Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas!!

I just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas!  I'm so grateful for the birth of our dear Savior and for His life, His teachings, and His example.  I'm so grateful for His sacrifice and atonement that we all may be forgiven of our sins and return to our Heavenly Father.  What a blessing it is to have this knowledge and this good news!  I wanted to share these videos with you, because they are a touching reminder of why we celebrate Christmas.  These videos and more like them can be found at
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Isaiah 1:10-15 -- "Vain Oblations"

"Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD:  I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
"When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
"Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
"Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
"And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear:  your hands are full of blood."

To whom is the Lord addressing these verses?  From verse 10, one might assume it is the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  But they were destroyed long ago for their iniquity.  Who is the Lord actually speaking to?  The Lord is actually speaking to his people--the House of Israel, particularly those of the tribe of Judah--yet he addresses them as the "rulers of people of Gomorrah."  Why?

I think some verses in Ezekiel 16:46-52 explain why.  Here the Lord basically says to the people of Jerusalem that their sisters, those people of Samaria (the northern tribes, who had intermarried with the Assyrians who had taken them captive) and those of Sodom--both being groups of people who were despised of Judah for their iniquity and uncleanness--were actually not so corrupt as they themselves have become.

In verse 47-48 he says, "Yet hast thou not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: but, as if that were a very little thing, thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways.  As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters."

So Judah, who despised Samaria and Sodom for their sins, is being told that though they haven't committed the same sins, they are indeed guilty of greater sins and corruption.

In that same spirit, here in Isaiah the Lord addresses them as the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah, showing that the sins they have committed are even more hated of the Lord as those committed by Sodom and Gomorrah.  It also reveals their hypocrisy, having despised these people as unclean, when they themselves were guilty of greater sin.

I think we can apply this verse and this whole section of verses 10-15 to ourselves.  Those of us who claim to be followers of Christ must beware of hypocrisy.  We must avoid judging others as sinners, when we ourselves are guilty of a greater sin.  Often the outward, visible sins are easily judged.  But the inward sins, those we will detail in the following verses are easily hidden.  Yet the Lord sees all and will hold us equally accountable, if not more so because of the knowledge we have, for our inward sins as well, especially if we are quick to pass judgement on others for their sins.

In verse 11 the Lord begins to describe the sin that Judah is guilty of.  He asks, what is the purpose of all their sacrifices?  He says he is full of the burnt offerings and delights not in their animal sacrifices.

Hadn't the Lord commanded them to offer such sacrifices?  Why then, would He be angry at them when they seem to be following His command?  Verse 12 and 13 offer some insight into the nature of their sacrifices and the reason for the Lord's anger.

"When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
"Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

He said the people had "tread" his courts.  He is speaking of His holy temple and gives an indication that they are not showing the proper respect for its holiness and sacredness.  Then He tells them to "bring no more vain oblations" and details all the things they are doing and says, "I cannot away with"--meaning He cannot endure it.  Basically He tells them that this is not what He asked of them, He has not required these things just to be done as rituals to be performed, obligations to be performed with no thought or respect for their purpose. 

He goes on with verse 14 and 15 saying,   "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
"And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear:  your hands are full of blood."

What He is trying to get across is that all these things they have been asked to do mean nothing when performed simply as ritual or tradition.  Things that when done properly would be counted as acts of righteousness, when done improperly He hates and cannot endure.  Vain prayers, no matter how lengthy or how often they are recited will not be heard if not offered in the proper spirit.  "Your hand are full of blood" is an indication that their sacrifices count for nothing, and are instead counted to them as iniquity, much like Cain's sacrifice in comparison to Abel's sacrifice.  Without a purpose behind it, it is just bloodshed.

I have thought a lot about Cain and Abel.  I have in the past sympathized with Cain.  Wasn't he trying?  Didn't he do his best according to his understanding?  He was a tiller of the ground so why didn't the Lord accept his offerings of the fruit of the ground?  I like the insight we get from the account in the Pearl of Great Price.  In Moses 5:18, it says, "And Cain loved Satan more than God.  And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord."  So Cain made the offering of the fruit of the ground and Abel made an offering to the Lord of the firstlings of his flock.  The Lord had respect for Abel's offering, but not for Cain's offering.  This made Cain mad.  The Lord responds to Cain in verse 22-23 saying, "Why art thou wroth?  Why is thy countenance fallen?  If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted.  And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire."

We learn from these verses that Cain's offering wasn't motivated by a love for the Lord and desire to obey His commandments.  In fact, he loved Satan more and offered the sacrifice according to Satan's commands.   In much the same way as the Jews' offerings the Lord described in the Isaiah verses above, such an offering mocked God and turned it into iniquity. 

The offering was also supposed to be in similitude of the Son, thus the first of the flock was to be offered.  Much like the charge against the Jews, Cain had no respect for the symbolism of the act, for the sacredness of it.  Such an act had no purpose other than to point the doer to Christ and to work within them that they may become like Him.

Cain also desired to be accepted on his own terms, with his own rules for what he would sacrifice.   This is an important distinction between Cain and Abel that I think we would also do well to consider.  Abel obeyed the commandment with exactness and sought to do according to the Lord's will.  Cain sought to be accepted in his wickedness.  He thought any effort should be accepted, even though it was not the Lord's will he sought and obeyed.  He sought his own will and believed he should be accepted on his own terms.  This was also really the key distinction between Christ and Lucifer as they each offered to be sent to redeem mankind.  Satan said, "I will do it; wherefore, give me thine honor."  Christ said, "Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever."  (Moses 4:1-2)  We too, must learn to give up our will and do the Lord's will.  This is our sacrifice--offering up our will and doing the Lord's will, even when it goes against our own desires.  To the extent that we do this, we too become like Christ, who always did the Father's will.

We learn another distinction between Cain and Abel's sacrifice in Hebrews 11:4 & 6:  "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts...But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

So how do we avoid the same sin the Lord denounces in Isaiah 1:10-15?  How do we offer sacrifices of righteousness and avoid performing vain oblations and rituals?  We've already mentioned a few.  We must seek to understand the purpose of these things we are asked to do and not "miss the mark" as the Jews did.  When we take the sacrament each Sunday, are we too performing a vain ritual?  Or do we seek to understand the meaning of what we do and do it with full purpose of heart, that it may work within us for our good?  When we pray, do we just say the same things over again, or do we really seek to speak with our Father and "seek His face."  These things we do each day or each week have purpose--to lead us to Christ.  If they are not, if by doing them we aren't becoming more like Him, then perhaps we need to reevaluate the spirit in which we are performing them.

We must have faith if we are to please God and be accepted of Him, we must seek His will and not try to alter it to conform to our will.  We cannot pick and choose which commandments we like and which we don't.  To truly do His will, we must come to Him on the terms He has set, regardless of our opinion of them.  I think of this a lot when I hear some criticize certain principles or aspects of the gospel, for example that they think women should hold the priesthood too.  Whether you think it's fair or not, does that matter?  If God has decreed that it should be done a certain way, does it matter what you think about it?  Not if you are truly seeking to do His will.  And would you be so bold as to say that you know what is better or more fair, than God?  Can you possibly contend that you have more interest in or love for the children of men and their eternal happiness than He who created them?  That you have more of an idea of what is right and fair than the Father of Righteousness?  Truly, there is the element of humility required in order to conform one's will to that of the Father's.

So faith, humility, understanding, and a desire to do God's will all contribute to making our sacrifices and offerings accepted before the Lord.  Psalms 51:16-17 & 19 also provide insight.  "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise...Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar."

So it is not the act the Lord loves, it is the heart with which it is offered--particularly a broken heart and contrite spirit--that makes these acts pleasing unto the Lord.  That is in fact the required sacrifice, both in the Old Law of Moses and the New Commandment, as revealed in D&C 59:8, "Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit." 

May we truly ponder and consider those things we have been commanded to do and reflect upon the spirit and understanding with which we do them, that we may not be guilty of the greater sin and that they may work within us that we may become as He to whom they were designed to direct us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Be Still and Know That I Am God."

With the recent tragedy that occurred at a school in Connecticut last week, I would like to write something that I hope will be of comfort to those who were either directly affected, or indirectly affected as they learned of the tragedy and felt the sorrow for those who lost all that day.

I, too, have felt the grief that comes with the unexpected loss of a loved one.  My father died in an accident when I was just eight years old.  Ten years later, my older brother also died on a hiking trip as a scout leader.  It is never easy to lose someone you love, but especially when they are young and still in the prime of their lives.  And while I do not pretend to even be able to comprehend the grief of losing one's child, especially at the hand of another, I would like to share some things that have brought me comfort in my times of sorrow.

As the Savior was preparing his apostles for the time that he should leave them, he left them a special promise that applies to all of us.  In John 14:18 he says, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."  He goes on in verse 27 to say, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

The apostles would soon be witness to the scourging and crucifying of the very Savior of the world.  They would watch Him be tortured, despised, put to an open shame, and ultimately hung on a cross.  There could be no one more pure and innocent than He, yet they would see Him suffer and die.  These men would also be persecuted and killed for His sake after His death.  The Savior knew this as He taught them and yet told them, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  He promised them comfort and peace amidst these horrifying events.

This comfort and peace can only come through Christ and through the Holy Spirit, but as we look to Him, it will come.

In D&C 101:14 & 16 it says, "And all they who have mourned shall be comforted... Therefore, let your hearts be comforted... for all flesh is in my hands; be still and know that I am God."

I love these two verses.   Those who mourn shall be comforted.  In Matt. 5:4, Jesus even says, "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted."  "Blessed" here means "to be fortunate," "to be happy," or "to be blessed."  How is it possible that we can be fortunate or happy when we mourn?  Because we will be comforted.  Anyone who has felt that sweet spirit of peace and comfort come during their times of sorrow or mourning knows this is true.  Feeling that love and knowing that the Lord is aware of our pain and mindful of us and then feeling His peace and comfort come is a tremendous blessing and does allow one to feel happy and blessed even during trying times.  It can even strengthen us and increase our faith and love for the Lord.

"All flesh is in my hands, be still and know that I am God."  I find such comfort in these words.  The Lord in His infinite wisdom and knowledge knows each of us and knows what we need.  He is in control.  While men have their agency and exercise that agency in ways that may cause others to suffer, ultimately, God knows and nothing will happen that He does not allow.  This may cause some to ask, why would He ever allow such tragedy?  Therein lies the wisdom in the second part of that verse:  "Be still and know that I am God."  In other words, trust Him.  His perspective is infinite and eternal.  His love is without bounds.  In our temporal mortal state, we have such a limited perspective and it is often hard to comprehend the things that happen.  We must remember that all flesh is in His hands.  We must wait patiently on the Lord and know that He is God.  We must put our trust in His ultimate wisdom and know that all things will be for our good as we turn to Him.

Echoing this sentiment, Christ taught in Matt. 10:28-31:  "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."

It always brought me comfort to know that the Lord knows my father and my brother and I believe all things happen under His watchful eye.  As the Lord promised Joseph Smith, "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less."  As hard as it is for those who are left behind to mourn their loss, we must remember that His perspective of death is much different than ours.  For Him, it is a reuniting, for us a temporary separation.

Therein also lies a source of comfort for me, for I do believe this separation is temporary.  I know that we will once again be reunited with those we love and that we can be together forever.  The Lord is His mercy has provided the way for us to overcome death and live with Him and our loved ones for eternity.  I have always loved D&C 130:2 which says, "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy."  We will have those same loving relationships which we treasure in this life in the next as well, only they will be even better, because we will also enjoy that eternal glory which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

My advice for all those affected by this and any other loss?  Love the Lord.  Trust Him.  Know that He is in control and loves you more than you can even comprehend.  Seek His peace and comfort which is the only lasting source of such.  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."  (Proverbs 3:5-6.)

Do not be afraid.  The Lord tells us throughout the scriptures: "Fear thou not; for I am with thee."  He is with us and has not left us alone.  I love this promise in Isaiah 41:13:  "For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee."

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Chastening of the Lord

"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:  For whom the Lord  loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."  Proverbs 3:11-12.

This sentiment is echoed in Hebrews 12:5-7.  It says:  "My, son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasetenth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"

Why does the Lord chasten those He loves?  Paul continues in Hebrews 12:9-11 saying:  "Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."

So the Lord chastens us for our profit, that we may partakers of his holiness.  I like the thought that we are "exercised thereby."  Physical exercise is often hard to do, but through the hard work, we become stronger and make our bodies more healthy.  In the same way, chastisement is like spiritual exercise.  We grow spiritually and become more righteous as we endure it.   In D&C 136:31 the Lord says, "My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom."

Chastisement is necessary to our growth and preparation.  How are we chastened?  The Lord has often chastened his people through afflictions.  It is often through these afflictions that they are humbled and turn again to Him.  He also chastens us through the scriptures.  In 2 Timothy 3:15-16 we learn: "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

I like the concept of chastisement being correction, instruction.  The Lord does not want us going astray.  He will correct our paths and instruct us how to do better.  Sometimes this correction can be hard and painful, but we must remember that it comes from a loving Father who loves us enough to correct us and show us the way.  Even in our affliction, we are taught many things that perhaps we could not or would not otherwise.

I have always loved the humility of Joseph Smith.  There are many times in the D&C where the Lord admonishes him for his sins or mistakes.  I have often marveled that even the chosen Prophet of the Lord was at times rebuked and admonished.  In Section 3, the Lord chastises him for the lost 116 pages of manuscript.  In verse 4 it says, "For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him."

The Lord goes on to explain that he was entrusted with great things and should not have feared man more than God.  He continues in verse 9 saying, "Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall."

And then in the following verse, the Lord reveals the purpose of this chastisement, "But remember, God is merciful; therefore repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work."

I love Joseph's humility to write these things that we may all profit from his experience of being chastened.  We learn that the Lord does correct those whom He loves and has chosen and if we repent, we are still chosen and have the opportunity for growth that comes from enduring His chastisement.

I especially love the words of the Lord to Joseph while he was a prisoner in Liberty Jail.  In D&C 122:5-9 the Lord tells Joseph: 

"If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;
"If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;
"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
"The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
"Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever."

So as we too pass through tribulation or feel the chastening of the Lord, may we also remember that these things will give us experience and be for our good.  We can turn to our Savior, who has endured all things, for comfort and direction.  God will be with us forever and loves us enough to correct us, knowing it is for our profit and our ultimate salvation as we become worthy to return to His presence.  We can be comforted as was Joseph in Liberty Jail, to whom the Lord said, "Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high."