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.

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.