One of the great things about the way our church is run, is that they have just plain members speak. Your Bishop ask me to speak on a particular topic. But, if I don't like the topic, I can just make up something else, and the Bishop is stuck. I'm sure he has not prepared a talk on the assigned topic. So it will be easier for the Bishop just to let me go ahead and give the talk I have prepared on a different topic, rather than try and give an impromptu talk himself. So today, I have decided to talk about Early 19th Century French History. I am trained in the analysis of American Politics, but was hired by my current employer to analyze European politics. When I started work, I didn't know much of European History, Geography, or Culture.
II. PAINTING OF NAPOLEON BEING CROWNED EMPEROR
A. One of my first business trips to Europe took me to Paris. I was there on a Saturday, so spent the day in the Louvre Museum. I wanted to see the big three (Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo, and Winged Samonthrace) and whatever else was there. Later, as I rounded a corner, there was a big picture on the wall, hung above head level. It was imposing, but very different from most paintings.
B. Usually the subject matter of a painting takes up a third to a half of the space of a painting, but the subject of this painting seemed to be no more than two or three percent. There were many other people in the painting, which made it hard to comprehend everything that was going on. The caption indicated that this was a painting of Napoleon's coronation as Emperor of France.
III. LEARNING ABOUT PAINTING
A. Some time later I read the history of Napoleon's coronation. He invited the Pope to come from Rome to Paris for the coronation. They assembled in the Notre Dame Cathedral. As Napoleon kneeled before the Pope to be crowned, Napoleon interrupted the ceremony. He stood up and grabbed the crown. He turned around to face the audience and then placed the crown on his head with his own hands, much to the surprise and horror of everyone in attendance. Napoleon crowned himself.
B. Napoleon wanted everyone to know--especially the Pope--that he had made himself emperor through military conquest, not by divine right. God did not make him emperor. Napoleon made himself emperor.
C. This act was a great turning point in Western Civilization. Napoleon completed the process started by English King Henry VIII--some three centuries earlier--of debunking the perverted doctrine that kings rule by Divine right.
D. I also investigated the other people in the painting. It turns out that the artist put himself and many of his painter friends into the painting. He included the artist of a painting Janet and I have had hanging in our house It is by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun and is of a mother and daughter embracing.
E. The painting became very interesting to me not just because of the style or because of the subject matter, but also because its meaning goes beyond the act it records; and because there are interesting nuggets in the details reserved for those who really care to know.
F. Having learned so much about the painting, I was particularly excited when I was sent back to Paris. I went into the Notre Dame Cathedral and stood where Napoleon stood and went back to the Louvre to buy a reproduction of the painting. I had it framed and it now hangs in my office. It is now one of my favorite paintings because I know it so well and because I understand the meaning beyond the simple painting itself. And when friends ask about the painting, not only can I explain all of these things, but I can also say "Been There!"
G. [SHOW PAINTING TO CONGREGATION]
H. For those in the back, this painting is just a blob. For those in the front, this painting is just an amalgam of blobs. It is my intimacy with this painting that makes it interesting and meaningful.
IV. READING THE SCRIPTURES
A. When I was a missionary I began a quest of complete cross referencing. I started with the Book of Mormon. If I could think of another verse in the scriptures that correlated with the one I was reading, I would look it up and write the cross-reference in both places. As you can imagine, I was moving quite slowly through the Book of Mormon, but I was being thorough and I had two years to go. I was so proud of myself that I explained what I was doing to my Mission President. He asked me if I'd read the New Testament all the way through. No was the answer. And what about the Old Testament. Again the answer was no. Surely I must have read the D&C all the way through. Thrice the answer was no. He suggested that the gospel was like a painting. I had used a magnifying glass to count the eyes on a fly. And while I might know how many eyes the fly might have, I had no idea what the fly was doing in the picture. It could have been on a cow, a horse, a corpse. What I needed to do was read the four standard works all the way through to get the big picture. Once I knew what the gospel was about in a global sense, I could then decide what parts of the painting I should look at more closely, rather than the other way around.
B. This made sense to me. I then changed my quest to read all four standard works all the way through--every page, every word. This I have done. I recommend it to you as your first step to learning the scriptures. It is like surveying an unfamiliar painting for the first time. Like when I saw the David painting of Napoleon for the first time. You want to get the whole picture first before you begin to do intense study. (You get the picture?)
V. ACADEMIC STUDY
A. Let me digress at this point and say that the Bishop asked me to speak on "studying the scriptures." I have indeed changed the topic slightly, but not to Early 19th Century French History--like I told you before. That was just to keep the deacons interested! I have changed my topic to "learning the scriptures." So the first step, then, in learning the scriptures, is to read them. Reading scriptures everyday is the foundation for learning them. However, the foundation, as important and indispensable as it is, is not the whole painting. It is just the first necessary step. The second step of the four is what I call academic study.
B. Some years ago, I decided I was going to get out my scriptural magnifying glass and go exploring to see what I could find. So I picked an obscure chapter in the Old Testament to study. It was Isaiah chapter 59. I doubt any of you will know off the top of your head what Isaiah 59 is about. Some of you know Isaiah 58: the great treatise on fasting. But Isaiah 59 is obscure. That's why I picked it. I didn't know what it was about before I began this quest.
C. So I reserved myself the better part of a day and went to a big library. I pulled 5 different translations of the Bible: the King James, the Catholic, a Modern English, a Modern Spanish, and a 17th Century Spanish. I also got 4 Isaiah Commentaries: a Jewish, a Methodist, a Seventh-day Adventist, and a Mormon. I sat down and opened all 9 books up and started going through the chapter sentence by sentence and verse by verse. I spent several hours and took a lot of notes, which, when I typed them up later, they filled 13 double-spaced pages. I still have a folder in my filing cabinet with my research notes on Isaiah 59.
D. So what did I discover? It is a very good chapter on the atonement--several hundred years before Christ was born. But I discovered that in the first hour. What I didn't discover until toward the end of the day, is that by rearranging the verses and putting several different translations together, I could make a case that this chapter is really talking about the role of the atonement in the spirit world. I've not totally convinced myself on that point, but it is an insight I could not have gotten just by reading the chapter quickly before I went to sleep.
VI. STUDY WITH THE SPIRIT
A. So the first two steps in learning the scriptures are reading and academic study. The third of the four steps is what I call "study with the Spirit." While alternate translations and commentaries can give insights into the scriptures, the Holy Ghost, too, knows something about the scriptures. It is harder, however, to be taught by the spirit than by reading a commentary. The advantage, is, though, that I come away more convinced of what I have learned from the Holy Ghost, than from a commentary. The Holy Ghost explains and confirms.
B. When I taught seminary, I tried to use the summers to prepare for the fall, because I had little time during the school year to keep up the preparations for a lesson every morning. Several weeks before I began teaching the New Testament, I decided to acclimate myself to the early morning routine, by getting up at 5:30, taking a shower, and reading the scriptures for a half hour from 6:00 to 6:30. Before I began, I got down on my knees and prayed for inspiration that my mind would be opened up so the Holy Ghost could teach me things I didn't already know. When I finished my half hour, I kneeled down again and prayed that during the day, as I thought about the scriptures, the Holy Ghost would give me insights.
C. The very first day nothing happened. The second day nothing happened. The third day nothing happened. The fourth day nothing happened. The fifth day nothing happened. Now I was sorely tempted to give it up. One whole week and nothing. I was just reading the same chapters I had read a score or more times before. Monday of the second week came and nothing happened. Tuesday of the second week came, and something happened! Seven reading days and 13 prayers later something happened! I was reading Matthew chapter 8:5-13. [READ]
D. So what happened? I didn't understand why Christ was so impressed with the Centurion's faith. I was just dense on this point. I didn't see how his faith was any greater than that of the Jews. So I stopped for a moment and imagined the situation in my mind's eye. I envisioned the conversation, and tried to conceive what was so impressive about the centurion's faith. And then it hit me, like a bolt out of the blue. It became so obvious to me that I was astonished I did not see it before. And indeed, I am a little embarrassed to say that it took Divine intervention for me to understand. The Holy Ghost explained to me that the centurion's voice had power to do many things. He merely had to speak, and things happened. If he said, "arrest that man" it was done. The centurion did not even have to get up out of his chair to arrest people miles away. His voice was powerful enough.
E. And if his voice--the voice of a heathen--was powerful enough to arrest people miles away, then surely the voice of the Christ was powerful enough to heal his daughter miles away. The centurion believed the mere speaking of the words had sufficient power. No one else at the time believed that. Everyone else wanted Christ to lay His hands on their heads, or they wanted to touch his robe, or have Him put mud in their eyes, or to go bathe in the pool of Bethesda. But the centurion did not believe in the touch, the mud, the robe, or the pool. He believed in the words of Christ by themselves. He believed the word alone had power enough to save his daughter. No earthly or material crutch was needed to prop up his belief. His belief was pure, which made his belief strong. The Holy Ghost told me this is the kind of faith I needed. Faith preceded the miracle of healing the centurion's daughter, and I needed faith to receive the miracle of understanding the scriptures.
F. Brothers and Sisters, the Holy Ghost taught me more in a few minutes than I had learned in my hours of study in the library. It was much harder to get those few minutes. But it was well worth the price. And there is no doubt in my mind about what the Holy Ghost taught me, but there remains some doubt in my mind about what I taught myself in the library that day.
VII. Been There; Done That
A. OK. We've now talked about 3 of the 4 steps to learning the gospel. The last step is being there. Just like to more fully understand the painting, I stood where Napoleon stood, so we need to have the same experiences in our lives that those people in the scriptures had.
B. Alma 21:5-8; 11-13 - Missionaries in Jail.
Been there. Done that. When I was a missionary, I was thrown into jail. I was not mistreated like Aaron and company were. But when I was behind bars with a machine gun pointed at me, I was scared.
C. Acts 2:1-18 - Pentacost.
D. Mosiah 4:1-3 - King Benjamin's talk
Brothers and Sisters I've been there. I've done that. When I read that scripture it is a reflection of my life. I see myself in that scripture.
E. Learning the scriptures is a quest. A quest to see ourselves reflected in scripture. So that as we read, we can say quietly to ourselves, "Now there's a scripture reminds me of me . . . I've been there . . . I've done that."
A. Just as our appreciation the painting of Napoleon's coronation increases as we learn the meaning behind the picture, study the details, and 'do' the Notre Dame Cathedral, so does our appreciation of the scriptures increase the better we know them.
B. One cannot really learn the scriptures by reading and studying them alone. One can only know the scriptures by living them. This then is the four-step process: 1) read, 2) study, 3) spirit, 4) live. We learn about and of Christ by reading and studying the Scriptures. We can only come to know Christ by experiencing what he experienced. Experiencing what he experienced is what brings us to the Celestial Kingdom. "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent."
C. Of this I bear my witness. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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