How to Treasure the Word of God
ft. Oak Norton
Meghan: Hey everyone! Welcome to this episode of the Latter Day Disciples podcast. I am so grateful to be joined today by Oak Norton. Oak has no better way to describe his role than that of acting CEO and junior assistant creator of Scripture Notes. Starting as a passion, the creation and resources to build this application have come by faith and inspiration one step into the darkness at a time. In his daily life, Oak works as the CFO and CIO of a regional law firm, but in his spare time, when he isn’t working on Scripture Notes, he’s an advocate for agency based education, runs an adult co-ed soccer league and loves playing disc golf. Oak lives in Highland, Utah, with his wife, and they’re the proud parents of five unique children. Oak, thanks so much for joining us today.
So I recently became familiar with your platform, the Scripture Notes application, and I was so excited about it from the very first time I saw it, because I feel like you really tap into a lot of the resources that I have found to be so important to really understand and dive in and begin to comprehend the scriptures. I wanted to start with just a little bit of your back story. I imagine that growing up in the church there’s this expectation that we’re studying the scriptures most of the time that means passively reading. So what was it in your life? What was your evolution to really come to love the scriptures and to be actively searching them instead of just passively reading?
Oak: Yeah, that’s a great question. I grew up in Pennsylvania and I always kind of loved the scriptures and having conversations with my dad about doctrine and stuff. Growing up, it was sort of like a Saturday morning ritual, we would find ourselves in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal, and then talk about the gospel and maybe go watch Bugs Bunny or something. It was just a fun time to grow up. And I loved learning about the gospel. And then a few years later, I found myself on a mission to Houston, Texas, and loved that experience, loved studying the scriptures. I can’t say that I really discovered searching the scriptures necessarily, on my mission, it was probably ten years or more later. During the ninety’s there was a program that I don’t know if it was put out by Deseret Book or somebody else that was the first version of gospel library and it was on DOS computers and it was just a single screen and you could search, do a search, get your results and then do an additional search on top of that, like a layered search. And I loved being able to pause where I was and do another search. I remember sometime around 1997 or 1998, they came out with the first Windows product. I remember being so excited, thinking, now I’m going to be able to do all this in Windows and have different panes, do different things and they didn’t do that. And it blew me away. And I wrote them a letter and I told them that their product only does one search, and I can’t easily get around it, this is Windows and why, why are you doing this? And the reply I got was, “Well, we have a small group, a focus group, and we talked to them and they decided that this was the way we should go.” And I thought, oh my goodness and I was sort of griping to one of my friends. And he said, “Well, why don’t you just make it yourself, okay”? And I was like, “What? I could do that.” And here I am 20 some years later, finally doing that. I’ve tried a few times over the years, but I guess what first happened was in the early 2000s, my brother in law taught me how to do some basic internet coding, and I wrote an app for myself in kind of an older yet still used language called Cold Fusion. Not many people use it, but it was simple enough and robust enough that I just wrote my own little tool to have my scriptures with their notes always visible so I could type as much as I wanted. I could do a search for words and have the scriptures next to the notes in the search results. And that’s when I discovered the power of searching the scriptures. It was around 2002 or 2003 and it just blew me away. I could do a search and see across all the scriptures everywhere that a particular word was used and see them all on the screen. You know, the Gospel Library app only gives you little clips and maybe ten results at a time. If I had 100 or 200 search results, I wanted to see them all and I couldn’t do it. And so over the years, I’ve tried to do this app a few different times and each time came up with a design and it wasn’t quite right and or the timing was off. And so a few years ago something happened and it just became apparent that I needed to do this now or it’s not going to happen. And so one step at a time. And like you read in my bio, it’s like one step into the darkness. I couldn’t fund this when I started. And it was literally one thing after another opened up for me to be able to get to where I am. And I think it’s a pretty fun app to use. It’s very robust. It’s got a long way to go, but you can do a lot of powerful things with Scripture Notes now that lets you study topically and do word searches and things across the scriptures.
Meghan: I love that. And I relate a lot to that story of this unexpected ministry that the Lord had in mind for you and you just go with it and you’re like, “Okay, Lord, I’ll do that, I’ll build an application, I’ll build a desktop web search engine, I’ll learn how to do that.” And your willingness to do that pays such great dividends to others. I totally relate to it being one one step at a time in the dark when the Lord is your tutor, that’s often the case. So can you talk a little bit about this idea of searching the scriptures by topic or by key word or phrase? I think most of the time we’ve sort of been conditioned and I think it somewhat could be attributed to traditions of the LDS Church, where there came into being this unspoken but spoken rule that you need to study the scriptures every day and that needs to be at least a chapter a day. And that chronologically, reading the scripture straight through is the most familiar way of studying the scriptures. And it’s so funny because if you read the scriptures themselves, it doesn’t say any of that. Like those are standards that we have written in to become doctrine. So can you talk a little bit about the Hebraic traditions that are the underlying foundation of all of our scripture and why those necessitate us studying by topic and not just reading chronologically one chapter after another?
Oak: Well, that’s probably beyond my pay grade on that last part but I’ll make a couple of comments. Let me give you an example. If I say the phrase ‘Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall…’ what?
Meghan: ‘Prosper in the land.’
Oak: Perfect. We are so in tune with that phrase in the church that that gets used over and over. If you actually do a search for the word ‘inasmuch’ in the Book of Mormon, you will find seven different phrases, five of them as promises and two of them as if you don’t keep the commandments like the curses that come with it. But we don’t ever talk about those because we know that one phrase. And so this is a really good example just to think about, how many times does the Lord put all of the information about a topic in one place? Never. It’s always scattered across the scriptures. And so if all we’re ever doing is reading the scriptures. It’s good to read, it’s good to study, because sometimes you have to have that springboard into the next level. And so if the Savior said, “Search the scriptures”, and if we’re not actually searching, being able to find those word links and and things that are across the scriptures or a topic, then we’re not really getting the full picture all at once. Maybe we read the Standard Works every four years and if you never know that, hey, in year two and year four, these two concepts are actually really closely tied together, but they’re separated by two years and you’re not thinking about it –I tend to not have a great memory unless I see them at the same time– because I’ve done a search then I’m going to miss out on some really choice opportunities for learning. You can read any time. And I do, I read and I study, I see a verse and think, Well, what do these things mean? It’s like you’re going down your depth chart there of how much you’re getting into the scriptures but unless we actually search the scriptures with a tool that is kind of meant for it, we’re really missing out.
Meghan: I totally agree. And I think that that’s been one of the ways that the Lord has most revolutionized the way that I study because similar to you, I’ve always loved the scriptures. I think I started consistently reading them when I was a child, even before Young Women’s, even before seminary. I loved reading them. And so I’ve read them many, many times, to the point where you think that you are very familiar with things. But in reality, as you’re saying, when you’re reading it like that, there’s just so much information that our minds can’t link to unless you really are searching, and kind of going deeper into a single topic instead of just reading across chapter by chapter. Spoiler alert for the thing that I was mentioning about Hebraic foundation. This is something that I learned recently, and I figured you knew it because of some of the resources that you have included in the Scripture Notes program. But one of the things that I’ve learned is this Hebraic law called the law of first mention and all of our scriptures, the Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon, especially, have a Hebrew Foundation. That was the language, that was the culture that Nephi and his family came from. It was the culture that was the backbone of the Old Testament, obviously, and then the New Testament. There’s a lot of Greek translation that we can get into as well, but the scriptures are written in a Hebrew tradition. And so this is one of the things that Nephi talks about, that in order to really comprehend Isaiah you need to understand the Hebrew tradition , that’s what he’s specifically referring to. But to truly understand all scripture you have to know the manner of the Jews, and this is a great example of that, this law of first mention, which is that oftentimes prophets and prophecy, as they were recording certain things, would allude back to something in history that happened far previous to them and that would give you a hint or give you greater context of what it was that they were dealing with. One of the most famous examples is Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. And that’s referred to and that’s alluded to in prophecies that are talking about the last days. And is that just a nice analogy? Is that just a picture that they’re painting? No, it’s the law of first mention. It’s saying you need to go back in the records that you have and restudy this scenario and then bring it forward and apply it to what we’re talking about in this context. So anyway, that’s just something kind of fun that I learned recently.
Oak: Yeah, I do know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t sure what you were getting at, but I’m vaguely familiar with that although I’m no expert.
Meghan: Yes, me neither. And you know the manner of the Jews? I know very, very little. I’ve scratched the surface. And what I can say is that it is intense. Like the way that they wrote, the layering that they have, the depth of meaning that they could convey in very small things, very short things. In a previous episode, we talked about Lehi and Nephi. We were talking about them and talking about the scripture ‘and my father dwelt in a tent’. And how on the surface you’re like, “Okay, cool, he dwelt in a tent. Very good.” But in reality, with the understanding of the law of first mention, tents were a symbol of the Feast of Tabernacles and of the time that the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert between the exodus from Egypt before they were able to enter the promised land. And so there’s a lot of context and a lot of depth that we can get from studying that way.
I want to talk a little bit about some of the resources that you’ve included in the platform and why you’ve included it with every verse that you have of scripture of our standard works, and you’ve also included some other books, maybe let’s start there. What all is included in the Scripture Notes program and why did you choose to include the things that you did?
Oak: Sure. I should just mention real quick, since we’re talking about searching the scriptures, one of the key features of the search engine in Scripture Notes is the ability to search in different ways. So a lot of platforms are just like, “What word are you looking for?” And that’s all you get. Or maybe you can do a couple of words or a phrase. So with Scripture Notes, you can do a search for a phrase, you can use its Boolean search as the title; you can do ‘and’ or ‘not’. You can use parentheses, you can use wildcards. And I use wildcards all the time. So for example, this morning I was looking up in the scriptures where it talks about wrestling and there’s different forms of that word. At first I typed in wrestle and I think there were only eight results and I thought, “Oh, I need to put a wild card on there.” And so I stuck a wild card on and I only found one more result. And I was like, “Wait a minute, this isn’t quite right.” And so I had to delete a couple of characters off the back of wrestle. So it was like ‘wrest’ because the shorter letters and then you put a wild card (asterisk) after it that gives you more variations. And so then I got what I was looking for. So it’s super powerful to search that way and pull in those variations. And then sometimes I’ll sit there and I’ll be like, “All right, I see this word a lot, let me take that out of my search.” So, ‘wrestle, asterisk minus, wrestled’. I just play with it until I get down to what I’m looking for. But it’s a really powerful tool that way.
So in terms of the content in Scripture notes, there’s the standard library, including the study helps. I’ll go into the other books, too, but one of the great things about study helps in Scripture Notes is–How many times have you actually gone to the topical guide or Bible dictionary and looked up every reference on a topic? Have you ever done that?
Meghan: Maybe once.
Oak: –Right. Because it’s kind of a pain, right? You’re like, “I don’t have enough fingers and toes to see all these verses at the same time.” And so you’re flipping back and forth and it’s laborious and tedious. And when President Nelson, a few years ago announced that he’d studied every topic on Jesus Christ, and I think probably with his paper scriptures, I was blown away. I’m like 2000 different verses, that is a lot of references to look up. And so what I’ve done in Scripture Notes is given people the ability to click into a topic and all those verses pop up and you can, you can actually check a box and say, “I have studied this topic” and keep track of your Bible dictionary and topical guide and index to the triple combination references. So that’s a super helpful thing when you want to study a topic because you can just go in and say, “Okay, I want to see the pre-mortal life of Jesus Christ.” Here’s the verses. They’re all listed out right next to your notes, so that’s super handy.
The other books that I’ve put in, there are some ancient texts and then a few modern texts. And so in the ancient texts I’ve added the Apocrypha, the three books of Enoch and the Book of Jasher. And the reason I did these, first of all, is the Apocrypha used to be in Joseph Smith’s Bible. There are things in there that the Lord –in Section 91- told us, “There’re many things that are true, and if you read it by the Spirit, you can benefit from it.” And so one of the reasons that I created Scripture Notes was for those opportunities to seek revelation and practice going through by the Spirit and trying to feel like, “Okay, what’s true here, what isn’t?” And the books of Enoch in our scriptures, it talks about how the books of Enoch will come forth in the due time of the Lord and testify of certain things. And so I wanted to get the books of Enoch in there, not just because they’re fascinating, but because the Lord talks about them. And the Book of Jasher is mentioned in the Old Testament – a couple of times I think–and so I wanted to get that in there and there’s more to come. I have plans to add a lot more Apocryphal documents.
Meghan: Could we pause right there? I’d love to hear if you have had a personal experience studying an Apocryphal text that has really expanded your view of a principle or a topic?
Oak: There are sections in the Apocrypha that open up new understanding of familiar stories. So there’s new content and there’s things about other stuff, like more about Daniel. There’s stories in there about Daniel and the Lion’s den, and if I planned on this, I could remember those better.
Meghan: I put you on the spot, right?
Oak: I’m just like, “Oh, there are some cool things.” I mean, I could say something about what’s in there, but I’m no expert on the Apocrypha and I’ve never read the whole thing. I’ve listened to most of it and I’ve read parts of it.
Meghan: I guess I just wanted to illustrate that there’s a lot of value in the Apocrypha. I think that we have a lot of hesitation when it comes to reading the Apocrypha, although I don’t really understand why? I think that there’s a little bit of a misinterpretation of that Doctrine and Covenants chapter 91 that talks about the Apocrypha. I think that we assume that that meant that there wasn’t value to the Apocrypha when in reality what the Lord said was, much of it is true and what was unnecessary was Joseph Smith’s translating it. Which in some ways I feel like that says that there’s a lot of value there, like it didn’t need another translation.
Oak: Go ahead and ask a question, we can talk about that for a minute if you want.
Meghan: I mean, I guess I’m just wondering, how would you respond to someone who would say that they are hesitant or even opposed to the idea of incorporating the Apocrypha into their studies?
Oak: I think, number one, there’s some hesitation in our day because the Apocrypha is not in our LDS Edition of the scriptures. And number two, it was in Joseph’s, and he asked the Lord if he should take the time to translate it and the Lord basically said, ”It’s not necessary, there’s things in there that are true, and then there’s things that are the interpolations of men, things that people have assumed and stuff.” And so he said in section 91, “Whoever reads it, let them understand by the Spirit those things, and they can be enlightened and obtain benefit.” The Lord said, you can obtain benefit if you read it by the Spirit. So do we want to be benefited? I think so. And so there’s a lot of value in some of these stories and things that might not all be accurate, but there’s the opportunity. The Lord is saying, “Ask me, get the Spirit, read these things by the Spirit and you’re going to obtain benefit.” And I know there’s a number of people online that have heard about it. Maybe you’re familiar with this as well? Ezra’s Eagle that comes out of second Esdras? Well, there’s an opportunity to read that in Scripture Notes and obtain some benefit from it. There’s also the first and second books of Maccabees, which kind of covers some of that intertestamental period between the Old and New Testaments. And so there’s some great stuff there and the other books that are in Scripture Notes; the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jasher, there’s some great stories and great things in those as well. I’ve also added Lectures on Faith, a couple of books by Parley Pratt, and then most recently a small Freedom Document library that includes the Constitution, which I believe was inspired by God, right? He seems to indicate that a few times in our Doctrine and Covenants so I wanted to get that in here, along with several other documents from the Magna Carta down to Martin Luther King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech and the Federalist Papers and some of those things. They’re all here. So you can actually study these things right next to your scriptures and do a search across all these documents if you want.
Meghan: That’s awesome. I’m so glad you included those other documents, because I think you’re right, I think that the Lord has inspired so many different writings throughout all of time. And I think to have a really comprehensive view of God and Jesus Christ, we can find value in all those places. Joseph Smith was a big proponent of the idea that we accept truth no matter where you find it. And so I love that you’re including all of these different documents.
Oak: I want to include things that are even outside Christianity. You know, it’s kind of arrogant of us, I think, to assume that all truth is right here in our standard works. I mean, obviously God has been inspiring people for millennia to write things or to obtain whatever truth they could and where they recorded it we have an opportunity to benefit from that as well. We’re not the only ones that God has revealed truth to, and he has used people throughout time to bring forth some amazing things for the age that they lived in.
Meghan: Yeah, we’re all children of God, and He works in all of us in different ways. I love that. Thank you. So let’s talk a little bit more about some tips and tricks and some things that you’ve learned from experience about how to get the most out of actually studying and actually seeking in the scriptures. For me, I think that things really changed when I had an overarching theme that I was looking for and I’ve heard that from other people too. When I started this podcast and we had such an eye and such a focus on the Second Coming, all of a sudden I’m using the scriptures like I would for a research paper and it reads in a totally different way. And I’ve heard other people do something similar, whether that topic be the lost ten tribes, or the Restoration of the gospel and the founding of America. You can read the text in an interconnected fashion to research and really dive deep into these topics. But from your experience, what were some of the things that you found to be extremely helpful to actually get revelation from your study of the scriptures on a more consistent basis?
Oak: Yeah, that’s a great question too. When I start I want to always have a project of some kind going on. And so it’s we’ve been asked to promote the gospel and a lot of people do blogging and stuff and there’s the phrase publisher or die that you’ve got to get this stuff done. And you know when somebody is a writer and it almost triggers revelation when you know, I’ve got to come up with something, I need inspiration, because when you’re more intent about saying, “Heavenly Father, what should I write about? What can I learn that I can share with somebody else?” When you have a motivation like that, a cause or a reason to do something, you become more intent in everything that you’re doing. And so for me, I try to blog an article, but I always try to have some type of project that I want to research. And so when I was creating Scripture Notes, in my bio that I gave you, I was like, I’m sort of the junior assistant because I really feel like God’s just led me from one thing to the next and I’m not in charge. And I mean that.
Meghan: I feel the same way about the podcast.
Oak: I know my limitations and when I look at the semi finished product, I’m just like, “Wow, this is actually pretty cool.”
Meghan: “Way cooler than I could have done by myself!”
Oak: Right. So as you’re studying any verse, you can open up Bible Hub, 29 different translations of a Bible verse and commentary from some really bright people who have studied the scriptures and history and they’re scholarly and try to explain those things, if you want. And then we’ve got the Blue Letter Bible at the verse level as well. So you can look up the Hebrew and Greek for any word. I have links from all the standard works, standard works to the citation index, which is a project at BYU that lets you sort of reverse into everything that one of the prophets or general authorities have said about a verse or reference to it. So that way if you’re, say, in D&C 91 and you click the citation index, it takes you over to that website where you can instantly see all the references, all the statements that have been made about that verse. And we also have the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, because that is just a phenomenal resource. Noah Webster was amazing in putting that together and having so many scriptural references in the definitions. So you just double click a word and you can access the definition that way. And the last type of extra external resource is the full Joseph Smith translation text, including an inline comparison somebody built where everything Joseph added to a verse is in green and everything he removed is in red. So you can quickly see what was changed on a particular verse. So when I am studying, if I know a topic or something, I might first go to the study helps and I’ll just do a search, “Is this topic in there? Well, let me start off reading these 40 verses” or whatever. And, then maybe I realize “Oh, there’s a story here.” Then I’ll go read that story. And now do I understand all the words being used here? Is there a confusing verse? Can I see that in another translation or something? And so I’m digging for meaning. And then as I go, I’m trying to just be very aware of the Spirit, because sometimes it will just say, “Hey, look at that word.” Or “There’s a synonym for that word.”
We also have two other resources that we’ve built in, a thesaurus and an etymology dictionary. So if you double click a word, you can see the other words similar to it, which is great for searching when you know there’s another word like this, but you don’t know what it is. And you just look at the list and see if you recognize it. And then etymology being the word origin. And so those are a couple of things people have requested that we added.
But once you start searching the scriptures, that’s really when you are digging in on a whole new level. So it’s like everything up to that point is preliminary and you start to develop questions and you say, “Well, what is it that I am really looking for? Is this in the scriptures?” And I’ve seen mistakes people make online and I’ve probably made them, where you assume something because you read a verse and it seems to indicate, “Oh, it’s this way.” And if you don’t search across the scriptures, you can make doctrinal mistakes because there’s a more complete picture of the doctrines across multiple verses. And so searching the scriptures is ultimately where we want to get to, to try and pull out as much meat off the bones, I guess, as we can.
Meghan: Absolutely. I love what you said about stopping on a word and asking myself, “Okay, do I know what that word means?” And I feel like this is an opportunity that we all have to go back to the drawing board with our scriptures. Because with generations and millennia of time passing and so many different traditions and inequity that we’ve inherited, I think sometimes we have definitions quite wrong compared to what the scriptures actually say about them. So, for example, there have been a number of things that I feel the Lord has given me, similar to you, where he says, “Study this topic. “And in doing so I find that the Lord’s definition, which you will find as you study across the scriptures, is quite different from what my understanding was. And if we’re operating under that false paradigm, that can be so impactful for our understanding of doctrine. One example that I thought about that just came to mind is the phrase The Kingdom of God. Now, if you were to ask any member of the church, what do you think they would say the Kingdom of God is?
Oak: I Imagine it would be heaven or the coming of Zion as the Kingdom of God.
Meghan: I think that’s a more accurate definition than what most people would share. So you’re on top of it. I think I know what I would have shared is, the Kingdom of God is the church because we have adopted this ideology that the Kingdom of God on the earth is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. Now, if you were to go to the scriptures and search that term, what you would find is more closely aligned to the definition that you gave, which is that the Kingdom of God is an opportunity for members of the church, it’s not one in the same. We have the keys and the privilege to try to ascend, to become the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God, as you will read about in the scriptures, it’s not an automatic thing. So that’s just one example but there are so many topics that the Lord has had me go back and search the scriptures for the purpose of putting together a definition of “What does this phrase mean to God?” And that’s changed so much for me.
Oak: Yeah. One of the other features in Scripture Notes that I use all the time is when you do a search or you’re in the study helps looking at a set of verses you can take and save those results or that topic into what I call a collection note. So you can have all those verses clumped together next to each verse and the verse notes that you’ve typed and then above it is a master note for the topic, and then you can save that. It’s like in doing your research, you’re creating a collection of verses and you’re mining it for information that you’re going to summarize at the top. You can make notes next to each verse, that’s not a problem, that exists everywhere through the app, but at the top of a collection, that’s where you can really do some topical analysis. I write questions and then I try to answer them, or I’ll sometimes just summarize; for instance, “Here are 30 verses, what are all the things these verses are talking about?” And I’m just going to sort of bullet list them above it so I can see that and then I can ask some questions. So there’s some really powerful tools there to dig and retain what you are learning. And I know for myself, I know whether I’m in the shower or driving to work or even at church, if I don’t write down fast, a new thought that comes to me, I am likely to not remember it very long. And that’s one of the powerful things about writing things down, we show the Lord we cherish it. And by doing that, He’s going to give us more information.
Meghan: Yeah, I totally agree. So can you talk a little bit about your perception of where it seems, generally speaking, we kind of are as a church when it comes to scripture study? And what are some of the changes that you think need to be made on an individual basis? I think you’re well aware of us in our community, and I’ll just say for myself too, that there is a tangible feeling of urgency. I think we feel it whenever General Conference rolls around. I feel it whenever I study the signs of the times. Whenever I’m diving into the scriptures and studying a topic related to the Second Coming. And I feel like, as we talked about earlier in the podcast, scripture study has become such a checklist activity in the church. So what do we need to do to get out of that behavior pattern and really start taking it seriously? And what are some of the results we can expect if we can do that?
Oak: Yeah, I was kind of chuckling inside earlier when you mentioned reading the chapter a day kind of thing. And I remember in seminary our goal was to read a chapter a day, and I remember too many nights coming home and asking, “Where’s that short chapter in Third Nephi? I got to get my chapter in and find that verse or two and call it good.” But you’re right, there is a sense of urgency today. I think that there’s a lot of people that feel the urgency, but I don’t know, generally, I mean, I think people are making changes, but I don’t know what changes people are making. For me, part of it is scripture study. Part of it is just trying to deepen my connection to the Spirit. And so the scriptures are one way that we hear the voice, right? We seek what the Spirit taught somebody else, we’re trying to tap into that same Spirit. But then the next step, I don’t know how many people are going to the next step of saying, “Okay, Lord, I want my own revelation and my own experiences.” And that, I think, is the personal journey or leap that I’m looking for myself. And I don’t I don’t know where the rest of the church is on that leap. I mean, that’s everybody’s personal journey. I have the feeling that that’s not a strong thing for a lot of people yet, but I don’t know. I really don’t want to judge anyone and be too harsh. I do wish sometimes that I could wave a magic wand and feel like every lesson was a certain way. But, you know, everybody’s at a different point in their development. If I have the spirit with me, I’m supposed to be able to learn no matter what’s being taught.
Meghan: I really love what you said about the scriptures as a path for revelation. One of the words that came to mind for me is conduit. When we dive into the scriptures, especially so earnestly and with so much intention, so much intentionality, showing through our behavior and through our efforts that we truly value the Word of God and that we want to understand it, that we want to apply it. I think that more often than not, it creates kind of that bridge to the spirit to be in tune with it throughout the day. What experiences have you had where your scripture study prepared you and set you up to have more revelation throughout your day and not just while you’re there in the moment?
Oak: For me, a really good day is when I wake up early and I start finding stuff in the scriptures that just excites me to make those connections. I often find myself late for work on those days because I don’t want to pull myself away from the scriptures and I just fall in love all over again with them. And when I make connections and I see things across the scriptures and I’m not just reading or sometimes even if I am just reading, but I’m getting more insight about a section than before because I’m writing down a question that I have and then the answer comes to me. It’s like just those little bursts of light that really trigger excitement. It’s like a dopamine hit from the Spirit that’s like, “Oh, here you go, you get to see this insight now because you wrote down a question.” And so that’s a big part of reading the scriptures, is not just thinking, I have a question about this or I wonder what that is? The question is already written down and you are asking the Lord, “How do I find this answer? What does this mean? What else could I look up about that?” Oftentimes you will be led to find something about it.
Meghan: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing. Do you have any personal experiences that come to mind that you wouldn’t mind sharing in an effort to kind of illustrate the potential of the kind of experiences that maybe someone would be more likely to enjoy if they were to dive into the scriptures the way that you’ve learned to? I’m putting you on the spot again.
Oak: That’s all right. I’ve had a few experiences that were really sacred experiences for me and things that just being in the scriptures triggered and I don’t know what I would want to openly share on a podcast, but I can testify that there are times the Lord gives us glimpses of things–what I’ve learned is that sometimes I used to dismiss random thoughts and images that came into my mind because I thought, it’s just my mind, I’ve got an active mind that doesn’t focus really well sometimes–and so sometimes I would dismiss things. And I realized one day that something that had come into my mind was not a random thought. And it made me reevaluate, in that moment, my whole life, “Like how many times have I dismissed something because I thought instead of just believing what I was seeing?” I can’t remember if it was Elder Scott or somebody that once said, “We don’t overstate it when we say the scriptures can be a urim and thummim for you.” In a few instances I have seen that and felt that. I do have one experience I’ll share. And this goes way back. It was one of those defining moments for me. I was in college, a number of decades ago, and I remember I was doing my laundry in the dorms at Utah State, and I was sitting there reading from Alma the story of Alma and Amulek and how they were so distraught that the Zoramites were putting to death the members of the church and members of their families. And I remember sitting there in that little laundry room reading this, and I had this powerful feeling of what it was like to be in Amulek’s shoes, sandals, so to speak. And I remember–and I don’t know why the Lord blessed me with that–but I knew the heartache and the depth that he was feeling right then. And I remember, maybe just a few weeks later in church, this episode came up and somebody was making a comment– that today seems sort of funny that he would make this kind of comment– and I can’t remember the exact phrase right now, but he just kind of expressed the humor of the situation and it just almost tore my heart out because I was like, “Oh, I know how he felt.” And I was completely just utterly shattered and just like, can’t we do something? And it was years later when I came across the statement by Brigham Young that he said, “It’s our privilege to read the scriptures and feel what those people felt when they were recording those things and to be in that experience.” I don’t know how many times Brigham experienced that but for me to have that experience– and I haven’t experienced it that much but on that occasion I did–and that was an eye opener for me to just know and feel something very special. So that was an eye opener for me.
Meghan: What a beautiful, sacred experience, to be able to put yourself in their shoes more empathetically and to be able to realize what these people sacrificed for us to have the privilege that we have to search their stories, to learn from them, to gain insights into eternity the way that we can because of everything that they gave up, that is such a beautiful privilege. Well, Oak, thank you so much for this conversation. I appreciate learning from your testimony and am so grateful for this ministry that you’ve taken on. Again, I’ve had the opportunity to use the Scripture Notes app and I really do love it, especially the resources that it links out to and the way that it allows you to study the intertextuality of our scriptures and other inspired documents. I feel like that’s so important that we learn how to do that. Speaking from a last day’s perspective and even just a modern dispensation perspective in the Doctrine and Covenants, we’ve learned that we’ve been under condemnation for the last couple of years for taking the scriptures lightly. And I think that these things that you’ve shared are some really important keys that we can apply on an individual level to come out from under that condemnation and to really learn to treasure and value these gifts that people gave their lives for. I think that that will be so important, especially as we prepare and strive to be worthy of and ready to receive additional scripture, because we know that that is what is promised as well. There’s some really fantastic works of literature, the best the world has ever seen that testify of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that testify of us and of the things that will be happening on the earth. And we don’t have those yet. So it’s my hope that we can use tools like the one that you have been so inspired to build to really help us prepare for that. Just as a closing thought, can you share maybe just a couple of roadmap items for someone who is interested to see the future? I know your roadmap is like a million pages long, so maybe just a couple of highlights.
Oak: It’s a few pages short of a million. But yeah, I am so excited about the future of the app and the things that can be done when I get it just a little further along. But one of the things that’s coming is the ability to share your collection notes. I see all these people sharing such cool things on Facebook, social media, sometimes so many posts and insight, I grab that insight and it goes right into my Scripture Notes next to a verse. And if I have a collection, if somebody has put some some good thought into a collection of verses, wouldn’t it be cool if they could post a link to that and you click that link and it opens right up in Scripture notes for you and you can choose to save it and say, “Oh, this came from Meghan and this is really cool.” And now it’s always tied to those verses. If they are at one of the verses that you link to in that collection, they can just click and open that right back up and get into your thoughts on whatever the topic was. So that is one of the primary things coming that I’m really excited about. I think that’ll really stimulate some great things as people share their insights directly from the scriptures.
Meghan: I love it. Thank you. Yeah, I definitely feel like you’re knocking on the door of the future of scripture study. Being able to take such a comprehensive, holistic approach I think, is so valuable. So thank you so much. Thank you for the work you’re doing. I truly appreciate you joining us today.
Oak: Thanks, Megan. I appreciate it.
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