- On a recent day at the temple, I decided to specifically look for all the references to symbolism in the endowment, both the implicit ones and the explicit (“Hey, you! This is symbolic!”) ones. There were at least a few of each, and it’s likely that I missed some. In particular I was struck by the use of words like “represents.” This really warrants more focus in future visits.
- In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:39-41), this also applies to our relationship with God himself. When we’re asked to tithe, we should voluntarily covenant to consecrate the other 90%. When we’re assigned to serve for an hour, we should do more; we should “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) as we seek to “waste and wear out our lives” (D&C 123:13). When we’re called on to suffer and sacrifice, we should offer up the rest of all we have and are in life to the Father, anyway.
- Steve Reed of the excellent One Climbs blog recently posted a long analysis of Jacob 2:30, suggesting that our traditional reading of it as a hypothetical apologia for polygamy is wrong. It’s a very long post, but represents some of the most careful, detailed close reading of scripture I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if he’s correctly figured out Jacob’s intent or not, but he makes a compelling case. After his exegesis, we might read Jacob 2:30 like this: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Great stuff, Steve–consider submitting it to the Interpreter!
On January 8, President Russell M. Nelson gave a devotional for young adults at BYU. In that talk, he suggested studying 76 specific items. Here is a checklist for them. Below this is video of the talk (which starts at around 1:11:40), a PDF of the checklist, and then a copy of the list with links to the church web site.
“I urge you to study the lives and teachings of these 16 prophets of God.” (“See LDS.org.”)
1. Joseph Smith
3. John Taylor
5. Lorenzo Snow
11. Harold B. Lee
13. Ezra Taft Benson
14. Howard W. Hunter
16. Thomas S. Monson
“Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation….To assist you, refer to the Topical Guide for references under the topic ‘Jesus Christ.’” (“See the Topical Guide, ‘Jesus Christ.’ In addition to the text under that major heading, there are 57 subtitles about Him. Let this resource become your personal core curriculum.”)
1. Jesus Christ
2. Jesus Christ, Advocate
3. Jesus Christ, Anointed, the
4. Jesus Christ, Antemortal Existence of
5. Jesus Christ, Appearances, Antemortal
6. Jesus Christ, Appearances, Postmortal
7. Jesus Christ, Ascension of
8. Jesus Christ, Atonement through
Brethren and sisters, there are some things that you and I ought to think about. The time is come when it behooves every man and every woman to know for themselves in relation to the foundation on which they stand. We should all strive to get a little nearer to the Lord. It is necessary for us to advance a little and obtain a full knowledge of those things which we should more fully understand. It is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint.
This is the condition of all men, no matter how well they start out, who allow their thoughts and affections to run after the world and its ways, and it is a plain and indisputable proof that when this is the case with men they love the world more than they love the Lord and His work upon the earth. Having received the light of the everlasting Gospel, and partaken of the good things of the kingdom, and being of the seed of Israel and heirs to great and glorious promises, we should labor with fidelity and diligence to accomplish what God has designed to do through us; we should be men and women of faith and power as well as good works, and when we discover ourselves careless or indifferent in the least, it should be sufficient for us to know it in order to mend our ways and return to the path of duty.
Nothing can be more foolish than the idea of a man laying off his religion like a cloak or garment. There is no such thing as a man laying off his religion unless he lays off himself. Our religion should be incorporated within ourselves, a part of our being that cannot be laid off. If there can be such a thing as a man laying off his religion, the moment he does so he gets on to ground he knows nothing about, he gives himself over to the powers of darkness, he is not on his own ground, he has no business there. The idea of Elders in Israel swearing, lying and giving way to intoxication is far beneath them; they ought to be above such things. Let us put from us every evil and live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God [see D&C 98:11]. Let us lay hold of every duty assigned to us with ambition and energy that we may have the spirit of our God, the light of truth and the revelations of Jesus Christ within us continually.
Not marriage. Not really. A question about marriage is the impetus for the revelation, and information about it is given at a few points, but that information is always incidental, and given to illustrate points about the revelation’s larger theme.
Consider that section 132 is the last revelation Joseph Smith received that’s included in the Doctrine and Covenants. What might be the most important message of that book overall for the Saints in this dispensation? It’s one that is indeed extremely important and relevant for us this very day.
In 66 verses, the word “marriage” is only used two times. Other marriage-related terms occur not much more often: “marry” and “sealed” occur six times each, “concubines” and “wives,” four times each. The most commonly used marriage-related terms are “wife” and “adultery,” which occur ten times each; and “adultery” is always mentioned in material that’s meant to ensure that that sin is not committed.
Contrast that with the frequency of these other significant terms:
- Commanded, commandment, priesthood – 7 times each
- According, appointed, received—9 times each
- Exaltation, receive—11 times each
- Abide—12 times
- Power, word—13 times each
- Covenant—15 times
- Servant—16 times
And perhaps the most important term of all, as suggested by frequency of use:
- Law—32 times
A friend of mine who works in the IT industry told me about this experience he had about a decade ago.
A guy in the cubicle next to his asked him to come over and look at his screen. My friend did and saw that his coworker had a pornographic image on display. He quickly turned away and said something like, “Thanks but no thanks.”
The coworker teased and scolded him a bit about being a prude and said, “C’mon, don’t pretend you don’t like it.”
And this is where the story gets memorable for me. My friend said, “I’m not pretending I don’t like it. I’m sure I would like it. That’s why I have to force myself to avoid it.”
I think that’s a great lesson for all of us.
The promissory elements of the sacramental prayers, especially the prayer on the bread, can be seen as an enactment of a typical heroic arc.
I’ll illustrate here with images from that typical hero’s journey, the Star Wars saga. It’s not perfect or in order, and I hope you don’t find this irreverent, as this analogy makes Darth Vader into Jesus (though there really are clearly some aspects of the Savior used in the character of Anakin Skywalker). In these pictures, Luke Skywalker is each of us as we take the sacrament.
The first thing we as individual participants do is to eat “in remembrance of the body of thy Son.”
A great hero has fallen, his life given for the good of others, and the young disciple (or in our case, disciples) who must now carry forward the legacy of his work must, first of all, mourn and find strength from the sacrifice of the elder master.
The fallen master’s legacy is now conferred on the next generation, who “take upon them” (physically, spiritually, or both) some talismanic aspect of the master (be it a lightsaber or a holy name).
Here’s another example of becoming literally more like a great heroic mentor through continual remembrance–Luke’s bionic hand. In our case, eating the sacramental bread itself could fill this role. (The work and clothing of the temple fit here as well.)
Armed with committed resolve and the basic emblems of the way, the young disciple(s) now must live the way with increasing fullness, through a life of practice, tests and trials, and general faithfulness as they embark on their own version of the master’s journey. This training is ongoing and episodic, like a series of scenes in a movie franchise, or over the course of our daily lives. Either way, growing in strength through regular obedience to the laws of the way is expected.
The reward for demonstrated faithfulness to practicing the way of this order is to have the eternal, spiritual presence of its holy divinities with the young disciple along the path of the dangerous journeys ahead. These spiritual guides offer blessings and gifts that aid the hero on his ever-maturing way (“Use the Force, Luke” or “Choose the right,” perhaps).
This pattern could also be illustrated with scenes featuring Obi Wan more, or figures like Gandalf or Dumbledore. The point here is to invest the great words of our compact little sacrament prayer with the majesty they deserve. It’s a simple routine for us, but one that can and should have profound meaning.
Keeping in mind this pattern of a heroic journey as each of us takes the sacrament each Sunday might help us realize its importance and power. It may only last a few minutes, but this ordinance has the ability to orient and refresh us after a long week of heroic journeying, and prepare us to continue fighting forward.
Some years ago I had a conversation with a good man who was losing his testimony, who wanted clear and close benchmarks in life like in his youth, not a marathon with no end. Life felt like driving through a Midwest state with nothing new in it. Maybe we feel like that, or burnt out, or new and overwhelmed, or young and bored, or just realize there are more blessings out there. A lot of us might be in the same spot, looking for landmarks to encourage us and help us along the way.
This brings to mind any number of scriptural phrases: endure to the end; endure it well; press forward with faith; find joy in the journey, among others. They all basically mean the same thing. Let’s just call today’s talk, “Endure Forward Well With Joy.”
I wanted a list of three items, all based on quotes from general conference, and all focused on the Savior. We all came here today looking to be filled with the Spirit and lifted up spiritually, and I hope that there’s something in here for each of us to benefit from.
Landmark #1: Ordinances
In leadership councils of the church, one way ministering is planned is by asking, “Who needs an ordinance?”, making the answer a goal, and planning how to reach that goal.
Now, for some, that may be easy: we might need to go to the temple for the first time, men might need a priesthood ordination, we might even just need to start by being baptized. These are natural and obvious landmarks in our lives, and as we set our sights on them and reach them, we’ll find that life is fuller and sweeter, because we will always know that we’ve been doing the best things with our time.
In the April 2015 General Conference, David A. Bednar taught:
Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks we use to construct our lives upon the foundation of Christ and His Atonement. We are connected securely to and with the Savior as we worthily receive ordinances and enter into covenants, faithfully remember and honor those sacred commitments, and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted. And that bond is the source of spiritual strength and stability in all of the seasons of our lives.
We can be blessed to hush our fears as we firmly establish our desires and deeds upon the sure foundation of the Savior through our ordinances and covenants.
I had the chance to teach from this lesson at church today. It’s really an excellent chapter of the new book–I highly recommend it to anybody. I made the chart attached below to prepare for teaching it, and for personal use.
In case anyone else might benefit from it, the discipleship worksheet is here: Teachings of Presidents of the Church ch1.
Genesis 19 is one of the most sordid, controversial chapters of the Bible. As such, it’s not often seen as a fount of wisdom.
Yet, a perfectly timely spiritual message is in this narrative.
Before “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire,” an angel warned Lot to take his family and “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17)
Was Lot’s response to act like Peter and Andrew, who, upon being called to the ministry, “straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20)? Or like Alma, who was abused and rejected as a minister in one city, but after leaving was instructed by an angel to go back and persist, so “he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah” (Alma 8:18)?
No. Lot’s immediate instinct wasn’t obedience, but quibbling and negotiation: “And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord…. I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (19:21-22).
Not only did he decline to follow the angel’s clear counsel, he proposed following his own inclinations: “Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.” (19:20)
I received a reply from Elder Robbins through his secretary, with the text of his talk and permission to share it. It’s in the link below.
This is one of my favorite messages I’ve ever heard at church, and I hope it spreads far and wide. Even more so, I hope we try to live it.
Each of us is a complicated congregation.
Paul used this fact in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where he used various body parts to represent different gifts and callings, showing that just as a body needs all its parts to cooperate in order to work best, so does the church need a variety of gifts and offices to best perform its duties.
It occurred to me recently that we could apply that metaphor to an issue in the church today:
Each of our individual “congregations” is led by a presidency: our spirit is called to preside over the rest of us, perhaps with the mind as first counselor and the heart as second counselor.
The rest of the things that constitute ourselves–the “members,” as Paul put it–have their various functions, but all work best in an established order, cooperating harmoniously and ever submitting to the leadership of the presidency.
Whenever a member decides to disregard the order–indulging in its own desires and placing its own wisdom above that of the presidency–the entire congregation suffers. Whatever member that is–the stomach, the eyes, the genitals, the ego, etc.–risks apostasy.
In any congregation–the global church, a stake, a ward, or our own individual selves–the best way to live is to follow the order established by God. That means training ourselves to live under the mentoring of our leaders.
“I have no ideas only as God gives them to me; neither should you. Some people are very persistent in having their own way and carrying out their own peculiar theories. I have no thoughts of that kind, but I have a desire, when anything comes along, to learn the will of God, and then to do it.”
The only question with us is whether we will cooperate with God, or whether we will individually work out our own salvation or not; whether we will individually fulfil the various responsibilities that devolve upon us or not; whether we will attend to the ordinances that God has introduced or not; for ourselves to begin with, for our families, for the living and for the dead. Whether we will cooperate in building temples and administering in them; whether we will unite with the Almighty, under the direction of his holy priesthood, in bringing to pass things that have been spoken of by the holy prophets since the world was; whether we will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints. These things rest with us to a certain extent. …
Finished the second volume in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series: Brigham Young.
Here are my favorite quotes from volume 1: Joseph Smith.
These are the passages I marked from Brigham Young:
“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods (DBY, 3).
I’m not a people person by nature. I can enjoy company, but I don’t often seek it out. Usually, I try to avoid it, though I’ve been working on this.
Yesterday I re-read something that had jumped out at me when I read it earlier this year. Actually, I’d read this many times before, but it was upon this reading that something new struck me. Such is the experience of those who study the Book of Mormon.
I’d often wondered how to increase my capacity for charity–the inherent desire to know people, to love them, to want to help them. I’ve prayed for growth in this capacity, but I still have a long way to go.
But then I read these verses: