Friday, February 24, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #10 "He Inviteth All to Come Unto Him"

2 Nephi 26-30

No deep doctrinal lesson this time, just a little game to use as a springboard for discussion.  Remember: there is no rule against having fun in Gospel Doctrine!

CELESTIAL PYRAMID GAME

Some of you will remember the American TV show, "The $10,000 Pyramid."  To win $10,000, the contestant would have to guess the category of each box in the pyramid in order, while a partner slowly read to the person items in the category.  The Pyramid itself had a category which the player also had to guess after guessing each box's category.  And of course it all had to be done in a time limit.

This pyramid game won't earn anyone $10,000 but it has more important categories!  To prepare the game, make 10 numbered boxes out of paper.  On the back of each box list the category.  The teacher reads the items in the category, and the class members guess the category.  (The entire class is on the same team.)  The teacher can give clues to the page number or verse number in the scriptures if needed.  When the class guesses the category of Box #1, the teacher turns the box over to reveal its category.  Commentary and discussion of the topic can take place, then the class moves on to guessing Box #2, and so on until they reach Box #9.  They then must look at all the categories and decide what the category of the entire "Celestial Pyramid" is, upon which Box #10 will be turned over and the class has won the game.

Inform the class that the game includes a slight review from last week's lesson--an important truth from Chapter 25.



BOX #1:  THE RIGHT WAY [TO LIVE] (2 Ne. 25:29; p. 100)
  • To believe Christ
  • To deny him not
  • To bow down before him
  • To worship him with all your might, mind and strength and your whole soul
BOX #2:  PRIESTCRAFTS (2 Ne. 26:29; p. 103)
  • They preach
  • They set themselves up for a light unto the world
  • They seek gain
  • They seek praise
  • The seek not the welfare of Zion
BOX #3:  THINGS THE LORD GOD HAS COMMANDED NOT TO DO (2 Ne. 26:32; p. 103)
  • Murder
  • Lie
  • Steal
  • Take the name of the Lord in vain
  • Envy
  • Have malice
  • Contend
  • Commit whoredoms
BOX #4:  THOSE CHRIST INVITES TO COME TO HIM (2 Ne. 26:33; p. 103)
  • Black people
  • White people
  • Slaves
  • Free people
  • Males
  • Females
  • The heathen
  • The Jews
  • The Gentiles
  • All people
BOX #5: WAYS THE LORD OF HOSTS WILL VISIT THE WICKED IN THE LAST DAYS (2 Ne. 27:2; p. 104)
  • With thunder
  • With earthquake
  • With great noise
  • With storm
  • With tempest
  • With flame of devouring fire.
BOX #6: CHURCHES BUILT UP AND NOT UNTO THE LORD (2 Ne. 28:3-14; p. 107-108)
  • Those who contend one with another
  • Those who teach with their learning but deny the power of the Holy Ghost
  • Those who say there is no God today
  • Those who say God has finished his work and there are no more miracles
  • Those who say, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die"
  • Those who say, "God will justify in committing a little sin"
  • Those who have gone out of the way and become corrupted
  • Those who rob the poor to build fine sanctuaries and to wear fine clothing
BOX #7: WAYS THE CHURCHES HAVE BECOME CORRUPTED (2 Ne. 28:12; p. 107)
  • Pride
  • False teachers
  • False doctrines
BOX #8: WAYS THE DEVIL WILL GRASP SOULS AND DRAG THEM DOWN TO HELL (2 Ne. 28:19-22; p. 108)
  • Stirring up to anger against good
  • Saying "All is well in Zion"
  • Flattering
  • Telling them there is no hell
  • Telling them he is no devil for there is none
  • Whispering in their ears
BOX #9: THOSE WHO WILL WRITE THE WORD OF GOD (2 Ne. 29:12; p. 110-111)
  • The Jews
  • The Nephies
  • The other tribes of Israel
  • All nations of the earth
BOX #10 (ENTIRE PYRAMID): PROPHECIES ABOUT THE LAST DAYS

Check out reader Aaron's fun "bonus round" in the comments below.  Thanks, Aaron!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #9 "Great Are the Words of Isaiah"

2 Nephi 11-24

(If you haven't used it already, here is a link to a previous post on Isaiah.)

NEPHI’S INTRODUCTION TO ISAIAH

“And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words.  For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he [Isaiah] verily [truly] saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him.  And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true.  Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.  Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words.”  (2 Ne. 11:2-3)

Nephi taught the law of three witnesses to all of us, and particularly to Joseph Smith, although it wasn’t until Joseph got to Ether 5 that he prayed for three witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

We also see in this chapter of the Book of Mormon why the Nephites did not have such trouble accepting Christ when he came:  They had retained a clear understanding of the purpose of the Law of Moses and had not allowed it to become an end in itself, unrelated to Christ:

“Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.”  (2 Ne. 11:4)

Whereas we often look upon 2 Nephi as the place we get stuck when reading the Book of Mormon because of the dreaded “Isaiah chapters,” Nephi offered us the option of rejoicing in them.

“And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men.  Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.”  (2 Ne. 11:8)

Probably none of us understand all of the Isaiah passages yet, but all of us understand some of them.  (Our reading assignment is so huge, probably the writers of the manual didn’t expect us to understand them all, either.)  Those of us who live to be 100 can perhaps eventually have a comprehensive understanding of these scriptures.   For now, though, rather than worrying about the details and interpretations of so many specific prophecies, we can simply search for and mark those which cause our hearts to “rejoice for all men.”  I’ll share some of my favorites here:

THE WORK OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS

The very first passage of Isaiah that Nephi included here is one of the most beautiful and encouraging.  Whereas we often hear reports of evil, of war, of crime, of abuse in the media input we receive every day, Nephi offers us a most heartening view of the latter-days which could cause even the most cynical heart to rejoice.

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths, for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”  (2 Ne. 12:2-3)

Well, that is definitely cause to rejoice:  the distinguishing feature of the latter-days will be the temple.  And not just a single temple in Salt Lake City, although the scripture uses the singular:  all nations will flow unto the temple, so it is a single type of building Isaiah refers to, located in all nations.  And many people, not just a select few, will invite each other to come to the temple and learn of God.  The law that will go forth from Zion includes both the spiritual laws of the Church of Jesus Christ and the temporal laws of free governments established by God.

And if that wasn’t great enough news, look what comes next:

“And he [the Lord] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (2 Ne. 12:4)

Wow!  People who were formerly enemies will work together to nourish and strengthen each other!  But that has already happened in many instances.  And always, it is due to the actions of Christlike individuals.

The perfect example of the influence of one Latter-day Saint to “beat swords into plowshares” is found in the story of Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, a.k.a. “The Candy Bomber .” 


At the end of WWII, the U.S. Air Force pilot, a Latter-day Saint from northern Utah, flew unauthorized missions of mercy over blockaded Germany, dropping candy to the starving German children in little parachutes made of the many handkerchiefs he brought along when he shipped out from the U.S. because he had had a bad cold at the time.  He had been a perfectly obedient military man, so no one suspected him of disobeying orders. 

But by the time his superiors found out who was flying these unauthorized missions (a press photograph caught the number on his airplane tail), the benefit of the missions was being realized and he was not court-martialed as expected, but sent to a press conference instead (Andrei Cherny, The Candy Bombers, p. 352).  The U.S. military and many U.S. citizens joined in his efforts and dropped hundreds of pounds of candy and food to the starving Germans below.  “Halvorsen, the ordinary young pilot, would almost single-handedly transform how the citizens of defeated Germany’s capital saw the United States.” (ibid., p. 8)  (An excellent ABC news report about Halvorsen can be found at this link.  You may notice in the report that Brother Halvorsen credits the gratitude of the Germans as the factor that changed the countries’ relations, rather than his own heroism.  Additional video footage and the story narrated by Brother Halvorsen himself can be found on YouTube at this link .)

THE DEVASTATION OF THE WICKED

After reading the joyous actions of the Saints in the latter days, Isaiah wrote warnings against the wicked—they will desire to hide, all those material possessions they worshiped will be worth nothing to them, and “The Lord, the Lord of Hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah, the stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water.”  (2 Ne. 13:1)  Because they have refused it, they will starve spiritually; they will give up the knowledge and comfort of Jesus Christ.  They will be easily overcome and humiliated.

But, back to more joyful prophecies about world-wide temples:

“When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion [through the ordinance of baptism and the application of the Atonement]…, the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defence.” (2 Ne. 14:4-5)

Back and forth go the prophecies, with warnings to the wicked, followed by wondrous miracles for the righteous.

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.  Thou hast multiplied the nation [the nation or House of Israel—the Church], and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.  For thou hast broken the yoke of his [Israel’s], and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of government and peace there is no end.”  (2 Ne. 19:2-7).

This is a government we won’t mind seeing increased—a theocracy which will bring endless peace.

“And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou waste made to serve.” (2 Ne. 24:3)

OUR CHOICE

In the end, after all these prophecies, we read,

“And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err…there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.” (2 Ne. 25:20)

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”  (2 Ne. 25:26).

Nephi and Isaiah have given us a choice:  Do we seek after worldly things, do we put our trust in men, do we struggle against the commandments, do we follow secret evil ambitions expecting them never to be uncovered?  If so, we are choosing a wild course, a foundation sure to crumble, an outcome that will not be as we expect.  We are choosing the “waters of the river, strong and many,” the glory of worldliness that will eventually “come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.” (2 Ne. 18:7)  The mighty Euphrates River is the reference here, a wild river, often out of control, flooding its banks, ruining the vegetation, drowning the creatures.

Flooding Potomac River

Or do we choose to turn to Christ and let him heal us, free us, and nourish us (2 Ne. 25:20)?  Do we help to build the temples of Mount Zion, do we beat swords into plow-shares, do we stand against evil?  If so we are choosing the softly rolling, predictable, controlled, life-giving River Shiloah (2 Ne. 18:6).

If we make the choice each day to trust in God, and let Jehovah be our strength and salvation, “Therefore, with joy shall [we] draw water out of the wells of salvation.”  (2 Ne. 22:3)


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #8 "O the Greatness of God"

2 Nephi 6-10

Nephi assigned his brother Jacob to give a sermon to the Nephites, and gave him the subject:  Three chapters of Isaiah.  These chapters will be familiar to those who have been reading the assignments because Nephi quoted parts of them to his brothers already.  Anytime we see repetition in the record, bearing in mind the difficulty of inscribing onto metal plates, we can be certain the message is very important.

Isaiah 50-53 has been treated in an Old Testament lesson, which you can find at this link:


The chapter headings for 2 Ne. 7 and 8 give us a quick reminder of the content:
·         Isaiah speaks Messianically
·         Messiah shall have the tongue of the learned
·         He shall give his back to the smiters
·         He shall not be confounded
·         In the last days, the Lord shall comfort Zion and gather Israel
·         The redeemed shall come to Zion amid great joy

THE IMPORTANCE OF ISAIAH’S MESSAGE

Why was this section of scripture so important that Nephi included it in the record twice?  A little story from history might illuminate us.

Florence Chadwick

“It was July 4, 1952.  [Florence] Chadwick, who had previously swum the English Channel, now attempted the 21-mile swim from the southern California mainland to Catalina Island.  The water was a freezing 48 degrees.  The fog was thick and visibility almost nil.  Finally, only a half mile from her destination, she became discouraged and quit.  The next day reporters clamored around her asking why she had quit—had it been the cold water or the distance.  It proved to be neither.  She responded, ‘I was licked by the fog.’  She then recalled a similar experience while swimming the English Channel.  Evidently the fog was likewise engulfing.  She was exhausted.  As she was about to reach out for her father’s hand in the nearby boat, he pointed to the shore.  She raised her head out of the water just long enough to see the land ahead.  With that new vision, she pressed on and became the first woman to conquer the English Channel.

“That story teaches a magnificent principle:  with increased vision can come increased motivation.  So it is with the Atonement.  As our vision of the Atonement is enhanced, our motivation to embrace its full effects is proportionately increased…

“Every attempt to reflect upon the Atonement, to study it, to embrace it, to express appreciation for it, however small or feeble it may be, will kindle the fires of faith and work its miracle towards a more Christlike life.  It is an inescapable consequence of so doing.  We become like those things we habitually love and admire.  And thus, as we study Christ’s life and live his teachings, we become more like him.”  (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, p. 16-17)

With that background, let’s look carefully at Jacob’s explanatory sermon.

JACOB’S COMMENTARY

“And now, my beloved brethren,” said Jacob, “I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel…Behold my beloved brethren, I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children.  For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come…”  (2 Ne. 9:1-4)

“For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. 

“Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption.  Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration.  And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.”  (2 Ne. 9:6-7)

If we look ahead over the rest of the chapter, we can find many significant and instructive statements about God and the power of the Atonement if we look for the word “O.”

“O the WISDOM of God, his MERCY and GRACE, for behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to…the devil.” (2 Ne. 9:8)

This first statement seems to be a general overarching statement about the plan of salvation, elaborated on in the following statements.  Three attributes of God are mentioned here:  Wisdom, mercy and grace.  Because of them, we gain freedom; we are saved from the devil.  These three attributes are inextricably linked together, but we can try to examine them separately in order to understand them better. 
·         Wisdom would be knowledge with correct application.  Without this, God wouldn’t know what to do, how to save us. 
·         Mercy indicates that he actually cares about what happens to us.  He is filled with love and kindness for us.  He desires our spiritual progress (M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, and the best one I think I’ve ever read). 
·         Lastly, he has grace.  Remember that Christ grew “from grace to grace,” until he was finally able to offer to us the mighty power of his Atonement to heal and sanctify us.

The Wisdom of God

People we would describe as “good” are those who properly apply the knowledge that they have.  They are people with integrity and steadfastness. 

“O how great the GOODNESS of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape…from death and hell…and because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this [temporal] death…shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave…And this [spiritual] death shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell…” (2 Ne. 9:10)

God uses his infinite wisdom (applied knowledge) to rescue us from our inevitable physical and spiritual deaths.  He doesn’t do it randomly or accidentally; God never “wings it.”  He always has a plan.

“O how great the PLAN of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again… (2 Ne. 9:13)

God, with his perfect wisdom, created the perfect plan to save us. 

“Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.” (2 Ne. 9:14)

When his plan is complete, the thing we have lacked, a perfect knowledge, will now be ours.  What is it that we will know?  What we have become. 

President John Taylor said, “The spirit lives where the record of his deeds is kept—that does not die—man cannot kill it; there is no decay associated with it, and it still retains in all its vividness the remembrance of that which transpired before the separation by death of the body and the ever-living spirit…It would be in vain for a man to say then, I did not do so-and-so; the command would be, Unravel and read the record which he has made of himself…” (Journal of Discourses, 11:78-79)

A woman who had a near-death experience with the afterlife said that, in addition to reliving everything that had happened to her or that she had thought, she also saw “the effect of each thought, word, and deed on everyone and anyone who had ever come within my environment or sphere of influence whether I knew them or not (including unknown passersby on the street)…” 

Another man who had such an experience reported that he relived his life, but with an omniscient viewpoint:  “It showed me not only what I had done but even how what I had done had affected other people.”  (Brent and Wendy Top, Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door, p. 201)

The Mercy of God

Mercy and justice are conjoined twins, two sides of the same coin.  A god who is not merciful would not care to exercise justice either.  A god who was not just would not offer mercy.  The attributes of mercy and justice in God indicate that he cares enough to make things right, either the one way or the other.

“O the greatness and the JUSTICE of our God! for he executeth all his words…[and] the righteous…shall inherit the kingdom of God…and their joy shall be full forever. (2 Ne. 9:17)

“Joy is the best word to describe a continual state of exaltation…The other kingdoms of glory will experience happiness—that is a state of well-being and even of accomplishment—but they are barred forever from joy, for there is no exaltation where they dwell…[God’s] plan for us goes well beyond achieving a state of well-being, which is sometimes mistakenly made synonymous with eternal life.  Achieving a state of well-being is not our full purpose.  Achieving eternal life is not an end in itself.  The purpose of life—eternal life—is maintaining a state of joy…” (Richard D. Draper, A Fulness of Joy, p. 17-18)

“True righteousness is selfless service…The joy of heaven grows out of serving others, and not out of whether others accept or reject that service.  Therefore, the threat of the pain of hell can never hold the joy of heaven hostage.”  (Draper, p. 11-14).

“O the greatness of the MERCY of our God, the Holy One of Israel! for he delivereth his saints from…death and hell, and…endless torment. (2 Ne. 9:19)

Christ’s Atonement allows an escape from death and hell, which are not just the killing of the body (death) and the location of the spirit afterwards (hell), but agony of knowing we fell short and cannot be reunited with God (endless torment).

Joseph Smith said, “A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner…The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone.”  (History of the Church, 6:314)

The Grace of God

“O how great the HOLINESS of our God! for he knoweth all things…And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice.” (2 Ne. 9:20)

How is “holiness” actually defined?  It appears that, in this instance at least, it is deep knowledge of truth, not just mental knowledge, but experience—a complete relationship with truth.  Because Christ is completely holy, and is in fact Truth, Light, and Love, he can offer us his grace, his power, his understanding.  He not only possesses infinite power, but the power to give that power to his children if they will come unto him.  He has the power to execute his plan.

WARNINGS OF DANGER

Jacob then delivered many warnings against wickedness, easily found by looking for the word “Wo.”  Wo unto those who are too smart for God, who elevate themselves with material riches, who refuse to hear or see the truth, who refuse to obey the commandments, who are liars, murderers, temporal or spiritual adulterers.  There is a standard we must meet in order to receive the effects of the wisdom, mercy and grace of the Lord in our lives.

THE WAY

Both messages, of “O” and of “Wo”, are followed by this entreaty: 

“Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.  O, my beloved brethren, give ear to my words.  Remember the greatness of the Holy One of Israel [the “O’s”].  Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you [the “Wo’s”]…

“O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One, Remember that his paths are righteous.  Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.”  (2 Ne. 9:39-41)

One little word in this verse is important:  the word “straight.”  In every other instance in the scriptures in which a path is described as leading to heaven, it is called “strait and narrow.”  This is the only one that uses the spelling “straight.”  Is it just an editorial error made by E.B. Grandin?  No, because the Book of Mormon has gone through many editions since in which small errors have been corrected.  The word “strait” refers to being restricted, confined.  It is just another term for “narrow,” a Hebraic emphasis.  The word “straight” refers to being straightforward, true, clear, easy to see.  “The way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him.”  For those listening to Jacob’s words, there were actually two adjectives used to describe the path:  1) narrow/strait, and 2) straightforward and easy to see.  And so it is for us:  We have the knowledge of the gospel; therefore, although the way is very strict, it is also very clear.

Jacob offers some counsel for staying on this straightforward path:

“Behold, my beloved brethren,
1.      remember the words of your God;
2.      pray unto him continually by day, and
3.      give thanks unto his holy name by night. 
4.      Let your hearts rejoice.”  (2 Ne. 9:52)

A VIEW OF THE SHORE

Jacob noted that Christ will be the one to greet us on the other side, not St. Peter as is often thought.  As we come to know our Savior more, being greeted by him at the door to heaven will mean more to us.  If we gain a vision of this, it can encourage us to finish the race.  If we get lost in the fog of earthlife, like Florence Chadwick we may give up just short of the shore.  Elder George F. Richards shared his vision of this reunion with us.



“Elder George F. Richards saw the Savior in a vision.  ‘He spoke no word to me, but my love for him was such that I have not words to explain.  I know that no mortal man can love the Lord as I experienced that love for the Savior unless God reveals it to him…If only I can be with my
Savior and have that same sense of love that I had in that dream, it will be the goal of my existence, the desire of my life.”  (Brent & Wendy Top, Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door, p. 87-88, also quoted by President Kimball in April 1974 General Conference.)

The choice is ours:  either suffer pain, deaths and torment, or accept the Atonement, live a Christlike life, and receive joy.  It's a straightforward choice.

“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” (2 Ne. 10:23)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #7 "I Know in Whom I Have Trusted"

2 Nephi 3-5

(I'm not going to focus on 2 Nephi 3, but there is good information about this prophecy regarding Joseph Smith in the April 1989 Ensign, "I Have a Question" feature, available at this link.)

THE PSALM OF NEPHI

In the middle of recording the story of his family and their journeying, Nephi offered an explanation about his record—that if we wanted more detail about the historical parts, they could be found in his other plates; these plates were for writing “the things of [his] soul” (2 Ne. 4:14-15).  The things of his soul were a delight in the scriptures and the things of the Lord.  This is what took up the focus of his thoughts continually, he wrote.

But then he surprised by launching into a lament about his inadequacies.

“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!  Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.  I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.  And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins…” (2 Ne. 4:17-19)

Wait a minute!  This is Nephi talking here, right?  The ultra Good Guy of the Book of Mormon?  In what way could he be “wretched?”  What great sins and weaknesses could he possibly be writing about?  He always honored his dad as the patriarch, he got the brass plates against all odds, he interpreted revelations for his brothers, he built a ship aided directly by God, he had the power of God course through him so strongly that it sent an electrical shock through his brothers, angels came to his defense, he saw visions. 

Remember, he said that

1)      His heart sorrowed because of his flesh (weaknesses)
2)      His soul grieved because of his iniquities (sins)

If we skip ahead to 2 Ne. 4:26-27, Nephi itemizes the problems.

1)      “…why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?”  His weakness was that he got discouraged, he got depressed, he wasted his energy on sorrow for the circumstances around him.
2)      “And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh?  Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?  Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” His sin was anger. 

Well, Nephi had good reason to be depressed!  In fact, wasn’t it a sign of his righteousness, and the love he had for his family that he found himself inconsolable about the waywardness of his brothers?  He was the birthright brother—a type of parent, really—and isn’t it a sign of a good parent to be deeply depressed about children who reject the gospel and choose paths that the parent knows will lead to misery?

Nephi also had good reason to be angry!  These brothers caused no end of trouble, they led their children astray, they disrespected their parents, they threatened to kill Nephi, they couldn’t even seem to be changed by the voice of the Lord thundering from heaven, or the personal appearance of an angel.  Wouldn’t anger against them be righteous indignation?

But the effect of this weakness and this sin on Nephi renders him less able to do God’s will.  The depression and anger make him physically ill (his flesh wastes away), sap his energy (his strength slackens), and destroy his peace. 

Yet with such huge challenges, how could Nephi have avoided these problems?  What did he do wrong along the way?  After expounding upon the greatness of God, he tells us.  Look for it here:

“…nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.  My God hath been my support…He hath filled me with his love…He hath confounded mine enemies…Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime…angels came down and ministered unto me.  And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away…and mine eyes have beheld great things… [Pay attention; here comes the reason:]

“O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?” (2 Ne. 4:19-26)

The Lord in his condescension has offered to his children the matchless, merciful gift of the Atonement.  Nephi saw his depression and anger as proof that his faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ was not fully functional in his daily life.  He gave himself (and us, because we are like this, too) a pep talk before carrying on with his record:

“Awake, my soul!  No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.  Do not anger again because of mine enemies.  Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.  Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” (2 Ne. 4:28-30)

Nephi realized that, regardless of the circumstances around him, he had control over his own happiness.  If he increased his faith in the Lord, he would know that things would work out okay in the end because “the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men [had visited them] in so much mercy.”  Faith in the Atonement will conquer any sorrow of life.

GIVING UP HAPPINESS

Let’s leave Nephi for a moment and talk about Laman and Lemuel.  We have to feel sorry for Laman and Lemuel.  They seem to fit the saying, “If you can’t be a shining example, at least serve as a horrible warning.”  One of the purposes of their lives seemed to be to show us how not to be.  And yet, we know that our period of probation extends beyond this life and so does theirs; temple work attests to this truth.  Now that they are in the Spirit World, Laman and Lemuel could very likely have finally understood and accepted the gospel, particularly bearing in mind that the sealing power would have been in effect for their righteous parents.  And yet they still have to suffer the consequence of their ill choices by being the bad guys in myriads of Sunday School and Primary lessons.  Hopefully they are glad to have us learn from them, even though it is in a negative way.

“Not all problems are overcome and not all needed relationships are fixed in mortality.  The work of salvation goes on beyond the veil of death, and we should not be too apprehensive about incompleteness within the limits of mortality.”  (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 1995 General Conference)

“Now, sometimes there are those that are lost.  We have the promise of the prophets that they are not lost permanently, that if they are sealed in the temple ordinances and if the covenants are kept, in due time, after all the correction that’s necessary to be given, that they will not be lost.”  (President Boyd K. Packer, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Feb. 9, 2008)

Don’t you think Laman and Lemuel ought to be on our list of people we want to meet when we get to the other side, because it’s going to be so great to see how they have changed?  But the Laman and Lemuel we have to read about in the Book of Mormon are the undeveloped ones who hadn’t accepted the gospel yet, and who hadn’t accepted responsibility for their own happiness.  So, my apologies to Laman and Lemuel as we use them, once again, as a “horrible warning.”

Laman and Lemuel had blamed all their problems on Nephi and Lehi.  So when Lehi died (2 Ne. 4:12) and Nephi left with his people (2 Ne. 5:5), all their problems should have been solved.  There was nobody to boss them around.  They didn’t have to do family scripture study anymore, they didn’t have to listen to General Conference, they didn’t have to pay tithing to build temples they didn’t want.  There would be no more crazy ship-building, wilderness-wandering, Isaiah-reciting, or anything else they hated.  They should have been free to be happy, right?

Wrong.  Throughout all the rest of the Book of Mormon, we still see them and their descendants blaming their misery on Nephi.  Their grudge defined their lives and even their civilization.  They had decided they were “picked on” and they tenaciously stuck to that attitude, no matter how circumstances changed around them.  They gave up all control of their own happiness.

CHOOSING HAPPINESS

One of the great truths of this earthly existence is that, by giving us agency, the Lord gave us the ability to choose happiness. 

“Happiness has its roots in obedience to the teachings of the Lord and in faith in his capacity to fulfill His promises.  It can be enjoyed in an environment of poverty or wealth, sickness or health, scarcity or abundance, serenity or challenge.  Happiness can and should be the general background in which life is lived.”  So wrote Elder Richard G. Scott.  Well, easy for him to say, right?  He’s an apostle.  He’s got it made.


But Elder Scott has endured trials like the rest of us (or worse), which could have taken away his happiness.  When Elder Scott and his wife were young, they were hit with a double-disaster that would have buckled anyone’s knees.  A baby girl they were expecting died just before birth, and six weeks later, their two-year-old son died during heart surgery.  Two children gone in two months!  But the Atonement of Jesus Christ made it possible for them to regain happiness. 

“I cannot [understand the Lord’s] power, his majesty, his perfections,” he said.  “But I do understand something of his love, his compassion, his mercy.  There is no burden he cannot lift.  There is no heart he cannot purify and fill with joy.  There is no life he cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to his teachings.”  (Ensign, November 1988, p. 77)


Pieter Vlam was a member of the Church who was also an officer in the Royal Dutch Navy in 1939.  When World War II began, he was called to serve as second counselor to the mission president.  His job was to help get the missionaries safely out of Germany.  While doing this, he was arrested by Nazi officers and put in a prison camp for the duration of the war.  He could have chosen to shake his fist at heaven, or to fill his soul with hatred for the soldiers, but he chose something better.  He had been on a mission when he entered the prison camp, and he stayed on that mission.  Many prisoners came to Pieter and wanted to talk to him about the Church.  Meetings were forbidden in the prison camp, however, so every day Pieter would take two people at a time and walk all around the camp, for miles and miles in circles, while he taught them the gospel.  He taught almost a thousand men about the Restoration.  Lives were changed, and people joined the church because Pieter chose to spread joy instead of misery.  (Robert C. Freeman, Dennis A. Wright, Saints at War, p. 203-205)

Bryan Burningham was 13 years old when a gun accidentally fired in his North Logan, Utah home, shooting him in the face.  He lost his mouth, his teeth, in fact his entire jaw, his nose, his cheekbones, his eye sockets.  He has endured over 65 surgeries to rebuild something that could work as a face.  Yet, in that moment when he nearly died, his mother said, “He felt this peace come over him, and he felt this love surround him, and it changed his life.  And he went from a kid who was pretty moody and negative, to this positive boy without a face.”  Because Bryan consistently chose joy and love, he became very popular at school.  He even won a basketball game for Sky View High School when in the last few seconds of a close game, his prosthetic nose was knocked off, all the players on both teams gasped and stopped playing, and he picked up the ball and sunk the winning shot.  He served a mission, graduated from Utah State University and married in the Logan Temple.  “Life is so wonderful!” is his mantra.  “I mean, there are a million things that happen every day…You take the good from it.  Just enjoy life!”  (Photo at Huntsman prosthetics site; stories on KSL TV and Fox News a partial transcript of one here,  various articles in the Herald Journal, a short video of news stories on YouTube.)

Elder Scott wrote, “Challenge, when faced within the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ and in recognition of the beauties around us, is a path upward to help us grow and earn peace with happiness.”  (Richard G. Scott, Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy, p. 167)

Nephi appears to have followed his own counsel and “given place no more for the enemy of his soul.”  Being warned of the Lord of a plot to kill him, he and his family and all that were followers of Christ left Laman and Lemuel.  They also left their homes, their crops, their “Promised Land,” all of their hard work behind for the Lamanites.  They moved out into the wilderness again and they built another Promised Land.  They kept the Law of Moses, they had the plates of brass as their scriptures, the Liahona as their guide, the sword of Laban after which they fashioned a military defense.  Their new Promised Land provided them with timber, iron, copper, brass, steel, gold, and silver.  They used these things to build a temple, like Solomon’s temple but not so fancy, Nephi wrote.

And they lived, as Nephi said, “after the manner of happiness.”

We also can live after the manner of happiness, regardless of our circumstances, if we can choose to be hopeful and not discouraged, to trust in the Lord and his mercy both for us and for those we care about, and to forgive offenses even if the perpetrators are not repentant.  If we lose one “Promised Land,” we can build another, always keeping the scriptures and revelation as our guides.  This is the way to peace.

“No formula can prescribe how every individual can be assured of continual peace with happiness and joy in this mortal life,” wrote Elder Scott, “[But] I am a witness that with patience, some long-suffering, and the help of the Lord, coupled with obedience to His commandments, those blessings can be enjoyed most of the time.”  (Scott, p. 4-5)