The Virtue of Remembering- Judges 6:12, 14, 17, 21-22, 25, 27

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
And Gideon said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.
And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.

And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:
Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is with thee. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel: have not I sent thee?
Shew me a sign that thou talkest with me
The entire account of Gideon, in Judges chapters 6-8, is well worth studying for how it shows the man moving from one great act to another, in each step being motivated by the remembrance of the last. Today I have shared snippets just from the very foundation of his campaign.
Here we see God calling Gideon to free the Israelites, and Gideon asking for an assurance which is granted. A small miracle occurs, and it is enough to convince Gideon of his holy calling. The memory of that moment will be fundamental for him moving forward.

And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal
Then did as the Lord had said unto him: and because he feared his father’s household he could not do it by day, that he did it by night
That very same night, when the memory of the holy encounter would still be fresh in Gideon’s mind, the Lord gives Gideon his first test. Gideon is motivated enough to carry out the task, though he is also still weighed by the fear of the people. He performs the deed in the dead of night when none can witness it, but he does do it.
This, I believe is a turning point for Gideon. Now he does not only have the memory of the angelic visitation, he also has the recollection of he, himself, acting for good, even when it was hard to do.
God uses this same pattern numerous times throughout the scriptures. David faces a lion before Goliath, and Goliath before leading a nation. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice the home of his birth before sacrificing his son. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego hold to their principles of diet before holding to their principles in the furnace.
God is very wise in this pattern of initiating us through a small test of faith. It isn’t just about building up our confidence in Him, it is building our confidence in ourselves. When we reach our hardest times we are preserved by two memories:
1) God is good
2) And so am I

The Virtue of Remembering- John 14:26, Doctrine and Covenants 6:22-23

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

COMMENTARY

The Holy Ghost, shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you
Did I not speak peace to your mind? What greater witness can you have?
We have seen how many of us begin our path of discipleship by remembering the good that God has done for others, and by that having hope that He will do the same for us. But this is not to be the end of our journey. Each one of us is meant to join the scriptural records with some personal accounts of our own.
Notice how Jesus left his disciples with the promise that they would be able to remember what he, himself, had said to them. All their lives they had had the story of Moses to reflect on, but that was not to be the only pillar of their faith any longer. Now they had their own personal experiences, words of the Savior spoken directly to them, to help sustain them as well.
Peter, James, John and the others had forefathers who had lived by the manna that was sent from heaven. But now Jesus was pointing out to them that they had a manna of their own to take courage from as well.
Each one of us must also come to see how God has nourished us directly, and then hold to the remembrance of that forever after.

The Virtue of Remembering- Hebrews 12:1, 2 Corinthians 3:12 (ESV)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold

COMMENTARY

Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race before us
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold
Yesterday we considered how Paul inspired the Hebrew saints with the memory of all the miracles that had been done to their ancestors. Immediately after this is his statement from Hebrews 12, that all of these examples of the faithful ought to empower them to be faithful themselves.
Thus Paul used the stories of the Old Testament prophets to inspire those that were familiar with those legends, but to those that were not, such as the saints in Corinth, he instead recalled their own firsthand experience of gaining hope in the message of Christ, and tells them that such faith should make them bold. It is the same message as to the Hebrews, but it is rooted in a different set of memories.
The point is that each of us is given something to start remembering the goodness of God by. For some of us it might be the words of the scriptures that we learned in our youth, for others it is the example of good men and women who pointed us in the right direction, and for others it is the first time that God spoke directly into our hearts. Whatever it is, each of us have something to think back to that inspires us to do great things.

The Virtue of Remembering- Hebrews 11:3, 7, 11, 17, 24, 29-30, 32-34

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed.
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac,
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

COMMENTARY

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God
By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house
Hebrews 11 is a wonderful treatise on faith, and well worth an examination just for that. But today I actually wanted to take a step back, look at Paul’s methodology in the chapter as a whole, and glean what we can from his teaching style.
What Paul is doing through this entire sequence is reminding the saints about miracles that have already occurred, even ones that occurred anciently and are only known because of the scriptural record that was kept of them.
Which I do believe is one of the exact reasons why God has kept and preserved the scriptures: so that we can be reminded of the good that He has already done, and thus feel empowered to ask Him to do new good works in us.
Which is exactly where most of us begin our path of discipleship. We didn’t have our own miracles to reflect on, so we had to reflect on the miracles of others instead. If He did all this for Noah, Sara, Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites, if He did all this for our pastor, our family member, our friend…then why not us as well?
Paul understands that reflecting on these stories, even though they are not our own, will still generate greater faith in our hearts, which leads us to take our own leaps of faith, which finally allows us to have our own miracles to recall.

Individual Trials- Uniquely Tested

Thus far we have defined trials only by a few categories that are very broad, because any attempt to limit the definition of trials to a few, specific situations is quickly refuted by the examples of the scriptures. Just consider how many different ways mankind has been tested in those records.

Noah was commanded to build a ship, Moses to lead a nation, Zerubbabel to rebuild a temple. Aaron contended with idolatry, Elijah with Baalism, Jesus with overzealous extensions to the law. Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit, Samson to never cut his hair, Lot to not look back at the destruction of a city. Abraham was required to sacrifice his son, Saul (later Paul) his misconception of theology, Joseph his country of origin. Esau chose between pottage and birthright, Solomon between two women that claimed to be a child’s mother, the Israelite mob between Jesus and Barabbas. David stood against a mighty giant, Gideon against a massive army, Jacob literally wrestled with God. Naaman obeyed the instruction to bathe in the river Jordan, the widow at Zarephath to feed the prophet her least meal, Ruth to lay at Boaz’s feet. Esther accepted the role of queen, Peter the leading of the church, Elisha the mantle of the prophet.

These are stories of people being put to the test. And not just any test, in each example the trial would become one of the defining moments in that person’s life, a critical junction that helped them decide who they would ultimately become. God knew just what circumstance they needed to bring out their true identity.

That each of these tests was so unique is a reflection on how unique we all are as well. The trial that is custom-designed to divide me right down the middle might have little effect on you. Or it might overwhelm you.

A friend of mine once said “no one else has had my trials. You weren’t overshadowed as a child by two ‘perfect’ sisters. And if you were, then you didn’t have that trial and lose your father while young. And if you did, then you didn’t have those trials and struggle with an addiction. And if you did have all of those trials, then you still didn’t have them the way that I did.”

Your trials are yours and yours alone, so take ownership of them. No one else has tasted them except for your Savior. You two are the experts here, the only ones that can find in them the person you were born to be.

All or Nothing- 1 Kings 18:21, Hosea 10:2

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.

COMMENTARY

How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him
It is very hard to live a life divided. When the ancient Israelites were seduced by the theology of Baalism, they went to great lengths to make it compatible with their Hebrew beliefs. No matter how much they tried to contort things, though, Baal was Baal and Jehovah was Jehovah, and the two of them were not the same.
Today we also awkwardly try to combine the gospel with things that have no place in it. We do it as a society when we try to champion causes that make mockery of God, and we do it as individuals when we try to excuse our personal vices.

Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty
These back-breaking acrobatics leave us faulty in the end. I have far more respect for one who sincerely and whole-heartedly believes a different philosophy than my own than I do for one who precariously tries to straddle both.
In the end we need to ask ourselves the same question that Elijah posed to the Israelites. Is the Lord truly God? Because if He isn’t then we might as well cast that theology off entirely and fully embrace the ways of the world. I mean why not?
But if the Lord is God then stop trying to make Him into what He is not. Accept that His commandments are what His commandments are, and that no amount of popular opinion is going to change them. Accept that even if you do not understand all the prescribed steps of His gospel, that they still are what they are, and need to be taken as such. If the Lord is God, then forsake the rest and follow Him.

All or Nothing- Luke 9:61-62, 2 Nephi 28:21

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

COMMENTARY

No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God
Previously we examined the notion that we cannot follow God and indulge in our vices as well. The philosophy that we can leads to all manner of self-contradictions, not least of which is the Bible’s specific condemnation of it!
Some people try to get around this dilemma, though, by compartmentalizing their life. For them religion is an ornament on the shelf, something to add depth and dimension to the collage of their broader identity. It is a garnish to the main dish. It is living with an at-church-religious-self but also an ambitious-career-self. And because the two are separate, the ambitious-career-self does not have to answer to the expectations of the other.
The appeal of such an approach is obvious, but the simple truth is that none of us make it very long by trying to live good-ish. The above verse clearly condemns the notion of committing to God on Sunday, then looking away from Him on Monday. It is true that we play many different roles in life, but the gospel was meant to permeate them all. We should be trying to be Christ-like in how we interact with our community and our career and our friendships and our family and our side-interests, etc.

All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell
Imagine a castle wall made up of a strongly-fortified-bulwark-part, but also a gaping-hole-part. That is the effect of a compartmentalized discipleship. Are we going to hope that the enemy is kind enough to attack the strong area only? As the above verse suggests, I believe the reason why we even think that the gospel can be taken up and put back down stems from the notion that there is no enemy at all. Why bother patching the hole if there is no risk? Once again, though, which is the one entity who would be trying to convince us that there was no need to be protected?

All or Nothing- Matthew 6:24, James 1:7-8

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

COMMENTARY

No man can serve two masters
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways
There are many that are prepared to follow God…with caveats. Perhaps they wish to be His disciple, but still nurse a vice on the side. I myself have lived under the mindset that there was a cosmic set of scales in heaven, and I just needed to do enough good things to balance out all the bad things that I was doing, too.
It is an alluring philosophy, one that would permit willful indulgences while only making token good offerings now and again. However this notion is not supported in any passage of scripture. While on my mission I met quite a few people who said of their vices: “well, like the Bible says, ‘do, but don’t overdo.'” Which quotation…flummoxed me to say the least! You can open a search engine if you don’t believe me, but nowhere does the Bible say any such thing.
Obviously it is unrealistic to expect total perfection while we live in this fallen state. For sure we are going to fall short and continually depend on grace. But accepting that we need grace is not the same as condoning sin. Though this philosophy of willful indulgence may come in many different forms and compelling arguments, the source of them is always the same. There is the only being that would teach a philosophy which indulges doing things that you know are wrong. And that being does not do this to be a nice guy, his intent is strictly malicious. He is no friend of ours.

All or Nothing- Luke 15:11-14, 17-20, 22-24

And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

COMMENTARY

Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.
And not many days after the younger son wasted his substance with riotous living.
Each one of us can relate with the story of the Prodigal Son to some degree. Like the son, each of us began life with wonderful gifts from our Father. Whether we grew up in a religious home or not, our common inheritance at birth included a divine soul, the ability to feel God’s spirit in our hearts, and a desire to be connected with Him.
Like the son, though, so many of us (all of us?) undervalue the significance of such things. We take the greatest gifts that we have in life and squander them, vainly pursuing entertainment or medication in all the wrong places.

And when he had spent all, he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many servants of my father’s have bread enough, and I perish with hunger!

One cannot sever the soul from the body. One can try to muffle it, suppress it, and outright deny it. But it is there, and it does ache us when we fail to care for it. We cannot squander our birthright and not feel bad about it. Sooner or later, we “come to ourselves,” and realize that where once we had everything, now we have nothing.

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
We had everything, we traded it all for nothing, and now we’ll gladly take anything. From one extreme to the next to the next, we learn to finally give proper value to that which was taken for granted. We are all in now, willing to do whatever it takes to receive whatever God is still willing to give us.

But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring the fatted calf, and let us eat, and be merry
.
And then, of course, the ending which turns would-be followers into full-blown evangelists. Grace and mercy that seem ridiculously over-the-top and totally undeserved. Complete forgiveness and restoration. Not because we’ve earned it, but because God just wants to and no one can tell Him that He can’t! From everything to nothing, to all in, to even more “everything” than we had at the beginning.
This is not some pretty fairy tale that describes an unreal hypothetical. It is not a limited allegory, that will only apply to one or two of God’s most special followers. It is the story that was meant for me, and meant for you, and meant for us all.