Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Gifts of the Spirit

I recently read an interesting talk about the gifts of the spirit by Elder Kim B. Clark where he talked at length about the gifts of the spirit.   There were a few things that impressed me with what he wrote.  First, he emphasized how gifts of the sprit should be sought after.  We should qualify for them, ask for them, and then use them in faith.  Consider these scriptures:

1 Cor. 14: 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the cedifying of the church.

1 Ne. 10: 17  … I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, …

D&C 46: 8  Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;

Second, he talked about what some of the greatest gifts are.  When we think of spiritual gifts, we tend to think of the charismatic gifts such as healing or the gift of toungues.   But compare those gifts, and their power to edify, vs. the follow list:


·         Charity

·         Discernment

·         a desire to serve

·         empathy

·         kindness

·         cheerfulness

·         seeing the best in people

·         an interest in other people

·         remembering names



·         humility

·         meekness

·         modesty

·         living within our means

·         a forgiving spirit

·         not caring who gets the credit

·         listening to the enticings of the Spirit

·         not feeling entitled

·         seeing ourselves as we really are



·         an honest

·         obedient heart

·         a willingness to sacrifice

·         dedication

·         patience

·         diligence

·         a capacity to work hard

·         a sense of responsibility


Learning by faith

·         exceedingly great faith

·         courage

·         listening by the Spirit

·         teaching by the Spirit

·         asking and seeking by the Spirit

·         charity

·         guidance

·         understanding

·         knowledge


Going back to my first thought, consider this pattern for  seeking spiritual gifts:

1)      Qualify through righteousness

2)      Ask for the gifts (with a pure motives)

3)      Step out in faith that you may receive

4)      Receive through using the gifts to bless others (cheerfully)

I read this and think “No wonder this is the straight and narrow path”.   There are many places where we could go wrong here-     Personally, I yearn for this kind of power in my life, but I can see areas where I’m defeating myself, holding back.    This reminds me of what Mormon said on this topic:

it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

I think we sometimes look among ourselves and wonder where the gifts are, especially in our own lives.   When I look at my own life, I have to ask this question:  Can I expect the gifts to come if I rationalize what I watch or listen to, or if I don’t ask for the gifts, or if I don’t step out and take a risk?   


Monday, December 01, 2008

Isaiah 40: Highway Construction

I like the opening to this chapter, which says, essentially, “Cheer up Jerusalem, you’ve suffered more than enough”.   

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Maybe this is meant as a temporary reprieve for the Jews of that day, but certainly their trials were just beginning.    It is only in the last days (our day) that this salutation will be realized in full.

 Verses 3-5 contain a very interesting reference to the 2nd coming that I want to discuss. 

3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

As I slowed down to contemplate these verses, the image of highway construction came to my mind.     I remember many family trips through the west and observing how highways were built.  In order to smooth out the travel on the highway, engineers would literally flatten hills and fill in valleys to make the road level.  They would also take care to run the roads in the straightest way possible.  Finally, they would construct the surface from asphalt to make it flat and ideal for the cars which travel on it at high speeds.    Though some of the details may be different, I’m sure the basic idea was the same in Isaiah’s day.  I’ll return to this metaphor in a moment.

Verse 3 speaks of one crying in the wilderness.  We know from Matthew 3:3 and 1 Nephi 10:8 that this refers John the Baptist.  Joseph Smith, however, also delivers the commandment to “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” in D&C 65.    John the Baptist raised the cry before the first coming.   Joseph Smith before the second.    I think we can safely assume, therefore, that this commandment is directed toward us.  And what is this commandment?    To make the way of the Lord like unto a highway.  Verse 4 is a continuation of this thought, declaring “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”

Now consider the highway metaphor again.  If we are to build a highway, would that not involve lowering mountains, raising valleys, making crooked paths straight, and rough places plain?    A highway indicates something that is easy to travel on because it is a clear path that is safe and built up.    The way of the Lord is a way of living, a way of thinking, a way of interacting with God.  Within ourselves, this becomes a highway as we internalize the teachings of Jesus Christ, turning precepts into good habits.  As we pray always, it becomes easier to pray because of the habit, and so on.   Externally, we make a highway by building up Zion, following the prophet, and being obedient as a people.  Others who do not have the gospel can then see clearly the way and can easily follow it once they decide to get on the road.    As I look at the organization of the church today, I can see that happening already.  Think of how much easier it is for a person to discover the gospel and learn correct precepts today than it was in Joseph Smith’s time.  We have a vast array of resources from printed scriptures, satellite broadcasts, internet sites, plentiful meeting houses and temples,   programs, etc.   Given that we have to retain our agency, I can’t think of a way to make it easier for God’s children to follow the path.  It is strange to relate that even with such a clear path, many still choose to ignore it.   Such is the way of agency.

In verses 6-8, Isaiah himself receives a command to cry to the people.  He asks, “what shall I cry?”    The answer, paraphrased, is this:  All this material world around us, it’s nothing.  All the things that people create and adore are all temporary, just like their makers.  Everything will eventually decay and go away except one thing:  the word of God.  – This is a powerful message in our day, where we have probably the most materialistic society of all time.

The above thought is echoed in verses 18-27 in a wonderful way.   After describing how great God is, how all the nations of the world are like a little drop in a bucket to Him, The Lord asks (paraphrasing), “So, what are you going to compare God to?  What is he like?  Some of you try to create fancy statues of God covered with gold and silver.  Even the poor people who don’t have precious things search around for a great piece of wood and have it carved into an image of God.   Don’t you guys get it?  Haven’t you been hearing what I’ve been saying??  Look at the Earth!  Look at the sky!  God made all of that!  Look at the kings and princes.  Who do you think put them there?  Who do you think can take them out whenever he wants?   How can you possibly think that god is like this pathetic thing you have created?“  

In our day, we don’t make graven images so much as we admire our gadgets, vehicles, homes, clothing, furniture, etc.    We celebrate and devote hours to the latest device only to throw it on the garbage heap in few years.  In the mean time, we ignore the grand world of nature all around us, where each simple leaf dwarfs the complexity and craftsmanship of anything man has made.  

In verses 27-31, Isaiah continues by describing God again, saying how it is impossible to completely understand him.  He also gives here at the end probably the most paradoxical and marvelous attribute of God.   His joy is in giving strength to the weak and the powerless who wait upon him.   Basically, God loves the underdog!    He loves taking simple, obedient people and using them to confound the learned and the great.   If there was just one attribute that would make me adore God, I think this one would be it. 




Monday, September 22, 2008

Isaiah 39: The Pitfall of Vanity

The story of Hezekiah reaches a melancholy conclusion in Isaiah chapter 39.  It is now the time after Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery and apparently everyone knows about it, because a prince of Babylon sends an embassage to communicate congratulations.    A delighted Hezekiah takes in the servants from Babylon and proceeds to show off his riches, leaving nothing out of the grand tour.   Babylon, an enemy of Assyria, is likely anxious to make an ally with Israel and has seized upon this opportunity to do so.   This must have been a big deal for Hezekiah, who at that point in time was basically the king of a little-regarded city-state.    In today’s terms, this visit would be something akin to a high-level Chinese official visiting the Mayor of Provo.   Imagine the pride that would be felt in a middle-sized city to know that a great nation is paying attention to them.   I think we can empathize with Hezekiah, who sees opportunity in an alliance with Babylon and probably did not want to appear weak and insignificant. 

Nevertheless, Hezekiah’s actions were ostentatious and prideful, prompting a visit from the prophet.    Isaiah begins gently, giving Hezekiah a chance to see what he did wrong-  “Where did these guys come from?  What did they say to you?”    Hezekiah replies they are from Babylon.  Isaiah continues- “What did you show them?”   Hezekiah replies that he showed them everything.    Now comes the rebuke-  “God says this to you:  one day all of this will be theirs, and all your sons will be eunuchs in the palace of Babylon.”  Whoa

The message here is that pure irony is in store for those who seek security in the world’s goods.   If we seek our security in things, in the acquiring of them and in the showing of them to earn the envy of others, we can be sure that one day they will all be taken from us.  What will come of our security then?    Only those who delight in the things of God will find lasting security and satisfaction. 

Lest we think too poorly of Hezekiah for this indiscretion, I think it helps to know that he was humbled by Isaiah’s words, admitting that they were “good”, and finding solace in the fact that a few years of peace were left to him.   I also don’t think it was this single act that doomed Israel, but rather I think the act was symbolic of the spiritual disease that was still present in the people, and it was this progressive problem that led to their capture and enslavement.    Hezekiah (and all Judah) had been granted a reprieve by the Lord their God.    Yet how quickly they forgot.   As soon as they started to see a little worldly success, they forgot their priorities.    And that is the final lesson from Hezekiah:  Don’t forget your priorities.  As big and important as the world seems, it is not nearly as important as the seemingly simple things of God.  Let us make room for them and give the Lord our top priority.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Isaiah 38: A plea and an answer

This chapter continues the narrative of Hezekiah.  He is very sick and Isaiah confronts him with his impending death and bids him set his house in order.  Hezekiah immediately begins a very plaintive prayer, weeping and asking the Lord to remember his faithfulness.    In answer, the Lord reveals to Isaiah that Hezekiah will live another 15 years and that Jerusalem will survive, and he even promises a sign to assure Hezekiah that this will happen.  The remainder of the chapter is a psalm of Hezekiah, praising God for his miraculous delivery.

To me, this is an excellent lesson and testimony on the effectiveness of sincere prayer.   The first point to notice is the desire of Hezekiah’s heart.   He was not sad about dying because he was afraid of death, or for the missing of the joys and pleasures of this life.  He was deeply sad because he loved to serve the Lord and he didn’t want to be released from his calling.   The sore weeping and pleading show the magnitude of this desire.  The fact that he was willing to entreat the Lord in this manner, presumably in the presence of Isaiah, shows the incredible sincerity and faith possessed by Hezekiah.    Truly the Lord grants unto the children of men according to their desires.

The next point is that even though a prophet came to Hezekiah and foretold his imminent demise, Hezekiah still asked for a reprieve and he got it!  This kind of thing can be found throughout the scriptures.  Some notable examples are Abraham’s pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18,  Enos’ request for the salvation of the Lamanites in The Book of Enos, and the sealing powers granted to Elijah, Nephi, and others.  It appears that in some instances, the Lord is ready to do one thing, but because of the pleadings of his righteous children, he does another.   It fascinates me how intertwined the Lord’s purposes are with the desires and wills of his own children.  As a father myself, I should take note!




Monday, July 07, 2008

Fasting Days 12-15

I finished winding down from my fast on Friday and resumed my normal diet.    For the final days, I kept my diet strictly vegetarian, but it was a mixture of cooked and raw vegetables.     My strength has largely returned, though I still feel a tinge of muscular weakness.   My weight snapped back somewhat (as expected), but remains about 5-6 lbs lower than when I started.   My intestinal tract has taken some time to readjust to normal food consumption.   There has been some discomfort, but it has been mild.  Finally, I had my regular monthly fast yesterday and I noticed that it was much easier for me than what I have been accustomed to. 

General impressions

I would say that my overall feelings of health are good and largely unchanged from when I began.   I have noticed that psychologically I am much more sensitive to what I am eating, and it is easier to have smaller helpings of meat and dairy.   Mentally, the only difference I could really notice is that I started feeling fogged out after 72 hours of fasting. 

I have to say that these results a pretty lackluster and I doubt I will attempt such a long fast again.    I’m still a fan of shorter (1-day) fasts, however, and I recommend using a raw food diet to prepare for one, as it largely eliminates discomfort from hunger. 

That’s about it.  Please let me know if any of this information is helpful to you!


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fasting: Days 9-11

A few hours after I wrote my previous post, my energy level went right off a cliff.   I started getting dizzy spells if I stood up too quickly and could detect that my ability to concentrate was waning.   Since I was planning on heading to work the next day, I decided to switch to a juice fast and I drank a glass of orange juice before I went to bed.

Monday, Day 9:   I continued to drink juice throughout the day, including orange juice, grape juice, and even some V8.   My energy was extremely low all day and my ability to do meaningful work was significantly impaired.   The juice would help with the energy, but the effects would be short-lived.   I decided that today I would break my fast since I needed to be alert when I drive and at work, so tonight I picked up the ingredients of a rice & bean & vegetable Indian soup and made that for dinner.   It was delicious, though I found my appetite was very low.

Tuesday, Day 10:  I tried to eat my regular breakfast of raw oats, millet, and walnuts, but it found that I had very little appetite in the morning, so I only ate maybe a third of a bowl.   I ate some lightly cooked vegetables for lunch and that was much better.   I was more alert today, but I still felt myself physically weak and moving around slowly.     For dinner I had some of the soup from yesterday and an artichoke.   My appetite had returned by then.

Wednesday, Day 11:  I’m feeling much better this morning and my muscles are showing only a small amount of weakness.  I’ve gained back 2.5 lbs from my low point, putting me down about ten pounds overall.  I expect to gain back 2-3 more over the next week.  


Generally, I’ve been OK with how I’ve been feeling, but  I was way more wiped out at the end of the fast than I anticipated.   I think I could have done all five days if my activity levels had been lower and if I didn’t have to go to work toward the end.    Next time I try this I’ll make sure to take a couple of days off from work.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fasting: Days 4-8

Fasting Preparations Wrap Up

Days 4 & 5 were that last days of my five-day preparation for the actual fasting. I fudged a little on the raw food diet when I went to lunch with some friends and ate some vegetarian dishes with only cooked vegetables in them, and also when I ate some sprouted wheat and zucchini in spaghetti sauce which had been heated in a microwave. I figured these were OK exceptions since they had no dairy or meat in them. For my last meal, I ate some Chinese-style vegetables which were extremely satisfying and delicious. I've included the recipe below. My weight loss leveled out on these last two days.

The Actual Fasting

Friday was the first day of fasting and it went pretty normally. I didn't have any food or drink until I had been at it for 24 hours. I fast like this at least once per month and I didn't experience any discomfort. The only sad thing was that there was a big party at work on Friday afternoon with lots of delicious food and I had to go home without having any. L

Saturday was an interesting day. I began drinking plenty and I felt good enough to take part in a couple of projects. The first project was to help a neighbor move out of his apartment. That was pretty light work that lasted about an hour. Of course, my neighbor brought donuts for everyone to enjoy. That was sad, but I let my son eat mine. He ended up feeling sick later because he ate three! My next project was much more taxing. I spent five hours with my son refinishing a friend's garage door outside on a hot day. It was a very strenuous tasks, but I still felt up to it in spite of not having eaten for over 36 hours. On Saturday night, I started to feel my first discomfort in the form of heartburn and a little dizziness. This is similar to what I felt last time.

Today, Sunday, I felt pretty tired. It's not a sleepy, worn out, kind of tired, but rather like the energy pathways to my muscles are constricted. I've been maintaining my morning exercise routine as an experiment and I have not noticed any weakness, just this odd sensation of wanting to lie down all the time. Anyway, I went to church with my family and felt good enough to attend all the meeting and enjoy them. I started drinking an herbal drink for use during fasting and that seems to help a little with how I feel. (Recipe below) I've been at this now for about 71 hours. I definitely want to continue another day and see how hard this is to take at work. I'm a little worried about how this will affect my performance, but I haven't felt any degradation in my thinking abilities. (Hopefully evidenced by this blog entry. :) )

Other Obervations

I started tasting ketones in my mouth on Saturday morning and this flavor has been increasing through today. It is not very pleasant by it is tolerable. As I expected, I have had no hunger pains at all. All I have had is the light sensation of an empty stomach that comes and goes, and I don't feel it very often. I attribute this to the five days of preparing by switching to raw foods. I've felt a little minor light-headedness on the third day of fasting. My weight has also been plummeting. I have been losing about 2-3 lbs per day during the fasting.


Chinese-style vegetables, lightly cooked.
1 onion
2-4 cloves of garlic
2 small zucchini
1 Bell Pepper
1 Large head of Broccoli
1 C sprouted wheat
Olive Oil
Vegetable Bullion

½ C Soy Sauce
½ C Rice Vinnegar
Thumb-sized chunk of Ginger
2 T brown sugar

Make the sauce by mincing the ginger and stirring all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. This will go on top of the vegetables later.

Dice the onion into large chunks. Mince the garlic. Set these aside in a small bowl. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Dissolve the vegetable bullion in ½ Cup of hot water. Heat 3 T of olive oil in a wok on high heat. When the oil starts to smoke, add the onions and garlic and stir for 30 seconds, then add the rest of the vegetables and stir for 1 minute. Then add the vegetable bullion and cook for another 30 seconds or so. The onions will be clear, but everything else will be lightly cooked. Servers 2-4 depending on if you eat anything else with it.

Herbal Drink Recipe
8 cups of water
4 teaspoons each of cumin and coriander powder
8 cardamom pods
4 teaspoons of crushed fennel seeds
2 pinches of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ginger powder (or 3 slices fresh ginger)

Mix all ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and keep covered for another 15-20 minutes. Strain through a sieve and drink it warm throughout the day.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

15-Day Gastronomical Reset

OK, I’m starting up a five-day fast and I’m going to blog about it here.


I’ve been interested in so-called “cleansing fasts” for the past few years.  While some aspects of them seem a little extreme to me, I think there is some potential in the practice to improve health and spirit.   This journey started a few years ago when I did a three-day fast as a trial.  The experience lasted nine days- I switched to raw food for three days first, water fasted for three days and then went back to raw foods for three days.   Amazingly, I never felt hungry during the three days without food and the overall experience was very good.  


I wanted to try a longer fast, but my biggest obstacle was time.  With wind-up ad wind-down time, a 5-day fast requires a little more than two weeks of altered eating habits.  (Not to mention that I’ve also been a little nervous about going without food for five days.)  But now I’ve blocked out some time and screwed up my courage and I’ve begun my 15-day journey.  I really don’t like the term “Master Cleanse”, as is popularly applied to fasts like this.  I like thinking about it more in terms of just resetting my body to like foods that are good for it.


So anyway, I’ve already started and I am now in day 3 of the whole process.  The overall plan looks like this:


Days 1-5 (Sunday – Thursday) – Switch to (mainly) raw foods, cut out all meat and dairy.  I hear this is to make my diet more “Alkaline”.  I don’t know anything about that, but I feel it is pleasing to God that to generally avoid consuming meat, so going all vegetable with emphasis on fruits and grains seems like a good idea. 


Days 6-10 (Friday – Tuesday) – Water fasting.  I will be consuming only water that is tinged with lemon juice (to make it more palatable and offer trace nutrients) and salt (to replace electrolytes).    I may also drink an herbal tea I’ve read about that Hindus use during long fasts.  I timed the fasting part specifically so that the 48 mark will happen on Saturday night.  I remember this being the toughest part of the fast and I want it to be at a time that will be the most convenient.


Days 11-15 (Wednesday – Monday)  - Back to natural foods.  I will start off with some vegetable broth, then the vegetable soup, then resume eating raw foods.  It has always been obvious to me that it is important to come off of a fast gradually.


Some people who do fasts like this also decide to give themselves enemas or natural laxitives to clean out the intenstines, but I’m reluctant to do that mostly because those things seem like man-made interventions and not very natural.  So, I’m just going to let my body figure out what it needs to do.


The experience so far


Just on the raw food diet, I’ve seen my weight drop about 3 pounds.  (My BMI is around 23.4, the high end of healthy.)  I’ve felt a little bit light headed on occasion, but I am not noticing any other side effects.   The raw foods at this point are not very satisfying.  I am hoping that will change as I figure out what to eat and my body chemistry adjusts.   I made a list of raw foods I wanted my wife to get for me from the store and it all sounded very delicious to me. 


I took my daughter to a ball game last night and I ate some popcorn, which was pretty much the only vegetarian thing on the menu.  It tasted bad. 




The bulk of what I am eating is spouted wheat.  Here is how to make it:  Soak one cup of wheat submerged in two cups of water for about 10 hours.  Drain and cover with a wet paper towel.  Rinse every 8 hours until the roots are about ¼ inch long. (About 2 days total)    The result is little sprouted wheat berries that have a good texture and slightly sweet and pleasant taste, though a bit bland.    I am also eating raw rolled oats and lots of fruits and vegetables.  


Here are some inventions that I have tried that I like enough to try again:


Oats and millet cereal

1 cup of rolled oats

¼ C millet

1 banana (chopped)

1 T brown sugar

1/8 C chopped walnuts


Mix together with enough water to get the texture you like.  I was surprised by how good this tastes, and it is very satisfying.   I’ve been eating raw oats for a while and they taste a lot better than one would think.  The millet adds a pleasant texture and nutty flavor.  I’ve tried sprouted wheat in this mixture, but didn’t like it so much.  Serves 1.


Sprouted Wheat Stir-Fry

1 or 2 C Sprouted wheat

¼ Bell Pepper

2 green onions

1/8 Purple onion

1 small carrot

1 stick celery

4-5 cilantro leaves

1 clove garlic

¼ t salt

½ medium tomato

2 T Olive oil


This is delicious! Put the wheat in a small bowl.  Chop up the remaining ingredients and add everything except the tomato to the wheat and mix it together.  Heat 2 T olive oil in a frying pan on medium high.  FRY FOR ONLY 30 SECONDS.  You don’t want to cook the food- just heat it up to release the flavors and make it pleasant to eat.  Mix in the tomatoes and remove from heat.   You can mix and match vegetables, but the important ingredients to keep are the garlic, onion, and cilantro.  Serves 1.  







Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Isaiah 37: The Lord Delivers!

Chapter 37 of Isaiah breaks down into the following narrative:


-          Hezekiah, upon hearing the challenge of the Assyrian invaders and realizing that this a critical moment for Israel, goes to Isaiah for his counsel because he is a prophet

-          Isaiah prophesies that the generals will depart on a rumor and that the king of Assyria will be murdered.

-          Rapshakeh, the Assyrian general, does indeed leave on the rumor of an Ethiopian invasion, and on his way out, he sends a parting letter to Hezekiah, saying essentially, “Don’t get your hopes up, because we’ve wiped out everyone in our path, and you are no different.”

-          Hezekiah takes the letter to the temple and makes a very firm and faithful plea to the Lord for deliverance.

-          Isaiah delivers the Lord’s reply.  The Lord says that Assyria is powerful only because he made it so, strengthening them and while weakening their enemies.  But their delusions of grandeur and blasphemy will be their undoing- The Lord will lead them like an animal back to the stable.  Finally, the Lord fortells that in three years, the remnant of Israel will be back in the land unhindered.

-          An angel destroys 185,000 of the Assyrians and they leave.  Back in Assyria Sennacherib is murdered by his own sons in his idolatrous temple. 


This story from Isaiah is especially interesting because there is some independent historical verification of Hezekiah and the siege of Jerusalem.    The Assyrian account says that Hezekiah was “shut up like a caged bird”.  It also mentions the huge tribute paid by Hezekiah, and yet interestingly makes no mention of why Jerusalem was never taken.  The Egyptian account says that the Assyrian army had been infested with mice that destroyed their leather armor and other perishable gear, making them easy prey for attacking forces.  All three accounts verify or suggest that Jerusalem was not taken and I think all three mention that Sennacherib was murdered.


In reference to this account, I read the correspondence between Moroni and Pahoran in Alma 61.  Pahoran  says that God does not require the Nephites to submit to bondage, so they resist.    I think Hezekiah was following this same principle with the remnant of Israel.  Hezekiah did something that seemed very shocking to me when I first read it.  He took of the treasures of the temple to pay a tribute to the Assyrians!  But as I thought about it more, I realized that Hezekiah, as a steward, was doing everything in his power to secure the liberty of his people, even sacrificing their worldly wealth.    Hezekiah seems to understand, as almost none other, the difference between material treasures and the worth of souls.   Remember, he was the one who destroyed the brazen serpent, a priceless artifact from the days of Moses, because people were worshipping it. 


When Hezekiah had done literally everything he could to save his people, he knew he had the right to approach the Lord for the blessing.  I’m going to quote his prayer here for reference and I want to point out the incredible faith in it.  He isn’t pleading for some imagined rescue, he is calling upon his God with confidence that he will deliver:


15 And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying,

  16 O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.

  17 Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.

  18 Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries,

  19 And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.

  20 Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.


This is a lesson to me that I can rely on the Lord’s blessings only when I have put out my best effort first, then I can in confidence approach Him for help.


I didn’t know much about Hezekiah before embarking on this study of Isaiah, but the more I learn about him, the more I am impressed with the man.  What a great example of leadership, faith, wisdom, and courage.  May we all be faithful like Hezekiah.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Isaiah 36: Clouds of war

Chapter 36 of Isaiah begins an account of the king Hezekiah and a famous encounter with an overwhelming Assyrian army.    This account is also recorded in 2 Kings with some additional detail.

To set the stage, I’d like to reference 2 Kings 18 to talk about what kind of man Hezekiah was:


1 Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.

  3 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.


  5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.

  6 For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.

  7 And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.

  8 He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.

It is important to understand that Hezekiah was a righteous king in order to fully understand the narrative in Isaiah 36.  (Another useful tool for understanding this chapter is to listen to it read by a narrator.  I didn’t grasp a lot of the subtleties of the narrative until I could hear it this way.  There is a good narration available on the LDS Scripture website- Just click on “LISTEN” in the upper left corner.)

So here is the story: the king of Assyria sends a general, Rabshakeh (this is apparently a title), to Jerusalem with a very large army.   The goal is to get Judah to surrender and come to Assyria or to sack the city.  Rabshakeh meets an embassy of Jewish officers outside the walls of the city and uses sophistry as he talks to them about their situation.  He says essentially, “What makes you think you can stand against Assyria like this?    If it’s because you trust the Egyptians, that’s foolish because they don’t help anybody.  If it’s because of the Lord, that doesn’t make any sense because Hezekiah took down all your Shrines to your God except for the one here.   So why don’t you give us your money and we’ll call it good, because God told me to come up here and destroy you guys.”

The part about Hezekiah tearing down the altars was confusing until I read the account in 2 Kings which says that  Hezekiah destroyed all of the idolatrous sites in Judah in order to bring them back to worship of the true God.  Hezekiah was son intent on this that he even destroyed the brazen serpent Moses had made because people had started worshipping it!  That struck me as a remarkably brave thing to do.   It shows the kind of attitude we can have about material things.

One point that can be pulled out of this passage already is that the world just does not understand the workings of the Lord.  All of it is foolishness to them.   If we are not careful, the world’s mocking can make us feel ashamed of our own religion.  Lehi saw this in his dream when people who had partaken of the tree of life felt ashamed when they realized they were being mocked and they ended up leaving the tree in search of the great and spacious building.

Returning to the narrative  As they listen to Rabshakeh’s words, the embassy, lacking confidence, tries to get him to talk to them in Assyrian so that the people on the walls can’t understand what is being said.  This really sets Rabshakeh off and he addresses the people on the wall directly, declaring that the Gods of all the people he has conquered have done them no good, and Judah would be no different.   He says, “Don’t listen to Hezekiah, but trust in me instead.   If you agree with me, we’ll not attack you so that you can come out from under this siege and later we’ll take you to your own land in Assyria where you can have gardens, trees, clean water, and plenty to eat.”   In response, the people on the wall held their peace, following the counsel of Hezekiah.   

What a great lesson for us.   Satan lies to us with the same arguments.  He promises comfort and security, saying not to listen to inspired leaders because in the end God won’t help us.   Our course of action is to patiently wait on the Lord, and give no answer to our spiritual oppressors.  If we are patient and obedient, the Lord will deliver (which he does in a spectacular way for Hezekiah in Chapter 37).





Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Treasure In The Field and Real Intent

This talk was given to a congregation in Everett, Wa on Jan 27th, 2008

When I was ten years old and starting out in the fifth grade, one of my teachers purchased a rather unusual book for her class.  The title of the book was Masquerade. On the plain cover was an embossed rabbit and inside was a children’s story which told of the misadventures of Jack Hare, a rabbit on a quest to deliver a gift from the Moon to the Sun, but who loses the gift along the way.    The introduction page contained the following verse:

Within the pages of this book there is a story told
of love, adventures, fortunes lost, and a jewel of solid gold.
To solve the hidden riddle, you must use your eyes,
And find the hare in every picture that may point you to the prize.

This introduction was no idle poem.  The thing that made the book especially unique is that it really did contain clues to an actual buried treasure.  The Author, an English artist named Kit Williams, had crafted the treasure himself- it was a gold, rabbit-shaped pendant set with precious gems- and he buried it in a small town in England.  The existence of the treasure was publicly announced along with the publishing of Masquerade.   On each page of the book was an elaborate illustration showing a scene from the story and surrounded by a line of text.  The whole book was one giant puzzle, and if you could solve it, you would know where the treasure was hid.     

Of the puzzle Williams said, “The treasure is as likely to be found by a bright child of ten with an understanding of language, simple mathematics and astronomy”.   The thought that a ten-year-old could solve the puzzle is probably what inspired my teacher to purchase the book.  My classmates and I, believing ourselves to be bright 10-year-olds, were all over that book for a few days, carefully studying the pages and talking about the story and illustrations, but we didn’t make much progress.   We gradually looked at the book less and less until it was forgotten.

We weren’t the only ones.  Millions of other people examined the same book.   Isn’t it interesting the motivation that can come from a little knowledge?  Had there been no actual treasure, the book would have been just another children’s book, with nowhere near the same attention.

Most of the people who read the book had similar results to my classmates and me.  But some were much more determined than we were.  They stayed at the book for years until at last the riddle was solved and the treasure was discovered.  The difference, I think, is that they truly believed they had a real chance at discovering the location of a real buried treasure.  Whereas, in the minds of me and my classmates, we eventually just stopped believing we could find it.  

Hidden knowledge

This story is a useful illustration to us as members of the church, because the kingdom of God can be thought of as a hidden treasure. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; [for which a man]  for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”  (Matt 13:44)  Notice what the savior said: the man bought the field, not the treasure itself.  The man is overjoyed simply to own the field.  Presumably, this is because he believes he will find the actual treasure later. I will return to this idea, but first, I want to show that there are multiple witnesses in the scriptures which testify to the fact that there are indeed great treasures hidden from us, but which the Lord intends for us to find:

In Psalms we read “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” (Ps. 51: 6)

Paul said to the Corinthians “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2: 7)

John wrote in the Book of Revelation “He that hath an ear, let him hear … To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna” (Rev. 2: 17)

In the revelation Joseph Smith received concerning those who inherit the Celestial Kingdom, the Lord says, “And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old…” (D&C 76: 7)

The character of those sacred things hidden from us is quite unique.  Many of the mysteries of God are right in front of us, in plainness, but we are in a spiritual sleep and do not recognize what they are.  Like the man who purchased the field, we may know that what we want is out there, we just haven’t figured out where to dig, or maybe we don’t even know what we are digging for.  This fact, that we can be missing great things in our plain view, is also evidenced in the scriptures.  For example:

Amulek whom we read about in the Book of Mormon, was a member of the church in high reputation, but he did not know the things of God.  He said, “... I have seen much of [God’s] mysteries and his marvelous power; … Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart” (Alma 10: 6)

Nephi taught that we don’t receive all of the gospel at once.  He wrote “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little;” (2 Ne. 28: 30)  In other words, we learn the gospel incrementally, building on what we have learned before. 

When His disciples asked Jesus why he taught in parables, He said, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matt. 13: 11)

Said another way, the gospel is presented plainly to us and may be “found” just as one might find a piece of property and recognize it as something that is good and choice.  However, while we may plainly recognize the goodness of what we have found, the actual treasure, or fruit of the gospel, is hidden and must be discovered with persistence and effort, similar to how a treasure in a field must be found through persistence and effort. 

Do you believe this?  Do you believe there is more for you to learn and discover in the gospel?   Do you believe that you can discover it?

The Field

Let’s take the scriptures, and let’s liken them to a field containing a hidden treasure.  So, Imagine that you have purchased a 100-acre parcel of land (that’s about 75 football fields). Now imagine that you’ve purchased it because you’ve learned that someone buried a vast trove of diamonds somewhere in the property, but you don’t know where.   How would you go about finding those diamonds?    Well, a logical beginning would be to survey the property.  This could be accomplished by walking back and forth to get a feel for the land and to make notes of interesting locations.  Maybe you’ll find an old house, a mound of earth, or a well.   You might also study who has lived on the land, where they lived, or what other people have written about it.  Eventually, however, you would want to start digging in carefully chosen locations in order to actually find and recover the diamonds. 

Questions:  What if, every day, for years, you spent 15 minutes walking back and forth along your property, carefully surveying and taking notes, but did nothing else?   With the treasure hidden somewhere under the surface, could you ever expect to find it?   Of course you couldn’t, you would have to dig for it.  And yet, too often, this is how we approach the study of the scriptures.  We may casually read parts of the holy word; we may read the standard works all the way through; we might even read them through cover-to-cover nine times and think that this qualifies us to understand them, but in reality, when we simply read, all we have done is made a survey.   Now, this kind of surveying is important and necessary, but if surveying is all that we ever do, we cannot hope to obtain the kingdom of God.  We have to dig.  We have to dig in many places.  And we have to dig deeply.  

It may interest you to know the manner in which the leaders of our church study their scriptures.   President Duce recently examined the remarks of the brethren to determine how they go about their personal study and discovered that all of them study by topic- they pick something that they’ve been pondering and praying about and then search for it in the scriptures.   (Indeed, the term “search” is used by the Savior himself when exhorts us to read the scriptures. (John 5: 39))  In addition to searching, the brethren keep a journal and write down the things that they learn, this helps them remember it so they can internalize what they have read and practice it.  This is what is meant by digging:  strenuous mental effort translated into real works.

I would like to relate to you a personal story concerning my conversion to this principle.  A few years ago, I was in a spiritual haze.  You would not have know it from looking at me.   My family life was good, I was active in church, serving in my calling.  And yet looking back, I see that I was asleep to the promises of God.  I was unaware of the enormity and magnitude of the gospel.  I felt at the time, after 35 years in the church, that I had learned most of what the gospel had to teach me.   About that time, President Duce introduced his first stake focus.   As I recall, it the focus was to “Draw nearer to Jesus Christ through daily study of the scriptures.”   This struck a chord in me and I felt inspired to study the scriptures as I had never done before.    I started by sharing my goal with some close friends and we formed a study group over email.  We picked a new gospel topic each week and would find out whatever we could, and at the end of the week, we would write a summary of what we found and share it with the others.  This did not take a lot of my time, just 20-30 minutes each day, yet gradually, week by week, I’ve been able to accumulate over 300 little essays containing my thoughts and spiritual impressions on a wide variety of gospel topics.  This has changed my life and my entire outlook on the gospel.   I can testify that searching in addition to reading the scriptures makes a night-and-day difference as to what we can get out of them.  There really are hidden treasures in there, and there isn’t any other way to get them out.


Our search of the scriptures would not be complete, of course, without prayer.  Prayer is the grand key for unlocking the knowledge God wants us to have.  Consider these words from Moroni:

And when ye shall receive these things (the scriptures), I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  (Moro. 10: 4)

Prayer is means for recognizing truth.  Through prayer we may recognize the treasures of the gospel when we find them.  Through prayer, we are comforted when things seem too hard.  Through prayer, our insight is expanded and we are enabled to accomplish whatever the Lord asks of us.  And not just any prayer- Moroni describes the required character of prayer very clearly:

  1. We must have a Sincere Heart – This means we must be honest.  We need to pursue truth because inside we really want it.
  2. We must pray with Real Intent – This means that we pray with the intent that we will do whatever the Lord reveals to us.  We cannot reserve our decision until we like what the Lord says.  We need to have it in our minds that we will follow no matter what the direction is.
  3. We must have Faith in Christ – Faith is shown by our works.  Having faith in Christ means that we will demonstrate our belief by actually doing the things we believe we should. 

If we desire to find that which is hidden, we need help from God.  This help comes in the form of revelation and revelation comes in answer to sincere prayer as Moroni has described- prayer with real intent.  

Nephi, after giving a great discourse on the gospel of Jesus Christ said this, “Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.” (2 Ne. 32: 4)

We are to both ask and knock. We ask by praying and expressing our desires to God.  Knocking is an action- it signifies doing.  For our prayers to be meaningful there must be a component of doing something.

I want to stress here that prayer with real intent is the key to receiving knowledge.   Our personal study of the scriptures would be meaningless without it.    The pattern is to study, seek revelation, and then do.  Line-upon-line, this is how we build our faith in Jesus Christ into the knowledge in which we are saved.  (See D&C 131: 6)

Stake Focus

We have recently updated the focus of our stake.  This focus has been prepared by the Presidency of our stake under inspiration.  It is to serve as a guide for the local members of the church as they serve in their callings and strive to improve themselves spiritually.  The focus for our stake is:

Increasing faith in Jesus Christ
by studying the scriptures daily
and praying with real intent.

This is revelation given expressly to us through our leader who holds priesthood keys.  As we prepare lessons and talks, as we give family home evenings and hold family prayers, as we seek to draw closer to our Father in Heaven- if we will keep this focus in mind and rally together behind it, we, as a stake and as individuals, will surely be blessed.  

I encourage you to write this focus down, remember it, and teach it to your families and to those over whom you have stewardship.   We will increase our faith in Jesus Christ by studying scriptures daily and praying with real intent.     


Brothers and sisters, let us cast our minds back to the family of Lehi.  You’d think being the child of a prophet, you’d have it made, and yet, we have before us the sad story of Laman and Lemuel, who, though they were well taught, affiliated with the church and acquainted with its customs, decided in the end to rebel.   Lehi, at the end of his life, pleaded with his sons to “wake up”, implying that they were asleep somehow to what he had been teaching them.   They had ears to hear, but they would not hear. 

Laman and Lemuel stand as a warning to you and I, even the members of the church, that we can be asleep to the realities of the gospel.   Modern-day prophets have said that too many of us live “far beneath” our spiritual privileges.  It is possible to come to church each Sunday, serve in a calling, and go through the motions of worship, but yet be spiritually asleep.  The first step to coming out of this spiritual sleep is to build our faith in Jesus Christ by diligently seeking Him in the scriptures and by praying to the Father with real intent, which means that we will do whatever He requires us to do through the spirit.   This is, and will remain, our stake focus for the next few years.  May we all take it to heart and rise to the challenge before us.  As we make the effort, the spirit will guide us and the Lord will sustain us and we will succeed.