Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #27 "All Things Denote There is a God"

Alma 30-31

Post the following equation on the board:  

1 + 0 = 10

Could I fool anyone into believing this equation?  I might be able to fool someone unfamiliar with mathematics, for example a small child.  I could show him that if you just put the 1 and the 0 together, it looks like a 10, so it is a 10.  Since I am an adult and therefore an expert in his mind, he might believe me.  And it sort of makes sense, if you don't understand the rules of math.


But imagine a doctor using this kind of logic.  Suppose I go to a check-up and my doctor finds that I am diabetic, but he doesn't want to upset me, so he says, "You are perfectly healthy (write 'healthy' under the 1), so you need no medical intervention (write 'no help' under the 0), and everything will work out fine (write 'happy ending' under 10)."  I may be glad that I'm okay and that I don't need any lifestyle change or medical procedures, but the truth is, I am probably not going to enjoy the happy ending, because this equation is false.  I was not healthy, and I did need medical help to produce a happy ending.

Imagine I am buying a new home.  The building inspector finds that the chimney is not fire-safe, but being a close friend, and knowing that I don't want any more hassle or expense, he says, "This building is perfectly sound (write 'sound' under the 1) and needs no improvement (write 'no change' under 0) and everything will work out fine (write 'happy ending' under 10)."  I may be relieved for the time being knowing that I have nothing more to take care of, but the truth is, when I light a few fires in the winter, my home and my family will be in grave danger.  The equation was not based on truth.  1 + 0 does not equal 10.

(Erase the two example equations, leaving the original.)

Today we are talking about the anti-Christ philosophy, which is very prevalent today.  This philosophy acts on the same false basis as this mathematical equation.  Anti-Christs say, "you are fine and whatever you are doing is fine (write 'OK' under the 1) and therefore you need no religion or savior (write 'no savior' under 0) and everything will be fine (write 'happy ending' under the 10)."

The true mathematical equation is, of course, 1 + 9 = 10 (write on board), and the true spiritual equation is found in the first Beatitude:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit (write 'fallen, imperfect' under the 1) who come unto me (write 'repent through Atonement' under the 9), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (write 'happy ending' under the 10)" (3 Nephi 12:3).  This procedure causes some discomfort or even pain because repentance and change are no picnic, but without it there can be no happy ending.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, "If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth--only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair" (Mere Christianity, p. 39).

ANTI-CHRISTS IN THE BOOK OF MORMON

President Benson has told us that the Book of Mormon not only teaches the doctrine of Christ, but also exposes the enemies of Christ. "The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon is similar to the type we have today."  (Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and a Warning, p. 3)  Just as the Lord gives us two or three witnesses in most everything, he has given us three witnesses (so far) of the methods of anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon, so that we know how to recognize and deal with them:  Sherem, Nehor, and Korihor.  That we know about anti-Christs is very important.  In fact, it is interesting to note that chapter 6 of the book of Jacob sounds very like a final farewell.  The last words of that chapter are, "Finally, I bid you farewell, until I shall meet you before the pleasing bar of God, which bar striketh the wicked with awful dread and fear.  Amen."  (Jacob 6:13)  But, apparently, years after he thought he was through writing, this incident came up involving Sherem and his negative doctrine.  Jacob as the prophet of the Lord saw that it would be very valuable information for us to have, and therefore tacked it on to the end of his record, and then added another farewell.  (Jacob 7)

Sherem and Korihor both taught the philosophy illustrated by this false equation.  Nehor taught that there would be a Christ, but that he would save everyone unconditionally.  The resulting premise was the same: there was no need for change or repentance.  We can find both philosophies abounding all around us today, and even though they make as little sense and are about as far from the truth as 1 + 0 = 10, anti-Christs are very successful at convincing people that they are true.

Listen to these two familiar modern philosophies:

"Whether we ought to follow a moral principle or not would always depend upon the situation....In some situations unmarried love could be infinitely more moral than married unlove.  Lying could be more Christian than telling the truth....Stealing could be better than respecting private property....No action is good or right of itself.  It depends on whether it hurts or helps....There are no normative moral principles whatsoever which are intrinsically valid or universally obliging.  We may not absolutize the norms of human conduct."  (Situation Ethics: True or False? A Dialogue between Joseph Fletcher and John Warwick Montomery, quoted in Gerald L. Lund, "Countering Korihor's Philosophy," Ensign, July 1992, p. 20)

"We believe that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species....Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities....Too often traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence."  ("Humanist Manifesto II," The Humanist, quoted in Gerald L. Lund, ibid.)

In other words, according to these philosophies, there are no rules; there is no standard to be measured against.  This is a frightening and damning philosophy.

CHARACTERISTICS OF ANTI-CHRISTS

Anti-Christs of the Book of Mormon times or of today have many characteristics in common.

Negative.  First, their doctrine is usually a doctrine of negatives.  Their aim is to tear down other beliefs.  Much like the anti-Mormon literature of today, they offer nothing to replace or build upon the doctrine they seek to destroy.  They never say, like President Hinckley often did, "Bring with you what is good and let us add to it." 

There are at least seven negatives in Korihor's philosophy (found in Alma 30) (seven established beliefs he wants to destroy) and he does not replace them with anything better.

  1. No Christ (verse 12)
  2. No prophecy (verse 13)
  3. No faith (verse 15)
  4. No Atonement (verse 17)
  5. No laws (verse 17)
  6. No life after death (verse 18), and therefore
  7. No accountability (verse 18)
Demeaning Speech.  Another inherent characteristic of an anti-Christ is a complete lack of respect for others' religions, since the anti-Christ "religion" is only based upon disproving other religions.  Their speech is inflammatory and angry.  Look at the hostile, demeaning words Korihor uses for Christians:  "foolish," "frenzied," "deranged" (verses 13-18).  Verses 22-23 sound very similar to the words of apostates today in their criticism of Church leadership.  Korihor was likely a church member who had apostacized, since "there was no law against a man's belief" (verse 11), and therefore he wasn't punished by the political leadership, but he was brought in each land he entered before the high priest in a church court.

Lying.  Of course, all anti-Christs are liars.  They ignore the truth they could find deep within themselves if they searched for it (verse 42). Korihor's lies were evident in his condemnation of the church leaders.  He said the purpose for which they taught their doctrine was to bind men down and to glut themselves upon their labors.  He knew very well, as did everyone around, that the church was lead by a lay ministry, volunteers who worked without pay.  As Alma said in verse 33, "notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor."

Seeking for Proof.  Sherem and Korihor both demanded signs, allegedly to prove whether the Christian doctrine was true.  It may be well to pause here for a minute and talk about epistemology.  Epistemology is a word that I had never seen in my life before preparing this lesson.  It is a branch of philosophy that studies how we know things.  There are several systems of epistemology.  (Write on board "Epistemology or Ways of Knowing Things.")  To briefly state some of them that apply here:
  • Empiricism means we know something is true because of personal observation or experience. 
 OBSERVATION
  • Rationalism means we know something is true because it is logical.
 LOGIC
  • Authoritarianism means we know something is true because experts told us it was so. 
 EXPERT TESTIMONY
  • Pragmatism means we know something is true because it produces the desired results. 
 RESULTS
  • Another method we as church members also use regularly is Revelation.  We know something is true because the Spirit told us.  (Write "Holy Ghost.")
(Sorry...couldn't find a picture of the Holy Ghost...)
  
(For more detail on epistemology, refer to Gerald Lund's article.)

False philosophies always claim to use some of these epistemological methods as their proof, but there is always some contradiction.  For example, Korihor said that he knew there was no God because there could be no personal observation of something that was not in the present and visible world (verse 15).  He said there was no logic in an Atonement because a child is not guilty of what his parents do (verse 25).  He said there were no experts to testify of God, only "deranged" people (verse 16).  He said that the results of these beliefs were that the people were ignorant and downtrodden (verse 23, 27-28, 31).  And, of course, he didn't believe in revelation at all (verses 14-15).  But every one of these points had a contradiction:
  • Observation:  There are so many things to observe in the world around us that point to the existence of God, yet it is impossible to prove that there is no God.  One would have to go everywhere in the universe at once and not find Him there to prove that He doesn't exist.  Without doing that, a researcher would break his own scientific rules of proof (verse 40).
  • Logic:  Korihor's statement that nothing is inherently a crime defies logic (verse 17).  In even the most base societies, there are certain things known to be criminal.  "Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of doublecrossing all the people who had been kindest to him.  You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five.  Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to--whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone.  But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first.  Selfishness has never been admired.  Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four.  But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked."  (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 19) Laying this aside, if Korihor truly thought that nothing a man did was a crime, why did he care what the church leaders did?
  • Expert Testimony:  Korihor had the testimonies of his brethren of the church, all the holy prophets, the scriptures, the motion of the planets, and in fact everything around him that there is a God (verse 41,44).  All of these he was willing to overlook.
  • Results:  Korihor's claim that the people were downtrodden and ignorant as a result of their belief is just as false today as it was in his day, yet detractors of the church often state this as a claim.  Alma countered, "If we are deceiving the people, why are they filled with joy?" (See verse 35.)  That the gospel produces peace and joy in people who live it is another evidence that it is true and good.
  • Revelation:  Korihor knew in his heart that Christ was real (verse 42,46,52).  This knowledge is available through the Light of Christ to any soul who will obey the call to "be still and know that I am God."  (Psalm 46:10)
Despite the fact that all of these ways of knowing the truth were easily in place for Korihor, Korihor did not think it was enough, and he asked for a sign (verse 43).  Sadly, when all the evidence is already clear and still a person asks for a sign, the sign given must be a curse because "faith precedes miracles".  Korihor and Sherem both were stricken with physical ailments that eventually led to their deaths (verse 50; Jacob 7:14-15,20).

Joseph Smith was, of course, intimately acquainted with the Book of Mormon and the truths and patterns found there.  Knowing how the Lord dealt with the sign-seekers Sherem and Korihor must have given him the precedent to deal with similar situations in his own time.

"I recollect a Campbellite preacher who came to Joseph Smith...and said that he had come a considerable distance to be convinced of the truth.  'Why,' said he, 'Mr. Smith, I want to know the truth, and when I am convinced, I will spend all my talents and time defending and spreading the doctrines of your religion, and I will give you to understand that to convince me is equivalent to convincing all my society, amounting to several hundreds.'  Well, Joseph commenced laying before him the coming forth of the work, and the first principles of the Gospel, when [the minister] exclaimed, 'O this is not the evidence I want, the evidence that I wish to have is a notable miracle; I want to see some powerful manifestation of the power of God, I want to see a notable miracle performed; and if you perform such a one, then I will believe with all my heart and soul, and will exert all my power and all my extensive influence to convince others; and if you will not perform a miracle of this kind, then I am your worst and bitterest enemy.' 'Well,' said Joseph, 'what will you have done?  Will you be struck blind, or dumb? Will you be paralyzed, or will you have one hand withered?  Take your choice, choose which you please, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ it shall be done.'  'That is not the kind of miracle I want,' said the preacher.  'Then, sir,' replied Joseph, 'I can perform none, I am not going to bring any trouble upon any body else, sir, to convince you.'"  (George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 2:236, quoted in Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word, p. 56-57)  (See Alma 30:51.)

Self-Destruction. Many people don't ever face the truth in this life, unfortunately.  Sherem and Korihor both did, but only after receiving their deadly signs (verse 52).  When people of our day refuse to accept truth that is before and about them in any topic, gospel or otherwise, they eventually unravel.  Korihor had fallen into the trap of believing his own lies, and the result of that was self-destruction (verse 53).

It is a very interesting and pathetic testimony of the epistemological concept of pragmatism (remember, that is: judging the truth of something by its result) to compare the stories of these two anti-Christs from the time of their curse-signs until their deaths.  Korihor was struck deaf and dumb, and in this impaired state was killed by the heartless Zoramites, a people who, ironically or not, believed exactly as Korihor had taught (verse 59).  Sherem's curse was apparently paralysis or some similar major disability that caused him to be completely unable to care for himself.  But, unlike Korihor, he had the good fortune to be among the Christians he had so ruthlessly condemned (Jacob 7:15).  Those he had abused kindly cared for him.  Robert Millet writes, "This act alone demonstrates Christianity at its highest and discipleship at its deepest."  The Christians bore out the truth of their belief by their works, to Sherem's benefit.  The Zoramites emulated the lies of the devil in their actions, to Korihor's demise (Alma 30:60).  Although the devil and his anti-Christs always offer an easy way and a happy ending (refer to equations on the board), as Alma taught the Zoramite poor (Alma 34:39), "[the devil] rewardeth you no good thing."

BEING UNSHAKEABLE

The interesting thing is that the truth of the gospel bears out under all these methods of finding out what is true, the very methods anti-Christs try to use to disprove it.  To quote Gerald Lund, "The gospel...is truth--truth that has stood the test of centuries, truth that can withstand rational examination, truth that is pragmatic and practical, truth that can be confirmed through personal experience.  A believer need not apologize for his or her beliefs, for these beliefs withstand every scrutiny much more efficiently than do the doctrines of Satan."  (Ensign, July 1992, p. 21)

President Benson warned, "Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use [the Book of Mormon] to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organized evolution, rationalism, humanism, and so forth...Social, ethical, cultural, or educational converts will not survive under the heat of the day unless their taproots go down to the fulness of the gospel which the Book of Mormon contains."  (Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and a Warning, p. 6, quoted in Robert Millet, ibid.)

"To be able to bear witness of the truth in the face of ridicule, and to give no heed to the enticing and otherwise convincing voices of the worldly-wise is, according to President Joseph F. Smith, to have entered into the 'rest of the Lord,' that state 'born from a settled conviction of the truth.'  To enter the rest of the Lord 'means entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in his purpose and in his plan, to such an extent that we know we are right, and that we are not hunting for something else, we are not disturbed by every wind of doctrine, or by the cunning and craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive.'  To enter into the rest of the Lord is to enjoy 'rest from doubt, from fear, from apprehension of danger, rest from the religious turmoil of the world.'"  (Robert L. Millet, p. 54, quoting Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 58)

Jacob said of Sherem, "He had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me.  And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken."  (Jacob 7:5)

Likewise we, as Latter-day Saints, have each been ministered to by angels sent from God, either of this world or of the spirit world.  We have heard the voice of the Lord speaking to us, if not in very word, then in the still, small voice of peace and guidance.  We have access to even more revelations than did Jacob.  And the evidence of the truthfulness of the gospel is all around us in the collective lives and works of the saints of the latter-days.  If we build our testimonies upon these experiences, and sink our roots deep in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need not fear what anti-Christs may do or say:  We may rest in the Lord.

How do we do this?  Tune in next week!  The story of Korihor and his false ways of looking for truth is immediately followed in the Book of Mormon by Alma's great discourse to the poor of the Zoramites in which he teaches them how to experiment to find out whether the gospel is true: the analogy of the Word as a seed.


Friday, June 22, 2012

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


Alma 22-29

PREPARATION

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

THE CONVERSION OF THE ANTI-NEPHI-LEHIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OBJECT LESSON, PART TWO: REPLACING BAD WITH GOOD

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

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

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

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

BACK TO THE STORY…

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

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

HOW THEY MADE THE CHANGE PERMANENT

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

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

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

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

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

OBJECT LESSON TWO:  HAVING THEIR HEARTS SOFTENED

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

(Show the dried sponge hearts.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW THEY ACTED UPON THEIR PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MORALS OF THE STORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE REST OF THE STORY

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

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

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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #25 "They Taught With Power and Authority of God"

Alma 17-22

POINT TO PONDER

Before class begins, write on blackboard, "What impresses you most about the sons of Mosiah and their missions (Alma 17-22)?"

LONE CONVERTS

One of the most interesting stories in the Book of Mormon is not told there.   It is only referred to in two verses.  It is the story of a lone convert, patiently waiting years for the opportunity to fully embrace the gospel.  She was a Lamanite.  The little bit of her story that we do have is found in Alma 19:16-17:  "...Abish...having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father--Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore..." she saw her chance at the visit of the Nephite Christian Ammon.  She had kept her hope to herself all those years, waiting for the missionaries.

How does a sincere seeker find the gospel in a country with limited religious freedom?  The Lord is no respector of persons or of their nationality, so He helps them find the truth through personal revelation, as He did for Abish and her father.  There are similar stories in the world today.  Since we don't have Abish's story, here is Raj Kumar's, from 20th Century India:

"I was born of goodly parents in Punjab, India, in 1958.  Our house was filled with love for God and for one another...

"I wanted to have a rich and meaningful relationship with God through fasting and praying, but as I knelt down before images of gods and goddesses I felt emptiness instead of fulfillment...

"[One day at school] I came across a beautiful sory by Oscar Wilde in our English textbook about how a very mean and selfish person is saved by the grace of God and the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I was deeply touched by 'The Selfish Giant,' and often reread it and pondered how the main character had received a forgiveness of his sins.  I contemplated that if Jesus Christ could save a very mean and cruel giant, he must also have power to bring peace into my life.  But I did not know where to find this Savior...

"One afternoon while I was helping out at [my father's] pharmacy...I went to a shoe shop to collect some money.  The owner was not there, so I waited.  While I was admiring the shoe displays, my attention was directed toward an old calendar hanging on the wall.  Pictured was a shepherd with a staff in his hand, surrounded by his sheep.

"As I beheld that picture, I felt a very strong stirring in my heart.  Then my attention was drawn to a verse written in Hindi, which translated as:  'The Lord Yahovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.'  I had never heard the name Yahovah before and did not know who he was.  But looking at his picture and reading the verse brought a tremendous peace, joy, and comfort to my hungry soul.  I must have gazed at the calendar for half and hour.

"Over the next few months, I returned to the shoe store several times a day to see the shepherd and read the verse.  Whenever I felt pangs of suffering or disappointment, I would say to myself, 'I really don't have to worry because Yahovah is my shepherd and he shall provide for my needs.'  I often prayed that someday someone would tell me who Yahovah was so I could learn more about him and better worship him.

"[Following the promptings of the Spirit, I began to attend a Christian church, outside the knowledge of my family.  I greatly enjoyed reading the New Testament, but still felt an emptiness and lack of purpose to life.  Pondering this difficulty, I uttered] my first prayer to God, the Eternal Father.  I do not remember exactly what I said, but I pleaded with him to make himself known to me.  As I poured out my heart, I felt the burden I had been carrying for years lift off my shoulders.  I felt light and invigorated.  I felt a complete change within myself.  The Holy Ghost whispered peace to me...

"[Years later, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of BYU's Young Ambassadors.  While at the performance] the Holy Ghost whispered to me that the day had come for the Lord to answer my prayers.  The Lord had prepared one of the performers to help me.  I would recognize him when I saw him.  Most of the performers had name tags on.  As I looked at a man named Thomas Nelson, I knew this was the person who would help me find the truth.  I approached him and said, 'I would like to talk with you if you have a moment...

"Brother Nelson spent about 30 minutes explaining the Church's beliefs and bearing his testimony.  Those 30 minutes changed my life forever...   When he finished, I said 'Amen' because I believed with all my heart that what he had spoken was the truth."

Brother Kumar was taught the missionary discussions through the mail over the next six months.  Then he traveled to New Delhi to be baptized by the nearest priesthood holder.  He used every opportunity to spread the gospel in India by his service, and a year after his baptism was called to serve a mission in Fresno, California.  He married a beautiful Indian woman, also a returned missionary, and they were blessed with four children.  ("Stepping Stones to Truth," Ensign, October 1997, p. 20)

Abish must have been much like Raj Kumar.  Did she ever think she would find someone to baptize her?  Did she think she would ever go to the temple?  Did she long for association with the Saints?  Had she been years in praying diligently for these things?  Were her own personal prayers a factor in inspiring the sons of Mosiah and their companions to serve a mission to the Lamanites?  Unfortunately, the Lamanite culture did not include record-keeping, so her story was never taken down.

We do, however, have the story of the mission to the Lamanites from the viewpoint of the journal kept by the Nephite missionaries, so we'll talk about them.

THE MISSION OF THE SONS OF MOSIAH

Read aloud Mosiah 28:1-2.  The idea of sending missionaries to the Lamanites in that day was preposterous.  It had been tried before, and never successfully, and the Lamanites were enemies to the Nephites.  So, understandably, King Mosiah was concerned about letting his sons go on a suicide mission.  He may have also been concerned about their own new testimonies being strong enough to keep them from reverting to their former wicked ways in such a Godless environment.  But they bugged him for days (Mosiah 28:5).  Read aloud Mosiah 28:6-7.  

So there were two promises given unto King Mosiah:
  1. His sons would actually convert many of the Lamanites.
  2. The Lord would protect them from death.
These promises were kept many times over, not only for Mosiah's own sons, but for those unnumbered others who went with them.  (There were at least two: Muloki and Ammah.  See Alma 17:8,12; Alma 19:2.)

There are nine instances within this reading assignment where the missionaries' lives were in grave danger, but they were protected by the Lord.
  1. King Lamoni would have killed Ammon as an alien when he entered the land  (17:20-24)
  2. King Lamoni regularly killed servants who lost the sheep (17:28)
  3. The animal rustlers outnumbered Ammon greatly in the battle (17:35)
  4. In vengeance, the brother of a dead thief tried to kill Ammon as he lay in a trance (19:22-23)
  5. Ammon was warned by the Lord not to go to the land of Nephi because the senior king would try to kill him (20:2)
  6. The senior king commanded Lamoni to kill Ammon (20:15)
  7. The senior king tried to kill Ammon himself with the sword (20:20)
  8. The senior queen ordered Aaron and company killed by servants when she found the king in a trance (22:19)
  9. When the servants refused to kill Aaron, she commanded the multitude to kill him (22:21)
Truly, as the Lamanites began to observe, they could not be slain.

The promise that there would be many converts was also fulfilled quite gloriously, beginning with those in government.  In next week's assignment, there is a detailed listing of cities and statistics regarding the Lamanites converted.  In this week's reading, there are at least eight separate conversion stories.
  1. King Lamoni (19:13)
  2. His wife the queen (19:9)
  3. His servants (19:15)
  4. Those of his subjects to whom he testified (19:31)
  5. Those to whom his servants testified (19:35)
  6. Those that Ammon, Aaron, Muloki and Ammah taught together after the latter two were released from prison (21:17)
  7. The king of all the Lamanites, Lamoni's father (22:15)
  8. The queen of all the Lamanites and their entire household (22:23)
CLASS DISCUSSION ON POINT TO PONDER

Now let's go to our little "point of pondering:"  What impressed you about the sons of Mosiah and their missionary service?  (Use the following ideas to supplement or complement class members' thoughts shared.)

Study of the scriptures, resulting in a strong knowledge of the truth.  When King Lamoni began to ask questions of Ammon, Ammon knew how to teach.  It seems pretty obvious that extensive study is beneficial for missionary work, but many of us today think that a passive scripture study is all we have time for, or maybe we limit themselves to what we absorb in Seminary or Sunday School, half-asleep.   We don't realize how seriously we need to study until we get on our missions or until a neighbor or relative asks us a question that draws us up short.  (Alma 17:2)

They taught the Plan of Redemption from the scriptures.  They taught the way the Lord teaches; you see it all through the scriptures.  They gave the overview first, the grand scheme, the whole plan.  They didn't start with the details of commandments or observances, but with the purpose behind them.  Then the details fit in one by one.  (Alma 18:36, 39; Alma 22:12-14)

Prayer and fasting brought upon them the spirit of prophecy and revelation.  The spirit of revelation comforted and encouraged them, as well as guided them in their labors.  (Alma 17:3,9-12)

Power and authority from God.  They were set apart for their call.  (Alma 17:3,18)

They were led by the Spirit.  (Alma 17:17; 21:15; 22:2)

Their source of courage was the Lord.  (Alma 17:10-12)

Preparation: their missionary savings account.  (Alma 17:7)

They served the people first.  Ammon was welcomed as a servant, while Aaron was thrown in jail as a missionary.  Each was following the spirit, and Ammon's approach might not have worked any better in Aaron's area than Aaron's approach did, but it is interesting to note the two different ways.  Read aloud Alma 17:20-25.  Ammon never mentioned a word about the gospel!  He first taught by example.  He established his reputation as one who could be trusted, who was loyal, who was nonjudgmental, who was a friend, who wanted to help with whatever was needed.  We must be careful to follow this example. 
     When he and the other servants were watering the king's flocks at Sebus, thieves came to scatter the flocks that they might steal them.  This, apparently, had been an ongoing problem.  The general philosophy of the Lamanites at this time was 'looking out for number one,' 'getting something for nothing,' 'the world owes me a living.'  Read aloud Alma 17:14.  Ammon first tried nonviolent means to solve the problem (Alma 17:32), but it didn't work, so he went out to fight in defense.  This is the pattern we would also want to follow when threatened with violence.
     It's interesting symbolism to note that the Lord is the Good Shepherd and protects His sheep, and Ammon here was literally protecting animals (what type is not mentioned) as well as the lives of the king's servants, just as his mission's purpose was to gather the Lamanites into the Lord's fold and protect their spiritual lives from the great thief, Satan.  Read aloud 17:35 to "out of their hands."  Ammon killed six thieves with stones from his sling, and one with his sword.  And he cut off a bunch of arms.
     When the shepherds (or goatherds) returned to the king, the other servants told him all about what Ammon had done.  The king was very astonished at such loyalty.  They said to the king, "He cannot be slain."  And that was true, because of the promise of the Lord to his father.  Asking where Ammon was at present, he was told that Ammon was finishing his assigned work, preparing the king's horses for his journey.  The king was very astonished at such service.  He said, "Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man."  Why?  Remember, the Lamanites were "a very indolent people" (17:15).  Such service was highly unusual.  King Lamoni was seeing the fruits of a Christ-like person.  Even when he was battle-weary, he continued to serve.
     Interestingly, when Aaron was released from prison, he followed the same tack as Alma did and had as great success.  Read aloud Alma 22:2-3 to "we will be thy servants."  Sometimes when we approach someone from the "missionary" angle and they are not interested, we move on.  Like Ammon and Aaron, we must remain as friends and servants even when we cannot teach.

They established a common point from which to teach.   Read aloud alma 18:24-28 to "This is God."  You cannot find a sentence wherein Ammon criticized the king's practices or religion.  He simply added truth to what the king already believed, and then the king himself became aware of the error of his ways and desired the change.  When Aaron was teaching the big king, it was almost exactly the same.  He did not have to point out the king's sins; once the king heard the gospel, he offered to freely give them up.  (Alma 22:15)  President Hinckley consistently used this approach, saying to people of all religions, "Bring what you have that is good, and let us add to it."

Neither trials nor good fortune deterred them from their call.  Ammon was offered marraige into the royal household.  This was not even a temptation to him, because his missionary work was his focus.  Aaron, Muloki and Ammah were thrown into prison in the land of the Amalekites and Amulonites and suffered greatly there.  As soon as they were released, without skipping a beat, they went right back into the synagogues and continued their preaching.  Another perfect example for us.

They did not complain or boast about their missionary service; they simply did it.  Aaron was not bitter that his mission was harder; Ammon didn't gloat over his success.

Their own conversion experiences gave them understanding.  Read aloud Alma 19:6.  How did Ammon know all these things?  He had been there for the similar experience of his friend, Alma the Younger (Alma 36:20).  The same experience with the greater king did not astonish Aaron for the same reason.

As a result of the conversion of the kings, the Land of Nephi became a land of religious freedom, first in the King's province (Alma 21:22), then in the entire Lamanite kingdom. (They start to tell you in Alma 22:27, but then they get sidetracked describing how huge the kingdom is, and don't finish until Alma 23:1-3.)  The lack of freedom in the land was the reason that Abish had to keep her conversion secret all those years.  The result of this mission was like the falling of the iron curtain or the tearing down of the Berlin wall: greater freedom followed.

THE MISSIONARY SPIRIT

Once someone is truly converted to the gospel (for many of those born into the Church, that is a process of years or decades), the natural result is an overwhelming desire to share it with others.

As Raj Kumar said, "After being baptized into the Lord's true Church, I could not stop myself from telling others about the great joy and happiness I had received.  I was no longer worried about being persecuted or ostracized.  My relatives, friends, teachers, and associates were generally not very pleased with me, but I loved them more than ever before..."

This is the spirit that seized and then led the sons of Mosiah.  Read aloud Mosiah 28:3.

As Elder Carlos E. Asay said in October 1976 General Conference, "There is a missionary spirit--a spirit which urges us to live outside ourselves and to be concerned for the welfare of others." This is the spirit of the sons of Mosiah.



Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #24 "Give Us Strength According to our Faith in Christ"

Alma 13-16

A TEAM OF WITNESSES


Have you ever thought about why there are two of so many things?  Missionaries always have a companion.  Why?  Just to keep them out of trouble?  Just for safety under the "buddy system?"  Why are there also two home teachers, and two visiting teachers, two parents and two grandparents (in the ideal situation)?  In each instance, they are a team of witnesses, and this is how a team of witnesses works:  One testifies, and the other establishes or verifies the words of the first, and then he expounds upon them, or explains things beyond (Alma 12:1).  One visiting teacher gives a little lesson from the Ensign or the Liahona, the other visiting teacher adds to it.  One parent states a family rule that is in line with a gospel principles, and the second parent backs it up.  The Lord's various systems of helping His children almost always involve the law of witnesses.

Picture from MormonMissionaryPrep.com

Alma and Amulek were one of the Lord's great missionary companionships.  When they were challenged by a wily lawyer named Zeezrom, they withstood him as a team of witnesses.  They knew that Zeezrom knew the truth and was denying it in order to get gain.  First Amulek warned Zeezrom that he was headed towards becoming a "child of hell" (Alma 11:23).  He warned that the devil was working to "encircle" him about with the chains of hell (Alma 12:3-6).  Zeezrom began to be entertain the possibility that they were right (Alma 12:7).  At this point (Alma 12:8) he "began to inquire of them diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God."  Now he was asking sincere questions.  Alma taught him about the plan of redemption, and presented before him his options of repenting or continuing in evil (Alma 12:34-35).

THE DISCUSSION ON PRIESTHOOD

A lot of other people were listening as well. Following this discussion, Alma seemingly changed the subject and suddenly launched into the topic of the priesthood (Alma 13:1).  All of chapter 13 is about the priesthood.  Pretty random, right?  But it's always a mistake to assume something in the scriptures is random, so instead we want to ask, why did he find this relevant to explain at this important teaching moment?

Well, the Ammonihahites had claimed at the outset not to recognize his authority, since they had broken themselves off from the church.  They had the scriptures, although they twisted them for their own use.  With these remarks about the priesthood, Alma was establishing his authority as being the same authority that Melchizedek had in their scriptures.  They had been led astray by priestcraft, the devil's method of leadership, based on selfishness.  They needed to return to priesthood, the Lord's leadership method of love and service.

So Alma reminded them of Melchizedek, the great high priest, to show them that he had the same calling and authority and was doing the same service (preaching repentance) that Melchizedek did (Alma 13:17-18 first sentence).  Not only was Melchizedek an excellent example of a high priest, but the people of Salem were an excellent example of people who were very wicked (like those of Ammonihah), entrenched in the selfishness of priestcraft, but who turned completely around and became so righteous that they may have been taken up into heaven like the City of Enoch (second sentence of Alma 13:18).  (Very little remains in our Bible about Melchizedek and Salem, but there is more in JST Genesis 14.  The Nephites certainly would have had more in their brass plates than we do now because they had passed through fewer hands than the Bible has.)  Alma counseled the people to follow this example (Alma 13:14).

THE WAKE OF ZEEZROM'S WICKED PAST

Some of the people were inspired by these teachings and wanted to change.  One of them was Zeezrom himself.  However, the majority of the people were murderously angry with Alma and Amulek.  They tied them up and took them before the chief judge, another crooked person.  They testified against them in another court and Zeezrom was present to witness this (Alma 14:6).  Alma and Amulek had both warned Zeezrom that he would be "encircled about by the pains of hell."  They were prophets and they had "forth-told" about this.  They didn't need to actually see the future to see that this would happen.  They knew the principles upon which happiness is based, and they knew that Zeezrom's actions were contrary to them.

Zeezrom tried to reverse his negative influence, but couldn't (Alma 14:7).  When we make big mistakes, yes, we can always repent and learn from them, but our sins always leave a wake.  Others are affected by our actions and example, and we often cannot reverse those consequences, as much as we might desire to do so.  The realization of this brings great suffering, such as Zeezrom experienced, when we realize the "blindness" of others' minds, "which [we have] caused."

THE MASS MARTYRDOM

The evil people threw all the believing men out of the city, casting stones at them.  Then they took the wives and children left behind and threw them into a fire, along with scriptures (Alma 14:8-9).  Alma and Amulek were forced to watch all these innocents burn to death.  Even though Alma and Amulek knew that "death is sweet if [you] die unto [Christ], " (D&C 42:46), and they knew that those being killed were, in the long run, much better off than those killing them, it was still something that--how could you get over it?  As Amulek said to Alma, "How can we witness this awful scene?"  (Alma 14:10)

Which brings us to one of the great and dividing questions of all time:  Why would a loving God allow this to happen?  Of course, these innocent women and children could have been easily saved with His power!  Why did he constrain Alma not to exercise his priesthood? (Wait for class response.)

God must let a people ripen in iniquity before His judgments can be just in destroying them.  People will not be judged for what they might have done.  (Alma 11:41; 41:3-4)

THE IMPRISONMENT

After this, Alma and Amulek were cast into prison.  They were left there for many days and served as an entertainment for the people, who came continually to spit upon them and taunt them and slap them.  They were given no food or water or clothing, and were tightly tied up (Alma 14:22).  Continually the people mocked them with question such as, "If you have such mighty priesthood power, why don't you free yourselves?" but Alma and Amulek did not answer a word.  Why do you think they didn't?  (Class response)

Finally, Alma stood up and offered a mighty prayer from deep within his heart (Alma 14:26).  His prayer was immediately answered, and he and Amulek received Incredible Hulk-type strength to stand--remember they had been starved and beaten for days--and break their bands.  This caused a realization on the part of the accusers that they had committed a really big "oops"; they had never intended to actually receive the sign from heaven they had kept demanding.  They ran for the prison doors, but the earthquake didn't wait for them to get there (Alma 14:27-28).

Even after this miraculous occurrence, those on the outside who were still alive did not have any desire to listen to Alma and Amulek, but sent them out of the city (Alma 15:1) where they found asylum in the land of Sidom.

SURVIVING TRAGEDY

Here they found all the men who also had been thrown out of Ammonihah, and they related the horrifying story of the gruesome deaths of their families (Alma 15:1-2).  Imagine being one of these men.  What did they feel?  How did they go on?

Unfortunately, like the missionaries of Ammonihah, there are righteous people today all over the world who must witness awful and senseless crimes where the ravings of the devil are unleashed upon innocent people.  How can they carry on?  By believing, as did Alma, that if they survived the tragedy, their mission is not complete and the Lord will help them carry it out (Alma 14:13).  As John Bytheway counseled the Columbine, Colorado seminary students after the 1999 massacre at their high school, "Don't let tragedy define your life.  You have your own mission to accomplish and you should not be deterred."  (See John Bytheway, When Times Are Tough: 5 Scriptures That Will Help You Get Through Almost Anything, published by Deseret Book)

(By the way--sorry, John, I couldn't avoid the pun--here are the 5 scriptures in case you want to branch off on this topic: "[We] know that [God] loveth his children" [1 Nephi 11:17]; We know that God allows evil to exist in the world [Moses 7:26-33]; "Our work is not finished" [Alma 14:13]; The Atonement is not just for sinners [Alma 7:11-12]; One day the Lord will reveal all things [D&C 101:32-36] )

The Lord offers victims comfort:

"All they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory.  Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.  Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul.  And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life."  (D&C 101:35-37)

You can, even after a tragedy, still have a fulness of joy!  How is this possible?  Through the Atonement.  The Atonement is not just for sinners, but for every kind of suffering (Alma 7:11).  Because of the Atonement, Christ knows "how to succor his people" (Alma 7:12).

What about those whose actions cause the sufferings of others?  The story of Zeezrom tells us that the Atonement also is available for them.

Zeezrom was in this same city in Sidom--he had fled here when he was cast out of Ammonihah--and he lay here sick and dying of a fever, brought upon him by his anguish of conscience.  There was no way that he of himself could get over the terrible sickness of mind and body that his wickedness had caused.  Alma knew that the only way out of such a situation of guilt is the same and only way that he got out of it and that we can get out of it.  Once again, it was through the Atonement of Christ.  He had experienced it himself (Alma 36:17-20).  He could see that Zeezrom was just a mirror of himself, and he knew what to do about it (Alma 15:8-12).

AMULEK'S SACRIFICE

We make covenants in the temple that we would be willing to sacrifice for the gospel, but have any of us ever had to sacrifice much?  There are people in the world who sacrifice greatly for their testimonies, such as Amulek did.  Amulek lost everything he had except for the most important thing, his testimony of Christ (Alma 15:16).  Although he was a great missionary, he was also a homeless beggar.  But he had a new family in the gospel (Alma 15:18).  We must always follow the example of Alma in succoring new converts who have sacrificed to join the Church.

Was it worth the sacrifice?  Well, King Benjamin had taught that you can never be in debt to the Lord.  No matter how much you give Him, He will give you more back.  It is always true, if not always instant.  And it was true for Amulek in this life as well as in the life after, which "life after" came much later for him than it did for those who cast him out.

THE DESOLATION OF NEHORS

Amulek had warned the people of his home town that the presence of the righteous among them was preserving them (Alma 10:22-23).  It is still true today.  Spencer W. Kimball wrote, "There are many upright and faithful who live all the commandments and whose lives and prayers keep the world from destruction."  (Ensign, June 1971, p. 16)  When the Ammonihahites cast out the righteous, they sealed their own fate.

In the following year, word came that the Lamanites were on the warpath.  The city of Ammonihah was the first thing in that path, and before an army could be gathered, that city was massacred.  There were many prisoners of war taken from the surrounding cities.  The chief captain of the armies, Zoram, was a God-fearing man, and he knew that Alma had a testimony of Christ (the spirit of prophecy), so he asked him to exercise that testimony and call upon God, through the spirit of revelation, to know how to get these prisoners back.  Alma inquired of the Lord and received very specific instructions on where to find the Lamanites and what to do.  Zoram followed these instructions and was 100% successful in rescuing the prisoners and scattering the armies of the Lamanites (Alma 16:5-8).

But it was all too late for Ammonihah, whose devastation was 100%.  The judgments of God had to be executed upon them, because they were just (or fair) judgments.  The Lord had said they would be destroyed, and he is a God of truth (Alma 16:9-11).

THE HAPPY ENDING

With the influence of the Nehors gone, Alma and Amulek were free to preach the gospel to a very receptive audience of Nephites  (Alma 16:15-16, 21).

Here is where we find the good news in this story:  Thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone who is true to the faith, no matter what trials they have to go through, gets to live happily ever after.  In this life, things are seldom fair.  Wicked people sometimes prosper; righteous people sometimes suffer.  Martyrdom is not that uncommon in the history of the Lord's people.  But the Lord's people will always be more than compensated ("All things work together for good to them that love God," Rom. 8:28), and all will eventually be made more than fair.  In the short term, Amulek suffered as the Nehors prospered, but he always had the peace of the gospel, which they refused, and in the end, his life was spared when theirs were not.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #23 "More Than One Witness"

Alma 8-12

You may want to have some missionary-related visual aids, such as pictures of missionaries from your area, pictures from your own mission, a globe, missionary name tags, ties, etc.  Or use the many fabulous pictures now available from the just-barely-updated LDS Media website!  It's so great!!!  (The images posted here come from that source.)

  

IN-CLASS STUDY

If you have a large class of adults, have two tins of small treats--one which just has the treats, and the other which has 11 treats with scripture references taped to them.  Tell the class if they read (past tense) the assignment at home, they can take a treat from the treat-only tin.  If they didn't, this is their opportunity to delve into the scriptures.  But always give them an out--if they would rather die than participate (sometimes you have even adults who will not come back to class if you ask them to read aloud because it's too difficult for them) tell them they can give their assignment (and its treat) to someone else.  

If you have a small teenage class, just hand out the snacks and the references to those willing to read.  (Give the super-small ones to the challenged or less confident readers.)

Allow one minute for the students to look up and study their references.  
  • Mission Area:  Read Alma 6:1-4
  • Mission Area:  Read Alma 7:26
  • Mission Area:   Read Alma 8:4-5
  • Mission Area:   Read Alma 14:1-2
  • Mission Area:   Read Alma 15:13-14 
  • Missionary Tool: Read Alma 8:4
  • Missionary Tool:  Read Alma 8:10
  • Missionary Tool:  Read Alma 8:24 (first four lines)
  • Missionary Tool:  Read Alma 8:14-15; Alma 10:7; Alma 10:10
  • Missionary Tool:  Read Alma 10:7
  • Missionary Tool:  Read Alma 9:2,6; Alma 10:12

OBJECT LESSON

If I hold a piece of paper up high in the air, and I let go of it, what is going to happen to it?  (Demonstrate.)  Of course, it will always fall to the ground.

Richard L. Evans made a very profoundly obvious statement:  "If we don't change direction, we will arrive at where we're going."  (April 1970 Conference Report)

Depending on which direction we are going, this is either a great encouragement or a terrible threat.  (Drop paper again.)  Is there anything I can do to prevent the paper from falling to the ground at my feet?  (Fold the paper into an airplane.)  If someone changes  it, its course will change.  (Fly the paper airplane.)  Of course, paper has no agency, so we can make it change.  People are different, and because of that, this is kind of a depressing lesson.



OVERVIEW OF ALMA'S MISSION AREAS

Alma, as you recall, retired from his position as chief judge in order to serve a full-time mission.  Over a period of a couple of years, we have record of his teaching in five cities.  Our five ill-fated class members are going to tell us what they are and give us a very brief report on how successful Alma was in each place.


Cheat Sheet for teachers:
  1. Alma 6:1-4  Zarahemla--Somewhat successful
  2. Alma 7:26  Gideon--Successful
  3. Alma 8:4-5  Melek--Highly successful
  4. Alma 14:1-2  Ammonihah--Some success/Much miserable failure  
  5. Alma 15:13-14  Sidom--Highly Successful
 Today's topic is the mission area that was the most miserable failure of all of these:  Ammonihah.

As one of the greatest missionary companionships of all time, Alma and Amulek did everything possible to help the people of Ammonihah change direction from the collision course they were on.  Many great tools for conversion were in place which worked in the other cities and would have worked here were it not for the one thing missionaries have no control over: the agency of the people.

TOOLS FOR MISSIONARY WORK (HELPING OTHERS TO CHANGE)

Have the class members with Missionary Tool scriptures tell what tool they each discovered from their scriptures.  There is no particular order.  Write them on the board.


  • Alma 8:4--Authority.  This was very effective in Melek, but was this tool effective in Ammonihah?  (Read aloud the first three lines of Alma 8:12.)
  • Alma 8:24--Testimony.  Here is another chance to earn more treats:  If you were paying attention last week, do you remember where to find the definition of the spirit of prophecy?  (Rev. 19:10)  What about the spirit of revelation?  (D&C 8:2-3)
  • Alma 8:14-15; Alma 10:7; Alma 10:10--Angelic Visits.  The work of angels in conversion has many interesting parallels here.  Alma was very rebellious, but the visit of an angel convinced him to allow Christ to change him.  Now he received a very different visit from an angel.  (Alma 8:15)  This angel directed him to return to Ammonihah after having been thrown out of the city forcibly.  In Ammonihah there is another man who is rebellious:  Amulek.  (Alma 10:4-7)  An angel directs Amulek to receive Alma into his home.  Could Alma's mighty prayer for Ammonihah have brought about the angelic vision and conversion of Amulek?  Very possibly.  Are there any more angelic visitations involved in this mission?  (10:10)  Alma spent significant time tutoring Amulek (Alma 8:27) and helping his testimony to grow, and angels helped with this process.  Imagine what kind of an experience it would be, if you were the least bit receptive, to have the prophet of the Lord living in your home, and angels dropping by to visit!  This must have been necessary, because Amulek would need a very strong testimony to endure what lay ahead in the mission field.
  • Alma 10:7--Fasting.  "[Alma had] fasted many days because of the sins of the people."
  • Alma 9:2,6 and Alma 10:12--Two witnesses.  Alma was at first preaching alone (Alma 9:2,6).  When Amulek began to testify to the people, he first established his lineage (10:1-3), then his worldly authority and perspective (just what they had asked for:  someone like themselves) (10:4-5), and then he testified of the authority of Alma as a source of truth, whom they had already heard and rejected (10:7-10).  He told them what joy Alma had in store for them.  (Read aloud 10:11.)  The people were astonished that there really were two witnesses (10:12).  This was what they had asked for.  But did it work to change them?  No.  They had already made up their minds not to change, regardless of what happened.
THE TRIAL

Amulek called the people to repentance and testified that they would be destroyed if they didn't repent. (Read aloud Alma 10:21-22.)  "There are many upright and faithful who live all the commandments and whose lives and prayers keep the world from destruction."  (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, June 1971, p. 16)

The people of Ammonihah did not care much for this kind of rebuke.

(Read aloud Alma 10:31-32.)  Now this idea of lawyers "getting gain according to their employ" does not seem weird at all to us, but it was a new thing at the time.

"Ancient judges were not paid professionals.  In the Old World, kings were...responsible for the administration of justice...  Prior to Mosiah's new law introduced around 91 BC it is unlikely that any judges were paid...in Nephite society.  As well-intended as Mosiah's program was, it quickly led to abuse...(Lawyers] soon made it a 'business' and sought to 'get gain' through this system" (FARMS, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 39)

Zeezrom, then, was quite motivated by money, and assumed everyone else was.  He was also quite crooked, and assumed everyone else was.  So he attempted to bribe Amulek with six onties of silver to deny Christ.  (Alma 11:22)  This was the equivalent of a judge's wage for 42 days, or 42 measures of barley Of course, this had no effect upon Amulek: he would not sell his testimony for money.  Amulek condemned Zeezrom for denying his own testimony.  (Read aloud Alma 11:24.)  Amulek then answered Zeezrom's trick questions about God, and taught about life after death.

When Amulek was finished, Alma stepped up.  (Read aloud Alma 12:1.)  This is how missionaries, or teams of witnesses, work.  One testifies, and the other establishes the testimony of the first.  So first Alma expounded upon Amulek's testimony that Zeezrom was doing the work of the devil.  Then he expounded upon Amulek's teachings of the resurrection and judgment.

THE LAST MISSIONARY TOOL

After giving the people the choice between the course of destruction they were presently on, and a new one they might have if they repented, Alma exercised a final tool for effecting change in others, a tool always used by the prophets and apostles in their conference talks, a tool always used by the Apostle Paul in his epistles:
  • Encouragement.  In the next chapter, next week's assignment, he finished his speech by telling them about people who magnified their calling in the Priesthood, and by encouraging them to follow that example.  (Read aloud Alma 13:14, and Alma 13:27,30.)

CONCLUSION

There may be a lot of wickedness in many parts of the world today, many people headed down the wrong path.  (Drop the piece of paper again.)  The preaching of the Word by the missionaries may change that as it did in Melek and Sidom and Gideon, if the people are receptive.  (Show the paper airplane again.)  But only we as members of the Church  have the capacity for messing up as badly as did the people of Ammonihah.  (Read aloud Alma 9:19-23, paying attention to the word "having" in this passage.  Class members may want to underline that word because it itemizes the privileges they rejected.)  This is such a danger that it is put in a kind of boldface in the temple endowment ceremony:  rejecting great blessings and covenants, such as those made in the temple, puts you directly into the devil's hands.  If you willfully reject great blessings, great opportunities to become like Christ (crumble the paper airplane into a ball and drop it), you fall much faster than if you had never had the gospel in the first place.

Next week we'll see how this happened in Ammonihah.  You people who like horror novels, be sure to read it.  It's an easy assignment--only 4 chapters--and very fascinating.  (Alma 13-16)