Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fascinating Self-check...Do I Worship False Gods Today?

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).

How are you and I doing with that? 

Here is a great self-check from Spencer W. Kimball. 

What are false gods made of today?  

"Idolatry is among the most serious of sins. There are unfortunately millions today who prostrate themselves before images of gold and silver and wood and stone and clay. But the idolatry we are most concerned with here is the conscious worshiping of still other gods. Some are of metal and plush and chrome, of wood and stone and fabrics. They are not in the image of God or of man, but are developed to give man comfort and enjoyment, to satisfy his wants, ambitions, passions and desires. Some are in no physical form at all, but are intangible....

"Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. What difference does it make that the item concerned is not shaped like an idol? Brigham Young said: "I would as soon see a man worshipping a little god made of brass or of wood as to see him worshipping his property” [Journal of Discourses, 6:196].

"Intangible things make just as ready gods. Degrees and letters and titles can become idols. Many young men decide to attend college when they should be on missions first. The degree, and the wealth and the security which come through it, appear so desirable that the mission takes second place. Some neglect Church service through their college years, feeling to give preference to the secular training and ignoring the spiritual covenants they have made.

"Many people build and furnish a home and buy the automobile first—and then find they "cannot afford" to pay tithing. Whom do they worship? Certainly not the Lord of heaven and earth, for we serve whom we love and give first consideration to the object of our affection and desires. Young married couples who postpone parenthood until their degrees are attained might be shocked if their expressed preference were labeled idolatry. Their rationalization gives them degrees at the expense of children. Is it a justifiable exchange? Whom do they love and worship—themselves or God? Other couples, recognizing that life is not intended primarily for comforts, ease, and luxuries, complete their educations while they move forward with full lives, having their children and giving Church and community service.

"Many worship the hunt, the fishing trip, the vacation, the weekend picnics and outings. Others have as their idols the games of sport, baseball, football, the bullfight, or golf. These pursuits more often than not interfere with the worship of the Lord and with giving service to the building up of the kingdom of God. To the participants this emphasis may not seem serious, yet it indicates where their allegiance and loyalty are.

"Still another image men worship is that of power and prestige. Many will trample underfoot the spiritual and often the ethical values in their climb to success. These gods of power, wealth, and influence are most demanding and are quite as real as the golden calves of the children of Israel in the wilderness."

(From Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.40-42, Quoted at BYU-Idaho's site. Bold added by Becky for emphasis.)

Note: I formatted this quote on an insert that's just the right size to glue into my scriptures. I'm happy to email you a copy if you ask.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jesus Treats Us Like Joseph Treated His Brothers...28 Parallels I Found (plus some more)

I L.O.V.E. the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. More than I ever have before. 

A Bible in my lap, I sat in the Bountiful Temple baptistry with my daughter and her friends. I had to leave to grab tissues, because the moment when Joseph sees Benjamin (likely the only brother who was nice to him all those years ago) and has to leave the room to weep, makes me weep. Then I wept again when Joseph finally tells his brothers who he is. They are terrified. This is the second most powerful man in all of Egypt, and he could easily execute them for having sold him into slavery so many years ago. 

But Joseph doesn't. 

Joseph reaches out to them, forgives them, tells them it's okay because God used their sin against him to save them all. He pulls them to him, kisses them, and weeps upon them. And when I read this touching reunion scene, I weep. 

Jesus is like this with you and me. 

Each of us is a sinner and is unworthy of Christ, who is perfect. But Christ says, "It's okay, come unto me, my arms are stretched out still. I love you even though you've made mistakes. I forgive you. Let me hold you, welcome you home, kiss you, and weep with you."  Jesus' suffering saves all of us, just as Joseph's suffering saved all of Egypt and Israel. 

And both still love their beloved sinners

So, so sweet. I gain so much more from my Old Testament reading when I look for symbolism of Christ in the stories and characters. And especially when I apply some of these similarities to my life.  

Moses 6:63 – All things have their likeness and are bear record of Christ. 

Here are 28 parallels I found between the Savior and Joseph, using several sources to help me see what was already there. 

P.S. As I'm studying the story again I found more parallels which I added to the list below. 
  1. Both the Savior and Joseph were hated and rejected by their own brethren who plotted to kill them. 
  2. Both knew at an early age they had a special mission to perform.
  3. Both made prophesies of their future power and leadership and were mocked.
  4. The Savior was 30 years old when began His ministry to save His people. Joseph was 30 years old when became prime minister of Egypt, in a position to save his people. 
  5. The Savior took seven “days” to create earth and prepare it for us. Joseph took seven years to prepare Egypt for famine and his brothers.
  6. The Savior mercifully forgave those who crucified Him, seeing God’s hand in saving the people. Joseph mercifully forgave His brothers for selling him into Egypt, seeing God’s hand in saving them.
  7. Both were sold for the price of a common slave of their day. 
  8. The Savior wasn’t in the tomb when others looked inside. Joseph wasn’t in the pit when Reuben looked inside to rescue him. 
  9. Jesus was hung on the cross between two criminals. One repented and was saved, the other refused and was not saved. Joseph was imprisoned with two of the criminals of Pharaoh’s court – the butler and baker. The butler was saved, and the baker was convicted and not saved. 
  10. The Savior left His heavenly home and people to save unbelievers on earth. Joseph left his home and people to live among unbelievers to save his family and others. 
  11. The Savior second in charge under God. Joseph was second in charge under Pharaoh. 
  12. Under God’s direction we’re tested during our time on earth. Under Joseph’s direction his brothers were tested during their time in Egypt. 
  13. The Savior is the bread of life and we come to him for nourishment and eternal life. Joseph was the source of bread, and his brothers came to him for nourishment to sustain life. 
  14. The Savior waits patiently and with deep love and tender emotion for us to grow and mature spiritually. Joseph waited patiently and with deep love and tender emotion for his brothers to grow and mature spiritually.  
  15. The Savior was in their midst but often not recognized. Joseph was among his brothers but was not recognized.
  16. The Savior speaks through His servants the prophets, and works through His servants – us. Joseph spoke through an interpreter and had his servant do much of his work. 
  17. Unless we keep God’s commandments we can’t return to Him and see His face again. Unless the brothers kept Joseph’s command to bring Benjamin they wouldn't be able to see his face again.
  18. The Savior (who was perfect) pleads our case with Heavenly Father and offers Himself as sacrifice for us. Judah (who had been so sinful but now was repentant and soft-hearted) pleaded to save Benjamin and his father, offering himself as a sacrifice. This must have been so healing for Joseph to hear and feel Judah's sincerity! 
  19. Just as Joseph was sent to Egypt (which in scripture often symbolized the earth and its wicked people) to save many lives from famine, the Savior was sent to a wicked world to save many from “famine of hearing the word of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). 
  20. The Savior is our Redeemer. Joseph was their redeemer. 
  21. Once we've heard the good news of the gospel we are to haste coming to our Redeemer. Once Joseph’s brothers heard the good news that he was alive, that their sinful acts against him were forgiven, and that he saved them, they were to haste to get their father and bring them to their redeemer.  
  22. Salvation came out of Egypt for both: The Savior came from Egypt as a child to live among his people. Joseph left his people and moved to Egypt to save his people.
  23. The Savior’s arms are stretched out still and He wants us back no matter how many times we've sinned. Joseph’s arms and heart were stretched out to his brothers, no matter their sins against them. Both still love their beloved sinners. 
  24. Both are thrilled when we repent and show a changed, softened heart. 
  25. God made something beautiful out of intense and ugly trials for both the Savior and Joseph. He can and does do the same for us. 
  26. Both were falsely accused and punished for things they didn't do. 
  27. After being punished greatly for sins they didn't commit, God rewarded them lavishly – the Savior with all that God has, and Joseph with a great leadership position, power, riches, a wife and sons, and a reunion with his own family. 
  28. The Savior was tempted repeatedly by Satan but never gave in, then told Satan to leave. Joseph was tempted repeatedly by Potipher’s wife, never gave in, and Joseph left.
  29. Joseph lived in the midst of Egypt, symbolic of sin and worldliness, but stayed righteous. Jesus lived in the midst of a sinful world and stayed righteous. Joseph gave God credit for interpreting dreams. Jesus gave God credit for the good He did. 
  30. They are both punished for others' sins. Joseph was punished for the sins of his brothers and then Potipher's wife. Jesus was punished for all of our sins. 
  31. Joseph was alone and abandoned while in prison. While on the cross, Jesus experienced feeling alone and abandoned by His Father, so He could know how we feel when we sin. 
  32. Joseph counseled the Egyptians how to prepare for famine to save their lives. Jesus counsels us through His prophets how to prepare for tribulations of the last days, which preparedness can save our lives. 
  33. Joseph returned the money to his brothers, and then gave them the best of the land to live on. Christ blesses us every time we obey Him. As Melvin J. Ballard said, “A person cannot give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return” (Quoted by President Eyring, Ensign, May 2011).
  34. Joseph invited his brothers into his own home to dine with him. Jesus invites us into His heavenly home to enjoy all that he has with Him.
  35. Joseph wept with rejoicing when he saw his brothers' changed hearts and reunited with them. Jesus rejoices when we repent and come unto Him. 
  36. Joseph counseled his brothers to "fall not out by the way" (Gen 45:24) when they went to get their father and families to return to Joseph. Christ counsels us to keep on the straight and narrow path, and not leave the iron rod so we can return to Him. 
  37. Joseph's family's occupation was shepherding, which was an abomination to the Egyptians. Christ is the ultimate shepherd no matter how many mock Him, and we are His sheep. Do we know His voice when the shepherd calls us?
My Genesis 41 margins are crowded with a list of all the parallels I was discovering. Then I decided to type up the list and glue it in as an insert.

Does seeing the Savior all through Joseph and his story make you love the Old Testament more?  

It sure does for me. 

It makes me love Him more too. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Two books to help you love the Old Testament more than before

I'm getting more from my Old Testament study this year than ever before! This book is making a big difference in helping me make sense and see meaning in stories or passages that used to baffle me. I highly recommend it. 

Here's my other favorite book to help me get more out of the Old Testament. I love this author Jim Ferrell who wrote The Peacegiver. I LOVE this book's concept of looking for symbolism of Christ in the stories and people of the Old Testament. It brings layers of sweetness and meaning to the stories. Joseph in Egypt is my favorite one. 

Like when Joseph's brothers discover who Joseph is and they're terrified he's going to kill them. Instead he reaches out to them, forgives them, tells them it's okay because God used their actions for them to all be saved, hugs them and weeps. It reminds me of the many times we sin and Jesus says something similar - It's okay, come unto me, my arms are stretched out still, I love you anyway even though you made mistakes, let me hold you, welcome you home, and we'll weep together. So sweet. I hope you love this book as much as I do. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guess what! I finished the Book of Mormon in 30 days... a sweet finale

Here is an email I wrote to a friend who was encouraging me in my 30-day Book of Mormon challenge. 


Dear Melanie, 

Guess what!  I finished the Book of Mormon tonight!! (Which was a miracle to me.) I was reading as we rang in the new year.  The relatives left our party before midnight so I dug in.  It took me until 2 AM, but it was so sweet!  Mike and my twins wanted to stay up and support me. I kept stopping to discuss or to testify. I cried because I love this book more than ever, and know that is true more than ever. We read the final verse aloud together.  Y.U.M. I just wanted to share my fun news with you!  Hurray for God's power to do impossible things!

I forgot to mention that Mike encouraged me to read it aloud since he knows I get more out of it that way, and so they could be part of the final stretch with me, and of course benefit from hearing it too. How sweet is that. 

Mike and my twinners stayed up late on New Year's Eve to encourage me to
finish the Book of Mormon. A sweet moment. 

I'm so grateful for this spur-of-the-moment Book of Mormon immersion experience. 

On December's fast Sunday I was fasting about how to protect my family from ever falling away from the Church, which had recently happened to someone close to me and was devastating. That's when my 17-year-old son Adam told me about his seminary teacher, Brother Chang’s challenge to read the whole Book of Mormon in 30 days. I kept thinking, "That's nuts. I'm a busy mother, and it's Christmas time." But as I prayed and wrote and talked about it, by the end of the day, it felt right. It wasn’t easy. But by the end, I realized that was the very best thing God could have told me to do after learning about my loved one.  It deeply reaffirmed and refueled my own faith, testimony, and conversion. I know now more than I've ever known before that this book is true.  

I love this book more than I ever have before. 

I love the people in the book more than ever before.  I love Nephi and Abinadi, Captain Moroni, Mormon and his son Moroni. I love Samuel the Lamanite and Alma and his son Alma. I'm even grateful for Laman and Lemuel, because they taught me what not to be - a complainer or a resister, reacting to everything without the Spirit. I love Zeezrom and King Lamoni and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who show us that there is hope for anyone to change, no matter how hardened their hearts may seem at the moment. I love these wonderful heroes, and their wives and families. I love the bazillion stories of God being a God of the impossible, making impossible things possible. Wow, that strengthens me every time. 

All I have to do is start talking about Nephi and the brass plates and my faith and courage tank fills right up, even if it seemed already full. 

I'd like to do some more posts about themes I noticed. I sat at my computer for hours and typed out about 70 themes I found this time around. It made me grateful I had taken the time to jot those sloppy notes in my journal as I found things worth noting. (Well, what's not worth noting...) 

I loved seeing the story line better than before, seeing the repetition of the pride cycle, the government corruption, the Atonement working in people's lives, and especially seeing Christ through the whole book. 

Some sweet friends who took the challenge with me and we met for lunch
to discuss what we gained from our readings. Sweet and tearful discussions. 

One friend had to leave to nurse a baby.   

What a feast. 

It's so nourishing to feast on the scriptures rather than just nibble.  To scuba dive rather than just snorkel.  To apply to myself rather than just read. 

I'd also like to do some posts about the tools and methods that have helped me gain more from the scriptures and feast rather than nibble over the years. I learned many of these tools when I taught an institute class about scripture study. My favorite book on this is this

If you ever feel inspired to take on a 30-day Book of Mormon challenge, I'd love to hear about it and be your cheerleader. You'll love it. 

Feast away. 

My new goal...

Just as I had never read the Book of Mormon in 30 days before, I also hadn't finished the entire Old Testament before. I used to skip parts. I committed to do the whole thing this year. My pattern is five pages a day, because it gives me a couple days a week to read other stuff like Personal Progress scriptures or preparing a lesson. 

I'm getting more from the Old Testament than I ever have before!  Stories and events that used to baffle me are making more sense and I'm seeing more meaning and life lessons. 

Why is that?  Because here is my new best buddy in the mornings along with my Old Testament and colored pencils. (And my Zebra pen...the best pen for marking scriptures, I must say. Okay, I'm a bit of a pen snob.)  I highly recommend David Ridges' series. I bet you'll love the Old Testament more too. 

My other favorite book that really brings the Old Testament to life is by our friend James Ferrell. Very cool. He helps you see symbols and types of Christ in many Old Testament people and stories. Using several resources, I just typed up 28 parallels between Christ and Joseph of Egypt on an insert to glue into the page of Genesis 40. The fact that Christ and Joseph were both sold for the price of a common slave of their time is just the beginning.

Happy feasting, whatever page you are on. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

REMEMBER ... With God Nothing is Impossible

The Book of Mormon is filled with stories of God’s power overcoming all odds.  

Like righteous armies being smaller than wicked ones, but winning anyway. Why? Because God was on their side, and because they remembered that His power was the reason for their success. 

This week I had a book discussion about the book 1776 by David McCullough. We marveled that the American army had any successful battles, let alone won the whole Revolutionary War. Especially after so many losses. It wasn’t logical. It didn’t make sense. They had less men, supplies, food, weapons and ammunition. They had less training, discipline, tents, clothing and ships. And the British had the most powerful army in the world. 

But as one young man shared after reading that book, “God is more powerful than the most powerful army on the earth.” 

So true. 

It reminded me of other stories where this has happened, where God has helped someone succeed, against all odds. 

  • Nephi got the brass plates against all odds. After two failures and two death threats, Nephi wouldn’t give up and go back without those plates. God opened up the way and created a string of miracles to help Nephi get them.
  • The people of King Limhi and Ammon escaped bondage against all odds. They were enslaved by the Lamanites and tried to escape three times on their own, and then Gideon was inspired to get the guards drunk. They all escaped while the drunk guards slept. 
  • The people of Alma were in bondage around that same time. They also prayed for God’s power to deliver them, and God worked a miracle of making the Lamanites sleep in so the Nephites could escape. 
  • When Elisha’s servant panicked from seeing the massive army of Syrians ready to attack the Israelites, the Lord parted the veil so the servant could see what the real odds were. That’s why Elisha could exclaim with confidence, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”
  • Samuel the Lamanite had some kind of force field around him so that not one arrow hit him. It’s fun to imagine a band of angels surrounding him, repelling all those arrows as he stood on the wall to deliver God’s message. 
  • George Washington was clearly protected too. One battle in the French Indian War made it clear – that man was bulletproof. He came away with four bullet holes in his clothing and had two horses shot out from him, but he never got hit once, against all odds. 
  • Sarah and Mary both had miracle babies. 
  • The Americans in the Revolutionary War. Against all odds – and I’m talking unbelievable odds – God helped this ragtag, untrained, starving army beat the most powerful army in the world. Because God was on their side. 

This is true for you and me, too. 

When we are on God’s side, doing our best to do His will, and remember that He is the source of our power and success, we are surrounded with His help and power. We have His angels on our side to minister, protect and help. We have the Holy Ghost as our guide, protector and comforter. We have the Savior’s Atonement to empower and enable us to do things we never could on our own (See David A. Bednar, "In the Strength of the Lord," BYU Devotional, Oct. 23, 2001).

With God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and God’s angels on our side, we make up an awesome army. 

Remember, Our job is to make sure we are always on God’s side, doing His will, and always remembering the source of our power and successes. 

God loves to show us His power. It’s not because He’s arrogant. It’s because it’s vital for us to remember it. 

Here’s what we read this morning in family devotional. “Because of their...boastings in their own strength, they were left to their own strength; therefore they did not prosper...” (Helaman 4:13).  As long as we remember that our power and successes come from God, we’ll turn to Him again and receive His help again. That’s why He likes to show that He is the reason we succeed, because it’s key to having success again. It’s also key in staying close to Him.

Remember. It’s a major theme in the Book of Mormon. 

It’s the theme Nephi used repeatedly in his pep talks to his doubting, murmuring, resisting brothers Laman and Lemuel.  He told them to remember where their power and success had come from before. To remember that God had delivered their ancestors out of bondage and worked miracles for them, like Moses parting the Red Sea and smiting a rock and water poured out. To remember how God delivered their own family from Jerusalem before it was destroyed.

Laman and Lemuel were too hard hearted to let these remembering pep talks change their hearts. But I think they helped fuel Nephi’s faith, and he did remember. 

We can use this pattern to fuel our own faith when faced with challenging odds. We can make a list of people from the scriptures whom God has helped overcome hard odds, and make the impossible become possible. Then we can make a list of times He has done that in our own lives and in the lives of our family and friends. 

I’ve made these lists before. 

Like a couple years ago when God asked me to start homeschooling our children. I was terrified. I didn’t want to. I didn’t know how to do it, and frankly wasn’t sure I could do it. But then I remembered Nephi’s courage to “go and do what the Lord commands,” knowing God would open up a way to obey it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). I remembered how Nephi moved forward, even though he didn’t know exactly how he was going to get those plates (See 1 Nephi 4:6-7).  Nephi went forward with faith, remembering that God had intervened many times before, and He would surely do it again. 

I reviewed these lists recently when our family felt inspired to finally conquer a weakness we’ve struggled with for a long time ... bedtime. I reminded myself that although we’ve had multiple failures before, if God can help Nephi get the brass plates, then this is easy in comparison, right? Well, maybe not.  But surely if God can work a string of miracles to help Nephi get those plates, against all odds, He can help our family conquer bedtime. 

And guess what? Several nights this past week we’ve had the beautiful music of silence, and the beautiful site of a dark home, by 9:00 PM. Which means everyone was in bed or in their bedrooms on time. Yes indeed, folks, God is a God of miracles. 

There is no question to me where this success came from... and it’s not me. 

Thank you Nephi for helping me remember. Thank you George Washington. Thank you Captain Moroni, and Mary, and Elisha. 

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for being so worthy of remembering.