Sunday, October 21, 2018

Christ in America - 3 Nephi 10:18


The other day, someone asked me "What’s wrong with this picture?” It feels inappropriate to be critical of this painting, but for several years I have had concerns about what this picture is teaching us.  I believe it is a beautiful depiction of the Savior and his visit to the people in ancient America.  However, there are some critical flaws in the depiction that may lead some to think about this event in a way that is not scripturally accurate.  

Location:  If you look closely you will see an iconic structure in the background of the picture.  It looks very similar to Chichen Itza located in Yucatan Mexico.  Most people are not aware of the fact that this structure was built around 600 AD. This structure and others like it in the same geographic region would not have existed at the time of this event.  It is historically inaccurate to include that structure in this picture and could lead some to faulty conclusions about the location of this event.  

Building materials: The materials used in the walls of the city in the painting are inconsistent with the description of the city walls in Alma 53:3-5.  Realize that this description of a ditch, earth structure, and a wall of timbers on top of the earth was about 100 years prior to the event in the picture.  However, Mormon commented that, “This city became an exceeding stronghold ever after” (Alma 53:5).  So, it is likely that the structure built in Helaman 53 was still in service when Christ appeared.  In Alma 48:8, it does reference “walls of stone”, but his reference appears to be in relation to military defensive structures rather than the high walls of the city depicted in this picture.  There is a reference to “cement” later in the Book of Helaman chapter 3 verses 7-11.  This verse is in reference to building homes because timber was scarce.  Based on this verse it seems likely that timber was the preferred building material of the Nephites.    Finally, if you look up the word “cement” in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary you will notice that the word Joseph Smith selected for the translation of this verse at the time referred to the mortar used in masonry construction (building stone walls) rather than the concrete structures that we see today.  Because of this, it seems that the stone structures in the painting do not match the description of the building materials used during that time.  

Timing and Destruction: I believe the most interesting thing about this picture is the impression it gives you that the appearance of Christ in the Americas occurred right after the 3 days of darkness as indicated in the picture by the rubble and destruction.  Unfortunately many people who read about this event in the Book of Mormon miss an important fact about the timing of this event.  We know that the three days of darkness occurred when Christ was crucified in Jerusalem.  Let’s begin with 3 Nephi 8:5, the destruction started on the 34th year in the first month, on the 4th day of the month.  While Bountiful is not specifically mentioned as a city that was impacted, it appears likely because of its location in the land northward that at the least, there were earthquakes and severe storms, to include tornados.  It is also plausible that 3 Nephi 10:13 could be referencing the people in the city/land Bountiful, because Christ appeared to those people who were spared.  In that case, the destruction in Bountiful may not have been as great as in some of the more wicked cities.   Now, look closely at a verse 18 in 3 Nephi Chapter 10.  Many people gloss over this verse on their way to the greater events in Chapter 11.  It sounds like Mormon is giving a bit of a preface to the chapter that is coming next and he is telling us when it happened, the ending of the 34th year.  The destruction started in the first month of the 34th year and Christ didn’t appear until the end of the 34th year.  By our modern calendar, that would have been about 11 months later.   Considering the amount of time that passed and the potential for a less significant mount of destruction of the city Bountiful, it seems that the temple would have been cleaned up and put back in service by the time that Christ appeared.   

So, what’s wrong with this picture?  It is the backdrop chosen for the setting.  However, if we choose focus on the people, Christ, and the feeling conveyed by the artist, it is an excellent and amazing work of art.   

Sunday, September 23, 2018

My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah - 2 Nephi 25:5

Recently I had a nephew ask me a question about the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. He was concerned that he wasn’t getting much out of the Isaiah chapters and wanted to know if I had any advice. I gave him some of the standard answers like getting a commentary to help and looking for the symbolism, but he didn't seem to be satisfied by my answer.  The next day during my morning scripture study I re-read 2 Nephi Chapter 25 and had a bit of an epiphany. I came to the conclusion that the key to understanding the "Isaiah chapters" is contained in Chapter 25. Nephi explained why he included these chapters in the Book of Mormon. Carefully reading chapter 25 and outlining why Nephi said he included these chapters provides a study template as you re-read the previous chapters. Looking at these chapters through the Nephi's eyes will open our own eyes to what is contained in the books of Isaiah.

In order to fully understand what Nephi was trying to say, a person needs to read the entire chapter.  However, verses 4 and 5 are particularly instructive.

4 Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
5 Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews. (2 Nephi 25:4-5)

As you continue reading chapter 25 you will notice a continued emphasis on how the writings of Isaiah included in the Book of Mormon are targeted at the helping the Jews come to understand and know Jesus Christ.  Recall what it says on the title page of the Book of Mormon:

"Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations” (Book of Mormon Title Page)

Elder David A. Bednar said:  

"The convincing and converting powers of the Book of Mormon come from both a central focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ and the inspired plainness and clarity of its teachings. Nephi declared, “My soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn”  (2 Nephi 25:4) The root word plain in this verse does not refer to things that are ordinary or simple; rather, it denotes instruction that is clear and easily understood."

"The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth because it centers upon the Truth (see  John 14:6 and 1 Nephi 13:40) even Jesus Christ, and restores the plain and precious things that have been taken away from the true gospel (see  1 Nephi 13:26, 28–29, 32, 34–35, 40) The unique combination of these two factors—a focus on the Savior and the plainness of the teachings—powerfully invites the confirming witness of the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost. Consequently, the Book of Mormon speaks to the spirit and to the heart of the reader like no other volume of scripture. (David A. Bednar,  “Watching with all perseverance” April 2010 LDS General Conference)

With those two thoughts in mind, now, President Nelson's prophetic direction given at the Worldwide Devotional for Youth becomes perfectly clear. 

"My dear young brothers and sisters, these surely are the latter days, and the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!" (Russell M. Nelson, Worldwide Devotional for Youth, 3 June 2018)


The Book of Mormon is the tool the Lord has provided to help gather Israel in the last days.  It was written for then entire world so they (including me) can come to know Jesus Christ.  

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Marking Scriptures in the LDS Gospel Library App

Occasionally I am asked how I use the default colors in scripture marking tool on the LDS Gospel Library app.  My system has evolved over the years and I'm sure it will continue to evolve.  Here is how I use it for my scripture study right now.   

Red - God's love, charity, and tender mercies for his children

Orange - Atonement of Christ, Resurrection

Yellow - General highlights.  Anything that catches my eye the I think needs to be highlighted.  I like to use yellow because it stands because it is a light color and doesn't distract me while I'm reading. 

Green - Promised Land, descriptions of geography (particularly in the Book of Mormon)

Light blue - I use this exclusively for by-name references to the Godhead.  I don't use the underline, I always use the highlight.  That way it doesn't get lost in the other underlining.  I rarely use the highlight feature with any of the other colors because I don't want my electronic scriptures to look like a coloring book.  But because this highlight is almost always used on top of something that is already underlined, I use the highlight tool. 

Dark Blue - Temple, covenants

Purple - Priesthood

Pink - Pride

Brown - Gathering and scattering of Israel. Promises and covenants with the children of Israel. 

Gray - The devil, Satan, darkness, results of wickedness/following Satan.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Unworthily vs. Unconsciously - Mormon 9:29

Recently I heard this question:  Which is worse, partaking of the sacrament unworthily, or partaking of the sacrament unconsciously?

Of course, the first scripture that comes to mind when you think of worthily partaking of the sacrament is Mormon 9:29
 29 See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out. (Mormon 9:29)
Many have asked the question about what this scriptures means?  Elder John H. Groberg gave this council.
What does it mean give or take it the sacrament worthily? Or how do we know if we are unworthy? If we have desires to improve, which is to repent, and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy. If, however, we refuse to repent and improve, if we do not remember him and keep his commandments, then we have stopped our growth, and that is damnation to our souls. The sacrament is an intensely personal experience, and we are the ones who, knowingly, are worthy, or otherwise.   (Elder John H. Groberg  "The Beauty and Importance of the Sacrament," Ensign, May 1989, 38.)
With that definition in mind, we can now ask ourselves what it means to take the sacrament unconsciously, or in other words, without realizing it or being aware.  And, if we do, is that a bad thing?   One of our problems as humans is that we have very short memories.  We tend to forget.  I suppose that is the purpose of this warning:
23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee.  (Deuteronomy 4:23)
We take of the sacrament each week so that we don't forget our covenants.  We take it to always remember Him.  When we are not continually reminded of our covenants, we drift quickly into iniquity.
8 Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one.  (Alma 46:8)
The problem with partaking of the sacrament unconsciously is not that we are committing some sin, but rather that we are making ourselves more susceptible to sin.  I believe that is why we are commanded in D&C 59 9-13 to go to church each week.
 9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my dholy day;
 10 For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
 11 Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
 12 But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
 13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.  (D&C 59:9-13)
Perhaps one more scripture will help us understand this principle of remembering.  Doctrine and Covenants 27:2 shows that the Lord is less concerned about the mechanics and logistics of the sacrament than he is about the purpose of the sacrament.  He just wants us focus our “eyes” on him and take some time each week to remember what He did for us.
2 For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins. (D&C 27:2)
So, which is worse, partaking of the sacrament unworthily, or partaking of the sacrament unconsciously?  Perhaps it isn’t a matter of degrees of badness.  Perhaps it is simply a case of missing the mark in different ways.  In either case, some personal re-commitment and correction is appropriate.  If we feel our worthiness is in question, then it is a matter of improving and repenting.  If, on the other hand we sit in during the sacrament thinking about or doing things that distract or prevent us from the purpose of the sacrament, then we have also missed the mark and an opportunity.    But more important, when we actively seek to remember and renew our covenants each week, we are blessed with increased protection and strength to avoid sin and iniquity.    President Henry B. Eyring sums it up beautifully when he said:
If we partake of the sacrament in faith, the Holy Ghost will then be able to protect us and those we love from the temptations that come with increasing intensity and frequency.  The companionship of the Holy Ghost makes what is good more attractive and temptation less compelling. That alone should be enough to make us determined to qualify for the Spirit to be with us always. (Henry B. Eyring, “The Holy Ghost as Your Companion”, October 2015 LDS General Conference) 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

2 Nephi Chapter 25 - Understanding Isaiah


Recently I had a nephew ask me a question about the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. He was concerned that he wasn’t getting much out of the Isaiah chapters and wanted to know if I had any advice. I gave him some of the standard answers like getting a commentary to help and looking for the symbolism, but he didn't seem to be satisfied by my answer.  The next day during my morning scripture study I re-read 2 Nephi Chapter 25 and had a bit of an epiphany. I came to the conclusion that the key to understanding the "Isaiah chapters" is contained in Chapter 25. Nephi explained why he included these chapters in the Book of Mormon. Carefully reading chapter 25 and outlining why Nephi said he included these chapters provides a study template  as you re-read the previous chapters. Looking at these chapters through the Nephi's eyes will open our own eyes to what is contained in the books of Isaiah.

In order to fully understand what Nephi was trying to say, a person needs to read the entire chapter.  However, verses 4 and 5 are particularly instructive.


4 Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
5 Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.

As you continue reading chapter 25 you will notice a continued emphasis on how the writings of Isaiah included in the Book of Mormon are targeted at the helping the Jews come to understand and know Jesus Christ.  Recall what it says on the title page of the Book of Mormon:

"Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations”

Elder David A. Bednar said:  

"The convincing and converting powers of the Book of Mormon come from both a central focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ and the inspired plainness and clarity of its teachings. Nephi declared, “My soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn”  (2 Nephi 25:4) The root word plain in this verse does not refer to things that are ordinary or simple; rather, it denotes instruction that is clear and easily understood."

"The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth because it centers upon the Truth (see  John 14:6 and 1 Nephi 13:40) even Jesus Christ, and restores the plain and precious things that have been taken away from the true gospel (see  1 Nephi 13:26, 28–29, 32, 34–35, 40) The unique combination of these two factors—a focus on the Savior and the plainness of the teachings—powerfully invites the confirming witness of the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost. Consequently, the Book of Mormon speaks to the spirit and to the heart of the reader like no other volume of scripture. (David A. Bednar,  “Watching with all perseverance” April 2010 LDS General Conference)

With those two thoughts in mind, now, President Nelson's prophetic direction given at the Worldwide Devotional for Youth becomes perfectly clear. 

"My dear young brothers and sisters, these surely are the latter days, and the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!" (Russell M. Nelson, Worldwide Devotional for Youth, 3 June 2018)

The Book of Mormon is the tool the Lord has provided to help gather Israel in the last days.  It was written for then entire world so they (including me) can come to know Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Leading as a Counselor - Exodus 17:8-12

How can you lead as a counselor in a bishopric, quorum presidency, or auxiliary presidency?   There doesn't seem to be very much information in Handbook 2 about how to be a counselor.   From Handbook 2: section 4.2  "The bishop’s decisions are better informed and implemented when made after discussions with his counselors."  Most of the rest of the handbook just lists what the bishop can delegate to his counselors.  So, how do we learn to be an excellent counselor?  

We can look to the Old Testament for an example.  Remember the occasion when Moses was leading the children of Israel in their battle against the Amalekites. Moses took the rod of God in his hands and went to the top of a sacred mount, where he held up his hands to God over the battle; and as long as Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed. But when he let his hands down, the Amalekites prevailed. And as Moses’ arms became heavy with weariness, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of Moses and helped him to hold up his hands until the battle was won. (See Ex. 17:8–12.)

 8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
 9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.
 10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
 12 But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

To me, this picture of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands is representative of what a counselor does.  

As I think about all the times I have been a counselor I believe there are two parts to this responsibility.  
  1. Counseling together 
  2. Being a wingman
Counseling Together: As leaders in the Church we all work in councils. We both seek to counsel with others and we speak up and share our perspective in a way that does not antagonize or cause contention but encourages growth and open communication. We need to create an environment where others feel the council allows people to ask hard questions and share opinions.  The other side of this coin is that everyone must be receptive and humble when receiving correction or counsel.  We we are effectively leading as a counselor we put the interests of the council and what is best for the Church above our personal agenda.  Consider this statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard: 

"In my experience, lives are blessed when leaders make wise use of committees and councils. They move the work of the Lord forward much faster and farther, like a fine automobile operating at peak efficiency. Committee and council members are unified. Together they experience a much more pleasant trip along the highway of Church service." (M. Russell Ballard, "Counseling with our Councils", April 1994 LDS General Conference) 

Being a wingman:  A wingman is a pilot who flies in formation behind and usually off the right wing of the lead pilot.  The term wingman has been expanded to apply to a wide variety of situations.  Originally the role of the wingman is to add an element of mutual support during aerial combat.  The presence of a wingman increases the capability of both pilots by adding firepower, situational awareness, and increasing the tactical options of the team.  In addition to the wingman's responsibility to stay close to the leader, he also warns of immediate threats and maintains situational awareness so he is ready to assume the lead of the formation at any time. Speaking of wingmen, Elder Robert D. Hales said:

"When I was a lieutenant in the air force, our squadron selected as its motto “Return with Honor.” We realized that this motto applied to all members of the flight. It did not just apply to us as individuals. We flew jet fighter planes in a fingertip formation. For a moment, fold your thumb under your hand and look at the back of your hand with your fingers extended. You will see a flight of four planes with a leader and three wingmen. You are protected on the left and on the right, and the leader is concentrating on his goals. If for a moment you will separate and put two fingers on either side, you will still see a leader and a wingman, one plane ahead of the other, and one plane on the wing to protect. We all knew and were taught from bitter experience that a “loner” out of formation was unprotected and would surely be destroyed." (Robert D. Hales, "We Can't Do It Alone", October 1975 General Conference)

One reason wingmen are so valuable is that they see the world from a slightly different perspective.  I believe it is the counselor’s responsibility to bring both his unique talents as well as his or her perspective to the presidency.  Each of us are blessed with individual talents and spiritual gifts (Moroni 10:8-18).  With three sets of spiritual gifts the capability of the presidency is magnified and their unity offers protection.  

Friday, June 1, 2018

Ministering - Matthew 20:26-28


We are beginning a new era of ministering and many of us are asking questions like, "What does that mean to me?" or "What am I supposed to do?"  As we re-evaluate our individual ministering efforts we learn that more appropriate questions might be, "What challenges do my neighbors have? How are they feeling? What are they struggling with? Is it possible for us to shift our focus from what should "I" be doing, to a what "they" need? 

In the April General Conference, President Nelson said: "A hallmark of the Lord’s true and living Church will always be an organized, directed effort to minister to individual children of God and their families. Because it is His Church, we as His servants will minister to the one, just as He did. We will minister in His name, with His power and authority, and with His loving-kindness." (Russell M Nelson, "Ministering with the Power and Authority of God", April 2018 LDS General Conference)

What does it mean to minister as the Savior did? Perhaps the verses in Matthew 20:26-28 will help us.   

26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28) 

This mental shift from counting visits to making our service count will help us come to know how we can help meet the needs of others.  In the April General Conference Sister Jean B. Bingham said:  

"Sometimes we think we have to do something grand and heroic to “count” as serving our neighbors. Yet simple acts of service can have profound effects on others—as well as on ourselves. What did the Savior do? Through His supernal gifts of the Atonement and Resurrection—which we celebrate on this beautiful Easter Sunday—“none other has had so profound an influence [on] all who have lived and who will yet live upon the earth.” But He also smiled at, talked with, walked with, listened to, made time for, encouraged, taught, fed, and forgave. He served family and friends, neighbors and strangers alike, and He invited acquaintances and loved ones to enjoy the rich blessings of His gospel. Those “simple” acts of service and love provide a template for our ministering today. (Jean B. Bingham, "Ministering as the Savior Does", April 2018 LDS General Conference)

May we each go forward and minister with greater love, compassion, and service. May we be prepared to respond to the inspiration it leads to faith-filled actions.