Saturday, October 1, 2016

Divinity of the Book of Mormon

This isn’t about trying to convince anyone to think the way I do, it’s just me explaining what I know and how I got there. In the Church, we often talk about the divinity of the Book of Mormon, but what does that really mean? When we say the book is divine, does that just mean it’s really good? I’ve heard people exclaim that a particular dessert is divine, but I doubt it’s the same.

To me, there are three aspects of the divinity of the Book of Mormon:
1.       Divine Purpose
2.       Divine Origin
3.       Divine Translation

If any one of these is removed, the other two don’t stand. So let’s look at each one.

Divine Purpose
Why do we have the Book of Mormon? The Title Page, which Joseph Smith translated with the plates, states that the book is:
·         Written to the Jew and Gentile (that covers everyone)
·         Written by commandment, “and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation”
·         To be interpreted “by the gift of God”
·         To convince Jew and Gentile (again, that’s everyone), “that Jesus is the Christ”

Mormon taught us that the record was written so we would believe the “record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews” saying that if we believed that record, we would also believe this record (the Book of Mormon). Those who have come to love the Bible will recognize that same spirit in the Book of Mormon, as they are from the same divine source. Nephi also saw this in a vision, where “plain and precious” things had been lost or removed from the Bible over the years (1 Nephi 13:26) and that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon would “establish the truth of the [Bible]”.

Now we have the Bible and Book of Mormon to jointly testify that Jesus is the Christ.

Divine Origin
Through the prophet Lehi, we learn that Joseph in Egypt was taught about a branch of his seed that would be broken off and raised in righteousness (2 Nephi 3), and that this branch would keep a record that would one day “grow together” with the writings of the seed of Judah (the Bible). He was also taught about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and translation by one who would be “called after me; and ... after the name of his father.” I wonder what went through Joseph Smith’s mind as he translated that passage and realised it was speaking about him.

The Lord was preparing for the Book of Mormon for hundreds of years before Lehi’s family ever left Jerusalem, and His hand can be seen as various writers added their commentary to the record.

Nephi mentioned a couple of times in his writings that he didn’t know why he was making a second set of records, other than “the Lord hath commanded me... for a wise purpose in him” (1 Nephi 9:5, 1 Nephi 19:2-3).  He also said that he wasn’t going to write anything on the plates “save it be that I think it be sacred” (1 Nephi 19:6).

Moroni knew the record he had compiled was not for his day, but for ours. “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35).

Divine Translation
Moroni said that after he hid the record, no one would be able to “bring it to light save it be given him of God” (Mormon 8:14).

Emma Smith, who often helped Joseph as a scribe during the translation process, described how Joseph would work. She said, “When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, ‘Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?’ When I answered, ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Oh! [I didn’t know.] I was afraid I had been deceived.’ He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls” (Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History, Jan. 1916, p. 454).

As part of her final testimony to her son, she said Joseph “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, "a marvel and a wonder," as much so as to anyone else...

“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” (Emma Smith - Last Testimony of Emma Smith 1879 Q&A between Emma and Joseph Smith III, The Saints' Herald 26 (Oct 1879))

To me, that is what it means to say “the book is divine”. It is divine because its purpose is to bring us closer to Christ. It is divine because God has guided the events surrounding it for centuries and foretold its coming. It is divine because it was translated by the gift and power of God. It is divine because I have received divine confirmation that it is true.

The last chapter in the book contains a promise, that “...when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:3).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Burdens and the Atonement

I was asked to give a talk recently from Elder Bednar's "Bear Up Their Burdens With Ease" from the April 2014 conference:

In the April Conference this year, Elder David A. Bednar told a story of a friend who purchased a 4WD pickup. He said:

“Shortly after taking possession of the new vehicle, my friend ... decided he would cut and haul a supply of firewood for their home. ...[the] snow already had fallen in the mountains where he intended to find wood. As he drove up the mountainside, the snow gradually became deeper and deeper. My friend recognized the slick road conditions presented a risk, but with great confidence in the new truck, he kept going.

“Sadly, my friend went too far along the snowy road. As he steered the truck off of the road at the place he had determined to cut wood, he got stuck. All four of the wheels on the new truck spun in the snow. He readily recognized that he did not know what to do to extricate himself from this dangerous situation. He was embarrassed and worried.
“My friend decided, “Well, I will not just sit here.” He climbed out of the vehicle and started cutting wood. He completely filled the back of the truck with the heavy load. And then my friend determined he would try driving out of the snow one more time. As he put the pickup into gear and applied power, he started to inch forward. Slowly the truck moved out of the snow and back onto the road. He finally was free to go home, a happy and humbled man.”
Elder Bednar pointed out that it was the load of wood that gave the truck enough traction to get out of the snow and return home. “Each of us also carries a load,” he added. “Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints.”

We need to ask ourselves, “What am I carrying in my truck?” Or as Elder Bednar put it, “Is the load I am carrying producing the spiritual traction that will enable me to press forward with faith in Christ on the strait and narrow path and avoid getting stuck?”

Here are a few points I took from Elder Bednar’s story to help me get my truck out of the snow:
First, watch what I put into the back of my truck. I worked for a moving company for the year before my mission and I saw people pack things I considered to be odd. One family brought their water storage with them, others brought stacks and stacks of old newspapers and magazines, furniture restoration projects in various stages of completion that they were going to get around to finishing “one day”, the old-fashioned metal milk cans (the tall ones) full of wheat, boxes and boxes of books that had never been read. Then they were usually confused at the end why we couldn’t get everything to fit into the truck.

We had an experience several years ago when we moved from Edmonton to Strathmore that helped us learn the lesson of prioritizing what goes into the truck. My experience in moving helped me determine that we needed the large truck, even though at the time we only had two small children. I made the reservation a few weeks in advance and when I went to pick it up, the truck wasn’t available and we had to use a medium-sized truck. I knew right away we wouldn’t have room for everything, but despite my protests this was our only option and we had to make some decisions about what we wanted to bring with us. Friends who came to help us load the truck found themselves taking things home with them so that we would have room to pack the items we really needed. While we weren’t exactly thrilled at the time, it did help us to weed out some of the “nice” things we really didn’t need in favor of the items that we needed most.

Elder Bednar cautioned, “we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most.”

There is a quote attributed to the French writer Voltaire, “The enemy of the best is the good.” If we put too many good things in our truck, we may not have room for those things which would give us the best traction. Elder Oaks said in his Oct 2007 conference talk, “Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best.” (Oct 2007 General Conference)

There were probably many other things Elder Bednar’s friend could’ve used to fill the back of his truck, but the load of wood was the best to provide the necessary weight and traction.

Second, like everyone else, I’m going to have to carry a burden. That’s part of the terms and conditions we agreed to when we said we’d follow our Heavenly Father’s plan before we came to mortality. Elder Bednar said, “Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness.”

Did he just say we can’t ultimately be happy without bearing a load? That probably seems counter-intuitive to most of us. Captain Moroni could teach us about being cheerful during hard times. He was the head of the Nephite army for 17 years of war with the Lamanites. It was during this time of war that it was recorded, “…behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi..." (Alma 50:23). Despite the constant war, the Nephites were happy because of their righteousness and obedience to God. And not just a little happy, but like "they're making a new Star Wars movie" happy. In fact, this was the happiest they had been as a people since Lehi and his family walked off the boat.

A spirit of gratitude seems to be essential to finding happiness in the midst of trials and burdens. Section 78 of the Doctrine and Covenants instructs us that, “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (D&C 78:19). Not just some things, or most things, or the things we like, but all things.

Sister Bonnie D. Parkin taught in the April 2007 general conference, “The kind of gratitude that receives even tribulations with thanksgiving requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit, humility to accept that which we cannot change, willingness to turn everything over to the Lord—even when we do not understand, thankfulness for hidden opportunities yet to be revealed. Then comes a sense of peace.”

Third, Elder Bednar spoke of the importance of the Atonement in our lives in relation to being able to bear our burdens. He said the Atonement “enables us to do good and become better in ways that stretch far beyond our mortal capacities.”

In a 2001 BYU devotional, he said, “I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us… But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—… to empower us... Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for … good men and women who are … striving to become better and serve more faithfully.”

Nephi recounted his experience of being tied up by his angry brothers and left “in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts.” (1 Ne. 7:16). He prayed to be delivered according to his faith, “…yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.” (vs. 17)

In that situation, I can guarantee my prayer would not have been so charitable and probably would’ve had a few requests to smite my evil brothers because they so clearly deserve it. Notice Nephi didn’t ask for the Lord to magically make the ropes fall off. He asked for enough strength to free himself, something he could not do without the added ability through God’s help. In essence he was saying, “I will do everything I can to get free, please make up the difference.”

The Book of Mormon offers another example of how the Lord’s enabling power helped the people accomplish more than they could on their own.

Alma the Elder and his people were being oppressed by Amulon, a former priest of King Noah. Amulon and the Lamanites put such heavy burdens on Alma’s people that they “[cried] mightily to God” (Mos 24:10) to the point Amulon instructed the guards to kill anyone found praying to God. They continued to “pour out their hearts” in prayer, and the Lord promised to “deliver them out of bondage” saying, “I will … ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders” (Mos 24: 13-14).
The Lord made it clear that while Alma and his people were still in bondage, they would still have to carry the burdens so they could stand as witnesses and “know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mos 24:14). In other words, the burdens they had to bear were intended to bring the people closer to the Lord and strengthen their testimonies. He wants us to know that we don’t have to go through hard times alone.

President George Q. Cannon taught, “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character [to do so]. … We have made Him our friend, by obeying His Gospel; and He will stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments. ["Freedom of the Saints," in Collected Discourses, comp. and ed. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. (Burbank, California: B.H.S. Publishing, 198792), 2:185]

Sometimes the Lord removes our burdens, but most often He helps us become strong enough to carry them. The key is to “…submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord" (Mos 24:15). That seems like a difficult thing to do as we are struggling with our burdens.

Joseph Smith also set an example of cheerful and patient submission while he was confined in the Liberty Jail. In Doctrine & Covenants 123:17, the last verse written while he was still in jail, he wrote, “Therefore, dearly beloved … let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (italics added)

Sometimes when we are so focused on our own burdens, it can be hard to hear the gentle invitation from the Lord, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

That means Christ is offering to help us carry our load. Think about that for a minute. No matter what we’re carrying, Christ is extending the invitation to bring it to Him and He’ll help us carry it. As Elder Maxwell taught, “We can confidently cast our cares upon the Lord because, through the agonizing events of Gethsemane and Calvary, atoning Jesus is already familiar with our sins, sicknesses, and sorrows. He can carry them now because He has successfully carried them before” (Neal A. Maxwell Gen Conf Oct 1987).

I feel sometimes we have a tendency to think the Atonement can help us after we’ve done all the work. Nephi did say that it is “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23), right? It’s like we’re trying to move a heavy piano up a flight of stairs on our own, thinking that if we can just get it to the top of the stairs, then Christ can help us roll it into nicely into place. We need to remember that His invitation was to those “that labor and are heavy laden” and not to those who are already finished. As I understand it, Nephi’s statement means that the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement will save me over and above everything I can do. I will never get the piano to the top of the stairs on my own, so it’s a matter of accepting the Lord’s invitation to help and then not complaining about how heavy the piano is while He is doing most of the work.

Elder Bednar went on to say, “We are not and never need be alone… There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

He concluded his talk by saying, “I invite you to study, pray, ponder, and strive to learn more about the Savior’s Atonement as you assess your individual load… The unique burdens in each of our lives help us to rely upon the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah (see 2 Nephi 2:8). I testify and promise the Savior will help us to bear up our burdens with ease (see Mosiah 24:15). As we are yoked with Him … and receive the enabling power of His Atonement in our lives, we increasingly will seek to understand and live according to His will. We also will pray for the strength to learn from, change, or accept our circumstances rather than praying relentlessly for God to change our circumstances according to our will. … We will be blessed with spiritual traction.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Week 2: Tree of Life

The reading for this week was 1 Nephi 8-15.

I wrote a post on 1 Nephi 8 earlier this year, so I won't rehash that material right now.

Some other thoughts I had which I didn't cover before:

-The iron rod. I noticed how close the iron rod was to many of the dangers, such as the river. Wouldn't it make sense to move the rod a little further away? Then I realized that would make it harder for people trying to make their way back to reach the rod, or for those holding the rod to reach out and help others.

-The sole purpose of the GSB (Great and Spacious Building) seems to be for people to dress up really nice and point fingers at those eating the fruit. Sounds like a good time. All who gave heed to the GSB, "fell away into forbidden paths and were lost" (1 Nephi 8:28) while the faithful "heeded them not" (1 Nephi 8:33). In the eternal scheme of things, no matter how sophisticated or cunning the arguments sound as they come from the GSB, it can't amount to more than a pointing finger.

Chapter 9. Nephi takes a break to let us know the Lord told him to make another set of plates. The Lord has a "wise purpose" and Nephi is obedient even though he doesn't know what that purpose is. It's enough to know that "the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning..." and "...he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words..." (1 Nephi 9:6). 

Chapter 10. After hearing Lehi's account, Nephi desires a first-hand witness. It seems from Nephi's account in Chapter 11 that Lehi didn't explain the dream, because Nephi told the Spirit that he wanted "to know the interpretation thereof". 

"For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost..." (1 Nephi 10:19). 

Chapters 11-14. Nephi is carried away in the spirit as he sat pondering the vision of Lehi. One of the benefits I've noticed already from following the reading schedule is how liberating it is to know I have seven days to finish seven chapters. I don't feel as pressured when I pick away at a chapter throughout the day. There's no rush to move on to the next chapter right away and I have more time to think about what I'm reading. A quick quote from Pres. Eyring:
"... reading, studying, and pondering are not the same. We read words and we may get ideas. We study and we may discover patterns and connections in scripture. But when we ponder, we invite revelation by the Spirit. Pondering, to me, is the thinking and the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully." (Pres. Henry B. Eyring, Serve with the Spirit, Oct 2010 Gen Conf)
And one from Elder Scott:
 "...I start reading a passage of scripture; I ponder what the verse means and pray for inspiration. I then ponder and pray to know if I have captured all the Lord wants me to do. Often more impressions come with increased understanding of doctrine. I have found that pattern to be a good way to learn from the scriptures." (Elder Richard G. Scott, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life", April 2012 Gen Conf)
Notice how many times during Nephi's vision the Spirit, and later the angel, tells him to "look". I used to think that was a little weird. After all, Nephi asked to see the vision, what else is he going to be doing? The angel isn't telling him to put his phone away and pay attention, I think there's so much going on in the vision that the angel needs to direct his attention to the key elements. I think it's not so much "look" (implying he wasn't looking before) as it is "look over there". By Chapter 13, Nephi seems to have "caught up" to the point the angel no longer needs to keep telling him where to look and transitions from "look" to "thou hast beheld".

Chapter 15. Nephi goes back to his father's tent and his brothers were "disputing" about some of the things Lehi told them. I don't know how I missed it before, but the next part never really clicked in for me. In verse 5 Nephi says "...I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall." Nephi came out of a great spiritual experience, being privileged to see the Savior's mortal ministry and His post-resurrection appearance to the Nephites. I never really grasped the impact it would have after seeing those wondrous events to then witness the destruction of the Nephites because of their wickedness. No wonder he had to wait to receive his strength again before dealing with his brothers.

They told Nephi, "...we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken..." (vs 7) and "... the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us." (vs 9).

The prophet Joseph Smith taught:
"God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them" (Teachings, p. 149, emphasis added).
It's one thing to explain something to a person who really wants to understand. It's a completely different experience to have to explain something to someone who should know but doesn't want to put in the effort to find out for themselves (Call me one more time to ask me about something I covered in the staff meeting...). Points to Nephi for not trying to beat it into them with the brass plates.

I like the "If... Then..." statements in the scriptures. They make it easy to follow along and replicate the results. Nephi quotes a scripture in vs 11:
"...If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you."
If these things are not being "made known unto [us]", then we must not be meeting all the required conditions. Failure to meet any one of the conditions will result in not receiving the promised blessing.

Another point I just noticed this week and find very fascinating is how Nephi handled the little Q&A session. In vs. 8 he asks, "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" and could have easily added something along the lines of, "I asked and the Lord showed me the vision too." Not once does he mention to his brothers that he had a personal witness of Lehi's vision.

I also wonder if the brothers ever picked up on the fact Nephi was explaining points of Lehi's vision which Lehi himself didn't notice? Nephi pointed out that Lehi didn't notice the river of water was filthiness because he was so caught up in other things (vs 27). "If Dad didn't notice, how do you know?"

So, that's a very brief overview of the reading for week 2. Week 3's assignment is 1 Nephi 16-22. Feel free to comment with anything which impressed you during the week. Don't be shy...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Moroni's Quest: Week 1

Since I'm not teaching any more, I figured this would be a good way to keep me studying on a regular basis. Our stake is doing Moroni's Quest in July and they handed out the reading assignments, so I thought I'd follow along in my book and make notes here of things which impressed me.

Week 1: 1 Nephi 1-7
I wonder how Joseph Smith felt as he translated Lehi's experience in Chapter 1. Lehi described "a pillar of fire" (1 Nephi 1:6) and an incredible vision where he saw Christ and was taught many things only to be mocked later by the people he was trying to save. Truman Madsen indicated some of Joseph's earlier accounts of his First Vision used the word "fire" instead of "light" as well as his amazement that the trees around him did not catch fire.

In Chapter 2, Lehi is commanded to take his family into the wilderness so he leaves everything behind and takes his family on a camping trip. At this point, it doesn't seem like the Lord has told them where they are going or how long they'll be gone. God said, "Go" so Lehi left.

Later in Ch 2, Nephi prays to the Lord and had his heart softened "that I did believe all the words of my father" (1 Nephi 2:16). He doesn't say that was the specific intent of his prayer, but it seems likely. Did Nephi doubt his father? That doesn't seem to fit his character. I think he recognized a need for a spiritual conversion stronger than what he already had. He then prayed on behalf of his stubborn older brothers and the Lord tells him, "...inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord" (1 Nephi 2:21). Notice He didn't say, "if thy brethren shall rebel against thee". Every time Nephi exhorts his brothers to be faithful, remember that he already knows they are going to be cut off.

Chapter 3, Lehi tells the boys to make the 12-14 day trip (around 180 miles) back to Jerusalem to pick up the brass plates from Laban. I've been in the car not two minutes away from my house and not turned back to get something I have forgotten. I can't imagine travelling for 2 weeks one-way to pick something up. If the plates were so important, why couldn't the Lord say, "Don't forget to pick those up on your way out of town"? Nephi would've missed the opportunity to find out how obedient he really was, and Sariah wouldn't have received her witness either.

Chapter 4. Nephi goes out to get the plates, knowing only that God has "prepared a way" to accomplish His commands. How many times in my life have I felt frustrated because I couldn't see how things would end up? Nephi sets the example by doing everything in his power to be obedient and trusting the Lord will pick up the rest.

Nephi finds Laban passed out drunk, then gives us a detailed description of Laban's sword and the metals used to make each piece. Based on this, and Nephi's ability to molten ore and make tools, I think he worked in the trade.

Chapter 5, the boys return with the plates. Mother Sariah has been a little worried because they were taking so long. Lehi & family offer sacrifice and burnt offerings in thanks. Upon receiving the brass plates, Lehi "did search them from the beginning" (1 Nephi 5:10).  There are examples in Church history of those who received the Book of Mormon in a similar spirit. Parley Pratt recorded of his experience:
“I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. 
“As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 3d ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 36–37).
I've had the Book of Mormon all my life and I don't think I've ever read it with that much enthusiasm.

Chapter 6, "Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men" (1 Nephi 6:6). Everything Nephi and the following writers chose to include is "of worth unto [us]".

Chapter 7, Lehi sends the boys back to town to pick up Ishmael and his family. What would you say to another family to convince them to leave the comforts of home and wander in the wilderness. What would it take for me to drop everything and go?

On the way back, Laman & Lemuel want to go back to Jerusalem. Nephi tries to talk them out of it and they tie him up and leave him to be eaten by wild animals. The interesting part to me is that after they left Nephi, they kept going in the wilderness rather than going back like they said they would. What changed their minds? They had the perfect opportunity to go back, but they didn't. It's also amazing to me that Nephi "did frankly forgive them" (1 Nephi 7:21) after they were sorry and asked to be forgiven. Nephi doesn't seem to be the type to hold a grudge.

So, there's week #1 in a nutshell. I'm happy for the excuse to go through these scriptures again with a very specific reading schedule which makes me slow down and think about what I'm reading. Please feel free to comment on anything which sticks out to you.

Reading for Week 2: 1 Nephi 8-15

Sunday, October 7, 2012


No, not the kind with the paddles and banjos... A friend's post has had me thinking a lot about the theme of deliverance throughout the Book of Mormon. And since I recently listened to the entire Book of Mormon in the car over a 2.5 week period, some of the examples are still fairly fresh in my mind. 

The Book of Mormon writers (and abridgers) wanted to make sure we understood that Christ delivers the faithful and those who put their trust in Him. What really stuck out to me this time is the thought that very seldom are we spared from trials/tribulations/etc. or rescued immediately. The Lord's timing can be as instructive as is our delivery by His hand.

Nephi had an awesome attitude and never faltered in his faith. He and his brothers are sent back to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates. Their first two attempts didn't go well and they end up hiding. Laman and Lemuel proceed to beat Nephi and Sam with rods. An angel appears, and asks why they are beating their younger brothers. If it were me, I'd probably be asking the angel if he was stuck in traffic or stopped to get a snack. This sort of intervention would've been great before the beatings started. But Nephi doesn't complain and takes the opportunity to give his older brothers a pep talk.

On the way back from picking up Ishmael and his family, Nephi gets tied up and left to be eaten by wild animals. He prays and receives the strength to burst his bands. No waiting, just pray and receive; immediate deliverance.

FFWD >> Laman & Lemuel didn't like Nephi correcting their rude behavior on the boat, so they bind him with strong cords for four days. They eventually untie him when they realize they are about to be killed in the storm. Nephi grabs the liahona and prays to the Lord. My prayer would've included, "... and if Laman and Lemuel should happen to accidentally fall over the side, please let them get eaten by sharks", but Nephi just prays and gets the ship back on course. So, what does this teach me about deliverance? Do you think at some point during those four days Nephi may have prayed, "O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound" as he did in the wilderness (1 Nephi 7:17)? It worked the last time. Each previous time Nephi had been delivered, it had been with minimal waiting. Why did the Lord wait so long this time? It doesn't seem fair that Nephi had to suffer so Laman and Lemuel could be taugh a lesson. Maybe Nephi needed to learn something about himself which he couldn't learn in any other way?

What about the story of Alma and Amulek? Their time in Ammonihah did not go well. They end up being cast into prison where the judge and several of the people take turns hitting them and spitting on them, and  taunting them for a few days while depriving them of food and water. They finally stand and plead with God, "How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance." They break their bands, the prison comes tumbling down around them, killing their captors, and the two men walk out free and unharmed. Score one for miraculous deliverance.

Alma was "constrained by the spirit" not to use the priesthood to prevent the faithful women and children from being burned in the flames. Could he also have been constrained not to use it to free themselves from prison and the related abuse? Do I have enough faith in the Lord and His plan to sit patiently, often enduring great hardships, until He says it's time to use the "get out of jail free" card?

So, where am I going with all this? The thought which keeps coming to mind is that God does deliver the faithful. No question there. But, the desired deliverance almost never comes how we expect it, or even when. For Abinadi, deliverance came through his martyrdom in flames. The women and children of Ammoniah who were thrown into the fire? The "Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory". The Army of Helaman was miraculously delivered in battle, even though each of them were wounded. Nephi and his brother Lehi were delivered from the Lamanite prison after being starved for a few days. The Nephites who believed Samuel's message of the Lord's birth were delivered, almost literally, at the last minute.

I do not doubt the Lord will deliver me from trial and hardship. I do, however, wonder a little bit as to whether I will play the part of Nephi and burst my bands right away, Alma the Elder whose burdens were made light so he couldn't feel them, Alma and Amulek who endured and witnessed great suffering before the prison comes down around them, or even Abinadi whose deliverance came in death. Whatever the Lord has in store for me, I just hope I can hold on long enough for the deliverance to come.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Stay on Your Mountain

The lesson (in our ward anyway) for next week is #31 and is the start of the "war chapters" in Alma. This is one of my favorite sections in the Book of Mormon. I'll admit, it's easier to read about all the wars and fighting than it is to read something like Jacob 5, but I am starting to see more of the value behind these chapters.

Let me start with a quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard which helps make it easier to apply the war chapters to our lives today:
“We are in a war.  This is the same war that raged in the premortal world. Lucifer and his followers are committed in their evil direction. But we must never forget this about Lucifer: he is a liar. He is the father of all lies and has been from the beginning. He was cast out of Heavenly Father's premortal kingdom because of his disobedience, and now he has one goal, one eternal commitment that has never changed from the time of the war in heaven until the present day. His sole purpose is to make you and me as miserable as he is, and the best way for him to accomplish that is to entice us into disobedience.” (BYU Devotional, March 12, 1996)
I don't think we'll have many times in our lives when we'll be required to put on our breastplates and armor, grab our sword, and run off into battle. But we can apply many of the things Mormon chose to include in the abridgment to our lives to help keep us safe from the adversary and his forces.

I'm going to start with Chapter 47 because this went from being just a cool story to something I could really understand. Amalickiah and his group join the Lamanites, he gets the king wound up to go to battle against the Nephites, the majority of the Lamanite army doesn't like the idea and went up to the top of Mt. Antipus so they wouldn't have to go against the Nephites. The king gave Amalickiah command of the army and told him to "compel them to arms". Amalickiah says, "Excellent, this fits into my plan to become king."

Now, I'm not going to claim any interpretive ability here as that's not my job. I will, however, suggest this is one possible application. Put yourself in Lehonti's place for the story (he's the leader of the army who has "fixed in their minds with a determined resolution" not to go against the Nephites). Where has he and the army taken refuge? "...upon the top of the mount..." (Alma 47:7). Does that mean we should go hide out in the wilderness to avoid the influence of the world? No... the Lord wants us to be "in the world, but not of the world." What comes to my mind is the scripture in Isaiah 2:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it."
The "mountain of the Lord's house" is the temple. Pres. Hunter taught, "we again emphasize the personal blessings of temple worship and the sanctity and safety that are provided within those hallowed walls. It is the house of the Lord, a place of revelation and of peace." (Oct General Conference, 1994).

Obviously we can't spend all day every day in the temple, but if we work to stay worthy and honor the covenants we've made, that protection will follow us home.

So if we're assuming the part of Lehonti, who is playing Amalickiah? Hmm... who else has an overwhelming desire to destroy our freedom and make us miserable? Who tries to get what he wants through lies and deceit? Oh yah, that would be Satan.

So Amalickiah takes his army to the foot of the mountain, waits for night then sends a "secret embassy" to get Lehonti to come down. Lehonti is no dummy, he refuses to come down. Amalickiah tries three times unsuccessfully before changing his tactic. This time he goes up the mountain, "nearly to Lehonti's camp" and asks Lehonti to come down with his guards. After all, Amalickiah was only concerned about Lehonti's comfort and safety and had his best interests at heart. Seems legit, right? You don't want to watch that R-rated movie with the graphic depictions of sex? No problem, how about you watch this one instead? It doesn't actually show anything, but they talk about it all the time and show enough that you'll know what's going on. The one I heard the most growing up was, "You can repent in time to serve a mission." That rarely ended well either.

Lehonti fell for it and met with Amalickiah, who tells him, "Sneak down during the night, surround my army, we'll surrender, and you'll be in charge of the whole army. All I ask is to be second in command." Again, seems like a good deal. Lehonti gets what he wants (doesn't have to go against the Nephites), plus a bonus.

Everything goes according to plan. Unfortunately, it was Amalickiah's plan and not Lehonti's. We need to remember that every time Satan offers us a deal, it fits his plan and not ours. Whatever Lehonti had planned for his new position didn't last long. Amalickiah had one of his servants "administer poison by degrees" to Lehonti. Notice he didn't kill him outright, any more than Satan gets us to jump straight into the deep end. That's not his style. Rather than try to come at us head-on, he usually sides-up beside us so he can put his arm around us and pacify us, get us to let down our guard, and before we know it we're on the wrong path (See 2 Nephi 28:21). Lehonti probably didn't even know he was being poisoned.

Lehonti dies, Amalickiah becomes leader of the whole army, visits the king, has him killed, and is now king of all the Lamanites. If Lehonti had stayed at the top of the mountain, he would've been safe. Amalickiah could not have gained an advantage, and would never have become king.

So, the moral of this story: "Don't come down off your mountain!" Not even a little bit.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Experiment on the Word

I really need to work on updating this one more often. I'm such a slacker...

Anyhow, I recently had the opportunity to fill in for our Gospel Doctrine instructor for a few weeks and really was meaning to post a few things here (really, I was). The last lesson I did was on Alma 32, which was a bit of a challenge. Most everyone in the class is likely to know the story line already (Alma & co. visit the apostate Zoramites in an effort to bring them back on-side, they find a group of the poor & humble who are receptive to the message, Alma teaches them about faith and experimenting on the word of God). So, how do you present the material in a way that doesn't put everyone to sleep?

First, let's dispel a lingering myth. At no point in chapter 32 (or anywhere else I can find) does Alma compare faith to a seed. You can look all you want, but you won't find it because it's not there. What he says is, "...we will compare the word unto a seed" (Alma 32:28).

Here are some of the points which jumped out at me:
-Verse 11, am I a "Sunday Mormon"? Or do I live it 7 days/week?

-Verse 26-27, it's interesting to me that Alma gives the humble Zoramites the "scientific method" for discovering truth right after the story of Korihor, who basically said "if you can't prove it scientifically, it doesn't exist."

-Alma's discourse on the seed seems to be a continuation of the Parable of the Sower. He's talking to those who's hearts are "good soil", so he can spend more time talking about nurturing the seed rather than the condition of the ground.

-The biggest insight I had this time came from two quick references in verses 13 and 22:
13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
22 And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.
I've read this passage many times, I've had many lessons on this chapter, but this was the first time this idea occurred to me. And when it did, it was like someone had highlighted and underlined it for emphasis and I had one of those, "how long has that been in there?" moments. Before Alma starts talking about faith and making room in their hearts for the word of God, he plants the idea that God is merciful. He says in verse 13 that everyone who repents will find mercy. Those are pretty good odds. Then he says God is merciful to everyone (again, loving the odds here) who believes on his name.

So now I have to ask myself, "Why is it so important to Alma that these Zoramites understand the mercy of God?" Maybe because they had dissented from the Nephites and perhaps had doubts they could be accepted again. Satan is quick to tell us that we've come too far to turn around, regardless of what we've done. Not only had these people left the church, they actively built another one to teach there would be no Christ (oops... awkward).

Then it hit me again in chapter 33. Alma wants to really drive home the point that these people don't have to come to the synagogue to worship, so he uses a scripture about prayer to back up his point (Alma 33:3-11). Okay, so we can pray in the wilderness, the field, our houses, closets, when we're alone or surrounded by people... that's comforting. Alma could've used any number of scriptures to back up his point. There are many great examples of prayer which would help illustrate how you don't have to be in church on Sunday to pray. He chose this one for a reason. Count how many times in those nine verses where God's mercy is mentioned. It's okay... I'll wait for you to come back...

Six times in nine verses. It really seems like Alma is trying to get this idea to stick. So, hidden in a story I thought I knew was this wonderful underlying message that God is merciful. Not just some of the time either. All the time. And not just to the preferred customers, but "whosoever repenteth shall find mercy" because "God is merciful unto all who believe on his name".

Thanks to that insight, this passage now has a new depth of meaning for me. Experiment on the word, plant it in your heart and nourish it until it grows. I've done that with various aspects of the gospel and it has never failed. And now I can add the understanding and reassurance of God's mercy to the process.