11 July 2014

"Thou Hast Great Cause to Rejoice," Alma 8:14-18

Alma 8:14-18

An angelic communication is received by Alma in these verses. What was the purpose of an angel being sent to Alma? First, it was to bring him comfort. Alma took quite seriously the wickedness of the people of Ammonihah. It weighed him down to the point that he felt "an anguish of soul." (see vs. 14) The angel commands Alma to be of good cheer, stating that Alma had been "faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him." Then the angel adds an extra bit of encouragement by saying "Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you." (vs. 15)

The second reason the angel was sent to Alma was to command him to return to Ammonihah to declare repentance to the people. There was a very specific reason though that was outside of the scope of just the people of Ammonihah that Alma was being sent to Ammonihah. In verse 17, the angel explains, "For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people." The undermining of the Nephite nation, and a people that were bound by covenants to the Lord, is at the very heart of the motives of the people of Ammonihah. Suddenly, it's not an issue of letting wicked people just be and exist in their wickedness (which was hard enough for Alma), but now it is a issue of national security, and more importantly, the means by which the judgments of God may be rightly executed on behalf of the liberty and protection of those that do believe and follow the commandments of God.

Because He is a merciful and infinitely just Being, God will not execute judgments upon any of his children, without first sending messengers to warn them of the pending destruction which awaits them.

Returning to verse 15, and the angel's declaration: "Thou has great cause to rejoice." The implications of this statement are deep. The reason for the angel's reassurance is because of Alma's extended period of perfected faithfulness to the commandments of God. Prolonged obedience brings great stores of personal peace and integrity. That an angel sent from the presence of God gave Alma this reassurance gives me greater confidence (amidst humility) that when we are obedient to the commands of God, we will always be right.

23 June 2014

"Satan Had Gotten Great Hold upon the Hearts," Alma 8:7-13

Alma 8:7-13

There are two corollary lines of thought that I find very interesting, which this passage reminds me of: Works and Knowledge.

In verse 9, the scripture observes "Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people." There's a footnote on the word "hold" that leads me to consider the reality of satan's opposition. In terms of knowledge, he discourages people from knowing him, while God encourages us to know Him (God the Father and His Son).

In regards to works, the works of the devil oppose the works of righteousness. In fact, one of the more diabolical tactics employed by the devil is to say that no work is needed to draw closer to God. Similarly, he lies to others by telling them that there is no need to work in Zion. (see 2 Nephi 28:19-22 )

There  is actually a third line of thought which results in understand one of satan's most effective tactics: contention, to "stir them up to anger against that which is good." (2 Nephi 28:20) "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another." (3 Nephi 11:29)

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Back in Alma 8, we read in verse 7, that when the city of Ammonihah was established, it was established after the traditions of the Nephites, meaning that they were probably inclined to the traditions of Nephites, including traditions that were probably righteous traditions. Hence, Alma feels it appropriate to enter in among them to preach the word of God, to what he hopes will be a receptive people. (Verse 7 seems to suggest this.)

Verse 9 holds that much more weight and depth, because "Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma." What we see here then is evidence of the work of wickedness that the devil had accomplished among the people of Ammonihah since its founding. Is there no work going on here? Satan knows as well as God that in order to accomplish anything, we must be industrious about the course we wish to pursue. We can accomplish nothing without work.

Subsequently, as we look at verse 10, we see how hard Alma is working in response to the wickedness and the work that has already been accomplished among this people.

Because of the work that Alma did to try to preach to the people, and because of the response of the people to his preaching, Alma withdraws himself from among them to move on elsewhere, to where his preaching would be better received. This is good doctrine and council: that we do not dwell among those that would not receive us, as long as we have the confidence that we have given everything that we have to give. (see vs 13)

17 June 2014

"In the Land of Melek," Alma 8:1-6

Alma 8:1-6

Not in a chapter in and of itself, this brief account of Alma's work in the land of Melek stands in contrast to the account that is made in the land of Ammonihah. For in the land of Ammonihah, Alma is met with great opposition and rebellion in his efforts to preach the Gospel. But what we see from the previous chapter among the people of Gideon and from this summary of his visit to Melek, is that, for the most part the people were willing to listen to Alma and believed the things that he taught, and many were baptized.

Verse 5 even goes so far as to say that people came in from the corners of the land to be baptized. It seems that the people recognized the great importance of having an authorized servant of God among them.

Alma taught "according to the Holy Order of God." (see verse 4) Or in other words, it was his commission to the Priesthood that gave him authority and the responsibility to share the word of God with others.

Among the membership of the Church today, this is something that is easily taken for granted. We have missionaries among us. We are organized into quorums. Temples surround us. Priesthood leadership is in our midst. What a blessing it is to have the church as we have it today! Never to be taken for granted. Then when we do have those sacred and rare privileges to listen to prophets and apostles, isn't it amazing that technology has provided us with the tools to be able to communicate across the globe?

But I go back to my initial thought, and what we have here in Melek is proof that what had happened to the people of Ammonihah was notable for their wickedness. In our day, the gray of indifference would have us conclude that there is neither good nor bad. The people of Melek and of Gideon responded to the word of God with humility and faith when it was preached to them. The people of Ammonihah responded in wickedness, reacting in anger and violence to the word of God.

01 May 2014

"Awaken You to a Sense of Your Duty to God," Alma 7:22-27

Alma 7:22-27

This is a powerful conclusion to a discourse given to a righteous people. In verse 22, Alma expresses his desire for the people is that "ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received." This is a fascinating observation and desire, that one may walk blameless before God. With such desires, we see that we are not set up to fail, but to succeed.

Verses 23 and 24 contain the outline of discipleship:
  • Humility
  • Submissiveness
  • Gentle
  • Easily entreated
  • Patient
  • Long-suffering
  • Temperate 
  • Diligent in obedience to God's commandments
  • Praying for all needs both temporal and spiritual
  • Always giving thanks
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Charity
Each of these topics is worthy of extended personal study, so that I might better understand and cultivate these principles in my life.

The final three verses of this chapter seem to be about as close to "happily ever after" as you might find in the scriptures. Alma is hopeful that they will remain spotless before God, he observes that they do give diligent head to the Word of God, and he blesses them that the peace of God may rest upon them forever. And yet this isn't the end of a story, but rather simply a progress report. The story never really ends.

What we get then from this momentary snap shot is a reality that the higher realms and loftier aspirations of discipleship can in fact be realized. This is so true! We need not spend our lives waiting vainly for the days when things will get better, when those better days are ours to be had here and now if we choose to act upon them. The account of the people of Gideon is evidence of that. They hadn't waited for the prophet to come -- they were already in the pathway of discipleship, so their lot was improved upon, reinforced, and strengthened because they were already where they were suppose to be.

Here's the thing, it's not that life stops happening when we get to this point of grace perfected (if we could call it that?). It's not that people stop dying and babies stop being born, challenges cease to be challenging, and life becomes as smooth as a placid lake. Life becomes richly meaningful. Nothing happens without purpose. The plan of God is expedited in profound ways.

All this given us then, Alma's call to "awaken to our duty to God" suggest to me the need to return in gratitude for all that God has already given us.

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Addendum: As I went back and did a search for the phrase "Duty to God" on lds.org, of course I was brought to several talks that address the "Duty to God" program for young men, but the talks also discussed principles related to the topic of our responsibility to God. I am writing as a parent of youth, and am coming to realize that it is part of my duty to teach my children their duty to God. Ironic as it may be, if we want to keep our children on the covenant path, then they must understand the duty and obligation that is theirs as members of the Church of Christ.

Our Duty to God: The Mission of Parents and Leaders to the Rising Generation
Fulfilling Our Duty to God

17 April 2014

"By the Testimony of His Word," Alma 7:15-21

Alma 7:15-21

I find in verses 15 and 16 a recap of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism unto the remission of sins, endurance until the end. His testimony of these principles is confirmed to him according to the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Our fears are what bind us to destruction. Our faith is what causes us to live lives of extraordinary capacity and interest.  There are sins which bind us down and commandments that liberate and free us. Commandments are not only those written in stone by Moses thousands of years ago, but also include the whisperings of the Spirit and "every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:44)

It is also by the manifestation of the Spirit that Alma received a witness of the faith of those at Gideon (see vs. 17). This thought has been impressed upon me recently as to how this work is guided by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Obedience to that Spirit is requisite to be a true servant of the Lord. Alma places so much confidence in those impressions that he knows that his preaching to these people has not been in vain.

These verses also remind me of the instructions given in the Doctrine and Covenants concerning workings of the spirit:  See Doctrine and Covenants 50.

Throughout these verses, Alma speaks in sure terms of knowledge and understanding using definitive terms like "I know" or "I perceive," followed by the explanation that the Holy Spirit is the source of his surety. Then in verse 20, Alma turns the tables with the following statement:
I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths;
 Instead of stating that this is his testimony, Alma says that he perceives that this is the people's testimony. Testimony of what? A testimony of the Word of God that says that God cannot walk in crooked paths. So in other words, the people of Gideon had already obtained a testimony of the truth from their own application of the Word of God to their own lives and the conclusion that they had received -- the substance of their testimony -- is that when they do what God commands exactly as he has commanded them, then are they blessed. "Neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong;"

As a concluding thought, my perception of these verses has changed dramatically because of the time that I've taken to study them. What initially appeared to be as presumptuous statements, I now see as humble declarations of reality. It gives me pause to consider how many people falsely assume truth to be something other than that.

09 April 2014

"The Son of God Suffereth According to the Flesh," Alma 7:10-14

Alma 7:10-14

I have for many years taken for granted that when the scriptures talk about Mary as a virgin, that this was just a given. I simply assumed that was just who she was. When in reality this is who she chose to be. It was a deliberate choice to keep herself clean and pure, that then qualified her for the role that she was blessed to receive.

The same realization must be made of our Savior. When the scriptures talk of his "suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind," what we must see is that, indeed,  He chose to "take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." (vs. 11)

Another thought, that I find to be almost as paradoxical as it is true (and it is this way with most everything in the Gospel of Christ), is that we are to try to comprehend the infinite Atonement of Christ, when our minds are limited to the finite. The reality is that we will never be able to fully understand it in our present mortal state. We cannot comprehend it. And yet we are commanded to try to understand it. We are given a knowledge of it, and commanded to reverence this great and atoning sacrifice.

Yet it is real. Though it is greater than our capacity to comprehend it, it is real. It directly impacts us. In fact, we are governed by it according to the conditions and terms of its justice and mercy, and yet it is still something that we cannot ever quite fully wrap our minds around.

Because of Christ and His infinitely reaching Atonement, repentance becomes possible unto us.  (See verse 14)

03 April 2014

"Repent Ye, and Prepare the Way of the Lord," Alma 7:7-9

Alma 7:7-9

This particular injunction resonates with me, probably because of my personal circumstances at the moment. Yet it seems that the personal and individualized instruction tends to be the most universally compelling at the same time.

Alma states that the Spirit had said unto him to tell the people of Gideon:
Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. (vs. 9)
In chapter 9, a different account is found where Alma is among the people of Ammonihah. This time it is the voice of an angel that had instructed Alma:
 And now for this cause, that ye may not be destroyed, the Lord has sent his angel to visit many of his people, declaring unto them that they must go forth and cry mightily unto this people, saying: Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand;
And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers. (Alma 9:25-26)
I am reminded that the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our day is the same message as what Alma taught his people: "the Kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand."

In our time, it is even more noteworthy.  For from the time that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, there has been the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth as fulfillment of one of the great signs of the last days (Dan. 2:44, see also D&C 65, 3 Ne 21). Its growth has been like the growth of a tree. Small and delicate at first, with ample nurturing and tender care. The longer that it lives, the greater the strength and protection. And yet its growth today is faster and more abundant than ever before. Its protection is more sure and steady. For those involved in the work, the spirit associated with it grows more compelling daily, and the work to gather those that will believe in it is hastening (Isa. 49:22-23). Truly, the kingdom of heaven is at hand in a way that it has never been before.