Friday, May 25, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #22 "Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenance?"

Alma 5-7

SEEING THE DIVINITY IN OTHERS

“When I was 18, as I was preparing to serve a mission, my bishop called me to teach the Sunbeams. I had never before learned to love others more than myself until I had served those children in such a simple assignment. With time and patience I learned how to keep those seven children in their seats and listening to a simple lesson.
“One day I invited Mike(name changed) to come to church and sit in my class. Mike was my age but had stopped attending church completely by the time he was 12. We had remained friends over the years as I had served as the deacons quorum president, the teachers quorum president, and first assistant to the bishop in the priests quorum. He had been the topic of many fellowshipping discussions and was often part of my prayers as the years had passed. Once in a while Mike would accept my invitations to come to an activity. It always surprised me when he did, so I kept inviting him.
“At that time, Mike had long, black hair and a beard. His complexion was dark and pleasant. I don’t remember when I invited him to my Primary class, but one day he showed up.
“’Class, I would like to introduce you to my friend Mike,’ is how I began my lesson. ‘He is visiting us today.’


(This image is available in the May 2000 print New Era)


“Mike sat next to me in front. The children sat in a semicircle with their eyes fixed on him. They were much quieter than usual. I was about five or six minutes into the lesson when one little boy got up from his chair and walked across the room and stood directly in front of my friend. The boy paused for a moment and then climbed onto his lap. I continued with the lesson as I watched the two of them from the corner of my eye.
“The boy sat looking into Mike’s face. Mike was quite uncomfortable but did not interrupt the lesson or turn the boy away. The other children watched the two of them for a few minutes.
“Then one of the girls climbed off her seat and approached Mike. I was intently interested in seeing how Mike would react and did not want to instruct the two children to return to their seats. The girl stood with her hand on Mike’s knee looking into his face.
“Then it happened. The boy on Mike’s lap reached up with both hands and turned Mike’s face directly to his. I stopped my lesson to see what was about to unfold.
“With the innocence of a child, he said to Mike, ‘Are you Jesus?’
“The look on Mike’s face was total surprise. It seemed, as I glanced at the children’s faces, they all had the same question on their minds.
“Mike looked at me as if to say, Help, what do I say?
“I stepped in. ‘No, this is not Jesus. This is His brother.’
“Mike looked at me as if in shock.
“Then without hesitation the boy in Mike’s lap reached up and wrapped his arms around Mike’s neck. ‘I can tell,’ the boy said as he hugged Mike.
“The rest of the children smiled and nodded in agreement as their simple question was answered. Mike blinked back the tears in response to the love he felt from this small Sunbeam. The lesson went on, but that day the teacher who taught the most was a three-year-old child.
“Mike spent more than a year getting ready to serve a mission. It thrilled me to learn that he left for the mission field a few months before I returned. I still think of the scripture in Matthew 18:5 [Matt. 18:5]: ‘And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.’  (Ken Merrell, New Era, May 2000)

The children saw something in Mike that he hadn’t seen in himself.  This initiated a change in him toward actually becoming a disciple of Christ.  This is the same way that Alma viewed the people of Zarahemla.  He saw beyond the surface of their errors and their arrogance to their divine potential.  They had forgotten who they were, and Alma, like the children in the Sunbeam class, successfully reminded them.  This caused them to change themselves.

President Benson said, “The Lord works from the inside out.  The world works from the outside in….  The world would mold men by changing their environment.  Christ changes men, who then change their environment.  The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”  (Ensign, Nov. 85, p. 6)

DRAWING OUT THE DIVINITY IN OTHERS

We all have (or should have) the desire to draw out the divine nature in those we see who have lost touch with it.  Alma’s work among the people of Zarahemla can be a good guide for our similar work.  It was not Alma who changed them; he inspired them to come to Christ that He might change them.  How did he do this?  Because they were “raised in the church,” he did not have a lot of teaching to do; mostly what he did was remind.

1.      Reminding them of their spiritual heritage. First Alma helped the people remember the Lord’s blessings to the previous generation, because of their repentance and faith.  (Alma 5:4-7 up to “…the everlasting word.”)
2.      Reminding them of their own spiritual rebirth.  Alma asked the people three questions, which were really the same question:  Do you remember gaining your spiritual witness and getting on the Path?  (Alma 5:14)
3.      Asking them to assess their faithfulness since.  He asked them two more questions, which were also the same question:  Have you continued on that path?  (Alma 5:15)
4.      Helping them to see the eternal perspective.  First, Alma helped them visualize the experience the righteous will have that the judgment bar.  (Alma 5:16)  Then he helped them imagine what the future may hold if they continue down the wrong path.  (Alma 5:18-19)
5.      Showing them that they are not beyond hope.  (Alma 5:33-35)
6.      Placing the responsibility on their shoulders.  He “put the ball in their court” by placing the options before them and asking them what they planned to do now.  (Alma 5:53-55; 60)
7.      Bearing testimony.  Throughout his discourse, Alma bore testimony of the truthfulness of his words.  (Alma 5:48)

HOW TO GAIN A TESTIMONY

In bearing his testimony, Alma told the people how this change was wrought upon him.  It’s interesting that he did not mention his overpowering experience with the angel.  Perhaps, it being Zarahemla where this occurred, they already were familiar with the story.  But perhaps he just wanted to focus on the part of his conversion that was relevant to them, that was similar to what they could expect.  (Alma 5:45-47)

Three elements of Alma’s conversion are obvious here:

1) Desire/effort.  He "fasted and prayed for many days."  He may have done this many times, the first of which would have been while he was paralyzed and in the depths of despair after the angel's visit.  (Alma 36)
2) The Spirit of Revelation
3) The Spirit of Prophecy

Our previous lesson focused on the importance of the element of desire in gaining a testimony, so we will focus here on the other two elements.  The Prophet Joseph Smith testified, “Testimony is always attended by the spirit of prophecy and revelation” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 148).

THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY

Can you recite off the top of your head the scripture that gives us the definition of the spirit of prophecy?  “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10)  Prophecy is not about telling the future nearly so much as it is about testifying of Christ.  The purpose of all scripture is to testify of Jesus Christ.  As Jacob said, “None of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.”  (Jacob 7:11)  Alma had access to the prophecies of both the living prophets of his day who had and bore testimonies of Jesus, and to the prophecies of the Brass Plates and the Plates of Nephi and Lehi, and the Plates of Ether.  The spirit of prophecy has an effect on us when we find the Savior through the testimony of others.

The spirit of prophecy was evident in the development of Alma’s father’s testimony.  (Alma 5:11).  The spirit of prophecy was also evident in the development of Enos’ testimony.  (Enos 1:1,3-4)  This is one element of testimony that parents and leaders can plant in our children and students.  It can be there and waiting for them when they are ready to add the other ingredients.

“When individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently…other areas of activity [in the church] will automatically come.  Testimonies will increase.  Commitment will be strengthened.  Families will be fortified.  Personal revelation will flow.”  (Ensign, May 1986, p. 81)

Such is the power of the spirit of prophecy!

THE SPIRIT OF REVELATION

Can you recite the scripture that gives the definition of the spirit of revelation?  “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.  Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”  (D&C 8:2-3)

The spirit of revelation takes those testimonies of Jesus which we hear and read, and through the catalyst of our desire, tells us personally, straight from God to us, that they are true.  This is when we can say, as Alma did, “I know of myself,” independent of any outside influence (Alma 5:48).  (See also Enos 1:5.)  Moroni’s famous promise confirms how these three elements combine to build a testimony in Moroni 10:3-4: 

1.      Prophecy:  “Remember how merciful,” “and when ye shall receive these things”
2.      Desire:  “Ask,” “sincere heart,” “real intent”
3.      Revelation:  “He will manifest the truth of it unto you.”

For most of us, this conversion process takes place by degrees.  As Elder McConkie wrote, “Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:401).  Moroni tells us that we may use this process again and again.  (Moroni 10:5)

SUMMARY

We can each use these teachings of Alma’s to remind ourselves and others of the eternal perspective and to build our testimonies.  It’s a good opportunity to reassess ourselves.  Can His image be seen in your countenance?  And can you see the possibility of His image, the divine potential, in those people you teach and serve?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #21 "Alma Did Judge Righteous Judgments"

Mosiah 29, Alma 1-4

Preparation:  Print up and cut out the sentences below and place them in a paper bag.  Have class members each draw one out as they come into the room until they are all gone.  Instruct them to fill in the blank and hang onto the paper until they are called upon to read it.

1)      King Mosiah was getting old.  He sent a message throughout the land to his people, asking them who they like to be their next _______.  (Mosiah 29:1)

2)      The people voted for Mosiah’s second son, ________ (Mosiah 29:2)

3)      Unfortunately, Aaron could not do it because he was on a mission to the Lamanites in the Land of _________.  (Mosiah 29:3)

4)      In fact, ______ of Mosiah’s sons was willing to become the king.  (Mosiah 29:3)

5)      Mosiah counseled the people: “Now it if were possible that you could ___________ men to be your kings, everything would be okay.” (Mosiah 29:13)

6)      A just king would establish the laws of ________, and judge the people according to his ________. (Mosiah 29:13)

7)      “But all men are ______ just, so this doesn’t always work out.” (Mosiah 29:16)

8)      “Behold, how much _____________ doth one wicked king cause to be committed, and what great __________!”  (Mosiah 29:17)

9)      So Mosiah said, “Let us be __________ and plan ahead.”  (Mosiah 29:10)

10)   “I will be your king the remainder of my days, but let us appoint _____________ to judge the people according to our law.”  (Mosiah 29:11)

11)   So Mosiah asked the people to vote for __________ to judge them according to their laws which were correct, having been given to their fathers, by the hand of _____________. (Mosiah 29:25)

12)   _________ the Younger was appointed to be the first chief judge. (Mosiah 29:42)

13)   _________ the Younger was also the High Priest. (Mosiah 29:42)

INTRODUCTION

I grew up in Providence, Utah three blocks away from our church-house which was famous for its bright blue shingled roof.  Inside, blue was the main color as well.  The Relief Society room was furnished with blue-cushioned folding chairs, situated wall-to-wall, with an aisle down the middle.  Gospel Doctrine was taught in this classroom.  During one class period, our former bishop, Art Olson, was seated right next to the wall, nodding off to sleep, and my mother was seated right behind him with my baby brother Gordon.  Gordon was getting restless—Gordon was not a placid toddler—so Mom handed him her car keys to jingle. 



Right underneath Bishop Olson’s overstuffed blue folding chair was something that caught Gordon’s eye: an electrical outlet. 



I don’t even have to tell you the rest of the story; you can figure it out yourself.  The bishop did not get his nap that day!  Gordon, miraculously, stuck two keys in the outlet at the same time, thereby creating a circuit and making an enormous noise and a huge puff of black smoke, but not electrocuting himself or Bishop Olson.  (Do NOT try this at home!!!)

Electricity is a wonderful power.  Think where we’d be without it.  Is there anything in your house that is functional when the power is out?  Could you even be reading this lesson without electricity?  When it is properly harnessed, it provides many wonderful services to us, and greatly enhances and even saves life. 

However, being in an open area during a thunderstorm (or plugging keys into an electrical outlet) will teach us that electricity out of control is very frightening and destructive.





Like electricity, political and religious power can be a wonderful blessing and service to everyone it reaches, or it can be a mighty destructive force, mowing down everything in its path.  Our discussion today is on the use and misuse of power. 

Write POWER on the chalkboard.

THE PROPER USE OF POLITICAL POWER: THE BEGINNING OF THE REIGN OF THE JUDGES

Have class members with sentences 1-4 read them.

This made Mosiah stop and think.  Would it really have been a good idea to make Aaron the king anyway?  Glenn Latham, the author of Christlike Parenting, is fond of a saying that pertains to parenting:  “Today is not forever.”  This is reminder to parents that their child will not always be like he is today.  Sometimes this is a comfort!  A rebellious teen may find God after all and turn his life completely around, just as Aaron and his brothers did.  On the other hand, a grown child, married in the temple, serving in a leadership position, may turn his back on his family and the Church when confronted with a theological challenge or an overwhelming temptation.  You never know what the future can hold, and Mosiah recognized this truth.  “What if my son goes back to his wicked ways?  Is it really a good idea to give one person that much power?”  He realized there was no guarantee that his son would always handle the power righteously, no matter how righteous he was at the moment.

Have sentences 5 read.

How exactly did Mosiah define a just king?

Have sentence 6 read.

So who are some of the just kings we have come across so far in the Book of Mormon?  (Nephi [in Jacob 1], Mosiah I [in Omni], Benjamin [in Mosiah 1-3], Limhi [in Mosiah 19-22], and Mosiah II whom we are talking about today)

Have sentences 7 and 8 read.

Who are some of the unjust kings we have come across in the book of Mormon?  (King Noah [in Mosiah 11], several Lamanite kings [one in Mosiah 20])

Have sentences 9-13 read.

THE IMPROPER USE OF RELIGIOUS POWER: PRIESTCRAFT

Alma’s father, when he was the new High Priest, had to deal with the new problem of apostate members.  Now the younger Alma, in his new role as high priest also had a new problem: priestcraft brought to them by a person named Nehor.  Nehor’s teachings would plague the Nephite people for generations to come.

The general principles of Nehor’s theology were very basic.  The first is found in Alma 1:3—Preachers ought to be paid.  Why on earth, when Alma and the other leaders were serving the people for free, would anyone go for this idea?  They went for it because they liked the second principle, found in Alma 1:4—All mankind should be saved, regardless of belief or action.  The people were willing to pay Nehor to remove their guilt and give them free reign to do what they wanted.  Jacob had warned them, however, generations earlier, “Do not spend your money for that which is of no worth,” (2 Nephi 9:51) and false religious principles—also known as “lies”—are of no worth.

Write PRIESTCRAFT on the board

What are the elements of priestcraft?  (2 Nephi 26:29)

1)      Pride                They elevate themselves…
2)      Power              …to get gain and praise…
3)      Selfishness      …with no regard for the welfare of those they claim a stewardship over.

The most basic element of priestcraft is selfishness.

THE PROPER USE OF RELIGIOUS POWER: PRIESTHOOD

The direct opposite of priestcraft is the priesthood, God’s power, and it operates under the basic principle of love. 

Write PRIESTHOOD on the board, opposite to PRIESTCRAFT

Every one of the elements of priestcraft is in direct opposition to Christ’s divine directive, the great commandment to love.  Christ is the perfect example of the correct use of power.

1)      Humility        He yielded himself to be abased (1 Ne. 19:9). 
                       That’s what we call the condescention of God.
2)       Service         He offers salvation free (2 Ne. 26:25).  No person
                       on the earth has earned and paid for it himself.
3)       Love              Everything he does is for the benefit of the world
                        (2 Ne. 26:24), even to the laying down of his life.

In the end, Nehor proves himself to be a servant of the devil when he kills an innocent old man, much weaker physically than himself, in a dispute over doctrine.

TIE-BACK

Now these same truths apply to political power.  Remember that King Mosiah said a righteous king would operate according to the commandments of God.  King Benjamin, King Limhi, King Nephi, all were motivated by love, service and humility.  King Noah and King Laman were motivated by selfishness.

APPLICATION TO GENERAL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Although we do not all officiate in the priesthood, we all participate  in it, if we are members of this Church.  The Church operates under the power of the priesthood, and the priesthood operatues by love.  This truth is taught in D&C 121 as well as many other places in the scriptures.

Let’ go back in time to the Land of Helam, where Alma organized the Christian Church after hearing Abinadi, in Mosiah 18.  He gave the injunction to everyone entering the Church to follow th pattern of Christ.  (Read Mosiah 18:8-9 until “stand in need of comfort.”)

There is an excellent example of Church members doing this very thing in that same time period but among a different group of people.  Remember the rescue party of 16 men, led by Ammon, who came from the Land of Zarahemla to the Land of Nephi and found the people of King LImhi?  (Mosiah 21:29-31,36)  Ammon and his people sympathized and did not judge, and they also actually took the burden upon themselves as well.  By going into the Land of Nephi, they now were also in bondage to the king of the Lamanites.

Alma’s instructions to his Church in Mosiah 18 give us several details about how priesthood power should function.  (Mosiah 18:17-29)

Coming back now to the reading assignment for this week, Alma the Younger and the righteous people who followed him lived the code taught by Alma the Elder.  (Alma 1:26-28)  Operating upon these principles can bring us peace within, even when there is not peace without.  That is truly great power!  (Alma 1:29-31).  So some of the people endured both persecution and prosperity well by living the correct principles of the priesthood.

Unfortunately, many people could not handle the power of prosperity.  It seems that having money often leads men to focus on money, which puts them right back into the priestcraft/selfishness mode.  (Alma 4:12-13) 

This was very discouraging.  How did Alma react?  (Alma 4:15)  The Spirit of the Lord did not fail him!  That is so great!  But what does it mean?  It means Alma asked for guidance in dealing with the problem and he received it.  He implemented the inspired plan right away and had another man appointed to be Chief Judge.  He then resigned and went full-time into Church service to reactivate members who had fallen away.  “He confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God…” (Alma 4:20)   In other words, his focus was what? 

Point at the board: Humility, Service, Love

Humility, Service, and Love.  The only forces under which the greatest power there is—priesthood power—can function.  We will see boundless evidences of that in our study of Alma over the next few weeks.

Book of Mormon Lesson #20 "My Soul is Pained No More"

Mosiah 25-28, Alma 36

This block of scripture includes four powerful prayers involving two men, Alma the Elder and Alma the Younger.

FIRST PRAYER

The father Alma was a mighty man.  He was the priest who listened to Abinadi, taught the gospel and organized the Church among hundreds of followers in the Land of Nephi, went through exile and bondage for his testimony, returned to the Land of Zarahemla and organized the Church there under the instruction of King Mosiah, and was appointed by King Mosiah (who had formerly been both king and church leader) to the position of president of the Church, in a separation of church and state.  He was Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Thomas S. Monson all rolled into one.

In this new capacity as Church president, he had a serious problem.  Many people were going apostate, and it was now his job to deal with them.  He had no previous experience with this kind of challenge and it troubled him great.  So he took his desire to the Lord in prayer.  (Mosiah 26:13-14.  Pay special attention to the word after.)  Even the president of the Church was required to “pour out his whole soul” to receive the answer to his prayer.

The answer he received was fabulous.  It surely brought great peace and joy to his soul, in addition to answering very specifically the question that he had.  It is recorded in verses 15-32.  (Mosiah 26:15-18)  Alma was told, in no uncertain terms, that he was right with God.  He was also told what to do about dissenters (Mosiah 26:29-32).  Alma’s action following this prayer is in verses 33-34.

Have you ever had a difficult question like this, and only God knew the answer?

SECOND PRAYER

Another serious problem came up that was distressing to Alma the father.  (Mosiah 27:8)  Alma’s son was not only rebelling from the Church on his own, he was leading many others astray as well.  So Alma had a great worry both as a parent and as the leader of the Church.  Alma undoubtedly had tried everything he could with his son over many years, and had prayed for him many times.  The need had become huge.  Finally this second prayer of Alma’s was answered.  (Mosiah 27:11,14,19,20)

Have you ever faced a situation like this which seemed beyond hope of repair?

THIRD PRAYER

Alma called the people together for a specific reason.  (Mosiah 27:21)  Not so they could see the judgments of God upon his wicked son, but so they could witness the mercies of God upon his wicked son.  He felt sure that this experience was going to be for his son’s benefit.  But Alma did not just sit and wait; this was not the end of the need for prayer.  Now the people combined their prayers with Alma’s, asking for three things (Mosiah 27:22):  1) that Alma might be able to speak, 2) that his paralysis might be lifted, and 3) that the eyes of the people might be opened to see God in this experience. 

The prayer was answered mightily.  (Mosiah 27:23-24)  Many people gained testimonies of the power of God, or had their testimonies strengthened, through the younger Alma’s experience at that time and afterwards, since he immediately became a mighty missionary for the truth and spent the rest of his life in that pursuit.

Alma the Younger later told the people about the fourth prayer—his own prayer that led to his conversion.

Have you ever seen the works of God in answer to the combined prayers of a family, a ward, or another group of believers?

FOURTH PRAYER

This conversion story was recorded by Alma in chiastic form, a type of poetry common in the Old Testament and designed to teach a truth.  In chiasm, each phrase leads to a central point, and then the phrases are reversed.  For example, the first point and the last point both have to do with words.  The 2nd point and the 2nd-to-last point are exactly the same.  The points can also be opposites, such as in number 22 below.  We read this beautiful Hebrew poem in Alma 36. Here is the layout of the chiasm as given in The God-Inspired Language of the Book of Mormon, by Wade Brown:

1-Give ear to my words (v.1)
 2- Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God
       ye shall prosper in the land
  3-Ye should do as I have done (v.2)
   4-remembering
    5-the captivity of our fathers
     6-for they were in bondage
      7-none could deliver them
       8-except it was the God of Abr., Isaac & Jacob
        9-and he surely did deliver them
         10-my son (v.3)
          11-I do know
           12-whosever shall put their trust in God
            13-shall be supported in their trials
             14-I know of myself…not of the carnal mind,
                   but of God (v.4)
              15-if I had not been born of God, I could not have
                   known (v.5)
               16-God has made these things known unto me
                17-I went about seeking to destroy the Church
                     (v.6)
                 18-I arose and stood up (v.8)
                  19-neither had I the use of my limbs (v.10)
                   20-the angel spake unto me (v.11)
                    21-tormented with the pains of hell (v.13)
                     22-the pains of a damned soul (v.16)
                      23-as I was thus racked with torment (v.17)
                       24-harrowed up by the memory of my sins
                        25-I remembered
                         26-Oh Jesus, thou Son of God,
                          have mercy on me! (v.18)
                        25-I could remember (v.19)
                       24-I was harrowed up by the memory of my
                             sins no more
                      23-oh what joy, what marvelous light I beheld
                           (v.20)
                     22-joy as exceeding as was my pain
                    21-so bitter as were my pains (v.21)
                   20-numberless concourses of angels (v.22)
                  19-my limbs did received their strength again
                       (v.23)
                 18-I stood upon my feet
                17-I have labored without ceasing, that I might
                      bring souls unto repentance (v.24)
               16-because of the word which he has imparted
                     unto me (v.26)
              15-many have been born of God and know of
                    these things
             14-I do know; and the knowledge I have is of God
            13-supported under trials and troubles of every kind
                 (v. 27)
           12-I do put my trust in Him
          11-I know (v.28)
         10-our fathers
        9-he has delivered them out of bondage and
            captivity from time to time
       8-brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem
          (v.29)
      7-he has delivered them
     6-out of bondage
    5-and captivity
   4-I have always retained in remembrance
  3-ye ought to know as I do know (v.30)
 2-inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God
    ye shall prosper in the land
1-according to his word

Hopefully, we have all prayed prayers begging forgiveness, and have been blessed with "joy as exquisite as was our pain."  If not, the time is now.

THE PROCESS OF PRAYER

DESIRE.  (Alma 36:12-16)  His father’s prayers and the prayers of the Church resulted in a visit by an angel which was terrifying enough to show Alma the Younger the awful truth of his current state.  This brought an overwhelming desire into Alma’s heart to escape the agony of sin.

FAITH.  (Alma 36:17-18)  Once again, as in the case of Enos, parental teachings planted seeds of faith which laid dormant for years, but were there when needed.

REMISSION OF SINS/PEACE.  (Alma 36:19)  The cleansing of his sins through the Atonement of Jesus Christ made Alma worthy to house the Holy Ghost.  (3 Nephi 12:6) 

JOY/LOVE.  (Alma 36:20-21) The presence of the Holy Ghost always brings joy and love.  (Alma 36:24) Immediately this great love made Alma focus on bringing the joyous news of the gospel to others.

THE ELEMENT OF DESIRE IN PRAYER

Desire is essential in order to pray sincerely and receive an answer to prayer, but the size of the answer generally meets the size of the desire.

Perhaps as a child we want to know if the Church is true, but we’re not really worried about it; we love Primary, we love Family Home Evening, we know the scriptures, we believe our parents and teachers, and so we offer a prayer with only a Dixie cup full of desire. 



It is a sincere prayer, and subject to the promise of the Lord given in Moroni 10:4, but the answer need only be a quiet feeling of peace, a sense that what we are doing is right.  Dixie cup prayers are great as long as we don’t expect the Lord to fill them with Niagara Falls.  Just a cupful of Living Water will do.

At other times when we are meeting terrible challenges, when our hearts are breaking, when our sin seems unbearable, we meet the Lord in prayer having dug a huge pit of desire. 



In this case, the Lord can fill that void with the ocean of his mighty power.  The greatest latter-day example is found in the story of the First Vision. 

For months Joseph Smith had researched church after church, asked questions of ministers, watched different family members join different churches or refuse to join any, discussed religion around the fireplace, and read the Bible.  His desire had grown and grown until finally he read James 1:5 and determined to pray for an answer.  His prayer was not only sincere, but his desire was enormous, and therefore the Lord answered that prayer with a personal appearance, an answer to prayer that changed the world.  (See Joseph Smith—History)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #19 "None But the Lord Could Deliver Them"

Mosiah 18-24

Refer to chart of the Book of Mosiah in the previous post.

OVERZEALOUSNESS LEADS TO BONDAGE

A group of the Nephites led by Zeniff had a dream:  They desired to go back and inhabit the Land of Nephi where they had originally settled, and where the Lamanites lived.  They were hopeful that the Lamanites had changed and the animosity had passed.

In his own words, Zeniff’s "overzealousness" lead to bondage.  The Nephites and Lamanites had always been enemies since the history of the country.  King Laman welcoming Zeniff and his little Nephite colonists with open arms should have signaled a trap.  But Zeniff did not see this because he was “following his dream.”

Things got worse for two generations, until in King Limhi’s time (the grandson of Zeniff), the Lamanites came upon them to destroy them, and the Nephites decided to become indentured servants, rather than fight another bloody battle.   As Limhi said in Mosiah 20:22, “…it is better that we should be in bondage than that we should lose our lives…”

In our society today, we have many comparative situations in which we are offered something that looks like a good thing, and against our better judgment we rationalize “following our dream” (sometimes also known as giving in to temptation), take the bait, and find ourselves entrapped. 

Agatha Christie had a dream to become a performing musician and worked diligently throughout her youth to develop her vocal and pianistic abilities, only to find that she was not ever going to realize that goal.  “It is good to have a dream,” she wrote in her autobiography, “as long as you do not hold onto it too tightly.”  Instead of performing, she began writing and became the greatest female author of her time, and the most published novelist (male or female) of all time, selling 4 billion books, according to Wikipedia.


So must we approach our dreams with the possibility that the Lord may have something else in mind for us.  The only goals we are safe in striving for are those that are endorsed by the Holy Spirit as we pray about them.   If we pursue a course without taking counsel of the Spirit (or sometimes even our own common sense), then we create our own problems, just as King Zeniff did, not necessarily by being wicked, but by just being stupid.

FINDING SOLUTIONS TO OUR PROBLEMS

In addition to following the overzealousness of King Zeniff, this group of Nephites also had followed the incredible wickedness of his son, King Noah, and had killed the prophet Abinadi who had come to their spiritual rescue.  Fortunately, King Limhi decided to become a righteous man, and encouraged them to follow.  (This was indeed fortunate for them, since they had proven themselves to be such excellent followers of whoever was in charge.)  But, because of their past history, there were a lot of spiritual and physical reasons that the people of King Limhi were in a very miserable situation.  (Mosiah 21:2-5.)  This had to happen to them because the Lord through the prophet Abinadi, had told them it would, and He does not make idle threats.  (Mosiah 12:2-5.)

These people now had a big problem and they needed a solution to it.  First they tried solving it on their own.  Three times they went to battle against the Lamanites to fight their way through the difficulty.  Three times they were beaten back and suffered loss of life.  Their attempt at solving their problems by themselves only added to their problems.  They turned to the Lord, as people often do, only when they had absolutely no other recourse.  (Mosiah 12:13-15)

Finally, in response to their persistent cries, and after they had paid the price the Lord had exacted for their previous wickedness, Mosiah, king of the main body of the Nephites, was inspired to send a group of 43 men to find them and to help them plan an escape back to the Land of Zarahemla.

At this point they had two very good reasons to escape from the Lamanites.  One, obviously, was to get out from under the bondage they were in, and the other we find in Mosiah 21:33: All the people with authority to baptize were elsewhere in the world.  So long as they were stuck here, they could not join the church and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

WHY IS TRIBULATION ADDED TO RIGHTEOUSNESS?

At this time another group of Nephites suffered under bondage:  The Christian converts led by Alma.  It’s easy to understand why the people of Limhi were in trouble:  Most of it was their own fault.  It’s not so easy to understand why the people of Alma suffered through some of the same difficulties.

Alma was initially misled by King Noah, but when Abinadi gave his warning, he immediately heeded it.  What were the last words of Abinadi’s speech to the priests?  (Mosiah 16:15)  “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father.  Amen.”  Alma obeyed this injunction.  (Mosiah 18:1-2)

Alma had the priesthood and so he had the authority to baptize.  (The other wicked priests did not live worthy of their priesthood and had abandoned the people anyway.)  But being the one to restore a church, he first set himself apart.  (Mosiah 18:12)  (That would be a good prayer for us to refer to whenever we get a new church calling.)  Then he baptized Helam, going under the water with him.  Although baptism is not mentioned much in the scriptures prior to this point, Alma may have already been baptized before receiving his priesthood, but he may have felt the need for a symbolic cleansing or a rebaptism.  (Brigham Young had a number of people rebaptized in the early days of the Church to renew the covenant they had strayed from when they had drifted from Church activity.)  After baptizing what grew to a total of 450 people (Mosiah 18:35), Mosiah set up Gospel Essentials classes to teach the people and nurture their new faith.

Because of Alma’s priesthood, these people were blessed with church membership and probably the Gift of the Holy Ghost, blessings the people of Limhi did not have.  The guidance of the Spirit was a great blessing to them in their trials to come.

Alma and his people took upon themselves what we now call the baptismal covenant (Mosiah 18:8-9), and Ammon and his rescuers, which we will soon read about, lived up to their baptismal covenant in their treatment of King Limhi’s people.  (Mosiah 21:29-31)

When the people of Alma joined the church of Christ, it was at great peril to their lives, just like it was for the early Latter-day Saints.  And just like them, they had to flee their homes and settle in another land.  In Alma’s case, it was an eight-day journey, lead by the Lord.

In the first half of chapter 23, we can see that the people of Alma were doing everything right.  Alma told them (verse 14) to “trust no one to be your teacher…except he be a man of God.”  Then he set up righteous teachers for them.  (Mosiah 23:17-18)  Everything was going fine and they appeared to have left their problems behind.  But problems have a way of sneaking up behind us.  (Mosiah 23:20-21)  Here’s our first “nevertheless” in the story: even when we are doing what’s right, we may have grievous trials.  (Mosiah 23:22)  Here, however, we find the second “nevertheless:” the Lord will save us if we keep the faith.  (Mosiah 23:23-24)  And here we can see the point of the story to follow, heralded by the words, “For behold, I will show unto you…”

As the people of Ammon were minding their own business—paying their tithing, doing their home teaching, delivering casseroles to the sick—suddenly an army of Lamanites stumbled upon them.  This army had been pursuing the people of Limhi as they fled back to Zarahemla, had lost their trail and also lost their way back to the Land of Nephi, but they found Alma’s people.  (How unlucky can you be?)  And not only was it an army of Lamanites, it was an army of Lamanites who had previously found and joined forces with the runaway wicked priests of King Noah.  If there was any greater enemy to Alma’s people than the Lamanites, it was the priests of King Noah.  Alma and his people fell into bondage with these Amulonites as their rulers and teachers.  What could have been worse?

WHY DO THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER?

Okay, so this all brings a very pertinent question to mind:  Why do the righteous have trials?  Why does the Lord "chasten" those who aren’t going astray?

The New Testament Saints were another group of people who suffered great trials while trying to do what was right.  We can find answers to these questions in the words of their apostles.  First the words of Peter (1 Peter 2:20-21).  “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently [like the people of Limhi]? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently [like the people of Alma], this is acceptable with God.  For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”  Of all the people who have endured great trials which seemed unfair, Christ is the greatest.  We may have to endure undeserved trials in order to develop the characteristics of Christ.

What exactly is it that trials will teach us that almost cannot be learned in any other way?  James, the brother of Jesus, answers that question.  (James 1:2-4)  “…knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing [or, in other words, having your development completed].”

BECOMING PERFECT

As you study the teachings and doings of the Lord in the scriptures, you find that patience is one of His hallmark traits.  If we are to be like Him, we must learn patience.  What has taught you patience in your life?  Do you ever hear people say things like this:

“Because we have always been blessed financially and have been able to have everything we ever wanted, we have learned to be patient.”

“Johnny was my most difficult and frustrating child, but Suzy, being so loving and kind, easy to discipline, obedient and sensitive, is the one who taught me patience?”

“Because of the perfect health I have enjoyed during my 80 years of life, I have developed a great deal of patience.”

These statements would be ridiculous.  In fact, the development of patience by its very definition comes through enduring situations that we would think of as being negative—something we would never have chosen for ourselves, something we would think of as a trial.  If we had our way, we would never have the opportunity to develop the very important Christian attribute of patience!  And so sometimes, as in the case of the people of Alma, the Lord chastens us when we are being obedient.

Is it fair?  (2 Thess. 1:4-5)  “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure; which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.”  The benefit outweighs the misery.

BEING RESCUED

The people of Alma learned patience in their trials and did not buckle under the pressure.  They saved themselves much trouble by their obedience to the previous counsel of Alma to “trust no one to be your teacher…except he be a man of God.”  Although the Lamanites placed the wicked priests of Noah once again in the position of leadership over these Nephites, they paid no attention to the teachings of these Amulonite rulers and continued to worship the Lord.  They knew they were in trouble, but they prayed for deliverance before trying to free themselves from bondage.  In this way, they were blessed with the Spirit of the Lord to tell them what to do to endure and then to escape.

The Lord promised to help them.  (Mosiah 24:14-15)  They learned patience, something they could not have learned without trial.  They also learned about the Lord’s kindness and power in helping them bear their burdens.  If you have no burdens to bear, how can you experience the joy of having the Lord help you with them? 

THE BENEFITS OF BEING RIGHTEOUS BEFORE THE TRIAL

So, since both groups suffered the same difficulty, what were the benefits to Alma’s group for having been righteous?

The record leads us to assume that the people of Limhi were probably in bondage for quite a while, since the Lord prospered them “by degrees”.  (Mosiah 21:16)  Since they had been engaged in battles with the Lamanites, they had suffered great loss of life (Mosiah 21:17).  They had to drug the Lamanites with wine to escape, and rely upon the help of the rescue team sent by King Mosiah.  After traveling “many days” in the wilderness (Mosiah 22:13), they made it back to Zarahemla.

In contrast, the people of Alma had suffered no war casualties.  The Lord himself “drugged” the Lamanites for their exodus (Mosiah 24:16-19).  Because they believed the counsel of Alma the night before, with no indication of how they would escape—this, of course, is what we call “faith”—they were prepared to leave.  When they were only one day’s journey away—not safe yet, by any means—they stopped to give thanks to the Lord (Mosiah 24:21-22).  And then they walked straight to Zarahemla in twelve days (verse 25), with no guide.

Trials come both as chastisement for our disobedience and as blessings for our development, but it is definitely easier to endure and sometimes even escape our trials if we have prepared ourselves through faithful obedience and study as did the people of Alma.