Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Surprising Atonement

In Alma 34, Amulek, the newly converted disciple of Christ and companion to his mentor, Alma, teaches about the Atonement with surprising insight. As a side note, we must never consider someone who is new in the faith to be less able to receive spiritual insight than ourselves. Listen to their insight and learn from their freshness.

In speaking of the Atonement, Amulek states that Christ's purpose is to take upon Him the transgressions and sins of mankind without which all mankind must inevitably perish. In so doing, the sacrifice must be infinite and eternal. Perhaps it is inaccurate to imagine that the sin we just committed caused an ounce more pain in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the cross, because the sacrifice had to be infinite. Just as infinite is impossible to conceive, so is a sacrifice that is infinite. He then states that the whole law and the teachings of all the prophets points to that infinite and eternal sacrifice.

The question then becomes, what do we have to do to take advantage of this great, last, infinite and eternal sacrifice?

According to verse 15, we first have to believe on his name. We take upon us his name. It is the name by which we make sacred covenants and receive sacred ordinances. Thus, when we believe on His name, we accept the promises associated with receiving those ordinances and keeping the associated covenants. It is the name by which we pray to the Father, thus we accept the promptings and act accordingly. This is how we receive the mercy of Christ.

Second, we have faith (which seems to be inherent in taking upon us his name) to repent.

Amulek then advises that we exercise faith unto repentance by calling upon his holy name:
18. for mercy, for he is mighty to save;
20. in your fields, over all your flocks;
21. in your houses over all your household throughout the day;
22. against the power of your enemies
23. against the devil;
24. over your crops, that ye may prosper in them;
25. over your flocks that they may increase
27. continually for your welfare and for the welfare of those around you.

He then advises that we never neglect the poor, the sick, the needy who stand in need of our substance. He states that not doing so will make our prayers and faith vain or worthless. We need to soften our hearts and repent in order to have the advantage of the plan of redemption in our lives.

It seems that when we read these verses, we often assume that chapter 34 is all about the atonement except for the little part about prayer. In fact, Amulek never stopped talking about the atonement. Prayer is part of the atonement; the atonement covers all aspects of our lives including our work, our fight against sin and sloth, our spouses and children. In other chapters, it is clear that the atonement covers all sicknesses and sorrow.

If Christ overcame the effects of the Fall of Adam, the great sacrifice covers all aspects of the Fall, not just the sins and transgression of man. Before the Fall, there was no sin, no pressure to work, no families to worry us and no sickness, sorrow, death, aging, insecurity, or poverty.

What do we have to do to take advantage of having the blessings of Christ's great atonement? Constantly repent, keep the covenants we have made in conjunction with the ordinances, and not put off our efforts. Life is short and we must not procrastinate the day of our repentance. (v. 32) We must put off the old person and become new creatures who desire more to serve God and put His will above our own so we have no disposition to do evil. It is that spirit that will possess our bodies in the eternities. We damn our spirits when we give in to temptation and grow them when, in a spirit of love for God and all his creations, we are humbly obedient (v. 33-36). Finally, be patient no matter what afflictions we are called upon to bear. The end is worth the wait. (v. 41)

Monday, October 24, 2011


In listening to the Jim Rohn materials, I gleaned some insight that at first seemed at odds with Alma 32. In further examining it, i find it is in perfect harmony. Rohn suggests that we are not given what we need, we are given what we deserve. I believe I may have used his analogy elsewhere, but it applies here, especially. You can't go out to a barren field and say to it, "I'm hungry, I need food," and expect that the field will deliver food to you. There must be planting, nourishing, weeding cultivating and harvesting before we can enjoy the fruits of our field. That is why we call it "fruits of our labor."

Yet it seems, sometimes, that we petition God for fruit that we have not planted or cultivated. We get frustrated when we don't get immediate answers to prayers and assume he has not heard us, He does not care, or He does not exist. We fail to see our role in all this.

It doesn't take much to realize our desires, really, though it may seem like it while we are in the process. It always, however, takes faith. If we want any blessing from God or from the earth, for that matter, faith is always required. Alma 32, unlike the scriptures (such as Hebrews 11) that describe faith, describes how to acquire faith. Like everything else in life, it begins with a desire. It must be a sincere desire and not just a wish to have some supernatural experience.

While it begins with a desire, it does not end with the desire. We don't get what we need, we get what we deserve. Therefore, we must let the desire work in us and nourish it. Like a seed, the initial care has to be constant and intense. Once the plant matures, it still must be nourished, but with a modicum of care. The mature plant cannot be taken for granted or neglected, but fed and nourished with prayer, study, teaching, writing, bearing testimony, service, magnifying callings and being constantly mindful of the need to subject our will to the will of God.

The other aspect of desire that is not often expressed is that God desires to bless us. He desires for us to believe (v. 22) and is merciful to those who do. He amply supplies His word through various means including angels (v. 23). Of course, Satan also desires to have us that he may sift us as wheat.

Thus, we have agency. We choose between them whose agent (worker) we will be. Both desire us. Only one loves us enough to support, sustain and love us through the difficulties of growth. The other only entices us (very successfully at times) with empty promises and insatiable appetites, eventually leaving us having accomplished little of eternal significance. Logically, it should be easy to follow the only One who truly desires to bless us, but we do little by logic, unfortunately.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Elements of Success

The previous chapters have Alma and Amulek preaching with great success - many were baptized, Zeezrom repents and Ammonihah is destroyed with all its inhabitants who followed the order of Nehor.

Alma now travels from Gideon towards Manti when he meets the sons of Mosiah who are travelling to Zarahemla. He is not only pleased to see his friends, but especially pleased to see that they have remained faithful to the covenants - the were "...his brethren in the Lord." In reviewing the miracles the sons of Mosiah experienced, Alma summarizes what caused them to experience the success they enjoyed. I have previously counted 6 elements of success. In re-reading this account, I find that i missed the 7th. The 7th is assumed by many, but over the years I find that it is perhaps the most important.

When Alma expressed his joy at seeing that they were still faithful, he discovered a pattern the he had followed in his ministry, as well.

1.They had waxed strong in a knowledge of the truth and had a sound understanding because they had searched the scriptures. They searched the scriptures. They did not just search to make a point, but to see what the Lord would have them do and be. It seems that the question often asked is "What do I have to do in order to succeed?" But the result of the "doing" is manifest in what the person becomes. Thus, they searched the scriptures, "diligently". They read with the intent to change, obey, teach and help others "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." D&C 84: 44

2. They gave themselves over to much prayer and fasting. While we are counseled not fast in the extreme, we know prayer and fasting combined create an opportunity for deeper humility. To some it is a way to say to God, "See what pain and torture I am willing to bear? Now you have to give me what I want." They are like the spoiled child I knew as a boy who held her breath until she fainted knowing that going to such extremes got the attention of her parents. She always got her way because the parents were concerned for her safety and wanted to avoid a recurrence.

These men took the opposite attitude. They fasted and prayed with the intent to know what God wanted of them. Fasting was a way of putting all worldly cares aside so they could humbly receive God's word. The result was that they had the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of revelation. Do we suppose that they would have been given prophecy and revelation if they were not willing to act on it? Experience teaches that when we receive promptings upon which we fail to act, the promptings become fewer until we either repent and show we are willing to take action or we are left on our own, D&C 121:38 Thus, we pray with intent to obey and take action. See principle 7, below. We fast to know how to conform our will to the will of God. Then we can expect an abundance of revelation and even prophesy (this principle is the only one emphasized by repetition in this chapter). Thus, fasting and prayer lead to revelation that we may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring others to a knowledge of the truth and allow them to abandon traditions and habits that keep them from progress.

3. When they taught, they taught with power and authority of God. Apollos, in Acts 19 and 20, taught with power convincing many of Christ and baptized many. Paul had to follow behind him, straighten skewed doctrine and re-baptize, for Apollos had no authority. Both power and authority required. Once the people had been convinced by the power of their teaching, they could follow their teaching with the saving ordinances and with ordinations to establish the church in various parts of the land. This allowed Alma and the sons of Mosiah freedom to travel about spreading the word knowing that they were not stuck in one place, being the only ones with power and authority. See principle 5, below.

4. Implied in all the other elements is that they were led by the Holy Ghost. Just as important, they were comforted by the Holy Ghost. Success in any endeavor requires a good deal of self confidence, especially during times of trial, but self confidence is inadequate unless bolstered by the promptings and encouragement of the Spirit. The scripture (v.5) says they did suffer much in body, mind and spirit. They suffered fatigue, hunger, thirst and hard labor while they poured all their effort into preaching and bringing souls unto Christ. It reminds me of a passage from a woman's pioneer journal. It was in the early spring; the rain and snow had created thick mud which caused the wagons to be mired and move at a snail's pace as the men moved from one to another with shovels and poles to free them from being stuck in the bog. She looked out to see Brother Brigham up to the top of his boots in mud and "as happy as a prince." (I heard this quoted in a religion class and never saw the reference)

When we are assured by the Spirit that the path we have chosen is what God would have us do, then our confidence will wax strong. (D&C 121:45) The Holy Ghost will provide comfort during times of trial when the natural man would give up.

5. They established the word among the people. This they did as commanded by the Lord. To establish His word implies that they did more than hold a big meeting where they roused people to respond to the Word, baptized them and then moved on. To establish the Word would imply that they remained long enough to ordain and set apart officers and teachers, employ scribes to copy the scriptures and monitor progress to a point that they could then leave and do the same in the next city.

It also implies that they, like Paul, Philip, John and Peter, would send letters of instruction and encouragement and return from time to time. Otherwise, what once seemed firmly established would be lost to discouragement, apostasy, false doctrine, sloth and transgression.

6. The Lord told them to be good examples of patience in long suffering and afflictions. They were not expected to just "tough it out" on their own, however. The Lord said to be good examples unto them " me..." Once again we see that we are never left alone no matter how difficult or dangerous the work might be. When we try to "go it alone" we exhibit pride and our success is limited. When we humbly put ourselves in the Lord's hands our success is potentially unlimited. The Lord promised them "I will make an instrument of the thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls." (v. 11) And so he did. The Lord keeps covenants.

7. What I had missed before in reading this chapter is implied in all the other steps, but without it none of them are of any effect. That is, they had to "...take courage to go forth." Without courageously taking action, everything else would just have been academic. They had to have an inspired pan and then act on that plan. The action coupled with courage and humility brought the amazing results.

So, summarizing the steps that led to their success we find the following:

1. Obtain a deep knowledge and understanding of the mission and its tasks. Deeply search the scriptures.

2. Use fasting and prayer to discover the Lord's will for you, your calling and your mission in life.

3. Do not take authority upon yourself. Do your work with power and authority.

4. Be led and comforted by the Holy Ghost.

5. Establish an organization that will multiply your work and properly supervise it, but give authority as well as responsibility.

6. Be patient in the process. Nothing gets planted in the spring and harvested in the fall unless it is cultivated with much effort through the heat of the summer.

7. Take courageous action. All the planning and praying is of no value until you take action.

Are these steps to success limited to missionary work or work in church callings? Review them carefully. Would a great lawyer, mother, musician, chiropractor, computer programmer, employee of any kind, delivery driver, father or scout master be even greater if he or she knew they were doing the will of Heavenly father, were following the promptings of the Spirit, were patient in their summers and were building a system that would make their organization not just function, but flourish? These are good steps for success in any aspect of life.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Long Suffering Before Blessing

In previous chapters, Alma has preached without success in Ammonihah, but is impressed to return where he meets and converts Amulek. The two of them preach and convert many, including Zeezrom who is a lawyer hired to contend with them. Those chapters contain brilliant essays on the purpose of the atonement, the need for priesthood and priesthood ordinances and the need for repentance.

The people are followers of the order of Nehor who preached that because God is loving and powerful all people will be saved. Therefore, there is no need for repentance, because there is no sin. The chief judge, who has prospered under this false order is angry and, accepting the testimony of false witnesses, orders them to prison. First, however, they must watch as a fire is built and the believers with their children are cast in along with the holy scriptures.

Observing this unimaginable cruelty, Amulek says to Alma that they should put forth their hands, put an end to this cruelty and destroy the wicked people who were perpetrating it. This, reasoned Amulek, they could do by the power of God, which was in them. Alma stated that the Spirit constrained him from doing so and that there was a purpose in allowing the persecution to run its course. The martyrs were destined for eternal glory and their blood would be a testimony against the wicked.

Amulek assumes that the power of God is some kind of super power that he can wield at will; that it is in him. Alma knows that the power is with God and can only be wielded in faith when prompted by the Spirit. The two of them are then subjected to intense persecution, cast into prison where they are stripped, beaten and taunted. Finally, after many days (as the scripture emphasizes) the power of God was upon them, they rose to their feet and cried unto the Lord for strength and deliverance. They broke the cords that bound them and even though the persecutors attempted an escape, they did not get to the door before the walls caved in upon them killing everyone except Alma and Amulek.

The scripture again emphasizes that the power was granted unto them by the Lord. It was exercised according to their faith in Christ.

Too often we want to give God our deadlines and dictate to him what the timing should be. "I've suffered enough," or "I've waited ling enough," or "these people are in need," etc. If we are patient in long suffering, however, the outcome is always greater than if we had received the miracle we requested on our timing.

It takes patience in waiting on the Lord, faith that his is aware of us, and faith to act on the promptings when the time arrives to act. "Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path." Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gifts and Stewardship

This entry occurred just after having been called to serve in the bishopric of the YSA ward in our stake.

As I have been thinking, teaching and speaking to our ward, lately, I have been developing the theme of life being a gift. King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:22-24 shows us that life itself is a gift and that when we realize that and try to repay God by our obedience, he immediately blesses us, so we can never repay Him. Thus, we are always unprofitable servants. D & C 46:8 instructs us to seek the best gifts. The section goes on to say that the desire (v.9) for these gifts is not to consume them upon our lusts or for a sign, but to benefit all. It continues to say that all are not given every gift, but to some one gift and others to another. Still the gifts are of the Spirit and given that all may prosper (v. 10-12). The natural man, it seems, when he receives a gift, thinks only of himself. How often do estate lawyers see the estate squandered when it passes to the next generation? The heirs can think of all kinds of things of which they have been deprived and immediately begin to consume the estate upon their lusts.

In the law, a gift is given with no strings attached. It is not a completed gift if the giver can pull it back for any reason. If a person gives another a gift and sees that the gift is squandered rather than invested, the giver is reluctant to continue giving such gifts. If the giver continues and the recipient does the same, a very unhealthy relationship results. The recipient, usually a child, never learns to depend upon his own efforts and when the parent or giver no longer has the wherewithal or dies, the child is desperate, angry and turns to the court and when that fails, to the state for their life of ease. It is not unusual that they turn to crime and/or to substance abuse.

Similarly, God is reluctant to provide continual spiritual gifts if they will be squandered.

The expectation, then, is that when we receive a gift from God, we are to invest and grow it, that it may benefit all. Interestingly, Mosiah 2:5 goes on to say, "...can ye say ought of yourselves?" It points out that we are dust and that it all belongs to the Creator. If that is true, there was never any gift. We are caretakers of all that the earth can bestow upon us. We are stewards. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein." Psalm 24:1

In the parable of the talents the lord of the servants did not make a gift of the money, but entrusted the servants with it. It is implied that he expected an accounting upon his return, as the servants took steps to preserve and grow their "gifts". The lord is obviously pleased with those who make something of the gift each has been given, but it is also clear that the money and all it gains are his. He is not pleased with the servant who hid up the money in anticipation of the accounting for fear of losing it. He was risk averse and did nothing to put the gift at risk. The "gift" was taken away and given to one who had magnified the gift he had been given.

What would have happened to the servant if he had squandered the money in living only for the day and did not worry about the day when the lord would return? No doubt the lord of the servants would have been even more displeased. Inasmuch as the "gift" was really a bestowal of a stewardship, prison would have resulted.

To many in this world, it seems, the purpose of life is to do what is necessary to simply survive and avoid pain or adversity. To others the purpose of life is to achieve modestly, but when they get to a point of financial independence they go no further in their retirement. To others the purpose seems to be to accumulate to themselves and in their quest for more, they forget who really owns the fullness of the earth and are no more prepared for the accounting than those who did little with this gift of life.

To others, life itself is a gift for which we should be ever grateful. Yet, even knowing that there will be an accounting, they risk their gifts and build upon them. In the mean time they share the abundance with the poor "...that they might be rich like unto [them]." Jacob 2:17. They constantly seek first the Kingdom of God and second riches. They seek riches for the purpose of doing good (vs. 18-19).

If the poor are to be made rich like the person who has magnified his gifts, what is shared has to be the method for obtaining wealth (in the broadest sense) and the encouragement to seek it. Otherwise, the receiver could never be anything but poor and reliant on others.

If we seek first the kingdom of God, the promise is that we we may obtain riches, "...if ye seek them." (v. 19) Nowhere are we promised that they will fall into our laps. To me the implication is that everything requires effort on our part and, at the same time, setting proper priorities. It includes a good deal of gratitude and of stretching ourselves to grow and build. We must never forget who is the true owner of what we obtain, so when confronted with a challenge to share, we cannot give into the temptation to hoard instead. All these decisions must be based upon the principles of righteousness and of obedience.

In my experience the results are beyond our dreams in almost all aspects of our lives - spiritually, materially, emotionally, socially and even physically. We must, however, never rest beyond the need. In the Kingdom of God there is no retirement. We are to live to the Lord's expectations and only then we will live the fullest of life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Repentance, Pride and Humility

Just prior to Abinadi's entry, the kingdom passed to wicked Noah who corrupted the church as well as the government. Idolatry, prostitution, alcohol, unauthorized polygamy and riotous living were promoted among the people, but especially among the ruling class. Despite this, the army was kept in readiness and had just won a decisive battle. Due to that victory there was an abundance of confidence and pride in the land.

It was in this setting that Abinadi began prophesying their bondage if they did not repent. Noah and his officers were concerned that he would negatively affect the morale of the soldiers, which could make the difference between defeat and success on the battle field.

Beyond that, however, Noah and the "priests" were offended by his preaching of the need for repentance and intended to hold a sham hearing in order to slay him.

I believe I may have referred to this before, but it is applicable in this instance, so I will refer to it again. Elder Rex D. Pinegar once explained the meaning of "enmity" in the context of Moses 4:21 where God placed enmity between the children of men and Satan. Enmity is hatred and because it is between us and Satan, it is mutual hatred. The further we keep ourselves from the influences of Satan, the more we hate his ways. The closer we get, the more tolerant we become. When we cross the line, we then begin to hate righteousness and become offended by someone who points out to us the need to repent.

So it is with king Noah and especially with his hand-picked priests. Noah is touched by Abinidai's warnings and fears the consequences. The priests, however, stiffen Noah's courage and urge Abinadi's death claiming he committed treason by prophesying the destruction of Noah's kingdom.

Alma, like the other priests, came to the recognition of his guilt. Like the others, he was faced with a choice; be offended and justify his corrupt behavior, or repent and accept forgiveness through the mediation of Christ who was to come; redemption through the atonement. Taking the first step, he attempted to plead for Abinadi's release, but the king and the priests dismissed him. Knowing the nature of those who are offended by the Word of God, he fled for his life. Later, we find that it is one of these wicked priests who, given a position of authority over Alma's people, has as his primary mission to make life as miserable as possible for Alma and his followers.

It is interesting to me, as an aside, that both Abinadi and Alma (the younger) when calling wicked priesthood men to repentance do not just stick with the basics, but instead preach deeper doctrine such as how Christ is Father and Son or the intricacies of the resurrection. As readers of the Book of Mormon, we receive a depth of understanding, as Mormon intended; to the recipient at the time the Spirit bears witness and gives them a choice - repent or be offended.