Friday, June 22, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #26 "Converted Unto the Lord"


Alma 22-29

PREPARATION

Bring the following items to class:
·         a tennis ball
·         a jar that the tennis ball can barely fit into (such as a pickle jar)
·         chopsticks
·         tongs
·         a ladle that will fit into the jar
·         a pitcher with enough water in it to fill the jar (keep this out of sight until time to use it)
·         a pie plate or cake pan
·         two cleaning sponges that you have cut into heart shapes, soaked, and then dried out so they are rough and hard
·         a towel for clean-up

THE CONVERSION OF THE ANTI-NEPHI-LEHIES

Today we get to discuss one of the most fascinating groups of people found anywhere in the scriptures:  The Anti-Nephi-Lehies,  an amazing example of the ability of God’s children to change from wrong to right, permanently.

First, let’s get a feel for what they were like before the missionaries came, when they still called themselves Lamanites.

“…For they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.

“Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers…” (Alma 17:14-15)

 But now pay attention to the “notwithstanding” part of the verse:

“…notwithstanding the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.” 

 There was still a chance for them, as there is for all sinners.

Six missionaries came to their land and brought the Spirit into their lives and a large number of these Lamanites were converted.  (It is apparent that there were six missionaries altogether, because in verse 1 of chapter 23, the four sons of Mosiah are named, and it also says “either of their brethren,” leading us to believe that there were two others.  These other two are mentioned by name in 21:11—Muloki and Ammah.)  So many Lamanites were converted that they are not numbered or named except by city or area—entire cities converted!  These are listed in 23:8-14: 
  • The Land of Ishmael
  • The Land of Middoni
  • The City of Nephi
  • The Land of Shilom
  • The Land of Shemlon
  • The City of Lemuel
  • The City of Shimnilom
·         And one lone Amalekite.

The truly remarkable part of the story is found in verse 6.  Now we all know that men are prone to exaggerate.  And a man editing a large amount of records would definitely be prone to generalize.  Mormon, in his abridging, realized that we might think he was simply generalizing or exaggerating, so he added an oath to his writing, the strongest oath he could make.  This same oath was used by Nephi when he was leaving Jerusalem, carrying the brass plates, disguised as Laban, with the servant Zoram following.  When Zoram realized Nephi was not Laban but a thief of some kind, and he tried to flee back into the city, what was the phrase that convinced Zoram to stay?  Nephi swore to him that “as the Lord liveth” (1 Nephi 4:32-33) he would not harm Zoram, but Zoram would be a free man if he came with them.  That oath, “as the Lord liveth,” was so strong and so binding that Zoram knew even a robber would honor it, and he trusted Nephi and went with him.  Mormon used this same oath twice in 23:6: 

“And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them—“

As if that were not enough, then he inserted his attention phrase, “yea, I say unto you,” followed by a repeat of the oath.

“…as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.”

They never did fall away!  Although the Book of Mormon is full of stories of people who were righteous for a while, then slipped for a while—in fact, that seems to be one of the major themes of the book—here is a story of a people who changed and not one of them ever slipped back.

Today we are going to study how they did this.  Their example can be incredibly useful in our own lives.


OBJECT LESSON, PART ONE: THE DIFFICULTY OF REMOVING BAD CHARACTERISTICS

(Call up a volunteer.  Explain that the pickle jar represents his life, his soul.  Set it on the table to show it is planted firmly in this earth-life experience.  Into this soul enters some sins, or addictions, or bad habits, represented by the tennis ball.  Drop the ball into the jar.  How do we get this bad thing out?  We cannot start our earth-life over, like picking up the jar and dumping out the ball.  We must go from where we are.  Offer the chopsticks to use as a tool for removing the tennis ball from the jar.  Tell the volunteer he may also use his fingers, but he may not move the jar.  Let him try for a while.  Then call up another volunteer and let him use tongs to remove the ball.  Probably neither of these will succeed, but if they do it is okay.  Call up a third volunteer to try with the ladle.  He may succeed and think he’s messed up the object lesson, but you then explain that his particular habit was smoking, and he successfully removed it from his life, but every time he is in a large crowd, someone is smoking, and he has to breathe those cigarettes again.  And some of his friends or his spouse still smoked, and that smell was just more than he could take combined with the stresses of life.  Eventually, he cracked and he started smoking again.  Drop the ball back into the jar.)

So many of the world’s bad habits are so difficult to extract, and even more difficult to keep out for good:  smoking, drinking, pornography, profanity, sexual sins, even overeating or anorexia.  Probably everyone in class has tried to change something about their life through diet, exercise, willpower, etc.  and then slipped back into the same problem.  Permanent change is extremely difficult when we try to do it on our own.

But it is not impossible.  An Apostle of the Lord has testified of the very real possibility:

“Please understand the way back is not as hard as it seems to you now.  Satan wants you to think that it is impossible.  That is not true.  The Savior gave His life so that you can completely overcome the challenges you face.  (See 2 Ne. 2:6-8.)…

“Lucifer will do all in his power to keep you captive.  You are familiar with his strategy.  He whispers: …’You can’t change; you have tried before and failed.’ ‘It’s too late; you’ve gone too far.’  Don’t let him discourage you…

“Your exercise of faith permits you to call upon the strength of the Lord when you need it.  Obedience to His commandments allows that help to be given.  The power of God will come into your life because of your faithful obedience to His commandments…

“Don’t confront your problem armed with only your own experience, understanding, and strength.  Count on the infinite power of the Lord by deciding now to be obedient to His teachings.  (See 2 Ne. 31:19-21)…”

Now notice that Elder Scott, an apostle of the Lord, issues a promise as strong as Mormon’s phrase, “as the Lord liveth:”

I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that He will help you.  He will be there in every time of need.  He gave His life so that you can change your life.  I promise you that you’ll feel His love, strength, and support.  Trust Him completely.  He is not going to make any mistakes.  He knows what He is doing…Be obedient to His teachings, and He will bless you.  I promise you He will bless you.”  (Richard G. Scott, quoted in A. Dean Byrd and Mark D. Chamberlain, Willpower is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change, p. 14. , originally from April 1990 General Conference)

OBJECT LESSON, PART TWO: REPLACING BAD WITH GOOD

Now, can anyone tell me how to keep this tennis ball out of the jar? 

(Bring out a pitcher of water.  Setting the jar in a pie tin to catch spills, pour water into the jar until it is full. The tennis ball will float to the top where it is easily picked up and removed.)

 It is much easier to replace the bad in our lives with a cause that is good, than it is to simply remove the bad from our lives.  This is how Christ’s Atonement, the “living water,” changed the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.  When they were converted, they took upon themselves the name of Christ.  It filled their beings, leaving no room for their previous lifestyle.  There was not a void for the habits to slip back into. 

(Set the tennis ball gently on top of the jar to show that it cannot fall back into the jar as long as the jar is filled with water.)

BACK TO THE STORY…

Now, the original convert was King Lamoni, a lesser king over a small area.  He was impressed by Ammon’s arm-whacking adventures, remember?  Then his father, whose name we do not know but who was sort of the emperor or king over all the kings was converted.  This high king conferred the kingdom upon another son of his, whose conversion story we do not know.  (But wouldn’t we like to!)  The father renamed this king/son Anti-Nephi-Lehi.  Looking up the history of the word “anti,” it is apparent that it meant something like “reflection of,” or “in honor of.”  (I got this from Hugh Nibley, but I don’t have the exact source—sorry.)  So the point of this new name was to show that the king would try to follow in the footsteps of the great forefathers, Nephi and Lehi—a rather dramatic change for a descendant of Laman and Lemuel.  And his subjects who were believers were called by that name as a society, following him in this change of self-concept.

Anyway, this is the king we are talking about now:  King Anti-Nephi-Lehi, Lamoni’s brother.  He was the example and the leader for his people in changing.  Let’s look into details of how he and his people kept themselves filling with this living water, never to let their sins reenter their lives.

HOW THEY MADE THE CHANGE PERMANENT

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies began with the important first step of having a great desire to change.  Without this, no change can happen.  But we will here focus on what they did with that desire that was so effective.  We can clearly see five things the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did that made the change permanent:

1.       Acknowledgement of God—Gratitude.  First, as evidenced by the words of the king, they were filled with gratitude.  In other words, they did not take any credit themselves for their mighty change.  They were humble.  (Have four class members each read aloud one verse of 24:7-10 and summarize what the people were grateful for.)
a.       Verse 7:  The missionaries who taught them the Right Way.
b.      Verse 8:  The Holy Ghost which softened their hearts.
c.       Verse 9:  Awareness of their errors.
d.      Verse 10:  Forgiveness received through the Atonement of Christ.
Humility is essential to change.  Once we give up the idea that we can change on our own, and turn to the Lord for aid, we are on our way.  Gratitude is key to retaining that humility and continuously having that help.

2.        Removal of Temptation.  Next, let’s look at verse 16.   “And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.”  They had to know that the title “Anti-Nephi-Lehi” would cause a very volatile situation among the Lamanites, who had a history of blaming all their troubles on Nephi and Lehi.  They had to realize that a battle would be imminent.  And they knew that it was not only their own habit to fight, but it was the natural instinct of any man to defend himself.  So, in their wise humility, they did not trust themselves.  They put the tools of their former habit where they would be very difficult to retrieve; where there would be a delay in which they could talk themselves out of breaking their covenant.  If we don’t use this technique, it will be difficult for us to stay away from our sins as well:  It’s hard to break from pornography when it is only a click away and you have no Internet blocker on your computer.  It’s hard to keep from ingesting alcohol when you are at a drinking party.  We need to make sure the temptation is far enough removed that we have time to let the spirit command the body.

3    Support System.  Another wise move is recorded in verse 17.  “And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.”  They did it together!  That way they could all support each other and keep each other from caving in when it got tough.  The same principle is used by Alcoholics Anonymous and almost every other addiction-breaking organization.  It was first used here, in the Book of Mormon, by the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. 

4.       Replacing Wrong Ways with Right Ways.  Lastly, in verse 18, what is maybe the most important point is found.  This is where the jar and the tennis ball really represent what the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did.  Pay close attention to the words “rather than.” “…And this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.”  (Write the chart below on the chalkboard.)  Keep in mind our previous lesson on Priesthood vs. Priestcraft:  The Lord’s way is always based on service and love; the devil’s way is always based on selfishness and pride.
They would die    RATHER THAN     fight.
They would give     RATHER THAN       take.
They would work     RATHER THAN      be lazy.
SELFLESSNESS      RATHER THAN      SELFISHNESS
They did not try to just remove their evil ways; they replaced them with better ways, very specifically replacing every selfish (devilish) behavior with a loving (Christ-like) behavior planned in advance.  We can do exactly the same thing if we analyze our problem situations, identify the selfish behaviors or attitudes that accompany it, and find the diametrically opposed charitable behaviors or attitudes that we can substitute.  If we notice when the Holy Ghost is present with us, and when it is absent, and what we are doing and thinking at that time, that can give us a great clue as to which side of the chart we are on.

OBJECT LESSON TWO:  HAVING THEIR HEARTS SOFTENED

So commonly in the Book of Mormon, conversion is referred to as having “hearts softened” by the Spirit.  This changes the character and the motivations of the person. 

(Show the dried sponge hearts.)

 These hearts are both hard.  They have nothing to give us.  In their present state, they cannot so much as moisten an envelope.  They cannot cool a feverish brow.  They cannot clean a child’s sticky fingers.  All they can do is take—they can soak things into themselves. 

(Point to the selfish side of the chalkboard chart.  Pass one of the hearts around the class.)         

But once a person has his heart “softened” by the living waters of Christ and is filled with the Spirit, his whole purpose is to give and to love others.  

(Dip the second sponge heart in the water of the pickle jar until it is saturated.  Pass it around the room after the other.)

 This heart will give a little of the water to everyone it touches. 

(Point to the selflessness side of the chalkboard chart.) 

It can wash a little face.  It can clean a scraped knee.  It can even quench thirst.

HOW THEY ACTED UPON THEIR PLAN

So, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, with their newly softened hearts, set up this plan of action based upon the Lord’s way of love and service.  It’s amazing to observe how they acted upon this plan.

 “Now when the people saw that they (the other Lamanites) were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.”  (Alma 24:21)

They acted, rather than reacting.  When the hostile Lamanites came upon them to kill them, they did not run from them.  They didn’t even wait in the houses to be found cowering in a corner.  They walked right out to meet them and laid themselves on the ground, ready to be killed.  Rather than shed blood, they would die.  What a great act of love this was towards their brethren, the unconverted Lamanites.

And when “the rubber hit the road,” they called upon the Lord for strength.

5.       Praying when tempted.  It’s hard to imagine that we could commit a sin again if we were continuously praying at the moment of temptation.

What good did it do? you may ask.  After all, they ended up dying.  But although 1,005 of them were killed (verse 22), the hearts of many of the opposing warriors were also softened at their humility and commitment to the gospel, and they laid down next to their dead brethren and refused to kill anymore.  Their repentance was also sincere and permanent.  And more of them were converted than the number of Anti-Nephi-Lehies who had been killed (verse 26).

I don’t know if it felt like this to those it was happening to, but in the eternal scheme of things, this horrible massacre had a happy result:  No one was killed who was unprepared to meet God, and many were converted to the Lord as a direct result of the deaths of the righteous.

THE MORALS OF THE STORY

In this chapter, we find three important messages of eternal worth, pointed out to us by Mormon.  How do we recognize these?  They are each heralded by the important phrase “Thus we see.”

The first one is in verse 19:  THUS WE SEE that it is possible for sinners to change and remain firm in their change.   

“And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace (I think this is a typo by Mormon which he then corrected), or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.”

The second is in verse 27:  THUS WE SEE that things that are tragedies to our minds may be allowed by the Lord because they will work for the salvation of others.   

“And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.”

The third is in verse 30, where we discover that none of those who laid down next to their dead enemies were Amalekites or Amulonites (Nephite/Christian dissenters):  THUS WE CAN PLAINLY DISCERN that when people have the gospel and leave it behind, they tend to be more hardened than before.  

 “And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.”  (This is why the Lord taught in parables so that not everyone could easily understand, why we are required to have a temple recommend rather than just walk in, and why the harsh warning is given in the temple movie by the devil.  The Lord desires to protect the insincere or uncommitted.)

THE REST OF THE STORY

The Lord did not leave the Anti-Nephi-Lehies there to be continually killed by their brethren, though.  He commanded Ammon to take them back to live among the Nephites.  The Nephites took them in joyfully and provided land and housing for them.  And Ammon and his companions, and Alma the Younger and his companion Amulek all had a wonderful mission reunion at Alma’s place and bore testimony to each other.  Mormon saw fit to include Alma’s testimony in Alma’s own words, in chapter 29:  “O that I were an angel!”

Why would Alma wish to be an angel?  Because his own conversion was wrought so powerfully by the visit of an angel, bringing him afterwards incredible joy.  Why did he say that he “sinned” in this wish to be an angel?  (Alma 29:3.)  First, because he does not lack anything that an angel has, except a glorified and commanding presence.  As we have read many times in these passages, he and the other missionaries had the Spirit of Prophecy (the Word contained in the scriptures and testimonies of the prophets), the Spirit of Revelation (personal knowledge from God and of God), and the Priesthood (the power of God on earth).  (Alma 17:3).  And second, because it is not the Lord’s purpose to teach the whole world at once through one personage, as Alma desired, but to teach each nation as it is prepared to receive the word by the people of their own nation that all may rejoice together.  (Alma 29:7-8.)  And anyway, the converts viewed their missionaries as angels sent from God to save them (27:4).

We also, in our efforts at home and abroad, both by ourselves and through the works and words of our children and students, can do the work of angels.  If we do so, we can, as Alma says (29:17), “sit down in the kingdom of God” with “those who are the fruits of our labors.”  We can, through the Atonement, effect change in our lives and theirs that will be permanent, that they may go no more out, but that they may praise him forever.”

9 comments:

Michelle said...

Great lesson! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

EPIC!

Malia said...

this lesson covers a really cool story but just going over the story and doing question/answer would bore my 16/17 year old class. it was so great to read this lesson and see how you applied these object lessons etc. super awesome lesson! i always gain a deeper understanding when i read your lesson posts. mahalo and aloha, malia

Anonymous said...

I come to your site every week. Thank you for your posts. I teach Gospel Doctrine and sometimes, I use a little or a lot of your material, and sometimes it just sparks my own thoughts and direction. This lesson was so great, I have to say I am going to use a lot of it...especially your object lessons which are so perfect! Thank you for your the time you take to study and prepare and for the Spirit that is shared through your posts! You probably don't know how many lives you bless, but my class in Florida and I thank you!!!

Cari Wiser said...

Dear Nancy,
Thank you so much for your effort and attention to detail. My 14 and 15 year olds have been richly blessed by your insights, and so have I.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely amazing. Thank you.

Steve Corless said...

what does the ladle look like and how do you use it to get the tennis ball out?

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Steve, a ladle is a long-handled spoon for serving soup or gravy.

John said...

I also am very thankful for your willingness to share the insight you've brought to our Sunday school lessons. A thought for you on the name "Anti Nephi Lehi" is that the converted Lamanites were stating that while they had been converted to the gospel, they were not becoming Nephites (anti Nephites) they were taking on them the name of father Lehi, or becoming Lehites. In this approach "Anti Nephi Lehi" would mean "Not Nephites, Lehites". JT Thorpe