Sunday, September 30, 2012

Much Overdue Thanks

I just realized that I have overlooked thanking the many of you who prayed for my soldier son, Hyrum, and put his name in your temples while he was serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.  Although he was posted in the most-attacked base in Afghanistan (on the border of Pakistan) he has arrived back in Germany safe and sound, and will be back in the states by Christmas, and then will receive a medical release.


Here he is back in Germany with his cute little wife
and his ever-present cane.

Book of Mormon Lesson #39 "Behold, My Joy is Full"

3 Nephi 17-19

THE FIRST MEETING


In the previous lesson, we discussed all that transpired between Jesus Christ and the people in America on the first day of His appearance to them:
  • Allowing a personal witness for each individual of His Atonement
  • Giving authority and instruction for baptisms
  • Teaching them His doctrine (the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel)
  • The "Sermon on the Mount" but here given at the temple, an expansion on the basics of the gospel and their application in daily life
  • The template for prayer in "The Lord's Prayer"
  • Announcement of the fulfillment of the Law of Moses
  • Reminder of the Abrahamic Covenant, and allusions to the large numbers of groups throughout the world who are included in this, many of which are not known by the others
"Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.  I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.  Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may undersatnd, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.  But now I go unto the Father; and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them."  (3 Nephi 17:1-4)

That was the end of His agenda for Day One.  BUT...

"It came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them."  (3 Nephi 17:5)

And all the rest of the wonderful story about Christ's first day with the Nephites took place because 1) they (nonverbally) asked for more, and 2) He did not stick with His agenda, but acted in pure love according to their needs.  This is the single best example ever of a meeting that was lead by the Spirit.  (Okay, that was a redundant sentence, but I meant to be redundant, because it really was the SINGLE, BEST, EVER example of a meeting led by the Spirit.)

THE TARRYING

Two great concepts were taught through this "tarrying" as noted in the paragraph above:

  1. No matter how great the experience, spiritually hungering for more may lead to greater gifts.  Would Christ have given the Nephites all the wonderful gifts we are about to describe if they had not begged for more?  Undoubtedly, He would have still instituted the sacrament the next day, but some of the other incredible spiritual outpourings would probably not have happened without a great spiritual craving on the part of the Nephites.  Remember the great Beatitude that He taught them earlier that very day?  "Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost."  (3 Nephi 12:6)
  2. Making plans is important, but being flexible with those plans is sometimes necessary in order to create the best experience possible and to serve in the best way possible.

Many great blessings were bestowed upon the Nephites during this tarrying.

(You may want to have your class search through the next two chapters to find all the great gifts that were given because the Nephites hungered for more.  Here are the ones I see.)
  1. The blessing of the sick, lame, blind, halt, maimed, leprous, withered, deaf, or afflicted in any other way--every single one!  (3 Nephi 17:6-10)
  2. The blessing of every one of the children.  (3 Nephi 17:11-13; 21-22)
  3. The unutterable prayer Christ prayed (3 Nephi 17:14-17)
  4. Incredible joy for both the people and for Christ (3 Nephi 17:17-20)
  5. The ministering of angels to the children and the powerful manifestation of the Holy Ghost by fire around them (3 Nephi 17:23-24)
  6. The institution of the sacrament with additional instructions (3 Nephi 18) (please see postscript at the very end of this post)
  7. The bestowal of the power to the confer the Holy Ghost on the apostles (3 Nephi 18:36-37)
  8. The overshadowing of the apostles and Christ in a cloud, perhaps like the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration in the Bible. (3 Nephi 18:38)


MINISTERING TO CHILDREN

After this visit from Christ, this civilization in America stayed righteous for 200 years!  This is the only time we can find recorded in the history of the world such a long period of righteousness.  Christ also visited the Jews in Jerusalem and His visit there certainly did not have this effect.  Both groups heard the Sermon on the Mount, both groups witnessed healing, praying, the institution of the sacrament, the ordaining of apostles, the bestowal of the Priesthood, the receipt of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  Besides differences in personal righteousness which we would have no way of perceiving, the greatest difference between the two groups was the level of ministering, blessing, and teaching that was done among children.


Anyone who thinks a call to teach Primary is insignificant does not have the same perspective that Christ does.

In Jerusalem, children were brought to Christ to be blessed.  "Then there were brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray and the disciples rebuked [those who had brought them] saying, There is no need, for Jesus hath said, Such shall be saved.  But Jesus said [Allow] little children and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 19:13-14, including JST and Hebrew footnotes)   

In Christ's opinion, little children should be ministered to, even though they are indeed holy and saved.  Why?  Childhood is the most effective time to teach the gospel.  Sister Michaelene P. Grassli, former Primary General President, said, "Let us not underestimate the capacity and potential power of today's children to perpetuate righteousness.  No group of people in the Church is as receptive to the truth, both in efficiency of learning and with the greatest degree of retention."  (October 1992 General Conference)






Here are important concepts about teaching and ministering to children that were noted by Sister Grassli from the experience in 3 Nephi 17:
  • First, Christ commanded that the children be brought.  It was not a suggestion. (verse 11)
  • Second, Jesus waited until they had all been brought.  He was not content with a representative sample.  (verse 12)
  • Third, with the children all gathered around him, Jesus prayed so powerfully that "no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things."  At this time, the children were not with a babysitter or kept in another area--they were on the "front row."  They experienced this spiritual event and they were effected by it. (verse 13-17)
  • Fourth, he blessed the little children one by one, not just as a group.  There were 2,500 people in this congregation: imagine how much time it must have taken to bless every child.  But maybe time bends for important events. (verse 21)
  • After personally blessing each one, he instructed their parents to Behold their little ones.  The word behold in the Book of Mormon means much more than just "look at."  Behold implied a very important concept, something really worth studying.  If they could behold the children as Christ did, they could see their eternal possibilities.  It could really change their perspective as parents and teachers. (verse 23)
  • Then they were really given something to behold.  Christ and the angels ministered to the children, and they were surrounded by fire.  Maybe the adults wouldn't have seen the angels and the fire had they not prepared themselves spiritual when Christ said, "Behold." (verse 24)
  • Later in Christ's visit, He taught the children greater things than He had taught their parents, and then He gave them the verbal capacity to teach these concepts to the adults.  (3 Nephi 26:14)



Christ said we should become as little children in order to enter heaven, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the story of His ministry among the Nephite children, when they were literally in a circle of heavenly fire on earth.  As we watch the Church's video depiction of this event, note how the children look steadfastly at Christ as they come to him, never looking back, neither to the right or the left.  If we do this, then we too can, at the end of everything, enter the circle of fire that is Christ's heavenly kingdom, and our joy can also be full.

Show your class the video "My Joy is Full".
 

All of the photographs in this blog entry come from lds.org 
and are free to download, print and use in class.

Postscript on the Sacrament:  Just in case it has ever worried you whether you should stop someone from "partaking of the sacrament unworthily" (see 3 Nephi 18:28-29), please put your mind at ease by noting that it is clearly stated in verse 26 that Jesus was no longer speaking to the general congregation at this point, but to the leadership only.  All of the instruction about what to do with members who have sinned and not yet repented is clearly outlined there, for the instruction of the congregational leadership.  If you're not the bishop, it's not your worry.
And as far as nonmembers partaking of the sacrament, the Church Handbook states that it is fine for them to partake or not to, whatever they choose, just as it is fine for little children who are not yet baptized to partake of the sacrament.  (So sorry I don't have the exact reference, because at present I am not in possession of a Handbook, but just look in the index under "sacrament, nonmembers."  As soon as I get it, I'll post the exact quote in here.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #38 addition

3 Nephi 16

When my oldest son was in elementary school, he really enjoyed reading a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure.





He loved these books because he would read a page, and then he had a choice to make about what the protagonist would do.  If he chose one action, he was to turn to a certain page, but if he chose another action, he was to turn to a different page.  Then he continued reading, and again had a choice to make.  As the cover shows, there were 42 different endings to the book, and the reader's choices selected which one he got.  He could read the book again, and come up with a different adventure and a different ending.

3 Nephi 16 is a little bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

The adventure actually begins in 3 Nephi 15:14, with Christ telling the Nephites that the people in Jerusalem did not know about them, and they did not know that He would visit them.  He had given them a hint, that "other sheep [He] had which are not of this fold; them also [He] must bring, and they shall hear [His] voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (verse 16-17) but they didn't ask Him anything more about it.  He would have revealed this to them if they had asked (3 Nephi 16:4), but they assumed they knew the answer--that it was the Gentiles He was talking about, despite the fact that He had told them He wouldn't go to the Gentiles right away.

How different would the adventure have been if they had asked?  And what hints is Christ giving to us about which we don't ask?  We must invest something in order to receive revelation; we must at least invest curiosity and desire and a question.

Christ commanded the people of Nephi to write of this encounter with Him so that it would go to the Gentiles after the apostacy of the House of Israel, "that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of [the House of Israel]...may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer." (3 Nephi 16:4)  


So here is where the Gentiles "Choose Their Own Adventure":


What does the "fulness of the Gentiles" mean?  Elder Bruce R. McConkie said it means the time when they have had "a full opportunity to accept the truth."  (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 2:290)  I think also that the word fulness in the Book of Mormon often refers to being full of the Holy Ghost, so that through the conversion of the Gentiles, and through their acting upon the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and their testifying through the power of the Holy Ghost, the gospel would be brought back to the House of Israel.
 
Those Gentiles who take the opportunity to choose the gospel, which will be restored in America and initially available there, will blessed "because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.  Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles..." (3 Nephi 16:7)

The other choice of adventure?

The Gentiles who don't believe will come to America along with the others, but they will scatter the Native Americans of the House of Israel, and cast them out, and tread them under their feet, and they will be the ones who hate and despise them and cause them so much grief and sorrow--which is a suffering that the Lord allows to come upon the first Americans because of their rejection of the gospel as Lamanites.  But this kind of warfare is not what believing Gentiles would do.  This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to displace, torture, and even practice genocide upon another race.  It is well-documented that President Joseph Smith sent missionaries to the Native Americans, and that President Brigham Young openly taught the Mormon pioneers to respect and treat kindly the Native Americans.  I believe that the tragic scattering and mistreatment of these people was part of the "sinnings against [His] gospel," practiced by the unbelieving Gentiles, condemned in 3 Nephi 16:10. 



And here comes the next choice of adventure:

Those Gentiles who sin against the gospel, reject it, consider themselves better than other nations or peoples (including the American Indians), participate in sexual misconduct, murder, organized crime, churches that prey upon people for money, etc., will lose the opportunity for the gospel and God will turn again to the House of Israel and bring His gospel unto them.  (3 Nephi 16:10-11).

And the next choice for the American branch of the House of Israel:

If the descendants of the Lamanites choose the gospel, the Gentiles will  no longer have power to oppress them.  (3 Nephi 16:12)

And the next choice for the Gentiles:

Even if they were in the "unbelieving" group, if they will now "repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel" and they will not suffer a reciprocal fate of being trodden down themselves  (3 Nephi 16:13-14), BUT...

Next choice:

If they don't choose the gospel, they'll be beaten down and become worthless, like salt that has lost its savor.  Salt has one purpose and if it becomes corrupted and loses its ability to flavor food, it's useless.  If these people lose their special stature as believers in Jesus Christ, with the purpose to bring His gospel to the world, they will have no good purpose at all.

And the best choice of adventure:

If both peoples choose the Lord, the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled:  "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing, for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion."  (3 Nephi 16:18)  There won't be House of Israel vs. Gentiles, or Native Americans vs. Pioneers, or any other peoples vs. any other peoples anymore--they will all be one in the gospel of Jesus Christ and never again will there be a trail of tears.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #38 "Old Things Are Done Away, and All Things Have Become New"

3 Nephi 12-15

(Note:  3 Nephi 16 is treated separately in the next blog entry.)

After explaining his basic doctrine to the Nephites after the destruction in the New World (chapter 11), Jesus Christ elaborated on what that doctrine meant in more specific and relevant terms, culminating in the announcement that the Law of Moses was now complete, and the people were to live the simple law of the gospel.

THE AUDIENCE

When we read these chapters of 3 Nephi, it is very instructive to take note of and mark who the audience is in each instance, especially since it is very specifically noted by the author.  I like to draw a box around the audience.  For example, in 3 Nephi 11 we read that the whole multitude fell to the earth to worship Christ, and that he invited them all to come forth and touch him and witness of his sacrifice.  Then in verse 18, he instructed Nephi to come forward and receive the authority to baptize, and in verse 22, others received this same power and the instruction in how to do it, and the doctrine of Christ was explained to these, clearly now in leadership positions.  Interesting!  He didn't teach this doctrine to everyone.

In 3 Nephi 12:1, when Christ was through speaking to Nephi and the 12 apostles, they are now called, "He stretched forth his hand unto the multitude and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you and to be your servants..."  This was how the doctrine of Christ was going to be taught to everyone--just as it is today--by the leadership who received it from Christ.

And in another way, still used today:  member missionary work, as He spoke to the multitude"And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.  Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall received a remission of their sins."  (3 Nephi 12:2)

(Why did he give Nephi authority to baptize when he obviously had already been baptizing?  Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, "We read that the Savior commanded Nephi and the people to be baptized again, because he had organized anew the Church under the gospel.  Before that it had been organized under the law [of Moses]."  [Doctrines of Salvation 2:336]) 

BEATITUDES

For discussion on the beatitudes, go to the New Testament Lesson.  There are a few notable changes to the beatitudes in 3 Nephi versus Matthew.  In verse 3:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me..."  In verse 6"Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.In verse 10:  "And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name's sake..."  And verse 12:  "For ye shall have great joy..." And in each verse, the word all is added, perhaps not as a change from the New Testament message, but just as an emphasis.

HOW TO COME UNTO CHRIST

While explaining His doctrine briefly to the apostles, Jesus said to them twice that they must repent and become as a little child and be baptized in order to receive the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 11:37) and ultimately to inherit the kingdom of God (3 Nephi 11:38).

In the first beatitude, he stated, "Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (3 Nephi 12:3)

What exactly does it mean to become as a little child, and to come unto Christ?  Is it just a declaration of belief?  Is it just a feeling of humility?  The best commentary on scripture is always other scripture.  As we read on, we can find another phrase that clarifies that meaning:  "Therefore come unto me and be ye saved: for verily I say unto you that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.(3 Nephi 12:20)  To "come unto Christ" is not just an ethereal, vague thinking of Christ or a respect and awe of Him, it is a concrete following of him; it is both a state of being and of doing.

THE LAW OF MOSES vs. THE LAW OF THE GOSPEL
   OR
DOING vs. DOING AND BECOMING

In the rest of Chapter 12, Jesus itemized several rules found in the Law of Moses (or more specifically the rules, traditions, and ethics codes of the rabbis originally based upon the Old Testament Law of Moses), and how they should be elevated in his not new, but newly reinstated Law of the Gospel.  For example, the ten commandments stated "thou shalt not kill," but that is simply a state of doing.  It's clear how to keep from killing someone.  But Jesus said, "whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of [God's] judgment, and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca [which is pronounced ray-cah, and means "empty," according to Andrew Skinner, on KBYU's scripture study TV program] shall be in danger of the council, and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."  (3 Nephi 21-22)  All three of those are basically the same thing: to belittle another with anger while putting ourselves above them (which is pretty much what we are always doing when we are angry, when you think about it) will condemn us.  To keep from being angry is not just a state of doing, it is a state of doing and being:  of keeping ourselves equal to our brother in our own eyes, and therefore treating him with patience and encouragement, even when he does something dumb.

Throughout the next paragraphs, Christ names other ways in which He expects his disciples to not just follow outward rules and regulations and "ethics," but ways in which He expects them to be and do what he asks, which is in every instance a way of keeping themselves humble, childlike, and one with their fellow men:
  • apologizing (verses 23-24)
  • not creating enmity with others, even if we're sure we're "right" (verses 25-26)
  • respecting and honoring the physical bodies and emotional states of ourselves and others by abhoring not only sexual sin, but pornographic thoughts (verses 27-30)
  • doing the best for a spouse despite monumental marital problems (verses 31-32), for if a wife were divorced in the Hebrew culture, she was no longer supported by her husband and had very little option for supporting herself except for prostitution which, of course, "causeth her to commit adultery."
  • speaking the truth all the time, not just when you are sworn to do so (verses 33-37)
  • not worrying about whether you receive recompense for the offense of another against you, but instead seeking peace with him at your personal expense (which ironically brings inner peace to you) (verses 38-41)
  • being generous to others without judgment (verse 42)
  • and, in summary of all of the above:  seeking the best welfare and spiritual growth (another way of saying "love") of everyone, regardless of their position towards you.
In summary, if you live this Law of the Gospel,  "ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" [a poetic way of saying he loves and blesses both of them] (verse 45).  By doing and being as Christ commanded, we become as He and our Father in Heaven are:  We become Unconditional Love, which is the way to peace and the way to the kingdom of God.

"Therefore, those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.  Old things are done away, and all things have become new.  Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect."  (verses 46-48).  Here is another important change:  In the New Testament Christ did not include himself in the sentence about who was perfect.  But now that he was glorified, he did.  No one, not even Christ himself, can be perfected in mortal life.

BUT WAIT--THERE'S MORE!

Chapter 13 continues examples of the importance of being while doing:
  • Giving alms in secret which creates a change in ourselves, not in our appearance. (verse 1-4)
  • Praying privately and sincerely creates a change in ourselves, not in our fellow man's esteem. (verse 5-8)  The Lord's Prayer creates a template for us to follow ("after this manner therefore pray ye"), so we know what an appropriate prayer is, which is not like other insincere prayers found in the Book of Mormon (verses 9-13) (Think: Rameumptom).
  • Forgiving others allows us to be free of their offense and  forgiven of ours, two of the greatest changes needed in our state of being. (verse 14-15)
  • Fasting discreetly creates a change within us; we don't need anyone to see a change on the outside.  (verse 16-18)
  • Collecting material, social, and political treasures does us little good, but living the Gospel and creating changes in our being lays up heavenly treasures, for our being is the only thing we will take with us to heaven, the only heavenly treasure we have. (verse 19-21)
  • Keeping an eternal vision ("the light in our eye") keeps our being and our doing on the same path. (verse 22-23)
  • Serving God changes our being.  Serving Mammon, or material wealth, confuses our development. (verse 24)
A CHANGE OF AUDIENCE

"And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them:" 
  • It's vital that you remember what I just taught you because it is your responsibility to make sure it is taught and shown to everyone else.  This is your main purpose.  Therefore, "take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on."  The Lord takes care of the creatures and the plants without their having to plan anything themselves, and he will do so for you.  Don't plan excessively.  Don't worry.  Just seek to build up the kingdom and eveything will fall in place for you.
Notice:  He did not give this counsel to the multitude.  This was for the full-time general authorities.  The rest of us are supposed to practice provident living, store food, plan for our future, and not expect God to work everything out for us.

NOW BACK TO THE MULTITUDE WITH MORE DOINGS AND BEINGS...
  •  Don't judge others, because you'll feel judgment by them (either real or imagined) as well as by yourself (comparing yourself to them), and someone always loses. Judging creates a state of being that is detrimental to both sides, creating enmity between you and preventing you from noticing and repairing your own faults in an appropriate way, and preventing you from wanting to help lift them. (Chapter 14, verses 1-5)
  • Be enlightened by your deep spiritual experiences but don't storytell to others who will not understand them; it will be to the detriment of both of you.  (verse 6)
  • Treat others as your equals (verse 12).  Put their interests as high as your own.  This comes not only the Law of Moses, but also from the "prophets" or revelations.
Then, some extremely important counsel:  "Ask!" (verses 7-11)  So often we forget to ask the Lord our questions, and He generally does not just drop revelation upon us.  I'm quite certain that Joseph Smith said that he never received a revelation that was not the answer to a question.  I can't find the quote (if I do, I'll fill it in, or maybe someone can stick it in the comments) but it's borne out quite obviously in the Doctrine and Covenants revelations. 

And one more bit of vital counsel:  How to recognize trustworthy leaders who are servants of the Lord.  (By their fruits.)  (verse 15-20)

NOT EVERYONE THAT SAYETH TO ME LORD, LORD

And so to summarize this whole concept of the importance of becoming and not just doing, Christ said, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in they name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?  (verses 21-22)  Isn't it interesting that this condemnation immediately follows Christ's pronouncement that "by their fruits ye shall know" whether someone is a disciple of Christ?

Well, fruits are apparently not just doing, but being, because "then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (verse 23)  What???  They just barely said that they did all these great things in Christ's name?  What did they do wrong?  It was not what they did, it was what they were.  Christ never knew them.  In Hebrew, to know is to become as one, particularly as in a marital union.  If Christ never knew them, it is because they never became united with Him and his purpose.  What they did was only for show: for doing alone, and not for becoming.

BUILDING ON THE ROCK


It is a very sandy foundation to be based on outward appearances and observances.  Many a Latter-day Saint has lived a dual life:  acting pious, while being base.  Living a double life never works.  Only integrity of purpose with God will create a person who can never be destroyed, no matter what rains descend upon, no matter what floods crash down upon him, and what whirlwinds pull at him to tear him to pieces.  The person who follows Christ in both what he does and what he becomes inside, is the person who will inherit the peace of Christ both in this world, and in the world to come.

My niece Natalie Hanson and her young family 
outside the Oakland Temple. 
She holds the copyright but you may use it for teaching.

(See the next post for a discussion on 3 Nephi 16 as an addition to this lesson.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #37 "Whosoever Will Come, Him Will I Receive"

3 Nephi 8-11

NATURAL DISASTERS

In chapter 8 of 3 Nephi we find what is probably the most detailed account of an event that is recorded anywhere in the Book of Mormon: the destruction in the New World at the death of Christ.  A precise account was obviously very important since it is prefaced by this guarantee:

"And now it came to pass that according to our record, and we know our record to be true, for behold, it was a just man who did keep the record--for he truly did many miracles in the name of Jesus; and there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity--And now it came to pass, if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time, the thirty and third year had passed away..."  (3 Nephi 8:1-2)

The Christians were expecting the prophecies of Samuel to be fulfilled any time.  In the first month of the 34th year on the fourth day, "there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land." (3 Nephi 8:5)  This storm contained just about every kind of natural disaster known to man: thunderstorms, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods, fire, mudslides.  The storm only lasted for three hours, but it did massive destruction, completely changing the face of the land.

(The Chaiten Volcano eruption in Chile.  
Photo by Evan Ackerman, who writes, "The plume of ash is thought to generate enough static electricity to cause what is called a 'dirty thunderstorm' in the same way that colliding ice particles provide the juice for regular thunderstorms.")

When it was over, a thick darkness covered the land.  Perhaps it was caused by volcanic ash, or smoke, or dust, or all of them together, but it was so thick that it prevented any type of light to shine, even with "exceedingly dry wood."  This darkness lasted for three days.  It brought the people to their knees in remorse because they knew it was the judgment of God (3 Nephi 8:24-25).

Finally, they heard a voice, the voice of God, saying "I told you so:" declaring that it was indeed his wrath that had caused the fearsome events, just as Samuel the Lamanite had prophecied.  He itemized the disasters (3 Nephi 9:3-12) and then he said, "O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (3 Nephi 9:13)  God selected individuals to be spared amid great earthly upheaval.

Living in a day when natural disasters have been prophesied concerning the second coming of Christ, it is important for us to know how these individual people qualified to be saved.  Chapter 10 verse 12 gives us the simple answer:  "And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who 1) received the prophets and 2) stoned them not; and it was they who 3) had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared--And they were spared and were not sunk and buried up in the earth; and they were not drowned in the depths of the sea; and they were not burned by fire, neither were they fallen upon and crushed to death; and they were not carried away in the whirlwind; neither were they overpowered by the vapor of smoke and of darkness." 

The bottom line is pretty simple:  We'd better listen to and obey the General Conference addresses!


The only "natural disaster" to fear is the disaster of remaining a "natural man," because  "...the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  (1 Cor. 2:14)  "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.  (Mosiah 3:19)

JESUS CHRIST'S CALL

Once He had their attention, Jesus Christ issued a call to the survivors:  "Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life.  Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me." (3 Nephi 9:14)  He identified himself as Jesus Christ, by whom "redemption cometh, and in [whom] is the law of Moses fulfilled...the light and the life of the world...Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." (3 Nephi 9:15-18).

(Picture from LDS.org)

Having given this introduction, what do you suppose was the first thing that Jesus Christ said to these people, while it was still dark, while there was still nothing that could possibly distract them from His message?  The same thing the missionaries tell people today; the same thing the prophets preach to us today; the same thing that is found in every Church manual for every age group; the same thing that every Primary child memorizes: simply, the doctrine of Christ, found in the Fourth Article of Faith. Faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The people at this point, had faith in Jesus Christ, because they had "received the prophets," and because it was pretty hard not to believe in Jesus Christ considering the present circumstances.  Jesus Christ offered them forgiveness on condition of repentance (3 Nephi 9:13).  Then he promised them the Gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 9:20).  And as soon as He actually appeared to them and ministered among them, and allowed them to witness his wounds and praise His name (3 Nephi 11:13-17), He gave Nephi authorization to baptize (3 Nephi 11:18-21).  Of course, Nephi already had the power to baptize (3 Nephi 1:23), but now everyone knew that he was the man to go to.  And they knew the exact manner in which baptisms should be performed, which had apparently been in dispute (3 Nephi 11:23-30).

Once Christ appeared to the people and they were able to touch him and witness his scars, he repeated his message.  "Behold, very, very, I say unto you [remember, this is the important attention phrase in the Book of Mormon], I will declare unto you my doctrine.  And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me...and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.  And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God...and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost." (3 Nephi 11:31-35)

And to be sure they got the message, he stated it once more:  "And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things."  (3 Nephi 11:37).  What things?  The witness of the Father given through the Gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 11:35-36).

And in case they didn't get it that time, he stated it once more in almost identical phrasing but with a different ending.   "And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God."  (3 Nephi 11:38). 

Jesus impressed upon the people the importance of living his doctrine:   "Verily, verily, I say unto you,"  [there is that important attention phrase again!] "that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them."  (3 Nephi 11:39)

The message has not changed for us today.

"Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God.  Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved." (3 Nephi 9:22)

(Picture from LDS.org)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #36 "On the Morrow Come I into the World"

3 Nephi 1-7

A QUICK OVERVIEW

It's always easy to get an outline of what's going on in the Book of Mormon by reading the chapter headings and dates.

3 Nephi 1:  Nephi the son of Helaman departs out of the land, and his son Nephi keeps the records--Though signs and wonders abound, the wicked plan to slay the righteous--The night of Christ's birth arrives--The sign is given and a new star arises--Lyings and deceivings increase, and the Gadianton robbers slaughter many.  (A.D. 1)

3 Nephi 2: Wickedness and abominations increase among the people--The Nephites and Lamanites unite to defend themselves against the Gadianton robbers--Converted Lamanites become white and are called Nephites. (A.D. 3-9)

3 Nephi 3:  Giddianhi, the Gadianton leader, demands that Lachoneus and the Nephites surrender themselves and their lands--Lachoneus appoints Gidgiddoni as chief captain of the armies--The Nephites assemble in Zarahemla and Bountiful to defend themselves.  (A.D. 16)

3 Nephi 4: The Nephite armies defeat the Gadianton robbers--Giddianhi is slain, and his successor, Zemnarihah, is hanged--The Nephites praise the Lord for their victories.  (A.D 18-19)

3 Nephi 5: The Nephites repent and forsake their sins--Mormon writes the history of his people and declares the everlasting word to them--Israel shall be gathered in from her long dispersion.  (A.D. 21-26)

3 Nephi 6:  The Nephites prosper--Pride, wealth, and class distinctions arise--The Church is rent with dissensions--Satan leads the people in open rebellion--Many prophets cry repentance and are slain--Their murderers conspire to take over the government.  (A.D. 26)

3 Nephi 7:  The chief judge is murdered, the government is overthrown, and the people divide into tribes--Jacob, an antichrist, becomes king of a league of tribes--Nephi preaches repentance and faith in Christ--Angels minister to him daily, and he raises his brother from the dead--Many repent and are baptized.  (A.D. 29-30)

If the Book of Mormon is written for our day, this is a particularly frightening section.  Major changes to the entire civilization took place in a span of just 30 years, only 100 years since Mosiah had been king, even though that 100 years covers most of the Book of Mormon.  But that is much like the political unrest faced by many countries in which the Saints live today.  Organized crime exists in most countries. Governments experience coups and change overnight.  People vacillate between their best, righteous selves, and their lazy, prideful selves from year to year.  Yet the missionaries and the prophets carry on, and "many repent and are baptized." 

GIDDIANHI AS A SYMBOL OF SATAN

We can view Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers, as a type of Satan, and Lachoneus as a type of prophet of God.

Giddianhi sent a bold epistle to Lachoneus.

First he flattered Lachoneus:  "Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land, behold, I write this epistle unto you, and do give unto you exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people, in maintain that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty; yea, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty, and your property, and your country, or that which ye do call so."  (3 Nephi 3:2)

Then he belittled Lachoneus:  "And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachonues, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word--Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them."  (3 Nephi 3:3)

Next, he tried to frighten Lachoneus:  "And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore, if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction."  (3 Nephi 3:4)

Then he sympathized with Lachoneus:  "Therefore I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, feeling for your welfare, because of your firmness in that which ye believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle."  (3 Nephi 3:5)

And he tried to get Lachoneus to join him:  "Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.  Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us--not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.  And behold, I swear unto you, if you will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed..."  (3 Nephi 3:6-8)

And lastly, he threatened Lachoneus:  "...but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct."  (3 Nephi 3:8)

And then he lied about himself and his motives:  "And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton [which was true]; which society and the works thereof I know to be good [which was false]; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us."  (3 Nephi 3:9)  And then he added the usual Book of Mormon complaint/lie, that the Nephites had taken away the rights of the government from the--wait, this time it's not the Lamanites, it's the Gadiantons.  (Can't they come up with their own grievance?  Do they have to borrow that tired old one from the Lamanites?)

Isn't this what Satan does today?  He boldly flatters us, then belittles us by saying we are too smart to believe in our religion, then he tries to frighten us from acting against him, he sympathizes with us, and offers to help us if we abandon our righteous cause, he threatens us with evil consequences if we stick with our religious practices (which threats--stay tuned--he cannot carry out), and always he lies about himself, saying his cause is better than ours.

LACHONEUS AS A TYPE OF PROPHET

Lachoneus' reaction to this threat is an excellent example which we can use in our daily lives, and in our countries.  (You can ask your class to share corresponding examples from our latter-day prophets.)

First, he did not take counsel from his fears:  "Now behold, this Lachoneus, the governor, was a just man, and could not be frightened by the demands and the threatenings of a robber; therefore he did not hearken to the epistle of Giddianhi, the governor of the robbers..."  (3 Nephi 3:12)  Keep in mind that the word "hearken" means "to listen and obey."  He certainly did listen to the epistle and pay great attention to it, as we will see.

Second, he appealed immediately to the Lord:  "...but he did cause that his people should cry unto the Lord for strength against the time that the robbers should come down against them."  (3 Nephi 3:12)

Third and fourth, he counseled his people to gather together for strength, and to store a large supply of food:  "Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place." (3 Nephi 3:13)  It lasted seven years! (3 Nephi 4:4) Either they were extremely well-prepared and self-sufficient in order to live seven years without fresh crops, or the Lord miraculously expanded their food supply to meet the need. (My guess is, it was both!)

Fifth, he commanded his people to shelter and protect their families: "He caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great."  (3 Nephi 3:14)

Sixth, he sent out a watch: "And he caused that armies, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites, or of all them who were numbered among the Nephites, should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night." (3 Nephi 3:14)

Seventh, he prophecied to the people, calling them to repentance:  "Yea, he said unto them: As the Lord liveth, except ye repent of all your iniquities, and cry unto the Lord, ye will in nowise be delivered out of the hands of those Gadianton robbers."  (3 Nephi 3:15)



THE LORD'S PROMISES VS. THE DEVIL'S PROMISES

It is essential to remember that the Lord keeps His promises made through His prophets and Satan does not, even promises made to his own followers.  This is always cause for hope, trust and serenity among the faithful saints.

Had Lachoneus been immobilized by fear, if he had believed the threats of the "devil" more than the promises of the Lord, he would have thought there was no hope and no chance of preparing and defending his people, because--remember?--Giddianhi said, "I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you..."  (3 Nephi 3:8)  One month is not enough time to do anything!  It's a hopeless situation!

But Giddianhi did not have the power to carry out his threat.  He made it in the sixteenth year (3 Nephi 3:1), but wasn't actually prepared to come to battle until the eighteenth year (3 Nephi 4:1). When he did finally come, his robbers couldn't get enough to eat; they had been counting on plundering, and all the plunder was now guarded (3 Nephi 4:3).  Also, they had planned to pick off the Nephites here and there from their farms, not meet an entire battalion at a fort.  They couldn't do anything to produce their own food, or they would be spread out and vulnerable like the Nephites had been.  Finally, halfway through the nineteenth year (3 1/2 years after the epistle was sent), they were so hungry, they decided to risk a battle.  They tried to make themselves look scarier than they were, and they thought they had succeeded when they saw the Nephites fall to the earth.  But, unfortunately for them, the Nephites had not fallen to beg their mercy, but to call upon the Lord for help, and "in the strength of the Lord they did receive them."  (3 Nephi 4:10)

It was the deadliest battle since the family of Lehi had come into the New World (3 Nephi 4:11), but the Nephites won.  Giddianhi was killed.

The war continued under new Gadianton leadership, but with the same problems for the Gadiantons.  Finally, after two years of trying to wait out the Nephites' food supply, the Gadiantons had to give it up.  They were literally starving, and had to go north to find food.  The Nephites, aware of their movements, surrounded them in the night, and took thousands of hungry prisoners, while killing those who would not submit.  Prisoners who entered a covenant of peace were freed and prisoners who insisted on remaining enemies were put to death (3 Nephi 5:4-5).  "And thus they did put an end to all those wicked, and secret, and abominable combinations, in the which there was so much wickedness and so many murders committed."  (3 Nephi 5:6)

PLACING TRUST IN THE LORD AND OBEYING HIS PROPHETS PROTECTS US AND BUILDS TESTIMONY

The righteous victors praised the Lord for their success.  "Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God.  And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God.  And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.  And now behold, there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets who had spoken; for they knew that it must needs be that they must be fulfilled."  (3 Nephi 4:32-5:1)

This is the state in which we will find ourselves if we follow the example of the people of Lachoneus.

Then the question will be, will we stay there, or will we tumble headlong back into the pride cycle?