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.     

Monday, May 21, 2018

D&C 89:13 - And it is pleasing unto me . . .

I came across this phrase as I was reading Doctrine and Covenants section 89.

13 And it is pleasing unto me . . .  (D&C 89:13)

As I pondered this phrase, I asked myself if I really understood what it means.
When was the last time I asked myself, "Is what I am doing pleasing to the Lord?”
1 Nephi 6:3-6 helps us understand that there are things that are pleasing to God and things that are pleasing to the world.

3 And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.
4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.
5 Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.
6 Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.

So, what's the difference between pleasing the world and pleasing God?  In his conference talk titled, “Which way do you face?” Elder Lynn G. Robbins said:

"Trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments (see Matthew 22:37–39). It is forgetting which way we face. And yet, we have all made that mistake because of the fear of men.” (Lynn G. Robins, “Which Way Do You Face?”, October 2014 LDS General Conference)

With that quote in mind it is easier to see what it means to please God.   Perhaps one more scripture will help.

22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (1 John 3:22)

So, we are pleasing god when we love him and keep his commandments.  That is great, but most of are do not love perfectly nor do we keep the commandments fully.  One of my favorite scriptures gives me assurance.  Speaking about spiritual gifts, the Lord said:

9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a asign that they may bconsume it upon their lusts. (D&C 46:9)

That phrase “and him that seekers so do to” has given me much comfort. When I fall short or fail to live up to my possibilities, I can ask myself where my heart is.  What am I seeking?  If I am seeking to love Him and keep His commandments, then I can be assured that the life I am leading is pleasing to God.

To conclude, I would like to share a quote by Elder Holland about D&C 46:9:

Boy, aren’t we all thankful for that added provision “and … seeketh so to do”! That has been a lifesaver because sometimes that is all we can offer! We take some solace in the fact that if God were to reward only the perfectly faithful, He wouldn’t have much of a distribution list.

Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.” [Alma 36:18] He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek. (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You”, April 2016 LDS General Conference)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Alma 9:7 - Bold Testimony

There seems to be an de facto standard that says those who shed the most tears during their testimony are the most spiritual.
For those who rarely shed tears during a testimony, does that mean they don’t have a strong testimony? Do I have to cry as proof that I feel the spirit?

Richard G. Scott helps us understand this relationship between testimony and emotion.
A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.  (Richard G. Scott, "The Power of a Strong Testimony", LDS General Conference October 2001)
Perhaps this statement by President Howard W. Hunter will shed some additional light on this topic:
“I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.” (Howard W. Hunter, in Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004), 99.)
As an example of bold testimony we can look to the story of Alma and Amulek when they were preaching to the the people of Ammoniah.  Starting in verse 6 of Alma chapter 9 the people asked Alma:
6.  And they said: Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?
Alma’s response was to bear bold testimony.
7.   And they stood forth to lay their hands on me; but behold, they did not. And I stood with boldness to declare unto them, yea, I did boldly testify unto them, . . .
As I envision Alma standing before the people bearing bold testimony I see him full of spiritual strength.  I don’t see him reaching for the box of tissues next to the pulpit.

Finally, this instruction by President Eyring may help us as we prepare for the next fast and testimony meeting.
Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting won’t need to be reminded how to bear testimony should they feel impressed to do it in the meeting. They won’t give sermons or exhortations or travel reports or try to entertain as they bear witness. Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly. Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language nor to go on at length.
A testimony is a simple expression of what we feel. The member who has fasted both for the blessing of the poor and for the companionship of the Spirit will be feeling gratitude for the love of God and the certainty of eternal truth. Even a child can feel such things, which may be why sometimes the testimony of a child so moves us and why our preparation of fasting and prayer produces in us childlike feelings. (Henry B. Eyring, “Witnesses for God” November 1996 LDS General Conference)

Perhaps this instruction will help those who are less prone to cry feel that they can stand in fast and testimony meeting and boldly share their testimony, even if they don’t need to reach for the Kleenex.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

John 8:31 - How Do You Measure Discipleship?

President Thomas S. Monson said, "When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates." (see Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107)

What are we trying to achieve? What are we trying to become? What performance are we seeking?  I would like to submit that the most important thing we do during our mortal life is to seek to become like our Father in Heaven or in other words, to become his disciple.  

Peter Drucker is credited with saying: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."  So, if I want to increase my discipleship, how do I measure it?  

Many of the important elements of discipleship cannot be measured. For example, Christ-like attributes, personal and family devotion, covenant keeping, and service to others.  The process of becoming a disciple of Christ is a process that focuses on the heart, and not necessarily on the the hands (doing). 

Elder Daniel L. Johnson provided this excellent definition of discipleship:

"Making the covenant to be a disciple of Christ is the beginning of a life long process, and the path is not always easy. As we repent of our sins and strive to do what He would have us do and serve our fellowmen as He would serve them, we will inevitably become more like Him. Becoming like Him and being one with Him is the ultimate goal and objective—and essentially the very definition of true discipleship."

"Discipleship is all about doing and becoming. As we obey His commandments and serve our fellowmen, we become better disciples of Jesus Christ. Obedience and submission to His will bring the companionship of the Holy Ghost, along with those blessings of peace, joy, and security that always accompany this third member of the Godhead. And they can come in no other way. Ultimately, it is total submission to His will that helps us become as our Savior is. Again, becoming like Him and being one with Him is the ultimate goal and objective—and essentially the very definition of true discipleship."
(Daniel L. Johnson, "Becoming a True Disciple", October 2012 LDS General Conference)

In business we often have metrics or key performance indicators to help drive behavior that improves performance.  However, we have all see times when these indicators have been manipulated to achieve the goal without causing a change in undesirable behaviors or negative attitudes.  These tend to be indicators of outward compliance rather than inner commitment.  

In Leader and Clerk Resources under LDS.org the bishop also is provided some data on his ward that are called "Key Indicators".   These are the indicators that are shown on a graph for the bishop to review:
  • Sacrament meeting attendance percentage
  • Home teaching percentage
  • Endowed adults with temple recommend percentage
  • Young Men priesthood attendance percentage
  • Young Women attendance percentage
  • Melchizedek Priesthood attendance percentage
  • Relief Society attendance percentage
  • Visiting teaching percentage
  • Men holding the Melchizedek Priesthood percentage. 
As you review this list you will notice that the statistics we are tracking generally measure a person's externally displayed commitment, not their discipleship.  Looking at the list above, 7 of the 9 are simply measures of who "showed up".  Did you show up at church?  Did you show up to do your home teaching?  How are these really a true indicator of what is in someone's heart?  Discipleship is absolutely about "showing up", but it is more than just doing.  We do with our hands, but we become with our hearts.

Matthew 18:21–35, Peter asks Christ how often he should forgive
The other two key indicators are the only two that require more than just showing up.  They both require an interview with the the bishop and the stake president.  When you go to meet with the bishop to be advanced in the priesthood or to receive a temple recommend, it is interesting to note that the bishop is not the person that determines if you are ready for advancement in the priesthood or if you are worthy to enter the temple.  Elder Quentin L. Cook said.  "Members, both adults and youth, self-certify their worthiness when they answer the temple recommend questions" (Quentin L. Cook, "See Yourself in the Temple" April 2016 LDS General Conference). During those interviews you are doing the searching of your soul to determine if you are on the path toward discipleship and are ready to take on additional covenants.  We make covenants to both deepen and document our commitment.   So, the first question you may want to ask yourself in your personal discipleship evaluation is "Are my actions in alignment with the covenants that I have made?" 

This quote by Elder Uchtdorf may help us find another question we can ask ourselves: 

". . . let us deepen our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us take upon ourselves His name and commit each single day to walk anew in the path of discipleship. Let our works make our faith perfect. Through discipleship we may be perfected one step at a time by serving our family, our fellowmen, and God. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Joy of the Priesthood", October 2012 General Conference

The next question might be "Am I serving others?"  When we are obedient to the the commandments that God has given us then we find ourselves in those types of places and situations where we can provide service to others.  

Two additional questions that may help you self-evaluate your personal discipleship are, "Am I on the right path?" and "Am I headed in the right direction?".  However, we would be wise to avoid questions that compare your progress on the path to other's progress or that try to follow their path exactly. 

While there is no formula for discipleship or is it a checklist.  These two scriptures in the Book of John may provide an additional measurement. 

      31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; (John 8:31)

      35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

These questions might be added to your list of personal discipleship measurements, "Am I continuing in His word?" and "Am I showing love to others?"  Finally, this statement by Elder Holland may help us understand a final question:  

"Obviously as the path of discipleship ascends, that trail gets ever more narrow until we come to that knee-buckling pinnacle of the sermon of which Elder Christofferson just spoke: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” What was gentle in the lowlands of initial loyalty becomes deeply strenuous and very demanding at the summit of true discipleship. Clearly anyone who thinks Jesus taught no-fault theology did not read the fine print in the contract! No, in matters of discipleship the Church is not a fast-food outlet; we can’t always have it “our way.” Some day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ and that salvation can only come His way. (Jeffrey R. Holland, "An Ensign to the Nations", April 2011 LDS General Conference)

Ask yourself, what am I doing with my hands, knees, tongue and heart?  Are my hands doing what is right?  Are my knees bending in humility? Is my tongue speaking of Christ? Has my heart been given to him?    As we ask ourselves these questions with the humility that is required to invite the spirit, the Holy Ghost will prompt us with ideas on how we can improve and become better disciples of Christ.  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Mosiah 4:9-10 - Believe in God

Each of us have critical intersections in our life where we make significant decisions that impact the rest of our life.  Some of these are where to attend college, missionary service, who to marry, how many kids to have, and what profession to pursue.
Those who are wise seek to align themselves with the will of the Lord by asking the same question  that Saul asked Christ after he appeared to him:  "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6) This question can weigh heavily on our minds. 

Recently as I pondered a significant question in my life and I was lead to this scripture: 

9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
10 And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.
(Mosiah 4:9-10)
Mark 9:23, With faith all things can be accomplished

This passage of scripture has been called the prescription for most of our problems and most of the world's problems. We know that the Holy Ghost will tell us all things that we should do (2 Nephi 32:3) and often the Holy Ghost speaks to us through the scriptures (D&C 18:34-36).  As I pondered this scripture it seemed to be saying to me that I needed to demonstrate more faith and humbly repent.  Wait, isn't that the first two principles of the gospel?  That was not the answer I wanted.  While I wasn't looking for a glorious vision of the path, I was expecting a nudge in the right direction.  Instead He seemed to be saying to me, "If you will just have faith in My time line and get yourself spiritually ready, then when the time comes I will open the way for you.  

This experience reminded me of this story by Elder Packer. 

“Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.
“I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.’ Then he quoted these 18 words from the Book of Mormon:
“‘Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith’” (Ether 12:6).
(President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Edge of the Light,” BYU Magazine, Mar. 1991)

When in the middle of an important decision remember to do the basics.  Faith, prayer, repentance, scripture study, and service.