Category Archives: Religion

the gospel of simplicity

I had an interesting thought tonight.  “Lord, I want to join the battle.”  I love working with youth, talking to them, helping them out the best I can.  The thing that worries the most is not the decisions that they’ll make, but rather that I haven’t prepared myself enough.  I want to be spiritually ready all the time, to be up to any challenge that comes my way.  That’s a pretty tall order.  When I feel like I need to reach that lofty goal, I start to think of big ways to change my life, and how to get there amazingly fast.

What I’m having to learn over and over is that the the gospel is not about moments of energy and excitement.  It’s not big projects that need to be undertaken, or major changes to my schedule.  It’s not zealotry or extreme attitudes.  Instead, it’s about making a decision, day by day, to follow Christ.

Like many Christians, I wear a cross.  It’s a necklace that I put on every morning before I head out for the day.  I don’t have to put it on, but as I do, it’s a really personal reminder that I’m making a choice — that, yes, this is something I want to do, and take it upon myself willingly.  And what’s cool is that I have to make that decision every day — not as a group, but individually.  Every morning I make the choice.

I still have the habit of wanting to jump into things with full heart and spirit, and at times get almost a patriotic pledge to do more.  I think of big changes I can make so that I’m somehow getting more spirituality into my life.  It starts to become a project, some huge overreaching goal that I can build with lots of effort and work.  This leads problem that I will start to think there is something “special” out there that I should be doing, to find that extra measure of spiritual input.  Big goals require big commitments, which leads to big changes.  Rip out all the old stuff, and put in the new.  Everything old must go. There’s some method out there to tap this great well of spiritual power that I haven’t found yet, some secret sauce that the Lord will reveal to me as I push with so much effort and drive.

However, that is going about it the wrong way.  I love how the Lord puts things into perspective.  From Matthew 24:

26. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

There are no secret angles, no shortcuts, no hidden mysteries for only a select few to find.  I do not need to go out into the desert, something that would take a lot of resources and dedication — somewhere only a few could go if they had the right equipment, stamina, and drive.

Instead, He has made it clear that it is the basic principles of the gospel, that all men, women and children can exercise, where they are.  Consider, for example, taking the basics to a higher level over time as you make it a part of your life.

Prayer is the simple act of talking to God.  Reading the scriptures is having God talk to me.  Fasting teaches self-control.  Like any skill, I can improve, and do better over time.  Instead of saying token prayers, I can learn how to calmly and quietly express my soul to God, and know that he hears.  Instead of reading the scriptures out of a sense of duty and daily obligation, I can study them and look more closely, trying to understand God’s will.

The basics, if expanded on, can bring about great results.  I know that that’s true, because as I decrease or increase in those simple things, I can notice a difference.

My crazy mind still likes to flirt with the idea that there is some great knowledge that I need to acquire before I can commit.  A nebulous mass of content that I must completely understand before I can move forward.

Again, the Lord puts things into perspective, making it so much simpler:

13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

The way that I read this is that my task  is to enter into the gate that leads unto eternal life.  He doesn’t say anything about winning the race, or how fast I should be going, or how soon I need to get there.  At the very beginning, He just wants me to go in the right direction.

It’s not hard to make that choice, but it’s hard for me to understand and accept that it’s so simple.  It really is, though, and when I think about how easy it is, I realize that it’s something I can do.  And the Holy Ghost confirms to me that it is true.  I like the Lord’s way much better than mine.

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blog.nephi.org

Oh, I don’t know how I totally forgot about this, but I did. This week, I setup a new blog for me, this time to cover just my posts about religion and scripture study. I put it on my existing nephi.org site, namely at blog.nephi.org.

I honestly have no idea how often I’ll be posting over there, I’m thinking maybe around once per month. I really like writing the posts, but I stress so much over them .. my last one took me like 20 minutes to write and 2 hours to stress over. Ah, well. I do enjoy it, though.

Anyway, yah, all my religious posts will end up over there now, though I may cross-post here occassionally. Or not. That could get annoying. Maybe. I dunno. Look, it’s Halloween soon!

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depart from me, o lord

For some reason, this phrase entered my mind today. I remembered it as “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” I didn’t remember where it was, somewhere in the New Testament, so I looked it up and it is found in Luke — the book I have been studying most recently. The actual wording is a little different than I recalled: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

What made me think of this was the conflict in actions that the man was displaying. I remembered that he both fell down to worship, yet at the same time beckoned for some distance. The act seems interesting to me because I believe it represents some emotional conflict. A desire to serve and be righteous, with some degree of outward performance even performed, but internally a feeling of inadequacy, observant of his own weakness. For me, that feeling can be overwhelming. There are times when it is all I can do to kneel, or some similar act, something simple, and yet feel unworthy to press on or do more. I want to do good, yet I feel like I cannot approach the Lord because of the mistakes I have made.

I think Jesus’ reply is interesting as well. “Fear not,” is the first part of his reply. Why does the Lord say that? What is the effect of fear and how does diminishing it at this time help? I believe that, in this same scenario of mixed emotions, that the feeling of inadequacy and failure robs a person of courage and then causes them to fear moving forward. I know in my own life, in the midst of confusion, every option seems fearful, full of uncertainty.

I also love how the Lord pronounces a prophecy regarding him (and his companions). The Lord is directly contradicting the vision, direction, capability and mission that Peter has set for himself. The Lord knows what he can become, and shares in small measure, a glimpse of that future.

It occurs to me that there’s some significance to the fact that they were on the water, a place of unrest and uncertain surface. Before they could follow the master, they had to bring their ships to land (5:11). I have noticed in my own life, that when I am uncertain and unsteady, that if I return to doing the small things (reading a bit of scripture, for example), that it grounds me, and makes me able to do more. In contrast, a sense of despair and discouragement is often accompanied by a stage of apathy.

Finally, the efforts of following the Lord may seem sacrificial, but are really beneficial, for “they forsook all”. Not only their past possessions, but their past difficulties, to be replaced with anxiety and cares and the other feelings that come in the service of others — the yoke of the Lord — completely displacing their old woes. While the actions are first, the feelings will follow.

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when things go wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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truth and trivia

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

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

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

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zechariah chapter eight

I stumbled on this chapter the other day, when I was at my Isaiah class, and while one group of scriptures stood out to me, it’s one of those chapters where I keep bouncing around and finding cool stuff just in the whole thing.

It’s in the book of Zechariah, which is the second-to-last book in the Old Testament (KJV).  The Lord, speaking through the prophet, is describing how the city of Jerusalem is going to be safely inhabited in the future.  That in itself isn’t such an interesting or novel address in the scriptures, but so far, this one stands out to me because he goes in detail about what life will be like, and also compares it to the way things were before.

My favorite passage is verses nine to fifteen:

9. ¶ Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.

10. For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction: for I set all men every one against his neighbour.

11. But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the LORD of hosts.

12. For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.

13. And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.

14. For thus saith the LORD of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the LORD of hosts, and I repented not:

15. So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not.

I was looking through the chapter again yesterday morning I think it was, and verse twelve stuck out to me.  One thing I’ve learned to notice in the scriptures, is to look closely whenever the Lord lists things in a sequential list.  I’ve found that there can be some significance to that.

The things that will propser, specifically:

For the seed shall be prosperous;

the vine shall give her fruit,

and the ground shall give her increase,

and the heavens shall give their dew;

What I find interesting, is that it goes from the smallest to the largest, from those who have influence in their own realm, and those whose influence stretches far beyond themselves.

The spiritual application that I’m getting from this, is that all of us, from the smallest to the greatest, will be able to reach our potential.  To some, it is given to bring forth great things, and to some it is given to bring forth little.

I know there’s a lot of pressure sometimes, in a religious community, to expect more of ourselves than is possible.  In that realm of thought, I love the parable of the talents given to the servants (see Matthew 25:14-30).  To one servant, was given five talents, and to another two, and to another, one.  The lesson is that where much is given, much is required.  The Lord’s answer of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” was the exact same to the servant who doubled his talents, regardless of his initial investment.  The Lord gives us all, and he expects all in return.

The last part of the verse is cool as well, and it illustrates how all of this is going to happen, in both a literal sense of economic, social and agricultural stability, but also spiritually and individually:

I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.

The Lord prepares the people, He is the one that effects the change, and the reason we have the scriptures is so that we can know His will and how to change our lives.  This chapter just includes some of the promises that will come as people seek to do that.

I can certainly testify from my own experience that lots of personal growth comes from actually living the Gospel of Christ.  It’s difficult, but very rewarding.

Good stuff, I tell you.  I enjoy studying this stuff. :)

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a division among the people

I am really saddened by the politics lately, considering the community center building in New York.  Though I don’t follow the debates closely, from the outset, I’m saddened by the whole thing, mostly for the intolerance of our own neighbors.

Particularly, I read a comment that said, “therefore another location could be chosen for the mega-mosque. The aim should be to unite people and not to divide them.”  Another one providing the idea  that those of differing opinions should “build it some miles away.”  Reading that, I thought of the words of the Lord, who taught us to love our neighbors.

I think it’s worth sharing a small parable from the Master, found in Luke 10.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

And Jesus answering said, a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

There are some great things to learn from this scripture, but one that I wanted to point out was the racial division among the people.  If the traveler originated from Jerusalem, then it may be safe to assume that he was a Jew — a native to the country.  Those that passed him by would have been kinsmen — a priest, and a Levite.

It was a Samaritan that helped him, though.  That the Lord mentioned him by origin is telling.  The Samaritans were a mixed breed of race.  In recent history, the kingdom of Israel had been conquered, and a few Israelites left.  The land was later colonized by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and the people were mixed in religion as well — both heathen and believer.

They were most hated by the Jews, for their perceived impure backgrounds and practices, yet, geographically speaking, they were neighbors.  And it was those, among whom the world expects the least, that comes salvation.

In the parable, Christ was speaking of Himself.  He was also of mixed breed, born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father, and He was despised of all men, for not conforming to their beliefs and culture.  And yet, He is the one who will bring salvation and life to the wounded.

Who, then, today are our neighbors?  Can we pick them any more than we can pick our own family?  If we disagree culturally or politically, should we demand that they go elsewhere?

I believe that the Lord intended the principle of loving our neighbors to be both figurative and literal.  There are differences between races and cultures, for sure, but as a species we are far more alike than different.

Who are our neighbors?  Those who take residence next to us.  In the sense of loving them, the parable illustrated the commandment by showing service, to lift them up and carry them upon our own beasts and to give of our own resources when none other — even those who were called to that work — would be so willing.  May we do the same.

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isaiah's writing styles

I’m still studying Isaiah in my spare time, when I can find it, and I’ve just had some really cool discoveries lately. I realize that these great findings of mine could easily be found by reading a commentary on the Book of Isaiah, but I prefer to locate them for myself — they have far greater meaning, and I won’t quickly forget them (or the experience of enlightment).

Just the other day, I think it was Monday, I was itching for some reason to sit down again and just read a little bit, and see if I could pick something up. It was a long day full of work and other crazy stuff, and by the time I had a second to do anything, it was midnight and I was ready to go to bed. But I flipped open my Bible casually, and just started at Isaiah 1. I won’t go into much detail of what I found, but while I was reading it, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me for a bit, and something just clicked in my brain. I recognized Isaiah’s writing style a little bit.

The chapter is written using a lot of groups of similar sayings. Nearly the entire chapter can be broken down using them. It’s really cool, and quite poetic, as I’m guessing that was the prophet’s intent. For a quick example, see verse 4, how he describes the people in four parts, then lists their actions in three parts following that:

  1. Ah sinful nation
  2. a people laden with iniquity
  3. a seed of evildoers
  4. children that are corrupters /
  5. they have forsaken the Lord
  6. they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger
  7. they are gone away backward

There’s examples like that all over.  Really cool.  For a quick recap of some of the important parts of the gospel, see v16-17, grouped in similar pairs:

  • cease to do evil / learn to do well
  • seek judgment / relieve the oppressed
  • judge the fatherless / plead for the widow

Anyway … none of that is what I wanted to write about right now, but it does give the background a bit to his writing style that I recognized while reading this morning, in Isaiah 2.

Again, the experience was nearly similar … I was just reading along, mostly for just interest and comfort, and I noticed all of a sudden that he uses pairs a lot, or repetition to say the same thing, but with different words.  It’s actually really helpful, because his writings can be really confusing sometimes, but if you notice that he’s saying the same thing twice, then you have a greater pool of comparison to draw from.

It starts in verse 3, and goes from there.  I only copied a few examples, because once you understand the principle, its really easy to see.

  • the mountain of the Lord / the house of the God of Jacob (v3)
  • he will teach us of his ways / we will walk in his paths (v3)
  • he shall judge among the nations / shall rebuke many people (v4)
  • they shall beat their swords into plowshares / their spears into pruninghooks (v4)

Another thing I picked up on is, often times after prophecies, he will give either his own testimony or an admonition or invitation to follow the Lord.  In that example, verse 5 does that: “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

I know it’s easy to read the Bible and it can sound like the Lord is just itching to blow us all to smithereens because we are wicked and going to hell.  The way I see it is that God is trying to tell us the natural consequences of our lives if we do not refrain from sin.

For example, if you are trying to teach your children not to run out in front of cars in the middle of the street, what kind of language do you use to stress the importance of the lesson to them?  You might do something like raise your voice, or use colorful descriptions to get the point across — if you get hit by a car, your brains will be splattered all over their dashboard, and your spleen will be on the curb … for example :).

Just the same way, the Lord is trying to warn us of the bad things, in a stressed tone, that will happen.  It’s not meant to scare or frighten us, just to communicate the seriousness of the consequences.

That was the spiritual lesson I was getting from reading Isaiah, chapter two.  I still think there’s something I’m mising from it overall, as I can feel it just out of reach, so I came here to write in my blog in an attempt to see if I maybe I could find it.  We’ll see, I suppose.

I did want to recount what I summarized the chapter’s lesson as, though.  Rather than try to describe it all over again, I’ll just copy verbatim what I put in my notes this morning:

Reading Isaiah 2, he warns against the proud quite a lot (v6-22), warning them what will happen at the time of the Second Coming.  I think Alma 12:14 summarizes it nicely: “we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.” [Note: read the whole chapter for clarity, I imagine my snippet probably doesn't make much sense out of context to a visitor.  It's part of a bigger sermon ... he is discussing the wicked there, not all people everywhere.]

The message seems to be that, while they are rich in their worldly accounts (v7) and they have sought after a life of worldliness (v8), that when the the Lord comes, they will not be forgiven (v9), and they will in agony seek to separate them (the works of their hands) from themselves (v20-21).  The Lord will bring them all low, and He alone will be exalted, and destroy their riches, and their wicked works (the idols [represent] the results of their hands) (v17-18).

When we stand before the Lord, everything that we have sought [for] with worldly desires will mean nothing.

See also 2 Nephi 9:28-30Isaiah 2 is also the first chapter quoted by Nephi [in the Book of Mormon] (2 Nephi 12).

Okay, so a quick explanation about that last part — when Nephi, the first prophet-author of the Book of Mormon (an entire civilization is named after him, the Nephites) was writing, he included a lot of writings of Isaiah, since they had taken a contemporary copy of their scriptures with them when they left Jerusalem (600 B.C.).  So, they are a more ancient source of Isaiahs writings that we have, compared to the Bible.  The chapters are nearly exact, except that you can see very small snippets that were removed from the Bible text.  In every instance, the phrases shed a little light on the verses.  I’ll include some here, with the additions — or mormon sauce as my friend Josh calls it :) — in bold so you can see the differences.  They are small, but helpful.

  • 5. O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.
  • 6. Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and hearken unto soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.
  • 10. O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.
  • 12. For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one; yea, upon the proud and lofty, and upon every one who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.
  • 13. Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;
  • 14. And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which are lifted up, and upon every people;
  • 16. And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
  • 19. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
  • 21. To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Well, it looks like the stuff there unintentionally, for my part, focused on how the Lord is going to smite everyone.  Whoops. :)  More accurately, though, those that are really wicked and evil.

I think it’s interesting that the scriptures that were trimmed are ones that absolve the wicked of the fruits of their works, and downplay the coming of the Lord.  I hate saying something like that, because it sounds snotty, when really I’m just trying to document an intellectual curiosity.  But I also know from experience, that when I do something wrong, usually one of my first inclinations is to rationalize it away, so that my guilt will not be intense.  I don’t like holier-than-thou attitudes any more than the next person.  I need the help of Christ as much as the next man, if not more, because I know more, and am therefore more responsible.

Ah, anyway, good stuff.  I’m loving my good ole scripture study time.  It’s one of the few luxuries I have these days, with the little time I have available to me.  I know the Lord is trying to teach us important stuff in the scriptures, not just doomday prophecies.  You have to really dig to find the lessons, sometimes, but when you do, you appreciate them all the more.  It’s fascinating stuff, methinks. :)  Good times.

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science and faith

I generally don’t post thoughts on controversial topics, since I’m not one for jumping into debates that can quickly deteriorate, but I do think it’s okay now and then to post my own thoughts and perspectives on the matter, in case anyone might find it of interest.

I was watching an IMAX documentary tonight, I have a few of them on DVD, and I’ve always loved watching them.  Tonight, it was Cosmic Voyage, a really great one that explores how massive our universe is, and how much life there is in it.  It’s a really cool movie to watch.

As a Christian, I have a unique perspective on the origin of the universe that doesn’t agree with the secular conclusions.  However, unlike mainstream religions, I do not believe that science and faith are mutually exclusive.  I believe in evolution as much as anyone else, since, for one, it’s not only scientifically plausible, but proven.  I draw the line that evolution was the cause of the origin of life though, instead taking the doctrine on faith that man was placed here by God, with a purpose to life that He has since revealed to His children through prophets, which have been recorded as scripture.

I never know quite how to explain my perspective, since it’s so different from everything else, and probably pretty unexpected to start with.  It’d be easy to gloss over my take on things and just sum me up as another crazy creationist that thinks some invisible force created everything then dumped us here to let us figure things out.

And so, in an effort to meet critics on their own grounds, I’ll ask the hard questions myself, but provide the answers the best I can.  I’m not trying to convince anyone of the truth — and it’s not my belief that it should be forced on others involuntarily, in school or any other setting.  But I would like the fair chance to present my side. :)

How was the earth created?

First of all, going to the creation of the earth.  There is a misconception that God created the universe ex nihilo, or, out of nothing.  This belief springs from a poor translation of the original text.  In Hebrew, the book of Genesis says that the earth was organized, not created — meaning from existing matter.  In modern revelation, the Lord has said that “the elements are eternal.”  Science would agree that matter can be neither destroyed nor created.  My religion concurs. :)

How long did it take to create the earth?

The truth is, we don’t really know.  There are a few accounts given of the creation (Genesis, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham), and they all offer a few more details.  In Abraham’s account, each of the creationary periods are called a “time”.  For example, “And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time.” (emphasis mine).

You can read the whole account of Abraham’s record of the creation, starting with chapter 4, although the entire book covers some amazing doctrine.

The next question is more interesting, though, I think.

Why doesn’t the Lord reveal to us the details of the creation?

The answer to that is pretty simple, and I imagine probably going to be a little frustrating to some, and maybe some reason to scoff to others.

The answer is it’s not necessary to our salvation.

The reason we are here on earth, living our mortal lives, is to see if, once we have left the presence of our Father in Heaven, we will choose to obey him.  A knowledge of the creation of the earth is not a prerequisite to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, the Lord does at times reveal knowledge of the mysteries of creation and of life as a testimony of His work, and to strengthen our faith.

In a more simple analogy, say you were taking a test on mathematics … it wouldn’t do you much good to study lots of history before going into the exam, because it is superfluous and not necessary for our passing grade in that area of study.  Likewise, we don’t need to understand all things to be able to successfully pass the mortal test, to follow God, choose the right, and achieve happiness.  He requires of us a willing mind and an obedient spirit, something that everyone can give individually.

That is not to say that God does *not* want us to know these things, though.  It would be an incorrect conclusion to assume that since God does not reveal His word to us, that He has no interest in us finding these things out.  The Lord gave us many tools, both personally and collectively, to study these things out for ourselves.

He has said, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;  Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (emphasis mine)

Also, just because the knowledge is withheld, does not mean it will always be that way.  Just as parents teach their children principles line upon line, precept upon precept, our Heavenly Father does not burden us with things that would be too hard to grasp at this point in our existence — partly, because they would prove unto us a stumbling block (even the limited knowledge we have now is a struggle of faith for many, and keeps them from believing).

He has promised to eventually reveal to us “things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof–Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.” (emphasis mine)

So, while it may be frustrating, now, to not know the reason and purpose behind all things, they will eventually be revealed to us — either in this life or the next.  In the meantime, we can rest safely in the knowledge that it is not required of us to understand.  That in no way excuses us from either trying or should prevent us from wanting to understand though.

How can we take things on faith?

I think a simpler way to ask the question might be, “how can you really believe all that stuff?”

Well, to be honest, for me it comes pretty easily, so I have a really hard time understanding how it would be hard sometimes *not* to believe it.  So I apologize in advance if my explanation of things seems a bit simple … a bit of a loop, saying “I believe it’s true because I believe it’s true.”  There’s actually a base to that — and that is a witness from God, that comes by asking sincerely if these things are true.

One last quote, this time from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.  Alma (an ancient prophet of God) says, “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

It’s a curious pasttime of mine to try and find parts of those “all things” that denote the existence of God.  The complexity of life goes deeper than just a testimony of the existence of God, they are actually living parables — analogies that to the simple and humble are opened up, and show similarities to the Gospel itself.

For example, the seasons of the earth are just as the stages of mortality are.  Spring represents the birth and renewal of life, summer the prime of our lives, fall is the stages of death, decay and our twilight years, and then winter, in all its glorious white, represents the resurrection of life.

There’s lots more examples, and I was trying to think of one that I had come up with when writing this, but nothing is coming to me right now.  I went looking for one in my notes on scripture study, and I couldn’t find one quickly either.

That’s generally how my presentation feels though — a little lacking on the solid examples, and I feel like I’m not really getting my point across too well, but I can rely on the fact that I believe and even know that these things are true, and I can’t deny that … even if I can’t explain it eloquently. :)

There was also this great quote from Brigham Young about how all truth was circumscribed into one whole (or maybe it was Joseph Smith).  Anyway.  I remember President Young would talk about it a lot at length.  I’ll have to go find my book of his quotes somewhere.

But yah, the simple point I wanted to make is that science and religion actually are the same pursuit of truth, and application of that knowledge.  There is no conflict between the two for true religion, for God operates by eternal laws, many of which we don’t understand yet.

Alright, I’ll stop preaching now. :)  I just wanted to point out that for some Christians, there is no conflict .. no crisis of faith when presented with science.  It’s a common tactic that those who actively try to undermine the faith of others will use the fact that “you can’t explain it” as a reason to disbelieve.  Instead of letting this despair me, I actually consider it a requisite of my faith.  The Lord wants me to grow spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally, and each of those require risks … stepping out into the dark, having faith that if I follow the best path, that I will grow and be redeemed and rewarded after my labor is done.  I don’t know everything, that is true, but I do know the basics and have a testimony of their truth.  I know enough. :)

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studying the scriptures

Whenever I feel like a post was kind of cut off a bit, I feel the need to explain myself a bit, and give a bit of background to the overall story.

Basically, a recent occurrence in my life for the past couple of months has been a renewed effort to find out what purpose the Lord has in store for me in this life.  I really have no idea, to be honest, but I’m trying to find out a lot of answers.  Not just my purpose generally, but what I’m supposed to do with all this free time and resources that I have.

Well, one habit I used to hold dearly was that I would study the scriptures a lot.  That hasn’t really been a focus in my life as much as it was before, for probably eight years or so.  I mean, I have been reading them on a regular basis, but generally not more than anything other than a sense of obligation at times.  Never anything I’d really call “studying”.

Not too long ago, though, I got a new idea for an approach I could develop towards studying.  It mostly came because I was getting exasperated a bit by following the letter of the commandment (read your scriptures daily) rather than the spirit (feast upon my word).  I like to mix things up now and then, and this time was no different, and I don’t doubt that this current idea will eventually fade away and I’ll be trying something new later on.

For now, though, what I do in the morning is I read the scriptures (the Book of Mormon) until I find a passage that I find interesting.  It doesn’t matter how much I read, but as long as I find something that stands out — that either makes me ask a question, or consider the passage, or something I just find kinda cool.  Then I write it down in my little notebook.  There’s nothing cooler than going back to old notebooks, where I’ve recorded previous thoughts and questions, and seeing what I wrote years ago.  It’s a lot of fun.  So far though, my new method has been very effective, if not the most effective I’ve had yet.  The reason I say that is because I find myself thinking about that scripture during the day or week.

One thing that I do to get myself to ask questions while reading, is I’ll look at a passage and say, “Now, why did they put *this* in there?  Who cares?  What does it matter?  Is that important?”  And that kinda stirs the mind and gets me thinking about why it would be included, what importance it could have had to the author (think of all the stuff we write in our journals that seem important to *us*, but to anyone else it would be a bunch of fluff).

As an example, I’ll use the one I found this morning.  It’s in the book of Mosiah, chapter 10, verses 4 and 5.  They read:

4. And I did cause that the men should till the ground, and raise all manner of grain and all manner of fruit of every kind.

5. And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land–thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years.

Now, aside from the comment about continual peace, there’s not really anything of substance there on first glance, it would normally seem like to me.

However, this time when reading it, verse four caught my mind, and I thought it was interesting how he said “all manner of fruit.”  When I was thinking about it later during the day, I realized that it may stand as a bit of a description of how their culture was advanced and organized that they could have not only the technology to raise all different kinds of fruit, but the agronomy and sciences to do so.  Like, for instance, grapes grow differently from bananas, and they are not the same as pineapples, apples, oranges and peaches.  It would take some skill and organization to be able to handle *all* manner of fruit.  I dunno.  I just find it interesting.  The same thing with the cloths as well … the different types have to indicate that there were artisans trained in different skills.  Anyway.  Interesting.

So, that approach of study is working for me well so far.  I’m having fun with it.

Going back to my earlier point, though, and with my recent discoveries, I’m remembering how much I enjoy studying the scriptures.

When I served my mission in Argentina, I studied them voraciously during all my free time.  Early on, I had the goal to finish reading the entire standard works.  Every free moment I had, I would read, and I got through it rather quickly.  Once I was done with that, I colored all my verses with a coloring scheme I had developed, and marked up my scriptures quite a bit.  I still have that set today, and it’s great to reference them, because I can flip open my books to almost any chapter in any book and find something I’ve highlighted.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist though, or more accurately, fixated on progression and refining my processes.  My original approach to highlighting verses was to do it on a dialogue basis, which works well for the Book of Mormon or the Gospels where there are a *lot* of conversations, but that doesn’t apply to every other book.  So, I’m taking it much slower this time around and I’m trying to categorize each book and see how I can distinguish it as to what a good markup scheme would be.  Doing that entails reading through the book first and getting a feel for what the common themes and topics are … something that gets pretty frustrating at times, because I’m so eager to start marking things up.  In fact, I’m already planning on doing a third refinement of my approach that I’ve done with Isaiah (the first book I’ve looked at, yet), because I couldn’t wait started using colors before thinking it all through.

It’s fun, though.  But really, I’m glad to have found something I can do with some of my time.  Some of the happiest moments in my life so far have been me hunched over a little desk in 25 de Mayo or Neuquen or Esquel, trying to understand the scriptures.  I’m not nearly at the same level as I was before, but I’m having a fun time trying to get there.  Good times.  I tell you what.

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