08 February 2016

"This is God," Alma 18:18-43

Alma 18:18-43

There are a couple of items that are assumed here. Ammon is working by power. And now King Lamoni is recognizing that power: the power to discern the thoughts of his heart, the power to slay the enemies of the king. Lamoni tells Ammon that if he will explain to him how he has this power, that he would in turn give him up to half of his kingdom. This power that Lamoni recognizes, he sees as extremely valuable.

In verse 20, King Lamoni demands, "tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks." The king goes on in the following verse to explain that he would give armed guard to protect Ammon, but that he recognized Ammon as more powerful than his armies, "But I know that thou art more powerful than all they;" (vs. 21).

Now to put what follows into proper context, I have been brought to consider a talk by Elder Jeffery R. Holland given as instruction to new mission presidents regarding the importance of teaching and understanding the nature of the Godhead: Knowing the Godhead.  In his remarks, Elder Holland observes that to "truly find salvation for [our] souls, it will have to begin with some knowledge and understanding of the members of the Godhead."

After reading the whole of his written remarks on topic, I went back to this account in the book of Alma. Ammon seemed to understand the preeminent importance of this priority, that without the foundation of having a correct knowledge of who God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are, nothing else would really  matter. With this focus then, Ammon's is placed in a perfect position to respond to the kings inquiries about his power by testifying of God .

Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.
And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile.(vs. 22-23)
The very first thing that Ammon then does, having gained the full attention of the King, is to teach him who God is and to establish His nature and characteristics. Ammon builds on the king's knowledge of a Great Spirit and equates that with God. (see vs. 24-28) He explains that God is the Creator of heaven and earth.  He teaches that from heaven, God is omniscient and all-knowing into the affairs of man. (see vs. 28-32) He doesn't go into great detail about God's character, only enough to establish Him as God, "This is God." (vs. 28)

The king believes Ammon's words and says so, "I believe all these things which thou hast spoken,"  but then appears to still be very interested in learning by what power he was able to do the works that he had accomplished, and so he asks, "Art thou sent from God?" (vs. 33)

Ammon answers the king's question, deflecting personal adulation, while still teaching about the nature of God, and making perhaps the most important connection in illustrating man's relationship to God, "I am man, and man in the beginning was created after the image of God." In other words, God and man look the same. Man was designed to look like, act like, and be like God.

Ammon then continues by teaching about the Holy Spirit, stating that his call came by that Holy Spirit to teach the people, that they might know that which is just and true. And then finally, the answer to the king's question: "And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God." (vs. 35)

Elder Holland said this:
Our [investigators] need to know that the Holy Ghost is the member of the Godhead with whom they will have their most frequent and most intimate relationship as they receive the missionaries and pray for heavenly guidance regarding their message. It is this member of the Godhead who will lead investigators to truth and will then bear witness of that truth when they encounter it. The investigators must be taught to recognize the Spirit when it manifests itself during the course of the lessons. (ibid)
As Ammon continues to teach, he then recounts a spiritual history of the world from the time of Adam down to the present time, teaching specifically about Lehi, Nephi, and Laman and Lemuel's rebellion. When I read this I think how bold of Ammon to teach Lamanites about the rebellion of Laman and Lemuel. It almost seems to hold the same position as teaching about Joseph Smith in our days. To teach the Lamanites about the rebellion of Laman and Lemuel is also to teach that Nephi was a prophet, who had the word of God from which Laman and Lamuel rebelled.

Then finally in verse 39, Ammon teaches about the plan of redemption and the central role of Jesus Christ. IT seems to be the capstone that everything else points to, and which without, nothing else has purpose or meaning. Ammon does, in fact, teach about all three members of the Godhead, and the immediate effect upon King Lamoni, who had already believed that Ammon would tell him the truth from the outset, is profound.

Immediately the king prays, not only for himself, but also for his people: "O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people," (vs. 41).

17 October 2015

"Rabbanah, the King Desireth Thee to Stay," Alma 18:8-17

Alma 18:8-17

As I'm reading these verses about Ammon's faithfulness as a servant to King Lamoni, the words of the Savior come to mind: "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;  And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:" (Matthew 20:26-27) So back in Alma in verse 13, we read "And one of the king’s servants said unto him [Ammon], Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful; and thus he said unto him: Rabbanah, the king desireth thee to stay." Suddenly, because of his faithfulness as a servant to the king, the other servants were now calling him a great and powerful king.

On the topic of praise, I should note a few other references. I think praise often gets in the way of the Lord's work, becoming an end and a road block to further opportunities to teach. Christ himself deflected praise when he said, "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God."

Pres. Uchtdorf once taught, referencing Pres. James E. Faust,
He explained also how gracious the members of the Church are, especially to General Authorities. He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”
Pres. Uchtdorf goes on to teach:
We know that the contribution we can make by ourselves is small; nevertheless, as we exercise the power of the priesthood in righteousness, God can cause a great and marvelous work to come forth through our efforts. We must learn, as Moses did, that “man is nothing,"(Moses 1:10) by himself but that “with God all things are possible."(Matthew 19:26)


18 September 2015

"His Servants... Stand Forth and Testify," Alma 18:1-7

Alma 18:1-7

This set of verses is the first step in King Lamoni's conversion. A plain testimony of the king's own servants of what Ammon had done. The conversations and conclusions that transpire between the king and his servants reveal their spiritual understanding, or the traditions of their fathers. It's interesting that they concluded that there was a spiritual force at play. What is more interesting though is that suddenly, though the king had always had a belief in a Great Spirit, now he began to fear because of passed actions.

There is a subtle point in here that I find insightful in my approach to parenting: The king had slew many of his servant because others had succeeded in scattering the king's sheep. This caused the servants of the king to be very fearful, because of the consequence of death that seemed inevitable. The king was governing his servants in fear, which the king had had no reservations about doing, until suddenly Ammon shows up to protect the servants of the king. There was fear on the part of the king, because now there was knowledge that there was a better way to govern. Ammon had acted in selfless love. So it is in parenting!

17 September 2015

"That I May Lead Them to Beleive in My Words," Alma 17:18-39

Alma 17:18-39

In these verse, we read about the deaths of seven who opposed a servant of the Lord. I have witnessed similar before, though not to the same degree. Yet, it is only because of my own personal, first-hand experiences with the Lord's work that I have perspective enough to appreciate what is happening here among the Lamanites. Those that would oppose the Lord's servants or directly oppose the work of the Lord, are removed from mortality when they rub too close to the truth, choose not to give heed, and stand in open opposition to the work that was about to transpire.

This is what is happening in these verses. At first it seems that this is just Ammon who is slaying these wicked men, but the footnote on verse 38 shows that if not Ammon, then the Lord himself is able to intervene as well in the taking of life.

(Conversely, I've also seen more recently how death of a worthy servant has also been used to advance the Lord's work. In either case, it is a tool of the Lord.)

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Nevertheless, in the character of Ammon throughout the rest of this passage of scritpure, I see an account of a Christian servant. He goes forth to be a servant to the King of the Lamanites. When conflict arises, Ammon rejoices -- not because of the conflict, but because he sees an opportunity that will both remedy the situation and cause those he is with to believe in his words. (see vs.29)

Verse 30 is pivotal. It points out the pure intent of Ammon's thoughts. It also shows the amount of love that in just this short amount of time (3 days), that Ammon had developed for his fellow-servants which are now referred to as "his brethren."

03 September 2015

"That Perhaps They Might Bring Them unto Repentance," Alma 17:1-17

Alma 17:1-17

Considered to be one of the greatest scriptural passages on missionary work in all of holy writ, there are in these introductory verses principles that are universal in one's approach to service in the kingdom of God.

Verse 16 talks about the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken this work: "that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption." (emphasis added) The use of the word "perhaps" twice in this passage, illustrates one significant eternal reality. It's not a game of chance. However, it could be termed as a risky and very unpredictable investment. We do not know the outcomes of our labors. We would like to think that we could see how things will pan out from the outset, but such is not our privilege and such would void the exercise of faith. And so it is that that prospects of repentance are here couched with this qualifier that "perhaps they might bring them unto repentance... and to know of the plan of redemption."

It seems that to understand the unpredictable nature of missionary work is a key to successfully developing such a venture. We plant many seeds, then we must be discerning as to which seeds will grow and how and when.

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Back at the beginning of the chapter, there is a phrase that to me is most gratifying. "...And what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord;" These verses create the desire to have such reunions with friends that we have grown with spiritually over the years. There is a kinship and friendship, not unlike the relationship with close family members, that such a reunion fosters.

And I almost feel that words are not enough to explain the significance of this passage: to be converted to the Lord together, and then separated for so long, and then again, to be reunited after such length and to discover that the years that have passed have proven to be spiritually refining on both sides of the reunion. Again, works are inadequate to describe such feelings of joy and thanksgiving.

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Enough commentary, what are the principles of missionary work defined in these verses?

  • Diligent Scripture Study - "they... searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God." (vs.2)
  • Much Fasting and Prayer - This was the key to their success, for it entitled them to the spirit of prophecy and revelation, "and when they taught, they taught with power and authority from God." (vs. 3)
We talk much about teaching by the spirit in this Church, and indeed it is true. What I fail to recognize is that the full description for teaching by the spirit is the spirit of prophecy or the spirit of revelation.

  • Power of the Word - It was through their diligent efforts to preach the word of God that they saw much success, that is many were brought to repentance. (vs. 4)
  • Patience in Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Afflictions/Sufferings -missionary work is not easy, and requires exertion of all faculties: body, mind, heart, and spirit. (vs. 5)
  • Personal Sacrifice - The sons of Mosiah sacrificed personal prestige to be enlisted in the Lord's service. (vs. 6
In verses 9 - 12, the realization of these principles was a clear manifestation of the Spirit to them. They had first fasted and prayed and diligently sought that the Spirit of the Lord would be with them in their labors. Then after their personal exertions and sacrifice, the voice of the Spirit came unto them bidding them to be comforted, and then giving instructions and permission to go forth among the Lamanites. Now they had more than just faith, they had a commandment from the Lord Himself, personal instruction and inspiration that sanctioned their entrance as missionaries among the Lamanites. 

05 August 2015

"They Did Impart the Word of God, Without Any Respect of Persons, Continually," Alma 16

Alma 16

In this chapter, there is an account of a war between the Lamanites and the Nephites. It came at the end of a period of elongated peace. Before the Nephites are able to gather sufficient strength to withstand the Lamanite army, the town of Ammonihah is consumed.

Other Nephites are taken captive. Fortunately, their military leader is a man by the name of Zoram who inquires of Alma as to where to go to find those Nephites that had been taken captive. Alma, being possessor of the spirit of prophecy, is able to tell Zoram exactly where to find the prisoners upon inquiry from the Lord. (See verses 4-8)

The people of Ammonihah are destroyed in one day. (vs. 10)

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After the wars are past, the work of the ministry is resumed. Alma and Amulek continued "preaching repentance to the people" together. (See vs. 13)

In verse 14, there is a hidden gem: "And as many as would hear their words, unto them they did impart the word of God, without any respect of persons, continually." (emphasis added) This statement points out the obvious, yet it needs to be pointed out. God is no respecter of person. This profound truth was taught in dramatic fashion to Peter at the home of Cornelius in Ceasarea (see Acts 10:34), and a similar reality was made manifest many centuries earlier to Moses in the Mount Sinai (see Moses 1:10).

These verses in Alma go on to tell of abundant spiritual manifestations which were preparing the hearts of the people for the time in which Christ would come and teach them. The point that is most strongly impressed upon my mind is that they were being prepared. There was a period of spiritual preparation.

I'm drawing a parallel here through what I've seen happen on a personal level with a family that I was very close to. The mother who was righteous was taken in death prematurely because of cancer. The father followed in death because of his wickedness. Then the children that remained began to flourish. Missions have been served, temple blessings received.

Looking back historically though, did spiritual preparations make a difference for the Nephites at the time of his coming? The adversary would have us look past the obvious: when Christ came to the Nephites, everything changed, and there was peace among the people for many, many years. So now in Alma 16, we read here about how the people were being prepared for a period of time that was only about a hundred years away.

The Spirit seems to suggest, though neither He nor I know how soon, that our times are similar or parallel to the Nephites. We may be closer, but only time will tell. The reality is that Christ is coming, and that we do well to prepare His coming.

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The preaching of the word of God among the Nephites at this point in their history had a profound effect in establishing peace among them. So much so that at the end of the chapter, the author describes this effort as "having got the victory over the devil, and the word of God being preached in its purity in all the land, and the Lord pouring out his blessings upon the people," (vs. 21). 

The people were taught that Christ would come among them after His resurrection, which thing gave them great joy. Having the end in mind was a motivating factor for their faith.

The end reality of this is that they did preach the word of God and they were met with success. The same will be true in our days, if we preach the word of God, we will be met with success.

23 July 2015

"Alma... Did Administer Unto Him in His Tribulations," Alma 15

Alma 15

This chapter addresses something that I feel that I am not very good at: ministering to the sick and the poor. The story of Zeezrom also concludes in this chapter, he (having been taken gravely ill) being the key player to whom Alma administered to. (Side note: In times past, my wife and I have also discussed this chapter as evidence of how sin and one's mental and emotional state can have a direct impact on the physical well being of an individual.)

After Alma and Amulek's miraculous deliverance from the prison at Ammonihah, they were commanded to leave that town. (vs. 1) At Sidom, many of those who believed the preaching of Alma and Amulek had resorted there, and at Alma's arrival they learned of the fate of the wives and children, and also their own miraculous deliverance.

The first case study in this chapter is Zeezrom. Zeezrom is fully convinced that Alma and Amulek were no more and that their destruction rested fully upon his own shoulders. The mental and spiritual anguish that Zeezrom was passing through caused him to be taken sick with a burning fever. "And they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was exceedingly sore because of his iniquities;" (vs. 5)

When Zeezrom learns of Alma and Amulek's arrival at Sidom, suddenly redemption becomes an option, and he calls for them immediately. I love the conversation that follows:

And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ. (vs. 6 -10)
 A healing miracle occurs in verse 11, where Zeezrom immediately is healed and he "leaped upon his feet, and began to walk." Such are the miracles of those who worthily act according to their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Alma asks Zeezrom if he believes in the power Christ unto salvation (speaking in the long term it seems to me), and then he affirms that if Zeezrom believes in the redemption of Christ he could be healed. Zeezrom acknowledges the truth of Alma's words, and then Alma heals him "according to his faith which is in Christ." Christ is the only name under heaven by which men can truly be saved and healed of their weakness and wickedness.

Subsequently, Zeezrom is baptized and becomes a minister to the people.

The second case study of ministering and succoring the poor and needed is that of Amulek. We learn in verse 16 that Amulek had literally "forsaken all... for the word of God." We learn that Amulek had also been rejected by his own friends, his father and kindred (other family members). The scriptures here say nothing about Amulek's wife or his children, but back in Alma 10:11, he said, "For behold, [Alma] hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed." The scriptures are quiet on the point of what happened to his wife (or wives) and children. Perhaps we can reasonably assume that they were 1) among those that were cast into the flames, or 2) among the disbelievers. I tend to think that they were among the martyrs, but it is a mute point for speculation. I only address the question here to help illustrate the reality that Amulek was literally alone in his new faith, stripped of everything familiar to him: both his personal belongings and all friend and family relations.

In this context, what Alma does with Amulek is all the more touching. "therefore [Alma] took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord." (vs. 18, emphasis added)