19 January 2017

"Once Enlightened... and Then Fallen... Their State Becomes Worse," Alma 24:28-30

Alma 24:28-30

The greatest opposition to the work of the Lord is not the unrepentant heathen. No, rather it is those who were once blessed with light and then turned away from their enlightenment. Which unfortunately for members of Christ's church, that means the greatest opposition is among us.

Taking this a step further, my greatest opposition to progress is not external, its internal. It is myself and that tendency to think that because I have already been enlightened once, I am well enough alone.
But "great faith has a short shelf life," (see "Spiritual Preparedness:Start Early and Be Steady"). 




17 January 2017

"The Lord Worketh By Many Ways to the Salvation of His People," Alma 24:20-27

Alma 24:20-27

The first line of verse 20 has caught me attention this morning. There are deliberate preparations by their brethren to destroy the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. I think the Spirit is trying to tell me this morning that there are deliberate preparations in our day to destroy the righteous and righteousness. I feel it is more calculated and bent on destruction than any would realize. But if these had been converted to the Gospel of Christ, as brethren, they would not have been the opposition.

Now what happens here is a difficult story to think about and consider, but it is the account of selfless sacrifice even to the point of death, or laying down of one's own life, and the resultant conversion of more than a thousand of their brethren who openly opposed them on the battlefield.

The conclusion to this section is found in verse 27: "thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people."

After prayer, I am caused to consider the repercussions of this sacrifice on their families. It strikes me that the accounts of the stripling warriors does not connect the two groups directly (those who had been slain and the fathers of the stripling warriors), but perhaps in part, this is why the account of the stripling warriors only makes reference to their mothers. It is very likely that some of their fathers were among those who had been slain.

13 January 2017

"Since God Hath Taken Away Our Stains... Then Let Us Stain Our Swords No More," Alma 24:5-19

Alma 24:5-19

Verse 5 - I need to remind myself that within a context of charity, this is a vexing issue for these missionaries to see their brethren being threatened with war as a result of their conversion to Christ. Compelled by this deep sense of duty and love for their brethren, they gather together in a council that they might determine the will of the Lord in this matter.  Councils as a tool are well documented elsewhere as to their effectiveness in group settings. Oh what good gets accomplished in councils when motivated by genuine concern and love!

I'm also impressed that this council happened as they had become aware of the Lamanites' preparations for war. It wasn't an afterthought as a result of a battle already fought. Though past experience and whatever counter-intelligence that they had access to as leaders, they saw beforehand the struggles that lay ahead of them, and so they counseled collectively on how to avoid such.

Gratitude is a predecessor here in the disposition of the king for their particular position regarding their response to the Lamanites' and their preparation for war. By this, I mean that repeatedly the king expresses his thanks to God for the series of events that had lead them up to this point of conversion among him and his people.

The king lists at least four points of gratitude for blessings received from "my great God":
  • That God in his goodness had sent the Nephites to preach to them and convince them of their of the traditions of their "wicked fathers." (vs. 7)
  • That God had softened their hearts through the spirit enough to begin corresponding with the Nephite missionaries. (vs. 8)
  • By so doing, they had been convinced of their many sins and murders. (vs. 9)
  • That God had granted unto them that they might repent, that they had received a forgiveness of these sins and murders, and  that through the "merits of his Son" the guilt of all this had been taken from them. (vs. 10)
Then in consideration of all these blessings, the only form of repayment is that of repentance, which lead to further gratitude for the forgiveness of sins granted them.

----

I am considering further how Lamoni explains to his people the process of their conversion and why this particular course of action is being reasonably justified among them.

The central argument for Lamoni's argument is their repentance and conversion which was brought to past through the convincing power of God that was wrought through the Nephite missionaries that came to them. (See vs. 7 - 12)

Lamoni says that "by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins." (vs 9) This is similar wording to these passages that talk about the labors of Heleman:

Therefore, Helaman and his brethren went forth, and did declare the word of God with much power unto the convincing of many people of their wickedness, which did cause them to repent of their sins and to be baptized unto the Lord their God. (Alma 62:45)
And then the council that was given to Hyrum Smith:
...First seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.(Doctrine and Covenants 11:21)

And hence the counsel that if found later in the Doctrine and Covenants 50:13-22 to preach the Gospel by the power the Spirit. Then shall the power of God be granted unto us unto the convincing of men.

----

The remainder of these verses are predicated upon one eternal truth: namely, that God forgives sin and pardons the demands of justice through the grace of Christ's Atonement for sins committed. It is this overpowering reality, this sense of profound gratitude for having personally experienced the forgiveness of " those [their] many sins and murders which [they had] committed" (see vs. 10), for which the decision to not take up arms is based.

So in light of this deep sense of forgiveness that they had experienced first hand, the king has a sizeable concern that if they were to go back to war that they might loose this blessing of forgiveness which they had received. But it is actually more than just a concern of falling out of favor.

Verses 13 and 14 explain the seriousness of the issue. It is that if they were to repeat those grievous sins for which they had already been forgiven through the blood of the Atonement of Christ, that they would have fallen into a worse state in the which they would not be able to obtain forgiveness again. The king goes on to explain that this is not just his opinion but rather "the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish;" (vs. 14) This truth had been revealed unto them.

This is clarified further in verse 15. The matter is an issue of accountability. Accountability for what? For truth received. The decision to not bare arms was a direct result of understanding their obligation to God for his blessings.  It was:
 "a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby."
The result of the Lamanite's realization is a covenant that has at its core three mandates:
  1. "Rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives"
  2. "Rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him"
  3. "Rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands"
And hence:
And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace. (vs. 19)
  

15 December 2016

"Against the People of God," Alma 24:1-4

Alma 24:1-4

As I reviewed verses 1 and 2, the thought came into my head that these people (the Amulonites and Amalekites) were deliberately in opposition to whoever had a belief in God. Now that the Lamanites had converted to God and though these former Nephites had tried to escape this influence by moving among the Lamanites, the opposition had come again into their own country.

In my Sunday School classes yesterday, we were having a discussion on faith, hope, and charity. Our instructor made an interesting observation about the adversary's counterfeits: fear, despair, and anger. I mention this hear because this is what is motivating these former Nephites to take action against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

"...[they] were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.
"And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel..."
 Fear can be a powerful motivator, and has been for much of the world's history. But faith is the greater motivator, the correct and true form of motivating according to the Plan of Happiness. When we act in faith, the end result is increased joy. When we act in fear, the fruit is confusion and loss.

There is a difference between fear and faith though. Fear is the natural human tendency. It requires no effort to cultivate and is found in abundance. Faith is a gift of God, and as such, it must be prayed for.

09 December 2016

"The Curse of God Did No More Follow Them," Alma 23:7-18

Alma 23:7-18

We read in verse 7:
For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren.

Symbols of conversion to Christ included a name change and they become a "very industrious people."



It is a few mornings after the first day that I have read this group of verses. I am now sufficiently humbled to hear the word of the Lord.

(How many times has this pattern been repeated? I come to a seemingly clerical set of verses - a set of verses that appear to only be there for housekeeping reasons, or to connect the story lines from one point to another. But time and time again, nothing is in this Book of Mormon without deliberate purpose. Such is this passage.)

So we have here a list of the seven lands that were converted to the Lord. The list may seem like just a list of names at first. But do we ever regard converts to the Lord with such superficial, trivial attention? Heaven forbid! So here is the list:
  • The Land of Ishmael - This is King Lamoni's land, where Ammon first ministered, by its name though, we can deduct that these are probably the descendants of Ishmael who came over with Lehi's family. This is significant in the fulfillment of promises and covenants that were probably made to Ishmael, though we don't readily have a record of that. But here it is: the conversion of Ishmael's posterity. 
  • The Land of Middoni - We don't really have much of account of what happened here, but it is significant to note that this was were Aaron and his brethren were imprisoned.  Prior to their imprisonment, there were only a few converts. But now (much different than what happened in Ammonihah were Alma and Amulek were imprisoned), this land has been converted to the Lord. 
  • The City of Nephi - The heart of the Lamanite civilization! This is the oldest city on the American continent that was inhabited by the Nephites and Lamanites. This is the city that was overtaken by the Lamanites, when the Nephites fled for Zarahemla. Here we see the promises bring fulfilled that were made to Lehi about his posterity being converted to the Lord. 
  • The Land of Shilom - This is the land from whence king Limhi (son of King Noah) escaped from the oppression of the Lamanites, by circumventing the land one generation before. 
  • The Land of Shemlon - This land was also near the same settlement estalished by Zeniff (King Noah's father). There are many references to it in the book of Mosiah. Most notable is perhaps the passage that explains that the wicked priests of Noah, lead by Amulon,  had taught (falsely) in this same land a generation before (see Mosiah 24:1).
  • The City of Lemuel - Nothing is known about this city except that it is named after one of the sons of Lehi. Probably much like the city of Nephi, this city probably had been in existence from early on. This city also represents the same promises and covenants being fulfilled.
  • The City of Shimnilom - Nothing is recorded elsewhere in the scriptures about this final city. 
Verse 15 states, "Therefore, we have named all the cities of the Lamanites in which they did repent and come to the knowledge of the truth, and were converted." I am tempted to pass over lightly this verse, but this is the reason why these seven lands were recorded in holy writ: they did repent, come to the knowledge of the truth, and were "converted unto the Lord." (vs. 13)



A name change is recorded for the purpose of distinguishing themselves from the Lamanites. Verse 18 record them becoming an industrious people, thus the curse that had fallen upon the Lamanites since the days of Laman and Lemuel had been taken from them.

It is  a curious side note that the curse that was upon the Lamanites probably wasn't a literal change of skin color, rather it was a curse of powerlessness, idleness, sin, and abomination, -- all of which caused a separation between the Lamanites and the Nephites. This would support the Lamanite king's need and desire for a name change in verses 16 & 17.  Verse 18 also points to their industriousness and the opening of a correspondence with the Nephites as evidences of the curse being taken from them.

25 November 2016

"For the King Had Been Converted Unto the Lord," Alma 23:1-6

Alma 23:1-6

Verse 3 reads "for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household;" There is a footnote on "household" that takes me to Genesis 18:19 where the Lord himself observes the following:
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
I've gone on to read in Genesis about the story of Lot, and how angels came into the city to warn him and his household to get out because the city of Sodom was to be destroyed. The scriptures say:
And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law. (Genesis 19:14)
This is me!  Lot was saved from the destruction and wickedness of the people, but his family was not! Compare and contrast the two patriarchs: Abraham and Lot.

How do I get from being a Lot, to becoming an Abraham?
----

This is an account of a mass conversion to the Lord. I am impressed by how they setup the church with teachers and priests to edify and solidify their conversion. As I think about the Lord Jesus Christ, how in His mortal ministry, He went about establishing the word of God, consecrating teachers and priests, encouraging obedience to the commandments of God -- these missionaries are true followers of the Lord Jesus. They did among the Lamanite people that which the Lord would have done had he been there with them.

24 October 2016

"The Nephites in Their Wisdom," Alma 22:27-35

Alma 22:27-35

What appears to be mostly a lesson in geo-political borders during the time of the Nephites and Lamanites, has me searching for something deeper. The author (Mormon) takes a moment to explain in words the layout of the land so that the we can get an appreciation for how far out the proclamation of the king of Lamanites was circulated.

But I have to believe there is more here. As I approach my study of the Book of Mormon, there is this fundamental assumption: that everything included in the Book of Mormon is written to give a witness or testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. So if that is true (and it is), what do I learn about Christ from these verses?

As the geography is described here, I get an image in my mind that the inhabitants of both the Nephite an Lamanite civilizations are located on the same continent. (Recent thoughts shared with me about the probability that the Lamanites and Nephites didn't literally have different skin colors, also supports the greater need for geographical boundaries.)

This southern continent appears to be separated into three general areas: '
  • The land of Nephi on the south
  • The land of Zarahemla in the middle
  • The land of Bountiful on the north
 The land of Zarahemla sounds to be surrounded on all sides by wilderness.

Those that were attempting to follow Christ are the ones who were imposing the borders. It was the more idle part of the Lamanites that were closest to the Nephites as well, living in the wilderness that surrounded the land of Zarahemla where the Nephites lived. So part of the effect of the borders that were being enforced was to create a separation between the idleness of the Lamanites and the industriousness of the Nephites.

It is also noteworthy that the Nephites did not allow the Lamanites to surround them on all sides. Rather, the Nephites kept the northern part of the wilderness open to give them access to the land northward. It was a place for their retreat.

I've studied this for several days now, and the more that I've come to consider this, there seems to be a spiritual parallel here in the fortified borders of the Nephites that made it so that they were still able to maintain their separation. The scriptures say that this was wisdom in the Nephites so that they wouldn't have to suffer from the afflictions of the Lamanites. (see vs. 34) So must every disciple of Christ build spiritual borders between themselves and the world. These individual, spiritual boundaries separate us from idleness and wickedness of the world. The need for a deliberate separation from the world is requisite for spiritual survival and protection.

But where else is this idea presented?

"And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." (D&C 38:42)

"Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." (Isaiah 52:11)


What is interesting is that there was a boundary to separate the wicked from the righteous, the Nephites from the Lamanites. However that dynamic had already shifted in certain parts of the land of the Nephites, and with the proclamation of the king of the Lamanites stretching throughout all the land of Nephi, boundaries and their purpose were about to change permanently.

This is perhaps the last time in Nephite/Lamanite history where a traditional border and division between these two groups existed, especially on spiritual terms. Perhaps it was for this purpose and the spiritual parallel that could be taken from such a system that the editor at this point in time took pains to include it in the spiritual record of their people.