Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Television, computers, and children

Some people wonder whether we are harming our children by letting them watch TV or play computer games while they are toddlers.  Speaking for myself and my four children, I admit all of them have had significant computer time as toddlers, probably 4-6 hours per week.  This is largely because I am a programmer by trade and I spend a lot of time on computers myself.  I even wrote a program that turned the keyboard and mouse into a toy that a toddler could bang on and do no damage to my files.   There was a period of a few years where my youngest would only go to sleep sitting on my lap while I played Robotron.  In spite of this, at our last parent/teacher conferences, my wife and I happily learned that all of our children are doing extremely well both academically and socially. Not just that they get good grades and behaved well, but that they make positive contributions to the classes and have a positive influence on the other children.

Before drawing a conclusion, let me say that my personal feeling is that generic computer entertainment is pretty harmless in low doses.  (I have a different opinion about realistically rendered entertainment.)  But more to the point,  I think it is important to keep video/computer entertainment as a minority entertainment in favor of other more interactive and more mentally challenging activities.  My wife and I have worked very hard at this.  We have a TV, but no cable.  We limit the kid’s TV viewing to about 4-6 hours per week, most of it on weekends, and most of that off of DVD’s we have chosen.  We use a token system for video games, which limits the kids to one hour/day max, but they probably play only 2-3 hours per week anyway.  In the absence of video entertainment, we fill the rest of their time with family and personal activities including music, reading, work, and games.  We read together as a family every night, have dinner and conversation as a family every night, and my wife has done an excellent job making sure she and the kids read together as part of their daily routines (before they were in school).  Not surprisingly, reading has become the favorite pass-time of all our children. 

A lot of attention is given to the bad things that come from what we do to our kids, but honestly, I feel that more bad comes from what we don’t do.  There are powerful, positive things parents can do for their children that have become (or are becoming) marginalized in this society.  These things start with breast feeding and bed sharing and these things continue with parents in the home (especially mom), family time together (working, playing, reading, praying, singing), one-on-one time with mom or dad, husbands and wives respecting each other’s roles, etc.  Some of this may be offensive to a few, but this is just what I have seen for myself, and I make no apologies for it.

So, my (free) advice is this: Don’t worry about the presence of computer time, worry instead about the absence of meaningful parent time and keep the score in your favor while your kids are little and you have full control of their time.  Remember that no success can compensate for failure in the home.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Isaiah 16 - Bad news for Moab

This is a curious chapter to me, because it calls up for scrutiny what role Isaiah is playing in Israel.  So I’d like to start of with a historical thought.

This chapter is a sort of formal (yet literary) request/response communication between two countries.  Moab realizes it is in trouble and appeals to Israel for protection in the name of justice.  Israel’s reply is a rejection of Moab because of the pride and Haughtiness of that country.  The rest of the chapter is a prophecy of the miserable times ahead for Moab.  Again, the prophet is not happy about it, yet that is how it is going to be. 

So I wonder what this communication is all about.  Is Isaiah literally having this correspondence with some dignitary in Moab and using his political authority to reject the country?   Is he commenting on his influence with the King of Israel and a recommendation to turn away Moab’s pleas?    Or maybe Isaiah is using his literary gifts to prophesy the near future with Moab.   I tend to think it is this latter explanation that fits the best.  When I think about it that way, it also makes the chapter seem more beautiful to me.  I could imagine that if it were written in our time, it might look something like this:


            To: The President of the United States

            From:  The Prime Minister of France

Dear Mr Presdent, As a servant of the people of France, I solemnly call upon the powers of the United States to protect us in a time of need … etc.


            To: The Prime Minister of France

            From:  The President of the United States

Dear Mr Prime Minister, We have heard about your country and the great pride and arrogance there.  Your lies have finally caught up to you and you will have to suffer the consequences.  We feel great sorrow for you and your people, and yet you must understand that you have brought the following terrible consequences upon yourself: (a poetic list of terrible consequences .. )

God’s analysis suggests that these calamities will come upon you in about three years, at which point you’ll be small enough that Luxemborg could probably give you a hand.


It is kind of fun to think about Isaiah 16 this way because it makes it easier to imagine how it would catch the attention of readers in ancient Israel.

On a spiritual note, I think the message of the chapter is clearly a warning against pride.   It is a national sin and the consequences are absolutely devastating.  If it is true that we ought to pay attention to the words of Isaiah, I think it is incumbent on us as citizens to take heed of this warning.  Israel didn’t, and look what happened to them.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Isaiah 15 - A prophet weeps

This short and depressing chapter has an interesting verse in it:


5 My heart shall cry out for Moab; …


I think we get a glimpse of how Isaiah feels on the inside about his prophetic calling.  These visions that pass before his eyes must be awful scenes indeed.  Moab may be suffering the wrath of a just God, but Isaiah probably feels as God does, willing to gather us under his wings if we would just repent and turn to him.  Isaiah clearly wishes for the redemption of Moab, but he weeps because of what he knows will happen.


I think that is a powerful thing to have a heart wide enough to have that kind of compassion for a foreign nation.  I pray I can develop that kind of love.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Isaiah 14 - The fate of Babylon

This chapter is like a capstone to the several previous chapters, illuminating promises from the Lord concerning the wicked and the righteous in the last days.   The first sentence in the chapter is very telling:

            For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob …

This is followed by a verse that was touching to me:

3 And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve

This is a nice continuation of a common theme throughout Isaiah:  the Lord may chastise us when we disobey, but his mercy is always extended to us if we repent and he is willing to forgive generously.  The result is that all will be made right and the condition of the righteous will be better than they imagined.

The most interesting part of the chapter to me was the poetic pronouncement against Babylon.  In some ways this is literal, but there is also a marvelous symbolic meaning in all of it that paints a picture to give us a clear perspective on Satan and his kingdom.  I will highlight some of the things I learned:

  • Satan’s Kingdom is Babylon – the world.  It will one day come to a complete end, swept clean with a broom of destruction, as Isaiah puts it. 
  • This kingdom is in appearance as a rich and mighty city and people will be astonished when it falls. 
  • One of the goals of Babylon is to fill the world with its cities.
  • Babylon is a waster of the natural resources of the Earth.  The very trees will sing with joy at its destruction.
  • The pride of Babylon is that it made itself to be greater than God, seeking all power, dominion, and glory.
  • Any gains that Babylon makes in this world will eventually be exposed as counterfeits.  When we see the end from the beginning, we will look upon Satan in astonishment.  We will see him in his final state and marvel that he ever could have had so much influence over the world.
  • Babylon and its ruler, the devil, will fall below all.  Even the earthly leaders of Babylon, who dwell in Hell, will be in a position lofty enough to see that it has fallen to the depths, and will be “trodden under [their] feet”

The Lord makes very clear in the chapters of Isaiah that he is against the Kingdom of Babylon, and his purpose to eventually cleanse the “whole Earth” of it.  One thing that really struck me as I was writing this is that it is important for us to face Babylon with faith and courage.  We often look at it fatalistically, believing that there is nothing we can do to stem the tide of evil that will sweep the earth.  I think we should look at it a different way.  Babylon is all smoke and mirrors and in the end it will fall completely and utterly.  Part of the reason it will fall is that people on the earth will choose the ways of the Lord and will enjoy his protection.  I believe we can therefore take courage against Babylon in the understanding that our personal choices for good have a real effect in the world and will eventually bring about the Lord’s designs.  We can be on the winning team!


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Isaiah 13 - The Burden of Babylon

The first phrase of this chapter really struck me: “The Burden of Babylon”   As I was reminded in a recent general conference address, Babylon can be thought of as a culture in which we are immersed in these last days.  It is all around us and it is intruding into our places of refuge through various kinds of media.   Satan tries very hard to make this culture look appealing.   It is sold to us in neat packages by beautiful, charming people who look happy and successful.  Their message is that we will be similarly beautiful, happy, and successful if we gratify our self-interest.   Isaiah’s vision is that this culture carries with it a terrible burden.  According to the footnotes, this burden “is a message of doom ‘lifted up’ against a people”. 

To summarize Isaiah, this message of doom to the wicked is as so:

  • The sanctified hosts of Israel will be against them. 
  • They will experience faint-heartedness, sorrow, amazement, and fear.
  • They will suffer destruction, desolation, darkness, and punishment accompanied by scenes of horror and bloodshed. This destruction will come from God and it will be a complete and utter destruction, as when “God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah”.

Satan leaves a lot of fine print out of his advertisements for Babylon!

Based on what I have read so far, I do not believe that the children of Israel were conscious of their decline- hence Isaiah’s very harsh language.  To support this idea, I reference 2 Nephi 1:13 in which a dying Lehi pleads with Laman and Lemuel to “wake up”:

13 O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. 

Likening the scriptures unto ourselves, I think we need to be extremely careful in evaluating our own lives.  We are warned in the scriptures of the deception of the “very elect”. *   I think it is important that we start with the assumption that we are to some extent deceived by the messages of Babylon.  This will put us in a position of humility that will allow us to approach God and ask him to help us see where we are weak.  When we ask God to show us these weaknesses, he will gladly do so and we will be on the right path.  Jesus highlighted the importance of this introspection when he told the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican:

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

            I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Again, we must be exceedingly careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that we are somehow better than others, or in thinking that it is someone else who needs to repent and not me. 

Lastly, I would like to call attention to some very interesting wording at the start of the chapter.  I’ll quote from 2 Nephi for these verses:

3 I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones, for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness.

4 The noise of the multitude in the mountains like as of a great people, a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together, the Lord of Hosts mustereth the hosts of the battle.

5 They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, yea, the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

The footnote on “sanctified ones” in Isaiah says that it is translated from a Hebrew word that is also translated as “Saints”.   If we understand the mountain to be a symbol of a temple, we can understand that the Lord will organize his hosts from the multitude who make and keep sacred covenants.   This would suggest that the “far country” mentioned in verse 5 refers to Zion, the pure in heart who have sanctified themselves through the grace of Christ and obedience to his commandments.  Interestingly, there does not seem to be a distinction between this world or the next when referring to these people.  There is more to say on that topic, but I think I will leave it there as food for thought. 

As I write this, I feel a spirit of peace within me that assures me of the truthfulness of Isaiah’s words.  I believe the day is not far distant when the Lord will come again with his hosts, both in heaven and in the Earth.  I hope we will be prepared and that we will be found among the “multitude in the mountains”. 



* The implication that the elect can be deceived is an interesting topic unto itself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Isaiah 12 - Short and sweet

This chapter provides a little break from the previous chapters which all include warnings for Israel.  Here is presented the bright future that awaits those who have repented and endured.  Notice in the first verse that we learn something important about the state of the righteous:

1 AND in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.

The righteous people described here have at some time in the past angered the Lord.  Their overflowing joy, as described in later verses comes because they are aware that God’s anger has been “turned away” from them and he has brought them peace of mind (comfort).  In the next verse, we learn who has turned away God’s anger:

2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

At face value, we read here that God has saved Israel from Himself.   It would appear then, that Isaiah is speaking of the God Head here, and of Jesus Christ’s role in answered the demands of Justice to the Father, effectively turning away His punishments against those who have willingly disobeyed Him (but have repented).  

I think Isaiah is aware at this point that his readers may not understand the significance of what Christ will do (has done) for us, for in the rest of the chapter he describes how the righteous will express their feelings at being saved in the kingdom of God:  Joy, praise, singing, crying, shouting…  This certainly makes me think about my own devotions.  As the Lord comes more and more into my life, the stronger my love will be for Him and the more I will want to praise him and teach others about him.

As one final thought, the words in verse three reminded me of the conference address by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.

3 Therefore with ajoy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

Here is a portion of Elder Wirthlin’s conference address.

The Savior taught that "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give . . . shall never thirst; [for it] shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."

Fully understood and embraced, the gospel of Jesus Christ heals broken hearts, infuses meaning into lives, binds loved ones together with ties that transcend mortality, and brings to life a sublime joy.

President Lorenzo Snow said, "The Lord has not given us the gospel that we may go around mourning all the days of our lives."

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a religion of mourning and gloom. The faith of our fathers is one of hope and joy. It is not a gospel of chains but a gospel of wings.

To embrace it fully is to be filled with wonder and to walk with an inner fire. Our Savior proclaimed, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Do you seek peace of mind?

Drink deeply of living waters.

Do you seek forgiveness? Peace? Understanding? Joy?

Drink deeply of living waters.

I look forward to a day when we will all sing aloud together about the mercies of the Lord.  A day when we will all live together in joy, because He will be in our midst.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Isaiah 11 - Lions, tigers, and bears...

The part of this chapter that gave me the most reflection was the poetry describing the state of things during the millennial reign of Christ:

6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the dearth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

There are some literal interpretations of this passage that relate it to the state of animal life in the millenium.  I don’t know whether actual lions will munch on grass with cattle- that whole picture seems strange to me.  Perhaps that will happen, but given the dual nature of many of the symbols of the scriptures, I think we can also apply these symbols to understanding the nature of man during the millennium.  There are all sorts of creatures here- wolves, bears, lambs, leopards, baby goats, calves, lions, fatlings, children, babies, snakes, etc.    Some are predators, some are prey, some are helpless, some are powerful.   But in the last days, none shall “hurt nor destroy in all [God’s] holy mountain”.   The first thing this means to me is that the concerns for the physical and spiritual safety for our families we have now will no longer be something to worry about when Christ is here.  The second thing that comes to mind, and this is pretty much conjecture on my part, is that while there is peace, there will still be the different kinds of people that there are today.  i.e.: Wolves, lions, leopards, snakes, etc. will still exist, but they will live peacefully, harmless to their fellow man.   It think this may say something interesting and subtle about the binding of Satan in the Millenium.   

The next thing that I think is significant is the reason that we will be able to live in this peaceful state:   “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea”.  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures in the Old Testament:

Jeremiah 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

When I ponder this, I think about the troubles that exist today, both inside the church (brothers) and outside the church (neighbors).  I think about how much effort is required to teach the principles of the gospel over and over again.  These principles are an invitation to come unto Christ, to know him.   I think this is meant to help us understand that knowing God is a whole lot more than knowing about Him.  I believe a sign that we truly know God is that we live in complete peace and harmony with our fellow beings.  No stealing or plundering of course, but also no slandering or gossiping, with a genuine measure of heartfelt kindness, patience, and forgiveness.  I heard a church leader say the job of a priesthood holder is to build others up.  I therefore think that the process of coming to know God goes hand in hand with the process of learning to be generous, kind, cheerful, and optimistic. 

May we all live in such a way that the world is better off because we are in it.



Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Isaiah 10: Tools that boast

Verses 1-4 of Isaiah 10 repeat a theme that has shown up a few times already in the first part of Isaiah:  One of the hallmarks of the unrighteous is that unrighteous are not just, especially toward the poor an needy.  This thought impresses upon me a lot and causes me to reflect on the attitude of the rich toward poverty.  There is lots of talk, but there are still poor and the poor are still being exploited by the rich.  At this point I should ask myself:  where am I in this picture? 

The Lord’s warning to the people who practice this kind of injustice is pretty stern:  What are you going to do when I show up?  You won’t have me to rely on, which means that it will be worse for you that being a prisoner or being dead. 

And then, of course, this marvelous phrase:  “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.”  You are still going to have to suffer the consequences, but any time you want to change your ways and come back to me, I’m there for you.

Verses 5-19 are pretty confusing at the start, but they are easier to understand as I read along.  It sounds like the Lord is explaining the way that he is working here.   He is going to use the heathen nations to punish Israel for unrighteousness.  And then when his work is completed, he will then destroy the wicked who have unwittingly done his work because they do not acknowledge him.   I love this verse especially:

15 Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.

In the end, the Lord’s work is going to get done, and it will be done with His help and involvement.  We are all but instruments in the Lord’s grand design whether we realize it or not.  The ones who please the Lord are the ones who realize that they are the tool and not the wielder. 

In the rest of the chapter we learn some interesting things about the last days.  First, there is going to be a tremendous amount of destruction.  And out of the midst of it, a few of Israel will be left:

22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

23 For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.

The key to our salvation in the last days is found this very interesting verse:

27 And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

The footnotes on “anointing” take us to the topic of “Messiah” in the topical guide.  The Messiah means the “anointed one”. While the Savior is the anointed one, we too may also be anointed.  This is spoken of in the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenentants.  I will leave these quotes for the reader to study and ponder: 

1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him bideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

D&C 109:80 And let these, thine anointed ones, be clothed with salvation, and thy saints shout aloud for joy. Amen, and Amen.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Isaiah 9 - Joy from darkness

As I read in Isaiah 9 this week, I was touched by the following passage, which I am quoting from 2 Nephi because there is a significant change in the wording:


2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.


This is really an amazing theme to me, and it illustrates to my mind the brilliance of God’s plan for us.  The path to travel in this plan is often what would seem be the direction exactly opposite of our self-interest.  Who could imagine that a people in their darkest hour and greatest extremity could have joy likened to those who have just received a great bounty?  Who would imagine that extreme hardship and difficulty lead to enlightenment?  And most of all, who would imagine that a God whom we have offended would remain patient through the millennia, with His “hand, stretched out still?” 

I was impressed one day as I was studying this chapter to turn to the last chapters of Luke and read the account of the atonement there.  I started with the last supper, and read through to the end when Jesus ascended into heaven.  In one part, he is on the road talking with disciples heading to Emmaus.  They are sad, for they too, are having difficult comprehending the plan of salvation for them.  It isn’t something logical that they can figure out.  The Lord rebukes them and begins to recite the prophets who have prophesied of His mission, and of how these things must be.  “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”  He goes on like this for a while and they still don’t know who it is that is talking with them until they invite him in to eat.   He sits down with them, blesses the break and breaks it.  At that moment their eyes are opened.

As I read that passage, I realized that the disciples must have remembered the last supper just a few days earlier when Christ had originally blessed bread and broke it in front of them.  That was a remarkable thought for me, because it makes the symbolism of the sacrament more beautiful.  I hope that my eyes will also be opened each week when I have a chance to partake of the broken bread. 

So the feeling I am left with at the end of this reading is how exceedingly merciful the Lord is to us.   As a people, we have been constantly forgetting him and transgressing his laws for all of history, but though he may punish us and withdraw his protection, he is ever willing to gather us in if we want it.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Isaiah 8 - Odd ducks and Familar spirits

I’d like to start off with an amusing observation:

I think it is extremely cool that each of Isaiah’s sons have names that are prophecies.  One thing that I am gleaning from the chapters I have read so far is that Isaiah was probably an odd duck.  I could just imagine Isaiah going to see King Ahaz as mentioned in last week’s chapter:


Servant:  Highness, you have a visitor.
Ahaz:  Who is it?
Servant:  (pause)  Isaiah.
Ahaz:  *Sigh*  Send him in.


Like Isaiah, let us not be ashamed of the gospel and let us live it in every way that we can, throwing ourselves into the service of the Lord.


Now, a comment about this passage (quoted from 2 Nephi):


19 And when they shall say unto you: Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter—should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead?
20 To the law and to the testimony; and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them


There is a lot I could say about this passage, but I think I will narrow it down to this thought:   At heart we are spiritual beings and we are surrounded by a world of spirits.  Some are good, some are evil, and all of them are interested in and associated with this world.  As we go through life we will have much contact with those on the other side of the veil whether we realize or not.  Most of us, I think, understand the importance of communication with those in the spirit realm.  Many of us seek after these communications in an improper way- through mediums and such.   Isaiah’s criticism of spiritualists of this sort is not that spiritual communication itself is sham, it is just that spiritual communication of this sort should be had by seeking unto God. 

If we are to fulfill our destiny in Zion, we need to be a spiritual people.  We should be open to and actually seek for any and all communication that the Lord will be willing to give us.  For otherwise, how can we believe that God will “yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God?” 

May we all seek for greater things, and point our minds heavenward, that we may, as the prophets have promised, be privy to the majesty and the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Isaiah 7 - Politics will not save you


In the first part of Isaiah 7 is an interesting and poetic description of the dire circumstances Judah is in at the commencement of the reign of Ahaz.   They are being attacked by the Northern tribes (Israel) and have just gotten wind of an alliance between Israel and Assyria.   Judah is understandably on edge about this development and I think we can assume that Ahaz is considering some plans of his own to remedy the situation, perhaps a similar alliance with an outside nation. 

Isaiah is sent to give this heavenly advice to Ahaz:  Be still.  Yes, the situation looks dire at the moment, but don’t put your trust in political alliances, because this one with Assyria will be a disaster.  And moreover, because I really want you know that it is the Lord that is telling you this, I’ll throw in a sign for free. 

Interestingly, Ahaz refuses the sign, I might have thought this a noble thing to do, but clearly the Lord is displeased that Ahaz is ignoring his councel. 

The thing that interests me about this account is that it has direct application to my own life and my own battles with the things that beset me.    We may think that we are relying on the Lord, but the real test is when the opposition gets stiff.  If we are relying on the arm of flesh, a crisis will cause us to drop all pretenses of relying on God and we will cling fully to the other sources we actually trust.  It’s like being adrift at sea with a life preserver.  We might casually hold on to it when the seas are calm, but when the storm comes, we will find ourselves clinging to the thing that we really think will save us.  In the case of Ahaz, he thought that political strategy and alliances would save Judah.  He and the kings after him were wrong about that in spite of many dire warnings from the Lord’s servants.    We are in a similar position.   We see the outside forces of the world encroaching in on us, making alliances that make them appear ever stronger and more persuasive.  It is tempting to let go of our faith at these times and rely on our own reasoning and understanding and ability to save us.  For example, we may be worried about making a living, so we start working on Sundays, or our concern for success and social status may cause us to give up time for family and prayer or We may want a comfortable retirement so we put off children.  Worse still, perhaps we put off repentance until we are “ready”. 

The Lord’s message to me is:  “Trust in Me.”  Even though armies are combining against you, trust that I will deliver you.  Don’t turn to the world for deliverance, because if you do, your personal desolation will be terrible.   I’ve seen the Lord working in my life enough to know that this is true.  It helps my faith to see that this has ever been God’s advice from age to age through all history. 



Friday, May 05, 2006

Isaiah 6 - Dominion

Yesterday when I was riding the bus and opening up my scriptures to reread this week’s Isaiah chapter, I had a thought come to me that I’ve had a few times now. It is basically a feeling that I won’t get much out of the chapter I am studying because the symbols seem too obtuse to understand or I am too distant from Isaiah to apply these words in my life. Yet again, however, I was amazed at how a little quiet reflection turned this handful of verses into something really remarkable.

First, let me start with a little summary of what is happening in this chapter:

Verses 1-4 Isaiah sees the Lord in vision
Verse 5 He laments at his sinful and unworthy state.
Verses 6-7 Isaiah is forgiven (which bolsters his confidence)
Verses 8-10 He voluntarily takes on a ministry as a prophet
Verses 11-12 He feels sorrow for the sins of the world
Verse 13 A hopeful promise from God about Israel’s return to righteousness

Compare this pattern with what we find in the story of Enos:

Enos, aware of his sins, supplicates the Lord
His sins are forgiven (which amazes him)
He immediately shows concern for his brethren
The Lord makes hopeful promises about their return to righteousness
He voluntarily takes on a ministry as a prophet

The congruence is remarkable to me and I feel like there is something to learn from these accounts. So, I hope you will indulge me here, because these two passages remind me of one of the sayings of Jesus that is reported in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. It is not from the standard works but I feel like there is truth to it and it also corresponds to Isaiah’s experience.

Jesus said: He who seeks,
let him not cease seeking until he finds;
and when he finds he will be troubled,
and when he is troubled he will be amazed,
and he will reign over the All.

Here again is the pattern of seeking the Lord, realizing our sin, obtaining forgiveness, and then receiving a dominion. This in turn takes me to a very interesting scripture in D&C 121:45-46

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Looking at that verse in context, we see that the dominion of the priesthood as described here is not at all like an earthly dominion. This dominion (or I would also say “influence”) is not exercised by force or coercion. It is exercised by love, patience, persuation, etc. I used to think that “without compulsory means” meant that people would follow you without compulsion, but after reading the above citations, I am beginning to think it applies more to the person receiving the dominion. God does not force our callings upon us. He may pull us forcefully back from the brink, but he will never compel us to do good. It comes as invitation and it comes as a result of the purity that is achieved through forgiveness. As we continue to purify ourselves, more responsibility and influence will flow unto us and we will assume it willingly.

One more thing that I wanted to share about what I read: I really loved the symbolism of the coal touching the lips to make Isaiah pure. The coal was brought from the Alter in the Lord’s house. It must therefore be the remnant of a burnt offering. In my mind, the coal then logically represents the grace and the power that were the result of the Lord’s sacrifice for us all. The touching of the coal to the lips represents to me the acute pain that comes through the repentance process, and yet it is momentary and it is cleansing. The hallmark of it is that we will feel confident in the presence of God, just as Enos and Isaiah did.

Reading this chapter has increased my testimony of the scriptures and of the power of God to cleanse us from sin. I feel exceedingly grateful for what I have read this week and what the Lord has given me.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thoughts on unity

I’ve been having some discussions with friends on the unity of our nation and how the state of things today does not bode well. We are increasingly divided on issues all over the political spectrum. The issue of immigration brings to the forefront some of the key issues and I’ve read some opinions that are very thought provoking. One of them is on a friend’s blog, complete with an excellent quote from Teddy Roosevelt.

When we talk about unity and immigration, I think it is worthwhile to consider that we are all emmigrating to another nation of great importance, which we term as “The Kingdom of God”. Immigrants to that kingdom will not get to enjoy citizenship there until they, of their own free will, conform to the laws and customs of that kingdom. It is a melting pot in the most perfect sense, where a wide range of God’s children come together to be unified in a most perfect way. As Jesus put it: “That they may be one as we are.” (John 17:11) It seems unlikely that Jesus wanted the saints to merge together into a formless, identity-less mass of … something. Rather he wanted them to come together into a perfect union of thought and will. When we see as God sees, we will be alike in our determination to love and lift all those around us. When we know as God knows, contention in all its ugliness will disappear.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Isaiah 5 - What the Lord has done for His vineyard

Isaiah 5 is a pretty big chapter and full of lots of interesting things.   I feel like I could write a few posts about the things I was getting from it, but I will just touch on a few.

I love the poetry in the first four verses.  It makes me want to cry:  In particular I want to point out verses 2 and 4:


And he fenced it,
and gathered out the stones thereof,
and planted it with the choicest vine,
and built a tower in the midst of it,
and also made a winepress therein:
and he looked that it should bring forth grapes,
and it brought forth wild grapes.

What could have been done more to my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes,
brought it forth wild grapes?


Indeed, what more could God have done?  Here is how I interpret what the Lord did:


gathered out the stones – removed those people who would not hear the word
planted it with the choicest vine – raised up righteous people to start things out
built a tower in the midst of it – built a temple for the people
made a winepress therein – established the priesthood


Of course, the Lord has done the same things for us in our day.  Will we bring forth wild grapes? 


This poetry continues through the chapter to verse 13:


Therefore my people are gone into captivity,
because they have no knowledge:
and their honourable men are famished,
and their multitude dried up with thirst.


Predictably, the footnote on knowledge refers to “the knowledge of God”.  I think we can assume, as in Christ’s time, that there were plenty of Jews who knew the scriptures.  I think the “honourable men” spoken of here are like the Pharisees in Christ’s day- they were well-read in the law, they knew all about what the scriptures said about God.  We must assume, then, that knowledge of God is not simply knowing about Him, because that was common.  No, it must be a personal and intimate knowledge.    Isaiah is saying, “you guys think you know what’s what, but really you don’t know anything, and you are like prisoners, like people who are starving”. 


Isaiah continues this wake-up theme in verse 20:


Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!


It seems crazy that people would do this, especially people who should know better, but it really happens, and the people who are guilty of it often do not think that they are.  Nephi had similar language with his brothers.  He and Lehi were constantly trying to get them to wake up to what was really happening.   The message I get from Isaiah is that I need to always be on guard with myself and make sure the subtle philosophies of the devil don’t twist my thinking in a similar way.  I believe the key is daily, sincere prayer and mediation. 


Now to end on a positive note, I will proffer verse 25:


Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people,
and he hath stretched forth his hand against them,
and hath smitten them:
and the hills did tremble,
and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger is not turned away,
but his hand is stretched out still.


I gather from this that the Lord, following the pattern of the priesthood, is showing forth greater love to those whom he has chastised.  He may be angry with us, but he still loves us and His hand is ready to offer help at the moment we choose to have it.  I believe this is the case because for the rest of the chapter, we see the mighty prophesies of Isaiah concerning the blessings, power, and majesty that will be afforded to the righteous, who will be gathered by the mercy of God. 


Let me just say that I love the words of Isaiah.   The spirit continually bears witness to me of the truth of them and it is a joy to read them and write my thoughts.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Isaiah 4 - Seven women and one man

I spent a lot of time pondering the first verse of Isaiah 4:


And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.


It sounds pretty salacious at first blush, but I feel Isaiah is trying to say something profound, so I will try to dig deeper:


And in that day

This chapter is a continuation of chapter 3 where “that day” refers to the time(s) when the Jews (Isreal) will be scourged and suffer the consequences of their disobedience and pride.  I believe “that day” also refers to a time hence when the Lord will purify his kingdom through fire, as is mentioned in verse 4:


When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.


seven women

Isaiah uses women as a metaphor for the weak.  They are the ones left after the great and mighty have been taken away and/or killed.  I think we can also assume that we are talking about the remnants of Israel and not necessarily all of the world.


shall take hold of one man,

conversely, the man is used a metaphor of the strong.  Verse 3 seems to indicate that the “man” refers to those who keep themselves unspotted from the world and keep their covenants:


And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:


To “take hold” indicates, I think, the earnestness of the plea.  These ladies know exactly what they want and they are determined to get it.


saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel:

The motive will not be for food or clothing, even though Zion should have plenty of that.  The weak will recognize the spiritual integrity of Zion, that that is what they will yearn for, not simply to be fed and clothed as often seen in times of disaster.  I think they will recognize that it is not a hand-out that they want, but rather the ability to prosper in the way that Zion does, as mentioned in verse 2:


In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.


only let us be called by thy name,

When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the name of Christ.  So in other words, this could be rephrased as “let us be called by the name of Christ.”   The weak will recognize that it is association with the true church that provides the spiritual power they seek.    They will want to be united with it, presumably through baptism and repentance.


to take away our reproach.

Reproach means “an expression of rebuke or disapproval”.   The remnants of Israel will come to understand that God has been unhappy with them because of the detour they have taken from righteousness.  They will feel the shame of it and that will be their motive for coming back into the fold.



As I think about what I have written here, I feel like there are two ways that I can (and should) take this:  First, I aught to realize that as a sinner, I am one of the weak.  I should strive to be aware of where God may disapprove of what I do and seek to repent.  I should also seek after righteousness and seek after the name of Christ.  My motives should not be any of the worldy motives of prestige or wealth, they should be the pure motives of peace and prosperity through living by covenants, the desire to have the Lord be my protector and my light.


Second, I think should also understand that these prophecies paint a picture of the day in which I am living and the role that I can play in the Lords plan.  There will be pure in heart and I can be one of them.  There will be those who are escaped from the world and they will be the rescuers of the residue of Israel.  This is our task in the last days.



Friday, April 07, 2006

Isaiah 3 - The sins of Israel

This chapter reads like poetry with all of its visual metaphors.  One of the verses that impresses itself most on my mind is because of the striking visual images it describes:


24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of ca stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.


The interesting thing I learned from the footnotes is that “burning” in this verse is in reference to being branded as a slave.  The Lord is warning Israel of their fate if they do not repent: destruction, poverty, and slavery.  I supposed we can take that to be in both the spiritual and temporal sense.

I am always interested in the “why” question.  Why will the calamities prophesied come upon Israel? Here are the verses in this chapter that seem to answer that:


8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of his glory.

9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.

14 The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.

15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

16 Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:


My interpretation yields the following list of grievances against Israel:


-          The things they say and do are not in harmony with the gospel. (they are hypocrites)

-          They are open in their sinfulness, which is comparable to the sins of Sodom.

-          Instead of caring for the poor, they take from the poor to enrich themselves

-          The rising generation is not humble and indulges in self-adornment and the appearance of wealth.


One of the most insidious things about sin is how subtle it comes upon us and how it justifies itself.   I believe Isaiah wrote such clear and scathing rebukes because he wanted the people to wake up to what was really going on.  Think about it- nobody walks out their front door in the morning saying, “G’Bye dear!  I’m off to grind the faces of the poor!”    Instead, we gradually and incrementally heap upon ourselves treasures and possessions because we “need” them, or even because we want them and feel like we deserve them, not realizing that this selfish behavior is making the situation of the poor worse.    In the mean time, the Lord is looking down on this in disappointment, so he speaks through his prophet and says something to the effect of, “why are you doing this?   Can’t you see the poor among you?  Why aren’t you lifting them up and blessing them the same way I am blessing you?” 



These thoughts weigh a lot on my mind because it makes me think seriously about the differences in my standard of living and that of others.   I have to ask myself seriously if the Lord is happy with what I am doing with the great blessings and wealth he is giving me.    I can’t help but think this is the design of Isaiah, to get us to think about these uneasy questions.



Monday, April 03, 2006

Isaiah 2 - The folly of relying on the arm of flesh

Isaiah starts this chapter by addressing it to those in the house of Isreal on the Earth during the last days.  He then issues this plea (quoting from 2 Nephi 12):


5 O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.


That is quite a broad stroke to paint the children of Israel.  The phrase “all gone astray”, I think, is intended to cause every one of us to ponder seriously what is being said here and liken these scriptures to ourselves.  The verses in this chapter that caused me the most pondering were these (again quoted from Nephi):


6 Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and hearken unto soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.

8 Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.

9 And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.


As I pondered these accusations, I thought about how to interpret them, looking at the various meanings of the words and this is how I interpret these things for myself:


God has stopped interacting with us and helping us, his people, because:

-          We seek after strange philosophies and useless knowledge

-          We try to understand and prepare for the future by consulting people with specialized knowledge, such as analysts and gurus

-          We consume entertainment from public celebrities that we don’t know

-          We are surrounded and immersed in wealth and the symbols of wealth

-          We place too much emphasis on possessing items of utility- cars, machines, etc.

-          We make (or buy) objects and then devote ourselves to them.

-          Both the poor and the rich lack humilty


Flipping this around is an interesting exercise.  Here is the opposite of the above interpretation:


God will come to me and be a part of my life when:

-          I seek after revealed truth and knowledge from the “best books

-          I prepare for the future by listening to seers and seeking revelation of God

-          I seek entertainment and pleasure through association with friends and family

-          I stop fretting about money choose not to lavishly adorn myself and my surroundings

-          I treat the useful objects and machines that I buy not as status symbols, but as the tools they are.

-          I Give my time and wealth to people who need it rather than to the rich and famous, or to any thing that might catch my fancy.

-          I envy not those who have more than me, give to those who have less, and always remain grateful for what I have received.


Some of this stuff is pretty hard and takes a measure of faith because we have to let go of something we are probably clinging to.  I can think of more than a few things already that I struggle with.  But then there is this great verse at the end of the chapter, and I totally love it for the poetry:


22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?


Of what use is relying on the arm of flesh?  It is pure folly, yet I do it all the time and it is a constant temptation.  There are a few things in particular I know I can do better now which relate directly to my fear of people.  I will face my fears and take stand in favor of the Lord even though I am afraid.