My study of the scriptures has had a profound effect on my life. As I have studied, I have grown closer to God and found answers to real challenges in my life. This blog is a scripture journal that records insights I have discovered in the past and continue to gain as I search, ponder, and pray.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where the Lord Wants Me to Be 1 Corinthians 12

Life can be overwhelming.  A few weeks ago I was feeling that way with my church callings in conjunction with Martin's kidney failure.

I love teaching Gospel Doctrine!  I'm really enjoying being a den leader, especially since it gives me time with my son.  Yet, I have been so often overwhelmed.  Consequently, I feel like my SS lesson preparation has suffered, as has the planning of den meetings.  Is it all too much?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likens our bodies to the Church. In verse18, we learn that God has put the body together as he wants it.  In other words, God has put us in our Church service where he wants us.

I must be in the right place, then.

This was confirmed to me a few weeks ago when a sweet member of my Sunday School class listened to the promptings of the spirit.  She mailed me a simple thank you note--she didn't just tell me in Church, but took the time to write, address, stamp, and mail a note--telling me how much she learned from my lessons.  I started to cry.  Maybe, even through all my stress and feelings of a lack of preparation, I'm where the Lord wants me to be.  Maybe he is still using me to build his kingdom.

And through it all, I receive an added gift.  I feel his spirit carrying me through my lesson presentations.  The Lord is making up the difference.  I'm giving him my all, which is less than at other times in my life but still my all, and he's making it grand. The Lord is teaching my lessons. I'm just his instrument.

I still feel overwhelmed.  But it's nice to be reassured that I'm where the Lord wants me.

By the way, here's something fun I learned while studying:

Earlier in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is likening the positions and assignments of Church members to our bodies.  Before he does that though, he talks about gifts of the spirit.  He says that there are differences of administrations. I love to look at other meanings in Greek for various NT words.  For that reason, I love to read the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible sometimes. I really like the NIV wording for that verse and one one following it, verses 5-6: "there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of workings [or possibly activities or tasks], but the same God works all of them in all men."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Testifying of Christ at All Levels Acts 6-9

A few years ago I heard the  comment "The biggest problem we have in the Church is rapid growth."

Martyrdom of Stephen
As I read Acts 6-9, I found the same type of problems as the Church began to expand outside of Jerusalem. The 12 Apostles chose seven men to help.  Each of these men strengthened the church and spread the Gospel where ever they went.  Their efforts reminded me of D&C 90:11 where the Gospel was preached in the hearers tongue and language.

Language is different than tongue.  It involves all the customs and cultures of the individuals, especially their religious cultures in this context.  As we read these chapters, we see how each taught in both the tongue and language of their hearers. Yet they all had one thing in common:

Each testified of Christ!

* Stephen spoke intelligently to the Sanhedrin about Jewish history.  Even as he died, his testimony was of the Savior (see Acts 7:55-56).

* Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch about the passages he'd been reading in Isaiah about the Savior (see Acts 8:32-33; Isaiah 53:7-8).

* Paul, after his conversion, taught in the name of Christ (see Acts 9:19-22, 27).

As we fulfill our callings and as the  Church grows, testifying of Christ should be at the forefront -- Whether it is large or small, local or foreign, missionaries and cub scout den leaders we can all testify of Christ!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20 When Have You Experienced Pure Joy?

When have you experienced pure joy?

I asked this questions to my Sunday School class.  One answered that he felt joy when his children and grandchildren hugged him--every time.  Another related watching her grown children and grandchildren interact with each.  Yet another shared the time when she was sealed to her parents.  Every answer dealt with love and family.

Among the most sacred, joyful experiences of my life were the occasions I gave birth.  The veil was thin as the magnificent spirits left the arms of our Heavenly Father and came to mine.  Our Father's love accompanied those precious souls many days afterwards.

Birth is so sacred and full of joy that the Savior himself likened it to his impending atonement, death, and resurrection, John 16:19-22.  After the pain and the travail, joy comes.  And when the Savior was resurrected, he brought joy that can never be taken away.  We can only give it away if we choose.

The resurrection is the culmination of the glorious plan of salvation.  It is the joy that comes after the suffering.  "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen (Luke 24:5-6).  As Howard W. Hunter stated, "These words contain all the hope, assurance, and belief necessary to sustain us in our challenging and sometimes grief filled lives" (Ensign, May 1986, 15-16).

Oh how great the goodness of God.  How beautiful the joy of the resurrection!

Christ brings "joy that no man taketh from you."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mark 4 Faith Future, Solutions

Sea of Galilee
Jesus was asleep in the boat during a violent storm.  Frightened, the disciples awoke him and asked if he even cared that they were about to perish.  With majesty, might, and priesthood power, Jesus calmed the tempest. Then he asked, "Why are ye so fearful?" (Mark 4: 36-40).

Suddenly the story faded and it was as if the Savior were standing before me asking the same question.

"Why are ye so fearful?"

Yes, why?  Why?

I'm trying to so hard to exercise faith.  I pray sincerely.  I read my scriptures.  I sing hymns when I'm discouraged.  I identify specific blessings I have.  Why?

As I grapled with the question, the Holy Ghost brought to my mind something I had learned in an institute class about three years ago.  Brother Lee Donaldson showed us the following grid.  The outside of the grid is where our focus and attention are.  The inside of the grid is the result.

The light of inspiration filled my soul.  I have been focusing way to much on the future and the problems.  Not future and solution.

So how do we focus on solutions that yield faith.  Three simple steps:

1.  Learn of Christ.  The more we know his character, the more confidence we put in him (see Bible Dictionary: Faith).

2.  Pray for specific help with problems.  It doesn't matter whether the problems are how to pay hospital bills; the best way to discipline children; or what job to take.  The Lord knows everything and will help us know what to do (see 2 Nephi 9:20).

3.  Get up and act upon our promptings.  Take the first step and be confident that the Lord will magnify our abilities and show us the way.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

John 6 The Expanding Power of God

Several years ago I enrolled in college algebra--only because it was required for my degree.  This was a brave, or insane, thing to do since I had not taken a math class for more than seven years.  Moreover, math was not my best subject in high school!  To make matters worse, I took the 5 credit class on Saturday morning from 8:00 AM to Noon.  Because the class was taught only once a week, by the end of the class period, the instructor was lecturing on course material four lessons ahead of where we started at the beginning of the class.  He assigned homework, but only for our benefit, as it didn't count on our grades.  Just the tests counted.

Feeling rather overwhelmed, I approached my father for a priesthood blessing.  I was blessed that the Spirit of the Lord would help me with my math, and that I would perform above my natural ability.

As I worked hard that quarter, I could literally feel the fulfillment of that promise.  I gave my small offering, and the Lord expanded my abilities.  Not only did I get an A in the class, but I scored 100 percent on some of the tests, including the final.

I hadn't thought about that faith promoting experience for a long time.  Last Sunday, it surfaced unexpectedly as I was teaching Sunday School. We were talking about the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 and the small offering of faith made by a lad.  I shared my experience with the class but continued to ponder on why I suddenly thought about it.

Although the story was faith promoting for others, I believe the main message was intended for me, right now.  Whether it's five loaves of bread and two fish or diligent study for a math class, the Lord expands our ability beyond our natural capacity.  It really is simple.  I just need to turn to the Lord with my offering, with all I have, and he will take care of the rest!  With that in mind, I must get to work and go make my small offering today.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jacob 5 Pruning and Digging Hurt

Tears were close as I sat in a hospital waiting room for the 2nd time this week, waiting.  Waiting for another loved one to come out of surgery.  Fears and worries assailed me: the health of the person, the staggering hospital bill just for outpatient surgery, the pain of recovery, the effectiveness of the surgery, the steps to take afterwards.

Olive Trees at Garden of Gethsemane, Michelle; 1992
While waiting I opened my Book of Mormon and started reading where I had left off.  I read Jacob 3 and Jacob 4 and was only starting to find peace.  Unexpectedly, it was Jacob 5, the very long allegory of the olive tree, that calmed my troubled heart.

I personalized Jacob 5 and visualized the olive tree representing me individually rather than the whole house of Israel throughout all time.

I was being pruned and nurtured, even as I sat in the hospital.  The untamed fruit in my life was being cut out and burned through the trials of life right now.  The wholesome good fruit was being developed.  The gardener was neither leaving me nor giving up on me.  Rather, the gardener loves me and wants all my fruit to be good.

The pruning, digging, and nourishing were done with purpose in Jacob 5.  They were not random acts.  Likewise, the pruning and digging in my life is done with purpose.  They are not capricious, arbitrary acts of a vengeful God.  He knows what kind of fruit he wants me to bear.  He knows what needs pruned to bring about that fruit.  Some of the pruning I bring on myself through wrong choices.  Some of the pruning God does because in the end knows what he wants me to be.

Therefore, with diligence and patience and trust in the gardener, "by and by [I] shall pluck the fruit, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet" (Alma 5:42) and I "shall have eternal life, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (D&C 14:7).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Matthew 11 Bearing Burden's the Lord's Way

"I feel thin.  Sort of stretched, like.... too much butter scraped over too much bread.  I need a holiday."

Have you ever felt like Bilbo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings?  The other night I did.  I came to the end of a long day full of worries about health, family, finances.  You name it, I was worried.  I approached my bedside to pray feeling weary, yearning so much for a break, for peace, for rest.

As I knelt, I contemplated some scriptures my husband and I had been talking earlier:

"Come all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30)."

The real question is, how do we come to Christ and let him shoulder our burdens.  Part of this scripture gives the answer:  Learn of him!  When we learn of him, we know that he is a God of love, mercy, kindness, justice, compassion, wisdom.  We know that he can strengthen us and help us carry our load.  He won't always remove the load, because we need it to grow.  But he can help us bear up the burdens that are placed on our backs, just like he helped Alma's people while they were being held captive (see Mosiah 24:14-15).

As I started my prayers that night, I prayed for the Lord to strengthen my back and my shoulders to be able to bear the burdens I'm facing right now.  Even as I prayed, I felt the Lord make me stronger.  Hope began to replace fear, and courage began to replace discouragement.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Matthew 5 Dr. Sue(ss) and Christ on Being Perfect

Recently we celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday.  Not only do I love his books, but I love a poem written based on his writing style.  It's called Girl in a Whirl and is about a Mormon woman caught in the Perfect Mormon Mom trap.  She tries to do everything perfectly and in the end drops dead.

Although this story is funny, it also feels too true.  Everywhere we look, we feel the need to be perfect.  Even Christ said we should be perfect.  Right?  Well....not exactly.  Yes, he did say that, but our interpretation is not what he meant.

Elder Nelson addressed this very topic in a conference talk given in October 1995 called "Perfection Pending."  He said:  In Matthew 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios,which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the nountelos, which means “end.”  The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono,which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.”  Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.” In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words....

Just prior to his crucifixion, [the Lord] said that on “the third day I shall be perfected. Think of that! The sinless, errorless Lord—already perfect by our mortal standards—proclaimed his own state of perfection yet to be in the future.  His eternal perfection would follow his resurrection and receipt of “all power … in heaven and in earth.”

The perfection that the Savior envisions for us is much more than errorless performance. It is the eternal expectation as expressed by the Lord in his great intercessory prayer to his Father—that we might be made perfect and be able to dwell with them in the eternities ahead.

What great hope this gives to me!  Through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, I can be perfected and live with him again in the future.  Today, all I need to do is turn to him.  He will do the rest! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Luke 5 Forsaking All and Following Christ--To the End

Forsake all for the Lord's will!  What a tough challenge!!

Over the weekend I was talking with a friend of mine about the future.  She is facing the choice of blending a family.  Upon contemplating the enormous task ahead of her, she wonders if she can do it.  It's hard!  I know!  And when I started the work of blending a family, I brought only myself, not other children.  But then she spoke with great faith and she commented that perhaps there is no greater thing that she has to accomplish with her life.   Her comments echoed Mordecai's counsel to Esther, "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:15)."

Esther's faith at moving forward is like that of Peter, James, and John found in Luke 5:6-11.  After they had been fishing all night long with no results, the Savior told them to cast their nets again.  The catch was so large the boat began to sink.  Immediately afterwards, they left it all and followed Christ.  Just like Esther and my friend, they showed great faith and embarked upon the course the Lord desired of them.

As I pondered their decision, I realized it was so significant because of the choices they made the rest of his life.  Did they ever wonder, like I do so often, "What have I gotten myself into?!  Is this really, truly, the Lord's path for me in life?" 

Whether Peter, James, and John ever wondered or not, I don't know.  But the answer is loud and clear to me.  At a difficult time when other disciples were abandoning Christ, the Savior asked Peter is they would leave, too.  Peter's answer was simple, yet profound:

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  thou hast the words of eternal life.  And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the son of the living God (John 6:68-69)."

Jesus Christ, the son of the living God!  It is that knowledge that keeps me striving to forsake all the Lord requires and follow him to the end of my days.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mark 2:18 We All Need the Physician

Last night I watched the Biggest Loser.  The heaviest, sickest man ever in Biggest Loser history was eliminated.  This was even after pleas from is trainers to keep him there and send someone else home.  As the team sat in the elimination room, one of them said, "we all need to be here."   Yet, was the expectation that someone else who needed it too should be sacrificed?

Sometimes I feel so troubled and so much in need of help.  One of the "remedies" we are often told for our struggles is to find someone else in a worse setting and serve them.  When I do this, I often find myself feeling guilty for thinking my struggles are bad.  At least I don't live in a war ravaged, impoverished nation...

However, just because their struggles may be worse, doesn't mean that mine are non-existent!  Just because someone's needs are more pronounced, does not negate my needs.

In fact, we all have needs!  We all need the great Physician.

The miracle is, that we all can partake of Christ's atonement and mercy.   The atonement is big enough for all of us!  Whether our needs are small or great, it doesn't matter.  He is there.  He has already paid the price.

Unlike the Biggest Loser, Christ's mercy isn't limited.  I don't have to be sacrificed  because my needs are smaller than another's.  Someone else doesn't have to be eliminated so that I can stay.  We can all be partakers of  God's mercy.  We just need to come to him as the publicans and sinners did.

Matthew 5::9 and Isaiah 11 More than 5 Minutes of Peace

"Five Minutes of Peace."  That is the title of a book I used to read to my children when they were young.  It's about a mother elephant of young children.  They are always needing something. Even when she is taking a bath they want to talk to her.

I used to yearn for 5 minutes of peace.  Now I long for a time of peace, the peace that is so elusive world-wide.

With turmoil seeping into our lives every day, I was struck by a few verses in Isaiah 11.  Verses 6-8 talk about how animals that are natural enemies will exist in peace when the Savior reigns.  Verse 9 then explains that the animals won't hurt or destroy because "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord."  They live in peace because of the knowledge of the Lord.

That phrase made me pause.  What exactly is "the knowledge of the Lord?"  Perhaps it is referring in part to his plan of life and salvation for us; the full love of God; the knowledge that he will bring us home.  This knowledge brings peace and love into our hearts.  When we accept the full message of Christ--accept him, his love and atonement, and his covenant--we are filled with peace.  That peace then permeates around us.

"Blessed are the peacemakers" can then be read as "blessed are those who make full the message of Christ in their lives."  That truly is a blessed state in which to live!

Peace truly is more than the absence of contention and turmoil.  It means more than harmony.  A couple of scriptures come to mind that underscore this point:
  • John 14:27:  "my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth..."
  • 1 Nephi 14:7 he shall "work a great and a marvelous work...unto the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Matthew 5 and 3 Nephi 11-12 Hugging Like a Child

Cuddling with Grandma
When my daughter was about 2-3 years old, I reprimanded her for something. As expected, immediately she started to cry. Unexpectedly, she didn't run to her room or become defiant, which is what I do when reprimanded. Rather, she turned toward me, threw her arms around my legs and hugged me, her discipliner, while she cried.

Jesus told us that we "must repent, and be baptized in my name and become as a little child or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God" (3 Nephi 11:38 italics added).

The context in which he said this was when he was declaring his doctrine to the disciples. He had just barely told them that his doctrine was the doctrine the father gave to him (see verses 31-32). How closely his doctrine in this chapter parallels the doctrine that Nephi outlined in 2 Nephi 31 and Christ outlined later in 3 Nephi 28. There is a big difference, though. In 3 Nephi 11, Jesus says we need to become as a little child. If we don't become a little child, we can't enter the Kingdom of God!

What exactly does it mean to become a little child?

Full of Love
King Benjamin has the answer. Little children believe that salvation comes through Christ. They are submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit. They are blameless before God (Mosiah 3:18-21). King Benjamin further stated that when we enter the covenant with Christ, "ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7).

The doctrine of becoming a little child preceded the Covenant making discourse delivered at the Temple in Bountiful, the Sermon at the Temple. Through keeping the covenants we make by being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost, we become little children. The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount are instructions for helping us become a little child--one who is blameless before God and able to enter his presence.

To become a little child, we need to follow my daughter's example. Turn to the Savior--no matter what happens! By always turning to him in every circumstance, we will stay faithful to the covenant and endure to the end. Then, "thus saith the Father: ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Matthew 5-7 and 3 Nephi 12-14 A Temple Prep Class

Temple at Tulum in Mexico
Years ago I found a fascinating book about the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple by John W. Welch (see sources page for details). Because of his book, I have viewed these two sermons in a different light than I used to. Because the two sermons are so similar, we can learn a lot about the Sermon on the Mount by studying the context of the same sermon in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon recording places the discourse at the Temple in Bountiful. The Savior could have chosen anywhere to bring his new covenant to the Nephites. It is significant that he chose to come to a temple!

Actually, the idea of the sermon emphasizing the temple isn't that far off from the New Testament, either. While I believe the sermon could have been delivered at a mountain in the Galilee, I think there is a symbolic element to the title as well. In the Old Testament, the term Mount, Mountains, and Mount Zion all became synonymous with a temple. It was felt that a mountain was where a man could go to come to God's presence, and that the pinnacle of the mount was where God comes down to join with man on earth. In fact, it was on a mountain top where Moses had his temple-like experience.

The term Sermon on the Mount may in actuality, regardless of where it was physically delivered, refer to a temple sermon. In other words, it was (and still is) a sermon meant to prepare people to enter into a covenant with God.

This is born out when we compare it to 3 Nephi. Before the Savior starts the famous discourse, he teaches the disciples about baptism, as found in the end of Chapter 11. Then, when he starts the discourse which was delivered to all the multitude, he started it off again by emphasizing the importance of baptism.

As we know, it is baptism that is the covenant we make with God for him to bring us home. The rest of the sermon, then, can be viewed as a temple prep class--a discourse about how we can better make and keep our covenants.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Are You Most Afraid Of?

Recently I answered one of the many getting to know you surveys that circulates through emails. One of the questions was "What are you most afraid of?" I forgot my most immediate fear, mice. Instead, I gave a half flippant, half honest answer.

What are you most afraid of? "days before the second coming (sometimes I think I live in a perpetual state of fear....)."

My insightful mother-in-law suggested that I read the scriptures and look for scriptures that urge us not to fear. She sited a few examples: "If ye are prepared ye shall not fear." "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." "Fear not, little flock, for I am with thee." "I cannot forget thee, I have engraven you upon the palms of my hands.""Have faith, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye faint not."

I opened up my scriptures program and searched for the words "fear not."

Did you know that the phrase "fear not" occurs 97 times in the scriptures? Not all of them are about having faith, but many of them are. After reading them, I was comforted, even though I didn't know I needed to be at the moment. You should try it some time!

Below are are few scriptures that stood out to me.

…the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. (Old Testament | Genesis 15:1)

And the LORD appeared … and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee…. (Old Testament | Genesis 26:24)

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. (Old Testament | Deuteronomy 31:6)

And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. (Old Testament | 1 Kings 17:13)

And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. (Old Testament | 2 Kings 6:16)

For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. (Old Testament | Isaiah 41:13)

BUT now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. (Old Testament | Isaiah 43:1)

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (New Testament | Luke 2:10)

But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. (New Testament | Luke 12:7)

And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did stand forth and began to speak unto them, saying: Fear not, for behold, it is God that has shown unto you this marvelous thing, in the which is shown unto you that ye cannot lay your hands on us to slay us. (Book of Mormon | Helaman 5:26)

Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 6:34)

Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 50:41)

Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 101:36)

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. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 122:9)

Go thy way and do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies; for they shall not have power to stop my work. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 136:17)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

John 4 Living Water

The obvious lesson of John 4 and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well is that the Savior is here for everyone, not just the Jews, or even just for the Mormons. He's here for us all.

This encounter, though, goes much deeper than I at first realized. It is a lesson rich with the symbolism of purification. While engaging in the very acts deemed to make Jews unclean and defiled, Jesus teaches about living water--water that will make you pure.

As is common with the Savior, he builds upon cultural norms of the times to teach greater lessons. To understand, it's important to first take a look at some these norms.

  • If a Jew ate food prepared by a Samaritan, it made him unclean.
  • It was forbidden for a lone man to talk with a lone woman.
  • It was forbidden for a clean man to associate with the unclean.
  • Even touching a Samaritan's earthen or leather container for a drink made a Jew unclean.
  • Living water was a common term for running water, as those running from a river. This is because running water was more clean and pure.
  • Although it was shorter, Jews avoided walking through Samaria when traveling between Jerusalem and the Galilee. Instead they chose the long journey through Jericho. In part this is because they felt the Samaritans were unclean. In part, though, it was a matter of safety. Many Jews were known to be beaten, robbed, and murdered in the county of Samaria.

Knowing all these things, Jesus chose to travel through Samaria. He sent his disciples to buy food from the Samaritans. While alone he spoke with a Samaritan woman whom he knew was not living a moral life.

During their exchange, immediately after he would have been considered defiled by drinking water from her, he talked about receiving living water from him. Water from him that purifies the soul, for to have water and never thirst again, we are gaining eternal life. In order to have eternal life and "live" forever, we must be purified first.

The purification theme continues as she talks about the place of worship, the temple, the place where purification rites took place. When she mentioned that he was a prophet, she referenced the temple that the Samaritans used to have. At the time the Jews rejected the Samaritans help to build the temple (about 500 BC), they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. It was destroyed by the Jews somewhere between BC 135 and 108.

The woman is beginning to recognize that Christ is talking about purification, but she is linking it to temple rituals. Christ then tells her that the temple rituals are not what makes her pure; it is him. When she answers that she perceives he is the Christ--the annointed one to bring salvation--He declares, I AM.

Not only is Christ here for every person ever alive, but he is here to purify our souls. Through His atonement, the Holy Ghost can sanctify us and prepare us to live forever with God.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Matthew 3 and 2 Nephi 31 Baptisms for the Dead and the Gift of the Holy Ghost

I had the wonderful opportunity today to take my daughter to the Salt Lake Temple to do baptisms for the dead. This was her first experience doing vicarious baptisms. Then as I got ready for bed, I opened my scriptures and found my bookmark at 2 Nephi 31. What an appropriate chapter to read.

As I watched the baptisms take place, I was filled with indescribable joy as I felt the presence of my ancestors eager to accept the work and enter the covenant with the Savior and our Heavenly Father. They have now passed through the gate and are on the straight and narrow path. They have covenanted with God to live his Gospel, and he has promised to bring them home!

Over the years as I've done family history work, I have come to appreciate the vital importance of the covenant of baptism. Today, however, I found a deeper appreciation of the fourth principle of the Gospel. When it came time to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon these individuals, I thought about my recent insights on the Holy Ghost and baptism by fire. I was struck by how important this ordinance is for them, too, even though they have already died.

Sometimes we think of individuals needing the gift of the Holy Ghost because we are living in a temporal world. The Holy Ghost can teach us things, even math; help us remember the things we have studied for that math test; comfort us when we are facing strange situations; warn us; reveal God's will for our choices, etc. These are all very great blessings, but they are used for our temporal needs in many instances. While I know that those who have died are still bound by time, the temporal aspects of their lives are greatly diminished (I think). As such, I've never really associated these kinds of needs with them.

However, as I participated in the temple work, I thought about the Holy Ghost as a sanctifier. Even those who have passed through the veil need to be sanctified. They need to become purified and be able to stand in the presence of God being holy. The bestowal of the Holy Ghost truly is an essential ordinance that changes them to become like God. It is not just an extension of baptism. It is not merely for our temporal help on this earth. Without the gift of the Holy Ghost which baptizes by fire, they, like me, cannot be sanctified and enter the Lord's presence.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

John 3 Being Reborn of the Spirit

This morning I was studying John 3 where Nicodemus comes to talk to Christ at night. I started it with a frame of reference of Baptism by Fire and all the conversations I've engaged in that about that topic. If being born of the water is baptism, then it naturally follows that being born of the spirit is akin to the Baptism by Fire. It is through the Holy Ghost that we receive a remission of our sins. It is through the Holy Ghost, because of the atonement, that we become sanctified.

As I read the whole message that Jesus gave to Nicodemus, I noticed a footnote from verse 11a that reads "The Greek construction suggest that verses 11-21 contain a direct quotation. This testimony of Jesus was given to a member of the Sandedrin." That made me think more about those verses as one speech rather than individual verses that are really good. It is a beautiful testimony of Jesus.

Verse 14 says the son of man must be lifted up. That is exactly the same testimony that Jesus gives of himself in 3 Nephi 21:13-19. Just as Jesus told Nicodemus that a man can't enter into the kingdom of God without being born of the spirit, Jesus told the Nephites that they couldn't enter into his rest if they were not clean. Only those who could enter his rest were those "who have washed their garments in [his] blood because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end" (3 Ne 27:19).

I gained some additional insights as I cross referenced to D&C 84:24. This verse taught about the Israelites who couldn't see God because "they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence (italics added)." What a great perspective. It's not that God is mean and chooses not to let us enter into his Kingdom if we aren't baptized by fire. It's a natural consequence of our decisions! If we are unclean, we cannot be in his kingdom because we ourselves could not withstand His glory.

The way to be able to endure his presence is by being reborn of the spirit. By letting the Holy Ghost change our very beings until we become like God. We need the Holy Ghost in our lives -- every single day. As Alma asked, "if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love...can ye feel so now?"

Friday, February 4, 2011

John 2 Interesting Information about Ancient Wedding Ceremonies

As I was studying John 2, I came across some interesting facts about Jewish wedding ceremonies.

The bride waits in her house for the bridegroom to come and get her. That is often talked about in the parable of the 10 virgins. Susan Easton Black (2010) identified some more facts about these ceremonies.

When the bridegroom arrived, he lifted the bride's veil and saw a dowry, "a string of shiny coins on a headband." He proclaimed joy at finding this treasure. "He took the veil and laid it upon his shoulder. Upon seeing his action his friends shouted, 'the government shall be upon his shoulder'" (p.63).

Wow! That is the phrase from Isaiah that we sing in the Messiah every Christmas.

Black continued by saying that the bride was escorted to her new home. When they got there, the couple was surrounded by their guests "under a wedding canopy and called king and queen" (p. 63). The titles were given to them because entering into marriage was supposed to give them a remission of their sins.

It presents some interesting things to ponder on the importance of marriage and entering into the Kingdom of God. The means of ruling is through marriage, and through modern day revelation we know that the privilege of ruling through the eternities comes about by being sealed in the temple.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Matthew 4 Trials after the Covenant

Immediately following Christ's baptism come the recorded account of Christ's temptations. I really believe that Christ was tempted before and after the event in Matthew 4. In order for him to be tested in all points like we are (see Hebrews 4:15), I'm convinced that he suffered temptations his whole ministry. I think the temptations of Satan only intensified as Christ's atonement drew near and was finally completed.

However, the temptations in the wilderness are the only temptations pretty much recorded in the Gospels. It follows that those temptations must have been intense!

The thing that I found highly interesting is that these temptations came right after the Savior's baptism. Once he entered in the covenant, once he entered onto the straight and narrow path through that gate, then he was tested. It is often like that in our lives. Once we have committed, once we have shown the Lord that we are really going to do something he has asked us, Satan comes after us.

For example, I personally know of two bishops who struggled with their employment while they were bishop. Not before. And not after (at least for the one who is released). Many members say that they love having their children on missions because of all the blessings they receive. However, sometimes while my sons were on their missions I felt that we struggled harder in some ways.

Sometimes we are tried before the commitment. Sometimes we are tried after the commitment has been made. I guess it boils down to the fact that we are to be tested. As so many of the prophets have testified, we all need to be tried and tested even as Abraham.

I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly don't want to be tested as Abraham. That is where I just have to humble myself in prayer, ask the Lord to strengthen me through the trial, and trust in his plan for me. I'm not perfect at it, but I know I can always draw upon his strength because he was perfect at resisting all his temptations. I am grateful that he was tested in all points; thus he knows how to succor me in my needs.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Matthew 3 Baptism by Fire

Last time I taught Sunday School we discussed the Savior's baptism and John's message that he was sent to baptize with water but that the Savior would come and baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

After the class, I was asked a question about the meaning of baptism by fire. It seemed to this person that there was the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and Fire. While they knew that wasn't correct, they didn't understand what baptism of fire is.

I've been pondering that question a lot. I plan on working it into my next lesson. I've done some preliminary research and found some interesting things. For me, baptism by fire means the sanctifying process of the Holy Ghost.

Two things happen when we repent. We become justified and we become sanctified. Justification is the payment of the debts incurred when we sinned. If we don't repent and change our hearts to God, we will have to pay for our sins ourselves (D&C 19). Sanctification, on the other hand is the process of changing our hearts during the repentance process. It is what makes us more like God. I believe the Holy Ghost both justifies and sanctifies us. Paying for our sins alone does not make us holy.

That is what the baptism of fire is. I didn't understand why the concept of baptism by fire wouldn't be clear.

Then I looked up "Baptism by Fire" in Wikipedia. Wikipedia indicated that baptism by fire is known as the punishment of fire that comes to those who reject Christ. The article further stated that it was different then baptism by the spirit. Baptism by the spirit was what happened to Christ's followers on the Day of Pentecost. I was shocked! That's not my understanding. In fact, the Wikipedia article went on to talk about how Mormon's view Baptism of Fire and how it differs from the rest of the Protestant world. It certainly does if that is their viewpoint! (By the way, I don't completely agree with all that was said, but that is irrelevant to my point right now.)

I found a Conference talk by Elder Bednar, Clean Hands and a Pure Heart.

We are commanded and instructed to so live that our fallen nature is changed through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost. President Marion G. Romney taught that the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost "converts [us] from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul. ... Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and water baptism are all preliminary and prerequisite to it but [the baptism of fire] is the consummation. To receive [this baptism of fire] is to have one's garments washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ"

Hence, as we are born again and strive to always have His Spirit to be with us, the Holy Ghost sanctifies and refines our souls as if by fire (see 2 Nephi 31:13-14, 17). Ultimately, we are to stand spotless before God.

Baptism of Fire is a slow process. Sometimes I fear that we don't recognize it is happening because we don't have a remarkable experience. I love a quote that I carry in my scriptures by Ezra Taft Benson

For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, services, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said "were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not" (3 Nephi 9:20).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Matthew 3 Covenant of Baptism

Recently I taught Sunday School about the baptism of Christ. The lesson included Matthew 4, which discussed Christ's temptations. I never got to that point in the lesson.

We spent a lot of time talking about baptism and why it was important for Christ to be baptized and why it is important for us. We spent a lot of time in 2 Nephi 31. I tried to emphasize that baptism is the gate that puts us on the straight and narrow path.

Too often, I believe, in our Church we put too much emphasis on the living a life of good works to take us back home. We're almost afraid that if we talk too much about being saved by grace we'll somehow start slacking off. When in reality, those who are truly converted do not slack off. They become more and more like God. They desire to do his will, not revel in sin. In our zeal to realize the "after all we can do" part, we often tend to deny the atonement! We are too busy trying to save ourselves and being upset because we're not perfect.

We turned to Moroni 10:32-33 and read about perfection. We need to come to Christ and be perfected in him--not in ourselves, but in him! And when we make that covenant with him through baptism, his grace is sufficient for us. All we need to do as we read in 2 Nephi 31 is to stay faithful. We just need to stay in the covenant. Then we can become baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost. What a beautiful, merciful plan!