Friday, January 27, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #6 "Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life"

2 Nephi 1-2

THE IMPORTANCE OF TEACHING OF CHRIST

In chapter 2 of 2 Nephi we learn something remarkable about Nephi's younger brother Jacob:  He had seen Jesus Christ personally in a vision--when he was very young!

"Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God...Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.  And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh."  (2 Ne. 2:2-4)

It's interesting that even though Jacob had seen the Lord himself, his father Lehi still wanted to teach him about Jesus Christ.

"Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.  Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered."  (2 Ne. 2:6-7)

And here we find the reason why Lehi taught someone who already knew--to make sure that that someone understood how important it was to teach others:

"Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

"Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved."  (2 Ne. 2:8-9)

Jacob took the lesson to heart, and later wrote,

"For this intent have we written these things, that [our beloved brethren and our children] may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us."  (Jacob 4:4)

RESURRECTED TO PERFECTION

As we pass through this mortal life, we receive wounds, we become ill, our bodies age, we get gray hair and stiff joints.  We slowly deteriorate from the day of our birth until the day we die.  But dying is not the end but the beginning, because Christ provided the way for us to be resurrected to perfection.

Alma taught,

“The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.  The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; …

“Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame” (Alma 11:42–44).

So after the resurrection, all our diseases will be gone, all our wrinkles will be smooth, amputated limbs will be restored, minds will be young, and scars will just disappear.  Whether celestial, terrestrial, or telestial, all the inhabitants of heaven will have perfect bodies.

All, that is, except for one.  There is one resurrected person whose scars remain. 

As Jesus Christ hung on the cross he was taunted, "He saved others; himself he cannot save."  (Matt. 27:42)  What the mockers did not understand was that Christ did not come to save himself; he came to save us.  In order to save us, he had to die.  In order to remove our scars, he had to be scarred.  And he chose not to remove those scars when he was resurrected.  Why?  So that we would know that he always remembers us.

"I [will] not forget thee, O house of Israel.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands."  (1 Ne. 21:15-16)

As Jesus also retains a scar in his side near his heart, we know that our hearts can be mended.  We all receive damage to our hearts here in this mortal existence, but another beauty of the atonement is that while our bodies are deteriorating, our spirits can become more perfect even before the resurrection.  The sins we commit, the wounds inflicted on us by others, the mistakes we make, even the knife wounds in our hearts as great loss comes to us, can all be healed as we travel through life by the power of the Atonement.  If we continually come to Christ, our spirits will become purer, younger, freer while our bodies become more scarred, aged and immobile.  The key is to choose daily to come to Christ.

THE IMPORTANCE OF AGENCY

Lehi explained in beautiful simplicity the importance of agency to our Heavenly Father's great plan for us.  (See 2 Ne. 2:11-30.)  Jacob had experienced a lot of opposition in his life, but his father explained that opposition is necessary; otherwise there would be nothing to choose.  Indeed this entire earthly existence was begun because of a choice.  It had to be so.

Why God would command Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil when clearly He wanted them to, so that His children could be brought to the earth and experience their mortal probation.  Why didn't He just tell them to take it?  They would have done it!  They were really obedient people!  But to command Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and fall from His presence would go against His very nature.

"Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying, Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.  But he saith, come unto me all ye ends of the earth..."  (2 Ne. 26:25)

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love."  (John 15:10)

"And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life." (D&C 14:7)

So, you see, God could not issue a commandment that would push Adam and Eve away from Him.  Keeping his commandments always brings his children closer to Him, eventually leading to eternal life, not to a temporary and fragile existence in a fallen state far from His presence.  So a commandment had to be issued to Adam and Eve to avoid the tree of knowledge.  They had to choose for themselves to take the step away from God and into mortal life.

Remember that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve knew no opposition.  It wasn't until after their encounter with the devil that the Father put enmity between mortal man and Satan.  (See Gen. 3:15.)  So they did not know that someone could be evil and that someone could lie to them until after they took the fruit.  Fortunately, they were not the only ones lacking knowledge:  The devil did not know that he was actually pushing Adam and Eve in the direction that the Lord wanted them to go but could not command them to go, when he tempted them with the fruit. 

And so, once opposition and knowledge entered into the scene with agency, the plan of the Lord could progress.

AGENCY

"In years past we generally used the term free agency. That is not incorrect. More recently we have taken note that free agency does not appear in the scriptures. They talk of our being 'free to choose' and 'free to act' for ourselves and of our obligation to do many things of our own 'free will'. But the word agency appears either by itself or with the modifier moral: 'That every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment' (D&C 101:78). When we use the term moral agency, we are appropriately emphasizing the accountability that is an essential part of the divine gift of agency. We are moral beings and agents unto ourselves, free to choose but also responsible for our choices..."  (D. Todd Christofferson, "Moral Agency," Ensign, June 2009)

Satan thought that knowledge would be Adam and Eve's undoing.  But knowledge is of God.

"The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it pours knowledge into our souls and shows things in their true light. With that enhanced perspective, we can discern more clearly the choices before us and their consequences. We can, therefore, make more intelligent use of our agency..."  (ibid.)

We have to remember always, though, that when you choose one end of the stick (choice) you also choose the other (consequence).

"Freedom of choice is the freedom to obey or disobey existing laws—not the freedom to alter their consequences. Law, as mentioned earlier, exists as a foundational element of moral agency with fixed outcomes that do not vary according to our opinions or preferences." (ibid.)

Because we have opposition (things to choose between), law to link choices with consequences, and the power to choose, we can exercise agency and participate in God's great plan for our progression.

"It was necessary in God’s plan for our future happiness and glory that we become morally free and responsible. For that to happen, we needed an experience apart from Him where our choices would determine our destiny. The Fall of Adam provided the spiritual death needed to separate us from God and place us in this mortal condition, as well as the physical death needed to provide an end to the mortal experience...

"[But] if our separation from God and our physical death were permanent, moral agency would mean nothing. Yes, we would be free to make choices, but what would be the point? The end result would always be the same no matter what our actions: death with no hope of resurrection and no hope of heaven." (ibid.)

And so it was necessary that we have a Savior.

OUR SPIRITUAL BANK ACCOUNT



When I'm running my bank card at a checkout counter in a store, I wait for the card to process, and then I see a message flash on the screen:  "Approved."  I like being approved.  This experience often makes me think of the "pearly gates."  I imagine myself at the door of heaven, swiping a spiritual "bank card" and seeing that happy message:  "Approved."  But last night at the temple, I realized I had it wrong.  I am going to get to the entrance of heaven, the veil, and I am going to discover that I have "insufficient funds" in my spiritual bank account.  This is going to happen to you, too.  We are going to be asked to show identification--our glory and power--and we will have to answer that we do not have any.

Yet.

And here is the beauty of the atonement: When we come unto Christ and admit that we do not have what is needed to enter that glorified existence, all we will have to do is ask, and it will be given to us through the power symbolized by those scars on Christ's hands and wrists--the atonement!  If we repent continually, if we keep our covenants faithfully, and if we come to Christ and ask, the deficit will disappear, the glory will be bestowed upon us, and the veil into the Celestial Kingdom will part.

"...And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.  Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God."  (Isaiah 62:2)

Returning to our opening scripture, we can see that even the great prophet Jacob, despite his righteousness, despite personally seeing Jesus Christ in vision, despite later enduring to the end, fell short and could only be saved the same way we will:  through the atonement.

"Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God...Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer."

As Christ, then, retained his scars so we could see proof that He remembers us always, we would be wise to remember those scars as well and daily and hourly make choices of obedience and repentance that will bring us greater spiritual progression, until that final day when Christ reaches out His hand and we feel those scars for ourselves.

As Lehi counseled,

"And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit."  (2 Ne. 2:28).

If we do so, at the end of our lives we can say, as did Lehi,

"I have chosen the good part." (2 Ne. 2:30)


(For more on agency, see my Young Women's lesson, "Forks in the Road," available at this link.)

(For the wonderful talk by Brad Wilcox mentioned in the reader's comment below, "His Grace is Sufficient," follow this link.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #5 "Hearken to the Truth, and Give Heed unto It"

1 Nephi 16-22

(If you have access to an old airline ticket and a copy machine, you may want to "white-out" the destination and arrival time on the ticket and then photocopy and cut out one for each class member.  Start class by passing out the tickets and offering them all to go on an amazing adventure with you.  Answer all questions about the destination or the itinerary or the travel route with "It's a surprise!")




SURPRISE JOURNEYS

Imagine being given an airline ticket with a departure date and a gate number, but no destination printed on it.  Let's suppose you have just retired and so you have no work obligations, and you can take your immediate family with you.  Would you take the flight?  What things might you be worried about?  Are there any conditions under which you would take the flight?  (If you knew and trusted the person who planned the trip.)

A five-year-old would take that plane trip with his family, if a close relative he loved gave him the ticket.  He would not have to know where the plane was going, and he would have total confidence that everything about the trip would be great.  Five-year-olds are used to being dragged here and there without knowing the destination.  They get a kick out of the bugs and garbage trucks and dandelions that they see along the way.  Sometimes they complain, but they are actually much more accommodating than any of us adults would be.  "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:4).  Little children really have great faith in their parents, and we should have faith in our Parent and the trips He plans for us.

Most of us, at some point in our lives, experience a journey in which we thought we knew the destination, but when we got off the plane, we were in an entirely different place.  Do we spend our time indignantly asserting our rights and shaking our fist at the Lord, or do we leave the airport and enjoy the sights?  You'll see examples in your own life, but here are couple from mine:  Just as I filled out admittance forms to attend college since all my children would now be in school, I found out another baby was coming--major destination change!  It was eleven years before I got back to college.

A couple of years after that baby, my husband and I saved up to go on a romantic trip to Paris for our 20th wedding anniversary; instead we spent that time and money (plus a home equity loan) to travel to Russia to adopt our daughter Marisha. This was one of the most challenging "journeys" of our lives, and took two years to complete. We never made it to Paris, but the Lord's plans were better than ours, and those two children have greatly enriched our lives. I thank the Lord every day for these precious souls.



Today our lesson is all about journeys.  Lehi and his family were given "tickets" with a somewhat hazy destination and no arrival time posted at all.  Even the mode of transportation was not listed, and it changed enroute.  The journey went on for years.  They had marriages, births and deaths before it was over.  At times they thought they had arrived, only to find they had to move on again.

(Just for fun, if it's not Fast Sunday, you may offer small packages of peanuts and disposable cups of soda to the class like the airlines do.)

THE JOURNEY OF THE LEHITES

Here is some interesting research from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute regarding the journey from the Valley of Lemuel:

"After traveling for 'the space of four days' Lehi's group camped at a place they called 'Shazer,' [1 Ne. 16:13] which by normal traveling distance (about a hundred miles) would correspond to the prominent ancient oasis now called Wadi Al Azlan. Here they began to hunt wild game with bows and arrows and continued to do so after traveling for 'many days' in the 'same direction,' which would have taken them into the general area of modern Jiddah.

"This area, midway down the eastern shore of the Red Sea, is known for a combination of heat, humidity, sand, and salt that rusts car fenders in a few months and turns limber any dry wood brought from other areas. Here Nephi broke his steel bow [1 Ne. 16:18] and the wooden bows 'lost their spring,' but Nephi found wood for new bows [1 Ne. 16:23] and then found wild game nearby at the top of a mountain [1 Ne. 16:30]. Around Jiddah grows the pomegranate tree, excellent for bowmaking, and to the east, as there are farther north, are mountains with wild asses, gazelles, grouse, partridge, etc., which are still hunted with 'slings,' as Lehi's group hunted.

"After again traveling 'many days' in 'nearly the same course,' Lehi's group stopped 'for the space of a time' in a place 'which was called Nahom' [where they buried Ishmael; 1 Ne. 16:34], evidently a well-established oasis on the route, and then turned and traveled 'nearly eastward from that time' [1 Ne. 17:1]. The ancient Trail did indeed take exactly such a turn (because of the interruption of high mountains coming directly to the seacoast) at modern Al Kunfidah, then going up the wadi system to the ancient caravan city of Najran and branching there. The main route then went south to ancient San'a, which by 600 B.C. had developed into an alternate source of frankincense, and the other route continued east, through the southern edge of the desolate sand desert known to modern explorers as 'the Empty Quarter,' until it came out to the fertile Qara Mountains in Dhofar, the original ancient source of frankincense and the only such spot (about twenty miles long) on the entire fourteen-hundred-mile southern coast. Joseph Smith's account got the turn exactly right and also the area of increased desolation and 'much affliction,' including the interesting detail that the emigrants lived on raw meat [1 Ne. 17:2], not being allowed 'much fire,' in this the one area of the trail where we now know they would have been in greatest danger of Bedouin raiders.

"Most startling, the Book of Mormon provides exactly all the details (now proven, but which no one knew in the 1820s) of Salalah [which Lehi called "Bountiful;" 1 Ne. 17:6]: This small, unique spot is favored six months of the year by southwest monsoon winds that cloak the mountains in mist and produce the anciently precious frankincense which brought the caravan trail there—and also produce flowers, honeybees, fruit, and huge 'sycamore-figs' [which] can produce long timbers of strong hardwood, remarkably free from knots and resistant to sea water and used even today to make ocean-going [vessels]. There is also iron ore in the mountains [1 Ne. 17:16], a beach where Lehi's emigrants could 'pitch . . . tents by the seashore' but one which terminates abruptly on the west in cliffs that drop a hundred feet 'into the depths of the sea' [1 Ne. 17:48]. And the seasonal monsoon winds that produce the fertility of this unique area also provide a unique source of power that we now know opened up trade across the open sea to India in the first century A.D. and by which Nephi's ship would have been 'driven forth . . . towards the promised land' of America [1 Ne. 18:8]. In Joseph Smith's time, as we have seen, neither the shipbuilding skills and materials nor the favorable winds on this desert shore of Arabia were known about in the west."  (Eugene England, Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?, Maxwell Institute BYU Publication)

The beach at present-day Salalah

It's fascinating to know exactly where the journey took place, but it is more important to learn what the journey can teach us about our own lives.  Nephi gives us the point of the story:

"AND THUS WE SEE, that the commandments of God must be fulfilled.  And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth 1) nourish them, and 2) strengthen them, and 3) provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; WHEREFORE, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness" (1 Ne. 17:3).

But not everyone on the trip felt so positive about the journey, and no one felt so positive about it all the time.  Let's look at this story to see how we can be better travelers and find joy in our journeys.

HOW TO BE A HAPPY CAMPER DURING LIFE'S TRAVELS

1. Trust that the destination is a land of promise

Lehi and Nephi constantly affirmed their complete trust in the Lord that the end of the journey would be worth it.  If we can learn to do this, everything will go a little easier.

2. See the blessings in every part of the journey

"...And we did travel and WADE THROUGH MUCH AFFLICTION in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness."  (Don't you expect the next sentence is going to be a complaint about that?  Nope, it's Nephi, remember?)  "And SO GREAT WERE THE BLESSINGS of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children and were strong..." (1 Ne. 17:1-2)

3. Be patient in delays, side-tracks, or extentions to the journey

"And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit." (1 Ne. 17:6)

When they stopped at the shore of the Red Sea, they called the place Bountiful.  When they got to America, they called that land Bountiful, too.  There is never any indication that Lehi knew that the promised land would be across the sea until Nephi was told to build a ship; they were already living in a wonderful location.  It seems very likely that the travelers thought that the Bountiful by the Red Sea was their final destination, their promised land.  Was it possibly a little disheartening to find out that they had only just begun their journey at that point, eight years after leaving Jerusalem, and the most treacherous part lay ahead? [1 Ne. 17:4]  When we find that a difficult life journey has yet another twist to it, can we calmly load up our bags and keep going?

4. Have faith even while having questions

When the Lord commanded them to leave this beautiful and fruitful land Bountiful by crossing a treacherous sea in a homemade ship, everyone had questions.  But Nephi's questions were useful.  "Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship?"  Do the questions we ask when we are in challenging positions reflect our faith?  Instead of asking "Why me?" as Laman and Lemuel did, can we ask "What do you want me to do?" as Nephi did?

5. Don't waste effort looking back or thinking what might have been

Laman and Lemuel chose to whine and complain.  "It would have been better" to have died in Jerusalem, they said.  However, they didn't really think they would have died in Jerusalem, because the next thing they said was that instead of suffering in the wilderness, "we might have enjoyed our posessions," "we might have been happy." (1 Ne. 17:20-22)  But the destruction of Jerusalem really did happen and their "afflictions in the wilderness" were mighty blessings compared to the real "might-have-beens." 

Do we complain about our blessings?

6. Recognize the Lord's hand in the journey

As the Lord said to Nephi, "I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led." (1 Ne. 17:13)

Look for "the light in the wilderness."  Keep track of it in your journal.  Give thanks for it in your evening prayers.

7. Use the scriptures as a map

Nephi wanted his brothers to see that they were being guided by the Lord, and that they would reach their destination, so he likened their journey unto another journey they were familiar with from their scriptures, the Brass Plates:

"Do ye believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord?" (1 Ne. 17:23) 

He reminded them of what they knew about this trip ("ye know"), and that the hand of the Lord did it all ("by his words").
  • YE KNOW  that the children of Israel were in bondage
  • YE KNOW  that they were laden with [grievous] tasks.
  • YE KNOW  that it must needs be a good thing [for them to be freed].
  • YE KNOW  that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work.
  • YE KNOW  that   BY HIS WORD  the waters of the Red Sea were divided...and they passed through on dry ground.
  • YE KNOW  that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea.
  • YE KNOW  that they were fed with manna in the wilderness.
  • YE KNOW  that Moses  BY HIS WORD  smote the rock...to quench their thirst...[despite being led by the Lord] they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds and reviled against Moses and against...God.
  • ACCORDING TO HIS WORD   he did destroy them.
  • ACCORDING TO HIS WORD   he did lead them.
  • ACCORDING TO HIS WORD   he did do all things for them.
  • And there was not any thing done save it were   BY HIS WORD.
  • YE KNOW  that they were led forth BY HIS MATCHLESS POWER in the land of promise.
  • YE KNOW  that  BY THE POWER OF HIS ALMIGHTY WORD he can cause the earth that it shall pass away.
  • YE KNOW  that  BY HIS WORD  he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up. (1 Ne. 17:25-31, 42, 46)
Similarly, as we study the scriptures, there are many things we can learn about the Lord's dealings with his people over centuries of time that will help us see and understand that by His word, everything will work out in the end for us as well.

8. Know the Lord can be trusted because he 1) loves, 2) covenants, 3) remembers

This is the most important thing to keep in mind, and will make all the other things easier to do.  After re-telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, Nephi reminded his brothers of the character of God--that He is the Creator of the earth and of each of them, that He raises up the righteous and destroys the wicked, that He leads the righteous into promised lands, that He rules high in the heavens...

"And he loveth those who will have him to be their God.  BEHOLD, he 1) loved our fathers, and he 2) covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he 3) remembered the covenants which he had made;  WHEREFORE,  he did bring them out of the land of Egypt.

FINDING HOPE IN ISAIAH

After Nephi taught his brothers from the scriptures about the exodus, he read to them from another scripture.  (Ask your students to identify it from 1 Ne. 19:23--Isaiah.)  There were two reasons that Nephi gave for reading from Isaiah in verses 23 and 24.  Each of them is begun with the word THAT.
  1. "THAT  I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer."
  2. "THAT  ye may have hope."
Isaiah is a great place to find hope for the journey expressed in beautiful ways.  If you are a "beginner" at Isaiah, don't worry about understanding every detail--just listen to the beauty of the words and phrases, and try to get a feeling about what is being said.

"All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them?  [That would be the prophets, specifically Isaiah.]  The Lord hath loved him; yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them...

"...I have sent him--the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it." (1 Ne. 20:14, 17)

We can trust that the words of the prophets will be fulfilled for our journey because the Host of our tour, the Lord Himself, has sent them.

No matter how things are right now, everything will come right, because...

"Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, O isles of the sea, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;

"That thou mayest say to the prisoners; Go forth; to them that sit in darkness: Show yourselves.  They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.

"They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.

"And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted." (1 Ne.21:8-11)

No matter where we live (even the remotest places, the isles of the sea), we will have a prophet to deliver the Lord's promises to us.  If we are in a prison of sin or circumstance, we will be allowed to escape.  If we are in darkness, we will be led into the light.  We will be led to a high place (mountains, which generally mean temples in the scriptures) where we will be nurtured by the Lord.  There we will be sheltered from the vicissitudes of life (heat and sun).  All the mountains will become a way.  (Temples the world over lead us to God.)

Even when times come that we think the Lord has forgotten us, we can be sure He hasn't and His promises will eventually be realized,

"For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? [Even if she is a neglectful mother, a nursing mother will be reminded by her body that she has a baby to feed--it is impossible for her to forget!]  Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.

"BEHOLD, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."  (1 Ne. 21:15-16)  What is on the palms of Christ's hands?  The scars of His crucifixion, His atonement for us.  Even though He was resurrected to glory and to a perfect body, those scars remained as eternal symbols of His love and sacrifice for us!

But it is not just the House of Israel whom the Lord remembers:

"Thus saith the Lord God:  BEHOLD, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard [a banner, rallying troops or groups of people together] to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

"And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens their nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me."  (1 Ne. 21:22-23)

It is the spread of the true gospel restored in the United States (1 Ne. 22:7-9) to all those who do not have it, anywhere in the world and in any way, that is described by Isaiah.  It is the fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham that in his seed all the kindreds or families of the earth should be blessed.  Their thanksgiving will be great, and those who labored for the Lord will be gratified and not sorry for their service.  Who are these people?
  • Those who have the gospel are as "kings and queens," and if they spread the gospel through missionary service, they are "nursing fathers and nursing mothers" to those whom they bring to Christ, whether those people are next-door or in their Sunday School class or in a remote village in Africa. 
  • Those who live in circumstances equivalent to kings (with both spiritual and material blessings fit for royalty) become "nursing fathers and nursing mothers" by mentoring, fostering, or adopting children from situations which lack the light of the gospel, into an environment where they can learn of Christ. 
  • Those who, through their military or civilian service to less-privileged peoples, nurture and protect them and elevate their circumstances are "nursing fathers and nursing mothers".
  • Can you think of others?  There are many specific examples of "nursing fathers and nursing mothers" in the world around us.
As people's basic needs are met and they are then able to accept the gospel, they are brought out of captivity, they are brought into light, and they will KNOW that the Lord is their Savior.  What greater cause can we unite in?

Once we are underway on our own journey with the Lord as our Guide, it is our responsibility to bring others to find their way and follow the Light as well, until we reach the happy ending of all our travels when,

"He gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.  And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth...

"But behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent."  (1 Ne. 22:25-26, 28)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #4 "The things Which I Saw While I Was Carried Away in the Spirit"

1 Nephi 12-14

In these three chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi relates more of the marvelous vision which he was shown.  Chapter 12 records how he saw the rest of the Book of Mormon being played out in the lives of his descendants.  We've addressed this in the previous lesson.  The heading to Chapter 13 tells us that he also saw the history of the world following Book of Mormon times:
  • The church of the devil set up among the Gentiles (v. 4-9)
  • The discovery and colonizing of America (v. 10-20)
  • The loss of many plain and precious parts of the Bible (v. 20-29)
  • The resultant state of gentile apostacy (v.32-34)
  • The restoration of the gospel (v. 34-37)
  • The coming forth of latter-day scripture (v. 35-36, 39-41)
  • The building up of Zion (v. 37
The Great and Abominable Church

"And it came to pass that I beheld the great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it." (1 Ne. 13:6)

What exactly is "the great and abominable church?"

"And [the angel] said unto me: Behold there are two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil." (1 Ne. 14:10)

So does that mean that the LDS Church is the church of the Lamb of God, and all other churches are of the devil?  Yikes!  That would bode ill for the world!

Fortunately, that isn't the case.  We are told in the Doctrine & Covenants,

"Contend against no church save it be the church of the devil."  (D&C 18:20).

Obviously, all other churches cannot be the church of the devil, or this statement would make no sense.  We have been advised by our prophets that other religions contain some truths of the gospel and do much good on the earth.  Our church joins with other churches in many causes, and often supports other churches in their needs.  We are taught respect for all religions. 

In an article in our church-published Ensign on Muhammed, we find this quote by apostle B.H. Roberts:

"While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.”

This was the second article published in the Ensign on Muhammed.  "Ishmael, Our Brother," can be found in the June 1979 Ensign.  Respectful articles were also published on Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Lutheranism.  In a separate article honoring Martin Luther, President Joseph F. Smith is quoted:

"Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and all reformers, were inspired in thoughts, words, and actions to accomplish what they did for the liberty, and advancement of the human race. They paved the way for the more perfect gospel of truth to come.”

President Hinckley was known to invite those of other faiths to, "Bring all the good you have with you, and let us add to it."

At the closing of the April 2011 Conference, President Monson reminded us again, "We are a global church. Our membership is found throughout the world. May we be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths as well as to those of our own."

So what then can Nephi's vision refer to?

The Guide to the Scriptures, which is the LDS-written scripture dictionary included in non-English LDS scriptures, but also available in English on-line, defines it as "Every evil and worldy organization on earth that perverts the pure and perfect gospel and fights against the Lamb of God."  In this sense, it may not be confined to a "church" as we know it at all, but may include philosophies, government organizations, drug cartells, cults, cultures, media, etc.--anything whose purpose is to pull people away from Christ.

What will be our escape from them?  They will fall into the pit they have dug for the believers. (1 Ne. 14:3)  When you work for the devil, the pay is not good, and never what you were promised.

The Discovery and Colonizing of America

The Lamanites had been safely separated from the rest of the world by the great oceans for centuries, but when they reached a fulness of iniquity, the Lord bridged that gap and allowed others into His promised land.  He guided Columbus to find America.  Others followed him, going out of captivity, to live in America.  (1 Ne. 13:10-13)  Europeans escaped debtor's prison or serfdom to claim their own land in America.

As prophecied by Nephi, "I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten. 

"And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance..."  (1 Ne. 13:14-15)

Okay, knowing how things worked out between the settlers and the native Americans, with the natives being slaughtered, driven off their land, and herded onto reservations, we wonder, could that really have been the Spirit of the Lord, telling the Gentiles to do these atrocities?  Well, these are two different paragraphs--two different subjects.  And as we look more carefully at the scripture, we see that it was not the Lord's plan that the Lamanites be driven and scattered by the Gentiles, but before the Gentiles.  And, indeed, that happened on a terrific scale, in a little-known way:

"Throughout the Americas, diseases introduced with Europeans spread from tribe to tribe far in advance of the Europeans themselves, killing an estimated 95% of the pre-Columbian Native American population.  The most populous and highly organized native societies of North American, the Mississippian chiefdoms, disappeared in that way between 1492 and the late 1600s, even before Europeans themselves made their first settlement on the Mississippi River."  (Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, p. 78)

There is no indication that it was part of the Lord's plan for his children, the Lamanites, to be persecuted by the white settlers.

The Creation of a Free Nation

"I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.  And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.  And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.  And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations." (1 Ne. 13:16-19)

The story of the American Revolution is the story of miracles:  a ragtag, unseasoned, disorganized group of citizen-soldiers won their independence from the world's greatest empire.  The Book of Mormon tells us this was a part of God's plan, to create an environment where the "marvelous work and a wonder" of the Restoration of the Gospel could take place. 

The retreat from the Battle of Long Island at the beginning of that conflict clearly shows the hand of the Lord in the establishment of a free land.  With a fleet of British warships waiting in New York Harbor to attack Manhattan as soon as the tide and winds allowed them up the East River, British and Hessian troops numbering 20,000 surrounded a little American force of 3,000 soldiers trying to hold a four-mile ridge on Long Island.  Behind those troops stood the Brooklyn forts, which held another 6,000 American soldiers.  The Britons pushed them back to the forts, killing or capturing a little less than 1,000, but paused to rest for the night before annihilating the rest of the force.  The British had lost 400.

"The average British regular was in his late twenties, or about five years older than the average American soldier...the average regular had served five or six years in the army, or five or six times longer than the average volunteer under Washington...[but] for most of the redcoats, soldiers and young officers, like nearly all of the Americans, the battle [of Long Island] was...their first."  (David McCullough, 1776, p. 167-168)


If this map is hard to read here,
you can find it on Wikipedia,

The American troops were hemmed into an area three miles around and their only chance of survival was to retreat.  Behind them lay the East River, behind that, the security of Manhattan Island.  But as soon as the wind changed, the warships would cut off that escape. 

1,200 men from two Pennsylvania regiments were dispatched across the river to bolster spirits and aid in defense.  After they arrived, a terrible storm arose.  The soldiers were soaked, cold, hungry, and beaten.

"Yet for all the miseries it wrought, the storm was greatly to Washington's advantage.  Under the circumstances, any ill wind from the north-east was a stroke of good fortune.  For as long as it held, Lord Howe's ships had no chance to 'get up' where they could wreak havoc."  (ibid., p. 184)

The storm stopped, but the wind kept up, preventing the warships from coming, but also preventing Washington's troops from retreating. 

About 11:00 p.m., "the wind shifted to the southwest and a small armada of boats...started over the river from New York...In a feat of extraordinary seamanship, at the helm and manning oars hour after hour, they negotiated the river's swift, contrary currents in boats so loaded with troops and supplies, horses and cannon, that the water was often but inches below the gunnels--and all in pitch dark, with no running lights.  Few men ever had so much riding on their skill, or were under such pressue, or performed so superbly... (ibid., p. 188)

The troops withdrew silently, because the enemy was very near.  They covered the wagon wheels with rags, did not speak above a whisper, and stifled their coughs.

"The orderly withdrawal of an army was considered one of the most difficult of all maneuvers, even for the best-trained soldiers, and the fact that Washington's ragtag amateur army was making a night withdrawal in perfect order and silence thus far, seemed more than could be hoped for...

"[The rearguard, those Pennsylvania men] kept busy creating enough of a stir and tending campfires to make it appear the army was still in place, knowing all the while that if the enemy were to become the wiser, they stood an excellent chance of being annihilated."  (ibid.)

At least 11 crossings of the East River were made that night by the mariners.

"But the exodus was not moving fast enough...time was running out.  Though nearly morning, a large part of the army still waited to embark, and without the curtain of night to conceal them, their escape was doomed.

"Incredibly, yet again, circumstances--fate, luck, Providence, the hand of God, as would be said so often--intervened.

"Just at daybreak a heavy fog settled in over the whole of Brooklyn, concealing everything no less than had the night.  It was a fog so thick, remembered a soldier, that one 'could scarcely discern a man at six yards distance.'  Even with the sun up, the fog remained as dense as ever, while over on the New York side of the river there was no fog at all...

"It was seven in the morning, perhaps a little later, when [the last men, the Pennsylvania militia] landed in New York.  'And in less than an hour after,' [reported one soldier] 'the fog having dispersed, the enemy was visible on the shore we had left [behind].'

"In a single night, 9,000 troops had escaped across the river.  Not a life was lost.  The only men captured were three who had hung back to plunder."  (ibid., p. 190-191)  The American army was preserved.  The revolution that was supposed to have been suppressed by this one battle was still alive and eventually succeeded.

The Establishment of Zion

Once the environment of freedom was created in America, the gospel was restored just a few hundred miles from New York City. 

For the first century of its life, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged its members to "gather to Zion," with Zion being first Jackson County, Missouri and then Salt Lake City, Utah.  Those same Britons from whom Washington's troops won their independence, now became the lifeblood of Zion as they converted, emigrated, and replaced apostates.  They colonized the west, along with other European converts.  But once the society of saints was firmly established in the western United States, the next part of Nephi's prophecy began to be fulfilled.  As the forces of the great and abominable church spread over the world to attack the Lamb of God, so did democracy spread throughout the earth.

Although democracy has its origins in ancient civilizations and the tiny island of Corsica implemented a short-lived democratic government system in 1755, the United States formed the first lasting democracy of our day.  The establishment of democracies throughout the world, with freedom and equality as their tenets, spread to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Africa, and eventually Eastern Europe. "In 1950, there were 22 full democracies [in the world].  At the century's end, there were 120, and almost two-thirds of the people in the world could cast a meaningful ballot."  (Daniel Gardner, The Science of Fear, Kindle edition, chapter 1)


Blue regions on this map of the world
show at least partially-democratic
countries.  Lighter blue countries
are most democratic.


The spread of democracy allowed the spread of the fulness of the gospel to people all over the earth, and the spread of the power of covenants with God.

"I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory."  (1 Ne. 14:14)

How exactly was this great power and glory of the Lamb bestowed upon the people to arm them with righteousness?  Does the phrase "temples to dot the earth" ring a bell?  As Joseph Smith prayed at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple,

"And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.  And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they [the ends of the earth] may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days...

"Remember all thy church, O Lord, with all their families, and all their immediate connections, with all their sick and afflicted ones, with all the poor and meek of the earth; that the kingdom, which thou hast set up without hands, may become a great mountain and fill the whole earth...

"That our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings."  (D&C 109:22)

Aba Nigeria Temple


"And as there began to be wars and rumors of wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things--

"And when the day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil, then, at that day, the work of the Father shall commence, in preparing the way for the fulfilling of his covenants, which he hath made to his people who are of the house of Israel."  (1 Ne. 14:15-17)

So, in other words, things will only get worse until they get better!  We need not fear the great and abominable church, we need only stay out of it.  The Lord will fulfill his covenants made with his people "scattered upon all the face of the earth" for "there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth." 

As revealed in Nephi's vision, we are the continuation of the history in the Book of Mormon.  Therefore, as we establish groups of Zion in the nations of the world, each becomes a Promised Land and is bound by the Lord's promise, that "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land."  (2 Ne. 1:20.  See also 1 Ne. 2:20; 1 Ne. 4:14; 1 Ne. 13:15; 1 Ne. 17:13; 2 Ne. 1:9; 2 Ne. 4:4; Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 2:22; Mosiah 2:31; Mosiah 29:43; Alma 9:13; Alma 36:1; Alma 36:30; Alma 37:13; Alma 38:1; Alma 45:6-8; Alma 48:15; Alma 48:25; Alma 50:20; Alma 62:51; Helaman 3:20; Ether 7:26; Ether 10:16;

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #3 "The Vision of the Tree of Life"

1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18; 15

We are going from the ridiculous to the sublime in this entry.  (Everyone needs a little ridiculous to go with their sublime.)  I was forwarded this humorous reading from my sister-in-law years ago when she received it via e-mail.  No author was given, but I just searched and found it on a psychologist's website, with the author listed as a Brian Thomas, so I will credit him.  I am reprinting it here in its entirety (mainly so I can find it again when I want it).

Imagine if Lemuel had written the record instead of Nephi...

THE BOOK OF LEMUEL
By Bryan Thomas

Chapter One
Dear Diary,
I, Lemuel, having been born of nagging parents, therefore, I have been harassed much of my life; not only by my parents, but by my younger brother Nephi, and my older brother Laman, with whom I get along the best.  There!  Now maybe my parents will get off my back about keeping a journal.
Lem

Chapter Two
Dear Diary,
Well, it's finally happened!  My father is a lunatic!!  He has decided that he feels that we should leave the big city and head out into the wilderness.  He hasn't said where.  He started talking about leaving after he came home from yelling at people to repent.  He said the people threw rocks at him.  No kidding!  I think one of them must have beaned him on the noggin.  When he came home, he went to his tent and laid on his bed for about twelve hours straight.  I thought he was in a coma.
Lem

Chapter Three
Dear Diary,
Hi, I'm Lemuel, and I'm dumb...

I didn't write that last entry.  Laman must have gotten hold of the plates.  Sometimes he's a real jerk.  I wish there was a way to erase engravings.  Maybe a jeweler could fix it.  Dad says we have to go back to town and get some brass plates from Uncle Laban.  Sure, like Laban's going to say, "Here, have them.  Maybe you want my coat, too?  You want that I should die from pneumonia; then you'll be happy?"  Laban hit me once when we were younger because I spit on him.  I'm not going!
Lem

Chapter Four
Dear Diary,
I decided to go to the city after all.  We just got back and the walk was murder.  Laman was picked to talk to Laban.  He went over and talked to him...Laban got mad and beat Laman up pretty good.  After that, we went to our old home and got our gold and tried to buy the plates from Laban.  His gang chased us away and stole our stuff.  Laman was furious!  I thought the vein in his forehead was going to blow up!  He and I got sticks and beat up Nephi and Sam until we got tired.  Then an angel came and told us to quit hitting them.  Boy, Nephi and Sam sure got lucky!  Nephi went back to the city and found Laban lying in the street.  He was so drunk that Nephi chopped off his head and got the plates.  What a trip!
Lem

Chapter Five
Dear Diary,
Now Dad wants us to go back to the city and get Ishmael and his family.  He probably wants us to marry his daughters...he's got a million kids.  I guess I don't mind so much about going back to the city this time; some of Ish's daughters are pretty good-looking, even though they don't have much upstairs.  Sounds like a pretty good match for me, eh?  I'll write more when we get back.  

Just got back from the city.  Ishmael's daughters are better-looking than I remembered.  But there's one that's really ugly.  She's hanging on Laman like a bad suit.  Nephi's been on our backs the whole time.  He keeps telling me to repent.  Sheesh!  It's not like I'm Cain or something!
Lem

Chapter Six
Dear Diary,
I've had it out here!  I'm not a happy camper!  I've had diarrhea for the last two months.  I haven't been writing much lately because things have been really hard!  Now Dad has this gold-colored ball that he sits and stares at for hours a day.  He says it tells him what to do and where to go.  If Dad's looking for that kind of information, I can give him a few ideas...Ah, I'm going to bed!  Mom's pregnant, I think.  Either that or she's got a tumor.  I think she's too old to have a baby.
Lem

Chapter Seven
Dear Diary,
Mom was pregnant!  She had a boy, she named him Jake.  We all have families now and most of us have at least one kid.  I have two:  Frank and Jesse.  They're little terrors, but I guess they'll grow out of it.  I know I should write more, but I keep putting it off.  I don't know the reason but my wife is getting really buff.  I'm worried because she's almost gotten bigger than me.  Laman's wife is huge!  She's stronger than eight cows.  But then, I told Laman he'd have an eight-cow wife.
Lem

Chapter Eight
Dear Diary,
Oh man!!  Could that be a deli out in the middle of the wilderness?  I'm craving some bagels and lox.  Maybe some pastrami on rye.  Aww, it's just a mirage...Nephi says God told him to build a boat.  Nephi's never even seen a boat.  Jerusalem is landlocked!  I've never seen more than a glass of water at a time, let alone a whole ocean.  And now Nephi thinks he's Noah all of a sudden.  Why, he can't even shoot a bow.  He broke his last week.  We went a day without food because of it.  Knowing Nephi, he probably called it a fast.  Gotta go.
Lem

Chapter Nine
Dear Diary,
Laman gave me a tattoo.  It really hurts.  He rubbed salt in it before I could stop him.  He said salt makes it feel better.  It hurts like the dickens.  Why'd I let him do it?  He can talk me into just about anything.  I can't believe it's been eight years since we left home, and here we are on a beach with a ship that probably won't even float.  Mom had another baby, called him Joe.  I can already tell he's going to be trouble.
Lem

Chapter Ten
Dear Diary,
I'm really sea sick!  We've been having a party here on the ship that Nephi made.  The boat worked pretty good.  We've been floating around for about two weeks now.  We tied up Nephi yesterday because he's such a stiff.  He got really mad at Laman and me because we got drunk.  It's stormy a lot.  If it gets worse we might sink.  Everybody says that Heavenly Father is punishing us with this storm and that we should untie Nephi.  Yeah, right.  Doubt it.  But maybe we'll untie him after Family Home Evening.
Lem

Chapter Eleven
Dear Diary,
We've finally landed.  I feel like we've been in this tub forever!  Good thing Nephi brought all those seeds.  There's nothing to eat and it's my turn to go hunting.  What if I run into some big animal I've never seen before?  Maybe I can con Jake or Joe into going hunting for me.  Can you believe it?  Nephi is already talking about building a temple.  And we haven't even been here for a day!  Can't he give this religion thing a rest?  Laman has already got ideas about moving out on his own.  I think I'll go with him.
Lem

Chapter Twelve
Dear Diary,
Well, Nephi finally did it.  He got Laman so mad at him that Laman couldn't see straight.  They started talking again about who was going to be the leader.  Laman thinks he should be the leader because he's the oldest.  But Nephi thinks he should be the leader because some angel said so.  Oh well, it'll be the last fight between them for a while.  Nephi and a bunch of the family left a few nights ago to live somewhere else.  And they took everything with them:  The brass plates, Laban's sword, the gold-colored ball, everything!!  Laman's pretty ticked off.  I'm glad I stayed with him.  Nephi won't know the first thing about living in the wilderness on his own.  But since Nephi left, we've all developed a red rash on our skin.  We can't seem to get rid of it.
Lem

Okay, now to get serious...

LEHI'S VISION OF THE TREE OF LIFE (Chapters 8-10)

(Ask class members to relate the story of the vision of the tree of life, then ask the class for insights into the relevance to their lives found in the symbols.  A few of my insights follow.)

The Dark and Dreary Wilderness

It's important to notice what happened to Lehi before he saw the tree of life.

"And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision...

"And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.

"And it came to pass that he spake unto, and bade me follow him.

"And it came to pass that as I followed him, I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste." (8:4-7)

Lehi found himself in a wilderness.  This is very significant.


A wilderness to Lehi would not have been just a barren place, but a life-threatening, terrifying place, full of ravenous wild animals, devoid of water or edible vegetation, and sprinkled with murderous highwaymen.  A wilderness would have had no dwellings or places of safety and refuge.  Remember, Lehi had just traveled through such a wilderness between Jerusalem and the Red Sea, eating uncooked meat for the fear of drawing attention of enemies or animals with the smoke of a fire.  In the dream, as in real life, Lehi did not put himself in the wilderness; the Lord put him there.

"And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies."  (8:8)

Many people today will say, when they find themselves in a "wilderness" due to no fault of their own, "The God I believe in would never (fill in the blank with what injustice they see in the world)."  But Lehi was not worshipping a "Franken-God" (to borrow a term from pastor and newspaper columnist Eldon Peterson of the Herald Journal)  a god of his own creation.  Lehi knew the character of the God he worshipped.  This is why we don't see him shaking his fist at heaven, but instead crying to God for mercy.  He knew that the wilderness was part of his learning experience or God would not have put him there.  He also knew that God, in his tender mercy, would bring him back out of it to a situation of greater light and love, if he exercised his faith in him.  And he did.

Where have we seen that phrase "tender mercies" before? 

"But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." (1:20)

Even though we know intellectually that this life is a time of trial and learning, we are always shocked when we find ourselves in a wildernesss. We expect that the tender mercies of the Lord will make us "mighty even unto never having a need of deliverance."  We expect that if we follow the Lord, we'll never meet up with trouble, we'll always be fed manna, and everything will be rainbows without floods.  But that's not the way it is.  We will be made mighty, even unto the power of deliverance, just as was Lehi in his dream and in his life.

"And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.  And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.  And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.  Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.  And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy..." (8:9-12)



Even though he cried unto the Lord for help, and even though the Lord answered his prayer, Lehi was still required to "go forth and partake."  Personal effort is always necessary.  The fruit is never dropped in our mouths.

The Four Groups of People
  1. Those who start on the path to the tree, but then become lost in the mist of darkness.  They give in to the temptations of the devil, or the hardships (or luxuries) of life.  (v. 23)
  2. Those who hold to the rod of iron until they reach the tree and partake of the fruit, but then become embarrassed and fall away. (v. 24)  They are distracted by worldliness, pride, pursuit of temporal goals, etc.  Partaking of the fruit (the atonement of Jesus Christ) is not a one-time, end-of-your-life thing, but a part of the journey.  The plan of salvation is not as linear as the vision of the tree of life.  (see L. Tom Perry, Ensign, Nov. 1995)
  3. Those who hold to the rod of iron until they reach the tree and partake of the fruit, and who then remain faithful (v. 30).  Note, Lehi saw "multitudes" doing this, "pressing their way forward, continually holding fast."  That's encouraging!  Also, note the spelling of the word strait in "strait and narrow path" (v. 20).  A straight path doesn't turn, switchback, climb, drop, veer, or have rocks or bumps.  But that's not the kind of path we're talking about.  It is a strait path, which means it is narrow, with strict requirements.  The interpretation of the path is never given, but we can figure it out from other scriptures easily enough:  It is the keeping of covenants.
  4. Those who never start on the path but instead go directly toward the great and spacious building (v. 31). 

The fearsome Angel's Landing trail
in Zion National Park, Southern Utah
with its chain of iron
reminds me of the challenges of
following the Strait and Narrow Path
with its Rod of Iron.

Four Steps to Reaching the Tree of Life
  1. Commence on the path (8:22).  The first three groups did this.
  2. Catch hold of the rod (8:24).  The second and third groups did this (v. 24, v. 30).
  3. Cling to the rod (8:24).  The second and third groups pressed forward, they did not have a casual grip (v. 24, v. 30).
  4. Continue (8:30).  The third group is the only one who hung onto the rod for dear life continually.
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father:  Ye shall have eternal life." (2 Ne. 31:20)

NEPHI'S DOUBLE VISION

Whenever we receive a revelation from the prophet, it is our privilege to ask for a validation of it from the Spirit, if we need it.  Nephi went beyond:  he had a desire to see the whole vision for himself, and his desire was granted and even expanded upon.  Nephi saw a vision within a vision, the second vision being the interpretation of the first vision.  The first vision was similar to his father's vision, and the second vision explained the meaning of the symbols through prophecies that would take place in either the Holy Land or the Promised Land.  Here is a brief outline:
  • The Tree of Life (11:8-23) is explained through a vision of Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Mother of Christ, the Infant Christ-Child.  It is the love of God the Father, manifested in His condescension (becoming the literal father of a part-mortal).
  • The Rod of Iron (11:24) is explained through a vision of Christ's ministry in Israel and His faithful followers.  It is the word of God.
  • The Fountain of Living Waters (11:24-31) is explained through a vision of John the Baptist's ministry, the baptism of Christ, the descent of the Holy Ghost, Christ's ministry in Israel and rejection by the Jews, the 12 apostles, the ministry of angels, and the miracles of Jesus.  It is the love of God the Son, manifested in His condescension (becoming part human and dwelling upon the earth to minister and redeem).
  • The Large and Spacious Building (11:32-35) is explained through a vision of the trials of Christ, His crucifixion, and the persecution of His apostles.  It is the House of Israel's rejection of the gospel in favor of the wisdom of the world.
  • The Great Fall of the Building (11:36) is explained through a vision of the Great Apostacy.  It is the downfall and destruction of those who reject the gospel.
Interjected at this point is a vision of the Land of Promise (America), many generations of warring factions, darkness and massive natural disasters, the descent of the resurrected Christ to the survivors, the American 12 apostles, and generations of righteousness among the Nephites.
  • The Fountain (or spring) of Filthy Water (12:13-16) is explained through a vision of the wars of the Nephites and Lamanites.  It is the depths of hell.
  • The Mists of Darkness (12:17) are identified as the temptations of the devil.
  • The Large and Spacious Building (12:18) is identified as pride.
  • The Great and Terrible Gulf (12:18-23) is explained through a vision of the destruction of the Nephite civilization and the Apostacy in America.  It is the word of the justice of God.
The Tree of Life vision is only half of the vision that Nephi saw.  Chapters 13-14 tell the remainder of the prophecy, which regards the Restoration and the Gathering of the House of Israel prior to the Last Days.  It's the happy ending!  Nephi also viewed the Last Days and the end of the world, but was commanded to refer his readers to The Revelation of John rather than write it himself.

HAVING VISIONS, AND HAVING VISION

Visions from the Lord are often omniscient in nature, as the Lord is omniscient (or able to see all).

"Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made; the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes." (D&C 38:1-2)

I live in a mountain valley with Preston, Idaho at one end, and Avon, Utah at the other.  If I want to see Preston and Avon and all the towns and farms between, I can get in my car and drive from one end to the other, and I would be able to see a certain dimension of those places over a period of an hour or two.  But above the valley, there is a peak called Mount Logan. 


When I am standing on Mount Logan, I am able to see all of the communities, the marshes, the rivers, the farms at the same time, rather than in a linear way.  When God offers an omniscient vision such as Nephi had, he pulls the seer up to stand beside him and view the entire panorama at once.  (Credit for this idea goes to Jerry Wilson, former instructor at the Logan Institute of Religion.)

Similarly in omniscient visions, there is no linear time, but all can be seen at once.  That fact is reflected in the prophetic future tense used to record visions.  Tense discrepancies are very common, since the tense doesn't matter.  You can see future, past and present tense all three in 11:27:  the prophet who should prepare the way (future); the Lamb went forth and was baptized (past); heavens open and the Holy Ghost comes and abides (present).

Nephi explained the reason that he was able to have this wonderful vision before he related the vision to us.  It was because he asked.  "For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost..." (10:19) 

As a piano teacher, I love teaching all ages.  Beginners are fun; they are so excited about every new thing.  But it's really fun to have advanced students.  There is so much wonderful material you can share with an advanced student.  You can explain to them the fascinating theory by which the piece is constructed, the history of the composer and the reasons he wrote the piece, the nuances and techniques that can be used to bring out the beauty of the music, and it is a delight to share this with them.

I have the feeling that the Lord loves having "advanced students" like Nephi as well.  If you are a "beginning" gospel student, he loves seeing your excitement, but don't stay in the "intermediate" stage forever:  become an "advanced" student!  We have all the information and inspiration necessary to be "advanced."  Get up on the mountain!

"In this dispensation of the fulness of times, the revelation superhighway has been carrying heavy traffic of eternal truth ever since that day in the spring of 1820 when the Lord answered a farm boy's fervent prayer in the Sacred Grove and ushered in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ."  (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 75)

We may not see the heavens opened, as did Joseph Smith, and we may not see the panoramic vision of the tree of life as did Nephi, but we can stand on a mountaintop and gain an eternal perspective that will guide us through our own lives.  The "revelation superhighway" is open to us.

"In our own lives, in our daily workaday world, we can create our own 'mountaintop experience' so unique and personal that I wonder why more of us do not readily do so.  The spiritual mountaintop of which I speak is the development and refining of a testimony of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Just as we can stand on the top of any great mountain and experience an awe-inspiring panorama, I believe we can stand in our own places and experience overwhelming awe in knowing that the Savior, in an act of love which defies mortal understanding, gave his life in taking upon himself our pain and suffering...

"It is in the development of our testimonies, in the moving even partway up the mountain and out of our comfort zones, that I think we begin to approach our own personal, spiritual mountaintop where we can receive inspiration and truth as never before." (Jack H. Goaslind, Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 9, 11)