Monday, November 1, 2010

Look To God and Live

The following are notes for a talk I gave yesterday:

LOOK TO GOD AND LIVE (Al 37:47, Alma to Helaman)


Humans differ other animals, gaze up
-secular world traces the origin of religion to this attribute, that observance of the stars was the origin of deities, heaven and ultimately religion

The story of the fiery flying serpents in the book of numbers was beloved by the Book of Mormon prophets. It gave them a vivid image of the damaging effects of some of the skepticism and lack of faith that we all have, and, more importantly the means of deliverance from the troubles that afflict our fallen species.

Num 21
5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 ¶ Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Nephi talking to his brothers recounted the miracles of the exodus included:
1 Ne 17
41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.

The meaning of this event was given by Jesus as he spoke to Nicodemus in the night:
14 ¶ And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

Alma to the poor of the Zoramites: Alma suggests that there is more to this story, that, in fact the serpent raised on the pole represented Christ
Al 33
19 Behold, he was spoken of by Moses; yea, and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live.
20 But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.
21 O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?
22 If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.


The command to always remember him (and to take his name upon us) has always been a strangely difficult to articulate yet palpable and powerful concept
I have always been somewhat attracted to things I don’t fundamentally understand yet are powerful, and compelling, and right. In music I have many colleagues who are interested in figuring out music, in explaining every aspect of it. I prefer music that I can’t explain or analyze, but that is nonetheless powerful
Why should fixing our mind on Jesus be efficacious? And yet it is. It works.

White Handbook/Brigham Young
If you go on a mission to preach the Gospel with lightness and frivolity in your hearts, looking for this and that, and to learn what is in the world, and not having your minds riveted—yes, I may say riveted—on the cross of Christ, you will go and return in vain.

Looking to the savior is not just for those who are beginning on the path of conversion. It is just as important for those who have been on that path for some time. Perhaps we need to depend on him more and more the further we go on that path.

-Joseph Smith’s dream of the apostles with sore feet not looking at Jesus who was in their midst:
1/21/1836: “I saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept" (HC 2:381)

Often people are brought to look because of hearing or feeling:
-Nephites watching him descend (after hearing and heeding a still small voice, they cast their eyes, 1Ne11:8)
-Alma, Paul, Lamoni, etc. all became immobile after hearing, whereupon they saw visions, they let go of control and looked to God
-Jesus said that he would lifted up that all men would be drawn to him


-God being judged, humiliated , punished by his children, as well as raised from the dead, and ascending – 3 events of being raised:
demonstrated the worst that could happen and a response to that, the victory over death, and the presence of worlds beyond this one
– he became a impossibly compelling presence in the world – despite all of the attempts to the contrary (obscure, unsubstantiated)

To look up:
-Lift thine eyes unto the mts. Whence cometh help – something bigger than ourselves – reminder of the ascendancy of God, that we are part of something bigger – the sublime
-get outside of yourself (Matt 10:39)
-other religious traditions are very good at this – Buddhism – observing what is outside and what is inside from a sort of objective place
-meditation, pondering
-it’s very difficult to observe things and to try to control them at the same time – maybe that’s what the “easiness” means: don’t try to control, let God take over – recognize the distance between your effort and the outcome
-also listening – listen to God and (be awakened) live
-see divinity in all things
-see divinity in all people
-overcome prejudice – recognize uniqueness of things
-scales fall from eyes – let them be burned away by light
-remove the beam from your own eye
-if thine eye be single vs. evil – i.e. w/o prejudice
-lift up your head (and rejoice)


What prevents us from looking to God?
-don’t bury head in sand, i.e. don’t be afraid
-military: keep your head down, avoid being noticed, mocked by great and spacious
working at desk or in field, or, in trench (i.e. military, don’t get head shot) – metaphors
-head down: working at desk or in field, computers and other technology
Al 10 (Amulek)
5 Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his amysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.
6 Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was acalled many times and I would not bhear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know


This is, strangely what I think impedes the those who are on the path from looking up most. We have many problems. As we know, problems do not go away as we go down the path. Perhaps they even multiply. But we need to remember that we are always dependent on God, that we can’t ultimately solve any of our problems without him. We are told that all things must fail, and we know this from experience, but charity, or the love of God never fails and is the only thing that never fails. This is where we stumble because of the “simpleness or the easiness” of the way.

We judge others, and find fault, maybe not so much because of malice, but because we feel unsure about our own standing. But it is hard to look up when we are looking down our nose. It is hard to look at all when we have a beam in our eye.

Looking beyond the mark:
-want to show off (virtuosity) – broaden phylacteries, borders of garments, etc., greetings in markets
We like to show off how busy and important we are. We focus on position and achievements and connections. I think this is because of pride, but also because we feel we need assurance of our progress and standing with God.
These make it hard to look up.
Moreover, it is hard to look up when we become obsessed with our many goals, tasks, and projects.
No matter how wonderful or important we think we are, the salvation of our children, our neighbors, the people of the world, or even ourselves does not hinge on anything we do. Salvation of any kind comes depends on God. We can be of great assistance to Him and to His children, we can accomplish great and wonderful things, we can have great influence on others, but the ultimate power to save, to bring about the most important transformations comes from Him, not from us.
Our example will have more positive impact than anything else can if we look to God.
If our many projects, however noble, deter us or others from looking to God and living, then we should question their necessity.
“In choosing how we spend time as a family, we should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best. A friend took his young family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of it. “The thing I liked best this summer,” the boy replied, “was the night you and I laid on the lawn and looked at the stars and talked.””
- Ballard quote: “The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.”8
-Uchdorf: OF Things that Matter Most:
Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.
It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.
My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most.

Finally, I want to emphasize the last part of the scripture, “look unto God and live.” We don’t have to wait to live. Every moment, every breath is a marvelous and miraculous gift. Jesus said that he came to give us life, and to enable us to live more abundantly. This means, in part, that we should get out and experience all that life has to offer, to take in the variety of experience, of sounds, sights, smells, feelings, associations that even the most ordinary of lives offers. The sun, the moon, the stars, the air, snow, and rain, animals, and plants and people— all things which come of the earth are made for the benefit of man… to please the eye [and the ear] and to gladden the heart.

May we all look to God and live.