or Branch President or Stake President or even the Prophet with our challenges.  We can ask the Lord directly and He will answer us in one His normal methods.  He may direct us to a scripture.  We may hear a voice while praying one night.  A thought may enter into our minds.  He has all kinds of methods whereby He can answer us and we don't need to bother His selected servants with our challenges. 

There are of course some instances that need to be brought before an appropriate Priesthood leader to resolve, but they are few and far between.  If we sufficiently humble ourselves and take our problems to the Lord, we can gain answers to our challenges on our own and can learn the will of the Lord for ourselves and for our families.  The key is we have to be humble.  We have to be teachable.  I promise you that if you receive an answer from Heavenly Father and you don't like it so you take it to your Priesthood leader, if they are in tune with the Spirit at all, you will get the exact same answer!  We have to be humble and we will be led to the right conclusions.  There generally is not a need to involve anyone other than a loved one for a sympathetic, listening ear.  Until tomorrow.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Israelites Murmur Against the Lord

Today I read Exodus 17 where the Lord provided water for the Israelites by having Moses smite the rock of Horeb and water came out from under it.  I can understand Israel's frustration, few things are as detrimental to the human body as lack of water/fluids.  I cannot even begin to imagine watching my daughter go thirsty.  It would hurt more than having a lack of water to drink for myself.  And I feel that this week in particular I feel I have a unique perspective on how the Israelites might be feeling.  This week, for the past 5 days I have been in constant pain because of a health condition that I have and has put me in the hospital one day and was so bad on another day that I literally for a moment thought that if I were dead I would not have to suffer anymore.  During those times I begged and pleaded for the Lord to please do something, anything for the pain to lessen.  As times I was in tears it hurt so badly.  Others I was angry that I had to suffer like this.  But through it all, I never stopped praying for the Lord to help lessen the pain, even just a little bit.  I can understand how someone who is becoming dehydrated and even worse, watching their child become dehydrated, would become desperate and would complain out loud what they have been thinking in their minds for quite some time and would reach out to pray for salvation in any form.  It is not so hard to see myself in this position honestly.  Although, just one week ago I probably would have had a very different take on the whole situation, I don't know.  But I have a much different perspective now on murmuring and complaining when it is life and death on the line, although I must point out my own pain was not life threatening.

The second half of this chapter is the story of Joshua fighting the Amalekites and Moses holding up his arms to help Joshua prevail.  As almost every Latter-day Saint who has read this story before me has, I instantly thought to the dynamic of a presidency.  The idea that Moses could not hold up his arms anymore because they were tired and so Aaron and Hur holding them up for him speaks loudly of a bishop or some type of president being upheld by his/her counselors.  A single person can accomplish much, in fact they can do something better than a committee can.  However, a single person can fail on their own and can grow tired and needs support.  That is why in the Lord's church, there are presidencies and bishoprics, not just a president and a bishop.  As I think on it, I cannot help but wonder how our country might be better off if instead of a President of the United States, we had a Presidency of the United States.  It may not be any better, but it would be following the Lords' pattern. 

When we focus on the way the Lord wants us to do things, we will be better off than we currently are.  The Lord's way is ALWAYS the best.  If we remember that, we will be well.  We forget it at our own peril.  Until tomorrow.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Manna and the Sabbath

Today I read Exodus 16 where the Lord starts feeding the Israelites manna in the morning and quails in the evening and does this for 40 years!  Some thoughts occurred to me as I was reading the chapter this morning.  The first thought was that the Lord wanted them to work for their meals.  What I mean by this is, the Lord could easily have caused them to have whatever food He wished and make it not run out, much like He does for the widow's meal and oil in the time of Elijah.  But He didn't do that.  He sent them manna that they had to go out and gather each and every day except for the Sabbath day.  I think He did this so that the Israelites would have to work for their food, as much as was reasonable. 

It is a fact that when we have to work for something we appreciate it more than when it is just given to us.  Now, some may argue that the manna was in fact given to them and they would not be wrong, but it required some effort on their part.  They had to go out and gather it each day or they would go hungry.  And they had to gather enough for their entire family, this is not a small task I imagine.  It honestly reminds me of keeping a garden and having to care for it.  It is a labor of love that one performs for their loved ones.  The Lord knows what He is doing.  He knows that even though someone is being taken care of and their needs are being met, they still need to be able to do something for themselves.  It is not healthy to have someone indefinitely take care of you if it can be avoided.  That is why the church's welfare program requires you to give back when you can.  Man needs to be able to provide for himself and for his family for proper self-esteem. 

The second thought I had while reading this chapter was about the fact that the Lord did not want the Israelites doing ANY work on the Sabbath.  Not even as simple a work as going out to gather up food.  This is significant to me.  This, to me, indicates that when the Lord says to keep the Sabbath day holy, He means it.  The only religion that I have ever seen that takes this commandment seriously are the Seventh Day Adventists.  I have several friends at work that belong to this religion and aside from going to church, they don't even go outside of their home on this day.  Now, I don't know what they do inside their home, frankly that is their business and between them and the Lord.  But I am pleased that there is a religion out there that keeps the Sabbath day holy.

Now, I did not include Latter-day Saints for a reason.  I believe that most Latter-day Saints could do a much better job of keeping the Sabbath day holy.  I have heard far too many stories in the past of predominantly LDS communities going to the video store after church and renting movies, or going to the grocery store, etc.  The way I was raised, the Sabbath is a day of rest and time spent with family.  Some of my fondest memories as a child were Sunday afternoons up in the living room with the entire family just listening to uplifting music and putting a puzzle together with my younger brother while the rest of the family quietly talked or read.  Sundays are for doing the Lords work and recharging your spiritual batteries for the coming week.  In my honest opinion, I think that if, as a country, we were to go back to Sabbath day observance, most of our other problems would slowly disappear.  But that is just my opinion.  What is a fact, is that if we will keep proper Sabbath day observance, the Lord will bless us.  He has said so and so it is true.  Put it to the test and you will not be disappointed.  Until tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Influence of Good Music

Today I read Exodus 15 where the majority of the chapter is the Israelites singing praises to God for their deliverance.  Music is so interesting.  We hear all the time that music can harm and that the wrong music can drive away the Spirit, and it can, it most definitely can.  But what we often forget, is that the right music will bring the Spirit and cause it to dwell with us.  It is very like the Word of Wisdom in that regard.  We are very quick to remember what we are supposed to avoid when it comes to the Word of Wisdom, but there are plenty of things that the Word of Wisdom tells us we are supposed to eat in order to be healthy.  We as Latter-day Saints, at least in America, tend to forget that and not focus on the positives.  We like the negatives, what are we supposed to avoid and that kind of thing.  But music can be a wonderful thing and can keep the Spirit in our home.  And as evidenced in this chapter, can be used to praise the Lord.

This should be nothing new to Latter-day Saints.  After all, when the church was young, the Lord told Emma Smith, Joseph Smith's wife, to prepare a hymnal of sacred music because it was a prayer unto Him.  I have always used hymns and uplifting music to calm my daughter since she was born.  My favorite hymn to sing when she is at her wits end it "I am a Child of God".  There is something about that song that speaks to our Spirits and conveys peace and happiness.  I have many memories as a child of singing that song and being overwhelmed by the Spirit.  It is a beautiful song with perhaps the most important message for children. 

The other part of this chapter that I found intriguing was the bitter waters being healed by a tree.  Now, I went to college and I remember studying about osmosis where salt and other nutrients will naturally travel to sources of other nutrients, or something along those lines.  So I have to wonder, what in the world was in that tree that made all the salt and other molecules making that water bitter immediately go to that tree so that the water was healed and became sweet and safe to drink?  I know that someday I will find out how it all works, but sometimes, when God's miracles use items and things and processes that we are familiar with, it almost makes me wonder about them more.  When it is something so miraculous, like parting the Red Sea, that I have no hope of understanding it, I am fine with accepting it as miraculous.  But when it is a miracle like this one where it seems like I should be able to understand it and it is a brain teaser, it's almost worse with me trying to figure it out.  We'll know someday.  For now, it is enough to have my testimony of the Lord and that He took care of the Israelites and that He likewise will take care of me and my family.  And that is perhaps the most comforting thought of all.  Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Lord Parts the Red Sea

Today I read Exodus 14 where the Lord parts the Red Sea to save the Israelites.  It is very hard to quantify miracles and which is the most miraculous, but in my opinion, the parting of the Red Sea ranks up there with the most miraculous of them all.  I mean think about it, not only did the Red Sea have to part wide enough for over 600,000 people to walk through it in one night, but the ground they walked on also had to be dry.  I don't know about you, but I've walked on ground that was recently wet before and it is cold, muddy and slows you down.  But the Lord did not cause this to happen, not only did the Red Sea part, wide enough for all of Israel to walk through in one night, but they did it on truly dry ground, as dry as a desert.  It's really mind boggling to think about it and how it was accomplished and there truly is no rational explanation for it.  It was indeed a miracle.

The Pharaoh on the other hand, in my opinion, was an idiot.  He knew better than any man alive perhaps, exactly what the power of the Lord could accomplish.  And yet he allowed his 600 chariots to enter in the Red Sea behind the Israelites.  I just don't know what the man was thinking honestly, did he really expect that the Lord would just stop protecting the Israelites and allow him and his men to not only catch them but kill them after all that the Lord went through to bring them out of Egypt?  Or perhaps he was too angry to be thinking straight, I really don't know.  Whatever the reason, Pharaoh orders his men to follow after the Israelites and they are destroyed when the Red Sea comes back together and they drown.  In all of this, I can't help but feel sorry for the 600 horses, they did nothing but serve their masters and were repaid with a violent death.  However, I'm sure the Lord accepted them to Himself given the circumstances, but I still feel sorry for them.

And so the Israelites are truly free from Egypt.  They are completely cut off and the forces of the Egyptians has been destroyed and possibly even the Pharaoh himself, although we are not told.  The Lord does everything for a purpose and we can deduce that He led the Israelites this way to save their lives and cut them off from Egypt, not only to stop the Egyptians from coming after them, but also to stifle the inevitable nay-sayers who would want to turn back and go back to Egypt.  He has made it so that they have to rely on Him and His servants, Moses and Aaron for their survival.  Just as we still have to look unto Him for our spiritual survival, they had to look to God for their spiritual and physical survival in order to get by.  The people of Israel are truly free from physical tyranny now and I imagine it felt really great!  Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

God Knows His People

Today I read Exodus 13 where the Lord again reiterates the feast of the Passover and how it is to be kept. One thing I have noticed as I have gotten older and the more i understand the Gospel and the scriptures is that the Lord likes ceremony. Especially when it comes to ordinances of the Priesthood. It makes me wonder if maybe the Priesthood ordinances are something that is governed by laws even older than Heavenly Father. It is interesting to me how few people seem to understand that God is governed by laws just as we are. Some people actually get quite upset by such a suggestion, as if that somehow diminishes Him in some way. These are probably the same people that have a major problem with the idea that Satan and Jesus Christ are spiritual brothers. Although that to me, is a harder concept to swallow if you don't understand it. I grew up knowing it to be a truth so it doesn't really bother me at all. But I can see where someone else who is just learning it for the first time as an adult might reel from the thought of it.

It is interesting to me that when the Israelites leave Egypt, Moses states that the Lord purposefully led them away from the Philistines. And the reason being is when they were faced with the prospect of war, the Lord was afraid that the Israelites would want to renege and go back to Egypt, which is exactly what happens several times while they are out in the wilderness. How well God knows us and can plan around us and what we will choose to do. Some would call that a lack of free will, that the Lord is causing it. I say He knows us so well that He already knows the outcome, much like if we were to drop an object, we know that it will fall to the ground. We did not make it happen, but because we understand the laws of gravity, we can state with absolute confidence that the object is going to fall. Some would be upset by this, but I find it comforting that someone knows me so well, because to me it means that if I ever need Him, and I do, He will know exactly what to do for me if I will just listen. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Israelites are Set Free

Today I read Exodus 12 where the Lord institutes the Passover feast. I doubt the Israelites of the time understood it to be such, but in our day as we read it, we understand that the the feast of the Passover, everything about it, and the final plague of Egypt are all a type and shadow of the death of our beloved Savior. The blood on the sides and the top are clearly a cross, the firstborn lamb without blemish is the Savior, even the fact that no bones of the lamb are to be broken is a foretelling of the Savior's death who died with no bones broken.

I used to wonder, and still do honestly, why the Lord would punish a whole country for one man's pride. It was the Pharaoh that would not let the people go, so why did the Lord kill all the first born of the Egyptians and the cattle? Why not just slay the Pharaoh's son? Perhaps because if the Pharaoh's son passed away it might be seen as an accident or might not be recognized for what it was? I really do not have the answer. But it is a question that one day I hope to understand. Even if it was something as simple as the fact that none of the Egyptians were innocent because they were all treating them as slaves, I have a problem with that because only the Pharaoh could set them free. It really is no use thinking about it because to my knowledge there are no answers to be found here, but I will know the answer one day.

I cannot help but wonder what it felt like to the Israelites, who had lived their entire lives as slaves to finally be free. What was it like for them that first night? I imagine they were all in shock and awe at the thought of finally being free. Like maybe they were in a dream. I wonder if some of them thought it was a trick? Perhaps so, but I bet the overwhelming feeling was joy and rejoicing and praising God for their deliverance. And rightly so. It was God who set them free and took care of them, as He always has and always will. He is always there for us, even if we don't necessarily understand His plan. It is a comfort to know that He has one and we are part of it. We just need to trust in Him. Until tomorrow.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Israelites Plunder Egypt

Today I read Exodus 11 where the Lord tells Moses what His plan is and what the next plague will be. It made me wonder if the Lord told Moses before hand what all the other plagues were going to be or if He only told Moses as Moses was causing them to happen. It doesn't really matter I suppose I was just curious about it. But on this one the Lord most definitely tells Moses exactly what is coming and what the next plague will be.

The Lord also tells Moses to have all the Israelites borrow gold and silver from their neighbors because when Pharaoh tells them to leave he will cast them out forcibly. I wonder why the Lord wanted them all to have silver and gold though? I am not certain but the Israelites follow the commandment of the Lord and plunder the country of Egypt of its wealth.

The one thing that I took away from this chapter was the obedience of the Israelites. They listen to the Lord and follow what He tells them to do. It is interesting because later, once they are released from bondage, they are quite rebellious and do not do what the Lord tells them to do, to the point that they have to wander in the wilderness until everyone over the age of 20 years old passes away. But, it reminds me of children. When a child wants something, they are sweet and nice and cuddly, but after they get what they want, they can be an unholy terror and not listen at all. I think we are all like that when it comes to deity. When we want something, we are quick to follow the commandments and do as He asks of us, but when we don't, we could care less what He wants us to do. Which is sad because if we would just rely on Him all the time, we would have a much better life, or at least know our life is in line with what He wants from us. And that is a comfort to have that assurance. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Suffering of the Egyptians

Today I read Exodus 10 where the locusts get sent and the 3 days of darkness cover the land of the Egyptians but not the land of the Israelites. It is interesting to me that in this chapter the Pharaoh's servants start to pester him asking him if he is going to drive Egypt into ruins by keeping the Israelites there and Moses and Aaron. As I read that I couldn't help but think if this were modern day America and something like this were to happen, when would our President allow the people to go? At what point would he cave and allow the people to leave? And I'm honestly not sure because I'm pretty sure the President, any President would label Moses and Aaron terrorists and that would make them far less inclined to bargain with Moses and Aaron.

I also couldn't help but wonder what the Egyptians are eating for food at that time. I mean they have had massive hail storms what destroyed most of their crops and now locusts that come and eat all that's left. So they have no grain, no fruits and no vegetables, and all their cattle were killed earlier. So, what exactly are the Egyptians doing for food? It never states what they did for food but I don't think they all starved. I could not imagine the plague of locusts. I mean Moses stated that they were so thick that you could not even see the ground. That means every step you take you are killing tens if not hundreds of locusts. Just all over everything. I know people that freak out when they see just one bug. I could not imagine seeing millions of them all over everything like that. The humor of seeing people freaking out would definitely be dampened by the fact that they were everywhere as far as the eye could see.

And after the locusts, we have a type and shadow of the Savior's death and time between resurrections, three days of complete darkness. I could not imagine three days of darkness like that where you cannot see anything, most likely torches and candles would not burn properly if they burn at all. No work can be done. Children were probably wailing and screaming in terror. For a lot of Egyptian, this may honestly have been the scariest and most terrifying plague thus far. Most people as children are scared of the dark. And despite what we tell ourselves as we get older, we still retain that small part of ourselves that is not fond of total darkness. To spend three days like that, I know I would not be pleased by such a prospect.

When the three days of darkness were done, the Pharaoh casts Moses out from his face saying that if he ever sees Moses again, he will kill him. I have wondered just why the Pharaoh did not do this before now, and only why after nine plagues. I guess the Lord kept him from doing it. But Moses is not shaken in the slightest but agrees with the Pharaoh that he will no longer see his face and leaves. In all this, as I have stated I know that the rest of Egypt on some form were part of what was going on, but I still feel sorry for them. I imagine that many plagues ago they wanted the Israelites gone, just like Pharaoh's servants did, but because of his stubbornness they continued to suffer. Mosiah taught in the Book of Mormon that a wicked ruler causes much grief and suffering for his/her people, and truly he was right. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Hard Heartedness of Pharaoh

Today I read Exodus 9 which includes the plagues of the cattle dying, boils and the hail of fire. The thing that really intrigued me about this chapter is when it came time for the plague of hail, the Lord warned the Egyptians so that any who would listen could actually be protected. And some listened. The scriptures state that there were those that heeded the word of the Lord and did not go out in the field that day and kept their cattle in with them also.

It's interesting to see that there there were some of the Egyptians that feared the Lord. And honestly that is not too surprising. It is not common to find a people where everyone is in agreement with the same thing. Even if they say they are or even act like they are, some may have reservations about it in their hearts. For example when Americans were still treating those with black skin like second class citizens and were practicing segregation, not every person with white skin treated them that way or felt they should be treated that way. Some probably wondered what the big deal was and why they were treated differently. It was not the popular opinion of the day, but I am confident that some had it. So it also was with Egypt. I am sure it was not the popular opinion to have, but I am pretty sure that there were some that felt they should just let the Israelites go free, especially once all the plagues started.

This story is a good example of all the evil that can come about because of one man. I was thinking the other day about wars and how silly it is that because a few men have a disagreement, hundreds of thousands of men, and women in these days, try and kill each other. When we are children we are taught to try and work out our differences without violence but for some reason that seems to go away when we are adults. Wars are fought over people having a difference of opinion and how things should be done. Not all wars certainly but a good deal of the wars in America's history happened because diplomacy failed. It is the same situation here in Egypt. Because of one man's hard heartedness, the Pharaoh, an entire nation suffered. It reminds me of Nephi when he is commanded to slay Laban where the Lord says it is better for one man to perish than an entire nation dwindle in unbelief. It would have been better for Egypt if the Pharaoh had died I think. But, that was not the plan God had in mind. God always has a plan, even if it doesn't make sense to us. Until tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Plagues Continue

Today I read Exodus 8 where God, using Moses and Aaron as His conduits, send the plagues of frogs, lice and then flies. When I was reading this chapter today I thought at first that it wouldn't be so bad to have frogs as a plague, but then I thought about it and thought about having frogs everywhere. As far as the eye can see everywhere you look, having frogs, that would be quite awful honestly. And no one wants lice everywhere and flies are disgusting anyway. I once worked on a turkey ranch, where turkeys are raised, and the flies were quite possibly the worst part of the job. They really would not leave you alone when you were trying to clean out the turkey houses. It was awful!

The thing that surprised me though, was why Aaron and Moses kept ending the plagues before the Pharaoh actually let the Israelites go. I mean, after the first two times he did it, why are they believing the Pharaoh will actually do what he says? Why not take the Israelites into the wilderness to worship like they are asking, and then the plague ends? I don't know if that is the way God told Moses to do it, meaning end the plague then leave, or what. But whatever the reason, each time, Pharaoh agreed to let them go only to go back on his word once the plague was ended.

The only plague that it specifically states the Israelite did not suffer through with the Egyptians was the flies. However, I wonder if the Lord spared the Israelites all of the plagues to show the Pharaoh that He was displeased with him or just to spare His people the suffering. I would hope so although perhaps the Israelites needed humbling also. This is the same group of people that in a matter of months will build a golden calf after all! I suspect though that the Lord spared them as best He could like He apparently did with the flies. The Lord takes care of His people. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Plagues Start

Today I read Exodus 7 where the plagues of Egypt start. Just last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is a Catholic about this very thing and talking about the plagues and how much the people of Egypt suffered because Pharaoh would not hearken to Moses and Aaron. I had mentioned that it was sad to me how much death and destruction resulted from one man being hard hearted. My friend pointed out though that God always has a plan and for some reason this was the plan. And as I sit here and write this, I can't help but think that while we only hear about the Pharaoh hardening his heart, if the people of Egypt truly had a problem with the way the Israelites were being treated, they would not have been treated that way. At least that is my opinion.

But whatever the reason for the Egyptians being punished, it started with this first plague, turning all the water to blood. What would it have been like to suddenly have no water to drink for seven days? It must have been terrifying honestly. And through it all, I can't help but wonder, how did the Lord provide for the Israelites? They were working and slaving away doing manual labor, they would need lots and lots of water. How did the Lord ensure that they had the water they would need to be healthy and survive? Perhaps He changed the blood to water when it hit their lips, the same way he made the Nephites raw meat taste sweet when they were traveling in the wilderness I guess. The one thing I can be sure of though is that the Lord took care of his people.

I can't help but wonder if the reason the Pharaoh would not hearken to Moses an Aaron is because his magicians were able to replicate the miracles that were being performed? I do not know by what method the magicians of Pharaoh's court were able to replicate the miracles but I suspect the devil had a hand in it. We will know for sure one day but that is my thought. It must have been bad for those magicians when they reached the other side, having directly contributed to the Pharaoh not believing Moses and Aaron. I would not have wanted to be in their shoes. I guess some day we will know all the details and will understand better. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Faith vs. Fear

Today I read Exodus 6 where Moses is doubting his ability to accomplish the goal that God has set for him. I remember once having a conversation with my family about how fear is the enemy of faith. At the time my sister was arguing that fear was the opposite of faith because if you have faith then you won't have fear. I disagreed with her because I argued that you can have faith and still have fear. But what I didn't understand at the time is that perfect faith casts out fear.

The problem though I have found, is it is very challenging and difficult for people to have perfect faith. We are mortal and fallible. We make mistakes and we can't always be trusted. This is doubly so if we are faced with a challenge that has happened before. If we have tried something before and it failed, most of us are very hesitant to try it again. Even as toddlers we learn this. If you tried walking down the stairs without help, you are going to be extremely wary from that point on for years to come. I once spun out on a freeway in the rain going around a very sharp curve. It turned out fine and it was over 7 years ago, but to this day if I'm driving and it's raining and I have to take a sharp curve, that memory flashes through my mind and I am very nervous about it and careful with that curve. I can only imagine how fearful Moses must have been at having to go back in front of Pharaoh. The thoughts that were going through his head, he was probably terrified that he was going to make the lot of the Israelites even worse.

But despite his fears, Moses trusted in God and went back before the Pharaoh. Despite his fears and reservations, he trusted in God to make up the difference in himself and provide for what he lacked. That is what faith can do for us. If we are willing to trust God that everything that He sends our way in the form of a challenge, that He will also help us overcome it, then we don't need to let fear paralyze us. We can rely on Him and trust that He will not leave us alone and helpless. Moses found that out for himself. We can all find out too if we take the time to put it to the test. We will not be disappointed. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Moses Meets the Pharaoh

Today I read Exodus 5 where Moses and Aaron meet with the Pharaoh for the first time. I have often pondered on the story of the 10 plagues of Egypt and just what type of man the Pharaoh had to be to let his people suffer like he did. After today's reading where when Moses and Aaron asked the Pharaoh to let them go into the wilderness to perform sacrifice and he increased their work load, I've decided he is a bully.

I will never understand the mentality of the bully. From what I have been taught and observed, a bully is unhappy with himself/herself and so he/she picks on those that they view as less than themselves in an effort to make themselves feel better. I guess because I have always had the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life I just don't understand that kind of mentality. I have always known my worth in the sight of God.

But the Pharaoh is a big bully. He had no reason to increase the workload of the Israelites but he did it anyway. He was being mean for the sake of being mean. It's not like Moses and Aaron were bluffing and he was calling them on their bluff, no, he was just being cruel because he wanted to be. Because they were slaves, less than people to him. You can find the same types of behaviors among the history books of slave owners here in America before the slaves were freed. Such behavior and thought process is disgusting. It is amazing to me that a people who thought there were so enlightened could be so barbaric.

Poor Moses must have felt just awful. The scriptures say that he went and talked to the Lord to ask Him why He had allowed this to happen and why He sent Moses here because it had only caused the Israelites more pain and suffering. I can just picture a frustrated, upset Moses pleading with the Lord for understanding. It is hard sometimes to follow the will of the Lord, especially when we don't understand it. But Moses must have received the strength from the Lord that he sought because he stuck with it and eventually achieved his goal and was able to free the Israelites. He trusted in the Lord. Until tomorrow.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Lord Shows Moses Signs

Today I read Exodus 4 where Moses receives multiple signs from God and is promised that Aaron will be his spokesperson. I could not even imagine being Moses at this point. I mean it's bad enough to cast your rod down on the ground and have it turn into a snake, but to put your hand into your cloak and pull it out again and all the skin is completely dead! I think I might have fainted. I often will ponder on the miracles of the Lord to determine just how they are accomplished, and there is no doubt that some of them are truly miraculous. Changing the molecular structure of water so that it is blood is miraculous. Changing a stick so that it becomes a living, breathing serpent is amazing. Making only one part of the body have leprousy and then curing it, is miraculous!

Now, I am sure that there are some biblical scholars out there who scoff at the idea and would probably propose that instead of performing miracles, that God is the greatest trickster of all time. I am sure it would be much easier to fool Moses' eyes into thinking the stick was a snake and that his hand was leprous than to actually do all the miracles. But that is not the way that God works. He does not work in trickery. That is the devil's realm. When God performs a miracle, it is really happening. The whole reason we use the word, miracle, is because we do not understand how it is happening and taking place. That makes it miraculous.

The rest of the chapter is Moses traveling back to Egypt. As he is traveling back, the Lord is about to slay him for not keeping the covenant of Abraham and circumcising his son. It is interesting to me that after calling him to be a prophet, the Lord would want to slay him. But I personally believe that the Lord knew Zipporah, his wife, would perform the circumcision and therefore make slaying Moses unnecessary while still showing him that he was in the wrong. That is my belief anyway. This story is nice because once again, it shows that prophets are people too and can make mistakes and have need of repentance. It's nice for all us regular folk and gives me hope that maybe I can make it. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Trials Come to Us All

Today I read Exodus 3 where the Lord appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush. God commands Moses to go down to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from their bondage. It is comforting to know that God never abandons His people. In all their plights, God was never far away from the Israelites and was always listening to their prayers. It is not easy to be patient on the Lord when we are in the midst of a trial. I like to think of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail and the Saints in the days of Alma and of course, the Israelites in Egypt.

Trials come to us all. It is a fact of life and honestly, we should be grateful for them. If we did not have trials we would not be able to grow and progress. Trials can be little stepping stones, or they can be huge mountains, but we all have them. What counts is how we handle them. If we handle them well, then we grow from them. They are generally not easy, in fact they are not meant to be. They are meant to stretch us to the breaking point. At times we cannot overcome them on our own at all, much like our weaknesses. We are meant to turn to Him for help and to rely on God to get us through it. It kind of reminds me of that poem "Footprints in the Sand" where the man dreams that Christ is walking along side him and at times, the most challenging of times, there was only one set of footprints. The man accuses Jesus of leaving him when he needed Jesus the most and Jesus calmly replies that when there was only one set of footprints that is when Jesus carried the man.

It reminds me a little bit of the song "Count your Blessings". The line where it says, "When you look at others with their lands and gold", it can be really hard to look at others seemingly prosperity and be discouraged. But I've always thought that those who lie and cheat to get ahead in this life are doing themselves a huge disservice. And they are. They are missing the entire reason behind this life. But more than that, if we think along those lines, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Each person's trials are unique to that person. I am personally very grateful I don't have certain trials. Some people lose a child in this life. I don't know if I am strong enough to have that trial. Some have their children fall away from the Gospel. Some cannot handle wealth. Each person's trials are for them specifically to overcome because we each have our own challenges and God knows each of us personally.

As we strive to live the Gospel and get better each day, we will find that our trials are just what we need and that Heavenly Father knew what He was doing. If we rely on Him, we can learn what we need to learn in this life and can overcome everything that comes our way. The more we learn in this life, the further ahead we will be in the life to come. God is there to help us if we will reach out to Him. Why not take the help that is offered? We just have to ask. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Moses is Born, Kills an Egyptian and gets Married

Today I read Exodus 2 where Moses is born and grows up and basically tells the first half of his life's story. The story of Moses has always been strange to me. As the story goes, when Moses was grown, I have heard he was 40 years old at the time he leaves Egypt but I am not sure where that number comes from, Moses goes out to see the Israelites and sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating an Israelite. Moses kills the Egyptian and hides the body. Now this is my problem with the story. Moses commits murder. And yet he is a prophet later in life and is translated at the end of his life. Why was his murder seemingly condoned while David's murder was not? Was it because Moses was trying to protect someone and David was covering up his sin? I suppose that is in fact the reason, but still murder is the worst sin you can ever commit aside from denying the Holy Ghost.

I've often wondered if Moses killing the Egyptian was an accident or not. I suspect it was not just from the fact that he hid the body. I would imagine that if you had committed murder by accident, you would not try and hide the body. Perhaps you would, I don't know. But clearly Moses was forgiven for his sin by Heavenly Father.

I suspect that Moses was a gently man by the way he is talked about in the scriptures and a man with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. He tried to make the world around him a better place. I say this because when Moses left Egypt he came to a well and when the women came to water their flocks and the local shepherds tried to chase them away, he defended the women. He didn't know them, but it was obvious to him that they needed help and so he jumped in to help. That is the kind of response that we need to have when we see injustice in the world around us. There was a talk this past General Conference, last weekend, that talked about when help is needed, you don't ask, you just jump in and help. Moses did that. We should also.

I wish we had more information about this period of Moses' life, but since Moses wrote this, for some reason he did not feel it necessary to talk about himself and his upbringing. I suspect this is because he was humble and the thought about focusing on himself too much instead of what he did for the Lord was embarrassing to him. Most prophets are this way I think. It is a good model to follow. Until tomorrow.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Pharaoh Orders the Death of Israelite Sons

Today I read Exodus 1. You know there are so many songs and stories and poems about there that talk about how it's good to be king or how wonderful it is to be in charge. I have to disagree. Everything I have ever read or seen in my own life tells me that being in charge causes stress and all the health challenges that come with such stress. Not only that but if you are a petty person you are constantly in fear of losing that power. Because all power is, is people obeying your command. All it takes is those under you saying that they won't follow you and you have lost your power. The reason kings, emperors and presidents and what not have power is because they have armies to back them up. But if the armies ever decided they didn't like that person, they have no real power at all.

I preface today's entry this way because the Pharaoh at the time that Moses was born was such a man. He was a man that was so scared of losing his authority and the "what ifs", that he ordered the infanticide of an entire people, much like Herod does centuries later. The Pharaoh was not scared because the Israelites had done anything wrong, but rather he was worried about what they MIGHT do in the future. It is such a ridiculous argument it would make me laugh if it weren't so paper thin. Such an argument would not hold up in court for why you assaulted or killed a person. It most certainly would not hold up to our Heavenly Father on judgement day. But he was so paranoid of what the Israelites might do that he made slaves out of them. And then what is infinitely worse, when they started increasing in numbers, which is no surprise to me, I mean honestly, if you are a slave and every day was horrible, aren't you going to take whatever comfort and love you can from your spouse? Anyway, when they started to increase in numbers, he ordered the death of all the baby boys.

If you had any doubts at all about where the Pharaoh was an evil man or not, this should dispel them. No rational person, no person with any amount of decency, would order the death of innocent children. No, this man is just as evil as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Ze Dong, Herod and other men throughout history that practiced genocide. There is no excuse for killing infants. It is pure evil to do so. Fortunately, the midwives worshiped God and would not follow the orders of the Pharaoh. What brave women these were! They could easily have lost their mortal lives for disobeying the Pharaoh like that. But these midwives had an eternal perspective and they knew that losing their lives were nothing compared to what they were being asked to do. They feared God and made the right choice. And it appears that God protected them for it.

They had the courage to do what is right. I sometimes think if I would have had the courage to do what God expects of me when facing death. I like to think that I would measure up, but the reality of it all is that I do not know. No one can know what they would do in such a situation. It's easy to say when listening to such tales what we would do in that situation and boast about it. But the reality is very different when the gun is in your face, or the knife is to your throat. I hope if I am ever in such a situation that I will measure up. I really hope that I am never put in such a situation, but my resolve is to stay true to my testimony no matter what. Time will tell I suppose if I am ever put in that kind of a situation. In the mean time I can live a life that He can be proud to call me His disciple and can live the Gospel and spread it that way. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Forgiving Ourselves

Today I read Genesis 50 the last chapter in the book of Genesis. This chapter, if nothing else, serves to highlight what was lost from the Bible over the centuries. This has one of the longest JST corrections in the Bible, and it is a prophecy by Joseph about Moses, Aaron, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Now, opponents of Joseph Smith would of course state that he added this so called prophecy in himself to validate the Book of Mormon and his own status as a prophet. To those people I say they did not know Joseph Smith at all. How could they think he would be so arrogant as to completely change a part of the Bible to validate his role as a prophet? Nevertheless, I am sure that there are some who do in fact that believe that Joseph Smith was in fact that arrogant.

Despite the great example this chapter serves to show what was lost and what Joseph Smith gave back to us, this chapter also reveals to us Joseph's brother's thought process. Joseph's brothers started worrying how Joseph was going to treat them now that their father was dead. Such a worry tells me that they had not forgiven themselves for they way they treated Joseph. I mean they had lived with Joseph in Egypt with their father for 17 years at this point! How could they not know their brother at all? I don't understand how you can be around a person, even sparingly, for 17 years and not understand them. The difference I believe is that the brethren of Joseph had never forgiven themselves for what they did.

We are our own worst critics. We judge ourselves the harshest, and we continue to beat ourselves up long after others have forgotten about the incident that is so fresh in our minds. We can hold a grudge against ourselves like nobodies business and we are always the last person to forgive ourselves. I suspect that Joseph's brothers felt guilty being around him or even seeing him those 17 years. As such I suspect they avoided him whenever they could. I'm sure they believed him when he told them that all was forgiven, but deep down inside they could not forgive themselves.

I remember hearing a talk once from my stake president down here in Alabama. He talked about a growing trend he was seeing among the Saints that felt that despite having a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, they still felt that they could never be forgiven for what they had done. In a sense, they did not have a true understanding, or testimony, of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Heavenly Father has made it perfectly clear that there are only 2 things that cannot be forgiven in full. Denying the Holy Ghost and the shedding of innocent blood. Every other sin with proper repentance can be forgiven. I'm not sure how it works, but it is my understanding that you can actually be forgiven for shedding innocent blood too, to a degree. That I have decided I will wait until I can ask Him face to face how it works because I don't plan on doing it so I don't need to worry about it. But everything else under the sun that we can possibly do, can be forgiven. So if God and Jesus Christ will forgive us, shouldn't we forgive ourselves? According to my Stake President, and I agree with him, if we don't we make a mockery of the Atonement.

It can be hard and we may even need the assistance of a loving bishop or even a third party counselor, but we need to forgive ourselves of our trespasses. It is just as important as forgiving others, perhaps even more important in all honesty. It will literally damn us and halt our progression until we do, and no one wants that. Plus, as I just stated above, it mocks the Savior's suffering for us. No devout Christian wants that I know. It can be hard, but with the help of the Savior, all things are possible and it can be done. And it feel so much better to get the guilt off of your shoulders. Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Father's Blessing

Today I read Genesis 49 where Jacob dies. But before he passes away, he takes the time to bless each of his male children. He has some interesting things to say about some of them. The scriptures are full of instances of where the patriarch of the family gathers the family together as they are dying and blesses them one last time. Lehi does it with his family. Benjamin does it with his sons. Helaman does it with his sons too. It's a good pattern to follow.

In my own life, I have always treasured the blessings my father gave me. Growing up we always did father's blessings at the beginning of each school year. Even when I was graduated from college I continued to get father's blessings up until I got married. There is something special about a father's blessing that you don't get from any other source.

When I was a missionary I had a companion for 6 months off and on throughout my mission. He grew up in the ward that Elder Neal A. Maxwell, the Apostle, lived in. As such he had the unique experience of having an Apostle in their sacrament meetings and firesides about 60% of the year. My companion once told me that several members of the ward were asking Elder Maxwell to baptize their children, or ordain them to the Priesthood or perform other sacred ordinances for their children. At first he did it, but after awhile my companion told me that Elder Maxwell reprimanded the ward reminding them that he held the same priesthood that all the males over the age of 18 held and was no different when performing ordinances. He told them that by having him do these ordinances for their children it was robbing the children and their fathers of some of the sweetest moments in life. Elder Boyd K. Packer has also at times spoken of the importance of having fathers perform as many sacred ordinances as possible in their children's lives. It is the privilege and responsibility of all fathers to care for their children and provide for their spiritual needs as well as their physical ones. All fathers will have to have an accounting some day of how they handled their stewardship.

As much as I love my daughter now and enjoy spending time with her and in some ways wish she could stay this way forever, I really look forward to the day when I can baptize her and confirm her. To when she starts school and I can start giving her father's blessings. She is a very precious daughter of our Heavenly Father and for some reason He has selected me to watch over her for Him while she is here on earth. It is a charge I take incredibly seriously and if you are a father I hope you do also. If you are a son or daughter whose earthly father is still on the earth, I hope you treasure your interactions with him and still seek his counsel when appropriate and if needed, seek out a father's blessing on occasion. There's nothing quite like it! Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Traditions vs. Doctrine

Today I read Genesis 48 where Jacob blesses Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. I wonder who decided that the birthright should go to the firstborn son. I mean to me it seems a very ineffectual system. What if they are not deserving of the birthright? Why is it not the father's right to choose? Sometimes people get so bogged down in tradition it just makes me shake my head. It reminds me of the movie "Coming to America" where Eddie Murphy's character is supposed to marry a princess and instead he comes to America to find a bride. When his father the king finds out he comes to rescue him. As he and his wife are talking about how their son the prince would rather marry a girl who is not a princess, the king mentions that it is tradition and who is he to change it. The queen responds by saying he's the king. I've always liked that conversation because sometimes we get so bogged down in tradition that we fail to objectively look at said tradition. Just because it's always been done that way does not mean it is the best way or even the right way.

The LDS church is no exception to this. There is no commandment or rule that I am aware of that says the sacrament has to be taken using the right hand, or passed using the right hand for that matter. And yet there are people in the LDS community who flip their lid if you don't do it. There is no rule that I know of that says women have to wear skirts or dresses to church and yet women who choose to not wear a dress or a skirt but instead wear pants can find themselves ostracized or outright ridiculed. Yes these things are tradition and yes I personally think women look much better in dresses than pants, but to shun someone because they choose to wear pants instead is totally un-Christlike. Jesus taught that we need to love everyone and that we need to accept one another's faults or idiosyncrasies, not shun them because they are different than us. If we were to shun those who are different, well let's just say that such behavior leads to bigotry and hate.

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish what is tradition and what is doctrine in any church and the Latter-day Saints are no exception. The Church Handbook of Instruction is online for any to read and if it is not contained in that one you can always ask your bishop since they have access to the other handbook that is not available to the public. A good rule of thumb though is to ask yourself if it is contained in the scriptures or not. Most of the things that have to be done an exact precise way, such as the blessing of the sacrament or baptism, are contained in the scriptures. There are some exceptions, but most of them can be found somewhere in the scriptures. And of course, you can always pray too. Heavenly Father knows what is His doctrine and what is not. He will help you know.

Generally speaking though, there are very few things that have to absolutely be done a certain way with no exceptions. And most of those are ordinances. Just about everything else is tradition and that just the way things are done. We need to do a better job of practicing tolerance and love among those who do things a little differently than us. The best measuring stick I can think of is when confronted by it, ask yourself if Jesus would make a big deal about it. If you cannot resoundingly say that yes He would, it's probably not worth getting all worked up about. As we grow closer to the Spirit, we will find ourselves being more tolerant of the things that are not doctrine. When we focus on the pure doctrines of Christ, all that other stuff doesn't seem nearly so important. Remember to keep an open heart and mind and if you really feel that strongly about it, approach the person in love with the desire to help them get better, not to make them "conform" because that is "the way it's done". Until tomorrow.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Questions about Burial Places

Today I read Genesis 47 where Jacob meets Pharaoh and the Israelites are allowed to live in the land of Goshen, which I can only assume is where the fields for grazing were located since Joseph specifically mentions to Pharaoh that they are shepherds and have need of allowing their flocks and herds to graze. Pharaoh also tells Joseph to put his family over his, Pharaoh's, own flocks and herds. From this chapter it is easy to see the great respect that Pharaoh has for Joseph.

The most interesting part of this chapter to me is the part where Jacob asks Joseph to not bury him in Egypt. It is so interesting to me how people care so much about where they and their loved ones are buried. I suppose it provides a sense of closure for them. I'll be honest in stating that I don't understand it. But I also have a much different outlook on the eternities than most people do too. I have an eternal perspective that some people just don't have. I understand that when we die, our spirits have fled and what is left is just meat and bones, basically carbon and other elements. Dust of the earth if you will. I will not care when it is my time to go if I am buried, cremated, donated to science, or eaten by wild animals. Personally I think the last one is the most natural and provides the greatest use of the flesh left behind.

When it is time to be resurrected it will not matter if we were buried in an official cemetery or cremated or frozen in a glacier. But it is important to some people and I do not say they are wrong or say we should deny them that. I am just saying I personally don't understand it. I recently had a friend pass away and his loved ones had him cremated. It wasn't any less painful or helpful than if he had been buried. My friend was still gone and I will not have another chance to see him in this life. All I have are my memories. I have faith that I will see him again some day and where his physical remains, even if they are just ashes, are laid to rest in the ground will not change that.

But in this chapter it is obviously important to Jacob, just as it is important to others as well. Maybe I will better understand it when my parents, siblings and wife start to pass away. I don't know and won't until the time comes. But I know with my grandparents and friends who have passed on it didn't make it any easier. Time will tell I suppose as it always does. The thing that really helps me is my understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The fact that knowing because He died for us we will all live again. That is what helps me. I hope others find comfort in knowing they will see their loved ones again too. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jacob and Family go to Egypt

Today I read Genesis 46 where Jacob and his entire family come to Egypt to dwell. The scriptures make it sound like Jacob did not wish to come at first. It reads that Jacob had a vision of the Lord and only after the vision did he go down to Egypt. And in that vision the Lord told him not to fear to go down to Egypt. It sounds to me like perhaps his sons had not made it back yet to tell him Joseph was alive. I imagine if he knew Joseph was alive, nothing could have kept him away from Egypt.

The rest of this chapter is about the generations of Joseph and his sons. In short there are seventy of them that came down to Egypt. Joseph makes some interesting comments to his father about how the Egyptians don't like shepherds. I thought that was very interesting but it's true that some cultures revere different things than others. Still though, I would have thought that since all cultures, just about, eat meat, a shepherd would be looked at as a necessary skill. But it seems, based on Joseph's statement that the Egyptians looked upon it as a necessary, but intolerable, evil.

I love this chapter though because of Jacob and Joseph seeing each other for the first time. What a meeting that must have been! To finally see each other for the first time after 20 plus years! I can only imagine the emotions that must have come bubbling out of both of them. If there ever was a place in the Bible where someone passes out for joy like Ammon does in the Book of Mormon, it would be Jacob and Joseph's meeting I think. I can't even imagine it. I mean, thinking that your son or daughter is dead for twenty years only to find out that not only are they alive and well, but the ruler or the most powerful nation on Earth! Hard to imagine in this day and age of technology but in the days of Jacob and Joseph it is completely believable and I can't even begin to imagine the joy Jacob must have felt.

And so the Israelites came to Egypt and would not leave for several hundred years. The story of Joseph is almost done but it is perhaps one of the most amazing in the entire Bible. I think what makes Joseph's story so singular is not just because it's the only one of its kind, but more that it is very, very clear that God's hand was in his life from the time he was sold into slavery. God takes an active role in all our lives, I firmly believe this, but most of the time He does it in such a way that it is unobtrusive and might even be overlooked. Not in Joseph's life. There is no denying that God had a hand in it and watched over him for those many years. But, even though we may not see His hand in our own lives, we can be sure that God is there, watching out for us, and He knows us. Sometimes He may have to step in and you will see that when it happens if you watch for it. I know He has literally saved my life on more than one occasion because there was literally no other explanation for what happened. But I have also seen His hand in my life as I care for my family, especially my daughter.

I hope you have seen His hand in your own lives and if you haven't, look for it, and you'll see it. We are never alone because God has our back. Until tomorrow.