31 May 2016

"No One Hath Told Me, Save It Be God;" Alma 20:1-7

Alma 20:1-7

King Lamoni invites Ammon to accompany him up to meet his father the king. I am impressed by how clearly Ammon is able to receive divine directives, or what we might more commonly call personal revelation.The record doesn't state the timing in which the revelation came to Ammon, whether it came immediately after Lamoni's invitation, or perhaps later on in moment of quiet reflection and prayer.

It is also impressive how quickly Lamoni responds to this divine directive once he learns of its source.(see vs. 5-6) Then in verse 7, there is also a change of attitude on Lamoni's part. Where at first, Lamoni thought to flatter the king of the land of Middoni, who was a friend of his, now Lamoni states that he will plead with the king for the deliverance of Ammon's brethren. Something about knowing that the directive was actually a divine mandate changed Lamoni's attitude and sense of urgency. Suddenly it wasn't just a social injustice that was needing to be remedied; it was rather the word of God directly to his appointed servant. Lamoni both recognized and reverenced it as such.

(The Spirit of the Lord has validated this final point in my mind this morning, causing me again to consider how much of the ways of the Lord this holy volume of scripture has benefited me.)

In contemplating Lamoni's response, it causes me to consider also the depth of his conversion as accounted for in the previous chapter.

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The one thing that I haven't touched on in this group of verses, is the simple little statement at the beginning of the chapter, which could have encompassed a book in itself. Verse 1 reads: "And it came to pass that when they had established a church in that land." The end of the last chapter states that they did establish a church among those who had believed. It seems to me as something that didn't just happen instantly but required a bit of effort on the part of Ammon and all those involved. 

10 May 2016

"He, Immediately... Began... to Teach Them" Alma 19:31-36

Alma 19:31-36

The king has now awoken from his trance and verse 31 says this:
And he, immediately, seeing the contention among his people, went forth and began to rebuke them, and to teach them the words which he had heard from the mouth of Ammon; (emphasis added)
This is reminiscent of Nephi's attitude towards and faith in the power of the word of God.
 ...I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren... for they had humbled themselves because of my words; for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul. (1 Nephi 16:22,24)

Mormon makes a similar observation about Alma's confidence in the word of God:
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

Back to the account of king Lamoni, Ammon and the king's servants also add their voices to the king's witness. The wording of how the people responded to their teaching is thus. It says "as many as heard his words believed, and were converted unto the Lord."(vs. 31Verse 35 also reads, "that there were many that did believe in their words; and as many as did believe were baptized;"

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The next verse reads like so: "But there were many among them who would not hear his words; therefore they went their way." (vs. 32, emphasis added) There is a footnote on the word "many" that cross-references to the topic of Man, Natural, Not Spiritual Reborn from the Topical Guide.  A brief review has taken me to the books of Jonah, Luke, John, and the Romans.  Here are some highlights:
  • Jesus said, "Ye must be born again." (John 3:7)
  • He also said, "Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15)
  • "There is none righteous, no, not one." (Romans 3:10)
Then there is an abundance of scriptural references to the carnal or natural man in the Book of Mormon, especially in the books of Mosiah and Alma. The overall effect of this leads me to remember that many in the world are lost to the things of God.

At the end of this chapter, the King, Queen, and all their servants were testifying before the people that their hearts had been changed, that they had no more desire to do evil. (see vs. 33) What a contrast from the attitude of the natural man!

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At the very end of this group of verses is a summary of the past two and half chapters, which concludes with this simple observation: "and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name." (vs. 36) Oh how I love this particular doctrine! God is merciful to all who will believe. He doesn't not exclude or make exception for any man, but the standard is the same for all: " Repent, and I will receive you." (Alma 5:33)

28 April 2016

"Supposing... It Would Cause Them to Beleive," Alma 19:14-30

Alma 19:14-30

Alma sees; the servants see; the lady servant of the queen, Abish, sees; all because of direct manifestations from the Holy Spirit based on correct understanding of eternal truth.

Verse 14 says that Ammon saw that the Spirit of the Lord poured out upon the Lamanites according to his prayers. It was in the seeing and the discerning of the significance of that outpouring of the Lord's Spirit upon the Lamanites, a group of people that had been the source of so much contention and conflict among his own people, that Ammon felt a profound sense of gratitude towards God for what was being done. So great was the joy that he now felt that it overpowered his physical body, just as had happened to the king and the queen moments before.

This leaves the servants of the king and queen, who upon seeing these three leaders overpowered with the Spirit also begin to pray because the fear of the Lord had come upon them. This causes them all to fall to the earth. Everyone in the king's house is now lying on the ground except for Abish, who we learn has already been converted to the Lord without making it known. 

When Abish sees what has happened, and understanding the cause of it, she sees an opportunity to bless the community around her as well. By inviting the people to come to the house of the king to see the king, queen, Ammon, and all the king's servants overpowered by the Spirit, Abish is hopeful that this "would cause them to believe in the power of God," (verse 17).

What resulted however was confusion, and instead of just saying that there arose a great contention among the people because of what they saw, the scripture account takes pains to articulate seven different conclusions that the people came up with to explain the scenario in front of them. None of them had a correct knowledge of the actual events that had transpired. None of them had the perspective of  eternal truths, and thus they devised many different reasons as to why they found the king and his household laying prostrate upon the ground.

Finally, Abish returns and having found the whole of the gathering in a confused uproar of contention, she immediately goes to the queen. The queen and king arise and begin to express testimonies of conviction and of having their hearts turned to the Lord, which things the multitude had no understanding of.

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There is a parallel between this story and doctrines of the Apostasy and the Restoration. Men, when left to their own devices, are not equipped to understand the things of God. In the dark grays of this world, we grope for understanding and explanations of why things are. However, the knowledge that comes from God, like shafts of illuminating light, help us to understand correctly our very natures and the purpose of our existence.

The people that gather to the king's house, came without gospel light, and seeking for explanations they devised many probable causes, but none of them were the truth. So it was with the Great Apostasy which proceeded the Restoration. Many tried to reform the church of their day based upon what they were reading, but none had direct revelation from God to do so.

12 March 2016

"Being Overpowered by the Spirit," Alma 19:12-13

Alma 19:12-13

At the appointed time, king Lamoni awakens from his deep sleep, and there is his wife, the queen, waiting for him. The first words out of his mouth are these: "Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou." The first part of this statement makes sense. King Lamoni had just received a powerful witness of the reality of God, but he then gives the same blessing to his wife. Why?

I am reminded of the statement of Nephi's brother Jacob, "Behold, the Lamanites your brethren... their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children... and one day they shall become a blessed people." (Jacob 3:5-7)

King Lamoni goes on to testify that he had seen his Redeemer, and then emphasis three points:
  • "and he shall come forth,"
  • "and be born of a woman,"
  • "and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name." (vs. 13)
These are curious points of testimony for me: very simple and succinct. "He shall come forth," a statement of conviction, the reality of things to come. "Be born of a woman," another way of defining the condescension of God -- His humility and willingness to experience mortality. "He shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name," that is a fully-loaded statement. He shall accomplish the task of the redemption of man.  Redemption is all-inclusive, and no one is denied the privilege of such. Then finally, the way in which that redemption is access is through believing on his name. This is the qualifier but it is also the instruction on how redemption is acquired: "believe on his name."

These brief and succinct phrases, accompanied by the penetrating influence of the Holy Spirit, are enough for both the king and the queen to receive a personal witness, and subsequently are both overpowered by the Holy Spirit to such a degree that they cannot stand in their mortal, physical bodies for the moment.

29 February 2016

"The Light of the Glory of God," Alma 19:1-11

Alma 19:1-11

In this group of  verses, King Lamoni has been overpowered  by the influence of the Holy Spirit and has laid prostrate for 2 days. The queen summons Ammon to inquire of him the state her husband's well-being so that she could know what to do.

The queen explains to Ammon that the servants of her husband regarded him as "a prophet of a holy God" and that he had "power to do many might works in his name." On this premise, on the testimony of the servants of her husband, the queen asks Ammon for guidance.

Verse 6 reads as such:
Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God—
Though faith is not mentioned in this verse, it is at the very heart of what is being described here. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,"(Hebrews 11:1).  President Monson has said: "Fear not... the future is as bright as your faith." So we can say here that it is the substance of faith in the message of Christ that Ammon had presented to King Lamoni that had caused this "light of the Glory of God" to rest upon him. Such faith, as Elder Neil L. Andersen recently stated, "in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air... Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible."

Having this testimony of the truth, Ammon subsequently counsels the queen to wait, because her husband was sleeping in God and on the morrow he would rise again. (see vs. 8) The queen believes his statement and he acknowledges her faith: "Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites." (vs. 10)

The queen then waits all the remainder of that day, all through the night, and is still found by the side of the king the following morning.

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)