Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Power of Example

I've been pondering of late on the power of example. Am I more influenced by a bad example or a good example? All this pondering was sparked by a recent experience with a very bad example in the area of home maintenance.

First a tad of background. My Dad owns some property in the foothills of the Appalachians in North Carolina. The property has never been his primary residence, but has been used from time to time by family members. As my Dad has aged (he is fast approaching his 92nd birthday), he had stopped making the drive out to his country retreat except on rare occasions. He decided to rent the house so that someone would be there and keeping the place up. Thus, the house was lived in by a tenant for the past 2 or 3 years and has not been in use by the family.

A few months ago, one of my sisters-in-law accepted a job in North Carolina and she and my brother got permission from my dad to live in the country house while they searched for a place to purchase. The tenant moved out. Since I live fairly close to the property, I agreed to pop over and evaluate the livability of the place. My husband and I drove out on a Saturday, thinking we would do a little cleaning so it would be nice for when my brother and sister-in-law arrived. We found it not just a little dusty or untidy, but way beyond filthy. We spent a couple of hours removing the first layer of grime and then went back and helped my brother and his wife remove a few more layers when they arrived.

So, there was the exceedingly bad example. And it has changed how we maintain our home. I've always been an acceptable housekeeper -- the house is presentable if not spotless most of the time. But I take extra care now and clean a little better and make sure things get repaired when needed. And that change has lasted quite some time.

In contrast, some years ago, I went by assignment to help clean an LDS temple. The place was spotless and mostly it felt like we were cleaning an already clean place. But, the care taken over very small details did show me an extraordinarily good example of home maintenance. That good example also had an impact on me and I took a little more time cleaning the tops of door ways and little things like that -- but only for a week or two. I do think back on that experience from time to time and pay more attention to details, but it is not a consistent thing.

So, I have been wondering, in general, whether people tend to be more influenced to do better by bad examples or by good examples? Am I more likely to want to be like Jesus or not like Satan? I don't have any answers, but I wonder if it feels easier to not be as bad as a bad example than to try to be as good as a good example? Maybe I feel like I can't measure up to the good example, but I feel pretty sure I can at least not be as bad as the bad example.

Well, no life-changing conclusions from these ponderings -- just something I've been thinking about.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"And now, O man, remember, and perish not" (Mosiah 4:30)

In my last post, I talked about the many passages in the Old Testament (and  they are found in all the volumes of scripture) in which there is a sort of recitation of promises kept by God. Often it involves the Exodus or a review of the promises made to Abraham. Maybe a little more on that theme.

Psalm 105 deals with this theme. The whole chapter is worth pondering. I'll just highlight a few verses.
8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever.... 11-12 Saying, unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it.... 24 And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies... 42-45 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant. and he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness: And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people; That they might observe his statues, and keep his laws....
 Obviously it is good to remember the help God has given his people. Remembering that He helped them get out of Egypt and that the help came in clearly miraculous ways strengthens faith and helps us to have faith and patience as we wait for Him to help us again.

But I also like the symbolism of leaving Egypt. Egypt can symbolize sin or any difficulties we face during our mortal journey. I think that at least one reason for these recitations is to remind us that God is prepared to help us through our troubles and challenges and bring us safely home to Him. Each time He helps me over a bump in the road, I have greater confidence when the next bump comes along that He will help me over that one too. Even when the bump looks a lot more like a solid roadblock, I remember that God can move the immovable -- probably not on the timetable I would choose, but His promises are sure and I can put my trust in him.

One more scripture on this theme and then I will let it rest.
Deuteronomy 10:15-22: Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, .... Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. For the Lord your God is God of gods... a great God.... Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the Lord thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.
 A "remember, and perish not" scripture for sure. Look what God did - he got you out of Egypt (your sinful, troubled state) and he gave you all he promised Abraham (the promised land; the priesthood and the gospel and  everything you need to get back to him). Now, he says, remember all that. And let it change you. The turning of hearts can be equated to repentance. Focusing on the promises made and kept should result in a turning of our hearts. It should change us and move us forward on the path back Home.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Old Testament Promises -- looking forward and remembering

Continuing with some of the things I have noticed as I have studied references to promises in the Old Testament and tying them to the turn of hearts to both the promises and our fathers....

As I read references in the Old Testament, I was struck with two things:
1) The frequency of promises that were not meant to be fulfilled in the immediate future -- or indeed for many generations in some cases.
2) The frequency of recitations of past promises fulfilled and the admonition to remember those fulfulled promises.

Some examples:

Joshua 21:43-45: And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers:... There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.
In this one we both see the reminder that the promise was made to the father and the fact that it was fulfilled in the lives of later generations -- so this on fits in both categories.
Jeremiah 33: 3, 6-11: Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.... Behold, I will bring it [Israel] health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first. And I will cleanse them of all iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities.... And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honor before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them.... Again there shall be heard in this place... the voice of joy, and the voice o gladness,... the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts... and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause to return the captivity of the land....
Clearly, this is a promise that is still not completely fulfilled. But it is being fulfilled. Another that was clearly in the category of promises that were to be fulfilled in the more distant future is the covenant made with Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant is probably best recorded in the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, but for the purposes of this post I'll use Genesis:
Genesis 15: 5, 13-14, 18: ... Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, so shall thy seed be.... Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; [I'll have more to say about this in a later post]; ... and afterward shall they come out with great substance.... Unto thy seed have I given this land....
Lots of other Old Testament passages refer back to the promises made to Abraham in the "remember that God did what he said he would do" kind of passages. I'll not take the time to extract them here. It is instructive to notice just how often we are admonished in scripture to remember. More on that later. First, a few more examples of promises made that were to be fulfilled in future generations.
Genesis 50:24-25 [Joseph speaking to his brothers]: ... God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.... ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
Gotta pause here to reflect on that one. Joseph is both remembering the promises made to the fathers and showing just how much faith he has in the future fulfillment of that promise by telling them to take his bones out of Egypt and bury them in the promised land. A wonderful symbol of what we do in the temples. We remember our fathers and the promises made and we take them out of their spiritual Egypt and bring them to the promised land of temple covenants and eternal possibilities. Taking Joseph's bones to the promised land was a vicarious work -- doing for him what he was not able to do for himself.

This post is getting lengthly, so I'll just summarize a few more and suggest that the gentle reader might take the time to look up and ponder the scriptures cited.

In Deut. 34:1-4 Moses is shown the land promised to the fathers and his heart is turned to that promise.

In Exodus 33 God reminds Moses of promises made to his fathers to bring them to the promised land. They build the tabernacle [temple] far from the camp and it is the place they go to seek to know God. Wonderfully symbolic of leaving the world and going to the temple and to our covenants so we can know God.

Deuteronomy 26 is all about remembering and turning hearts to the past - to Egypt and God's miracles and recognition of all he did  for the people and showing gratitude for blessings through the payment of tithing.

Deuteronomy 10 is also about remembering and turning to God.

Deuteronomy 15 admonishes us to remember the promises made to free the fathers from Egypt and then to turn hearts to the poor or enslaved in kindness and generosity. I would think that admonition applies both to those physically poor or enslaved and those spiritually poor or enslaved.

1 Kings 8 records a promise of a temple which would not be fulfilled until later.

I have pages of such examples, but I think the point is made. Conclusions drawn from these observations: as we remember God's former kindnesses and promises fulfilled, our hearts turn to him. A natural consequence of hearts turning to God is that they then turn outward to our fellow man -- and first among our fellow men would be our families. Temple and family history work is all about remembering, having faith in promises given, and seeking to extend those blessing to others.

Another aspect of all this is the noting of how often God has given promises that are not fulfilled until many generations later. For me, that is a very hopeful kind of realization. God does in fact keep his promises and he is busy working with people and setting up situations so that his promises can be fulfilled. Sometimes I get discouraged as it looks like some of the promises I have personally been given regarding the eternal unity of my family do not look like they are being fulfilled. But, if I could see the larger picture, I am confident I would be able to discern God's hand working to bring those promises to pass. My task is to have confidence and to continue to work on my own heart and on becoming what I need to be to have some small role in helping to bring those promises to fruition.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"The Promises Made to the Fathers" and Joshua 23

Some time back, one of my daughters and I were discussing Doctrine and Covenants Section 2. Specifically we were discussing Moroni's alteration of Malachi 4:
And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. (D&C 2:2)
 In our discussion she asked me "what promises"? And how do those promises turn our hearts to our ancestors and temple work? I believe that in LDS circles it is usually assumed that the promises referenced are those made to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant. And I certainly don't disagree with that. But I thought it might be instructive to spend time studying scriptures that talk about promises and see what additional insight might be gained. I have completed my search of  Old Testament references and just begun with the New Testament. So my study is not complete. But it seems good to record some of the thoughts I have had thus far. I expect this study to generate several blog posts.

I have been struck as I read Old Testament promises made to the fathers with the symbolism of scriptures that I have tended to look at more for the story line in the past. The first example I'll write a bit about is Joshua 23. Joshua is exhorting Israel before his death.
verse 5: And the Lord your God, he shall expel them ["them" being Israel's enemies] from before you, and drive them out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the Lord your God hath promised you.
verse 10: One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the Lord your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.[The next verse gives the conditions of obedience needed in order to claim the promise.]
verse 14 and 15: ... and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you....
 Here God is promising to fight for his people. What enemy do I have? Surely it is my human weaknesses and Satan's exploitation of those weaknesses to bring me down. God has promised to fight Satan for me - conditional on my obedience to the commandments. And it doesn't matter how strong the temptation that I need help to overcome. With God giving me strength I can fight Satan even if it seems 1000 of Satan's forces against just 1 little me. Then the reminder that God has kept every promise made and so I can have faith that he will continue to keep his promises.

So, this is a promise that was "made to the fathers" - a promise for help fighting the battles of mortality. If my heart were to turn to that promise and I were to gain faith in that promise, what would be the result? Surely I would turn more to God, and be more confident in my personal battles with Satan as I would know I do not fight alone. And, as illustrated so well in the book of Enos in the Book of Mormon, after I repent of my sins and turn to God, my desires naturally turn to my family with a desire that they find the same joy I have found. That would include my family currently living on the earth and those who have gone before. And I would find a greater desire to be in the temple and to do the work needed to bring this joy to as many of my family as I can.

I have notes from several places in the Old Testament that I'd like to get recorded, but I think I'll do it in multiple posts rather than one mega-post. So, stay tuned.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Casual, Sloppy Society

In the October 1991 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Boyd K Packer gave a talk on reverence in which he said:
The world grows increasingly noisy. Clothing and grooming and conduct are looser and sloppier and more disheveled.
Similarly, Gordon B Hinckley, at BYU's commencement in April 1996 said:
Sloppy language and sloppy ways go together.... I hope that you will carry with
you from this hallowed place a certain polish that will mark you as one in love with the better qualities of life, the culture which adds luster to the mundane world of which we are a part, a patina which puts a quiet glow on what otherwise might be base metal.
I have recently been pondered the down-side of our very casual society. It was my generation that propelled American into a very casual, sloppy style. As a young adult I reveled in sloppy -- patched jeans and T-shirts were my standard attire. And then I encountered the Church and it fortunately changed me in more ways than the internal ones, but I have still tended toward the casual.

Our society has not always been so casual. I remember that my mother changed into nice clothes, and put on gloves and heels -- to go grocery shopping. These days I encounter folks grocery shopping in their pajamas. My Dad dressed in a suit every day to go to the University to teach a bunch of sloppy kids in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. Now every day is casual day at most places of employment. It used to be that when I went to see a doctor he came in with a shirt and tie (or a skirt if a woman). At my most recent visit, the young lady doctor was wearing scrubs and sneakers. When I was growing up, I wouldn't have dreamed of saying "yeah" to an older person. It was "yes ma'am" or "yes, sir" -- some of that still lingers here in the South East, but it is fading even here.

Am I sorry that I don't feel the need to dress up each time I go shopping or to a movie or restaurant? Not usually. I like my comfy clothes.But I do recognize that our sloppy, casual ways have their down side too. Maybe there is something to be said for a more formal, even reserved lifestyle. My parents would never have told all on Facebook - posting ridiculous disclosures about their personal life and putting up a zillion snapshots of family and friends -- often in embarrassing poses. Their generation kept private things private. Maybe that was to some extent a side affect of a more formal, mannered culture.

I am glad that, for the most part, Latter-day Saints continue to dress in "Sunday Best" when attending worship services. I have noticed when attending other churches, that Sunday dress is often no different than that of any other day. It helps me to dress differently and more carefully when attending a worship service. It reminds me of the purpose of the gathering and the respect and reverence due to my God. More and more Christians seem to have a low level of commitment to the very basic 10 commandments. Is that casual attitude to sacred things partly a result of our casual approach to all things?

I remember one time in my young adult years a friend and I and our dates took her parents to a nice dinner theater for their wedding anniversary. We donned formal gowns and the men-folk in our group wore suits. We had a lovely evening of good food and good entertainment. And we felt elegant, which was fun. But it also had an impact on our behavior. Dressing up tended to make us think about what we said and did and we were a very polite and pleasant little group that evening. Similarly, the adults in my LDS congregation (called a Ward in Mormon-speak) recently had a semi-formal dinner -- just for the fun of it. It was well attended, the food was wonderful, and everyone had fun. But they were a bit quieter and more restrained in their humor and more polite to one another -- the influence of a more formal atmosphere.

Well, these are mostly random ramblings. But I have concluded that we have lost something important in our society by becoming so very casual and sloppy in nearly everything. I have decided that I can change that for me, at least. I can be more careful as I dress each day to be neat in my attire. I can focus on my manners and not let them become sloppy. And I can be grateful for the opportunities I have to dress and act differently than "every day" when I attend church or the temple. When I am out representing the Lord as a visiting teacher, maybe it would be a good idea to dress like His representative instead of in my jeans. I used to do that but have moved away from it -- following current trends.

I want to try to have more polish and seek the finer things of life. I think that seeking to  have that "quiet glow" of which President Hinckley spoke can impact nearly every aspect of life for the better. Seems worth the effort.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Family History - Miracles and Guidance

Recently I was reading old journals to jog my memory as I try to compile my personal history. I ran across the following entry from 29 July 1993:
I'm amazed at the way the Lord guides me in my Family History research. As I prepared to go to the Family History Center yesterday, I felt prompted to look again at some census films. So, I went to the 1880 Catawba County, NC film -- which should have been returned to Salt Lake City 3 days earlier, but was still at the center. I found Harriet Herman! Living with her grandmother!! I was delighted. I am so grateful for all the guidance I've received in this work.
Re-reading this entry caused me to reflect on the multitude of times I have been blessed in my search for the records of my ancestors. As I have the opportunity to work all day every day helping others with their family history challenges, I have seen more and more the evidence of God's hand in this work. Sometimes it is in the sure knowledge that I was the one individual who could best help a FamilySearch patron. Sometimes it is in the joy of watching a patron at my family history center light up as they find an ancestor's record. Sometimes it is in a class when an attendee discovers how to fix a mess on his family tree and get the records accurate. Sometimes it is sweet experiences in the temple as I do work for family members who have gone before and they let me know that they appreciate the effort and have accepted the work. It has happened as a daughter was able to get information about my husband's line from one of her great-uncles that we had been unable to get. Or in searching records I had already searched, like the census example cited above, to find records that I could have sworn were not there the first time I searched. Or when walking through a graveyard and finding the headstones of family members.

All these wonderful experiences re-confirm to me  the spiritual nature of the work. To a dedicated Latter-day Saint, temple and family history work is not a hobby nor just a nice program of the Church. It is  a vital and foundational part of the work of salvation. And what a marvelous blessing it is to be involved in this work in this day as we are seeing the work of salvation hastened in miraculous ways!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Serpents in the Scriptures

I was pondering on this incident in Numbers 21:6-9 recently:

And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. and Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
 It is generally agreed that the serpent of brass was symbolic of Christ who was lifted up on the cross as part of the atonement and thus makes it possible for us to recover from Satan's activities.

But I got to thinking about references to serpents in the scriptures in general. In a quick survey, I could find only references to this event and the admonition in Matthew 10 and Doctrine and Covenants 111 to be "wise as serpents" that were in any way positive in re. serpents. The serpent in scripture is pretty exclusively symbolic of Satan and Satanic forces in the world. And yet, here we have an example of a serpent of brass being symbolic of Jesus Christ -- the very opposite of Satan. And I wondered why that was.

Obviously one can read too much into symbols, but one thought occurred to me. Satan and Christ are fundamentally the same sort of being. Both were sons of God. Both were even in good favor with God at one point in the pre-mortal world. Satan was described as a "son of the morning" who fell. So, both had the same potential for good -- or evil. One chose to turn his focus to trying to destroy the Father's plans. The other embraced the Father's plans and became His only begotten son and the Savior of the world.

And, as I pondered that, I realized that the same is true of all of us. We are God's children and we too have the same potential as Satan and Christ. Depending on our decisions and focus in life, we can either accomplish much good and become as Christ, or we can accomplish much evil and become as Satan. Most of us probably aren't a single-minded as either Christ or Satan, but the potential is there. The choice is ours. We control our ultimate destiny.