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.     

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.