Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lesson 5


1.

    Why did God tell the early church “say nothing but repentance unto this generation”?

 2.

    Why is repentance “the only panacea [cure] for the ills of the world”?

3.

    Why do some people think that they “need no repentance”?

4.

    Why does Christ consider “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” (D&C 10:67)?

5.

    Why will Christ do this?

31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungered, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? 38When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? 39Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? 40And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.

 6.

    Why will Christ do this?

41Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and you visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

7.

    How do you integrate the following?

    The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me” (Ether 12:27).


8.
   
    How do we come to understand the following point?

    “If we wish to truly repent and come unto Him so that we can be called members of His Church, we must first and foremost come to realize this eternal truth—the gospel plan is the plan of happiness.”


9.

    Why does it all come back to faith in Christ?

    “A second concept that is important to our understanding is the relationship of repentance to the principle of faith. Repentance is the second fundamental principle of the gospel. The first is that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Why must faith in the Lord precede true repentance?”


10.

    Why is repentance change?

    “Alma states: “And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

    “And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 27:25–26.) …”


11.

    In our efforts to repent, why is a change of behavior not enough? (See section 2.) Why do you think we need to look to Jesus Christ in order to truly repent?


12.

    “What can we do to help others experience this change [“a mighty change of heart”]?”


13.

    Why do some lose hope?  How do we avoid losing hope?

    “[The] final point I wish to make about the process of repentance is that we must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

    But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life.”


14.

    What is a Christlike life like?

    “They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” (3 Ne. 9:20; italics added.)”


15.

Recap.

[Six principles.]

First, the gospel is the Lord’s plan of happiness, and repentance is designed to bring us joy.

Second, true repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

Third, true repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior.

Fourth, part of this mighty change of heart is to feel godly sorrow for our sins. This is what is meant by a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Fifth, God’s gifts are sufficient to help us overcome every sin and weakness if we will but turn to Him for help.

Finally, we must remember that most repentance does not involve sensational or dramatic changes, but rather is a step-by-step, steady, and consistent movement toward godliness.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Lesson 4 (rough draft)


“Happiness here and now consists in freely, lovingly, joyfully acknowledging God’s will for us—and doing it in all ways and all affairs big and small.”


What experiences have you had with suffering?


One of President Ezra Taft Benson’s early assignments as an Apostle was to help bring relief to the Saints in Europe after World War II. While traveling in Germany, he met faithful people who were able to rise above the devastation all around them. He recorded in his journal:

“The worst destruction I have witnessed was seen today. … As I rode through the streets [of Berlin] and walked through some impassable by auto, I … saw half-starved women paying exorbitant prices anxiously for potato peelings. … I saw old men and women with small hatchets eagerly digging at tree stumps and roots in an effort to get scraps of fuel and then pulling those home for miles on anything that would roll—from two little wheels of a once baby carriage to small wagons—as beasts of burden.

“Later I faced in a cold half-wrecked third floor auditorium off a bombed street 480 cold half-starved but faithful Latter-day Saints in a conference meeting. It was an inspiration to see the light of faith. … There was no bitterness or anger but a sweet reciprocation and expression of faith in the gospel.”1

What can a good attitude help with?  What can it not solve?   

“Not a single member registered any complaint about their circumstances in spite of the fact that some were in the last stages of starvation right before our very eyes.

“… Our Saints … are full of hope, courage, and faith, and everywhere they look cheerfully forward with expressions of deepest faith for the gospel and for their membership in the Church. It was one of the greatest demonstrations we have ever seen of the real fruits of the gospel in the lives of men and women.”2

President Benson also saw examples of hope and optimism close to home, where many of his fellow farmers remained cheerful even when they faced severe difficulties. He said:

“I remember attending a meeting near Bancroft, Idaho. … We’d had a wonderful meeting, and after it was over, I was greeting some of the wonderful farmers who were there, and among them was a man by the name of Brother Yost, and I said, ‘Brother Yost, how are things out on the farm?’ Brother Yost said, ‘Oh, things are fine, Brother Benson, but I’m about 20 thousand dollars worse off than I was three days ago.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter—another frost?’ He said, ‘Yes, it hit the wheat just in the dough stage, and you know what that means.’ He said, ‘We’re starting the mowing machines in the morning, but everything’s all right. We’ve still got a little wheat in the bin, and we’ve got at least part of our year’s supply laid away. We’re not going to starve, and there’ll be another crop.’ As we left him, I said to my wife, ‘What a wonderful spirit.’

What responses to suffering work well for you, what responses do you think do not work well?

“We drove on down to Logan [a city in Utah, about 80 miles, or 130 kilometers, from Bancroft]. We had our children with us, and we stopped on Main Street to go into a grocery store to pick up a few cookies for the kiddies. And who should I meet on the sidewalk but Brother Yost. I said, ‘Well, what are you doing way down here?’ He said, ‘Brother Benson, it’s our day to go to the temple.’ And I said, ‘Well, reverses don’t dampen your spirits any, do they?’ Then he taught me a lesson. He said, ‘Brother Benson, when reverses come we need the temple all the more.’”3

Should we be clueless or aware?

President Benson’s own responses to adversity lifted those who knew him, just as the example of other Saints strengthened him. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described President Benson as a “careful watcher of events, [who] maintains a certain buoyancy and cheerfulness we would do well to watch. Such buoyancy,” Elder Maxwell said, “comes not from ignoring enveloping events, but from noticing these and yet looking beyond them to promises having to do with how the kingdom will finally prevail.”4

Does anyone avoid disappointment or discouragement?


We will all have disappointments and discouragements—that is part of life. But if we will have faith, our setbacks will be but a moment and success will come out of our seeming failures. Our Heavenly Father can accomplish miracles through each of us if we will but place our confidence and trust in Him.5

It is a great blessing to have an inner peace, to have an assurance, to have a spirit of serenity and inward calm during times of strife and struggle, during times of sorrow and reverses. It is soul-satisfying to know that God is at the helm, that He is mindful of His children, and that we can with full confidence place our trust in Him.6

Prayer, Faith, Hope and Action.

How do these four principals work together?


Prayer—persistent prayer—can put us in touch with God, our greatest source of comfort and counsel. “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror.” (D&C 10:5.) “Exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me” is how the young Joseph Smith describes the method that he used in the Sacred Grove to keep the adversary from destroying him. (JS—H 1:16.)7

Faith

Without faith in our Heavenly Father, we cannot be successful. Faith gives us vision of what may happen, hope for the future, and optimism in our present tasks. Where faith is, we do not doubt the ultimate success of the work.8

Hope

Of all people, we as Latter-day Saints should be the most optimistic and the least pessimistic. For while we know that “peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion,” we are also assured that “the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst.” (D&C 1:35–36.)

Action

With the assurance that the Church shall remain intact with God directing it through the troubled times ahead, it then becomes our individual responsibility to see that each of us remains faithful to the Church and its teachings. “He that remaineth steadfast and is not overcome, the same shall be saved.” (JS—M 1:11.)9

Why does happiness have to be earned every day?


We have no cause to really worry. Live the gospel, keep the commandments. Attend to your prayers night and morning in your home. Maintain the standards of the Church. Try and live calmly and cheerfully. … Happiness must be earned from day to day. But it is worth the effort.10

When George A. Smith was very ill, he was visited by his cousin, the Prophet Joseph Smith. The afflicted man reported: “He [the Prophet] told me I should never get discouraged, whatever difficulties might surround me. If I were sunk into the lowest pit of Nova Scotia and all the Rocky Mountains piled on top of me, I ought not to be discouraged, but hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I should come out on the top of the heap.” …

There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you. As the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.” (D&C 121:7–8.)

How do we earn happiness every day?


Pressing on in noble endeavors, even while surrounded by a cloud of depression, will eventually bring you out on top into the sunshine. Even our master Jesus the Christ, while facing that supreme test of being temporarily left alone by our Father during the crucifixion, continued performing his labors for the children of men, and then shortly thereafter he was glorified and received a fulness of joy. While you are going through your trial, you can recall your past victories and count the blessings that you do have with a sure hope of greater ones to follow if you are faithful. And you can have that certain knowledge that in due time God will wipe away all tears and that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9.)11

Be cheerful in all that you do. Live joyfully. Live happily. Live enthusiastically, knowing that God does not dwell in gloom and melancholy, but in light and love.12

“To live happily is to grow in spiritual strength toward perfection.”

What does God want of us?

Heavenly Father wants us to be happy, and He will bless us as we follow His will for us.

“Men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Our Heavenly Father wants us to be happy. He expects us to be happy. But there is no happiness in a letting down of standards. There is no happiness when you fail to live according to your convictions, according to that which you know to be right. It is so easy to form the habit of taking it just a little easy on certain things. It is so easy to form the habit of faultfinding, or criticizing, of carrying in our hearts reservations regarding certain things in the Church. It is so easy for us to become a bit bitter, and then dwell on that, to become sad and carry a sad face with us. A sad face never won a battle in war or love.13

How do we turn our lives over to God?

Do we realize that happiness here and now consists in freely, lovingly, joyfully acknowledging God’s will for us—and doing it in all ways and all affairs big and small? To live perfectly is to live happily. To live happily is to grow in spiritual strength toward perfection. Every action performed in accord with God’s will is part of that growth. Let us not partition our lives. Let us unify our lives, being contemptuous of fictitious honors and glories that do not come with God’s approval. Let us remember that the real source of our strength and happiness is beyond the reach of men and circumstances.14

We must learn and learn again that only through accepting and living the gospel of love as taught by the Master and only through doing His will can we break the bonds of ignorance and doubt that bind us. We must learn this simple, glorious truth so that we can experience the sweet joys of the Spirit now and eternally. We must lose ourselves in doing His will. We must place Him first in our lives. Yes, our blessings multiply as we share His love with our neighbor.15

“Brethren,” said Paul, “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philip. 3:13–14.)

What should we meditate on?

Let your minds be filled with the goal of being like the Lord, and you will crowd out depressing thoughts as you anxiously seek to know him and do his will. “Let this mind be in you,” said Paul. (Philip. 2:5.) “Look unto me in every thought,” said Jesus. (D&C 6:36.) And what will follow if we do? “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” (Isa. 26:3.)16

We will never be alone if we live as we should, because our Father will always be with us to bless us. He wants us to be successful. He wants us to be happy. He wants us to achieve the good goals we set. He will do His part if we do our part.17

How can we use this lesson to help ourselves and to help others? 

How do we avoid being trite or overly simplistic when applying these principles?      

Philosophy mingled with scripture (rough draft)

When people talk about philosophy mingled with scripture they generally mean one of two things.

First, when Greek Platonic Idealism (sometimes called realism) replaced the non-Platonic parts of the gospel. (Somewhere around the third century AD).

Second, when Aristotelian Nominalism (the competing Philosophy) came in and replaced Idealism for some. (Somewhere around the twelfth century).

Third, any popular philosophy they encounter in the Church that they don't agree with.

For an example:

  • Idealism: beauty is a property constructed in the mind, so exists only in descriptions of things.
  • Platonic realism: beauty is a property that exists in an ideal form independently of any mind or description.
  • Aristotlean realism: beauty is a property that only exists when beautiful things exist.
  • Anyone who is famous has beauty (neo-calvinism/popular culture).
What is interesting is just how these frameworks can be applied to almost anything.  Sociology,  popular Marxism, and, of course, religion.

Platonic thought is found every time someone reads scripture and assumes that any particular concept refers only to a specific ideal form, that can be discovered without regard to the context of the person doing the discovery.  Thus the discussions about faith (which is used in several different ways) where every use of it is treated as fungible and the same as any other.

Aristotelian thought is found every time someone says there is no meaning outside of context.  Even better, modern, popular versions of Aristotelian thought are not the same as the "real" thing (as a philosopher would see it).

You can think of the one as black and white thinking and one as endless shades of gray.

The relevance is that there are two movements in the Church.  One is to strip everything of context -- to the point that while John Taylor may have used the word "Priesthood" in multiple different ways (as a replacement for the term "brotherhood" and other times as an inherent quality and other times as "authority") any time he uses the term is treated as being properly switched for any other time as if his uses were fungible.  I doubt that Plato would identify with this descendant of his thinking.

The other movement is to reduce everything to context, combined with the assumption that modern popular context is superior.  Thus anything that opposes the popular culture is evil and meaning becomes very fluid, depending on the needs of popular culture.  This leads to the words of Christ being used to justify violent aggressive war, free love and sex without responsibility, and the idea that we are now beyond sin.  Aristotle would not recognize this as his thought.

But both of these trends pull us away from Christ.  When asked to choose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Christ did not embrace one over the other.  He was neither, in the popular parlance, a Liahona or a Iron Rodder.  Instead he gave commandment to go beyond those dividing lines, to embrace charity and devotion, and to take upon us the name of Christ.

I think we learn something when we choose to do that rather than mingle philosophy with scripture.





Sunday, February 08, 2015

I like how Andrew S and Brigham Young actually reach a parallelism on deconstruction (so that they do not reach the same place but they both realize that the current paradigms in the Church are social constructs).

Without taking too much time on deconstruction as it is in philosophy ("any given concept is constituted and comprehended linguistically and in terms of its oppositions, e.g. perception/ reason, speech/writing, mind/body, interior/exterior, marginal/central, sensible/intelligible, intuition/signification, nature/culture") the essence of deconstruction is that a concept is defined from its context,  a concept is constituted, comprehended and identified in terms of what it is not and self-sufficient meaning is never arrived at because context can never provide that.

LDS versions of the same concept conclude that there is a reality, but no description can properly define it because all descriptions are in our language and limited by what we have for language.
When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities…. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings
and
When the Lord reveals anything to men, he reveals it in a language that corresponds with their own. If you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding


In discussing that point, I agreed to revisit the topic for a post at Wheat and Tares.

Brigham Young and Joseph Smith both taught that we see the world through a lens of our own experience, language and knowledge and that it creates filters not only for what we see and know, but for what God is able to communicate to us and what and how revelation works in our lives. (e.g. http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/As_the_most_correct_book#cite_note-2).

It is important to realize that in that framework, our viewpoint is not superior to the framework of Abraham or Moses or Peter or Moroni, it is just different.  Each framework has its own selection of weaknesses and follies.  The best way to understand it (rather than the morass of philosophy and outside of just reading Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on the topic) is the linguistic relativity hypothesis.   


Large differences in language lead to large differences in experience and thought. They hold that each language embodies a worldview, with quite different languages embodying quite different views, so that speakers of different languages think about the world in quite different ways. This view is sometimes called the Whorf-hypothesis or the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, after the linguists who made it famous. But the label linguistic relativity, which is more common today, has the advantage that makes it easier to separate the hypothesis from the details of ...
This is easily seen in the three ball experiment.  In dealing with people whose language does not have a word for the color orange, if they have three balls (orange, red and yellow), are allowed to handle them for a while, then told to remember the orange one, when they are asked to choose the ball that was identified, they tend to pick the red or the yellow one.  If their language has a word for orange, they pick the orange one.  They literally remember the ball as the color they have a word for, rather than the color it is.

In religion, it is not only if five people without inspiration read a scripture that they will have five different interpretations.  If if five people with inspiration read the same scripture they also will have five different inspirations. This applies even if the five "different" people are the same person, just at different stages of their life experience, different vocabularies and different connotations with the vocabularies.

Notably Brigham Young was very clear that if Joseph Smith had translated the Book of Mormon at 30 it would have been a much different book than it was than what we have now.  "And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation."

This begs a number of questions and should serve as a warning that anyone who writes down a spiritual communication is not writing down what the Spirit communicated but their construct of it in the language they have at the  time.  Anyone reading it or hearing it has to escape both the frame of the sender and their own frame to come closer to the truth.  I touched on this on the older essay on God being a Quantum God (viz. http://www.wheatandtares.org/7938/our-god-is-an-awesome-quantum-god/ ) -- the idea that the views of God that we have are like the blind men and the elephant -- except if you are someone who can see you would see that there is no "elephant" just the differing views of the blind men.

The difference between Brigham Young's deconstruction and many modern deconstructionists (who could use a lot more real science in their backgrounds) is that Brigham Young believed in not only a physical reality, but that there was a pure spiritual reality that we could someday grasp and that should inform the way we faced life.  He believed in an ultimate meaning that we all approached, and that had many different valuable approaches (thus his famous sermon about how other religions had truths that we lacked and how we need to go out and bring back those truths for ourselves).  He realized that his vision of that spiritual reality had holes in it that were inevitable.  cf Joseph Smith's discussions of a perfect language and similar matters on language.  (e.g. http://chaunceyriddle.com/courses/philosophy-110-byu/joseph-smith-and-the-ways-of-knowing/)

 Which, surprisingly, Joseph Smith combined a theme, a note, where "no note is more frequent in his private and public statements than that each can come to know for himself."

Thus, just because there are many socially created paradigms does not mean that our paradigm is the one true paradigm untainted by human error, instead it means that our paradigm and our filter necessarily has error and mistakes. It means that we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things and that we, at present, go through mists of darkness in the Church, with only Christ's core principles that he gave us to hold to.

In addition, we believe that the parable of the Iron Rod reflects that those who have entered into the way and who have the truth will experience "mists of darkness" and find themselves unable to know which way to go from logic and intuition alone.

So where does this leave us in our own quest for truth?  What is "really" true?

I begin with the Book of Mormon's two key doctrinal points:

  1. Jesus is the Christ.  The true love of Christ is the heart of what it means to have a testimony that Jesus is the Christ.
  2. Cleave unto Charity (be kind).
 13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
 and
43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.










Everything else flows from this, and for everything else there is always more time.


Lesson 3


Preface:

    Discussions in small groups “give a large number of people the opportunity to participate in a lesson. Individuals who are usually hesitant to participate might share ideas in small groups that they would not express in front of the entire group”

_________________________________________________________


    “Agency has been given to all of us to make important decisions that will have bearing on our salvation. Those decisions affect our happiness in eternity.”

    Living and working on a farm, Ezra Taft Benson learned about the consequences of good decisions. He recalled: “I grew up believing that the willingness and ability to work is the basic ingredient of successful farming. Hard, intelligent work is the key. Use it, and your chances for success are good.”1

    At a young age, Ezra learned that he and his family would have more to eat if they chose to take care of their garden. He learned that if he wanted the family to be successful in their dairy business, he had to decide to get out of bed early every day to milk the cows.2 He saw that when he made the choice to work hard, local farmers hired him to thin their beets and pitch their hay.3 He saw that trials come even to the faithful, but he also saw that individuals and families could decide to respond to trials in a way that would help them be happy and successful.

    *    How do some professions reflect the effects of effort and attitude better than others?  Which are based mostly on hard work and effort, which on social connection and personality?

    *    What choices do we have in dealing with trials?  What choices do we not have?

    With this experience as a foundation, President Ezra Taft Benson frequently reminded Latter-day Saints and others of the importance of agency—the freedom “to choose the course they should follow.”6 His teachings about the principle of agency included more than just a reminder to “choose between right and wrong.”7 He spoke of agency as the ability to “make important decisions that will have bearing on our salvation” and that will “affect our happiness in eternity.”8 He encouraged Latter-day Saints and others to use their agency to “act on their own,” without waiting to be commanded in all things.9 The principle of agency, he said, “runs like a golden thread throughout the gospel plan of the Lord for the blessing of his children.”10


    *    How easy is it to think of “free agency” as only choosing between right and wrong? 
    *    What do we miss when we don’t think of other choices we make in the same way?

Ezra Taft Benson’s testimony:

    I testify that we are the spirit offspring of a loving God, our Heavenly Father. He has a great plan of salvation whereby His children might be perfected as He is and might have a fulness of joy as He enjoys.

    I testify that in our premortal state our Elder Brother in the spirit, even Jesus Christ, became our foreordained Savior in the Father’s plan of salvation. He is the captain of our salvation and the only means through whom we can return to our Father in Heaven to gain that fulness of joy.

    I testify that Lucifer was also in the council of heaven. He sought to destroy the agency of man. He rebelled.) There was a war in heaven, and a third of the hosts were cast to the earth and denied a body. Lucifer is the enemy of all righteousness and seeks the misery of all mankind.

    The central issue in that premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed Him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force.

    *    Have you ever considered the concepts above as things you would bear testimony of?
    *    Are there other gospel principles that might fit into areas you might have a testimony of?
    *    How often do people try to govern by coercion and force?

    Abraham was shown the spirit children of our Heavenly Father before they came to earth. He, too, was shown the creation of the earth, and the Lord said to him: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25.) In that divine statement is embodied also the right of choice.16

    This life is a probation: a probation in which you and I prove our mettle, a probation that has eternal consequences for each of us. And now is our time and season—as every generation has had theirs—to learn our duties and to do them.17

    That the Lord is displeased with wickedness is true. That He desires that it not occur is also true. That He will help those who oppose it is true. But that He allows wickedness to occur at all through His children here in mortality is proof of His having given them their freedom to choose, while reserving for Him a basis for their final judgment.18

    There is no evil that [Jesus Christ] cannot arrest. All things are in His hands. This earth is His rightful dominion. Yet He permits evil so that we can make choices between good and evil.19

    *    How important is choice?
    *    What happens if there is no choice?

SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION:

    *    In what ways have you seen that “the war that began in heaven … is not yet over”? What can we do to continue to stand for the principle of agency?

    *    People often wonder why God allows evil to exist in the world. How do President Benson’s teachings help to answer that question?

    *    Why or why not?

    *    What can we do to help those younger than ourselves understand how the decisions they make (and the decisions we made) have affected our happiness and our lives? What can we do to help children and youth understand the impact of the decisions they make?

    *    How can we teach from our own lives?



[We ran out of time before this point, but]

More reading and large group discussion:

    If we are to make proper, Christ-like decisions, we must first of all live so we can reach out and tap that unseen power without which no man can do his best in decision making.

    The Lord said, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you” (3 Nephi 14:7; Matthew 7:7). In other words, it requires effort on our part.30

    Wise decisions are usually arrived at following work, struggle, and prayerful effort. The Lord’s response to Oliver Cowdery’s ineffective effort makes this clear: “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:8.)

    Let us begin, therefore, by saying that earnestly seeking our Father in heaven, having faith that he will answer our prayers, is a comforting base on which to begin. … The Lord will not take water from a dry well, so we must do our part. Sometimes attempting to find a correct decision takes great amounts of energy, study, and long-suffering.31

    In decisions of crucial importance, fasting combined with prayer can bring great spiritual insight.32

    *    In reviewing what the lesson manual refers to as President Benson’s counsel about making “proper, Christ-like decisions” what have you learned about combining prayer with diligent effort in making decisions?

    *    What else do you consider part of a proper, Christ-like decision?

    *   What does it mean to you to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause”?
    *    How does your life change when you do good things “of [your] own free will” rather than waiting to be commanded?

    *    What would you consider a good cause?

In 1831 the Lord said this to his Church:

    “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

    “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

    “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

    “But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.” (D&C 58:26–29.)

    The Lord wants us to use our agency to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27).

    The purposes of the Lord—the great objectives—continue the same: the salvation and exaltation of his children.
 
    Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and his prophets, and then prayerfully act—without having to be commanded “in all things.” This attitude prepares men for godhood. …

    Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail. Usually, I fear, the more he has to spell it out, the smaller is our reward.33

    We should be “anxiously engaged” in good causes and leave the world a better place for having lived in it.34

What does it mean to you to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause”?


  *   Any final comments?
 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

ETB #2 Lesson -- Pray Always



“All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above almost any other advice I have received,” said President Ezra Taft Benson. “It has become an integral part of me, an anchor, a constant source of strength, and the basis for my knowledge of things divine.

“‘Remember that whatever you do or wherever you are, you are never alone’ was my father’s familiar counsel to me as a boy. ‘Our Heavenly Father is always near. You can reach out and receive His aid through prayer.’ I have found this counsel to be true. Thank God we can reach out and tap that unseen power, without which no man can do his best.”1
 

President Benson said that we should “let no day pass” without personal prayer (section 1). How have you been blessed as a result of personal prayer?
 

“I have knelt with him and heard him pray.

“His prayers were always interesting. Almost without exception, they consisted for the most part of expressions of thanks. He asked for very little. He expressed gratitude for very much.

“He thanked the Lord for life, for family, for the gospel, for faith, for sunlight and rain, the bounties of nature, and the freedom-loving instincts of man. He thanked the Lord for friends and associates. He expressed love for the Savior and gratitude for His atoning sacrifice. He thanked the Lord for the opportunity to serve the people.”5


How often do we have prayers that are just gratitude?

Jesus Christ has taught that we should pray always.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus taught us a pattern for prayer:

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
“Give us this day our daily bread.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Why would Jesus tell us to include these things in our prayers?

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:9–13.)

He further instructed, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1.)

“Watch and pray,” He said, “that ye enter not into temptation.” (Matt. 26:41.)

In this dispensation He admonished, “Pray always lest that wicked one have power in you, and remove you out of your place.” (D&C 93:49.)

The Savior declared to Joseph Smith, “In nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” (D&C 59:21.)

How does confessing God’s hand in all things help keep us from temptation? How does prayer keep us from the power of evil?

If we would advance in holiness—increase in favor with God—nothing can take the place of prayer. And so I adjure you to give prayer—daily prayer—secret prayer—a foremost place in your lives. Let no day pass without it. Communion with the Almighty has been a source of strength, inspiration, and enlightenment to men and women through the world’s history who have shaped the destinies of individuals and nations for good.9
 
Why does it become easy to let daily prayer lapse?

We need as families to kneel in family prayer, night and morning. Just a few words added to the blessing on the food, which is becoming the custom in some parts, is not enough. We need to get onto our knees in prayer and gratitude.11
Prayer has been and is the ever-present anchor for strength and a source of direction in our family activities. I remember kneeling at the bedside of our young children, helping them with prayers in their younger years, and later seeing the older brothers and sisters helping the younger ones. We had family prayer night and morning, with children given the opportunity to lead, and had special prayers to meet particular problems. Mention was made in family prayer, for instance, of children with [Church] assignments. … We asked for help when one of the children faced a difficult examination in high school. Special mention was made of members of the family [who were] away. … This special mention of particular concerns in our family prayers gave confidence, assurance, and strength to members of the family facing difficult problems and assignments.12
 
President Benson mentions several blessings that come to families who pray together regularly. When have you seen family prayer lead to these blessings?

 What can we do to make family prayer a priority?

Here are five ways to improve our communication with our Heavenly Father:

1. We should pray frequently. We should be alone with our Heavenly Father at least two or three times each day—“morning, mid-day, and evening,” as the scripture indicates. (Alma 34:21.) In addition, we are told to pray always. (See 2 Ne. 32:9; D&C 88:126.) This means that our hearts should be full, drawn out in prayer unto our Heavenly Father continually. (See Alma 34:27.)

2. We should find an appropriate place where we can meditate and pray. We are admonished that this should be “in [our] closets, and [our] secret places, and in [our] wilderness.” (Alma 34:26.) That is, it should be free from distraction, in secret. (See 3 Ne. 13:5–6.)

3. We should prepare ourselves for prayer. If we do not feel like praying, then we should pray until we do feel like praying. We should be humble. (See D&C 112:10.) We should pray for forgiveness and mercy. (See Alma 34:17–18.) We must forgive anyone against whom we have bad feelings. (See Mark 11:25.) Yet the scriptures warn that our prayers will be vain if we “turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of [our] substance.” (Alma 34:28.)

How can you apply these first three points?

What are good ways to implement these points?

4. Our prayers should be meaningful and pertinent. We should avoid using the same phrases in each prayer. Any of us would become offended if a friend said the same words to us each day, treated the conversation as a chore, and could hardly wait to finish in order to turn on the television set and forget us. …

For what should we pray? We should pray about our work, against the power of our enemies and the devil, for our welfare and the welfare of those around us. We should counsel with the Lord regarding all our decisions and activities. (See Alma 37:36–37.) We should be grateful enough to give thanks for all we have. (See D&C 59:21.) We should confess His hand in all things. Ingratitude is one of our great sins.

The Lord has declared in modern revelation: “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” (D&C 78:19.)

We should ask for what we need, taking care that we not ask for things that would be to our detriment. (See James 4:3.) We should ask for strength to overcome our problems. (See Alma 31:31–33.) We should pray for the inspiration and well-being of the President of the Church, the General Authorities, our stake president, our bishop, our quorum president, our home teachers, family members, and our civic leaders. Other suggestions could be made, but with the help of the Holy Ghost we will know about what we should pray. (See Rom. 8:26–27.)

5. After making a request through prayer, we have a responsibility to assist in its being granted. We should listen. Perhaps while we are on our knees, the Lord wants to counsel us

How can you apply these last two points?

What are good ways to implement these points?


It is soul-satisfying to know that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in Him and do that which is right. There is no place for fear among men and women who place their trust in the Almighty, who do not hesitate to humble themselves in seeking divine guidance through prayer. Though persecutions arise, though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is life’s greatest blessing.

‘What gospel principle is taught in this passage? How can I apply this in my life?’

If you had one thing to teach someone else about prayer, what would it be?

What is the one thing you would suggest that they apply in their lives from this lesson?