Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who am I?

In a previous post, I pointed out a specific phrase in 2 Samuel 3 that is echoed many times throughout the scriptures. It is a phrase so blatantly arrogant it almost makes me shudder whenever I read it. The first one is spoken by Cain in Moses 5:16 "Who is the Lord, that I should know him?" This is not a reverent searching. This is in-your-face rebellion. I read it as though it were someone shouting "Just who do you think you are..." It happens again in the Old Testament, when King Nebuchadnezzar asks Shadrach and friends "Who is that God that shall deliver you?" It's like he's taunting, perhaps jabbing a finger to the chest, jeering, "I'd like to see him get you out of THIS mess!"

It happens in the Book of Mormon, too. King Noah boasts "Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him? And Who is the Lord, to bring such affliction upon my people?" In other words, Who is Abinadi to judge us? And what can God do about it? Yikes! There's one more in Alma chapter 9. The people of Ammonihah say, "Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people...?" Clearly they think they deserve something bigger and better than the words of prophet. And they resent God for thinking that was good enough.

Well, just as everything in the gospel has its opposite (think 2 Nephi 2:11), this week I discovered the opposite to this "Who is God?" attitude that appears over and over again in the most prideful people in all of scripture.

In 2 Samuel chapter 7, David has just been anointed King of all Israel. And when all the hoopla is over, David offers a prayer of Thanksgiving. In verse 18 it says he sat before the Lord, saying "Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?" In other words, Who am I, and who is my family, to deserve being brought here by thee? He acknowledges his insignificance in the sight of God, and his astonishment at how well God knows his heart. Then in verse 22 he says, "Thou art great, O Lord God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee." He so beautifully states his smallness -- even as a king -- in relation to God. This is genuine humility. Not self-effacing, just in awe of Someone Greater.

Joseph Smith, in his own history, gives us another poignant example: "Who am I that I can withstand God? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it."

I found another example in Exodus, chapter 3. Moses, in response to his call from within the burning bush, asks the Lord: "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" The book of Numbers extolls this attitude: "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Such reverence: Moses toward God, humbled by this monumental task. In contrast, hear Pharaoh's response in Exodus 5: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice...?" There's that arrogance again. And he digs himself in deeper: "I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." Moses, on the other hand, knew the Lord very well. Talked with him face-to-face. It seems that those who know God best are in the greatest awe.

I can honestly feel a shift in the spirit as we move away from those prideful and arrogant questions to the loving, searching, adoring questions. Who am I...? It's fascinating to me how honest humility overcomes the pride of the most powerful people with the spirit of the Almighty God.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Babylonian Idol vs. the Fiery Furnace

1. Start with Storytelling

Apparently King Nebuchadnezzar fancied himself a sculptor. He crafted a golden Idol, and installed it in some field in Babylon. Then he invited a bunch of celebrities and dignitaries to a fancy dedication of said idol. While they were assembled there, the herald made a decree that whenever they hear the Babylonian band play, they have to fall down and worship the idol. Anyone who failed to do so would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

So when the people heard the Babylonian band play, they all fell down and worshiped the king's idol. All except the Jews. Some Chaldeans noticed and were a bit put out. They went to the king and reminded him of his policy and its penalty. Then they pointed out that three of the top leaders in Babylon were Jews, yet have disregarded the king and do not worship the golden image. The king flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him.

"Is this true?" he asked,"that you won't serve my gods or worship my idols?" He continued, “Look, I like you guys. I’m going ot give you one last chance. If you'll be ready to fall down and worship the next time the Babylonian band plays, then all's well. But if not, I'll have you thrown into a fiery furnace this very hour." Then he threw in one final dig: "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" In other words, “I’d like to see somebody try and rescue you now,” asserting his own power.

Our heroes replied that they'd do nothing of the sort, and that God would protect them. With one caveat: But if not..we'll have you know that we still won't worship your lousy idol. (Two can play at this stubbornness game.)

Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage that his whole countenance changed. All at once he ordered that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual, and commanded the mightiest men in his army to tie them up and throw them into the burning fiery furnace. The fire in the furnace was so hot that the men who led them there died. Shadrach. Meshach and Abednego fell down, bound, in the middle of the fiery furnace.

Then all of a sudden Nebuchadnezzar jumps up and says, "Hey, didn't we throw three guys into the furnace? Well, I can see four, and one of them looks for all the world like the Son of God." Then Nebuchadnezzar calls to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and asks them to step forward. All the celebrities and dignitaries are standing there watching, as the three men emerge, completely untouched by the flames...they don't even smell like smoke!

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who have sacrificed themselves in honor to serve and obey Him. Anybody who speaks ill of their God will be chopped into pieces and buried in a dunghill.” (He still has a bit to learn about charity.) And all three were given promotions.

And it is still the same today.

2. Sketch the Skeleton

v. 1-5 Idolatry established as standard
v. 2 Officials support position
v. 6 Punishment for those who don't follow suit
v. 7 Everybody follows suit
v. 12, 16-18 Covenant people refuse to lower standards
v. 18 Submit to God’s will (But if not...)
v. 19 Punished severely (threatened certain death)
v. 24-25 Christ ministers to them in the midst of the fiery furnace
v. 27 Emerge unscathed, even untouched.
v. 28 Witnesses observe power of God
v. 29 Witnesses seek God
v. 30 Resultant blessings

The pattern that develops is one of pointedly choosing a way that is oppposite of the world’s, and perhaps suffering for it. Submitting to God’s will regardless of consequences, even if it means sacrificing our lives. Enjoying the peace only Christ can bring. Witnessing to the world.
We are Missionaries by example, simply by keeping our covenants in a troubled world.

3. Single out Specifics

Note the arrogance in verse 15 when King Nebuchadnezzar says “Who is that god that shall deliver you?” This is reminiscent of King Noah in Mosiah 11:27 "Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him? And Who is the Lord, to bring such affliction upon my people?" And also of Cain in Moses 5:16 “Who is the Lord, that I should know him?” This is not good company to be found in! The difference here is that King Nebuchadnezzar did ultimately come to know the Lord and His power, and was humbled by it.

4. Strive for Synthesis

Something worthy of exploring might be “What are some examples of Idol Worship we see today? No golden statues, per se, but what other forms of idolatry are prevalent and even standard practice in today’s world?

One great question to ask ourselves might be “What is MY fiery furnace? and then, “In what ways did Christ minister to me in the midst of those trials?” And perhaps even, “What effect has that had on those around me?

Example: I was given a Priesthood blessing with a promise that some of my emotional scars would disappear to the point that it would be as if I had never been wounded. This has come to be true.

5. See the Savior

The obvious place where we see the Savior is with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the midst of the fiery furnace.

The men killed by the flames of the furnace alludes to Transfiguration: That no man can stand in the presence of God except he be changed spiritually. Shadrach and friends could withstand the heavenly fire, but their executors could not.

We also see Him when Shadrach and friends assert BUT IF NOT, submitting to God’s will by the giving of their lives for what they know to be right. The difference here is that when Christ submitted and accepted the bitter cup He was not rescued. He carried it through to the death, atoning for each of us in the process. We have a rescuer and a Savior, yet He did not. He later showed forth his marvelous power by taking his life up again and resurrecting, creating a way for each of us, regardless of life’s circumstances and trials and disease and affliction, to emerge with perfect bodies in the resurrection.

I know that the Savior lives. I know that he comes to us in our trials.
I’ve felt him minister to me in the depths of my own fiery furnaces. I’ve seen him deliver me from pain, sorrow, heartache, and sin. I know that he sacrificed himself and his life for each one of us. I know that he expects each of us to stand as a witness for him, as living examples of his teachings and his atonement. I know we can hear His voice as we immerse ourselves in his scriptures.

Making the Scriptures come Alive With Meaning

1. Start with Story: (Particularly Storytelling)
The Brother of Jared, Zeniff, Jonah, Shadrach, Joshua...I have hundreds of favorites.
(We're not talking puppet shows and flannel boards. More like channeling all the richness and truth from your preparation and feeding it to your class in story form.)

Becomes a vehicle for:
a. Sequence (putting things in a historical context)
b. Scenario (setting the stage)
c. Symbolism can be brought out subtly within the story)
d. Substance (helping your students feel the richness of the text, sense something deeper)
e. Spirit (Let the Holy Ghost connect the dots)

Note: Storytelling is especially helpful in class situations where the preparation of individual class members is varied. Telling the story helps put everybody on the same page before you begin your discussion.

Note 2: Frequently when teaching a scripture passage with limited story potential I will tell a personal story that is analogous with the principles we're discussing. This helps pull the class into the discussion, and helps with Synthesis later on.

2. Sketch the Skeleton (Boiling the events down to the bare bones)
Great texts to do this with are:
a. Road to Emmaus
b. Calming the storm
c. Joseph Smith’s first vision account

3. Single out Specifics (words, phrases, patterns, or a particular verse)
Some examples:
a. Press implies resistance; Succor: Run to their aid
b. The repetition of the word Remember repeated in Alma 5 and Helaman 5
c. 40 Questions in Alma 5
d. Examples of action verbs in Mary/Martha/Lazarus story
e. Mentions of anger/wrath in Zeniff/King Laman story
f. The mention of Desires repeated in D&C Section 6 (We choose)

4. Strive for Synthesis
This is where I ask for lots of class participation and focus on practical application:
a. Likening (See yourself, replace names, etc.)
b. Modern-day equivalent: Broken bow = job loss
c. How does this apply to me right now?
d. What am I going to take home and do differently?

5. See the Savior (If we seek Him, we shall find Him)
He is everywhere within the scriptures, if we look carefully, with spiritual eyes.
a. Search for Types of Christ
b. Seek his teachings
c. Look for opportunities to testify

And of course, in and around and throughout all of these steps it is essential to Sense the Spirit.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Submission vs. Selfishness in the Book of Mormon

Start with Storytelling

Seven years ago I had a series of dreams....
I’d been sufficiently humbled by some recent harrowing experiences and therefore was in a more receptive frame of mind than usual. :) Rich symbols and content made these dreams stand out as spiritually significant, and I recognized them as a form of personal revelation.

One spoke of the influence of extended family on our children, and another spoke of a new home, away from California; of an amazing gift that I could never repay. In my earliest waking hours, as I pondered the dreams, their message became clear: The Lord intended us to move to Utah.

At first I felt a reluctance to leave my comfort zone: My immediate reaction was a flow of tears, and a silent protest: “No, Please No!”

School, missions and marriage had brought both of us to southern California, over and over again. We honestly felt that was where the Lord wanted and needed us to serve. At church we held meaningful callings, had opportunities to contribute to the Kingdom there, and our ward was filled with amazing role models who loved us as much as we loved them. Our friends there had become our surrogate family. Most of all, just months ago we’d buried our baby there.

However, I remembered the goodness of God (particularly in my recent trials) and I could not say no. In a matter of moments I succumbed, knelt down and tearfully promised the Lord, “I’ll go where you want me to go.” Then for three full years I waited, more or less “pondering these things in my heart” (Luke 2:19), and at times wondering if perhaps we wouldn’t have to move after all.

When the time was right, we both knew. After all, we’d had three years to get used to the idea! I knew Jeff would get the job at BYU, knew our house would sell, knew it was time to go.
There were many steps involved in our final move, including job applications, buying and selling of houses, and painful goodbyes. Each required Faith, Trust, Courage, and Commitment to leave everything we know and love and journey into the relative unknown wilderness of Utah.

(Single out Specifics: Pattern)

Most of the resultant blessings are easily recognized:
Here we are. (Maybe the promised land).
The children are in better schools, our house is fully paid for, beautiful mountains surround us, with deer and quail in the back yard, Jeff’s work has been even better than we expected, and unforeseen additional career opportunities have arisen. We have more time for me to spend with our children. (We've had our needs met, and more, to the point that we’re in awe of the unexpected blessings!)

We don’t know what else the Lord has in store for us here, but we know this is where we’re supposed to be right now.

Strive for Synthesis: Likening

The Book of Mormon also begins with the story of one family, instructed in a dream to leave their dream house and their comfort zone, and be led by God through a series of unknowns.

(Single out Specifics: Pattern)

There were varying levels of Faith, Trust, Courage, Commitment:
  • Lehi went willingly, and obediently. (1 Nephi 2:2-4)
  • Nephi sought confirmation and also followed willingly. (1 Nephi 11)
  • Laman and Lemuel whined the entire time. Went, but with lousy attitude, contantly threatening to return to Jerusalem. (Notice no one complained when they were instructed to obtain wives, however.) :)

Resultant blessings:
Led to Promised Land
Had Scriptures and Liahona
Serendipitous abundance -- needs met and much more
Righteous posterity for those who continued to submit

One great example of non-submission (besides Laman and Lemuel) was Zeniff. I used to think that segment was more of a segue, but in the last couple of years I’m come to see its significance.

Strive for Synthesis: Likening
Zeniff is like us. We’re not as wicked as King Noah, just fail to submit in subtler ways sometimes. Zeniff was a pretty good guy, but he got this idea in his head, described as “an over-zealousness to obtain the land of [his] inheritance.” (Here we see selfishness, impatience, and a sense of entitlement.)

More Storytelling
He convinced a group to venture there with him, and experienced much affliction en route because “they were slow to remember the Lord their God.“ He was also a bit of a schmoozer, and lacked discernment -- Zeniff mistakenly thought King Laman was his buddy, but he turned out to be a crafty, conniving double-crosser with a plan of his own (much like Satan operates). He allowed them to settle there with cunning plans to eventually overtake them. In the meantime, they they moved right in and started landscaping and remodeling.

King Laman felt a bit threatened by their progress, and decided to assemble armies against them. Even though Zeniff repented and began to rely on the Lord’s strength in battle, his earlier headstrong behavior and lack of submission had long-lasting consequences, resulting in numerous wars and roughly three generations of bondage.

In fact the entire Book of Mormon becomes a text on submission vs. selfishness. As I’ve studied it this past week, there appear to be five types and levels of submission:

Sketch the Skeleton

1. Honoring: Submitting to a parent, leader or spouse in righteousness. Sariah “complained against her husband” at one point, fearing their sons’ demise and calling Lehi “a visionary man”. Lehi in turn submitted to her, “I am a visionary man.” then went on to remind her the positive aspects of that, and that they truly were being led by the Lord. In D&C 6 The Lord instructs Oliver Cowdry to “be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances.” In the next verse he tells him to give and receive counsel without getting defensive, then reminds him TWICE to be patient. (Strive for synthesis) We have covenanted to honor our spouses and the priesthood in that way.

2. Obedience: Just plain keeping the commandments. The book of Mormon tells us countless times that we’ll prosper if we keep the commandments, but if not we’ll be cut off from the presence of God. Nephi’s obedience is exemplary and familiar to us. (Single out specifics: Pattern) Listen for the Faith, Trust, Courage, and Commitment he exhibits in these oft-quoted verses: 1 Ne. 3:7 “I will go and do... for I know...He shall prepare a way.” Sometimes we don't yet know why, just what: “I know that He loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17) At times just understanding God’s love was enough for Nephi to submit.

3. Yielding: Willingness to be led by Spirit and follow promptings. A great example is Nephi obtaining the plates from Laban... "I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Nephi 4:6)

Elder Maxwell said: “To the extent that we are not willing to be led by the Lord, we will, instead be driven by our appetites and be preoccupied with the lesser things and the pressing cares of the day. (King Benjamin’s Speech: A Manual for Discipleship, FARMS, 1998)”

Therefore King Benjamin admonishes us to “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love.” (Mosiah 3:19)

(Strive for Synthesis)
Almost every night when I tuck 6-year-old Jeremiah into bed, he asks me to scratch his back and sing “How Gentle God’s Commands.” This small child finds comfort and security in hearing about God’s infinite goodness, how we can trust in His constant care, and how the very things we’re asked to do are in essence kind and gentle gifts. The line “That hand which bears all nature up shall guard His children well” inspires complete trust. I hope that through the words of that hymn, which he now knows by heart, Jeremiah’s developing the seeds of submission: Faith, trust, courage, commitment. (Single out Specifics: Pattern)

- Yielding also includes being guided in our prayers (asking for that which is right) When Jesus ministered to the saints in 3rd Nephi, it says: “And it was given them what they should pray...”
(3 Ne. 19:24) Even our prayers should be submissive and inspired.

3. Bearing: Accepting trials -- even the Abrahamic ones -- with grace. (e.g: Job, Joseph Smith, Alma and his people.) This is what King Benjamin refers to when he asks us to “become as a child, submissive, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosaih 3:19) The Lord made this easier for Alma and his people in Mosiah 24. Although he would not yet remove their trials, he told them: “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage;...And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” (Strive for Synthesis: Likening) I’ve had my own burdens lightened many times by the Lord, sometimes to the point that I didn’t even realize the tremendous load I was carrying until someone else pointed it out to me.

This includes those trials where our submission reaps a seemingly undesirable outcome, (e.g. Zion’s Camp, a difficult and seemingly failed journey which resulted in the training, selection and preparation of much of the early church’s leadership.)
Faith, trust, courage, commitment. (Single out Specifics: Patterns)

4. Consecration: Unflinching, unhesitating giving of all that we have and are to the Lord. Following Chirst as true disciples, submitting fully to the point that we have the mind of Christ and turn our very lives over to him. Pres Kimball said: "If we do merely our conventional duty in the church, we will not have proven valiant.” Elder Maxwell added: "If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.” (A Time to Choose, 1972 Deseret Book)

e.g: Abinadi would not relent until he had delivered his message -- and given his life. Like Jesus, Abinadi let his own will be “swallowed up in the will of the Father.” (Mosiah 15:7) Total submission.

In contrast, King Noah arrogantly refused to submit. “Who is Abinadi?” and “Who is the Lord?” that they should tell me what to do? Mosiah 11 says he “did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart.” We see this in his incredible indolence, “riotous living” and licentious behavior. This supposed “freedom” brought severe taxation and bondage to his people. His cruel murder of Abinadi ironically brought about his own death, by the same manner.

The Nephites who saw and followed Christ submitted fully, consecrating all that they had: “And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (4 Nephi 1:3) 4 Nephi tells us: “Surely there could not be a happier people among all who had been created by the hand of God....And how blessed were they!”, enjoying 200 years of peace.

See the Savior
Ultimate example of submission: The Atonement.
Jesus, creator of the world, son of God was still astonished at the pain and suffering required for the atonement. Even with his Godlike understanding, he was not prepared for the enormity of that experience in its fullness. It was much, much worse than even He had imagined, to the point that he wanted to shrink:
Matt. 26: 39: And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Strive for Synthesis
He requires a similar surrender of will from us:
(3 Ne. 18: 8) “And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his Disciples that they should take of the... cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it.”

As we take the sacrament, we partake of a far less bitter cup than the Savior’s, yet we promise to come unto Christ, and partake of his salvation, and offer our whole souls unto him in return. (Omni 1:26).

I pray we can all have the faith, trust, courage and commitment to follow the Savior wherever he may lead us.

21 Days: Keep

Today I re-read a passage from 2 Nephi 25: 
(verse 21) Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled...(verse 23) For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (verse 26) And we atalk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we bprophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our cchildren may know to what source they may look for a dremission of their sins.

I love the way Nephi words things. What an expansive perspective he lends as he reminds us how important it is to write. Today the book (21 Days Closer To Christ) challenged me to write my testimony of the Savior. To describe an experience that strengthened my testimony of Him and my relationship with Him. You can find one of mine here. It was a sweet experience.

As far as the "keeping" idea goes, I am reminded of Mary in Luke 2:19.
"Mary kept all these things, and apondered them in her heart."
I love the importance of writing our thoughts and our feelings, for safe-keeping for generations to follow. But i also think some things are best kept within the confines of our own hearts.