Thursday, December 29, 2011

Giving and Receiving Gifts

Some time ago our bishop challenged us to read the Book of Mormon by Christmas. I was well on my way by then, so I didn't think there would be a problem. However, as the days wore on I realized that I couldn't write in my study journal and finish the book before Christmas. I did finish on time, but as I read Moroni 7, I realized that I had gone through the chapter too perfunctorily, so after Christmas, I went back to it several times in order to understand it more deeply. It is not the first time I have meditated on this chapter. It and chapter 10 are among my favorites because of the meaning of hope and perfection they offer. They contain lessons of a deeply spiritual nature for those who are seeking to truly know Christ and accept the atonement much more deeply.

This chapter is primarily a lecture on faith, hope and charity and is similar in many ways to the teachings of Paul in the New Testament (1Cor. 13). Moroni teaches that these virtues are a gift. I have wondered at this concept as it is found throughout the scriptures. It is obvious that you have to work at receiving the gift for it to be given to you, which seemed to me to be closer to wages than to a gift. I have come to appreciate that it is truly a gift, however.

In my law practice, I have many times heard the childless aunt complain about, and in some cases disinherit the niece or nephew who showed no gratitude for the gifts she had given. Almost no one wants their gift to be transferred to their loved ones at too young an age, because they are not prepared enough to appreciate the gift if they have not experienced enough of life. In the teachings of Paul we learn that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Romans 6:23. Emphasis added).

I believe we are given these gifts, but that we become less aware of them as we yield to the natural man tendencies. On the other hand, as we become more prepared, the gifts are more freely bestowed. "What good", asks the Lord, "is a gift if we refuse the gift, or if it is squandered on our 'lusts'?" Neither the giver nor the receiver are prospered (D&C 88:32-33; 46:9).

In Moroni 7: 6-8, Moroni offers some insight on the giving of gifts. As I read these verses, it becomes obvious that the gift he is referring to is the gift of ourselves to Christ. He observes that we are not expected to just give !0% of our increase or one day a week or even an hour each day and Monday evening. We are expected to give our whole selves, or as Elder Neil L. Maxwell observed, we must place our will on the alter. "Brethren, as you submit your wills to God, you are giving Him the only thing you can actually give Him that is really yours to give. Don’t wait too long to find the altar or to begin to place the gift of your wills upon it! " (April 2004 General Conference, Priesthood Session. Emphasis in original.)

Once again, using the current law as an example, a gift must be given with no strings attached or it is not a completed gift. If, for instance, you desire to make a gift of appreciating assets out of your estate in order to not have them counted for estate tax purposes and to have them grow in your child's estate instead, there cannot be a way for you to pull back the gift if your child subsequently disappoints you. If you have retained that authority, the asset is still considered part of your estate because it was not freely given. It will be taxed as part of your estate as if you had never bestowed the gift at all.

The same is true of the only gift we can give to God or to Christ. If we offer the gift of tithing, we are only offering a tenth of our increase. If we offer it grudgingly by seeking for loopholes, for instance, only that part that was given freely will be counted to us for righteousness. If we accept a calling, but only show up when necessary; if we never read the manual; if we never get to know the people we are to serve and find a way that our calling will benefit them, then, as I read Moroni, nothing is profited. It is as if we had retained the gift.

He equates gifts with prayer and says whether we are offering a gift or a prayer to the Lord it must be done with real intent. Why? Because all things that are good come from God and all that is evil comes from the devil. (Verse 12) To that degree that we hold back some of ourselves because we don't want to give all to God, or we fear the consequences, or we love a little badness, or we have a better idea, we are yielding that much to Satan and, while we are not keeping anything from God (He has everything), we are keeping ourselves from receiving all that God can give to us. We are only going to receive what we are prepared to receive.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Power Given To the Righteous

The beginning chapters of Heleman finds the people in the depths of wickedness and seeing no way out. The few who were righteous are intimidated by the fact that there is no support or protection for them. Not only are the people more interested in the lusts of worldly pleasures, but the government is corrupt, as well. With a corrupt government there can be no justice because those in favor or those who are wealthy enough to provide bribes are free to place all others under subjection.

In the midst of all this, a righteous prophet named after the first prophet following the division of the people, Nephi, boldly calls the people to repentance and prophesies of the coming of Christ. He condemns the corruption of the day, so many are drawn to him. Some are just curious to see a man with such courage; others are anxious to follow his teachings; still others are anxious to see him stopped even if it means that he is destroyed. In the attempt to silence him and cause him to be "tried" for treason, he first preaches unto them about the fact that Christ is prophesied of by all prophets and he condemns them for their iniquities. As they attempt to take him, he tells them that the chief judge is murdered and he tells them who committed the crime.

There are other details to the story that are very interesting, but the point I wish to make here is that the complete righteous nature of Nephi led him to accept the will of God, no matter what the circumstances might be for him. The result of that could have been the same as that of Jeremiah where no relief ever came and he died an ignominious death. To him it did not matter so long as he was doing the will of God. What happened to Nephi is not entirely unique as we see something similar with Elijah, but something for which we could all strive. In the midst of his pondering on the wickedness of the people and wondering if what he was doing made any difference, a voice came to him telling him that because of his faithfulness, the Lord would make him mighty in faith, word, deed and works. In fact, he was told, anything he asked would be done. A lesser man would have asked for a safe place away from all the trials, abundance to avoid the negative consequences of the wicked society and peace for the rest of his life. The Lord knew, however, that Nephi would ask only for those things that would further his ministry to the people.

Rather than ask for ease, he asked the Lord to bring famine to replace war. The famine brought the desired result, at least until it was relieved, in that the people began to listen to this prophet who predicted the destruction of the people if they did not repent. They laid down their weapons of war and paid heed to his teachings, but as soon as they were relieved of the famine, they turned back to their former ways.

There is a lesson for each of us here, I believe. The will of God is always superior to the will of man. There is no security in our own attempts at self-security, especially if they are made without the promptings of the Spirit. Even worse, there is never security in evil. When we come to a place in our lives where it seems we could acquire wealth or prestige through deceit, theft, or by corrupt means, we will find that it is temporary at best. If it is not lost during our lifetimes, it will destroy our children and leave them destitute of material, spiritual, emotional or social well being. Sin in all its manifestations is selfishness at its core.

The only security is in following the words of God. As it says in D&C 84:43-44, we must give diligent heed to the words of eternal life and live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God. If we do so today, we find that there is a reason to procure a good education, establish ourselves in a business or profession and set aside money, food, water and fuel against a day of disaster, but we never rely solely on those things. Rather, we rely on God by putting His will above ours to a point that we completely substitute His will for our own. When we do that, we find, at least in a small degree, that we, like Nephi, can call upon him to receive the blessings we desire for ourselves, our loved ones and those for whom we have responsibility in our callings.