Friday, October 19, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #42 "This is my Gospel"

3 Nephi 27-30, 4 Nephi

INTRODUCTION

(Write on the board:  "I know the Church is true," and "I know the gospel is true.")

We commonly say "I know the Church is true" and "I know the gospel is true" when we bear our testimonies.  What do we really mean?  Are they the same thing?  What is the relationship between them if they are not the same?  Once I heard a fairly knowledgeable speaker say that in his mind it was impossible to differentiate between them.  Because he was smart and well-known, I thought he was right, but now I disagree.

THE CHURCH SET UP BY CHRIST

"And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.  And many of them saw heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.  And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.  And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.  And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ."  (3 Nephi 26:17-21)

Webster's definition of "church":  A building for Christian worship, or a body of people in Christian worship.  The word "church" is from the Greek kriakon or house of the Lord, which is from kyrios or lord.  
In this instance Christ is referring to the body of people. 
Names are very important to the Lord.  Even though the word "church" itself undoubtedly referred to worship even in their language, still the church needed a name.

"And how be it my church save it be called in my name?  For if a church be called in Moses' name, then it be Moses' church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. [This explains why the Brethren would like us to make clear that the name of our church is not “the Mormon Church.”]

"Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you." [Every ordinance and prayer we perform in the church is done in the name of Christ and through His priesthood.]

"And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it."  (3 Nephi 27:8-10) 

So the church and the gospel must not be the same thing.  What is the gospel then?

DEFINITION OF THE GOSPEL GIVEN BY CHRIST

For the simple and clear definition of the gospel, “the good news,” continue reading.  It has two parts.  The first part is Christ’s role.

“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to 1) do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. 

“And my Father sent me that 2) I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men 3) even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to 4) stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.”  (3 Nephi 27:13-15)

“In this short statement [the scripture quoted above] the Master named four eternal verities upon which all else in his gospel is founded: 1) the relationship between himself and his father; 2) the fact of his atonement; 3) the universal resurrection; and 4) the judgment.  As to the relationship between himself and his father, he said: ‘I came into the world to do the will of my father; because my father sent me.’ This verity, so simply put, is the cornerstone of his gospel…That the atonement was a fact is as essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ as is the Sonship of Jesus.  We have the sacrament to remind us every week of his atonement.  The only purpose, or at least the main purpose, for which Jesus came into the world was to make the atonement…The resurrection is inherent in the atonement…The purpose for which he was to be lifted up upon the cross was that he might draw all men to him.  That he does through the resurrection.  The purpose for which men are to come before him after the resurrection is that they may be judged of the works which they have done in the flesh…All men who believe in Jesus and want to be his followers will have to accept these our verities.”  (Marion G. Romney, April 1955 General Conference, quoted in K. Douglas Bassett, Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon, p. 460)

“According to the theological liberal, [the Sermon on the Mount] is the essence of Christianity, and Christ is the best of human teachers and examples…Christianity is essentially ethics.  What’s missing here?  Simply, the essence of Christianity, which is not the Sermon on the Mount.  When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation was not ‘Love your enemies!’ but ‘Christ is risen!’  This was not a new ideal but a new event, that God became man, died, and rose for our salvation.  Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, an event, news, the gospel, the ‘good news.’  The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ.”  (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, quoted in Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word, p. 195.)

We can participate in this Christianity, this gospel!  That’s why it is such good news!  The next few verses tell us how.

“And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

“And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father…

“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy ghost that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

“Very, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel…”   (3 Nephi 27:16-17, 20-21)

So the church is the group or organization of people; the gospel is Christ’s Atonement.

So when we say “the church is true,” what do we mean?  We mean the worship organization of people we belong to is based upon the Atonement, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and run with His “power of attorney”, His Priesthood leadership.  (Although many Christian churches are truly based upon learning and living the gospel of Jesus Christ, ours is the only one with the Priesthood and its power to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost and carry out all the gifts of the Spirit, including revelatory governance of the Church.  But here we are just talking about the Church and the gospel.  If you're worried about this distinction, or if it comes up in discussion, just add a foundation labeled "Priesthood Authority.")  

THE THREE NEPHITES

Christ gave instructions to the disciples, the governing body of His church:

“And know ye that ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just.  Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?  Verily I say unto you, even as I am.

“And now I go unto the Father.  And verily I say unto you, whatsoever things ye shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto you.  Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”  (3 Nephi 27:27-29)

Asking is a commandment and is prerequisite to receiving.  However,

“’Ask, and ye shall receive’ does not assure that you will get what you want.  It does guarantee that, if worthy, you will get what you need, as judged by a Father that loves perfectly, who wants your eternal happiness even more than do you.”  (Richard G. Scott, October 1995 General Conference)

The apostles immediately obeyed Jesus’ command to ask, and three in a particular way asked to be like Him.  The first nine asked not to have to die, but to be immediately taken to heaven at the end of their lives.  This is a very understandable request which I’m sure a lot of us would like to make because, as my friend C. Gary Bennett is fond of saying, “No one is going to get out of this life alive, and we’re not going to die of good health.”  But these are nine men who did.

The other three asked to tarry beyond their normal lifespan, as Christ had tarried with them beyond His planned visit.  (See 3 Nephi 17:5)  They followed Christ’s admonition to be like Him in the utmost.

Christ said that He had a “fullness of joy” in this generation of Nephites.  (See 3 Nephi 27:31)  The Three Nephites were told that they, likewise, would have a “fullness of joy” because of the souls they would bring to the Father.  (See 3 Nephi 28:10)  Christ sorrowed because the fourth generation of Nephites would follow Satan into great sin.  (See 3 Nephi 27:32)  The Three Nephites were promised that their only pain would be sorrow for the sins of the world.  (See 3 Nephi 28:9)

Wouldn’t it be a fascinating read if the Three Nephites and John the Beloved kept a record of what they’ve been doing for the past 2,000 years?  I’ll bet they’ve had a LOT of fun.

THE POST-RESURRECTION NEPHITE CHURCH:
EXTREMES IN RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WICKEDNESS

“And it came to pass that thus they did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land; and they were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ, and thus the people of that generation were blessed, according to the word of Jesus.”  (3 Nephi 28:23)

How long did this take?  2 years.  (See 4 Nephi 1:2)  Talk about “the best two years!”  They became a Zion society, which is briefly defined in 4 Nephi 1:2-5.  Their church was true, because it was based upon the gospel, and because they followed the teachings of that church, or in other words, lived the gospel, they had a beautiful life.  It lasted for 200 years.  Exactly.

“And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride…”  (4 Nephi 1:24)  The universal sin!  They began to care whether they were rich, whether they looked fine.  They quit sharing with others, they divided themselves into classes, they built churches to support their own “ethics”, and they began to deny the Christ.  How did this happen??

“And this [group of churches] did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts.”  (4 Nephi 1:28)

(You can draw more little churches with people inside them, but no gospel foundation underneath them.)

Compare this to the Zion society they had previously enjoyed:

“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.”  (4 Nephi 1:15)

The gospel is based on love, Christ’s Atonement being the ultimate example.  Priestcraft, or Satan’s power, is based on selfishness, his desire for the Father’s glory being the ultimate example.

We waver like (hopefully not to such a great degree) in our personal lives, in our families, in our wards, shifting back and forth from being filled with love to allowing selfishness and pride to seep in.  We can be in the church but not founded upon the gospel, and then we find ourselves outside the church.

(You can rearrange the stick figures, moving them outside the true church.)

If we find that we have individually or as a group (ward, nation, family), the Lord has left a message for us.  Mormon was commanded of the Lord to write this message, right before this book of 4 Nephi in which we see the extremes in righteousness and wickedness.

“Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceiving, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envying, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations…”

--That is a long and mighty horrendous list of sins!—

“…and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of the Lord.”  (3 Nephi 30:2)

Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, upon which the Church is founded, you can always go home again.

(You can move the stick figures back into the true church.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #41 "He Did Expound All Things Unto Them"

3 Nephi 22-26

If you have access to a recording of Handel's "Messiah," you may want to play the selections of "The Lord Whom Ye Seek" through "And He Shall Purify," as prelude to the lesson as class members enter.  These are musical settings of the text of Malachi or 3 Nephi 24.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MALACHI

When Lehi left Jerusalem, he took with him the Brass Plates.  These plates contained many of the same books that we find in our Old Testament.  But there was a very important book that was not included, and that was the book of Malachi.  The name Malachi means "messenger," and that's about all we know about the authorship of the book.  The reason it wasn't in the Brass Plates was very simple:  It wasn't written yet.  It wasn't written until nearly 200 years after Lehi left.  but the Lord felt that this scripture was so important that he brought it to the Nephites personally.  On the second day of his visit to America after his resurrection, after reciting a passage from Isaiah, he recited chapters 3 and 4 of Malachi to them.  We find them recorded as 3 Nephi 24 and 25.  This passage is so important and so relevant to us of the latter days that Moroni recited it to Joseph Smith three times on the night he first visited him in his bedroom.  This is the passage we get to study today.

 This is what happened after Jesus recited the words of Malachi:

"And now it came to pass that when Jesus had told these things he expounded them unto the multitude; and he did expound all things unto them, both great and small."  (3 Nephi 26:1)

So what did Jesus tell them about this scripture as he "expounded" upon it?  We can read the whole chapter and not find out.  

"And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; but behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people."  (3 Nephi 26:6-7)

If we had the big plates, the Plates of Nephi, we could read about it, but we don't have them yet.  Yet!  This scripture is a test for us.

"And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them."   (3 Nephi 26:9)

This photo comes from lds.org and may be
copied and used for the classroom

If we totally exhaust the Book of Mormon with our study, then we will get the Plates of Nephi and that will be a great blessing.  But that's not the only consequence of the test.  There is a bad one as well, if we flunk.

"And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them unto their condemnation.  Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people."  (3 Nephi 26:10)

If we don't "use up" the Book of Mormon and never get the Plates of Nephi, we're going to be in big trouble. President Spencer W. Kimball said, "I have had many people ask me through the years, 'When do you think we will get the balance of the Book of Mormon records?' and I have said, 'How many in the congregation would like to read the sealed portion of the plates?'  And almost always there is a 100-percent response.  And then I ask the same congregation, 'How many of you have read the part that has been opened to us?'  And there are many who have not read the Book of Mormon, the unsealed portion.  We are quite often looking for the spectacular, the unobtainable.  I have found many people who want to live the higher laws when they do not live the lower laws" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 531-532).

So, we are left to try to figure out Malachi for ourselves, and our willingness to try is part of our test.  So let's see what we can do with it today.

MALACHI 3--THE ACCUSATIONS

"Thus said the Father unto Malachi--Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.

"But who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth?  For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap, and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." (3 Nephi 24:1-3)

This passage tells us the Lord is going to come again, and asks the question, "Who may abide the day of his coming?"  The answer is those who have been purified by His Atonement.  

And in this chapter, the Lord makes two accusations of wrongdoing.  Since this chapter was given to Joseph Smith and is about the latter days, these accusations apply to us.  We've got to take care of these wrongs in order to qualify to be purified.  After each accusation, the children of the Lord (us) ask the Lord a question, the kind of question kids often ask their parents when they are in trouble, a "what do you mean? what did I do?" kind of a question.  The Lord answers and explains, and then tells what blessings will come if we change and correct the wrong.

(Divide the class in two and have half of the class study the first accusation [verses 7-12] and the other half study the second accusation [verses 13-17].)

The first accusation is found in verse 7:

"Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.  Return unto me and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts.  But ye say: Wherein shall we return?"  The word "return" might more clearly be translated as "turn" or "change."  So Team One needs to find out what actions we need to change, or in what ways we need to turn toward the Lord, and what blessings we will get if we change.  I found 4 distinct blessings; see what you find.

(Write on the board: "What did we do wrong?")

The second accusation is in verse 13:

"Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord.  Yet ye say: What have we spoken against thee?"
Team Two can find out what we have said that is wrong, and what 3 blessings we will receive if we change.

(Write on the other side of the board:  "What did we say wrong?")

What Did We Do Wrong?
We've been lax in paying our tithing.  Howard W. Hunter compared not paying tithing to embezzlement.  "The Lord's share came into his hands lawfully, but he misappropriated it to his own use."  (April 1964 General Conference)  Ezra Taft Benson said, "Tithing is not a donation.  It is not optional...It is a commandment."  (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 470)  Dean L. Larsen said, "For many who live in conditions of poverty, there may be no other way to escape their impoverishment than to give obedience to this law."  (October 1994 General Conference)

The blessings:  1) Opening of the windows of heaven, 2) the rebuking of the devourer, 3) the growth and preservation of crops [or possibly other types of profits], 4) being respected by all nations.


Money from Philippines,
in honor of my reader who teaches there


Regarding the blessings that come to tithe-payers, Harold B. Lee said, "The opening of the windows of heaven, of course, means revelations from God to him who is willing thus to sacrifice."  (Harold B. Lee, October 1971 General Conference.)  One clear evidence of this blessing is found in temple-building.  Tithing builds temples, and it is my understanding that areas with a majority of full tithe payers are the areas considered for temples.  Of course, the temple is a really big "window to heaven."

What Did We Say Wrong?
We've been jealous of those with the "easy" life of entertaining themselves on the Sabbath, not keeping the commandments, living by their own rules, spending their money on luxuries precluded by our tithes and donations, wearing what they like, eating and drinking what they like, living unmarried if they like.  It looks like they are having fun all the time.  (Think:  beer commercials.)  Sometimes, when we get tired of doing our duties or when our trials get hard, we look with envy on the neighbors without them.  We say, "What good is it to live the gospel, when those people look so happy?"  But, "When all of the evidence is in, the world's graduate school of hard knocks will teach what you young men were taught in the kindergarten of your spiritual training.  'Wickedness never was happiness'" (Glenn Pace, October 1987 General Conference)

The blessings:  1) their names are recorded in the Lord's book of remembrance, 2) they will belong to the Lord's family and fall under his protection, 3) they will be spared (at the judgment, and also from the trials of sin in this life).

MALACHI 4--THE JUDGMENT

Now, Malachi tells what is going to happen if you are on the right side or the wrong side at the judgment day.  It may not be readily apparent in this life that things go better if you're righteous, but there will be no doubt that the Lord rewards the righteous there and makes all things fair.

"For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

"But unto you that fear my name, shall the Son of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves in the stall."  (3 Nephi 25:1-2)  Calves in the stall are provided with shelter, with food, with a caring owner, with every need met.  Besides being "burned as [in] an oven" the wicked will be left "without root or branch:"  without their parents and ancestors, without their children and descendants.  We occasionally hear stories in the news of people whose homes burn to the ground, "but," they say, "we still have each other; all our family got out safely," and that makes it a happy ending.  The wicked will suffer the fire as well as losing their family, so they will truly lose everything.  Families are the real treasures, one of the few treasures we can take with us to the next life.

 The copyright of this photo of my brother 
Gary Wyatt's family is held by him, 
but you may use it for teaching purposes.

In the Old Testament, Malachi is the very last book, and these are the very last verses we read before we start reading about the Savior's birth in Matthew of the New Testament:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (3 Nephi 25:5-6 or Malachi 4:5-6)

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that the word "turn" here could better be translated as "bind" or "seal."  This is the blessing that will be of great worth to the righteous; the opportunity to belong to our families in the eternities.

ISAIAH 54--THE LATTER DAYS

This would be a good point to backtrack a little and overview what the Lord quoted to the Nephites from Isaiah, recorded in chapter 22 because there are a few real gems here.  I'll elaborate on four:

First, (verse 2-3) the church will spread over the earth, and that church organization can be a protection and a strength to us, as a tent is in a storm.

This photo of the Brigham City temple
was taken by my friend, Debbie Raymond,
who holds the copyright.
It may be used for church or home purposes.

Second, the Savior takes care of those who are without family or spouse in this life:

"For thy maker, thy husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel--the God of the whole earth shall he be called.  For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit...For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee...for the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee."  (3 Nephi 22:5-6, 10)

Although we in the church often refer to our Savior, Jesus Christ, as our Brother, He never refers to Himself as such in the scriptures.  He refers to Himself as our Father, the one whose name we take upon ourselves when we come into His kingdom/family.  His perfection and Atonement put Him on a peak so far above us that we hardly seem to be siblings. He calls us friends, He calls us His children if we qualify, but He never calls us siblings.  And it seems too casual, almost, for us to do so.  

BUT, here in 3 Nephi, to those who are bereft of a companion here on the earth, who are alone, who feel rejected, who have been widowed, abused, divorced, or never married, He refers to Himself in an even more intimate association: Husband!  And to emphasize the incredible power of this Husband, he flanks that title with several other mighty identities:
  • "Thy Maker"--the God of the universe, the Creator 
  • "The Lord of Hosts"--the all powerful leader of the heavenly army, the one in charge of the outcomes of earthly battles as well
  • "Thy Redeemer"--a title in ancient Israel that refered to a kinsman who would cover the debts of a family member in trouble, saving them from slavery
  • "The Holy One of Israel"--the one who is perfect and without sin, and is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose works are well-known throughout the Old Testament
(See Susan Ward Easton [now Black], "Names of Christ in the Book of Mormon," Ensign, July 1978)

This photo from lds.org and free to copy for class.

And thirdly, to those who are have been challenged by, unsuccessful in, unsure of, or helpless in their roles as righteous parents, whose children may have wandered, He gives this wonderful promise:

"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children."  (3 Nephi 22:13).  Many translations of the Bible clarify this verse by substituting "all thy children shall be taught by the Lord," which does work very well with Hebrew word usage.  In the last days, through the Holy Ghost, through our temple covenants, the Lord will teach all of the children of the righteous, not just those who are at church each week or who are agreeable at family home evening, but even those who have strayed.

 President Hinckley teaching children.
This photo from lds.org and free to copy for class.

And lastly, although there will be a lot of trouble of all sorts in our day, we can take comfort in the final verses of this passage, which President Ezra Taft Benson always carried in his wallet, and which he displayed on his desk:

"No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord."  (from his funeral, reported in the July 1994 Ensign, p. 82)



THE IMPORTANCE OF RECORD-KEEPING

Jesus, in chapter 23, emphasized how important record-keeping is to him.  He asked Nephi to bring their records forth, and he went through them and said, "Why can't I find the story of Samuel the Lamanite here?  Didn't he come?  Didn't he prophesy a lot of important things?  Didn't these things all come to pass?  Didn't a lot of the righteous rise from the dead?"  And he commanded those things to be written.

Likewise, can we imagine Jesus saying to us, "Didn't I answer your prayer?  Didn't I heal you when you were sick?  Didn't you feel my Spirit in that fast and testimony meeting?  Didn't I tell you the Book of Mormon was true?  Why have these things not been written down?"  If we record the workings of God in our lives, our journals can become our personal scriptures, through which we can strengthen our own testimonies as we re-read them, and through which we can teach our children's children's children long after we are gone.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson #40 "Then Will I Gather Them In'

3 Nephi 16; 20-21


The Chosen People

On the second day of his visit to America, Christ talked about his covenants with the House of Israel, and told the Nephites that they were included in the family of Abraham.

”And behold, this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you… ”And behold, ye are the children  of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” (3 Nephi 20:22, 25) 

So today we are going to discuss why this was important, and what relevance it has to us.
           
Ask your class: By show of hands, how many of you in this class are members of the House of Israel, descendants of Abraham? If your hand isn’t up, raise it.  Being a member of the Church means being of the House of Israel.  When any member of the Church receives a patriarchal blessing, he finds out which of the tribes of the house of Israel he belongs to. 
           
The Lord made a marvelous covenant with Abraham.  How did this Abrahamic Covenant come to pass? What is necessary to receive any blessing or revelation of the Lord?  Desire, of course!  And worthiness.  

And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” (Abraham 1:2)  

Abraham had been “a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge,” but he was not content with this level of spirituality (remember last week’s lesson?) and he desired to be a “greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God,” therefore, he received the Priesthood, the “right of the firstborn.”  ”I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.”  (Abraham 1:4) 

After receiving the Priesthood, because of his faith and desire, the Lord made a covenant with Abraham.  Because of this covenant, the House of Israel, or the descendants of Abraham, have been called the Chosen People.

Blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant

1)      LAND: A promised land (Genesis 13:14-15; 3 Nephi 20:14)
2)      SEED:  A great posterity (Genesis 13:16; Abraham 2:9)
3)      PRIESTHOOD:  The Priesthood and its attached gospel (Abraham 2:9)
4)      MINISTRY TO THE WORLD:  The opportunity/ability to share all this with all the families of the earth (Abraham 2:10-11; 3 Nephi 20:25)

Foreordination to the House of Israel

Let’s discuss why these people were favored of the Lord.  If we imagine that it’s just by luck that any given person was born into the family of Abraham, then God is a respecter of persons.  But it isn’t just luck.  It’s a grand foreordination.  Elder Melvin J. Ballard said that Israel is “a group of souls tested, tried, and proven before they were born into the world…Through this lineage were to come the true and tried souls that had demonstrated their righteousness in the spirit world before they came.”  (quoted in Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word, p. 212)  Therefore—and here I’m quoting Robert Millet—when the Patriarch declares your lineage in your patriarchal blessing, it is “as much a statement about who and what we were as it is about who we are now and what we may become.”  (The Power of the Word, p. 213)

The Responsibilities of the Chosen People

Elder Russell M. Nelson has said, “Once we know who we are and the royal lineage of which we are a part, our actions and directions in life will be more appropriate to our inheritance.”  (The Power of the Word, p. 214) I think this is why Christ spent so much time talking about the covenant with the Nephites.

A previous group of Nephites felt that they were a chosen people, only they had the idea twisted.  As you recall, the Zoramites had a podium in their chapel called the Rameumptom which had room for only one person on top of it. The person on the top would offer the prayer recorded in Alma 31:15-18, wherein they would say, “We believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren…we believe that thou has elected us to be they holy children…thou hast elected us that we shall be saved whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell…And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.”
           
To the Zoramites, being a chosen people meant exclusivity.  It meant being elevated, like on a spiritual Rameumptom, with no room for anyone else to join them.  It meant a separation between them and everyone else.  I think that many of the Jews in Jerusalem at Christ’s time felt the same way.  But this is not how the Chosen People should feel.
           
Kent Jackson, associate professor of ancient scriptures at Brigham Young University, says, “Since the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when gospel blessings have been on the earth, they have been made available through the House of Israel.  Thus, Abraham’s and Sarah’s descendants are a chosen people. They are chosen not because they have an easier path to salvation, or because God loves them more than other people.  They are chosen to service, in the same sense that individual Latter-day Saints are chosen for callings in the Church.” (Ensign, February 1990, p. 53)

FINDING OTHERS ONCE YOU ARE FOUND

An excellent example of members of the House of Israel gathering a new member into the fold in the year 1946 is found in the story, “Soldiers Were My Missionaries,” told by Kenneth D. Newman (Ensign, February 1990, pp. 47-49)  (You may, however, have equally uplifting stories of "gathering" among your own ward members, if you ask.  You can use this one as a back-up, or in case you have extra time.)

 
I don't have any pictures from 1946, 
but here's one from 2010:
 Army Basic Training Graduation 
at Fort Benning, Georgia

“Serving in the United States Army was a great opportunity for me, in view of the rich friendships I made, the goals I began to perceive for myself, and most important—exposure to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ…

“Two enlisted men from Utah gave freely of their time and shared their testimonies of the gospel. They made available many books dealing with the restored church…My LDS friends in the service also conducted some study meetings in the barracks…"

 Army Barracks at Fort Benning, Georgia

“One evening during an instruction period, one of the elders said to me, after discussing Joseph Smith’s vision and the Word of Wisdom, ‘Wouldn’t you like to know for yourself, as we know, that our message of the Restoration is true? Surely you don’t want to sit on the fence for the rest of your life, wondering whether it is true.’

“I guess I replied in a rather noncommittal way. They then bore strong personal witness and made a specific challenge to me concerning the Word of Wisdom. One said, “I promise you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that if you will make the attempt to stop smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages, and if you will pray about our message, the sure knowledge will be given you by the Spirit.

“The witness and the promise were too much for me to ignore. I tried to dismiss the urgings, and tossed that night in my bunk. I had seen these young men kneel nightly at their bunks, even when all kinds of distractions surrounded them, to pray fervently. I had observed how they faithfully sent home to their bishops that small part of an enlisted man’s modest pay in tithing. I had measured their behavior against the rest of us, their clean living habits and their wholesome attitude about their assignments; and I felt the bonds of our friendship and love…

“As I served as battery clerk for our battalion, it seemed every visitor to our headquarters office that morning was giving instead of ‘bumming’ cigarettes. I had to say no many times. During lulls in the work, I would find myself reaching for the shirt pocket where the cigarettes were always kept. I paced and swore. By noon I figured a few ‘drags’ on one cigarette couldn’t hurt. I went to the recreation room to light up, only to find the elders there, having sought me out to lend encouragement to my attempts to stop smoking. I later learned they were fasting for my success…

“But prayer finally won out. I dropped to my knees and asked for help and enlightenment—to know whether Joseph Smith, Jr., was visited by the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. I waited; nothing happened. The fog was damp and chilling. The rocks hurt my knees. The thought passed through my mind, ‘It’s the same. My prayer isn’t going to have any different result than all the others through the years. I’m not going to get an answer.’ I arose.

But at that moment I felt a surge of energy pass over me, through me, around me, until I dropped back upon my knees. The feeling intensified, subsided, repeated its motion, lifting me seemingly, gently receding, then pressing forward again. My entire being seemed filled with this sweetness. I let it happen. For a time I felt like I was a part of the ocean—the rhythm was the same. I seemed purged of all ugliness and doubt, and they were replaced with the witness of the Holy Ghost. It was not a momentary lapse into nothingness, but an extended period of enlightenment. I wanted the experience to stay with me, to sustain me, and for a long while I remained on my knees.

“When finally I arose, new waves of spiritual strength enveloped me, and I began walking, first hesitantly, then briskly, and finally I ran back to the barracks, up the stairs, two or three at a time, and burst into the large room where we bunked. I sought out the elders and told them I knew for myself about Joseph’s first vision and mission. It was a hallowed time.

“One of them said, ‘We’ve got to get you baptized.’…

“Nothing I have ever done, nothing I have ever learned in college and years of applied working skills can compare to the simple truth that I learned that night in prayer; and no decision I have ever made in life—in family, in church, in business—compares to that decision to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have never made so wise and so fulfilling a choice.”

Conclusion

“Those of Israel who follow the Light of Christ in this life will be led eventually to the higher light of the Holy Ghost and will come to know and come unto him.  In time they come to know of their noble heritage and of the royal blood that flows through their veins.  They come to earth with a predisposition to receive truth, with an inner attraction to the message of the gospel.  ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ the Master said, ‘and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27)”  (Robert Millet, p. 214)  

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that my people shall know my name; yea, in that day they shall know that I am he that doth speak.”  (3 Nephi 20:39)

It is our responsibility as found members of the House of Israel to find the others who are literal descendants of the family.  W. J. Cameron said, “God’s grading is always upward.  If He raises up a nation, it is that other nations may be raise up through its ministry…The divine selection is not a prize, a compliment paid to the man or the race—it is a burden imposed.” (ibid., p. 214)

But it is a glorious and joyful burden.  

And then shall they say: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings unto them, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings unto them of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!” (3 Nephi 20:40)

(I took the photographs in this blog post and hold the copyright.  You are free to use them for any teaching purpose.)

(For a little more on the Abrahamic Covenant, see Old Testament Lesson #7.)