22 September 2016

"What Shall I Do?" Alma 22:15-16

Alma 22:15-16


After the king had the plan of redemption explained to him by Aaron, the missionary, the king had only one question on his mind: "What shall I do...?" There is actually more to his question than this, but this is so profoundly similar to Peter's interactions with those at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. (See Acts 2:37)

What the king said in its entirety was this:
...What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? (vs. 15, emphasis added)
The verse continues with the king making one final statement, which emphasizes the urgency of his inquiry, "Behold... I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom..." Is the grass really greener on the other side? By that, I mean, is having all of this world's goods, wealth, and power; is it really better, happier, more joyful, more (~fill in the blank~), than the peace, joy, and happiness that the Gospel of Christ affords? Here is a man who had all that this would could give him. It would seem that the king felt it was not "greener" on the other side. So here is a king, longing for eternal joy and asking how to find it.

It's even more important that the king was asking questions. I'd venture to add that these are inspired questions at that. By that I mean the Spirit of the Lord was probably responsible for planting these questions in his heart. The king acted on these questions and in the asking of questions, he is at the same time expressing the pure desires of his heart.

Aaron's response in the next verse is pivotal. Allowing the king to confirm his motives, Aaron states: "If thou desirest this thing..." and then he goes on to give detailed instruction on what the king needed to do:
  1. "Bow down before God"
  2. "Repent of all thy sins" 
  3. "Call on his name in faith" 
  4. "[Believe] that ye shall receive"
Four simple steps to explain in word; yet, how hard to embrace. In fact, the king's ability to readily act on these simple instructions seems to be entirely proportional to the urgency of his desire. By that I mean, our ability to act on the plan of happiness (or the plan of redemption that brings lasting peace and happiness) is completely predicated upon how important we feel this to be  It's utterly dependent upon the desires of our heart as to whether or not we are able to accomplish the requirements of happiness. Happiness does have a price, and its name is Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ and Repentance.

Then, after Aaron's succinct explanation, there was one final statement of assurance: "then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest." Aaron speaks from testimony in this statement when he promises the king that it will work. These are the same steps that he had already experienced for himself. They are the same steps that anyone who honestly seeks for a better life must pass through. So it's not just  a vain, empty wish. No, the promise is sure.

He (or she) who humbles himself before God, walks the thorny road of repentance, and calls out to the name of Jesus Christ in faith, believing it will happen, the hope of joy will come! I know this as well as Aaron did when he declared it to the king. It's been good to be reminded of this again.

19 September 2016

"Believest thou that there is a God?," Alma 22:1-14

Alma 22:1-14

The start of this chapter takes pains again (see previous chapter) to explain that the Spirit of the Lord did lead Aaron and his brethren to the house of the king over all the land of Nephi, except that part which the king had recently separated and given to his son, Lamoni. The geo-political details are not nearly as important here as the fact that it was the Spirit of the Lord that led them there. They didn't go because they were directed to go by Ammon, though Ammon was the one who relayed the referral. They didn't go because there was nothing else for them to do, and they felt like shooting for the stars. They went because the Spirit of the Lord led them there. (see vs. 1)

They may not even have known that this was where they were headed, like Nephi trying to get the brass plates, taking one step at a time. On the other hand, maybe they did fully know exactly where they were going and in what context they were coming. Because after all, Ammon had just rescued them because of his interactions with the king. Either way, it requires courage to follow a prompting of the Spirit that would cause you walk straight into the palace of the king over all the lands of the Lamanites, and request audience with the king, but that's exactly what Aaron did. (see vs. 2)

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At the initial contact with the king, Aaron and his brethren attempt the same approach (as did Ammon) to offer their services as servants to the king. However, the king would not permit them to be his servants. He had questions to be answered. The generosity of Ammon and "the greatness of his words" had left the king troubled in mind. There was no need to dig up the soil of the soul here, for the king had already been primed for learning.

The king had also inquired as to why Ammon didn't come with them. In a matter of fact declaration, Aaron states: "Behold, the Spirit of the Lord has called him another way;" and then explains that he had returned to the land of Ismael with Lamoni. (see vs. 5) These direct statements of doctrinal truth, because they were unfamiliar to the king, became the catalyst for his inquiry.

The king also inquires of them as to what Ammon meant when he said, "If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day." (vs. 6) This is possibly what the king was referring to when he said earlier that he was troubled because of the greatness of the words of Ammon.(see vs. 3)

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With the foundation of inquiry laid before them (what is the Spirit of the Lord and what is repentance?), Aaron's approach at this point is very similar to Ammon's. And he starts by asking a question. In fact, Aaron asks the same question that Ammon had asked the king's son: "Believest thou that there is a God?" (vs. 7Alma 18:24)

Aaron's approach, like Ammon's, builds on common ground. The king himself doesn't believe in a "God," but he did acknowledge that some of his subjects did, and he was sympathetic to their requests to build synagogues.(vs. 7) In a spirit of edification, Aaron doesn't attempt to debunk the Amalekites' false form of worship towards God. He is focused on establishing a common foundation.

As Aaron reassures the king of the reality of a God, the king then begins to explore this idea. He asks: "Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?" Again, not being negative or focusing on the false parts of the king's concept of God as a Great Spirit, Aaron confirms the king's connection that God guided their forefathers to the promised land. He used what the king was familiar with to build on the common ground that was already there.

Doing so, Aaron is then able to establish God as a creator. The king acknowledges the same, and then asks Aaron to give him more detail about these things. It is curious that Aaron never explained the details of the two specific questions that were on the king's mind. Rather, Aaron first established the reality of God's existence, then "[beginning] from the creation of Adam," he laid out the plan of redemption -- that beautiful, glorious plan that gives life purpose and meaning.

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There is one final thought that impresses me as I contemplate the plan of redemption described in the verses at the end of this part of the chapter. Verse 13 states that the plan was "prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name." Or in other words, Christ the Lord is to be directly credited for the preparations of the plan of redemption, which preparations where made on behalf of any and all who would believe on His name, the name of Christ Jesus.

Then next verse goes further to detail Christ's intimate, unique, and absolute role in the plan, and man's utter dependence upon Christ. Because of his fallen state, man of himself could merit nothing. The verse goes on to explain that the sufferings and death of Christ atones for the sins of man. The same verse also goes on to explain how Christ broke the bands of death so that the grave could have no victory and that the sting of death would be completely consumed (or swallowed up) through the hope of glory.

Given the enormity of the Savior's part in the execution of the plan, all that man can do in reply is to have faith and repent and so forth. It seems like such a small and disproportionate requirement that God asks of us for our total participation in His plan.

10 August 2016

"He Did Exhort Them Daily, with All Diligence," Alma 21:18-23

Alma 21:18-23

Now there is a curious thing that transpires in these verses. In returning to the affairs of his own kingdom, Lamoni subsequently establishes the rule of a free people through his land. It is an interesting sequence of events:
  1. The king Lamoni and his household is converted to the gospel of Christ. (chapters 18-19)
  2. Ammon and Lamoni are confronted by Lamoni's father, king over all the land, which results in Lamoni obtaining full freedom and autonomy to govern over his own kingdom as he pleased. (chapter 20)
  3. Lamoni subsequently (in these verses) returns to his own land, and declares freedom for all in his kingdom. 
In considering this freedom, a footnote has brought me over to Doctrine and Covenants 134:1-4, which reads in part:
We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life...
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
 Finding this set of verses from Doctrine and Covenants validates the importance of religious freedom and its place as a core tenet of free society.

Surrounding the establishment of freedom in the land of Ishmael, the question of what the role of Ammon would be is brought to consideration. King Lamoni would not permit that Ammon remain a servant. So we read in the end of the chapter about his modified duties.

Verse 23 reads in part:
And Ammon did preach unto the people of king Lamoni; and it came to pass that he did teach them all things concerning things pertaining to righteousness. And he did exhort them daily, with all diligence;
 We talk a lot about the miraculous conversion of the Lamanites pointing to Ammon's labors at the beginnings: chopping off arms, converting the king, etc. We also like to reference the evidences of their profound conversion pointing to the army of Helaman, the 2000 stripling warriors, and their amazing mothers. Yet between point A and point B, we get a glimpse here of how this mighty conversion was maintained and how it was that a nation was built to produce such an unified conversion to the Gospel of Christ among the people of Lamoni.

Daily, Ammon was found teaching the people concerning the things pertaining to righteousness, with all diligence. There is nothing glamorous about this type of consistent dedication, but the results are almost guaranteed to produce the desired outcomes of deep and abiding conversion to the truth. This is where the bulk of Ammon's missionary labors were spent, in establishing and then maintaining the Church among the people of Lamoni for 14 years!

05 August 2016

"And They Went Forth Again to Declare the Word," Alma 21:15-17

Alma 21:15-17

What surprises me about this set of verses is that in a sense, nothing had changed. Their external circumstances had not changed. After Aaron and his brethren had been released from prison, they went back to the synogogues of the Amalekites and into any assembly of the Lamanites that would let them come in. The venues did not change.

What did change was this: "And they went forth whithersoever they were led by the Spirit of the Lord," ( vs. 16). I went back and looked for any reference to the Spirit of the Lord guiding their previous efforts, and there was none. Imprisonment and the subsequent sufferings that resulted seems to have been the humility catalyst needed to prepare this particular set of missionaries for the work that lay ahead of them.

Now verse 17 states that:
...the Lord began to bless them, insomuch that they brought many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, they did convince many of their sins, and of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.
There is a footnote on the word "convince." There is a longing as I read this, and the other passages connected to this footnote, to want to be this kind of instrument in the hands of the Lord. 

01 August 2016

" And Few Believed," Alma 21:1-14

Alma 21:1-14

At the beginning of the chapter, Aaron and his brethren first arrive at a land named Jerusalem, named by the Lamanites in remembrance of the land from which they came. The Lamanites built this city with the help of those who had dissented from among the Nephites, the Amalekites and the people of Amulon (making the city then probably less than 50 years old at the time that Aaron and his brethren visit it).

Now an interesting phenomenon is observed here. For the Lamanites were already of a hard heart, but these other groups which had only recently dissented from the Nephites, were even more hardened in their hearts. I suppose this is because for the Amulonites and the Amalekites, they were this way of their own choice, whereas the Lamanites had inherited their hardheartedness as a tradition from their forefathers. The mixture of the two seems to have had a more damaging effect, causing the Lamanites to be more wicked. (see vs. 3)

Aaron discovers that in the span of one generation, one man's false beliefs (remember Nehor slew Gideon in Alma 1) have now expanded into a religious lifestyle among this people, with synagogues being built after the order of the Nehors. Wickedness is permitted to be cultivated and strengthened among the Lamanites in their hardened state.

So Aaron begins to preach the word of God in this setting, a synagogue of the Nehors. Almost immediately, like an angry hornet disturbed in its nest, an Amalekite begins to contend with Aaron, throwing it all back into his face. The Amalekite concludes his initial comments with this statement:
Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men. (vs. 6)
Then in verse 7, Aaron asks the centering and decisive question: "Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?"

It seems to have been a common tactic of the unbelievers to refute the teachings of the missionaries and prophets during the time before the birth of Christ by saying: "We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come," (vs. 8). Korihor, an anti-christ, made very similar claims (see Alma 30:13).

So here Aaron begins to lay out the scriptures that illustrate the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, "and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood." (vs. 9) Aaron used scriptural proofs to back his claims. Of this thing I am not very good at.

His tactics did not have immediate effect for good upon the crowd assembled. In fact, it was as if a hornet's nest had been stirred and Aaron saw that he could no longer work among the people of that city. There is, however, a footnote on verse 9 that points to another passage of scripture that helps illustrate the long-term effect of their teachings.

The footnote leads to an account of some of the Lamanites, that must have present in Aaron's and his brethren's first failed attempts to preach the gospel, when they  finally came to believe on their words (see Alma 25:6). So while the immediate consequences were fruitless, seeds were planted among the Lamanites, and later on they began to grow.

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The remainder of this section recounts how similar efforts were repeated in other towns with similar results. They finally arrive at the land of Middoni. In their preaching, the record states that "few believed on the words which they taught." There is a reminder of the Savior's words when he said "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:14)

It is at Middoni that Aaron and some of his brethren are imprisoned. "And those that were cast into prison suffered many things." Their sufferings had already been addressed elsewhere, it was not without purpose. Rather it became the means of their preparation. It is notable that their deliverance was miraculous

15 June 2016

"Into the Hands of... a More Stiffnecked People," Alma 20:28-30

Alma 20:28-30

( I appreciate the forced focus that this segmented study of smaller groups of verses causes me to have. What otherwise might just appear as a concluding note to this particular chapter, these final three verses on their own convey some important truths.)
"And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people;" (vs. 30)
The wording in this verse causes me to consider this situation, and many others like it, differently. I am confident as I read this that in different circumstances, the missionaries that fell into the hands of such depraved individuals could have experienced as much success as did their brother Ammon. This reminder is important: to not condemn the poor or unfortunate for their circumstances.

To me it seems that the larger message is one of succor and relief. These two disciples of the caring Christ go to rescue their brethren who "had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions." Ammon was "exceedingly sorrowful" to find his brethren in this condition. (vs. 29)

And yet, as I dig deeper into the footnotes, I realize that this suffering appeared to have served a purpose as well. A cross reference takes us to the next chapter (Alma 21:14, see also vs 15-17) where it addresses their suffering in Middoni. It seemed that their suffering was a precursor to their success. The last line in 20:29 appears to be the key: "nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings." The line is linked to a promise made to them at the beginning of their ministry:
...yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls. (Alma 17:11)
Had Ammon and Lamoni not rescued their brethren out of prison, had Aaron and his fellow servants not suffered the thing that they had suffered in prison, a significant portion of their success would not have been realized.


See also Refuge from the Storm

08 June 2016

"In Thine Anger, Thy Soul Could Not Be Saved," Alma 20:8-27

Alma 20:8-27
  • "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." James 1:20
  • "Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away." 3 Nephi 11:30 
These twenty verses contain the account of Ammon and Lamoni's encounter with Lamoni's father, the king over all the land. Without introduction or explanation, Lamoni's father immediately labels Ammon as "one of the children of a liar." (vs. 10)

Respecting his father, Lamoni gives the cause for his delay.  Then, "to his astonishment, his father was angry with him." (vs. 13, emphasis added) There are two directions that I want to address with this verse.

First, it astonished Lamoni that his father responded to him with anger. I'm not sure if it was because his father had always been a peaceful man towards him as his son, or if it was rather because Lamoni had hoped to have received a different reaction upon hearing of the miraculous events of his conversion. So why was Lamoni astonished? We really don't know, but maybe it also had something to do with the freshness or newness of his conversion to the gospel of Christ, and his lack of experience with opposition to the work of God.

Secondly, everything that the king says in response to Lamoni is skewed by his anger:
Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.
This is the second time that the king references their stereotyped belief that all Nephites were liars. The king then commands Lamoni to slay Ammon, to which Lamoni refuses. This provokes the anger of the king even more -- to the point that the king draws his sword, ready to slay his own son.

Ammon, who is neither astonished like Lamoni, nor angry like his father the king, stands forth and begins to instruct the king. Ammon wastes no time in getting to the core of the issue. "if thou shouldst fall at this time, in thine anger, thy soul could not be saved." (vs. 17)

The king rejects Ammon's counsel and instead turns his focus on trying to kill Ammon, whom he feels is the root cause of all his present troubles anyways. However, Ammon changes the dynamics of the situation with a few swift moves, placing himself in a position to slay the king should he please. Yet this is not Ammon's intention nor motive.

Suddenly, placed in a position of vulnerability, pleading for the preservation of his own life, the king is now ready to give Ammon anything he pleases. Ammon, however does not change course, does not pause to pray about the bribe of ultimate power in the Lamanite realm. Undeterred and unchanged by the king's pleas, Ammon's request are to free his brethren and for Lamoni to retain his place as king in his own land.

It was ultimately the demonstration of Ammon's love for Lamoni that caused the heart of the old king to be softened toward him. Wonderous, amazing love that doesn't seek for pride or vain fulfillment. The principle was so foreign to the king.

I, too,  find this to be a fascinating point! It wasn't the testimony of Lamoni's experience that softened the heart of his father, thought it provided a foundation. It wasn't an equally enraging, or angry reply to the threats of the king that softened his heart. It was an act of charity and selfless defense that provided the substance of conversion -- teaching coupled with action:
And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly... For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken, and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni, therefore he was desirous to learn them. (vs. 26-27)