Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #31 "Firm in the Faith of Christ"

Alma 43-52

Why do you think Mormon included so much information about war in the Book of Mormon?  One answer would be to teach us how to remain Christ-like in times of conflict.

BACKGROUND ON MORONI
  • Moroni was 25 years old when appointed captain (we would say "general") of the combined Nephite armies (Alma 43:17).
  • The Nephites had half as many soldiers as the Lamanites did at the battle with Zarahemna (Alma 43:51).
  • Moroni used innovative preparation ideas, particularly the use of armor (Alma 43:19-21) and the fortifying of cities (Alma 49-50).  The word "prepared" is emphasized over and over in chapters 49 and 50.  (You might suggest class members underline it each time it appears.)
  • Moroni used clever strategem rather than full-front attack (Alma 43:30-33).
  • Moroni had complete integrity and mighty faith (Alma 48:11-13).  Wouldn't you like this said at your funeral or engraved on your tombstone:  "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto (your name here), behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men."  (Alma 48:17).  It's definitely something to aspire to.  (It might be fun to make a little placard for each class member with this saying to encourage them to emulate Moroni throughout their lives.)
VIDEO SEGMENT "FIRM IN THE FAITH OF CHRIST" (15 minutes long)

This is from the Church's Gospel Doctrine Book of Mormon video and is a really great little movie, especially for youth Sunday School classes.  It is also available at lds.org (although I myself cannot get it to upload from there) and you can also access it from YouTube

CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES FOR CONFLICT LEARNED FROM MORONI
(Your class members may come up with others as well.  Go ahead and list them all on the board.)
  • There must be a righteous purpose"Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.  And they were doing that which they felt was the duty with they owerd to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies." (Alma 43:45-47)  When was the first time in the Book of Mormon that the Nephites initiated a battle not in self-defense?  It is in Mormon chapter 4, at the end of the record and signals the Nephites' fast descent into decadence.  "And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them."  (Mormon 4:4)
  • We must not hate our enemies. "Now they were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not all--they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, unprepared to meet their God." (Alma 48:23)
  • We must trust righteous leaders.  "...Moroni...knowing of the prophecies of Alma [the High Priest] sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites." (Alma 43:23)
  • We must trust the Lord"And it came to pass that when the men of Moroni saw the fierceness and the anger of the Lamanites, they were about to shrink and flee from them.  And Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts with these thoughts--yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage.  And it came to pass that they turned upon the Lamanites, and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage.  And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power; and in that selfsame hour that they cried unto the Lord for their freedom, the Lamanites began to flee before them; and the fled even to the waters of Sidon." (Alma 43:48-50)
THE SECOND BATTLE: MORONI VS. AMALICKIAH
  •  Moroni gained his position of authority by appointment (Alma 43:17).  Amalickiah gained his by deceit (Book of Mormon Index, p. 9-10 gives a quick overview; it's a fascinating story).
  • Moroni allowed prisoners of war to defect to his side if they made an oath in defense of freedom.  Forgiveness was always a possibility, and oaths in the Book of Mormon were serious.  But if they refused, they were put to death. (Alma 46:35).  Later, when a group of Nephites refused to defend liberty, Moroni obtained the legal right to exercise capital punishment upon them (Alma 51:15-20).  Amalickiah coerced the Lamanites who did not want to fight to join the battle by trickery (Alma 47:3)  (Although I'm not treating it specifically here, the manner in which Amalickiah achieved this is a great parable for how Satan tricks us to come over to his side, and could make a great lesson all by itself.  See chapter 47.)
  • Moroni rallied his troops with the noble Title of Liberty (Alma 46:12-13). Amalickiah published hateful propaganda.  "And now it came to pass that, as soon as Amalickiah had obtained the kingdom he began to inspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea, he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites." (Alma 48:1)
  • Moroni's purpose was the defense of liberty (Alma 46:12).  Amalickiah's was power and bondage of others upon which to glut himself (Alma 48:4).
  • Moroni lived by the principles of faith and service.  "Now it came to pass that while Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.  Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites..." (Alma 48:7-8).  Amalickiah's principles were deceit and selfishness.  "...He did care not for the blood of his people..." and did not even lead them into battle, but stayed home in comfort (Alma 49:10-11).
  • Moroni prepared his army (Alma 48:4-10)
  • Moroni and his people thanked God for delivering them (Alma 49:28).  Amalickiah cursed God and vowed revenge because he didn't win (Alma 49:27).
PRESENT-DAY APPLICATIONS:  SEEKING THE LORD AS NATIONS
  • Relying on the Lord"When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God...We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us...or he will fight our battles for us." (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, June 1976, p. 6)
  • The real enemy"No matter how wicked and ferocious and depraved the Lamanites might be,...they were not the Nephite problem.  They were merely kept there to remind the Nephites of their real problem, which was to walk uprightly before the Lord."  (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 376)
  • Draft-evaders.  Moroni had no tolerance of them.  He exercised capital punishment on those who refused to fight, except the Anti-Nephi-Lehies who had made a religious covenant not to take up arms. "Someone asked me once how I felt about amnesty for the draft card burner and the deserter.  I told him I thought every one of them should be taken before General Moroni to be judged."  (Vaughan J. Featherstone, October 1975 General Conference)  Eight of our Apostles today served in the military at wartime.  Only seven served missions as young men, thanks to being young men during times of peace for their country.  (See a listing at a a previous post.)
  • "In God We Must Trust."  In the United States, President Abraham Lincoln had the foresight to put the words "In God We Trust" on the very thing that could so easily become our idol: our coinage.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower made it the official national motto in 1956 (which had previously been e pluribis unum or "out of many, one"--also a lovely motto which is still found on the Great Seal of the United States) and added it to the paper currency. It appears over the entrance to the Senate chamber and above the Speaker's dais in the House of Representatives. (Associated Press article, published the Herald Journal, July 25, 2000).  The House reaffirmed this motto in a 396 to 9 vote in November of 2011 (Daily News, November 3, 2011).  The origin of the motto is thought to be the lyrics of what is now the U.S. National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," written for the War of 1812, which contains the words "Then conquer we must when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: In God is our Trust."  For those who worry about the motto being removed from our currency, it is required by law to be on all coins that have previously had it printed on them. (See Wikipedia article "In God We Trust".)  In fact, yes, even the new dollar coin contains the motto, even though it was not legally required; it's just along the edge instead of on the front. (See Snopes.com.) Many other countries have similar mottos--you should check to see if yours does.  Wikipedia has an entry listing dozens of countries' mottos (which seriously distracted me for an hour).  Here are a few of my favorites: 
    • Denmark: "God's Help, The People's Love, Denmark's Strength." 
    • Nicaragua: "In God We Trust"
    • American Samoa: "Let God be First."  
    • Grenada: "Ever Conscious of God, We Aspire and Advance as One People"
    • Morocco:  "God, The Country, The King"  The motto of the royalty of Morocco is: "If You Glorify God, He will Glorify You"
    • Tonga:  "God and Tonga are My Inheritance"
    • Dominican Republic:  "God, Country, Liberty"
    • Equador:  "God, Country, Liberty"
    • Tuvalu (South Pacific Island):  "Tuvalu for the Almighty"
    • Vanuatu (South Pacific island):  "Let Us Stand Firm in God"
    • Tokelau (atolls of New Zealand):  "Tokelau for the Almighty"
    • Saudi Arabia's is the Muslim creed:  "There is No God But Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet"  (Allah is the same Heavenly Father we worship.  See a previous post.)
    • Tristan da Cundha (South Atlantic Island):  "Our Faith is Our Strength"
 THE IMPORTANCE OF FREEDOM

Freedom is worth fighting for.  Jesus Christ fought a war in heaven and the cause was freedom vs. slavery.  But it is the only cause worth fighting for.  As Mormon wrote, "Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were aginst an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.  And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; and also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it..."  (Alma 48:14-16).  We do not have to live in the Americas to qualify for this blessing of protection, because every land wherein the Saints of God live, gather, and worship Him is a Promised Land.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #30 "The Great Plan of Happiness"

Alma 40-42

HOW ALMA TAUGHT CORIANTON

This lesson consists of the instruction Alma gave to his son Corianton.  Corianton was supposed to be serving a mission, and instead wandered off into dark paths.  Alma provided us with an excellent example in helping the "willfull and wayward" in his treatment of Corianton.  He pointed out the gravity of Corianton's sin and how he needed to change (see previous post), and then he taught the truths that Corianton needed to better understand in order to make that change.

Look at the first verse of each of these three chapters.  What do you find in common?  They each begin with "I perceive."  How did Alma perceive Corianton's concerns?  Through the Spirit, the only safe way to teach.

The three questions Alma perceived that Corianton had:
  1. Resurrection (chapter 40)
  2. Restoration (chapter 41)
  3. Justice (chapter 42)
RESURRECTION (Chapter 40)
  • Resurrection is not immediate after death (verse 6).
  • During the interim period, the righteous go to a state of happiness, the wicked to "outer darkness" (verses 12-13)  (This is not THE outer darkness where the sons of perdition will go permanently.  It is Alma's term for the temporary spirit prison.)
  • When resurrection happens, the body and soul will be reunited in perfection (verse 23)
  • Then there will be a final judgment after which the righteous will inherit the kingdom of God (verse 25) and the wicked will be cast out (verse 26)
 Alma mentioned that there were several things he did not know about death and resurrection (verses 2-5, 8, 19-21).  What can we learn from the fact that Alma testified of the doctrine of resurrection even though he did not know all the details about it?  (We can receive a workable testimony about a concept with only a partial knowledge.  We can also bear testimony [teach] with only a partial knowledge.  It's okay to say "I don't know.")

RESTORATION (Chapter 41)

Who judges us at the initial "restoration"?  In other words, who determines whether we go to paradise or spirit prison?

"I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order." (verse 2)

"The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil..." (verse 5)

"...and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.  Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved."  (verse 7-8)

How is it that we are "our own judges?"  We chose whether to do good or evil in this life, and thus we chose who we become and therefore what we will be restored to after death.

(You may want to do this little object lesson:  Have two long dowels.  Tape a label "righteousness" on one end of one stick, and "happiness" on the other end.  Tape a label "sin" on one end of the other stick, and "misery" on the other end of it.  Ask a class member to choose a stick to pick up.  He can only pick up one stick. If he chooses "sin," of course, he will also be picking up "misery."  Tell him you don't want him to be miserable, so ask him to pick up "sin" without "misery," or pick up "sin" and "happiness."  Of course, it is impossible.  When we choose our actions, we also choose their consequences.  It is impossible to separate the two.)

"Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness.  Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness."  (verse 10)

Happiness is a very confusing concept to people in the world today.  People pursue happiness in many different ways.  It's hard to tell from the outside whether someone is happy or not.  It is helpful to remember that there are different kinds of happiness.  Pleasure is a temporary happiness; joy is a deeper and lasting happiness.

"Laws do not change.  A law, like truth, 'abideth and hath no end' (D&C 88:66).  A theory is tentative, subject to change, and may or may not be true.  A theory is a means to an end, not the end in itself...Laws governing spiritual things were irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the earth (D&C 130:20).  Often young people fail to accept moral and spiritual laws because the laws are not measured by methods they have been accustomed to using.  Physical or natural laws are much easier to demonstrate, and can be useful in teaching about spiritual things.  Let me illustrate.  At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water freezes and changes from a liquid to a solid.  At 212 degrees Fahrenheit it turns into a gas.  Your students know that and there isn't anything they can do about it--they can't change it.  It can be described accurately or inaccurately, in complicated measurements in Fahrenheit or centigrade or anything else, and nothing that is said about it is going to change it because it operates according to law.  It will freeze or evaporate according to the law.  It should not be difficult to understand that there are basic spiritual laws that have always existed, that never change, that beget consequences, and we can't change them.  The wonder is that we can depend on these spiritual laws.  'Wickedness never was happiness,' and anybody that has tried to find out, has found out.  It is a law."  (Boyd K. Packer, CES Symposium, August 10, 1993, quoted in K. Douglas Bassett, Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon, p. 344-345)

So what will Corianton's reward be?  The same as for everyone else:  a restoration.

"Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.  For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all."  (verses 14-15)

JUSTICE AND MERCY (Chapter 42)

(Show the church video, "The Mediator," available at lds.org (where I can't get it to load--but look at the comments below; another reader found a better link) or on YouTube.

"It has been described this way:  'It really isn't fair that one person should suffer for the sins of others.  It isn't fair that some people can commit horrible crimes and then be completely forgiven and cleansed without having to suffer for them.  It isn't fair that those who labor for only an hour will get the same reward as those who labor all day.  (See Matt. 20:16.)  No, the gospel sometimes isn't fair, but that is actually part of the good news.  It isn't fair--it's merciful, and that God it is so, for no human being can stand acquitted before the demands of absolute justice."  (Stephen E. Robinson, quoted in Ensign, June 2000, p. 32)

"And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.  And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."  (Alma 34:15-16)

"The choice before us is mercy or justice.  Either choice can be accommodated, and either choice is compatible with the nature and plan of God, but, as in the choice between the Lord and Satan, there are no third alternatives.  Again, life has default settings, and they are set for justice.  We can choose the mercy that is offered through the gospel covenant, but if we refuse that mercy, we will receive justice.  (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, p. 60)  (This is THE best and simplest book for understanding the Atonement.  Everybody over age 12 really should read this book.) 

"Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.  If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God."  (Alma 42:27-28)

Only one of these choices will lead us to the Celestial Kingdom.  Exaltation is only available through the mercy of Christ (Alma 38:9).  "I once wondered if those who refuse to repent but who then satisfy the law of justice by paying for their own sins are then worthy to enter the celestial kingdom.  The answer is no.  The entrance requirements for celestial life are simply higher than merely satisfying the law of justice.  For that reason, paying for our sins will not bear the same fruit as repenting of our sins."  (Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart, p. 7-8)

JUSTICE AND MERCY IN OUR OWN CHARACTERS

"Neither the justice nor the mercy of God can be understood, enjoyed, or emulated without also understanding--and practicing--the charity that is their essence."  (Lance B. Wickman, "Justice and Mercy in the Warm Glow of Charity," Ensign, June 2000, p. 32)

"These principles that are at the heart of the great plan of redemption are also the very essence of the higher law of personal behavior taught by the Savior.  He sought to teach that law in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5-7) and repeated it for the Nephites (see 3 Ne. 12-14).  He sought to call us in our daily living from pedestrian plodding through what is merely just--that is, from giving to each what is due--to the stratospheric flight of mercy.  He has called each of us to give to each person our love whether or not it is due.  Unless we understand this, His mandate to 'be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect' (Matt. 5:48) is subject to gross misunderstanding...Truly, loving others more than self is the essence of the gospel of Christ.  It is the soul of mercy."  (Wickman, p. 33-34)

"God loves us not because we're so lovable he can't help himself--he loves us because his nature is loving, because God is love."  (Robinson, p. 65)  In order to become like God, we need to stop worrying about whether any person around us "merits" our love, and realize that extending charity to others is a product of our character, not theirs.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #29 "Give Ear Unto My Words"

Alma 36-39

Post on the board before class:  "What is the best counsel your father/mother ever gave you, and how has it affected your life?"

Alma had spent nine years teaching the people of Nephi, enjoying throughout that time greater or lesser degrees of success.  At the end of this time, many of the people began to return to their old ways, and he felt very downhearted.

"Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds, and the contentions which were among them; and having been to declare the word, or sent to declare the word, among all the people in every city; and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful." (Alma 35:15)

So what did he do about this situation?  He redoubled his efforts in his own home and with his own family.

"Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness.  And we have an account of his commandments, which he gave unto them according to his own record." (Alma 35:16)

This is a very good example for us of what we can do when the world around us seems almost beyond improvement: Do what we can at home.  The importance and the far-reaching effects of teaching the gospel to our own children and grandchildren in our own homes cannot be overemphasized.


Since I don't have any pictures of Alma with his sons, 
I'm shamelessly substituting pictures of 
my own cute husband and kids.  
(I didn't ask his permission; I'll ask forgiveness instead.)  
This is our oldest son Nick, third son Andrew, and Gary, 
at Cirque of Towers, Wyoming on a Scout "high adventure" trip, 2002.

THE VALUE OF A PARENT'S COUNSEL

 Invite all class members to be thinking about the question on the board, whether they decide to share their answer with the class or not.

Hopefully everyone in class had at least semi-good parents, but there may be some people in every ward who suffered at the hands of abusive parents.  In that case, it is good to remember the words from the movie "God's Army:"  "At least you've always got your Real Father."  We all have the blessing of the counsel of our Real Father through the scriptures and prayer and other means of revelation.  So hopefully, this lesson does not exclude anybody, and we will be able to learn from the good counsel others have received in our ward and in the scriptures so we can pass that along to our children.

Alma knew the value of a parent's teaching.  He himself, in the depths of despair over his sins, remembered his father's words, and they saved him.   (Alma 36:17)  When he really wanted to know what to do, those words came back to him.  And so Alma wanted to give that blessing to his own sons.  He called them all together, but gave each individualized counsel.

There were three sons:  Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton.  Chapters 36 and 37 are to Helaman, chapters 39-42 are to Corianton, and Shiblon at first glance seems overlooked, a real "middle child syndrome" situation, with only one little chapter of his own, chapter 38.  But if we examine these more closely, we can see exactly what Alma was trying to accomplish.  We can see that he was a very wise parent.

COUNSEL TO HELAMAN (CHAPTERS 36-37)

First, to his oldest son, Helaman, Alma gave the great chiastic poem about his conversion, which we have already studied in a previous post(You may want to give handouts of the chiasm to class members who may have been absent that day.)  This must have been carefully worked out and written down as something that would be passed on to future generations because of the complexity of it.

Ask:  What impressed you about the counsel to Helaman?

Alma reminded Helaman to counsel with the Lord, words which every Latter-day Saint should have underlined in his or her scriptures:

"O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.

"Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day."  (Alma 37:35-37)

The rest of the counsel to Helaman involves, for the most part, one subject and that is the scriptures.  Helaman was the new steward over the scriptures, as we see in 37:1.  His father's counsel could have left no doubt in his mind about the importance of preserving the holy words.  In verse 8 we can read, "the [records] have enlarged the memory of this people."  Remembering is so important!  All through his counsel to all three sons, Alma keeps emphasizing, "Remember!  Remember!"  We should study the scriptures in order to remember the goodness of the Lord to his people throughout history, and we should keep our own writings, our own journals, in order to remember his goodness to us in our own lives.  If we record spiritual experiences, our journal can be a real faith-strenthener to us in times of trial.  Without writing them down, we tend to forget, or to trivialize them later.

Helaman, as the new keeper of the records, also was going to be the new prophet.  So the words Alma gave to him were in this context:  for the benefit of the whole church.

COUNSEL TO SHIBLON (CHAPTER 38)

Ask:  What did you like best about the counsel to Shiblon?

Although Shiblon got the smallest chapter of all, his is the most personal and the most complimentary.

"And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God; for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.

"I say unto you, my son, that I have had great joy in thee already, because of thy faithfulness and thy diligence, and thy patience and thy long-suffering among the people of the Zoramites.

For I know that thou wast in bonds; yea, and I also know that thou wast stoned for the word's sake; and thou didst bear all these things with patience because the Lord was with thee; and now thou knowest that the Lord did deliver thee." (Alma 38:2-4)

 Gary with our second son Nate on his priesthood ordination day

Alma's only counsel to Shiblon was to do in the future what he had done in the past:

"And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day."  (Alma 38:5)

Alma then told how he knew this, giving a condensed version of his conversion story to Shiblon, who undoubtedly had heard it many times before.  And then he counseled Shiblon to continue as he had begun (verse 10), and to stay away from pride, passion, idleness, and self-righteousness.  His final word (well, almost the final word) of counsel is a curious one to those who are concerned with "building their child's self-esteem":  "acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times." (verse 14)  Why is this so important?  We'll see when we study Alma's words to his third son, Corianton.

COUNSEL TO CORIANTON (CHAPTERS 39-42)

Ask:  What do you think about the counsel to Corianton?

Corianton's behavior needed changing in the worst way.

First, Alma pointed out what the wrong behavior was (sexual sin; see verses 3-11) and what caused it or led up to it  (not following the example of his older brother/senior companion [verse 1], and boasting in his own strength [verse 2].)  Considering that viewing pornography is a type of sexual sin, and this is serious problem for us today, along with the actual acts of fornication and adultery so common in our society, this chapter is perfectly relevant to us and should be carefully studied.  Disregarding the counsel or example of an older Brother (or of The Brethren) because we think it doesn't apply to us, leads to danger.  "Boasting in our own strength" or thinking that we are immune to the problems pornography or flirtatiousness would present if we engaged in them, leads to becoming ensnared in the grasp of evil.

Next Alma spelled out how the behavior needed to change.  Corianton needed to turn to the Lord with his whole being--no "double life" allowed--and confess his errors.

"And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me:  Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; that ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather [remember the importance of the word rather to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies in lesson 26?]  return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done." (Alma 39:13)

What a difference there was between Alma's treatment of a child's misbehavior and the Old Testament prophet Eli's!  (See Bible Dictionary, p. 663) And what a better result Alma achieved than the misery and destruction that fell upon Eli's family and people!

After clearly spelling out Corianton's errors and their gravity, Alma gave Corianton hope, as he himself had received from the words of his own father:

"And now, my son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ.  Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare the glad tidings of salvation unto his people.

"And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming..."  (Alma 39:15-16) 

Here is where Alma's great insight as a spiritually in tune parent came into play.  He was inspired to understand that Corianton's testimony was weak on the subject of salvation, and that was the root of the problem.  President Boyd K. Packer has said, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.  The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."  (October 1986 General Conference)  Alma re-taught Corianton the doctrines he had not internalized (which we will study next week), counseled him strongly to repent (Alma 42:29-30), and then he gave Corianton a better purpose in life to replace the sinful one.  (Remember the tennis ball in the pickle jar from a previous lesson

"And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people.  And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them.  And may God grant unto you even according to my words.  Amen."  (Alma 42:31)

What a great example for all of us in our roles as adults leading children!  When children make errors, it is because they somehow did not learn something, even if we were teaching it.  So rather than just criticizing, we can teach it again.  And if it doesn't "take," we teach it again.  And if they slip, we teach it again.  And sometimes, as in the case of Corianton, our love for them combines with our teaching and with the influence of the Holy Ghost to touch their hearts and help them to change.

You may want to have someone sing "Teacher, Do you Love Me?" from the Primary Children's Songbook, changing the words to "Father, Do you Love Me?"  If you have access to Brett Raymond's CD "Primarily for Grown-ups" there is a darling version of it on there, sung by him with his four very young daughters.  Apparently it is also available online at Last FM, if you happen to know how to work that.

Savannah and Gary jamming in 1998
(I'm super happy to note that multiple sets of scriptures 
are in clear view--proof we actually read the scriptures as a family,
even if we didn't always put them away.)

CLASS SHARING

Now ask class members the question on the board.  If needed to fill in or start the discussion, you may share... 
  •  President Hinckley's father's advice when he was discouraged on his mission and wanted to come home:  "Forget yourself and go to work."  
  • Also, Elder Eyring's father gave him awesome advice when he was in college pursuing a degree in science.  He told him if he wasn't absolutely fascinated with the subject (specifically if he was not thinking about it when he was in the shower or any other time he had free to think) he was in the wrong field.  Elder Eyring eventually switched to education.  (Read the story here.) 
  • There's also my husband's grandmother Fern LoVean Murphy Jensen's advice, of which she was the perfect example:  "It's true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but nobody says you have to be an old dog."  
  • Or if you'd like a bit of humor, share my dad Clair Wyatt's oft-repeated counsel:  "Eat dessert first; you might not have room later."

CONCLUSION


Maybe Alma's counsel to Shiblon would be good counsel for us as parents teaching our children.

"And now, as ye have begun to teach the word [to your children] even so I would that ye should continue to teach; and I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.

"See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.

"Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love..."  (Alma 38:10-12)

I challenge you to read these verses every day this week, and allow them to guide your family and/or leadership roles.
  
 My dad's hand with a baby grandson's in 2000
My dad has since died of Alzheimer's Disease


(All of the photographs on this page were taken by me, and I hold the copyright, but you may copy them for personal, home, or church use if you so desire.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #28 "The Word Is In Christ Unto Salvation"

Alma 32-35

THE ZORAMITE CRAFT

In order to understand why Alma taught what he did in these chapters, we need to understand the interesting method of worship practiced by the Zoramites.  The had a tower in the church called a Rameumptom, and only one person could climb it at a time.  This was allegedly the only place they could worship.  They said their prayer out loud in front of the congregation, and it was a set prayer.  There apparently was a fee or a status or ssomething to belong to the church, because the poor were excluded.  The Rameumptom itself was a symbol of their entire church society.  What were some of the elements involved in worship via Rameumptom?  Competition, exclusivity, self-elevation, etc.  It was a type of priestcraft.  The method of their so-called worship was just a reflection of their society, not an improvement upon it, as religion should be.

Looking over the prayer uttered upon the Rameumptom (Alma 31:15-18), we learn more.  They believed God was just a spirit, there was no Savior, some (namely themselves) were elected over others, and no faith was necessary.

As Alma was trying to preach the true gospel to these self-centered people, some of the poor came to him and asked how they were supposed to worship without access to the Rameumptom.  Alma could see that they were experiencing great trials which had humbled them.  He said something which must have really struck them as odd:  "I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye." (Alma 32:8)  Why would it be a blessing to be "lowly in heart?"  Well, isn't that the same as saying "poor in spirit?"  This is the first step in the very important process of coming to Christ.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."  (3 Nephi 12:3) (You may want to put up three wordstrips to form the following equation.)

Poor in Spirit    +   Come unto Christ     =    Kingdom of Heaven

They had the first part of the formula!  The greatest missionary in the world cannot convince anyone of the truth if that person lacks this vital component.  Alma said to the poor Zoramites, "It is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues that ye may be humble that ye may learn wisdom."  Neither of these (humility or wisdom) was possible to achieve at the Zoramite church, because it functioned under priestcraft.

ALMA TAUGHT FAITH FIRST

Alma then began to teach them this most important concept that was lacking from what the Zoramites taught:  The need to come to Christ.  But in order to teach them about Christ, he had to teach them that they could believe in something they couldn't see.  In other words, he had to teach them about faith.  He began by first telling them what faith wasn't.  (Alma 32:17-18,21)  So if faith is not absolute knowledge about something, if faith means you don't see the Atonement yourself, how does faith help you know something is true?

Alma taught the people that they could find out truth by experimenting.  The analogy he used was a seed.  But let's be careful to establish what the seed is.  The seed is not faith.  The seed is the word.  And what is the word?  The doctrine of Christ and his Atonement. So here is the experiment:

THE EXPERIMENT, PART ONE

(Alma 32:28-36)

IF...
  1. ye give place (let the desire work in your heart)
  2. it be a true seed
  3. ye do not cast it out
THEN...

     it will swell in you

So, by virtue of empiricism (personal experience), pragmatism (producing the desired result--see verse 31), and revelation (see last week's lesson for an explanation of epistemology, or of ways of knowing things):

THE CONCLUSION IS...

     "It must needs be that this is a good seed."

BECAUSE...
  1. it enlarges the soul
  2. it enlightens understanding
  3. it becomes delicious (or causes you to crave more of it) 
As Alma explained (Alma 32:35-36 beginning with "is your knowledge perfect?"), this experiment does not give you a perfect knowledge of everything, but it establishes just one thing.  All through this section, look for the word "know."  It appears six times, emphasizing the point that you gained a concrete knowledge of one truth.  That truth is:  "The seed is good."  In other words, "The Atonement (the word) is real--Christ is real."  That is the first part of the experiment.

THE EXPERIMENT, PART TWO

(Alma 32:37-43)

Now you have a sprouted seed.  The next part of the experiment is:

IF...
 
      you nourish it with great care

THEN...
  1. it will get root
  2. it will grow up
  3. it will bring forth fruit
If you don't do this, the seed will not grow and produce the fruit, but will wither and die away, not because there is anything wrong with the seed.  That the seed is good has already been established in the first part of the experiment.

 My then 4-year-old son planted this bean seed
in preschool, nourished it, and was not at all surprised--
despite what the rest of us had predicted--
when a blossom and then an actual bean
appeared on it, 
in the screened-in kitchen window sill!

Now, an important question is, What does nourishing consist of?  There are three things involved in nourishing.  They are so important that they are mentioned three times in the next few verses:
  1. Faith (expecting success)
  2. Diligence
  3. Patience 
"And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. (Alma 32:42)

So what is the fruit?  The best commentary on the scriptures is always other scripture. Is there another analogy in the scriptures with these same symbols, a fruit that is sweeter and whiter than any other?  This one is a perfect match with Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life.  (1 Nephi 8:10-11, 11:21-22)

Gospel Principle            Lehi's Vision                Alma's Analogy
WORD                         Rod of Iron                 Seed
LOVE OF GOD            Fruit                           Fruit
EFFORT                       Holding the Rod          Nourishing the Seed
FAILED FAITH            Letting Go                   Barren Soil

So the second part of the experiment establishes that the seed (the Gospel of the Atonement), if nourished in us, will bring us the Love of God, and Eternal Life.

ALMA'S EXPLANATION

(Alma 33)  Alma taught the people of Zoram that the simplest step, the beginning step, in nourishing the seed is prayer.  Prayer requires
  1. Faith
  2. Diligence
  3. Patience
Since these people had only heard the Rameumptom prayer, Alma gave them an example of a personal prayer, offered by the prophet Zenos, from their scriptures.  Zenos prayed about the practicalities of his own life:
     Verse 4--His fears
     Verse 5--His work
     Verse 6--His family
     Verse 7--Himself
     Verse 9--His "ward"
     Verse 10--His enemies

Six times in his prayer Zenos thanked God for being merciful to him.  Nine times he recognized that God heard him.  The Zoramites also taught that God heard them and that God was merciful to them (only them).  But what was different here was the addition of the reason that God was merciful.  It is found in verse 11.  "Because of thy Son!"  In verse 16, another prophet, Zenock also stated that mercy from God comes "because of thy Son."

So it's an interesting circular concept:  Prayer is the most elementary way to nourish the seed or bring the Atonement into effect in our lives.  And, on the other end, the Atonement is what makes prayer effective.  The two are inextricably connected.

Alma told the people just what the Atonement was and what it would do.  "Christ will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works." (Alma 33:22)

And in closing, Alma did what all apostles do at the ends of their talks:  He encouraged the listeners by telling them that they could really do what he just taught them, and that it would be a great blessing to them. " And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith.  And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.  And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son.  And even all this can ye do if ye will.  Amen."  (Alma 33:23)

AMULEK ESTABLISHED ALMA'S WORD

Amulek, the missionary companion, the second witness, stepped in to add his testimony to Alma's, Zenos's, Zenock's and Moses's (Alma 34:7) that the Atonement is real and can save us.  He established Alma's word.

Alma already explained what the Atonement is; now Amulek explained why it is needed.

(Alma 34:9)  He expounded upon Alma's words.  This is what a second witness does.

Then Amulek shared his own testimony about prayer and how personal it should be (verses 17-27).  And one more thing that the Zoramites taught incorrectly:  Prayer by itself is not true religion  What is true religion?  (James 1:27)  Our good works prompted by prayer.

"And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith." (Alma 34:28)

THE ATONEMENT BLESSES US NOW

In verse 31, we find an interesting truth. "Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you." (Alma 34:31)

 Notice the word "immediately."  What does it mean that "immediately" the great plan of salvation will be brought about in us?  Certainly it doesn't mean that as soon as we repent, we will die and be brought before the judgment bar?  And it probably doesn't mean that as soon as we repent, we will have our calling and election made sure and be guaranteed Eternal Life.

Part of the purpose of Christ's Atonement was to make him able to succor his people "according to the flesh." (Alma 7:12) In both the vision of the Tree of Life, and in the Analogy of the Word as a Seed, we are told that we can reach the fruit of the tree in this life.  The fruit is the Love of God manifest through the Atonement.  "And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son."  (Alma 33:23)  The Atonement, then, is not just for Judgment Day, but for every day.  As Zenos said in his prayer, the mercies of God help him, through the Atonement, in every aspect of his life.

The Atonement also has the power to change us, bit by bit, day by day, to become the Children of Christ. 
(One of my awesome readers "The Brown Family" posted the following bit in the comments.  For convenience, I have cut and pasted the information here.  Thanks, Browns!!!)  "The Chinese characters for repentance are hui gai 悔改. The first character, hui means 'regret, repent or feel sorrow for.' The second character, gai means 'to change, alter or transform.' The first character, hui is made up of two simpler characters: xin and mei 心 and 每. Xin is 'heart' and mei is 'every,' commonly used in 'every day'. So the meaning of the characters for repentance can be: 'with your heart, every day, change.'"

We need all the time we can get for this process; we shouldn't wait to repent.  (Alma 34:34-35)  This is what we call "working out your salvation (verse 37):  It requires effort on your part.  There is an effort in holding to the iron rod through mists of darkness and taunting of others.  There is an effort in nourishing a plant from a seed to a full-grown tree.  (Alma 34:38-39)

(If you have access to it, now might be a great time to read aloud to the class Ruth Krauss's darling short children's story, The Carrot Seed, or show this video of it being read on YouTube.)