Talking Teenagers and a Terrific Testimony

Alright, I apologize for the annoying alliteration, but with a name like Mormon in Minnesota, I’m bound to do it occasionally, right? 😉

No big-time chastity questions in my Sunday School class today. Based on how things went, I should have spent more time addressing the topic, Talking out of turn in Sunday School class: What are the limits?

Chatty bunch today! Still, it is good experience to be with them each week. I wish I could think of a better adjective, but I can’t. It is simply good. 🙂

Another part of church today was also good – in fact it was great. The speakers in Sacrament meeting were terrific. Their messages were uplifting and personal. One of them was a recently divorced Hispanic young mother of two. She very humbly mentioned that several months ago, she felt a desire to improve her life, both spiritually and temporally. She met with her bishop. He counseled her to read her scriptures everyday, so she did. As she got going she felt inspired to read the Book of Mormon within a month. Despite having two young kids and being in school at the time, she read and to her surprise she was able to finish it in less than a month.

From reading the Book of Mormon in so short a time, she said, she gained a stronger testimony of its truthfulness. She was also impressed by how faithful the Lord is in delivering his people. As she spoke and described what she learned, I felt the Holy Ghost through her message. I was strengthened.

This good woman didn’t refer to the following verses from the Book of Mormon, but she may have had them in mind. They sure came to my mind as I listened to her remarks. Mosiah chapter 24, verses 13-16 has been a favorite of mine for a long time. The Lord doesn’t often explain why he does certain things, but in this case he does. He also frequently asks us to believe, but in this case, he wants his people to “know of a surety” just how present he is in our lives, especially in our afflictions.

Mosiah 24 - visit in afflictions

Little Children Are Not Capable of Committing Sin

I’m a young father with two little kids. Parenting is tiring, especially when your one-year old has been teething for months – like mine has been – but parenting is also a lot of fun. I always enjoy hearing my 3-year old say something funny, such as when he prayed like this. Or when my wife told him last night that she was so impressed by how nice he was to his sister all day and he responded back, “I’m impressed too, Mom!” Or earlier yesterday when my wife was getting him more milk from the fridge and he yelled, “Hurry up, Mom! This is a thirsty boy!”

My short experience as a parent has taught me that little kids are, well, special. I guess I always knew there was something special about little kids – an innocence, sweetness, guilelessness – but I sure have a lot more time to observe them firsthand and reflect on their personalities and natures.

Yesterday afternoon, I was reading a few verses in the Book of Mormon and began looking up scriptures that describe little children. Here is a portion of what I found:

  • Infants who die in their infancy do not spiritually perish (Mosiah 3:18).
  • Little children have eternal life (Mosiah 15:25).
  • Jesus took the little children, “one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again; and he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: ‘Behold your little ones'” (3 Nephi 17:21-23).
  • little children are wholeLittle children are whole; they are not capable of committing sin; and the curse of Adam is taken from them in Christ (Moroni 8:8).
  • Repentance and baptism are for those who are accountable and capable of committing sin (Moroni 8:10). Thus, it is solemn mockery before God to baptize little children; they need no repentance, neither baptism (Moroni 8:9,11).
  • It is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto little children, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy (Moroni 8:19).

Elsewhere, prophets and even Christ himself taught that we must become like little children: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love and so forth. These qualities seem to be embodied by little children while other, perhaps less-desirable traits seem to be acquired over time as we get older.

Several years ago, after speaking with a man who was quite cynical about life, I had the realization that cynicism is not something we’re born with – it’s something we learn as we grow into adulthood (or learn to overcome). On the other hand, children are accepting, believing, and optimistic. Perhaps that’s just one reason Jesus taught that we need to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God.

What did Jesus Suffer and Why

As I’ve written about here, the idea behind posts categorized as A Mormon’s Book of Mormon is to provide some insight into the verses and phrases you’d typically find marked in a Latter-day Saint’s Book of Mormon. If you know about the Book of Mormon but don’t know much of what it says, well, wait no more!

For me, few other passages in scripture are as comforting, clear, and powerful as Alma 7:11-13 is in its explanation of Jesus’ mission and power. Here in Alma chapter 7, which takes place in about 83 B.C., the prophet Alma explains to a group of people that the Son of God will come to earth and go forth, “suffering”:

1.    pains, afflictions, & temptations of every kind

And that he will “take upon himself”:

2.    death,
3.    the infirmities of his people, and
4.    the sins of his people.

Then Alma briefly explains the reasoning behind each type of suffering:

1.    [Pains, afflictions and temptations]: “and this that the word might be fulfilled.” In other words, to fulfill a prophecy, presumably the one in Isaiah 53:3-5, which says that the Messiah will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people.

2.   [death]: “that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people.” Thus, the intent is to overcome death, or in other words, bring about a resurrection from the dead.

3.    [infirmities]: “that his bowels may be filled will mercy, according to the flesh. And that he may know, according to the flesh, how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” According to the 1828 Webster’s dictionary, to succor means, “to run to…to help or relieve when in distress”.Here we see a Being who desires empathy and seeks to be filled with mercy for each human being in every mortal condition.

4.    [sins]: “that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.” From this we learn that Christ has a delivering power that enables him to somehow “blot out” individual sins and transgressions. This is hope-filled consolation for anyone who has ever felt the pangs of a guilty conscience.

Therefore, if it is possible to take a very high-level summary of these verses, we might say that Jesus came to:

  1. Fulfill prophecy.
  2. Bring about the resurrection from the dead.
  3. Develop authentic mortal empathy and the means to help & heal.
  4. Forgive or blot out individual sin, according to the power of his deliverance.

These verses from the Book of Mormon increase my love and appreciation for Jesus Christ. They help me better understand his divine mission, why he came, and why it’s important. And, as Alma taught earlier in this sermon, although there are many events to come in the future, there is one thing more important than them all: that Jesus Christ came to save and help humankind as the Redeemer of the world.

Alma 7 Atonement

That there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth

Sometimes a person’s influence lasts long after he’s gone. And sometimes, that influence is so strong and causes so much sorrow that thousands of people are affected by it, thus altering the course of a people’s history forever.

Such is the case with a guy named Nehor in the Book of Mormon. This guy, we learn, was “large” and “noted for his much strength,” and had crafted a particularly compelling message that many people bought into.

Alma 1 - Nehor

Here’s what Nehor taught:

  • Every priest and teacher ought to become popular; they should not labor with their own hands but be supported by the people.
  • All mankind should be saved at the last day.
  • Therefore, people need not fear nor tremble, but should rejoice, because in the end, all men would be given eternal life.

Here’s what initially happened, as a result of his teaching:

  • Many believed on his words and began to support him and give him money.
  • Nehor was lifted up in the pride of his heart.
  • He began to wear costly apparel.
  • He also established a church after the manner of his preaching.

Alma 1 - Nehor(2)

And here’s the beginning of the end for Nehor, the man:

  • Nehor contends with a man of God named Gideon.
  • Gideon admonishes Nehor.
  • Nehor becomes angry with Gideon and attacks him.
  • Gideon is old, can’t withstand Nehor’s attack, and dies.
  • Nehor is arrested, brought before the chief judge.
  • Chief judge sentences Nehor to death for his crimes, according to the law of the land.
  • Nehor acknowledges that what he had taught was contrary to the word of God.
  • Suffers an ignominious death. (Link to this entire account in Alma chapter 1 is here.)

…But the beginning of Nehor, the message:

So Nehor dies, but we learn it doesn’t put an end to his particular flavor of religion, for there were apparently many who “loved the vain things of the world,” so they carried Nehor’s banner and taught all kinds of false doctrines for the sake of “riches and honor.”

Subsequent antagonists in the Book of Alma embody some form of Nehor’s message.  And each one displays the same hot-headedness, anger, and murderous heart against anyone who disagrees with their brand of belief. In fact, nearly each battle Alma and his people fought – and there were many of them during this decades-long account – was against a group of people whose leaders embraced the order of Nehor. Thus, the spread and adoption of Nehor’s message led to spiritual and physical destruction.

Nehor’s Relevance for Today

In 2009, evangelical sociologist Christian Smith published his findings of several years worth of research on the religious beliefs & practices of American teenagers and young adults. He found that teenagers these days generally view God as someone who certainly exists, but whose main job is to help people feel good about themselves. According to Smith:

God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.¹

“Make people feel good” sounds a lot like Nehor’s message to “lift up your heads and rejoice,” but don’t fear or tremble (i.e., repent), because God has saved everyone, and will make everything better in the end. Thus, Nehor acknowledged the existence and even redemption of God, but preached that God demanded little from his people. His message, along with the hate-filled resentment of God-fearing believers that often associated it, proved to be terribly destructive.

That there might not be more sorrow…

It’s little wonder then that Alma, as high priest and one who had testified earlier of the liberating power of repentance, which I wrote about here, spent so much time and energy declaring the word of God to his people. His whole work was an effort to convince people of the need to repent, of a loving Christ who atoned for the sins of each individual, and of the pure joy of being forgiven and embraced by a personal, knowable God. Alma only wished a more effective voice and wider audience:

Alma 29

_________________________

¹Christian Smith. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. With Patricia Snell. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2009) p.165. [As quoted in John Gee. On Corrupting Youth. FARMS Review: Volume – 22, Issue – 2, (2010) pp. 195-28. Link: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=22&num=2&id=811#_edn155]

A Mormon’s Book of Mormon: “…[I] love your enemies”

Image courtesy of Allwaysrental.com

It was Sunday, October 29, 2006. I was sitting in a sacrament meeting – which is the main Mormon worship service – in the Scotia Place chapel, smack-dab in the middle of downtown Auckland, New Zealand. For the most part, it was like any other sacrament meeting. We sang a couple of hymns, listened to the announcements, and the young men passed the bread and water around as attendees sat quietly. And then, as is customary, some preassigned speakers stood to share prepared remarks on gospel topics.

One of those who spoke that day was a 19-year old Japanese woman named Satomi, who had recently been baptized and confirmed. I had been one of the missionaries who taught and helped her understand who God and Jesus are, and why the restoration of Christ’s gospel is important. Having come from a non-Christian and non-English-speaking background, she had come to know and internalize major truths in a relatively and remarkably short amount of time. Yet, she was still learning her way through speaking and reading in English, and I was nervous for her to stand up in front of 110 people and give a talk.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was that she would teach me something truly marvelous that day. She stood there at the pulpit and opened her English version of the Book of Mormon to Third Nephi, chapter 12, which contains an address by the recently risen Christ to the people of ancient America – an address that is nearly identical to the Savior’s remarks known as the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew and Luke in the Bible. She paused for a moment, and then slowly began reading the words attributed to Jesus Christ, obviously attempting to pronounce each word as accurately as she could. This is what she said:

But behold I say unto you, I love your enemies  – [nervously laughs] I’m sorry, I mean to say: love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.

And right there, in the very first line, was the light bulb moment. Her unintentional addition of the personal pronoun “I,” suddenly and with great impact, taught me something I suppose I had always known several layers down, but had never really known. While Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies, it is also true that he loves my enemies. For me, in that moment, the realization that Jesus loves my enemies – and let’s use that word broadly to suggest anyone with whom I might disagree – suddenly made it easier for me to love them too. Since he would not ask his followers to do anything he was unwilling to do, her stumble opened up my mind anew to Jesus’ loving and compassionate character.

In the years since then, whenever I’ve felt annoyed, slighted, or even provoked by someone else, I find that remembering this simple misreading helps me deflate any feeling of animosity swelling within me. After all, Jesus does love my enemies, and because I’ve committed to follow him,  I can love them too.3 Nephi 12 - enemies

(And yeah, I did write “whoa!” in the left column. Apparently, my nearly 21-year old self couldn’t find a more eloquent way to describe how I felt that day.)