These days few things seem to surprise us. With a Youtube society, we are used to seeing the outlandishly improbable happen. We can see cats dancing, watch sculpture art being created out of cheese blocks, and amazing trick shots from basketballs thrown off of waterfalls into a hoop 200 feet below.
However, a few months ago, I watched something that I had a hard time believing, even though I watched it live. My mind couldn’t quite process what was happening.
I watched some 6’1″ little hobbit look-a-like named Mac McClung, who had only played in 2 NBA games total, win the Slam dunk contest.
He competed against some of the worlds best athletes and won. It wasn’t even particularly close. He blew them out of the water. How was that even possible? The first time I saw him grab a ball, I thought it was a joke, or some sort of construed, elaborate ploy to get the attention of the judges by having the ball boy run towards the basket. Then the magic happened.
Judging by the reactions of the other participants, announcers, fans, and the other NBA players on the court, I wasn’t the only one that was shocked. They all looked at him like he had just walked out of a spaceship.
Not only did this little guy look just like Merriodoc Brandybuck from the Lord of the Rings movies (which could explain his abnormal abilities somewhat because of his consumption of the magic draughts of water he received from Treebeard the Ent, and his connection to Galadriel, the Queen of the Elves of Lothlorien) but he also apparently possesses the jumping ability of a human grasshopper. It was a lot of fun to watch.
He had become way bigger, he had become way more than what he was just the day before. To be honest, I don’t think anyone really knew who he even was. It was a miracle. What a fun story.
Maybe the funnest part of the story is how applicable it is to all of us. The same principle that powered his legs into video game super-springs can be used to treat any obstacle we face in our lives. Probably not in the same way this worked for Mac McClung, but in our own unique circumstances.
The idea and principle is this…
We can be much more than what we think we can be.
We can acomplish and achieve much more than we think we can accomplish and achieve….and,
We can overcome any and all obstacles and challenges.
We just need to tap into a special power that is offerred freely to all of us.
Just a few short weeks ago, our daughter Olivia left to serve a mission in Brazil. Before she left, she spoke in our sacrament meeting about this exact principle. It had significant meaning to her.
She shared that the Atonement of Jesus Christ not only has the power to save or redeem us from sin and physical death, but it also has the power to enable us to overcome any obstacle we face. The Atonement of Jesus Christ has both a redeeming power, and an enabling power. Elder Bednar spoke about this particular subject in 2002.
So what does this look like in real life? What does it mean for us to use the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
Alma taught the people of Gideon about the enabling power jointly with the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon…
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and aafflictions and btemptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will ctake upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him adeath, that he may bloose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to csuccor his people according to their infirmities.” -Alma 7:11, 12
Afflictions, temptations, pains, sicknesses, and infirmities are not sins. They are not relieved through the repentence process. These are directly addressed as conditions subject to relief and succor of the Savior of the world through his Atonement. He has already felt, experienced, and overcome all of these conditions along with all our sins, in order to be perfectly empathetic to our needs. He knows how to help us.
Moroni also shared what he was taught by the Lord directly about weaknesses.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their aweakness. I bgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them.” -Ether 12:27
That sounds a lot like enabling power to me. And, Jesus actually gave us the recipe on how to access his enabling power. All we have to do to grow our own set of spirutual grasshopper legs to compete in the Dunk Contest is to humble ourselves, and have faith in him.
Olivia did a great job highlighting that principle in her talk, and sharing her experiences in the months leading up to her decision to go on a mission.
If anyone has ever evidenced the principle of the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, it would be Olivia. Her story is as dramatic, as incredible, and as amazing as a Hobbit winning the Dunk contest. She is a quiet, reserved, and humble young woman who loves her chill time, family, and a good movie.
But, in just a few short weeks, she has already blossomed into someone even more incredible. She is now a person willing to leave everything that is comfortable, everything that is familiar and safe, to step out into the vast unknown of a mission experience. And, this experience will happen thousands of miles away.
In this process, she is managing to influence all of us, her Mom and Dad, her amazing younger sister, and brother, and even her older brother away in school.
She is now in week 3 in the missionary training center in São Paulo, Brazil, learning how to be a missionary. She’s learning Portuguese, learning a new culture, learning how to budget time, and spending 16 hours a day to reach those goals. At times it has been a struggle, and the struggle will likely remain. But, we have already seen how she has been stretched and grown to become much more than she was, even a few short weeks ago. She is tapping into the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and growing spitual grasshopper legs.
We are proud of her and her decision, we grateful for the example she is to all of us, and grateful that we get to share her expericence right along with her. She is now running towards the hoop and preparing for the 360 behind the back, double clutch reverse dunk that will blow our minds!
About a year ago, we upgraded the thermostats in our home from the simple little button kind to the fancy Google Home Nest version. They have no buttons, just a sheen face, and look really slick. Supposedly, these were the way to go because you could control every little thing from your phone. The app would allow you to change temperature, schedule the heat or cold during certain times of the day, and certain days of the week. I even got the impression that it could magically sense when you were home, or not, and adjust the temperature accordingly. I was excited.
Until I tried to set it up. I’m not a tech novice, but setting this thing up was not simple. I won’t even tell you how long it took. What’s worse, is that I had to refer to a youtube video to do it, and even then it took way too long. Eventually we got it sort of running.
Fast forward about 2 weeks and the thermostat in our main living area stopped working. No matter what we did, it gave an error message, which sent us to searching online message boards to discover it had no power source. Well, I had no idea how to fix that, so we went without, it wasnt too hot so we let it go.
Fast forward to yesterday, we had a maintenance check on the A/C units and I mentioned to the technician that we had been having this issue for several months, and to see if he could figure out what was wrong. Five minutes later, after running up to the attic, he informed me that a simple cord had been left unplugged, and that he plugged it in, and it should work like a charm.
Six months of summer struggle fixed in 30 seconds by plugging in a cord. Seems about right. I then spent the next 30 minutes re-learning how to program the system on YouTube and we are back to normal. Seems like a lot of extra complication to get back to the way it was before. Sometimes we complicate things that don’t necessarily need to be.
Life can also be complicated. Or, sometimes we can make it that way. Look at the title of this post, for example. There are likely 4,678 other titles that could better articulate my ideas in a much more concise, direct, and appealing way. But, instead, I went with the over-complicated, alliteration-attempting, tongue-twister version that no one can read through without getting a slight headache. I guess I should start listening to my own advise when picking post titles.
One of the most common ways we can overcomplicate our lives (besides upgrading to a Nest home thermostat) is in our quest to figure out exactly who we are. Our identity is inseparably connected to our purpose. And our purpose drives the decisions we make everyday. When we have a clear understanding of who we are, we have a clear purpose, and a clear path to our goals and destinations.
When we are fuzzy about who we are, our decisions, actions, and goals likewise can be complicated, ambiguous, and vague. We all want to fit in, and play our part in a meaningful life story. This aspiration is what drives us to determine who we really are, and where we really belong.
We all share this eagerness to belong. But, if we aren’t mindful, our uber-concentrated efforts to fit in somewhere, or anywhere, can fog our thought process, and overcomplicate our understanding of our most fundamental identity.
Dr Seuss’s Story about the Sneetches is a perfect example of this. When this overcomplication happens in our own lives, we may end up picking and choosing the fancy, or popular labels, identifyers, and metaphorical “stars” to stick on ourselves. These are often meant to help us feel like we belong, but can oftentimes overshadow and hide our true identity.
This leads us to the big question…
What is our purest, most fundamental identity?
What is the biggest “star”, or label we should be placing upon ourselves?
In our church, one of the first songs we learn as kids is a simple answer to this big question…
That is our truest identity. It is who we are underneath all the extra superficial fan-gear, hats, facepaint, stickers and labels. And, as a child of God, we have unlimited divine worth and potential. That is our shiniest star. That is who we are at our core.
When we understand and accept this identity, it informs and guides our actions. It gives us purpose, and an ultimate divine destination. Understanding and acting upon our true identity can help keep our lives simple, and help us focus on what is lasting and important.
Many of the secondary labels we affix to ourselves can be fun. I’ve labeled myself a Utah Ute, a Payson Lion, a wanna-be triathlete, and a Bosa buttermilk-donut-addict among many others. Most of the time, these “stars” we slap on ourselves are harmless. We get together with other similarly starred sneetches that look, think, and believe like us, and cheer for a team, enjoy a hobby, or stuff our faces with sugary scrumptiousness. But all these secondary labels are less important and should not be the determining factor on how we treat, or interact with other people in our families or society.
Not all labels are benign, however. Some Sneetch stars can be a problem. Whenever any label displaces or replaces our most important one, it weakens our clarity, understanding, and eventually the committment to our divine potential.
When these sneaky, popular and flashy stars start to drive our thoughts and actions, we begin to limit ourselves and our eternal growth. These ever-changing and morphing imposter stars supposedly meant to help us feel more included, instead become a hindrance, and a stumbling block in our development.
These labels or stars can overpower our persona. We can end up portraying ourselves as a wholesale representation of the label itself, instead of a person who enjoys that particular trait, hobby, or characteristic. We become the label, rather than the label representing just a small part of a larger, more complete, more comprehensive whole.
This is the Big Box Paradox. Our intent may be to gain acceptance and belonging into a largercommunity when we label ourselves a certain way. Instead, we end up further isolating ourselves and limiting ourselves into ever shrinking identity boxes. For example, when my primary label is “Yankees fan”, my prospects for making friends barricaded in the Red Sox box tend to get smaller. When my primary label is a “Militant Vegitarian”, it becomes a bit harder to hang out every weekend at the Brazilain Churrascaria with the “Meat Freaks”. It becomes even more intense and tenuous when these pre-packaged, and pre-labeled boxes become political, racial, or centered around many other hot-button cultural or societal issues.
Our society can be a true melting pot of these political, racial, cultural, and even spiritual identifiers, and still live together in mutual respect, love, and understanding. This becomes doable, only if we keep our identifying stars in the correct and proper order. It will work if we are committed to the things we have in common more than we are committed to our inevitable differences. That was the lesson the Sneetches had to learn!
These principles are not new or novel. They have been taught from the beginning.
King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon taught about the best Sneetch star thousands of years ago…
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and daughters…I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God…” -Mosiah 5:7,8
The Psalmist was also on board…
“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.“ -Psalms 82:6
“I am simply saying that no identifer should displace, replace, or take priority over these three enduring designations: child of God, child of the covenant, and disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Are we all there yet? Do we all avoid judging others or stereotyping others based on appearance, or perception? Maybe not. But, if we choose to take an honest new look at how we really perceive the world and the people who live in it, and try to see the value in others that lies underneath whatever stickers and labels they have on display, we can get a bit closer to that ideal.
Our goal should be to see others the same way God does. That is the standard. Nephi describes God’s inviting love for everyone, with all their different stars, in the Book of Mormon…
“…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth nonethat come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” -2 Nephi 26:33
Let’s try to stop looking at society as if it were a chaotic frenzy of spilled skittles needing to be sorted, labeled, and boxed according to outward appearances, beliefs, activities, actions, skin color, social, or cultural differences. Let’s all try and simplify our lives and focus on our true identity, and let the divine nature inside each of us all shine brightest to steer our thoughts and actions- and be more loving and kind to all the other Sneetches in the process.
As is well documented on this blog, gospel lessons can come from anywhere. Sometimes they are obvious, and sometimes not so much. Sometimes, while watching a Netflix series about awkward nerds saving the world from the threats of an unknown realm called the Upside Down and its real life monster versions of Dungeons and Dragons bad guys, we can notice character similarities to the Old Testament progression of the Kings of Israel, …or is that just me?
Well, Stranger Things have happened (in best Dad joke voice).
Everyone loves a good story. They help us connect to each other through the shared experience. The key to good storytelling is to base the conflict on the real struggles of everyday life. This is how we really identify with the characters, and internalize the story. In today’s society, our stories are told not only through books, but movies, and tv shows. Some are good, and some are not so good.
If we can relate to the struggle, or see similarities in our own lived experiences, we are drawn to it, connect to it, and have a vested interest in the resolution. These stories detail how our heroes defy the odds, fight through the turmoil, and overcome the conflict. We all find inspiration, courage and even hope in these stories. Somehow, we want to incorporate our favorite character’s ability to overcome into our own personal struggles. That is what makes us love the stories and the characters within them.
I’m not saying that we often find ourselves caught in a battle with Vecna, the powerful psychokinetic Wizard trying to grow his power to take over the world through thought control. But, we are all caught in a constant back and forth between right and wrong, and good and evil. Sometimes this battle occurs more overtly with our relationship challenges with one another. Sometimes the struggle is internal within the boundaries of our own heart and mind.
This ancient struggle between right and wrong that occurs inside each of us happens in a very specific way. This battle is over which of our human character traits will be in the driver’s seat in control of our everyday actions. Will we overcome our natural selves, and choose to have honesty, integrity and love control us? Or will be falter, and revert back into our base, natural inclination for selfishness, greed, and passive lethargy?
This particular struggle has been at play inside the human heart for a very, very long time.
This is, of course, where the ancient stories of Saul, David, and Solomon, combine with the slightly more contemporary, albeit entirely fictional, Lucas Sinclair to teach us about this character control struggle.
First, because Lucas does not currently have a book in the Old Testament, we should all get up to speed on his story. He is one of the characters on the Netflix series, Stranger Things. He plays one of several nerdy boys who spend their time playing Dungeons and Dragons in the basement. This series takes place in the 1980’s, so it obviously precedes video games. We find him in seasons 1-3 utilizing his, and his friends’ nerdy D&D skills and knowledge to fight off attacks from Demogorgans, the Shadow Monster, a.k.a. the Mind Flayer, and some Russians who have taken over the local mall. Through their collective efforts, and Eleven’s amazing mind power, victory was secured.
Season 4 is different. Lucas has now “grown up” and is part of the school’s basketball team. He is not a star, far from it actually. He’s a benchwarmer. He is also desperate for approval and acceptance into the cool kids popular crowd. He sees the basketball team as his ticket out of nerddom, and into the cool circles he only dreamed of before.
Through a wild series of events, Lucas finds himself in the very unlikely scenario where he is forced to choose between his basketball team’s championship game, or his friends Dungeons and Dragons championship match. They are held at the same exact time. Lucas chooses basketball, which is devastating to his friends.
Somehow, Lucas manages to not only play in the basketball game, but he makes the game winning shot at the buzzer, instantly rocketing him up the popularity ladder into stardom.
This scene is one of cinematic mastery. Tense music backdrops both the scenes of Lucas’s final shot, and the final roll in the Dungeons and Dragons challenge match. His basketball heroics are painstakingly highlighted through slow motion focus, concurrently and perfectly congruent to the highlights of the nerd’s game. Slow motion scenes cut back and forth as the highlights simultaneously peak in crescendoed victory in both diametrically opposed games of skill.
With that newfound stardom, however, Lucas is forced to abandon his longtime friends in order to join the cool basketball kids, and soon finds himself actively fighting against these friends in the story.
He is torn between where he has been, where he is, and where he wants to be. Ultimately, Lucas’ true character shines through, and he overcomes the temptation and superficial allure of popularity and fame, and he rejoins his longtime friends in their collective fight against their enemy. He chose to let the right character drive his actions. What a story.
Not all stories have such a happy ending. And especially the stories we will talk about today. But we can learn from negative experiences just as easily as we can from positive ones. From our list above, there are three other examples to learn from. This time, lets look at the three successive kings of Israel in the Old Testament.
Saul, David, and Soloman were all kings of Israel. All of them started their lives, and reigns, in much the same way. They were all chosen because they possessed the character needed to be a righteous king. They were humble, full of faith and relied on the God of Israel. Lets take a peek at each one…
Saul was chosen as the first King of Israel. He was described as, “a choice young man, …and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he…”. He was chosen by God who, “gave him another heart…and the Spirit of God came upon him…” (1 Samuel 10:9,10).
So far, so good.
The prophet Samuel, who anointed Saul to be King, when prophesying of the blessings of obedience, did leave him and the people of Israel some advice. Maybe we could call it foreshadowing?
Samuel warned, “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.” (1 Samuel 12:25)
So, what happened to Saul? How did this ancient story play out? How did the internal battle for control of his actions end up? Would he rejoice in ultimate victory and celestial bliss?
Well, If we fast forward just a few chapters, we get this…
“…and there was a javelin in Saul’s, hand. And Saul cast the javelin, for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it.” (1 Samuel 18:10,11)
Hmm. That’s not good. Sounds like an Old Testament version of pin the tail on the donkey. Saul degenerated From humble, goodly, faithful beginnings to attempted murder. How did he get there?
Let’s look at two examples that may shed light on the slow methodical nature of Saul’s fall. Neither one may seem all that big of a deal, but together, and likely among a host of other small decisions, it proved enough to change his heart and mind. This change of heart then was enough to alter his actions. These actions then led to a person unrecognizable to his younger self. How did he let the wrong internal Saul take control?
First, let’s glance into the experience he had while waiting for the prophet Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice to the Lord before a battle that was looming. Samuel had instructed Saul, the leader of the army, to wait, and that he would come at a specific time to offer a sacrifice in the army’s behalf.
When Samuel was late, Saul took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice for Samuel. Saul was king, not prophet. He was not authorized to offer sacrifice. By now, he was likely used to being obeyed, and having events revolve around him, and his timeline. He likely would have been pressured by those around him to do it himself. He was a king after all. He was the one that should dictate when and how things should be done.
How far off was his thought process? He just wanted to make sure the Lord was on his side, didn’t he? But, he had overstepped. He had relied less on faith, and trust in God’s prophet, and more on the arm of flesh, or the perceived reality and pressure of the moment.
When confronted by Samuel, Saul explained why he had proceeded on his own, “because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). He was worried about what other people would think of him. Sounds like a modern problem as well.
Saul had lost his blessing. Later the scriptures elaborate, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit [which was not of] the Lord troubled him”. (1 Samuel 16:14)
This absence of the spirit of the Lord in Saul’s heart left it to be filled with opposing sentiments. Anger, greed, and jealousy took its place. This doesn’t usually happen overnight, it takes multiple, small, and consistent choices, changes, and allowances to let the natural man to take over. But, once we invite it in, the floodgates open.
Fast forward a little bit. Now Saul, and his newly named successor, David, are returning from battling the Philistines. Saul overheard the women in his city saying, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him…”
Now Saul was really jealous. He couldn’t stand to be disrespected. He was offended that David got more credit than he did. He wanted to be the most revered, the most adored, the biggest and the best. He wanted to be perceived as the most powerful. He now allowed the full natural man, the jealous man, the greedy man to drive his actions. His next act was throwing a javelin at David. The wrong Saul was driving the actions. The internal battle was lost. He spent the rest of his life trying to destroy David. Small, seemingly insignificant choices eventually led to a complete change in character.
The aforementioned David is our next example. He was the perfect poster child for early potential. The same Samuel the Prophet who had called and anointed Saul, had called and anointed David to be the next King, after Saul and his line proved unworthy.
We know, of course, of his early days when he used the power of faith in God to slay the Giant Goliath with a sling and stones.
Throughout David’s life he proved again and again to be a capable warrior and King. He became king of all Israel, united its kingdoms under a single banner, and moved the capital to Jerusalem. He even made plans to move the Tabernacle and the ark of the covenant there and wanted to build a permanent temple. David recognized all along who had given him success.
“And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways. and the Lord was with him.”(1 Samuel 18:14), and was “a man after the [Lord’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14)
Until he wasn’t. He slipped and allowed personal gratification with Bathsheba, and the subsequent aftermath with Uriah to ruin it all.
He had allowed a single moment, or a series of lead-up moments, to derail his ultimate potential. What a king he could have been. But, he chose to open himself up to be driven, and influenced by the natural inclination towards selfishness, and instant gratification. Good David lost the internal battle of will to Bad David. And, If it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. It takes constant, continuous, cognizant, and relentless hard work to fend off temptation, pride, and the natural man. These choices happen every single day. They seem small, but are meaningful.
Although the promise of his exaltation was lost (Doctrine and Covenants 132:39), David did try and reconcile with God for the rest of his life. He continued to worship the God of Israel, and charged his son Solomon to keep the Lord’s commandments when he passed on his throne. “And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgements, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest…” (1 Kings 2:3)
As David’s son, Soloman also learned from an early age to worship and love God. After he was named king, he remained humble, and relied on the special gifts God had blessed him with. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as at the sand this is on the sea shore.” (1 Kings 4:29)
Not only was Solomon the smartest guy in the world, he was one of the kindest. He, and Israel were blessed immensely. He built a temple and dedicated it to the Lord. He had not one, but two visions where he saw the Lord in dreams.
In his dedicatory prayer for the newly constructed temple, he admonished his people to, “…know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else. Let you heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day.” (1 Kings 8:60,61).
However, Solomon didn’t take his own advise. only a few chapters later, we read, “But king Solomon loved many strange (foreign) women…of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love…And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart… For it came to pass, that when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods:.. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord…” (1 Kings 11:1-6)
He even built high places unto these other gods, and sacrificed unto them. Yikes. I guess he went all in.
To us in 2022, this may seem like an easy thing to avoid. We may think, “well, at least I’m not building a temple to some weird gods named Ashteroth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech. I’m in good shape.”
But, if we look into what those gods represented at that time, and how they were worshipped, it’s not so different from what is “worshipped” today in ever increasing numbers.
Overall, Solomon had allowed himself to be compromised. He had allowed himself to stray too far from the doctrine of God. He spent more and more time concentrating, and validating the beliefs of others than he did feeding his own faith. This allowed the truth to dwindle in his own heart, and fed the natural man and his indulgence.
In time, Solomon’s commitment to truth wavered. Subsequently, the blessings that came because of his commitment to the truth, were taken away. He lost the blessings because he lost sight of the source of the blessings. What a shame.
So what can we learn from these stories? What is the takeaway? How can we be more like the young versions of Saul, David, Solomon, and even Lucas?
The one glaring principle that is taught in flashing neon lights in these stories is one we read in the Doctrine and Covenants…
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39)
So how do we avoid the fates of Saul, David, and Solomon?
We can recognize that we are in a battle. We are fighting everyday for control over our heart and actions. We can recognize that every little decision we make can have lasting, far reaching influence on our own future, or even the future of our family. We can recognize that if we really want to reach our full potential, we have to limit that base, natural man that wants us to succumb to our lesser characteristics.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
We can recognize that we can never relax into a state of comfortable complacency, no matter how strong we are today. We can recognize that fidelity to God and his Gospel strengthens us, and develops the character traits that provide protection against rage and ruin, and provides infinite potential for the world to come.
We can decide now to reject the worldly thoughts, ideas, and temptations that will surely come to us with ever increasing frequency and power. We can look for the modern iterations of the false gods that plagued ancient Israel.
We can recognize that without God, or his blessings, we are nothing. Without God, our intelligence and understanding are limited, our strength is temporary, and our happiness is fleeting.
We can recognize the source of every single blessing we enjoy. We can recognize our own weaknesses and predispositions and actively seek to fortify them. We can decide, and choose which characteristics we will allow to inform, and guide our actions.
We can recognize that we have the power of choice, and we “are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. … I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto this great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit” (2 Nephi 2:27,28)
I hope we all take the time to watch our step, and focus on each small decision we make every day so that we can fight off the natural man, and his pernicious, poisonous pitfalls.
During Christmas season, we think a lot about gifts. We think of the gifts we want to give to others and admire the generous gifts we receive. However, if we slow down from the hectic scramble to check off the items on our Christmas lists, we can ponder and benefit greatly from understanding the reason we celebrate with gifts during this time of year.
Sometimes, recognizing the greatness of a gift in the very moment it is given is difficult to do. It requires proper perspective and understanding. Unfortunately, I am not known for for being an expert in either maintaining the proper perspective, or in possessing anything that resembles great understanding. However, as I often do, I have a story that demonstrates my lack of perspective and understanding, and I’m glad to share it.
When I was growing up in Payson, Utah, the entire gamut of youth sports programs was comprised of just two options. We had summertime city baseball, and wintertime Junior Jazz basketball. Not quite the same as the full time year-round club teams kids now have for every sport. Needless to say, as kids, we looked forward to those seasons (mostly for the snow cones we would get IF won our baseball games).
In my first year of playing this Junior Jazz basketball, I was 8 years old. I barely knew how to dribble or shoot, and hardly understood the game itself. However, Junior Jazz did have its perks. Each year, they would have some members of the Utah Jazz organization put on a little basketball camp for all the kids in town to kick off the season.
In this particular year, 1985, the players that were sent down as guests to help run the camp in the thriving metropolis of Payson were the new guys. Some short, spindly, second year player from Spokane, Washington, and the new rookie kid from Luisiana.
It’s likely that the veteran Jazz players used the camp as a cruel hazing initiation for the new guys, or teach them patience. It was certainly needed to run a basketball camp full of 8 year-old kids in Payson. I am fairly certain it was not to bolster up a developmental league or to identify the next shining star, or future prospect for the NBA.
All I remember from that day, was the short spindly player that came could dribble like a madman. He went over some dribbling drills for us to do, which, when he demonstrated, looked more like the roadrunner’s feet from the cartoon. None of us could do them. When we tried, the gym was almost instantaneously a madhouse full of kids chasing the basketballs that had bounced of our heels, feet, knees, and butts. I remember him demonstrating another ball-handling drill while laying on his back and scissoring his legs front to back while moving the ball between them, all while talking to us. He looked more like a magician than a basketball player. I just remember thinking and wondering how on earth a real human could even do that. He looked more like what you’d see on a video game.
The only thing I remember about the other guy was that he was super tall, and he could actually dunk.
After the camp, the two guys sat down and were signing pictures and handing them out to the kids. I remember my dad being adamant that I get that signed picture from each of them before we went home. I was just wanting to go home and eat my bowl of cereal that was my custom on Saturday mornings. I remember chatting with the tall guy very briefly as we walked down the hall on the way home. Whatever, no big deal.
Some memory huh? Just a normal day in the life of and 8 year-old boy in 1985 Payson, Utah. Nothing to see here.
Well, as it turns out, I still have those signed pictures that my Dad was so worried about (and thanks Mom for helping me keep them from the trash heap). The players just happened to be John Stockton and Karl Malone.
After thirty-five years, I can now look back at the events of that day with added perspective and understanding. Captain Crunch consumption should not have been my focus that morning. What an amazing day that was. What a gift. How often does a little kid in Payson get to go to a free basketball camp put on by two future hall of fame NBA players? Once in a lifetime, that’s when.
Sometimes, the magnitude of the gifts we receive takes time to sink in. But, as we look back, these gifts can grow in meaning for our lives. This happens to us all the time.
In order to fully understand the immensity of the gift we celebrate each Christmas, we need to better understand the nature of God Himself, and the nature of our Savior. Just as an additional thirty-five years of life added to my appreciation of a special basketball camp as a little boy, added knowledge and understanding of the true nature of God and his benevolent gift can add to our love and appreciation for Him.
This perspective, or lack thereof, is not a new challenge to overcome. One of the most pointed questions on this subject came from an angel to Nephi during his vision of the history of the world. In that vision, he saw Mother Mary and the birth of our Savior. During these scenes, the angel of the Lord asked Nephi this poignant, probing question. This question may be one we skip over a lot of times because of the way the meaning of the word has changed over the years. The question he asked Nephi was…
“ Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Nephi 11:16)
To us, the word condescend isn’t necessarily a good one. Usually we associate this with people who talk down to others. But, in this particular case, it is the perfect word to describe Jesus’ pathway to his earthly experience. If we look at the 3rd definition of condescend in the dictionary, it says this…
“to put aside one’s dignity or superiority voluntarily and assume equality with one regarded as inferior:”
It feels like we are getting closer with that definition.
It is almost impossible to fully appreciate the immense distance between who, and where, Jesus Christ was in the moments before his birth, to who, and where he was in Bethlehem at his birth. They couldn’t be further apart. We need to fully appreciate how great Jesus was BEFORE he was born, and just how human he became, to better understand his condescencion.
Before the little baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was the God of the Old Testament. He was the God that cleansed the earth through the flood. He was the God that led Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt. He was the God that parted the Red Sea, and sent down fire to engulf the soaked alter for Elijah in his fight against the priests of Baal. This baby Jesus was the mighty Jehovah, the Great I am. This little one in a simple manger was the Creator of the Universe and worlds without number.
Isaiah captured this concept best in his famous scripture we often hear around Christmas time, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” His prophetic writings then perfectly describe the divine destiny of that little baby as he continued, “and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The mighty Creator of the Universe chose to fulfill the Father’s plan, and pass through a veil to become that little baby in Mary’s arms. He gave up everything to be with us, and to learn like we would learn, and to face and overcome everything in much the same way we would be asked to do.
Jesus didn’t only sacrifice his perfect physical body in the garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary’s hill. He sacrificed all that he had BEFORE he was even born. By coming to earth as an innocent baby with a mortal mother, he left behind his position at the Father’s side. He gave up all his power, all his knowledge, and all that he had become, to join us on this humble earth. With his mortal birth, he was fulfilling the Father’s plan. By virtue of his mortal birth, he sacrificed all that he was before, and chose to descend below everything just for us.
That is the condescension of God. What a gift.
In section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reveals more understanding about his nature, his growth, and his condescension. By teaching us more about his nature, he is teaching us about our nature, and our divine potential.
It is in this section that we learn when it was that Jesus received a fulness of the Father. His first 30 years were spent learning, growing, and becoming who he was meant to be. This was an example for all of us and our own individual paths of growth and learning.
At the baptism of Jesus, he fully became who he was meant to be.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness..And I John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my Beloved Son. And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; and he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him..” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-16)
The Lord then turns to teach us how this applies to us. He teaches us about who we are, and why it’s important to understand the nature of God. His entire life was the gift. We need to celebrate it all.
We should celebrate together the gift of his birth, his teachings, and ultimately in his atoning sacrifice. HIs life, in it’s entirety, is the greatest gift ever given because of what it makes possible for all of us. Because of him, we also have divine potential. We can receive the fulness of the Father all because of him.
“I give undo you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments, you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:19, 20)
This time of year we give and receive many gifts. Let’s take just a little more time to think about the most important gift of all. Jesus gave himself as a gift to all mankind in a garden in Gethsemane, and again upon a cross on on Calvary. But, before that pinnacle event in human history, he gave up everything to [con]descend into our world as little baby in Bethlehem, and became the greatest gift ever given.
The modern day apostles may have said it best when they declared…
“God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son”.
Every once in a while, we experience moments we will remember forever. They become etched in our minds and become a part of who we are.
Yesterday, was one of those days. Jake was playing in his end-of-season basketball tournament for his little club team. It was a long day. They played 4 games starting at 8 o’clock in the morning. The final game finished up around 3:30. If you’re 8 years old, or 42 years old, that makes for a long day. The Mountain Dew and Lunchables from Circle K can only get you so far.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the day would shape up to be one of the best we have ever had. But, you would never think it possible by the way it started.
For a little context, Jake can be a bit of a perfectionist and a huge worry wart. He has a lot of his older brother in him. He loves to win, and hates to lose. He obsesses over, stews about, analyzes and contemplates all the possible outcomes for each game. He constantly worries how he will play, who he will play, and all the “what if’s”. Many of us have likewise experienced cases of these pre-game jitters or “butterflies”. It’s normal to get that uneasy feeling in your gut before a big game, event, or concert.
Jake is a bit different. He gets a severe case of the killer butterflies that cannot be contained within the pediatric limits of his gastric capacity. Sometimes, his killer butterflies spill out and manifest as a major hurdle for him to overcome in the hours before his games. I think his butterflies are above average in size, because he cares about these games in an above average way.
Yesterday was killer butterfly day. They must have multiplied inside as the gravity of the day ahead weighed on him. It was a lot to worry about as it was, a win or go home, single elimination tournament. Luckily, Jake has one of the best known treatments for killer butterflies. A good Mom.
Moms have superpowers. Sometimes they know just how to slay the killer butterflies.
Jake may never tell you this, but what he and his mom did that morning, is what they always do when the butterflies come. They went into a quiet room and knelt down and asked for Heavenly Father’s help. They thanked him for a healthy body to be able to play, and that Jake would be able to do his best and have a good time.
Sometimes all we need is to be close to someone who really knows, and believes in the power God has to change our lives. When we are younger, we naturally depend on our parents to help us understand life and its challenges. They can also teach or show us the best, most effective way we can deal with the difficult stuff that will surely come.
Along with asking for divine help, one of the things that Catie has always taught the kids, is that if they are prepared, there is no reason to fear. This principle applies to their school work, sports, and every other fear in life. I don’t think that she is the only mother who has ever taught this principle.
Jake was prepared. He had spent hours, and hours, and hours outside on our little basketball hoop practicing. His team had spent hours and hours over the last several months practicing together, drilling, shooting, running through plays, and slowly improving, and getting better. His Mom also prepared his mind by taking him time after time after time into that quiet room to pray to slay the butterflies.
In one of our favorite stories about supermoms in the Book of Mormon, we read about the young stripling warriors who had also learned how to be brave, and fight through their killer butterfly moments. In Alma 56 we learn about a life altering choice these 2,000 rookie warriors were faced with. They had to choose whether or not to join a hopeless battle against the seasoned, mature, experienced Lamanite army. Imagine the butterflies during that somber moment when their father figure and military leader Helaman asked them, “
“Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?” -Alma 56:44
As they answered, I’m sure they thought back to many times before when they knelt with their mothers, and thanked Heavenly Father for their healthy bodies, and asked for courage, and help to tackle whichever scary butterfly inducing situation they faced that day. So, they were prepared to answer,
“Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; We do not doubt our mothers knew it.“ -Alma 56:48
I am sure that these young men were not born with the courage they displayed. They likely learned it through shared experiences. This invaluable experience gained chiefly by the help of their Mothers. It was the reason they chose to be courageous. Moms really do have superpowers. Maybe most importantly, they have the power to help shape the hearts of young men.
Yesterday all the physical and mental preparation of the last several months came together for Jake. It was needed as the killer butterflies were in full force for the big day. But, just as each time before, and with the constant help of his Mom, he was able to work through them and play and have some great games.
Jake’s team played well, and fought through each game, one by one, and won each of them leading up to the coveted championship contest.
As the game started and the battle began, all the parents were nervous and screaming and yelling. The coaches’ foreheads and neck veins were bulging as they screamed instructions. Constant noise reverberated through the gym. Our coach was fighting through his lost voice from yelling all day during the previous games. The buildup had been intense. The games were intense. The coaches were intense. The stakes were high, and even the little 8 year olds were focused, and inherently understood how big this game was for them.
As the final game’s battle went on, it was a back and forth struggle filled with bad calls, missed opportunities, and blown assignments that are commonplace to any league with little kids. However, as fate would have it, and like the movie script of the day’s destiny, it came down to the very end.
We could almost hear the soft subtle sound of the theme music from Hoosiers starting to play in the back of our minds, as we glanced up at the scoreboard every few seconds. Time started to slow down as every little moment further built the intensity of the occasion. The clock ticked down to under the final minute or so, as the other team tied the game.
After a scramble over a loose ball led to an inbound play, the drama completed its crescendo. Our team had the final opportunity to win the game with just about 7 seconds left. We had the ball out of bounds and we ran our best sideline inbound play.
The imaginary soundtrack music intensified as the clocked ticked down in each of our heads. The Killer butterflies that Jake had successfully vanquished earlier in the day came roaring back with a vengeance finding new hosts in the churning stomachs of the eager spectators.
Fingernail fragments were flying as nervous nibbles went unchecked. Fists were clenched and blood flow stopped. Jake inbounded the ball to Max as he headed towards the basket. He was met with an immediate double team spoiling any chance of a clear shot. He screeched to a halt as he faced the towering wall of opposition, and reversed course. He quickly looked around for a way out, as hope of victory started to wane.
Time ticked away, Max then noticed Jake. He had worked in behind his drive and was clear of defenders. He instinctively flipped the ball back towards him as the drama peaked. Jake caught the ball, and without hesitation, turned to the basket and let it fly.
The music in our minds climaxed intensely as the ball arced upwards, floated impossibly slow and then hung at its midpoint in the air. Time seemed to stop. Life itself on earth stood still. The stars in the firmament paused their cosmic duties for that moment to witness the outcome. As the ball then resumed its downward trajectory, every eye in the gym was fixed singularly on it. Jake’s shooting arm and hand stayed locked in follow-through position as if willing the ball to find its way through the net. The ball’s gentle backward rotation added to the beauty of the moment, as the parabolic arc finally completed its journey, and the ball lit softly within the welcoming embrace of the nylon net. It was over. We had won. We were the champions.
The deafening roar of parents, onlookers, players waiting for the use of the gym, all joined in the ecstasy of the moment drowning out the closing buzzer. People went nuts. inhibitions were thrown out. Grown men danced like fairies across the hardwood. The disbelief soon gave way to utter joy and complete bliss. The Best Day Ever. It became the moment that Jake, and all of us, will remember forever.
This day will be remembered for the loud shouts, and hollering, the hugging, and screaming, fist bumps and high fives. And it should be. But, it should also be remembered for the quiet little moments before it all began when a good mom, knelt down in a quiet room to help a young man slay the killer butterflies.
“Being a good listener” is not a trait we are born with. We have to actively think about it, and be aware of our tendencies to passively dismiss what we are hearing. It demands practice, and and active desire to develop this lifesaving trait.
Several years ago, there was a funny Youtube video that went viral. It was a clip of a little 3-year-old boy arguing with his mother. Apparently, in his understandable overexcitement to pursue the immediate, instant, and pure gratification that would undoubtedly come via grandma’s cupcakes, he ran into a Momma roadblock. He then tried to convince momma that there should be no roadblock to confectionary bliss.
Like most three year olds, he selectively un-heard (an actual inherited genetic trait common in males) his mother’s directions to not eat, or go after said cupcakes.
When caught, he spun an impressively articulated tale, well-steeped in lawyerly gobbledygook, lasting almost three minutes in a hopeless attempt to justify, argue, spin, deflect, and rewrite history. This was his attempt to prove to his mother that he, 3-year-old Matteo, somehow was right, and that he didn’t really have to listen.
Again, actively listening is not a trait we are born with, but one we have to develop.
One of my new favorite examples in the scriptures that perfectly illustrates what it means to really listen, and how our lives may depend on it, is in the new testament. This story is also one of the last discourses that the Savior would deliver before his crucifixion.
On this particular day, the Lord was with his disciples and they were all climbing the Mount of Olives that rises directly across from, and in perfect view of the majesty of the Temple Mount. King Herod’s imposing temple crowned that sacred space and stood magnificently above the city.
The disciples, looking back at this impressive view, commented on the beauty and grandeur of the city, its buildings, and its massive temple centerpiece.
“Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” (Mark 13:1)
This comment spurred the following prophecy from the Savior…
“Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)
It is probably safe to say that this was not the comment that the disciples were expecting. There may have even been a few blank stares. After all, the temple had recently completed a 46 year rebuilding effort initiated by King Herod. It was adorned with special white stone that gleamed brightly in the ample sun. It was crested and decorated with gold donated from Jews throughout the land, and symbolized the wealth, power, and strength of the Jews.
The disciples then posed the obvious follow up question to Jesus…
“Tell us when shall these things be which thou hast said concerning the destruction of the temple, and the Jews;
Jesus’ recorded answers to this and other questions are now known as the Olivet discourse. We read it, or portions of it, in Mathew 24 (improved in clarity in JST-Mathew), Mark 13, Luke 21, and even more recently referred to by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants section 45.
Today, mostly because we have the benefit of hindsight and recorded history, I’d like to focus on the answer to this first question, and what lessons we can glean from it, specifically about developing our listening skills.
His answer to “when shall these things be?” was simple..
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (Luke 21:20)
And they [the Jews] shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24)
Mathew described Jesus’ answer a bit differently noting Jesus’ reference to an even earlier prophecy…
“When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, then you shall stand in the holy place…
Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains;
Let him who is on the housetop flee, and not return to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes;” (JST Mathew 1:12-15)
The Lord stated as plain as could be, what would happen to Jerusalem, and her people. AND, even more importantly what to do, and when to do it, to stay safe- When the armies come, head for the hills, and don’t look back.
I imagine that word spread. I’m sure in the A.D. 33 version of the Ensign, or LDSnewsroom, twitter, Instagram and Youtube, that the specifics of the prophecy spoken by the living Prophet, were taught, discussed, and written down.
So how did this prophecy play out? Was anyone listening? Did the early Saints heed the warnings of the prophet and prepare? Or did they argue like little Matteo that the cupcakes really weren’t off limits?
If we fast forward to a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the tension between the occupying Romans, and the citizens of Judea increased. Citizen rebels tried to fight back, and attacked two Romans fortresses. The Romans responded forcefully and released their soldiers on those in Caesarea and killed about 20,000 jewish citizens. It then quickly escalated into a full blown war.
After an abandoned earlier attempt at a siege of Jerusalem with a single legion, Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus returned the next spring with and entire army of 60,000 Roman soldiers. They took two and a half years methodically destroying their way back towards Jerusalem.
Once there, Titus surrounded the city and commenced another three-year siege of Jerusalem. It was horrible. Rampant starvation, death, and disease filled the streets. Dead bodies were left to fester piled upon each other in buildings, the smell of death and rot was unbreathable. No one within the city could escape. Those who tried were crucified outside the city walls for all to see.
On sept 26 AD 70 Titus breached the walls of Jerusalem destroying everything and everyone. Men, women, and children were slaughtered. Josephus, an historian, recorded that 1.1 million jews, or 90% of the population, were killed. The remaining 10% were sold into slavery.
Titus then ordered that everything on the temple mount be completely leveled, so the jews would not be compelled to try and reclaim their holy place.
Thirty seven years after Jesus’ prophecy, it had all been fulfilled.
So, again the question is, did anyone make it out alive? Were any members of the primitive church able to escape and “flee into the mountains” as the prophecy dictated? Was anyone prepared? Had any group of members been watching, listening, and recognizing the signs, in order to act on the words of the prophets?
In AD 325 the early Christian historian Eusebius wrote
“The members of the Jerusalem church by means of an oracle [something spoken through revelation or inspiration] given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and settle in a town in peraea called pella” [Eusebius, Book III, 5:4]
A hundred years later, another historian recorded:
[There was an] exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of their advice they lived in Perea … (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29, 7, 7-8)
There was indeed a happy ending for those who had truly listened, followed through, and acted on the warnings of the Lord and his prophets.
As we contemplate the importance of becoming better listeners, let’s examine just the first 16 verses of the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Remember, this is the same section in which the Lord references this very same prophetic moment from the Mount of Olives he shared with his disciples 1800 years before…
“Hearken, O ye people of my church, to whom the kingdom has been given; hearken ye and give ear to him who laid the foundation of the earth…
And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you;…
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father…
Hearken, O ye people of my church, and ye elders listen together, and hear my voice while it is called today and harden not your hearts;…
Wherefore, hearken ye together and let me show unto you even my wisdom—…
Wherefore, hearken and I will reason with you, and I will speak unto you and prophesy, as unto men in days of old.
And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh… (Doctrine and Covenants 45:1-16)
Even those of us who suffer with the genetic impairment of selective hearing can pick up on those hints. I think we are being invited to listen. Remembering also, that…
“…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38)
We need to be much better at listening to the Lord, his words, the words of his servants, and his Spirit. Through his prophets, the Lord will tell us what to do, where to be, how to be, and when to be there so that we can be safe.
Prophets instruct us, teach us, and inspire us to be prepared. This is the necessary action that is almost always associated with listening to prophetic warnings.
Our preparation, however, is not just stuffing away a year’s supply of whole wheat buckets, canned beets, powdered milk, and 50 pound sacks of beans. It is also referencing the necessary spiritual preparation.
Being spiritually prepared enables us to have the courage to “… not return to take anything out of [our] house;” as we, “flee into the mountains” (JST Mathew 1:12-15).
I imagine that if the Prophet made a special YouTube video asking us to drop everything we were doing, and head to Missouri for an emergency general conference with some “special guests”, most of us would head out immediately.
But, what if that same prophet said it was time to work on our daily scripture study? What if that same prophet asked us to be better at prayer, being thankful, or developing a better testimony? What if he asked us to be more spiritually self-reliant, teach the gospel to our families in our own homes, be better ministers, and to develop an increased capability to “hear him”? Would we be just as willing and committed to do those things?
These are the true tests of our listening skills. These are our opportunities to really prepare, and thus eliminate the fear of the unknown from our lives. Especially when we know there are “bumpy” times ahead.
Catie has often told our kids, from the time they were little that, “…If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30) and she is exactly right.
We may not have physical armies compassed about and threatening us, but we most certainly have the desolation of abomination that is gathering outside ourselves, our homes, and our communities. It is everywhere. It’s in our media, language, merchandise, fashion, and often taught in our schools. Increasing political unrest dominates the news cycle, along with a constant drumbeat of societal pressures to accept sinful behavior as normal. Economic strains, along with increasing health concerns from a world wide pandemic are prevalent throughout the whole world. Cumulative stresses brought about by all these things together may indeed make us feel like we are being compassed about by threatening armies.
We may not currently face impending physical threats posed by the invading armies of Titus, but, does it not feel like our families are under threat of a growing spiritual siege?
Just as the prophetic warnings from Jesus given way back in AD 33 prompted earlier saints, we can also “flee into the mountains” today. We simply need to listen to our Prophet and find safety in not only listening, but acting on his words. Once we divert our focus away from the chaos, instability and stress that flourish out in the world, and focus on the peaceful simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us that share our hope and faith, we feel different. But, this peace can only come through listening to, and living within the safety of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us all forget the worldly cupcakes and their fools gold promise of instant satiety, and improve our capacity to listen, to hear, and act. When we do so, we will enjoy the eternal fruits, and living water that come through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we look a bit more closely at the many topics in the last general conference, we can start to see themes. These are our prophets today, are we really listening to them? Are we actively trying to follow their direction and council? Are we listening with a purpose to change ourselves, our habits, and our character?
Quite a while ago, I wrote about how some of the travel stories in the Book of Mormon have common themes and are great examples of trials, tribulations, and struggles during a trip, including the idea that a journey might not just be defined as the time period elapsed or distance traveled between point A and point B. Recently in re-reading the Jaredite journey, I liked a particular phrase (and theme) that could be related to the pre-journey and preparations that set the stage for the journey more than the actual journey (even though I love the journey on it’s own). I know that many times this Jaredite journey has been ‘likened’ unto our mortal journeys, but what about the preparation, instruction, and stage-setting that took place prior to the actual journey?
This story starts out in Genesis 11:4-9 where the people become ‘confounded’. Their language or ability to communicate with each other was disrupted to the point that they couldn’t ‘understand one another’s speech’. Soon after this confusion, the people become ‘scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth’. The notable exception to this mass confusion is the brother of Jared, his family, and a few of their friends. Ether 1:33-37 tells us that the brother of Jared ‘cried’ unto the Lord for the continued ability to ‘understand’ his brother (Jared), and then cried unto the Lord a second time to expand this restored understanding to their family and friends, and that ‘the Lord had compassion upon them, that they were not confounded’. Now, with the language confounded (mostly), and the people being scattered abroad upon all the earth, there is little doubt that these guys (the Jaredites) knew that the Lord was ‘in his anger’ – and in a very humble way the brother of Jared asked the Lord (in verses 38-39) for some additional guidance. He asked the question ‘whither shall we go’? He did not ask if they had to go, or if they could stay where they were – he asked ‘whither’.
The response from the Lord in verses 41-42 is one that sets the tone for this blog post, and is the hallmark of a pre-journey stage setting. He says: ‘Go [get all your stuff and your families], and meet me in the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth. Yes. Sign me up for that journey. I can’t imagine it was very hard to follow that advice – even in these circumstances.
So, let’s set this stage for ourselves at the same time as the Jaredites. I can imagine that the mass of people in the pre-existence experienced some level of ‘confusion’ (potentially being ‘confounded’) when Lucifer introduced his plan, campaigned for our support of his plan, and even starting gaining a significant following who thought his plan was a good one, and the assurances of being ‘saved’. There was essentially the introduction of a ‘new’ or ‘alternative’ means of communication. In addition, let’s not discount that fact that the Lord had instructed each of us that we would all (by necessity) be ‘scattered abroad upon all the earth’ – which meant we had to leave the place of our residence. This left all of us with at least the choice of which voice (communication) to follow and seek to understand. After the differing plans were presented and the confusion set in, we hopefully followed the example of the brother of Jared and ‘cried’ unto the Lord and asked him to lessen the effect of the ‘confusion’ that was present (which is code for ‘please allow me and my family to keep ‘understanding’ the right voices). Then, I like to think of us (our loved ones, families, etc.) counseling with one another being thankful that we could understand each other, expecting and hoping that even though the Lord will be sending us out on a journey, that He would ‘carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth’ and letting that hope guide us to humbly approach the Lord and asking the same question that the brother of Jared did; ‘Lord, whither shall we go’?
Next, let’s imagine the Lord’s response to the brother of Jared as our response: ‘Go to and gather together [your flocks] and go down into the land which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth. Our flocks in the pre-existence could likely represent our knowledge, understanding, talents, characteristics, growth, motivation, testimony, etc. that we were blessed with or developed during our time there. He essentially gave us the opportunity to ‘gather’ it all together, mentally prepare ourselves, and meet him ‘in the land which is northward’1 for our next step in the preparation stage. Notice that there is no timeline or due date for this ‘gathering’. The process of ‘gathering’ our stuff in the pre-existence could be hundreds or thousands of years.
Ether 2:1-7 next explains the various preparations that the Jaredite party completed; they gathered flocks, fowls, vessels, honeybees, fish, and all manner of seeds. Please note that they went on a mini-journey (to the land northward) as preparation for and part of the ‘gathering’ for the real journey to the promised land that was in the future. Then the Lord guided and directed them, and ‘gave directions whither they should travel’ along the way (another journey). In addition, they did ‘build barges, in which they did cross many waters’. Let’s pause and ask ourselves if during this preparation stage the lord was helping them learn and grow and experience things that would help them later on? (Hint: building barges to cross many waters during their pre-journey might be a helpful thing to learn because the Lord knows that He will soon ask the brother of Jared to build ‘barges’ ‘to cross that great sea which divideth the lands’ – which is their big journey). The fascinating phrase during this preparation/gathering/mini-journey activity is that the Jaredites were ‘being directed continually by the hand of the Lord’. After their mini-journey, the Jaredites take a little break (potentially thinking they had arrived at the promised land) – only to realize that the Lord was just wrapping up the ‘preparation’ or ‘pre-journey’ phase.
This little break earns the brother of Jared a 3-hour chastisement, which prompts him to quickly repents and is then told to ‘go to work’ (Ether 2:14-16). Notice how the ‘work’ that the brother of Jared is told to do, is remarkably similar to the ‘work’ that they had already done (during the preparation journey). They are asked to build barges ‘after the manner which they had [already] built’. I wonder if the Jaredites were grateful for the knowledge and experience they had gained during their pre-journey when they were asked to cross the great sea…probably.
When we liken ourselves and our pre-mortal journeys to the Jaredites, we can see some themes that help us understand that the journey we took during our ‘gathering’ and ‘preparing’ in the pre-existence and those growing experiences we no doubt had which took us to ‘the land northward’ for our next meeting with the Lord are very real mini-journeys that were preparing us and giving us experiences that will likely be drawn out of us during our ‘real’ journeys (if and when they come) during the pre-existence and certainly here on earth.
The next step in the Jaredite journey occurs when most of the requisite preparations have been completed, and the brother of Jared is putting the finishing touches on a few things before they cross the great sea. I see this last little series of exchanges as a final closeout meeting in order to make sure everything is in tip-top shape before they actually ‘set forth’. In verses 18-20 (still in Ether Chapter 2) the brother of Jared says; “I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges”… But, then he explains that he sees 2 potential problems: 1) There is no light, and 2) we can’t really breathe in these barges. The lord handles problem number 2 by instructing him to make a hole in the top and the bottom, but leaves problem 1 apparently unsolved.
The brother of Jared makes the holes as instructed, and then comes again to the Lord regarding his first problem (light) – and asks the Lord ‘wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness’? I don’t know what the Jaredites had used for light in their previous barges, but it seems to me that the Lord was using this situation as a teaching opportunity for the brother of Jared to work some things out on his own – essentially study it out in his mind and come up with a solution – because He doesn’t answer the question directly, but does give some basic guidelines; they couldn’t have windows (they’d break), and couldn’t have fire (burning boat in the middle of the tempest tossed ocean could be bad news). Then, in addition, he gave some context for the brother of Jared to consider (while he is coming up with a proposed lighting solution) that he (the barges) will be a ‘whale in the midst of the sea’, and that the ‘mountain waves shall dash upon you’, and that he will be ‘in the depths of the sea’ due to the winds, the rains, and the floods that He will send forth.
At this point – the Lord says something totally amazing – “behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds… and the floods” – essentially letting the brother of Jared know (or remember) that the previous years of instruction, focused ‘gathering’ and the mini-journeys have all been ‘preparation’ against the trials that have been laid out, and that are sure to come in the ‘real’ journey. The reason that is important is because that he literally could not cross the ‘real’ journey save he was prepared. Amazing. Yet, not as amazing as the next question he asks – ‘therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea’? I have prepared you for all these things – but, what is it that you need, or what else would you like as ‘preparation’ for this great journey – when (a key word), when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea. He doesn’t ask what he needs for light when it’s sunny and calm, The Lord asks what he needs for light ‘when [he is] swallowed up in the depths of the sea’. When we think of these things being ‘prepared’ for the journey (these things being the winds, the floods, the rains, and the mountain waves) and realize that they are a necessary part of the journey – He doesn’t ask the brother of Jared what he needs to avoid them, He asks what he needs ‘when he is swallowed by them’.
Let’s take a break and put ourselves back into our pre-mortal Jaradite ‘type(s)’. We complete the work that the Lord has asked us to do in the pre-existence. We have finished the majority of our requirements, we have ‘gathered’ our flocks and our other things, we have mentally prepared (and we even traveled to ‘the land which is northward’ to meet up with the Lord and receive a few more instructions along the way). Then, we worked through a mini-journey to get to the seashore and are asked to ‘build a barge to cross the great sea’, which we do. After all these preparations, we feel like we are nearly ready, but there are a couple of nagging questions that have been lingering in our minds that we’d like answered before we take the plunge into ‘the depths of the sea’ (mortality). So, we humbly ask the lord for a little more clarification on a couple of things. Our concerns could have been based on the makeup or functions of our physical bodies (pain, weakness, illness, disease and death) or they could have been based on situations or even family relationships (stress, emotional turmoil, etc.), they could have been based on the functionality of the veil that we would pass through, – or they could have been based on areas that the Lord seems to have been quietly waiting for us to work out on our own – but his guidance to us would be the same. He would help us to re-remember that “behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds….and the floods”. He says to us; ‘I prepared you [yes, just you] against everything that you will see down there. There is no way you could make it without everything I’ve taught you here. But, since you’re concerned about it, ‘what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea’? In addition to all that I’ve prepared you for (and against) in mortality, what more do you need/want to give you light when ye get completely buried by it all? Such an amazing question!
This question (what else do you need?) spurred the brother of Jared to go to work. No doubt he laid out a plan, thought about his options, worked through the pros and cons of each idea, and finally settled on a plan that would give light to the barges. He likely talked it over with his family based on their previous building of barges. They learned from their experience, previous experience from others and the scriptures and he went to work on a solution. In Ether 3:1 we learn that the brother of Jared ‘went forth unto the mount, (which is exceedingly high) and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones’. With this passage we learn some things that the brother of Jared did not do. He did not wander to the nearest rock pile from his tent/house and grab 16 stones. He did not walk to the river and select a few clean rocks. He did not even just go chip out a few clear rocks from a larger clear rock. What he did do was ‘go forth unto an exceedingly high mount, and molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass’. Molten (the verb) is the past participle of melt, but when used as an adjective means liquefied by heat; in a state of fusion or produced by melting and casting.2 This means that it wasn’t very easy for the brother of Jared to make these sixteen stones and they most certainly were not something that he found on the ground. He created them with a singular purpose in mind.
Once he had diligently created and developed his sixteen stones, ‘he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount’, presenting his proposed solution to the Lord. He asks the Lord to ‘not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness’, – and acknowledging what may appear to the Lord as a completely weak and rudimentary solution – to ‘look upon me in pity’ and ‘suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness’. So humble and so powerful – but he’s not done. He says; ‘behold these things (he doesn’t even dare call them anything other than ‘things’) which I have molten out of the rock’…therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us… that we may have light while we shall cross the sea’. Then, as the story unfolds, we realize that this humility and this faith that the brother of Jared demonstrated (remember, we are still in the preparation and pre-journey stage) is the catalyst for maybe the most amazing vision and experience ever. They are so great in fact, that we can’t even read them because they would overpower us [and they’ve been sealed] (see Ether 12:24 and Ether 4:4-5). The Lord touches the stones – or as it’s referred to in both Ether 3:4 and Ether 6:2 the Lord ‘prepared’ the stones – ‘and they did give light unto the vessels’ – because ‘the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness’. Now, after each phase of his preparation (‘after they had done all these things’) the Jaredites ‘got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea. He was finally ready to start his journey.
If we transplant ourselves back in time to when we had been asked by the Lord (what else we needed to give us light when we were to be swallowed), and think about the process that the brother of Jared went through before he approached the Lord with a potential solution, it can open up some interesting possibilities in our characters, our personalities, our interests, and maybe most importantly, our talents. If we each took that pre-mortal time individually to reflect on the question (what is it that you want for light during the dark days of your journey) internally answering the question. We – just like the brother of Jared – likely counseled with loved ones, reflected on past mini-journeys or preparations, looked at the pros and cons of various different possibilities, and then ultimately, we selected an option that we felt was the best solution. Hopefully each of us came up with these solutions after much prayer, meditation, and work, and didn’t just pick up some rocks that were in the nearby field. Then, if we imagine the term ‘molten stones out of rock’ to be synonymous with ‘developed talents, or abilities, or skills, or compassions, or character traits’ that would allow for ‘light’ to shine in times of greatest darkness, then we can see how amazing of a parallel this really is. As we (young and struggling premortal spirits) worked so hard to develop a solution for a journey that we barely understood, the natural results of that hard work would have made us feel incredibly humble as we approached the perfection of the Lord and asked Him to ‘not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness’ and to ‘look upon us with pity’ while we feebly explained to a perfect spirit how or why we felt this meek and lowly talent could help us when we are ‘swallowed in the depths of the sea’. Yet, we continued and asked the Lord to ‘prepare our stones, that they may shine forth in darkness… that we may have light while we cross the sea’. Our stones are the individual talents, abilities, gifts, and natures that we spent time developing in the pre-existence molting out of rock – and as the Lord had compassion on us – he ‘prepared’ them and caused them to shine in darkness for our journey through mortality. Even though it was the brother of Jared who created the stones, and brought them to the Lord, and even though the talents or gifts were developed by us through much hard work (in the pre-existence and here) it was and is the Lord who causes them to shine. We bring our gifts and our talents to the Lord, and he gives them light. Then we, like the brother of Jared, hopefully use that humility and that blessing from the Lord as a catalyst of spiritual power and faith to sustain us through the long journey ahead. Then, and only then were we ready to ‘get aboard our vessels and set forth into the sea’.
Once the Jaredites were sufficiently prepared, boarded, and actually in the water, ‘the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus were they tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind… they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind… the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land… and thus they were driven forth before the wind’ (Ether 6:5-8). If I imagine a voyage across the sea (cruise, sailing, etc.) I don’t want to see the following words; furious wind, tossed upon the waves, buried in the depths, mountain waves, great and terrible tempests, fierceness of the wind, and wind did never cease. Yet, somehow the Lords words ‘I prepare against these things’ may have echoed just enough in the Jaredites ears that they understood the reasons, plus the fact that these winds ‘did never cease to blow towards the promised land’. It may have helped them realize that the mountain waves that were burying them in the depths of the sea, were somehow getting them closer to their destination. And, there is little doubt that those bright white stones prepared by the Lord offered comfort, peace, and light during the most troubling of times, and also provided them a constant reminder of the hard work, faith, humility, and presence of a savior and guide who would never leave them alone.
Once we as pre-mortal spirits were sufficiently prepared, were able to have our final pre-mortal pep talks and interviews and had both feet in the water of mortality, ‘the Lord God causes that there to be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus are we tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind… we are many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which break upon us, and also the great and terrible tempests which are caused by the fierceness of the wind… the wind will never cease to blow towards the promised land… and thus are we driven forth before the wind’. It helps us to know that the great and terrible tempests, the mountain waves, and the repeated burying in the depths of the sea, are all due to the fierceness of the wind.
The fierceness of this wind is in direct proportion to the fierceness of His love – since that furious wind is eagerly blowing each of us towards the promised land. In times of trouble, when we are swallowed up, and when it seems as if there is no way out of the darkness – let us recall the gifts, talents, and small stones that we have molten out of rock that were touched and prepared by the Lord to give us and others traveling with us light specifically for those times – when we are seemingly buried in the darkness and remember, that being buried in the depths was always part of the plan.
1 ‘The Land which is northward’ could represent any check-in station where we evaluate or re-evaluate our direction, trajectory, or standing before the Lord. It could also represent a very real change of phase or responsibility. It’s use in this story was a launching pad or starting line for the first part of the journey. I don’t think it is strange to think of ‘the land which is northward’ being a starting line for any and all new journeys. It is also likely that ‘the land which is northward’ could reference the temple since that is where he can give us counsel and direction and help us determine our location and/or direction in our various journeys.
The image above is a mural painted on the wall in my exercise room (downstairs at my house). I had a young man in my ward paint this scene (among others) as he was looking for some artist work while preparing to go on his mission. At some point during the COVID quarantine times, our family – like many others – engaged in some Marco Polo app shenanigans which somehow ended up in me doing some pushups in my exercise room, which then prompted a question about the wall (that was apparently visible in the background), which led to me showing this to my siblings and parents explaining what each scene was (there are 3 main scenes and 1 large collage) a la MTV cribs. While I was explaining what this scene is (and why I had this young man draw this event) it apparently was something of a prompt for Colby, since we discussed this topic briefly, and he then wrote a blog post that included this story from Alma Chapter 43.
Now that enough time has passed since then, I thought it would be timely to relate what I feel is the reason behind this scene (why I love it so much) as well as several related stories that help reinforce the idea of what is being portrayed. In each case, there are key phrases that I hope will resonate and work together to shape and add color to the full, wider, more comprehensive picture. After all, isn’t a painting just a form of symbol (object, event, action, or teaching that represents a spiritual truth) that teaches much more than words ever can?
Imagine in your mind the infographic that Elder Bednar used in his conference address in October of 2018 that shows multiple principles or individual braids being wound together to make the strands of a strong rope – the idea of several interrelated actions being part of a unified effort to better align the focus (or understanding) of a principle. In his words “as we learn and link together revealed gospel truths, we are blessed to receive precious perspective and increased spiritual capacity through eyes that can see the Lord’s influence in our lives….” With that in mind, here are several related stories or passages.
The first passage is found in Alma 53:13-15. In this part of history, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi people were considering breaking their oath/covenant to bury their weapons of war and not fight against the Lamanites. This near break of their oath came because “they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and the tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, [and] they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defence of their country.” At this time, there was quite a bit of dissension and intrigue among the Nephites and their desire to help was understandable. However, when Helaman was able to persuade them to keep their oath, and to not take up their arms in battle, the record reads “therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their most dangerous circumstances at this time.” Just read that again, understanding what it means, and don’t forget that wading is typically used when we are out in the water quite a bit right? It’s not a toe dip or an ankle dip or standing on the beach and experiencing the waves peacefully lap and cover your feet – it’s wading through afflictions.
In other words, by keeping and honoring their oath (which the Nephite leader encouraged them to do, they were compelledto behold their loved ones – in their most dangerous circumstances.
The second related story comes in Alma chapter 14. It’s where Alma and Amulek are preaching in the city of Ammonihah and the judges/leaders/lawyers of the city resist the teachings, and go as far as casting out believers, only to then bring wives and children together to the place of martyrdom and force Alma and Amulek to witness the destruction of those whom were consumed by fire. Amulek understandably asks “How can we witness this awful scene? Let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them…” But Alma says “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand”…
The third scene is the one Colby referenced and that is illustrated in this painting from Alma 43. It’s the story of the Nephite army strategizing in order to create the best possibility of victory over their Lamanite enemies. In this case, Lehi was leading his army and his pre-determined role was to ensure that as the Lamanite army began to cross the river Sidon, he and his army would appear and encircle them about on the east in their rear. There was a battle at this point, mainly to make sure that the Lamanites could not go back the way they had come, forcing them to cross the river. But Lehi’s standing order was to “retain his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon” That was it. Simple enough and clear enough when you read the whole story (since we know the Nehpites win this battle).
What we forget sometimes is that this was Moroni’s very first battle as chief captain (that we know of, since he was just named chief captain earlier this chapter, and he is only 25 years old and there may have been a bit of apprehension among the army). In addition, let’s remember that Lehi had to sit and watch as this Nephite army was “about to shrink and flee” as they nearly gave up and lost the battle. Just imagine that – really imagine that. I know this painting shows Lehi standing, but I like to think he was kneeling literally at the very edge of the shore and pleading with the Lord while watching and hoping and feeling completely torn about what to do as he watched his brothers in a fierce battle. I can guarantee that he had the thought to just cross the river and help – but he didn’t. He watched.
In Alma chapter 58, there is a great phrase used by Helaman in his letter to Moroni. He is detailing the happenings of his little band of warriors, and indicating that they had desires to obtain the cities which were currently in the possession of the Lamanites, but because of various reasons he writes “it became expedient that we should wait, that we might receive more strength…”
This fifth story might be one of my favorites, and certainly one to round out the idea of this pattern. In Alma 55 we have Moroni exchanging letters with Ammoron about possibly trading prisoners. Since Ammoron refuses to comply with Moroni’s conditions, Moroni devises a plan to free them on his own, but how he does it is worth serious study. The basics are that he provides wine – prepared in its strength – to make the Lamanites merry and drunk, but not so that he can slay them, only so he can sneak in and provide his people (the Lamanite prisoners) with their weapons. In verse 16 it says “this was according to the design of Moroni. And Moroni had prepared his men with weapons of war…while the Lamanites were in a deep sleep and drunken, and cast in weapons of war unto the prisoners, insomuch that they were all armed. Yea, even to their women, and all those of their children, as many as were able to use a weapon of war,… and all those things were done in a profound silence.” I’ve written about this phrase previously, which is great, but what I want to point out in this post is what happens next. Because the record clearly states what Moroni’s purpose or desire was, and it wasn’t to slay the Lamanites, and it sounds like it wasn’t even to free the prisoners (since he could have done either of those things while they were drunken and asleep). His desire was apparently to arm “those prisoners of the Nephites whole were with the wall of the city, and had given them power to gain possession of those parts which were within the walls.” His whole desire was to arm his people so that they could fight their own battle from inside the city. What? Don’t believe me? Read verse 21 which says “then he caused the men who were with him to withdraw a pace from them, and surround the armies of the Lamanites.” After providing his people with their own weapons, he backed up, waited for the enemy to wake up, and let them fight their own battle. Amazing.
In each case, we can learn a valuable lesson, but my purpose in highlighting these stories, and what they mean to me as a father, is that sometimes all we can do is watch, and that does NOT mean that watching is the last ditch effort when everything else has failed, it may be the active result or requirement of keeping our oath, or part of the test of mortality for us. It might very well be the first or best option of all in moving forward. It creates strength, confidence, trust, patience and gives experience. Plus, it inspires all of those who watch or read the stories in the future.
The last connection I will make to this idea comes from another favorite chapter (Jacob 5). This entire chapter includes incredible counsel and context for us to consider. I include this mostly so that nobody assumes I am suggesting we arm our children and youth with a dagger or sword when they are 8 and then promptly withdraw a pace or a mile and watch thinking all our work is done. That’s not quite it. It is a case by case, battle by battle decision (in conjunction with the spirit’s direction) as they grow. This instruction reads “wherefore dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more… then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow. And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof…” (v 54-65).
There are more stories that illustrate this principle, such as Lehi and Sariah waiting and waiting in the Valley of Lemuel for their sons to go back to Jerusalem – twice. There are many other situations in the war chapters where there is a stratagem devised that involves waiting and watching. It’s also of value to study how and why they utilize spies in these battles. Each of them can support this idea of sometimes the best and sometimes the only approach is that we are compelled to behold, or withdraw a pace, or it’s expedient that we wait.
Recently, we’ve heard a lot from President Nelson about the importance of personal revelation, and in hearing the voice of the Lord. In fact, there was an entire campaign with the tag line of HearHim leading up to the conference, which has hopefully carried into these interesting COVID related times where some of us are still doing at home church, or a hybrid version of at home and in person church. This, in conjunction with the Come Follow Me initiative has all of us hopefully striving to really hear the voice of the Lord among all the noise.
For most of us, hearing someone speak is a very simple process, especially when they speak our language (common, everyday english). But revelation is a different type of language altogether right, so it makes sense to review a few helpful rules about what it takes to learn and speak and understand a new language.
There are no secrets and no shortcuts.
Connect with a native speaker. The best way to learn a new language is to speak it. Too often, people spend time studying grammar and memorizing lists of words instead of actually practicing.
Study the language every day. If you want to learn a new language, you have to commit to studying the language – every day. Language learning is based on repetition (hammering something into your brain over and over again) until you remember it.
Carry a dictionary at all times. You need to be able to consult it quickly, whenever you need a word (or some insight). In addition, looking up a word (or principle) and using it immediately in a sentence will help you commit the word (or principle) to memory.
Watch, listen, read, and write in your chosen language. Immersing yourself in a language means doing ALL of the activities you would normally do in your native tongue, through the eyes of your new language. Change your language settings completely….
Visit a place where your new language is spoken. Visit, and spend time there. Force yourself to interact, or by simply saying hello. You will gain a new appreciation of the language and it’s speakers (those who have spent the time necessary to learn this new language).
A Key Word
There is a key word that will help us understand how this new language can be learned and understood (and maybe more importantly, how long this process should take and what it may look or feel like). That key word is wrought. This word is used in several different passages of scripture, and very often is used when defining exactly how the spirit worked on an individual, or influenced an individual’s actions – over time.
This is helpful because sometimes we read the scriptures and it says something like ‘and it came to pass that the Lord spoke unto me and said’…. or indicates a set of instructions that were given and we may think the voice of the Lord came to these prophets in a conversational dialogue similar to how we humans and friends talk to each other. While that does and has happened, and is sometimes very specific – it is probably very rare. The more likely case is that these prophets condensed a significant amount of questioning, pondering, searching, and time that passed into a single verse years after the actual event occurred (they weren’t engraving the plates in real time on a day to say basis). In other words, the “and it came to pass” is just as important as what follows it, and the characters that we all love in scripture had to learn this language as well.
Some examples of this principle and this key word include:
1 Ne. 13:12 the Spirit came down and wrought upon (the man)…
Ether 12:14-16,18 it was faith that wrought a change upon the Lamanites
Mormon 9:16-19, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes?
4 Ne. 1:5,13,29, there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus
Moroni 7:37, it is by faith that miracles are wrought
Alma 5:12-13, there was a mighty change wrought in his heart
Moroni 6:4, wrought upon and cleansed
That is just a few of the many many examples of that word being used in a very specific and very consistent way throughout the scriptures. Pay attention as you read and you’ll be surprised at how often that particular word is used.
We probably all know what wrought means (generally), but what does it mean specifically?
The definition of ‘wrought’ is
(in metal work) = beaten out, or shaped by hammering.
(material or mixture) = bring to a desired shape or consistency by hammering, kneading, or some other method.
Move or cause to move gradually or with difficulty into another position, typically by means of constant movement or pressure
(joints in a wooden ship) = loosen and flex under repeated stress
This doesn’t sound to me like it works immediately or is touched one time and molded into the perfect shape. In fact, it sounds like it requires quite a bit of consistent hammering, kneading, pressure, beating, loosening and flexing, etc. In other words, learning what is being said in this language is oftentimes a slow, gradual mistake prone process that gets closer and closer to the desired shape as time goes on. Of course it is, and understanding this or any other language in its fullness or becoming fluent takes even longer and more practice.
This key word important because it is used so consistently as it relates to how the spirit influences us and how things and changes are accomplished; and because “the words and the way they are used in the Book of Mormonshould become our source of understanding and should be used by us in teaching gospel principles”2 (Ezra Taft Benson)
If you’ve ever learned a new language, the beginning stages are completely awkward and foreign, and you initially feel like there is literally no way and no hope of ever understanding a single word. Yet, as time passes, and your effort remains consistent, soon you find yourself understanding a few things here or there, and then eventually you recognize things instantaneously rather than having to translate this new language word by word. So, as we begin this process, and as we try our best to learn this new language, let’s remember the rules…. And the key word, that it is being wrought upon us.
But this time think of them as learning to recognize the language of revelation.
There are no secrets and no shortcuts.
Connect with a native speaker. The best way to learn a new language is to speak it. Too often, people spend time studying grammar and memorizing lists of words instead of actually practicing.
Study the language every day. If you want to learn a new language, you have to commit to studying the language – every day. Language learning is based on repetition (hammering something into your brain over and over again) until you remember it. (i.e. being wrought)
Carry a dictionary at all times. You need to be able to consult it quickly, whenever you need a word (or some insight). In addition, looking up a word (or principle) and using it immediately in a sentence will help you commit the word (or principle) to memory. Can you think of a dictionary for the language revelation? I can.
Watch, listen, read, and write in your chosen language. Immersing yourself in a language means doing ALL of the activities you would normally do in your native tongue, through the eyes of your new language. Change your language settings completely….
Visit a place where your new language is spoken. Visit, and spend time there. Force yourself to interact, or by simply saying hello. You will gain a new appreciation of the language and it’s speakers (those who have spent the time necessary to learn this new language).
So, if you’d like to start learning this new language, and if you’d like some hints on numbers 1- 6 above, or to review some of the material used by those best at this process – I’ll finish with this quote:
“I think that people who study the scriptures get a dimension to their life that nobody else gets and that can’t be gained in any way except by a study of the scriptures….a feeling of inspiration and understanding that comes to people who study the gospel… and who ponder the principles, that can’t come in any other way.” -Bruce R. McConkie
This post is primarily about learning a new language as it refers to revelation in general, but for extra credit, let’s go this same exact process, but with the assumption that the language I’d like to learn is symbolism. After all, “God teaches with symbols; it is his favorite way of teaching.” (Orson F. Whitney)
If that is true, then we not only need to learn the language of revelation, but we need to learn the language that God uses to teach us. Yes they are connected, and revelation is also required to understand that language, but if I had to give any one person one challenge for their entire life (after the challenge to read the Book of Mormon every day) – it’s this one. Learn this language. As you go through the process of trying to learn how to speak that language – things will never be the same. At some point, I will expand my post from Oct. 2018 to include more on this, but the idea of things being “hidden in a manner that the people did find them” is most appropriate.
1 – Watch this video. It is incredible, and I include it here as a note to make sure that you don’t think I am discounting the possibility of and encouragement for continuous revelation, because as Elder Bednar indicates, it is in fact much more attainable (and even expected) than we may think.
2 – I have many, but this particular quote is probably my all time favorite. At some point I will have an entire entry (or series of entries) dedicated just to this quote (and what it has meant to me personally over the years), but hopefully the reader can review some of my previous posts and recognize how I’ve used certain words or phrases in my writing that have also been influenced by this idea.
Towards the end of the book of Alma (starting in Alma 36), Alma (the younger) documented his final counsel to his sons. While it’s worth reviewing everything that Alma wrote, there is a connection that I’d like to make as I’ve been thinking about the responsibility we have as parents and/or leaders of the youth these days.
In Alma 37:1 Alma commands his oldest son Helaman to “take the records which have been entrusted with me”. Then he also commands Helaman to “keep a record of this people (according as I have done)” and then lastly he says “keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept.”
Take the records
Keep a record (as I have done)
Keep all these things sacred (even as I have kept them)
Alma then spends verses 3-9 highlighting why and how the records are so important, and some of the power that they hold, including the fact that the records are responsible for so many thousands of conversions among the people of Ammon. Following that, in verses 10-12, Alma writes about how future generations will also be converted, likely in ways which we can’t imagine – by Helaman obeying these commandments to take and keep these (records) and the commandments that he’d just been given1.
Then, in verse 14 he says “God has entrusted you with these things”, which is similar to what Lehi told Nephi when he relayed the message to his sons to go back to Jerusalem and get the brass plates. Alma, is emphasizing to Helaman that he (Alma) is just the messenger, and that any of these commandments aren’t Alma’s – they are God’s. But then Alma adds an interesting note as he continues, he says “God has entrusted you with these things, which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations.” Here, Alma is telling Helaman that God himself has kept these records sacred, and that he will continue to do so. Just to recap, as it relates to these records, Alma says that God himself has:
Kept them sacred
And God himself will:
Keep them sacred
And he (God) will do this “for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations”. In other words, we don’t really know or need to know the details of the future benefits that will occur by keeping and preserving these records, other than God thinks it’s wise and it will display his power somehow unto future generations.
This little exchange creates some questions for us to ponder.
Why is it necessary for Helaman to take the records, keep the records, and keep/consider them sacred (even as Alma has done) if God has already been doing and will continue to do that, and he will preserve them anyway?
Why would the Lord (through Alma) give this reminder to Helaman that God has entrusted him (Helaman) with these things (given number 1 above)?
How do the first two questions, and how we’ve answered them help us think about and identify the “wise purposes” that the Lord may be referring to in that same verse.
What is the difference between taking the records, and keeping the records (since Alma used them separately and in that order), and with that in mind, what does it mean to keep them sacred (since that was a different charge altogether), and lastly what does it mean for the Lord to preserve them (is/can that be different than how we preserve them?
To make sure Helaman really understands what is at stake here, after Alma gives Helaman his charge to take care of the records he clearly outlines (in verse 15) the consequence for not keeping these things sacred, or not keeping the commandments which he’s just given him. Alma says “that if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God, and ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind.” Yikes. No pressure right?
However, despite the necessary warning, the good consequences of obeying commandments outweigh the bad (as always), and Alma says in verse 16 “if ye keep the commandments, and do with these things (which are sacred) according to that which the Lord doth command you… behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words.” And just in case we missed that, Alma repeats himself twice more in verse 17 and reminds us that God will preserve them for a wise purpose again just to be safe.
I would like to point out that there is a very similar promise made to Joseph Smith as he came into possession of some of these records (much later than Helaman did) and is proof that God was still preserving and keeping up his end of the bargain). It comes from JSH 1:59-60 (which happens to be a footnote in verse 16). The promise is in verse 59 and the reason for the promise is just as important (outlined in verse 60). Verse 59 (the promise) reads “ the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge: that I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected.”
With this (these) promises in mind, I’d like to include verse 60 of the Joseph Smith History to give us an idea of why the Lord needed to make a promise to preserve them. Verse 60 reads “I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them. For no sooner was it known that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose. The persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continually to get them from me if possible. But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day…”
This statement basically gives Helaman an absolutely foolproof promise that if he 1) takes the records, 2) keeps a record, and 3) keeps them sacred, that not only will there be no power in earth or hell that can take them from him, they will be used by the Lord to show forth his power unto future generations. What an awesome promise for Helaman right?
Now, let’s review something King Benjamin said much earlier (in a very similar circumstance). In Mosiah 1 he (King Benjamin) is talking to his sons and says “I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them…”
I love the phrase these things. I envision Mosiah in his home with his kids (during FHE or Come Follow Me) taking such care of his records and I can see him and his face and his love for the records when he says “these things”. It’s a phrase that can somehow incorporate years and years of diligent study and care and respect and gratitude that his kids can feel. I think the BoM video also had a flashback that was really good regarding King Benjamin) that sort of fits this idea.
I also love the phrase “they know nothing concerning these things” because it’s the exact opposite of his love and care for these (same) things. Here we have Mosiah who is one of the best of the best, a king who serves and teaches truth and righteousness changing the world by changing how his kids feel about small and simple things in a non grandiose, intimate family setting – letting them know in clear terms that not everyone will value them, when he says (referring to the Lamanites) “they know nothing concerning these things”. I’ve written about the literal and truthful use of the word all in Alma 30:44 and Moses 6:63 (all things testify of him, etc.) so when Mosiah uses nothing – I take it literally as well. They know absolutely nothing about how powerful and layered and deep and important these records are. They will miss out on literally the greatest treasure this earth has to offer (and they’ll likely be smug and sarcastic and hateful about it all your life) because “the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14) and “their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not”. (2 Ne. 9:28).
So, now that we’ve reviewed what Alma’s charge to Helaman was (regarding the records) and how that was so similar to King Benjamin’s, let’s ask ourselves what this has to do with our stewardships as parents or as leaders in today’s world and more specifically, what this has to do with our youth and our charge to assist the rising generation to seek revelation, exercise agency, build relationships, and follow the Savior in all areas of their lives.
We can review the same questions above, but ask ourselves what ‘records’ we could have charge over (our own children, quorums, classes, families, responsibilities, etc.), and what ‘sacred things’ we should revere. And, maybe most important of all, can this same idea give us a similarly foolproof promise that if we 1) take the records, 2) keep a record, and 3) keep them sacred, there be no power in earth or hell that can take them from us, and that they will be used by the Lord to show forth his power unto future generations?
I don’t have the answers, but I do love the questions, and I can promise that as you ask yourself these questions, and as you ponder what ‘records’ you have charge over, and how you should be taking them, keeping a(n additional) record of them, and keeping them sacred, you will start to get answers for not only what it means, but why the Lord charged Alma with commanding Helaman to do it (like he has done repeatedly in the Book of Mormon) and how that relates to the same tasks that the Lord is doing (keeping and preserving).
1 – Reference/Summary of Mosiah 18:30 and the 2 references (Alma 37:9 and 37:10) that Alma uses to take the reader (and Helaman) back to where Alma’s father Alma is fresh off his own repentance and conversion and is teaching the people in the land of Mormon, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, etc. with the point that this phrase is a key to us understanding why the Book of Mormon is named that (and I don’t think it has to do with it’s author/compiler) – he just happened to be named after the same place (which could also explain why he was the perfect choice for that job – and someone who understood the Book’s true purpose, which is to “bring people to the knowledge of their Redeemer”.
In both verse 9 and in verse 10, Alma references that the word, or the record will bring them (future generations) “to the knowledge of their Redeemer”. This is a phrase that likely gets overlooked by many, but is a reference back to Mosiah 18:30 – and when we make that connection (what that phrase means, where it took place, and what that place and name means, and who wrote this letter, who recorded this letter, who compiled the book that contains this letter, and where his name came from), you start to realize just how much depth the scriptures have, and really even just this one letter to Helaman. Then, you connect Alma 36:1, 3, and Alma 37:13 and the use of ‘prosper’ and you start to realize that Alma is giving a sermon here. Something like what we could consider a patriarchal blessing, which Helaman could have gone back to over and over and over again in order to glean wisdom from. We (as readers of the Book of Mormon) can do the same thing, because Alma didn’t take the time to explain to Helaman what these references were, nor did he even identify that they were important references at all. They are hidden gems for future readers to find, which help us appreciate Alma and his knowledge and his heavy use of the scriptures in this blessing to Helaman.