Friday, May 30, 2008

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

Another evidence that the Book of Mormon is more than the written imaginations of an unschooled young man of 23 can be found in Alma 36. Chiasmus had been discovered in the Bible at the time, though was more than likely known amongst scholars, it is not very likely that Joseph Smith knew about it. (For that reason we don't use physical evidence to purport the Book's divinity, we invite readers to ask of God if the Book of Mormon is not true. God will only answer those asking with real intent to respond appropriately to His answer: if it is true, to be baptized into His restored church, if it is not to continue on your way and respect our belief that we are following God's will.)

Back to Alma 36. This chapter uses chiasmus and at the very center is the Atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Compare the first verse with last verse, second with second to last, and so forth. Consider the following as a guide:

  • v.1, 30 : Keep God's commandments and you will prosper.
  • v.2, 28-29 : Remember the things God has done for us and our ancestors.
  • v.3, 27 : Trust in God and you'll be lifted up at the last day.
  • v.4-5, 26 : You must be born of God.
  • v.6, 24-25 contrast of actions before and after rebirth
  • v.7, 23 : loss and regain of strength
  • v.8, 22 : angels are seen
  • v.9-12, 20-21 : racked with eternal torment, experiences "exquisite and sweet joy"
  • v.13, 19 : remembrance of pains of sin
  • v.14-16, 18 : without the atonement there is no hope; with the atonement mercy is allowed
  • v. 17 : Christ atoned for the sins of the world.

Alma provides a great example of how we can accept the atonement in our own lives, be born again, and receive the "exquisite and sweet joy" that comes with becoming a true follower of Christ.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Understanding Why We Have Holidays

This past Sunday in church we had some excellent talks on both spiritual and physical sacrifices and how they tied into the importance of Memorial Day weekend. It was emphasized that too often we get caught up in the fact that we have a three-day weekend coming up, or the pools are opening, or it's time to have a big barbecue, without giving a second thought to the reason why we have that day off. So many men and women have died to preserve the freedom we enjoy today. One day out of the year has been set apart to remember those who have passed on.

As a family we decided that we would like to better show our gratitude to those who we remember throughout the year and who have given us time off of work and school. We'll start having activities related to those holidays (in addition to the swimming and barbecuing) and hopefully gain a greater respect for our country and its leaders.

Something we learned yesterday was the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Decoration Day was established initially to honor those who died during the Civil War. In 1967 the day officially became Memorial Day and established as the last Monday in the month of May. Flags are lowered to half-mast from dawn until noon. The President or Vice President lays a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary.

Veterans Day (initially Armistice Day) is held on the 11th day of the 11th month and is held to honor those still living who have fought to maintain freedom.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Deeper Understanding of Christ's Atonement

I took the advice I got from the comments on a previous post and read Bro. Skousen's "Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement." It was amazing. Part of what helped me get a lot out of it came from reading Sherrie's post on understanding the reason for God's laws, and how we shouldn't be focusing on the law itself but on what it's helping us achieve; also, reading Appendix B in Skousen's book The First 2000 Years helped.

After reading the article I came to the realization that I don't understand what it means to love Christ. Sure I read my scriptures, pray, have Family Home Evening weekly, etc.; but I tend to forget why I'm doing it all. There is absolutely nothing we can do that will get us into the Celestial Kingdom, only what Christ has accomplished will allow us to enjoy that eternal reward. However, the effects of his sacrifice are somewhat conditional on our demonstration of our love for Him through obedience to His commandments.

Understanding our complete dependence on Christ makes it easier to accept the principles in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Some laborer's worked all day and still others only worked one hour, yet they all worked and all received an equal reward. We are not in competition one with another to reach exaltation, and we can't reach exaltation without our families or helping those around us.

Doctrine and Covenants 45:3-5 illustrates Christ's role in our eternal salvation. Amulek helps us further understand that every last one of us is in need of the mercy of the Lord (Alma 34:14-16) and will be eternally indebted to Him.

I can't explain everything that has passed through my mind, but I can add that there is so much for us to learn. I'm amazed at how many times I feel like I know something only to find out that there is something much more enlightening on that subject that I had never considered. The gospel of Jesus Christ is on the earth in its fullness. God speaks to His prophet, Thomas S. Monson today. The Book of Mormon was written and preserved for thousands of years for our learning and studying of the gospel of happiness.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Christ Against the Multicultralists"

I ran across an article on a religious themed blog I often read with the above title. I was mainly curious because I wanted to know what was meant by "multiculturalist." My interpretation from the article is that it is one who believes that truth is relative to culture. What one truth is in one society may not be the same to another.
Multiculturalism might seem like a harmless game of cultural tourism mixed with a little detective work, with the crime (sexism and racism) always being the same, but it is actually much more serious than that. Liberal professors assume that you, the student, come to their classes believing in universal truths, and they think that it is their job to get you to leave such baggage behind. Since professors these days do not believe in human nature, they think that the most important thing they can do is to teach you that all values are relative. And they do this by trying to convince you that you do not understand other cultures because you are trapped in your own.
The author argues that such a belief is anti-Christian. Christ, who lived and died about 2000 years ago is in no way apart of the same society or culture that any of us are a part of today, and therefore his teachings would not be relevant to us. Here's is the more credible defense of such a position:
A central part of education is learning how to argue by testing your own ideas about human nature against the ideas found in great books and the ideas espoused by your teachers and fellow students. Christians believe, for example, that because we are created in the image of God, every single person is of infinite worth, but Christians also believe that humans are fallen creatures, in need of grace and forgiveness. Christians are thus able to appreciate both the majesty and the misery of human actions. That is a powerful framework for questioning what you read and hear. What Christians do not believe is that every culture has its own truths and that the only way to learn about another culture is to refrain from seeking the universal truth.

To return to the central truth of Christianity, Christians believe that God experienced the totality of the human condition by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ. That is, God did not need to become incarnate in each one of us in order to understand every one of us. Each one of us can experience a personal relationship with Jesus because Jesus was completely one of us. If cultural relativism is true, then Christianity is doomed, because God became incarnate in a very specific person at a particular time and place. From the perspective of multiculturalism, God could not have understood what it means to be human by becoming a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. It follows that if God did understand man by becoming a man, then multiculturalism is a lie.

Applying this truth to the world of higher education, we can say that every human life is, in principle, sufficient for the discovery of every truth. You don’t need new experiences to become educated; you just need deeper ways of understanding your own experience.

Thankfully the institution I attended was a private one espoused by the beliefs that are central to my religion. I feel like I did, and will continue to have a desire to better understand my current situation in life, my standing before God and the stewardships with which He will continue to bless me.

In the end the author's main counsel is for those entering "higher" education for the first time, as well as for those who perhaps have been misled to believe it is something else all together:
Christianity inspired and informed the highest achievements of Western culture in order to challenge people to think about the eternal things, like heaven and hell, God, grace, forgiveness, and death. A college education should immerse you in the highest achievements of Western culture in order to give you the tools to enrich your experiences and refine you moral judgments. Education in this sense is about coming to know yourself, not because you construct your own reality, but because your nature is the same as everyone else’s.

Original article by Stephen H. Webb, May 6, 2008.

Address written for entering students of Wabash College, Class of 2012.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Real Estate Investment Tips

I attended a seminar the LDS church held for the community on Investment tips. It was very educating and I thought I'd share some of the things I picked up. I'm in no way versed in investment strategies or real estate, so feel free to add your opinion/clarification in the comments.

Sub-prime mortgage problem
In 2002 interest rates reached rock bottom at 4.5%, everyone who could refinanced their house. Lenders didn't like the low interest rates and started offering incentives to buy bigger homes at the new rate, when interest rates increased owners couldn't afford the payments anymore and were foreclosed on (probably due to 0% down loans).

What is a foreclosure?
Happens when you can't afford to make payments on your house, and you can't sell it. For example, let's say your mortgage was 100K and you put nothing down. To sell the house, including closing costs (~$10K), you would have to pay 110K. So you'd have to bring an extra $10K to the table. So your credit gets whacked and you get foreclosed on.

It's bad to sell your home in an area where there are a lot of foreclosures. The reason bing that financial institutions can take a hit on them (sell them for a low price) because they have plenty of opportunities to make up for the loss by selling other properties for more, while you only have one shot.

When does it make sense to Flip?
Flipping only makes sense if you can by a house at an under-market value and sell it at at least market-value (no one really ever pays more), not possible in South-East Texas right now.

Best option: Hold and Buy
If you do want to invest in real estate the best option (here in the South) is to buy real estate and then put it on the market while leasing it out. All those who were foreclosed on are now looking for places to rent, generally in the $1200-$2000/mo. range.

Beware of Mortgage Scams
The gist of mortgage scams is that bad credit people look for good credit people to get loans for them, and then wreck the good people's credit. The bad people bribe appraisers to give high appraisal values to validate a loan well above the true value of the home, the good people get the loan, receive a little extra cash, and then the bad people leave with the excess money, leaving the good people with an outstanding loan, thusly ruining their credit.