Friday, December 30, 2016

Mormon Chapter 8: Greater Things

Mormon has been killed by the Lamanites at the beginning of chapter 8, as his son, Moroni, takes over the writing of the “sad tale of destruction of [his] people” (Mormon 8). Moroni spends much of chapter 8 bearing his testimony of The Book of Mormon and the power that is found within. “Whoso recieveth this record,” he writes, “and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these” (Mormon 12). Next to the phrase “greater things,” a footnote is listed with several scriptures which include instances in which the words that were spoken were forbidden from being written, for the Lord sought to “try the faith of [His] people” (3 Nephi 26:11). Someone once explained to me that the reason why certain information is sometimes withheld from us is so that we are not held accountable for those things which we misunderstand. Perhaps this is an example of such a time. As our faith in The Book of Mormon grows, so will our knowledge and understanding, which will lead to the revelation of principles we would have otherwise not been ready to receive.

Towards the end of the chapter, Moroni calls out the hypocrites and asks why it is that so many seek praises of the world? It’s a great question, and one which he does not provide an answer for. It may be because of the instant gratification and succor that the world’s praises provide, particularly today, in the era of iPhones and technology. Man is so fearful of criticism, and other men are so much louder than the whisperings of the Spirit. It’s so much easier to ignore his guidance and follow the shouts of man. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mormon 7: "That ye may believe..."

With the Nephite people destroyed, in Mormon chapter 7, Mormon turns his attention to the Lamanites and attempts to bring them unto the Lord. His approach in doing so is interesting, though chapter 7 makes no mention of how it was received. It’s very direct and to the point; as far as I can tell, he makes no attempt to adapt the language he uses so that it is more culturally potent for the Lamanite people. Furthermore, considering the Lamanites literally just obliterated the Nephite people in the last chapter, he is incredibly blunt in his calls to repentance.
He begins by declaring the Lamanites as being of the house of Israel, suggesting to me that they had no idea of their origins or of the genealogy of their forefathers. It’s possible that in Mormon’s time, they hadn’t a clue that the Nephites were descended from the same genealogical line. How might a knowledge of their heritage have changed things? Who knows? It’s possible though, that knowing they were descended from a covenant and choice people may have led Lamanites to repentance and the Gospel. Or perhaps it would have prevented them from slaughtering the Nephites, as they may have viewed them as brotherly?
When urging the Lamanites to accept the Savior, he mentions that “ye must come to a knowledge of your fathers” (Mormon 7:5). “Ye must come,” he writes, not, "I will drag you along.” If we want to gain a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the truths it contain, and of the restoration, we must work and study; search, ponder and pray.
Finally, in verse 9, Mormon writes, “This is written for the intent that ye may believe [Christ’s gospel]” (Mormon 7:9). The Book of Mormon was written for our benefit. We were provided the scriptures so that we could gain a greater knowledge of the potential for joy and a better sense of who Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are. “If ye believe [Christ’s gospel],” he continues, “ye will believe [The Book of Mormon],” (Mormon 7:9). Christ’s gospel, whether laid out in The Book of Mormon  or in The Bible, is exactly the same. The Bible and the Book of Mormon work in tandem to enhance one another and fill in missing gaps that were created due to the shortcomings of man.
(written Wednesday, December 28, 2016)

Mormon 6: Last Struggle at Cumorah

How must a commander feel when he knows with certainty that all of those whom he marches into battle will die? How does he cope with the fact that his entire people; a people whose civilization once covered the land and whose culture dominated all others; will be completely wiped from the earth in one “last struggle?” (Mormon 6:6). How does he fake confidence? How does he reassure his soldiers? How does he not break down and weep over the prospect of the destruction of all that he knows and at one point or another likely held dear? How does he stand among his troops and look them in the eye, knowing that they will most certainly perish?
I cannot even begin to imagine how Mormon must have felt as he prepared the Nephites for their final battle at Cumorah. The amount of faith he must have had in the Lord, though, is nothing short of incredible. I’m not sure how else one explains his ability to lead an army doomed before it even reaches the battlefield. At the end of the chapter, he discusses the “anguish” of his soul “because of the slain of [his] people” (Mormon 6:16). He wonders how it is possible that the Nephites could have turned their backs on Jesus even after he stood among their forefathers? Where did they go wrong? How could they be so blind and stupid?
After declaring that their destruction can be attributed to their wickedness and arrogance, he states, “But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return” (Mormon 6:20). I wonder if this is a coping mechanism for Mormon; if he’s basically saying, “Welp, can’t change the past, so time to move on,” and if he’s basically trying to avoid dwelling on the death and destruction that lay before him? If so, perhaps his acceptance and desire to move forward provides an answer to the questions in the top paragraph.

Additional thoughts…
  • Mormon writes to the Lamanite king requesting that the next battle occur by the hill Cumorah. He mentions in verse 4 that at Cumorah, the Nephites “had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites” (Mormon 6:4). Hope is the word that stood out to me as I read this sentence; the hill Cumorah = hope. While I understand that it’s likely Mormon was directed by the Spirit to gather at Cumorah so that the Plates of Nephi could be hidden there, I think there’s something to the fact that he mentions that the hill provided the Nephites with hope. Cumorah is a beacon of light for the world. It provided an ideal location for which the Plates could be hidden, and is a key location in the restoration of the Gospel. I’ve only had the opportunity to visit once, and I was rather young at the time, but I remember a strong feeling that it was indeed a very sacred site. I’d bet that it has always been a sacred site, even at the time of the Nephites and the Lamanites, and that the armies that had gathered there felt a similar feeling. 
  • In verse 7 it’s mentioned that the wives and children of the Nephites were filled “with that awful fear of death which fills the breast of all the wicked” as the Lamanite armies marched towards them (Mormon 6:7). I’ve never been close to death, and have never been filled with fear as it approached. Still, as I read this verse, I couldn’t help but wonder if it provided insight for a very specific moment in which every single Nephite understood that they would all perish. With fear filling their hearts “did they await to receive them,” Mormon writes, as though they were paralyzed by it. I guess the ultimate point is that the wicked know they are behaving wickedly; they know right from wrong. While they may deny such a fact, as the dark scepter of death falls upon them, they recognize their evil, and more importantly, the fact that it is too late for them to change their ways. 
(Written Tuesday, December 27, 2016)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mormon 5: "I was without hope..."

“But behold, I was without hope,” Mormon proclaims in verse 2 of Chapter 5, after mentioning that he was convinced by the Nephites to once again lead their armies (Mormon 5:2). Upon reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder what Mormon’s reasons may have been for returning as commander of the Nephite armies. He explains that his lack of hope stemmed from the fact that the Nephite people “repented not of their iniquities,” and that they refused to turn to God for assistance in their struggle against the Lamanites (Mormon 5:2). Given that he knew that the Nephite armies were destined for destruction, why bother to help them? Was it the Christlike thing to do? Could it be that he felt that providing the Nephite people some sense of hope, and showing them compassion, was proper and right? Or perhaps it was pride in his nation and its culture, despite the shortcomings of his people? He was called to serve his countrymen and felt obligated to do so. Or maybe he believed the Nephite cause was more just and more worthy than the cause of the Lamanites?
Regardless of his reasoning, I have no doubt that he consulted with the Lord before agreeing to return to the Nephite army, yet he makes no mention of it. He does however, state that he “did repent of the oath” made regarding his resignation and refusal to fight alongside the Nephites (Mormon 5:1). Now, I do have a tendency to overthink nearly everything, and this may be such a moment, but I wonder if the word “repent” was not chosen by Mormon on accident. We know from Chapter 3 that when Mormon prayed for the Nephite people, he did so “without faith” (Mormon 3:12). He was clearly frustrated with their refusal to accept the Gospel, and who could blame him? Yet maybe praying with “without faith” led to a lapse in judgement and an inability to recognize the Lord’s desire for him to continue his service to the people, requiring him to repent. Maybe he allowed his will to take precedence over the Lord’s; for without Mormon’s service at the head of the army, it’s not difficult to imagine that the “Book of Mormon” would be quite different. If Mormon wrote as a spectator, he would have written from a very different perspective and it’s entirely possible that the things which were required of him to write for latter-day generations may not have been included in the book.

A few other observations…
·         Verses 17 & 18 explain that at one point, the Nephites were a “delightsome people,” who followed Christ. At the time in which Mormon was writing, however, they were led by Satan. I couldn’t help but feel Mormon’s pain as I read these verses. The word “delightsome” is such a unique and special description. It evokes a very specific image in my mind; one of laughter and joy and song, like in a Disney animated feature. To go from being Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’s Mr. Bluebird to being led by Satan...well, dang; that is a mighty, mighty change. Unfortunately, I imagine it was one that was not too difficult for Satan to bring about. He mostly used pride, an all too effective tool.
·          In Verse 19, Mormon mentions that “The Lord hath reserved [the Nephite’s] blessings which they might have received in the land for the Gentiles.” This seems to suggest, I think, that the Nephites had an opportunity to reap the blessings of America and blew it. More important though, are the principles taught here: 1) The Lord’s work will be accomplished regardless of our poor decisions and refusal to act as He would have us act, and 2) We must accept the blessings that the Lord hopes to provide us. We cannot passively move through life and expect that the Lord will give without acknowledgement, gratitude, and request. We must put forth an effort if we desire the Lord to make up for our shortcomings and to provide for us.
·         Mormon asks the Gentiles in Verse 23, “Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God?” He issued this statement as a warning, but given the trials I’ve faced in the last few months, I read it with comfort and gratitude. The Lord’s hand is guiding my life, of that I have no doubt. While acknowledging that fact has never been difficult for me, I don’t know if I’ve ever really thought about what it means. It's only now, at a moment in which I dislike the path which He has laid for me, have I recognized the importance of faith in the fact that He does indeed have a plan designed specifically for me. This plan will not require me to experience challenges without purpose, and He will never abandon me. I am “in the hands of God,” and though it may be difficult to see now, the struggles I have are for my own good. The comfort which that sentence brings is nothing short of miraculous. It's also a sentence of great hope; the perfect way to end a post which started with a statement of hopelessness.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Greater Gratitude in Prayer

            While winding down for the evening, I found myself thinking about prayer and about things I can do to improve the ones I offer each night. In recent months, I feel as though my prayers have become far more meaningful; I’ve felt the Spirit in ways I never imagined possible, and I know with a surety that Heavenly Father hears every prayer I speak, and that He truly does love me. For the first time in my life, really, I feel His presence on an almost daily basis; it’s miraculous.
            After a quick Google search on the subject, I found an October 2008 General Conference talk by Elder David Bednar entitled Pray Always. The talk is fantastic, as nearly all Elder Bednar talks tend to be. I’ll probably spend several nights going through the various principles and ideas he lays out in it. Tonight though, I’d like to focus on gratitude.
            Elder Bednar tells a story about a time he and his wife had learned of the death of a good friend. They desired to kneel in prayer and ask God to bless their friend’s family with comfort and love. During this time, they were hosting a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in their home, and before Sister Bednar offered her prayer, he suggested that she “ask for nothing,” and instead “express only appreciation for the blessings received.” Elder Bednar mentions that Sister Bednar followed his counsel, thanking Heavenly Father for the experiences and memories they had with their friend. “She communicated sincere gratitude for the Holy Ghost as a Comforter,” Elder Bednar states, “and for the gifts of the Sprirt that enable us to face adversity and to serve others.” She also mentioned her gratitude for the Savior and His sacrifice and Atonement, and for the restored gospel on the earth today, which provides us with the knowledge that families can be together forever.
            “Because of and through that prayer,” Elder Bednar explains, “our family was blessed with inspiration about a number of issues that were pressing upon our minds and stirring in our hearts.” He says that an expression of gratitude for the Plan of Salvation and for the Savior reminded them of important truths that provided comfort and confidence in the knowledge that their friends would be alright. Additionally, Elder Bednar says that they better understood those things which Heavenly Father desired that they ask for.

            He closes this section by suggesting that “periodically you and I offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude.” We should allow our souls to rejoice, and devote all the energy of our hearts to appreciation for the things which God has blessed us with. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

1 Nephi 16:20-29 Lehi Murmers

Since reading President Nelson’s talk, Joy and Spiritual Survival yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lehi and about the hardships and trials he went through. In 1 Nephi 16, after Nephi breaks his bow while hunting, verse 20 reads:

“And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord.”

This is the only time that I can think of in which it is mentioned that Lehi ‘murmured’ against God; a rather remarkable testament and tribute to his faith. Lehi had every reason to murmur; he was wandering the wilderness for years without wealth or possessions, and with two rowdy sons who were constantly rebelling and muttering under their breath, going as far as to plot to kill him on multiple occasions,  and yet this is the only moment which Nephi chooses to mention that his father murmured. Wow.

After being rebuked for murmuring, Lehi recognizes his wrongdoing, and seeks repentance. He was “chastened” so much “that he was brought down into the depths of sorrow,” and was then told to look to the Liahona for directions regarding where food could be found. While we have no idea what was written on the Liahona, we do know that whatever it was, it made Lehi “fear and tremble exceedingly.” Regardless, Lehi’s family did find out that day that the Lihona works through the “faith and diligence” given unto it.

In a discussion earlier today, I was speaking about joy and the ways in which it can be felt. When we suffer affliction, I think the best remedy is likely to have joy at all times and in all moments. We must cling to the Savior, get to know Him personally, and recognize the blessings and desires He has for us. If we want to experience joy, in other words, we have to seek out joy. We have to pray for it, and do those things which the Savior 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Finding Strength through Joy

Several weeks ago, it was suggested that I read Elder Russell M. Nelson’s October 2016 conference talk, Joy and Spiritual Survival. Tonight, I finally did. Early in the talk, Elder Nelson mentions The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, and the trials and tribulations he faced, including persecution in Jerusalem, being commanded by the Lord to “flee with his family into the wilderness,” and suffering caused by the rebellion of his sons, Laman and Lemuel. “Yet,” Elder Nelson states, “he declared boldly and without reservation a principle as revealed by the Lord: ‘Men are, that they might have joy’” (2 Nehpi 2:25).
“Life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind,” Elder Nelson continues, “Each of us has likely had times when distress, anguish, and despair almost consumed us.” He goes on to ask, given all of the hardships and challenges we endure in this life, we can possibly be expected to have joy? Joy, he explains, “has little to do with the circumstances of our lives, and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” To find joy, our focus must be on Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation and on Jesus Christ and His gospel. “Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy,” Elder Nelson declares.
He then mentions Philippians 4:7, which lists the ways in which the Savior offers joy to us. As we keep our “hearts and minds” on the Savior, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” will always be with us (Philippians 4:7). We are told to “think on” things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and have virtue, and are promised that as we do the things that Christ taught and behave as he behaved, “the God of peace shall be with [us]” (Philippians 4:8-9).
Speaking to his son, Jacob, the Prophet Lehi taught that, as he strove to draw closer to He and the Savior, God “shall consecrate thine afflictions for they gain” (2 Nephi 2:2). Elder Nelson mentions that this concept was further expressed in the words of comfort provided by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, after he pleaded with Him to end the suffering of the early Saints. “If thou endure it well,” Joseph is promised, “God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:8).
“How, then, can we claim that joy?” Elder Nelson asks. The first step, according to Elder Nelson, can be found in Doctrine & Covenants 6:36. “Look unto me in every thought,” the Savior proclaimed, concluding by commanding that we “doubt not, fear not.” We should pray with gratitude in our hearts for the Savior’s sacrifice and struggle; for the Atonement, and for the love Heavenly Father provided us through His only begotten. The Savior, Elder Nelson explained, must “become…real to us.” We must feel His presence and love, and provide others with it. Through prayer, “as we plead for His joy…our joy will increase.”
            As we face difficulties and afflictions arise, “If we focus on the joy that will come to us…what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?” Elder Nelson asks. It’s interesting how humans are predisposed to focus on the negative and assume the worst. We are such a negative species. Through a focus on the Savior, however, and on the joy and blessings of renewal and repentance through His Atonement, we can receive the greatest joy ever known to man, and can endure whatever trials might come out way.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Love's pure light..."

Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

Mormon Chapter 4--Wickedness sweeps the land

I never really understood why it is that the authors of The Book of Mormon decided to go into detail regarding the many battles which took place over the many centuries in which the book was written. Recently, however, I think it's starting to make sense. Early in Mormon 4, Mormon writes that the Lamanite armies over take the Nephites "while they were yet weary," resulting in Lamanite possession of the City of Desolation. Just as the Nephites were weakened in their weariness, so too are we weakened when we are weary. Often in life, we find ourselves burdened with multiple trials and difficulties at once, which compound and multiply to weaken our resolve and make us more susceptible to temptation. It's crucial that in times of crisis, we recognize our Heavenly Father's love for us, and we recognize the power of and take comfort in the Savior's Atonement. He is always there to help lift our burdens, and through him we can be strengthened and withstand the Adversaries attacks.

One other point that stood out to me in Chapter 4 can be found in verse 5, which reads,
"But behold, the judgements of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed."
What a fascinating point. God does not stir the hearts of man unto anger; He is love and peace and hope. While the unjust will not go unpunished, He does not manipulate the agency of others in order to enact consequences for them. Instead, wickedness will destroy wickedness. Those who behave in a destructive manner will find destruction as a result of their actions. It's like lifetime smokers; if you've smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for your entire life, you have a significantly higher chance of dying from lung cancer than a non-smoker. God isn't punishing you for disobeying the Word of Wisdom however, rather, you are punishing yourself. You are responsible for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and if you choose not to, then you will suffer the consequences.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mormon Chapter 3--"Be thou an example..."

22 And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to sand before the judgement-seat of Christ.

Mormon focuses on missionary work and his attempts to convince the people to repent throughout Chapter 3. In verse 2, he's commanded by the Lord  to "Cry unto this people--Repent ye, and come unto me..." Unfortunately, this was done in vain, as his people hardened their hearts against the words of Mormon and of the Lord.

In the middle of the chapter, the Nephites go to battle against the Lamanites, defeating the Lamanite armies several times before swearing unto God that they would seek vengeance for the death of their fellow citizens. Upon this declaration, Mormon relieved himself of his duties as a commander, and "utterly refused to go up against [his] enemies." He writes that the voice of the Lord expressed disappointment in the people of Nephi, as vengeance is something that only the Lord has a right to seek. .
In reading Mormon Chapter 3, I think what stands out is the necessity to follow impressions and promptings we receive from the Holy Ghost, regardless of what societal consequences may be. I'm sure Mormon, after refusing to continue his service as a commander in the Nephite military, was mocked and ridiculed, and maybe even declared a traitor by some. Yet he understood that the people were unrighteous, and their cause was unjust. He did not stand idly by and participate in what he knew to be wrong simply because it was popular, but rather, he stood as an example before the Nephite armies. Being an example unto others is perhaps the greatest method of missionary work that exists. It is the only way to show the blessings and effects that come through living the gospel of Jesus Christ and obeying the Lord's commandments.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Alma 32--"Ye shall reap the rewards of your faith..."

Verses 16-43
As I read Alma 32, I can't help but think, "Human nature is an interesting thing." Man is so skeptical and unsure; unwilling to trust anything which he himself has not experienced. Young children, for example, often feel a need to touch a hot stove, regardless of the many warnings he is issued by his mother. Why is that? Why is man so experiential, and why is he such a skeptic?

Alma 32 seems to suggest that man's natural skepticism provides God opportunities to enable him to increase his faith. Alma urges each of us to try an experiment. He compares faith to a seed, and asks that we plant that seed within our hearts, nourish and care for it, and provide it with enough time that it might grow. If the seed is good, and sprouts and strengthens, "it will begin to swell within your breasts." It "enlarges" the soul and enlightens understanding, becoming desirable. This is how faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes steadfast and immovable. Were Heavenly Father to simply provide man with spiritual experiences, spiritual learning and growth would not occur; man's spiritual muscles would deteriorate. A natural inclination towards skepticism, however, forces man to exercise "diligence" and "patience" with the word as we nourish it. allowing for its roots to wind and weave its way around man's spirit.

In addition to spiritual education, man's natural skepticism offer him the chance to gain a deeper appreciation for the faith being cultivated. Man values most those things which require labor. The more difficult a task and the harder man has to work to achieve his goal, the more he will cherish the 'fruit' of his labor. He will naturally feel protective of it, and will desire to continue its nourishment and enable further growth. He "shall reap the reads [his] faith," as Alma states in Verse 43.

Alma Chapter 32:1-25 "Preparation to Hear the Word."

2--...they began to have success among the poor
3--Why? They were cast out of synagogues, looked down upon; "they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart."
5--"What shall these my brethren do? For we have no place to worship our God."
6--Their afflictions had humbled them; prepared them to hear the word.
8--Ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye.
10--Ye suppose that synagogues are they only place in which you can worship?
11--Ye suppose that ye must not worship God more than once a week?
12--It is because you were cast out & despised, and because of your poverty that ye are brought to a "lowliness of heart;" humble. 
13--"A man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance..."
16--Blessed are they who are humble without compulsion; believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of hear
17--"There are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign...then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe."
18--Is this faith? No; if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe.
19--"How much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not than he that only believeth?"
21--"Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."

What Can be Learned?
  • Those whom are humble are more likely to feel promptings and impressions from the spirit.
    • Why? They have been prepared; humility helps all to better understand the answer to the question, "What lack I yet?" It enables us the chance to seek out and better understand Heavenly Father's will and plan for us as individuals.
  • You do not need a formal church building or meeting to worship God and recognize the blessings in your life. 
  • Humility compels one to repent and seek the Lord's will.
  • Do not bargain with God: "If thou wilt show unto us a sign..." 
    • God does not need to prove his existence to us, rather, we must prove his existence to ourselves through the recognition of blessings and love.
      • "If a man knoweth ta thing, then he hath no cause to believe.
    • Faith is necessary not just our spiritual and physical growth, but also so that we are protected from sinning despite the desires
    • Faith--a hope for things which are not seen, but are true. 

Daily Blessing:
Friendship. The Lord has provided me with people who truly love and care about me; about my feelings and thoughts and about how I am doing. I feel their love for me, and though I do not always recognize it, when moments of recognition come, I could not be more grateful.