September 23, 2014

Deborah & Jael     (Judges 4-5)

I love these two women!  These women lived in a time of spiritual & national disunity and decay in Israel.  Sound familiar?? I think so. At this time in the Old Testament God would call up heroic spiritual leaders, called Judges, to save the people.

We also live in a troubled world today and I believe we have been called up to be heroic spiritual leaders. I believe we are here NOW purposefully and specifically because the Lord NEEDS strong Spiritual Leaders – who are WOMEN! Let’s look at these two remarkable women.

Deborah is given 3 titles:
1. Judge:  These judges were selected because for their wisdom, their Leadership abilities, and because of their trust in God.
LESSON: As mothers, wives and women today do we need these same “Judge”-like qualities.

2. Prophetess:  Women can receive personal revelation and inspiration for their families.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie “Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the LORD. He is no respecter of persons, nor of sexes, and he blesses those men and those women who seek him and serve him and keep his commandments.” (Ensign, Jan 1979- he so declared in Nauvoo at the dedication of the Monument to Women)

Deborah prophesied and testified that God had not forgotten His people and He would bring them victory over the Canaanites. (Judges 4:14) As modern day “prophetesses” for our own families, we can do the same.
3. Mother in Israel:  (5:7) It is Interesting to note that nowhere does it say Deborah had children. So how can she claim to be a “Mother in Israel” if she has no children?  She selected this name-title for herself in response to her efforts in saving her people from their enemies.
Deborah: nurtured, protected, taught and inspired her people. Our duties and possibilities as mothers, as WOMEN is more than cleaning, cooking & laundry!
Our duties and possibilities as mothers, as WOMEN is to lead one’s charges to the source of salvation! Whoever our charges might be: our own children, siblings, sisters at church, nieces & nephews etc…

Sheri Dew said “Motherhood is more than bearing children… It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us. We are all Mothers in Israel, and our calling is to love and help lead the rising generation through the dangerous streets of mortality… If we really want to make a difference, it will happen as we mother those we have borne and those we are willing to bear with us.” (General Conference, Oct 2001)

One of those whom Deborah inspired and led was Barak. Remember, at this time the Israelites were being attacked by Canaanites. She REMINDED Barak, the military leader, of the command he already had from the Lord. (4:6-9) She REMINDED him that the LORD would deliver and make it all possible.

What was Barak’s response? He would go but he wanted Deborah to go with him. (Some Jewish tradition holds that perhaps Barak was actually Deborah’s husband)
We learn a sweet & valuable Lesson from this small part of the story: As Spiritual women of God we can and should have a good influence on our husbands, brothers, fatherspriesthood leaders in helping them fulfill their assignments and reach their potential.

Now comes…  Jael
While Deborah & Barak were defeating the Canaanite army the ruthless leader Sisera, who had terrorized Israel for 20 some years, escaped. He ran and arrived at Jael’s tent exhausted and beaten from the battle and from taking flight. He demanded Jael feed him & hide him. She proceeded to give him fermented goats milk. (I drank fermented horses milk in Mongolia. It is NOT good! But it was common among ancients and it does act as a sedative) Sisera was soon sound asleep. Jael grabbed the tent nail and drove it through Sisera’s skull! Ouch!
Now, we will likely never be called upon to do something as EXTREME as Jael.
But anyone who aspires to be a heroic Spiritual Woman can learn from her example.

1. Jael recognized an opportunity when she saw it.  The Lord equips and prepares us to serve him. She recognized that God put her in the right place at the right time & she went to action. Are we so living that we recognize those opportunities to serve and protect our families?

2. Jael acted courageously in the face of danger. Sisera was a desperate, dangerous man – killing was his job! Truly most people, and surely a woman, would have been absolutely terrified by Sisera’s intrusion. Imagine a dirty, sweaty, bloody, ruthless military leader in YOUR TENT! Yet, nowhere in the text does it suggest the Jael was frightened. Where does such courage come from?  God alone.

Nephi’s promise to the faithful is that the lord will “make them MIGHTY even unto the POWER of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:20)

Do we, as women in 2014, need that mighty power?? Do you hope for it? Do you live for it?
 3. Jael acted decisively.  She didn’t ask for help. She didn’t leave the job to someone more experienced or better suited. SHE TOOK ACTION! She truly is the David & Goliath for women! Jael grabbed the only weapons she could find and took down a monstrously intimidating foe! She didn’t say “Oh, well, I’ll be right back. I’m going to run to Walmart and get some better weapons.”  OR  “I’m going to go get Sister Jones. She’s much braver than I am!” And she certainly did not say “Well, I don’t want to offend him so I’ll let him stay”!!!  No! She took action and did what she needed to do with the best she had: IF that doesn’t describe the life of a mother – a woman – I don’t know what does!

Jael is a powerful example for us when the “enemy” invades our homes and/or families.
*Don’t allow it to linger  *Don’t mess around!  *Get rid of it immediately *Act decisively!!

Lesson: The Lord qualifies those he calls. Whatever he calls/asks us to do.

Be Jael: don’t be afraid and God WILL make you MIGHTY! 

I LOVE these two women! Separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles we can learn from them how to be strong, faithful & courageous. They are amazing...

September 16, 2014

Seeing Blessings Afar Off

James E. Talmage said “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.” (Jesus the Christ)

Women are bombarded with ALL kinds of messages today. Who should we be? Should I have a career? How many children should I have? What should I look like? You’ll find all different kinds of answers from all different kinds of people.

The next few Blog Posts are going to be about some of my HEROES in the scriptures: WOMEN Heroes.

See if you can relate to any of these descriptions of women…
They plead, mourn, suffer, praise, show faith, sometimes complain…
Bear children, pray, fear, cry, convert
We summon, make merry, are comforted… sometimes we sin
We love, we mother, we hide, flee…
Believe, have broken hearts, we toil, we sing, dance and charm
Sometimes we are rude
Sometimes we are overcome
In the midst of all these things… we are often described as…  strong
And tender… mothers, daughters, sisters 

Did ANY of that describe you? Did much of that describe you?
All of those descriptions were taken FROM THE SCRIPTURES – describing women!
We are separated from these women by vast cultural differences, by 1000’s of miles, and by 1000’s of years and YET I submit that we have much in common with them.
They, like us, worried about their families. They struggled raising children, they worked at relationships with their husbands, parents, siblings. They had to work within their neighborhoods and communities. They dealt with wickedness. And they felt the same kind of sorrows and they celebrated the same kinds of JOYS.
We can look these – our Sisters in the Scriptures and learn valuable lessons.

Sarah:  (Genesis 11-25)
More space of scripture is dedicated to Sarah than any other woman in the Bible. I believe it is because she is the “Mother” of the Covenant. With Abraham she was promised that the great nation of God’s covenant children would come through her. Pretty big deal!
Sarah started in Ur… a splendid beautiful city. She left all the modern comforts of that great city to go into the wilderness. She arrived in Haran. Did she settle and begin her wonderful family with lots of little children running around her home? No.
They left Haran to go to a Promised Land. They ended up in Egypt! Does she settle there and start having babies? Nope. In fact, she must “pretend” she is Abraham’s sister and she is taken by Pharaoh!
How is she doing with fulfilling this great Promise? She’s not even with her husband anymore! I imagine she is feeling some feelings of anxiety, unfulfilled expectations, and  disappointment. I imagine she may have some feelings of “This is not at all what I thought was going to happen? Not at all how I imagined my life being?”
Have YOU ever felt that way?
There may also be some added feelings of “I’ll never get this promise/blessing – it is proving impossible.” She’s about 65 years old at this point!

Lesson: Sarah must have had incredible FAITH to endure these trials.

FINALLY they left Egypt and arrived in Canaan. HURRAY! Now she’ll start popping those babies out, right?  Wrong! 20 years passed by (now 85) and it seems the only obvious answer is to give Hagar to Abraham to have the children. It seems like a good answer. She’s just trying to be creative and productive in accomplishing this blessing.

Lesson: Obvious” is a relative term – where God is concerned!

I believe it was still, in a sense, an act of faith. She knew this blessing needed to be fulfilled and she must have been thinking “Okay, I don’t understand but I guess it’s meant to come through Hagar.” It might have been a more shortsighted bit of faith but I think it still took some faith to do that.
Imagine how difficult it must have been. She knew the covenant went from Abraham ato her a to her family ato a people/a nation(Israel) a to the WORLD! Imagine how her heart must have been aching.

Finally the holy men come to visit and announce she WILL conceive! Impossible! Right?

Camille Fronk Olson said this “Anyone who has long sought fulfillment of a righteous desire, daily praying and at times pleading with God to grant a miracle, can relate to Sarah’s waiting a lifetime for a child. The most feasible time to be granted the promised desire passes and no scenario that even approximates the dream can be imagined. Then, at the least probable time, when every circumstance underscores that fulfillment is impossible, the Spirit whispers that God has kept His promise and will now bestow the blessing.” (Women of the Old Testament, pg. 41)
She is 90 years old when she gives birth to Isaac and they lived happily ever after and never had another test again. Right?
No! The Lord asked them to sacrifice Isaac.

Another great Lesson we learn from Sarah: Just because we have survived one test doesn’t mean we’re done! We are challenged and tested throughout our ENTIRE life! Even when we are 100 years old if necessary!! 

I believe this test to sacrifice Isaac included Sarah.  She and Abraham were covenanted husband & wife. Every test, trial and struggle they had faced so far - they faced together as husband & wife.
Can we even imagine the kind of FAITH this test required? Sarah died at 127 years. They didn't even own land yet in Canaan. They were wandering in tents.  Isaac, their only son, is not yet married and certainly not having grandchildren for this great family that is supposed to be as numerous as the sands of the sea! The Promise, at this point, has not even been fulfilled! Therefore, our last and most important lesson from Sarah actually comes from Hebrews 11:8-13. Paul, after listing off many great people – including Sarah, who accomplished incredible things through faith, then says:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

I LOVE that verse!

Lesson: Having Patience and an eternal perspective; seeing the blessings “afar off” is essential to our success in this life. We must remember those blessings and “embrace” those promises! If we are true and faithful to our covenants ALL promises and blessings WILL be fulfilled! We may have to wait months… we may have to wait years… we may have to wait a LIFETIME… BUT they will come!

September 03, 2014

Mighty Even Unto the Power of Deliverance

Mighty Even Unto the Power of Deliverance

It’s that time of year again: Back to school – which means back to Institute. I love teaching Institute. I love reading, studying and really digging into the scriptures. And I believe that’s what we need to do – DIG – if we are to gain a true appreciation and understanding of the truths taught therein.

On Thursdays I get to teach Book of Mormon so this post will be taken from the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

One of my favorite scholars, Hugh Nibley, said: “The Book of Mormon in an inexhaustible encyclopedia of knowledge.” 

And Joseph Smith, of course, said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”   
If those aren’t good enough reasons to study the Book of Mormon one might ask “Well, what are the main purposes of the Book of Mormon?” Why does it even exist? (Hint: it does NOT exist because Joseph Smith wrote it! A young, uneducated farm boy in the early 1800’s simply did not write this over 500 page book that spans 1000 years, 4 different civilizations lavish with cultural and technical details--manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, and rites & traditions, a book that manages to correctly reference the Old World(Ancient Near East), the New World (MesoAmerica) and the Modern World we live in today! But that is an entirely different post)

The entire purpose of the Book of Mormon is simple yet powerful. It exists to show the House of Israel the great things the Lord has done for them(and their fathers)so that they might know of the covenants of the Lord. And to convince the Jew and the Gentile (that basically means everyone!) that Jesus is the Christ. That is WHY it exists. Hence the subtitle: “Another Testament of Christ”

Nephi introduces to us, at the very beginning, one of the main themes that beautifully and powerfully flows through the pages and stories of this sacred book. 1 Nephi 1:20Behold, I Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

This is one of my absolute favorite scriptures!
What are the tender mercies of the Lord? They are blessings, strength, protection, and guidance that we so desperately need as we journey through this life. I NEED those tender mercies. So how does one receive those blessings? According to the verse the blessings are “over all those whom he hath chosen”. That doesn’t sound very fair. Keep reading closely…
Who is chosen? Or WHY are they chosen? “because of their faith”.
I want to be one of the Chosen! Remember being in grade school and  getting “chosen” or “picked” for teams? Were you ever one who was last to be chosen? Or near the last? Isn’t that a horrible feeling of anxiety? Your heart is pounding, your mind racing “Please, please choose me!!” Right?  I hate that feeling. I do NOT want that feeling in heaven! I don’t want my heart pounding as we are lined up and the Lord goes along to “choose” who gets to enter with Him. “I pick you… and you… and, hmmm let’s see, no not you…. But you and then you…” I don’t want my heart to be pounding “Oh, Lord, please… please… pick me!” Wouldn’t that be horrible!?

Elder David A. Bednar put it this way: “I believe the implication of these verses is quite straightforward. God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit “the chosen” to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determines whether we are counted as one of God’s chosen.”(Conference 4/2005)

Isn’t that wonderful!?  I want to be one of the Chosen! And it’s totally up to us whether or not we are chosen. It’s not a roll of the dice. It’s not random. It’s up to us!

Here is the second wonderful and amazing part of this Book of Mormon Theme. When we are righteous and obedient, and therefore “chosen”, the promised blessing is that we will be made “mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

Nephi and his brothers were sent back to Jerusalem to retrieve the Brass Plates(scriptures). It was a long & dangerous mission! They were gone much longer than expected and their mother Sariah feared they were dead. Finally, after much sadness, worry and grief they returned. After their safe return Sariah rejoiced “I know the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them… and given them power whereby they could accomplish the things which the Lord hath commanded them.”
The promise in 1:20 is beautifully fulfilled in this story. Nephi and his brothers were indeed made “mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

The Lord gives us the POWER we need to accomplish our missions as well. Whatever that mission is for us. He gives us the power we need to face challenges and overcome trials. How often do we pray “please Lord take this trial away”? Or “Change this situation for me.”

If we follow the principle taught beautifully here in the Book of Mormon perhaps our prayers should sound more like “Please, Lord, give me the strength to overcome" OR "the strength to resist this temptation.” Or “Please give me the power to bear this burden.” Whatever it is we need: IF we are righteous and faithful THEN the Lord will give us the POWER to accomplish that thing. It doesn’t mean life will be easy! Just ask Nephi, who is one of the greatest recipients of being made “mighty even unto the power of deliverance” because his life was NEVER easy. And yet he remained faithful and therefore received those tender mercies of the Lord.
Our story can be like Nephi’s. We too can receive those tender mercies. We too can be chosen. We CAN be made “mighty even unto the power of deliverance”!! I love that promise. I love the Book of Mormon for teaching us that promise.