Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Plowman and the Seeds

"We are here, purposefully. We have divinity in our path. We have trials to make us stronger." 

To my friends who do not share the same beliefs as I, please, keep reading.  For those who do share my beliefs, I'm forgoing common courtesy and just saying it: keep reading.

I desire to just sit down and write this out, with minimal regard to tangential explanations of things some may not understand.  If I go into great detail about everything that possibly is new to you, as the reader, you may quit reading because I'm long-winded (yes, even more than you can already tell). Therefore, I have meticulously linked everything that may bring a question to your mind, to an answer or at least some extra information.  Please, click away!

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is easy to get caught up in the "culture" of the church: social activities, service projects, temple work, classes to teach, people to visit, planning committees, etc.  We are, for the most part, quite productive people.  Sometimes this gets the best of us, and often it affects our studies.  We use the same books of scripture that our brothers and sisters of other Christian faiths use (Old Testament and New Testament), plus the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.  Since Christ is our Savior, and the Book of Mormon is a 2nd witness/another testament of Him (as well as the keystone of our religion), we tend to read it... a lot.

I confess that in my efforts to read and study from the Book of Mormon regularly, all the other books of scripture have been sadly neglected, unless I am cross-referencing something for additional insight or preparing to speak in church.  Study the New Testament and you will find that Isaiah of the Old Testament is quoted the most of all the  past prophets; Christ himself quotes from Isaiah.  The same is true in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine of Covenants; Isaiah is, in the language of our teens, "like, totally, The Man!" (OK, maybe that was only the lingo when I was a teenager.)  So, why don't we study his teachings more?

This has been on my mind lately as I have had the amazing opportunity this semester to attend the 2nd half of a 2-part Old Testament class at the Anchorage LDS Institute of Religion.  I have been an active participant in the LDS Institute of Religion program for the past 9 years, in 3 different states. Previous to attending Institute, I graduated from the LDS Seminary program after 4 years of early-morning study before high school each day.  Point being, in the last 13 years of regular and structured scriptural study, this is sadly only the 2nd time I have come to the realization that I absolutely LOVE the teachings of Isaiah.

Class this evening was particularly eventful for me.  I was either laughing because Brother Bacon (our amazing teacher and director of the Institute) is hilarious, or I was on the verge of tears.  The middle ground between the two emotions was minimal.  Clarity of mind, something I am not always known for, was my companion during class; oh how grateful is my heart tonight!

Are you still awake? Yes? Awesome, because here comes the GOOD stuff.

I was immediately drawn to a passage we read aloud in class, Isaiah 28:23-29, which reads:
23 Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
24 Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
25 When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
26 For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
27 For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
28 Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
Amazing? Indeed. We are all here in this life with a great purpose.  Our Heavenly Father has a plan, and has us precariously placed where we need to be, when we need to be there, so we can come to realize and reach our greatest potential.  The preparations made for us, the type of people we are, and the trials that we must endure to help us grow and become stronger... our circumstances are individualized. Our Heavenly Father is the plowman; we are the seeds.

Terry B. Ball, former dean of Religious Education at BYU, spoke at a devotional in 2008 addressing multiple things that can help one to obtain a spiritually strengthened education.  His last point of discussion was about being observant; "Develop the habit of regularly observing or considering how the things you are learning from your studies can be informed by the gospel and, conversely, how your understanding of the gospel can be informed by the things you are learning."  Ball is a good example of someone whose understanding of the gospel was informed by things he learned in school.  He continues: "Though I am a professor of ancient scripture, I have a bachelor’s degree and a PhD in the field of botany. That training has been a wonderful asset to me in my scripture study, especially of Isaiah. By my count, Isaiah uses more than 300 botanical metaphors in his prophecies."

And this, folks, is why more of Terry B. Ball's wisdom appears below.  He has an excellent and clear explanation of the scriptures quoted earlier, a simple way of explaining some of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' most basic beliefs, and I just couldn't get enough of his wisdom.  He said the following regarding Isaiah 28: 23-28:
"Obviously Isaiah is trying to do something more here than teach us about Old Testament agriculture. I believe Isaiah wants us to liken the farmer to our Heavenly Father and the seeds to ourselves. Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why were you not born 500 years ago in some primitive aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of our birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints, the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a premortal existence with a loving Heavenly Father. We further understand that in that premortal state we had agency and that we grew and developed as we used that agency. Some, as Abraham learned, became noble and great ones (see Abraham 3:22–23). We believe that when it came time for us to experience mortality, a loving Heavenly Father, who knows each of us well, sent us to earth at the time and in the place and in circumstances that would best help us reach our divine potential and help Him maximize His harvest of redeemed souls.
 Therefore, some of you are fitches and cumin. You were born and raised in tight-knit and supportive communities, and you are a vital and contributing part of those communities. Others of you are wheat. You have been placed in exceptionally fertile and promising places because God, who knows your special potential, is counting on you to produce so much. Some of you are barley and rie. You have been placed in some difficult circumstances and have perhaps had to face handicaps and hardships, but God knows you. He knows your needs, your hearts, and your abilities, and He knows you can reach your divine potential, even in the face of great trials. Perhaps it is those very trials that will help you reach your potential, or perhaps He allows you to face those trials so you can help others reach their potential. Some of you may be zucchini: It would not matter where you were planted, you would grow and flourish and produce extraordinary amounts of fruit to be foisted upon unsuspecting neighbors."
I highly recommend reading Terry B. Ball's speech in its entirety, which you may do easily if you have taken me up on the suggestion earlier to "click away" (I've linked the speech to a few things you can click on in order to read the whole thing... like THIS link right here).

I would like to have Isaiah of the Old Testament, and Terry B. Ball, conclude this with a message of hope, comfort, and promise that we can all hold in our hearts to treasure in this busy, blustery, and thankfully still beautiful world we live in.  Goodnight, and happy reading!
 Isaiah 35: 4, 8-10:
4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
8 And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
9 No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there:
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Terry B. Ball:
"The point is that God knows you and loves you and that if you will trust Him and involve Him in your life, then He will see that you have the challenges and opportunities—the threshing—that will help you realize your fullest potential. These are wonderful truths, perhaps taught better in this passage of Isaiah than anywhere else in the scriptures."

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