Sunday, October 26, 2014

Scripture Master Tip #21: Improve Your Reading Skills Overall


Improve Your Reading Skills Overall.

Practice reading more, as well as more often. Branch out in your reading habits. Read better books. Reading the scriptures is a good way to make yourself stretch and to improve your reading skills, but it isn’t the only way.  We are even counseled twice in the scriptures to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (See D&C 88:118 and D&C 109:7).

Seek out things of beauty and nobility like the works of Shakespeare. I would tell you to do that anyway, but I chose to emphasize the works of Shakespeare because Shakespeare uses language that is very close to the language used in the King James Bible, and his works will help you to get used to the language outside of a Gospel context.  Many of the greatest classics of literature can also do much to help you to improve your grasp of scripture by helping you to recognize and appreciate certain literary devices such as the use of metaphor, symbolism, allegory, foreshadowing, archetypes, aphorisms, allusion, and so on.  As you learn to appreciate these and the countless other literary devices which you will encounter as you read some of the best books, you will discover that the scriptures are great literature and that the prophets who wrote these inspired books regularly employed incredibly sophisticated literary devices in order to help us to better grasp the sublime truths they were attempting to communicate.  The scriptures will become so much easier to understand when you have developed the tools to fully grasp the many levels on which they were meant to be understood.

You don't necessarily have to be that ambitious at first though, especially if you struggle with reading.  What matters is that you learn to love to read, and that you read the best and most uplifting things, in order so you might come to more fully love and enjoy what you read in the scriptures.

Basically, if you want to improve your ability to read and understand the scriptures, you ought to spend more time improving your ability to read and understand everything.  This is best accomplished by reading the best books, but it is impossible to accomplish without reading.  What does improved literacy have to do with learning to love the scriptures?  Everything:
“Study after study in the last quarter-century has revealed that American Christians increasingly don't read their Bibles, don't engage their Bibles, and don't know their Bibles. It's obvious: We are living in a post-biblically literate culture.
Just as critical is the second word of the Bible literacy problem: literacy. Pew Research tells us that 23 percent of us didn't read a single book in the last year. That's three times the number who didn't read a book in 1978. Whether it's the Internet, video games, the TV or increased time spent on entertainment and sports, Americans are spending less time between the pages of any book, not just the Good Book” (Stetzer, 2014).
If you don’t like reading, you are going to have to get over it if you want to learn to understand the scriptures, because God chose to have his Prophets write his word down, which means that we’re stuck with reading. I’m sure that there must be a good reason behind God’s choice of format, because if you think about it, God could have easily made it possible for the scriptures to be recorded in the form of a movie (for instance) if he had wanted to, but he didn’t.

However, if reading is truly an obstacle for you, you may want to start in another format, such as audio recordings of the scriptures.
"Introducing elements of scripture stories through videos or pictures before reading can help readers who struggle with comprehension. Then, as they begin reading, they can concentrate on understanding principles or themes instead of tracking characters and plot lines.

"In addition, listening to audio recordings of scriptures or conference talks offers some readers focused support as they follow along in the printed text. Listening to a fluent reader can increase a struggling reader’s ability to comprehend unfamiliar texts and vocabulary. Church resources, such as LDS.org, offer scriptures and conference addresses as downloadable audio files that facilitate these kinds of reading experiences" (Coombs, 2014, pp. 63-64).
I have made several of my own suggestions for creative alternatives which you can use to approach the scriptures in Scripture Master Tip #7: Get Creative!

Even if reading is a chore for you, you need to make the effort to carefully and even lovingly study the scriptures.  "Learning to read takes practice, which includes taking risks" (Coombs, 2014, p. 63). Your spiritual well-being depends on your willingness to overcome your difficulty or discomfort with reading so you can reap the blessings of the knowledge, wisdom, and truth that are contained in the scriptures.  "reading struggles inhibit spiritual growth when they prevent individuals from studying the gospel" (Coombs, 2014, p. 62).

Don't be afraid to ask others for help to read and understand; it may be embarrassing, but it beats remaining ignorant of the most important truths known to man.  Also, remember to ask the Lord in prayer to help you to read and understand.  Even the greatest prophets and the wisest men need to ask for help if they truly wish to get the most out of what they read in the scriptures.  For more on this subject please read my article Scripture Master Tip #4: It's OK to Ask Questions!

If you do not have a particular difficulty with reading, but you have allowed yourself to fall out of the habit because you spend too much time watching television, or playing video games, or even just working, then you need to refocus your priorities.
“Don’t yield to Satan’s lie that you don’t have time to study the scriptures. Choose to take time to study them. Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games, or social media. You may need to reorganize your priorities to provide time for the study of the word of God. If so, do it!”  (Richard G. Scott, “Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority,” General Conference Address, Oct. 5, 2014, lds.org).
For those of us who live in the western world, there is no excuse for us if we choose to allow ourselves to remain scripturally illiterate.  Literacy overall is so high in our countries, and the availability of books, and ease by which we can access them today, is unprecedented in the history of the world.  It makes no sense for us to neglect these incredible resources, and it makes even less sense for us to neglect the scriptures, especially in light of the great sacrifices that groups and individuals have made to bring us the scriptures, or to bring us a version of the scriptures that we can read in our own language.
“In Tyndale’s day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.”  (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Blessing of Scripture,” Ensign, May 2010, 33).
“There is no excuse. It's not as if we don't have access. The average American—Christian or not—owns at least three Bibles. Even those who don't have one in their home can download it free to their smartphone or "steal" a Gideon Bible from a hotel room. The Word of God is more available than ever. People have died to bring us what has led to modern translations of Scripture, yet we are dying from lack of knowledge” (Stetzer, 2014).
Don’t die of thirst while lying next to a well of sweet water.  All you have to do is to reach for it, and the scriptures can come alive in your hands.  Don’t be afraid to do a little bit of work in order to unearth the unspeakable treasures that are available to all sincere seekers who choose to immerse themselves in the sweet truths of the scriptures. 
 “No one knows anything about Christ’s work simply by being born a member of the Church, and often he knows little about it after years of unmotivated exposure in meetings or classes. He must learn. And learning involves self-investment and effort. The gospel should be studied ‘as carefully as any science.’ The ‘literature of the Church’ must be ‘acquired and read.’ Our learning should be increased in our spare time ‘day by day.’ Then as we put the gospel truth to work in daily life, we will never find it wanting. We will be literate in the most important field of knowledge in the universe, knowledge for lack of which men and nations perish, in the light of which men and nations may be saved” (Hanks, 1969).
If you know someone who struggles with reading, and it is interfering with  their ability to build a strong testimony of the truths taught in the scriptures, these suggestions from the church magazines will be extremely helpful in finding ways to nurture and help them so that they too can experience the joy and satisfaction of studying God's word.

There are 20 Scripture Master Tips before this one!  You can start at the beginning with Scripture Master Tip #1: Just Do It! or you can work your way backwards from here and start with Scripture Master Tip # 20: Search, Ponder, and Pray .

References
Coombs, D. (2014). Nurturing testimonies by nurturing readers. Ensign. 44(12). p. 63  Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2014/12/nurturing-testimonies-by-nurturing-readers?lang=eng\

Hanks, M. (September, 1969). Theological illiterates. Improvement Era. 72(9). p. 42.

Stetzer, E. (October, 2014). Biblical illiteracy by the numbers part 1: The challenge. Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/october/biblical-illiteracy-by-numbers.html

Monday, September 1, 2014

Why Did They Light Incense in the Temple in Bible Times?


 Q:  In Sunday school someone asked, "Why did they light incense in the temple in Bible times?" and not even the teacher knew.  Do you know?


A:  Most sources will tell you something along these lines:

"The smoke from burnt offerings rose into the heavens, representing our dedication to God. The incense represented people’s prayers rising up to God" (“Then Will I Go unto the Altar of God,” Ensign, February 2014, 66).

This is the symbolism that is used in Psalms 141:2 and Revelation 8:3-4:

"Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.  Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."

The symbolism whereby the smoke of the incense represents the prayers of the saints is a powerful one, and should help us to understand the importance of prayer in our relationship with God, but there is deeper symbolism which should not be ignored.  The burning of the incense to accompany an offering in the temple also had an important symbolic function that relates to the Savior and the cleansing and purifying effect (sanctification) of His atonement.

In Leviticus, the Israelites were commanded to add incense (along with salt and some other things) to their burnt offerings in order that their offerings might be "of a sweet savour unto the Lord" (see Leviticus Ch. 2).  This had the symbolic effect of sanctifying the offering and making it acceptable to God.

This symbolism was understood by the people anciently, as it was part of the prayer which was offered by the priests and the people during the portion of the service in which the incense was lit.

"Be graciously pleased, Jehovah our God, with Thy people Israel, and with their prayer.  Restore the service to the oracle of Thy house; and the burnt-offerings of Israel and their prayer accept graciously and in love; and let the service of Thy people Israel be ever well-pleasing unto Thee" (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, 129).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How Can I Get My Testimony Back?


Q:  I was baptized a little over a year ago. I was baptized because I knew for a fact all of the things most people do: Jesus Christ is our Savior, Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, the church is true, etc... But now, I just don't. I'm no longer sure if the Book of Mormon is true. I can't read any scriptures. I don't even know if they are true. I'm not sure Thomas S. Monson is a prophet. But I want to be sure. I want to be like I was a year ago. But I don't know how.

A:  When you first got baptized no doubt you were on a spiritual high, and your emotions were probably running high as well. Now that time has passed, your emotions have cooled somewhat, and you have had to face the relatively mundane task of maintaining (and nurturing) your testimony from day to day. C. S. Lewis declared that such a change in mood is natural, and that it is precisely in moments such as these that faith is most useful:

"Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognize [sic] the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?" (Mere Christianity, 140-141)

C. S. Lewis lists three things which he tells us are "necessary parts of Christian life," if we are to keep our faith "fed" and nurtured. I call these things "the three pillars of personal testimony," because they are essential in the maintenance and development of a healthy testimony and a robust faith.

*Daily prayers (Constant prayer)
*Religious readings (Consistent scripture study)
*Church-going (Regular & worthy observance of the sacrament)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why Gethsemane is as Important as Calvary



Q:  Do you really think Jesus bled from every pore, or do you think it’s symbolic?

A:  I believe that Christ DID, in fact, literally bleed from every pore. The reality of this event has been confirmed by the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day scriptures, and modern prophets have also borne witness to the truth of Christ’s bleeding from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mosiah 3:7  And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.

Even Christ himself is recorded bearing witness to the reality of His suffering in the garden:

D&C 19:17-19  For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;  Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

It has also been demonstrated scientifically that the human body can indeed bleed from the pores when subjected to enough stress, as evidenced by these medical references:

"Those who assert that it is impossible for a body to sweat blood are not acquainted with the facts. The possibility of this phenomenon was known to the ancients...And if one will take the trouble to consult a modern medical dictionary under hemathidrosis or hematidrosis, reference will be found to the phenomenon. Thus in The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary (1947, Phila.) we find this entry:  'Hematidrosis—The sweating of blood or of fluid mixed with blood. In Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (1955, Phila.) occurs this reference:  Hemathidrosis, hematidrosis—Condition of sweating blood.'  In a much older medical work we find this interesting note: 'Haematidrosis is a functional disturbance of the sweat apparatus whereby blood, through diapedesis into the coils and ducts from their surrounding vascular plexus, becomes mingled with the sweat and appears with it upon the normal skin, producing the phenomenon of so-called "bloody sweat." It is an exceedingly rare occurrence, ....' (C. T. Dade in Reference Handbook of the Medical Sciences, IV, 466. 1902.)  Thus it is clear that the sweating of blood can occur, even if rarely" (Dr. Sydney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, 139-140).

However, physical suffering was only part of what the Savior experienced during His sojourn in Gethsemane.

“It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, [producing] unconsciousness and welcome oblivion. In that hour of anguish Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ could inflict…In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 613).

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Truth About Faith


Ask any young person in the church to explain the principle of faith and odds are they will recite Alma 32:21 to you and leave it at that.

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

This is a wonderful scripture, and it is a good one to have memorized, but I feel that if you depend on this verse alone for your understanding of the principle of faith you will find that your ability to understand and apply it in your life will be somewhat lacking.

I find that the apostle Paul provides another description of faith which at first sounds similar to the one which Alma gave, but upon closer examination you will see that Paul is teaching us much more deeply about the nature and uses of faith.

Hebrews 11:1  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

When all you have is Alma’s definition of faith as rendered in Alma 32:21, you might think that faith is a rather passive principle in which one holds a vague hope in unseen forces which seem largely beyond your control.  Faith in this scenario seems to be an ill-defined hope, based on vague and even insubstantial evidence, in something that happens to be true.

If this is how you understand faith as a principle, it is no wonder that enemies of religion accuse Christians of blind faith, and enemies of the LDS church accuse its members of blindly following the prophet and their leaders.

Paul’s description of faith which he gave to the Hebrews shows us that faith does not need to be, nor should it be, blind or passive.  His teachings help us to understand that faith, rather than being a vague hope in an unseen truth, is in itself the concrete evidence and the substance upon which we can rely for the foundation of our belief in said truth.  With the assurance provided by such reliable evidence we can make decisions with confidence and take concrete action.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fasting 101: How to Fast and Why it Matters



Q:  Alright guys, I'm 18 and I don't know how to properly fast. Now after you're done laughing, can somebody give me a step by step list of how to start it, end it and anything else that I need to know?

A:  I applaud you for your desire to learn how to fast properly.  When done correctly, fasting is an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord and to grow stronger spiritually.

How to fast

As a matter of custom, the Church typically designates the first Sunday of every month as a day of fasting.  In order to properly observe ‘fast Sunday’ you should “go without food and drink for two consecutive meals, [attend] fast and testimony meeting, and [give] a fast offering to help care for those in need” (Gospel Topics:  Fasting and Fast Offerings, lds.org).  You are not restricted to fasting only on ‘fast Sundays’ however.  In fact, it is perfectly appropriate to fast on other days, as long as you do not “fast too frequently or for excessive periods of time” (Gospel Topics:  Fasting and Fast Offerings, lds.org).  The actual process of observing a fast is a relatively simple one; however I feel I should point out that, if you want to do it properly, there is a little more to fasting than just a step-by-step process.


 Fasting and prayer

First, it’s important to remember that proper fasting is always accompanied by sincere prayer.  In a way you could say that fasting is not a standalone principle, but that it depends on the related principle of heartfelt prayer in order to function properly.  Prayer is not always accompanied by fasting, but fasting should always be coupled with prayer.  I think that people too often forget that fasting (when coupled with prayer) is a profound way to worship God and to express our devotion and gratitude to Him.  We have also been instructed to “begin and end our fasting with prayer” (Gospel Principles, (2011), 144–48).

Fasting with a purpose

We have also been instructed to “fast with a purpose,” which means that “We can overcome weaknesses or problems by fasting and praying. Sometimes we may wish to fast and pray for help or guidance for others, such as a family member who is ill and needs a blessing (see Mosiah 27:22–23)” (Gospel Principles, (2011), 144–48).

Fasting is a powerful means by which we can seek for the welfare of others and not just for our own needs.

Alma 6:6  Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God.
While we may choose to fast for many purposes, Elder L. Tom Perry, of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught that there are three main purposes behind the law of the fast itself: “The law of the fast has three great purposes. First, it provides assistance to the needy through the contribution of fast offerings, consisting of the value of meals from which we abstain. Second, a fast is beneficial to us physically. Third, it is to increase humility and spirituality on the part of each individual” (L. Tom Perry, “The Law of the Fast,” Ensign, May 1986).
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