Monday, December 26, 2016

Faith, Hope and Charity... a closer look at Hope

I’m trying to understand the need for hope. In the Book of Mormon we read we can’t be saved without it. I remember reading in Survivors’ Club the rule of threes: You can live without food for three weeks. Water for three days. Air for three minutes. Hope for three seconds. It's essential to our existence and lives.

I’ve written in the past that faith is the great motivator and in one way it is. Our faith in an effect for something we do, the cause, which motivates our actions. A simple example: I have faith that by working and submitting my time sheets I’ll get paid. And I do. But getting paid isn’t why I work. I want the money because it supports a lifestyle I desire. The end is what I hope for. That’s really “why” I do what I do… there are things I hope for and my faith in a cause-effect relationship with others is how I go about attaining them.

Apart from that is charity. It is the great motivating force of Heaven: it’s why God does what He does. His love for us is why He set all this up, that we can become as Him, which is what He hopes for. It is an approach to things we desire from a position of strength and capacity. But it is focused on the needs of others. It is God-like because that’s how God is.

It’s a mini-chiasmus. One leg is faith, the apex is hope and the other leg is charity. We hope to become like God, to live with Him, to be saved. Where we are powerless to do for ourselves, we have faith in Christ that He will make up the difference in our behalf. But where we do have power to act, Charity governs our actions for that is how we best be like God.

This is why the scriptures say to be saved, to become like God, we need all three. Hope is our vision, it’s what we aspire to be. Faith is how we get there when the demands of the moment are beyond our abilities. And Charity is for those times when we have the power to act… it’s where we practice being like God.

Friday, December 23, 2016

One Among Many

For the first time, in a long time, I went to see the lights on Temple Square last night with some friends. The beauty of the lights was breathtaking... but it was bone-chilling cold too. I have the raspy voice this morning to prove it. A part of the beauty were all the people there. It was almost shoulder to shoulder crowds everywhere on the square and the plaza between it and the Church Office Building.

It caused me to reflect on my position in the church. Most of the time, for me the church is a very personal affair. I pray. I go to the Temple. I feel the Spirit there and when I read the scriptures. It's all so intimate I feel a close, personal connection with Heavenly Father. I often lose site of the fact that the LDS Church is much bigger than just me. Being on Temple Square gave me a glimpse of just how large the Church really is. It was quite invigorating in a way.

Then, when I saw this image this morning of a deep space Hubble photograph with all the thousands of galaxies in the image, I realized, my perspective is still off. In our galaxy alone there are at least three hundred billion stars. Statistically, scientists estimate there are at least two or more planets orbiting each. That's a lot of planets! Now, while our galaxy is larger than most, there are in the observable universe more than 100 billion galaxies... each with it's billions of stars. If the physics hold true for them as us, that number of planets becomes innumerable.

It gives special significance to the scripture in Moses: "world without number have I created... for all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine." I feel small and insignificant when I contemplate the full meaning of that... yet ... When I think that in all those galaxies and all the stars in them and all the planets... and all the life that must exist on them. In all that great vastness of the universe, God still knows me and has personal moments with me. How He does it, I have no idea. That He does is a miracle and a marvel for which I am profoundly grateful. As we celebrate the birth of His Son, I'm mindful of the fact that in all the people for whom He came, He also came for me... and you.

That makes me happy. Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Living Righteously in a Wicked World

While reading Moroni 7 this morning it occurred to me, Mormon, whom Moroni is quoting, is speaking in “Sacrament Meeting.” Moroni was old enough to take notes and remember this talk his father gave. I’ve written in previous times of the great lessons in the talk so I won’t restate them today. If you’d like to read them, here are links: Judging, and Faith, Hope and Charity.

What’s significant, is this is the time when Mormon wrote the Nephites were given over to awful depravity and wickedness. Mormon never mentions these good people and only hints at them when he recounts the awful losses at the Cumorah Massacre. So how could he speak in church in such a wicked society?

Mormon was the military commander of a nation at war. As such, he was exposed to the whole horror of a fallen people in a conflict which brought out their most wicked and vile aspects. Moroni was still at home and it's him who’s speaking now. His subjective experience of the Nephites was different. He saw and lived things which his father didn’t see. Moroni saw the righteous saints who lived in this world gone crazy with wickedness. That was the difference he needed to see this talk as important.

Because Moroni saw our day too, he felt impressed to use a lot of his precious remaining plate space to tell this story. Why? Because we would find ourselves living in a similar time. Think about it. We live in a world gone crazy where as Isaiah prophesied, “good would be called evil and evil good.” Just as those righteous few struggled to determine what was good and what wasn’t, we do too. Which is why this sermon, which touches on how to judge between good and evil, is so important.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thanks to the Soldiers

It was an overcast day at the airport. I was on my way home from a business trip and the airliner I was flying on was pulling up to the gate. During the flight, I’d noticed the two Army officers on board the flight with us who were traveling in uniform, but hadn’t thought any thing of it. Then one of the stewardesses announced over the PA that there was another individual on this flight who was making a trip home too. She went on to say that the two Army officers were accompanying the young man and would we, the rest of the passengers, please let these two get off the plane first. For a moment there was an awkward silence. Then not knowing what else to do to let them know how we felt, we applauded them for their service to our country.

It was at that point that I turned to the window I was sitting at and saw the family. They were standing together huddled under umbrellas on the tarmac off to the side of the airplane. An honor guard formed at the airplane cargo door. Mom and Dad stepped forward and stood apart from the rest, directly inline with the open cargo door. Dad stood erect. Face set like stone as he watched the cargo ramp. Mom stood by his side, erect and grieving quietly. One hand holding a handkerchief to dab away her tears. The other holding Dad’s hand. She too, watched as her son came off the airplane.

A hearse pulled up off to their left and waited.

Slowly a flag draped coffin came down the loading ramp. The honor guard, from all branches of the military, and even one of the aircrew of the airliner we were on, snapped to attention and saluted. The pall bearers picked up the coffin bearing the returning fallen son. Taps were played as he was carried reverently first to the parents and then to the hearse. The heavens wept as it began to rain gently. The flag was taken from the coffin, then folded and presented to Mom and Dad with these words. “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

I still weep as I think about it. So on this special day as we honor those who protect us with their all, I offer my sincere and humble "thank you" to them and to their families who also pay a price for our freedoms. For behind every soldier, there is a human story, a family.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Reflections

This post has nothing to do directly with religion or the Book of Mormon. But it's something I wanted to say and put out there just the same.

It's 0-dark-thirty in the morning. I didn't go to bed till about two this morning listening to Trump's acceptance speech. In an election that was as memorable as it is historic, this was not the end to the day I expected. A "republican" won the White House and the Republican's maintain control of not only the House but the Senate too. So, what are my thoughts?

I'm reminded of the impression I had one early morning riding a bus to work several years ago. As I sat amongst the sleeping commuters on the express bus going over the Point of the Mountain, I had the impression come to me that it was these people who would save the country. These were the people, regular people like myself, who would do the amazing and wrest the future of our country from a descent into tyranny. They would be the ones to carry the Constitution away to safety as it hung by a thread.

Did I just witness that? It's to early to tell. But this much I'm pretty certain of: the vile stench of the Clintons will not likely ever sully the White House again. For all Trump's weaknesses, they pale in comparison to the Clinton's brazen wickedness. The American electorate has spoken and saved us from her being in office. Maybe it's not the saving of the Constitution I'd hoped for, but I'll take this big step in the right direction.

Lest you think me deluded, consider these facts:

1.    Trump spoke of women in lewd terms. He's accused of groping many. Bill Clinton raped, groped, and abused women, some of whom were his political supporters WHILE IN OFFICE. His wife then defamed and destroyed them politically and socially in the name of her political aspirations. Who is worse?

2.    Trump is accused of working the tax laws to his advantage to avoid paying taxes to the IRS. Well, duh. Is that wrong? Compare that to the lost records of the Rose Law Firm and all the other shady, half-told evasions of the law which is THE Clinton legacy. While Trump used the laws to his personal advantage, the Clintons broke laws. And when they hid or destroyed the incriminating evidence, they relied upon political sycophants to protect them. Which is worse?

3.    Has Trump's business decisions destroyed the lives of other people? Sadly, yes. Compare that to the lives of US Service men and an Ambassador who lost his life because of decisions Hillory made and recommended to President Obama. Both are bad. Which is worse?

4.    Some of Trump's comments are divisive. But what of Obama's excoriation of the police? Can we say we're more united now as a nation after eight years of President Obama's pontification and involvement in race relations? Granted he's not up for re-election, but Hillory was his heir apparent. Do you think she would've been different? Not at all. Who's worse?

5.    Does anyone like Obamacare? I for one am hopeful it will now be repealed and thrown out on the dustbin of awful ideas. I am hopeful now that the coal industry in America will be revitalized. I'm hopeful the Keystone pipeline will be completed. That America will take good steps towards energy independence. I'm hopeful the strangling regulations and executive orders of the last eight years will be repealed and done away with. I'm hopeful we will see appointees to the Supreme Court and to all the lesser courts who will be more interested in defending the law than in legislating new law from the bench. Before the Trump victory and the Republican victories in the House and Senate, I had no hope for any of that.

What I do know is the American people, the little guys like me and those riding on that bus so long ago, spoke yesterday and changed the direction of this country. Given the course she was on, I'm pleased. I can live with that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Jems of Ether 12

I hadn’t thought to write more. But as I read and pondered Ether 12 again this morning, I felt another entry would be appropriate.

Ether 12 is filled with many precious gems of truth, not the least is Moroni’s thought provoking account of a personal appearance of the Savior. Even now, after reading it many times, I still marvel at the expression “… and that He told me in plain humility even as a man telleth another…”. Imagine the Savior appearing and speaking in plain humility to you.

It is also a great dissertation on faith and how it works and why it is so important for us to live by faith. There is a weighty warning and a promise in the statement “…dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” If you ever wonder, “why hasn’t God heard my prayer?” keep this in mind. In reality, He has heard your prayer, it’s just that in His wisdom, which I strive not to second guess, He’s chosen the response He has. It’s still worth it to stay faithful… to stay in the game.

Lastly, I feel to comment on a passage in verse 37, “…if they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful…. Because thou has seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong….” What a great promise to those who acknowledge their dependance upon God and remain faithful through the adversities of this life!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mormon - Agency the Great Gift

One of the great truths taught with sobering, life changing power in the end of Mormon is God allows us our agency. He’s given us the freedom to choose what we want to do, right up to destroying ourselves.

It is hard for me to grasp that, in fact I’m certain it’s probably the most difficult thing in the world to do… to let those you love make choices you would not make. Especially when you have the power to do something about it. I’m certain if He allowed Himself, He could steer us clear of every mistake, every hurt, and every misfortune. But He doesn’t. That alone is why He is God and no one else.
I really like what Elder Hales said in Conference last week along this line: “you can’t pray away another’s agency.” How true that is. The only real and lasting growth comes from within… because you want it. Anything forced through external means will eventually fail and prove fruitless. Satan never figured this out. God understands it perfectly.

A note: As you may be aware, my entries are growing less frequent. Going forward, I will occasionally add entries to this blog, but for me personally, it has served its main purpose: to help frame the messages contained within this book as they relate to my personal life. This process has carried me through a period of many changes within my life and my family. For now, I think I’m through the toughest part, so the great need I felt has passed too.

If you remember anything of what I’ve written here for the past year and a half it’s this: God lives. He hears our prayers and as we turn to Him, He will not leave us abandoned. I believe that with all my heart. I am a living testament to the truthfulness of that statement.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Warning of Fourth Nephi

While it’s a recurring theme throughout the Book of Mormon, Fourth Nephi stands as a stark witness to the fact anyone can fall from grace. Anyone. Doesn’t matter how “far along” the path you are or how long you’ve been eating the fruit of the tree Lehi saw, if you become complacent, you can fall. Or perhaps in our world… you will.

The scope of the Book of Mormon applies to societies and individuals. Read at the personal level, you see how by degrees people fade or fall away. The divergence is small to begin with, barely noticeable even. Yet it grows over time not only in the amount of separation caused by the different tracks, but the rate divergence increases over time too, like a hyperbolic arc.

For a long time, things appear normal, then BOOM! In an instant as it were the differences manifest in behavior which surprises most.

I think that principle can be applied to not only our testimonies, but to relationships. They need to be fed constantly. They need to be treated like the special things they are every day. It doesn’t take much, but it takes some effort, a little each day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Melting with Fervent Heat

There are some interesting comments which both the Savior and Mormon make about His appearance to these Nephites. One was an “ahah” moment for me, the other is a perplexing question for which I have no answer yet.

The “ahah” moment is when Mormon mentions the Savior spent three days teaching the Nephites in 3 Nephi 26:13. My original understanding was the Savior made a much shorter visit: just two days. The first day when He appears to the temple and then the second day when He appears to the multitude. But now, I think His second appearance was the one which lasted three days. Mormon says He appeared to them often after that too.

This longer visit gives Him the time to expound all things to the people. How cool would it be to have been taught by Jesus about the history of mankind upon the Earth? Yet, the Spirit whispers to me to not be envious of them. He gave them what they needed. In a manner appropriate to our time and circumstances, He will give us all we need.

As I continue to attend the temple, I marvel at how prominent the Savior is in all that happens there. While He is Lord of all, in that He created all things for the Father, He is also my Lord: my personal Savior. Just as Heavenly Father, though all the universe is His and an innumerable host are all His children… still He knows me personally.

I’ll finish this post with a question: what is the fervent heat mentioned in verse 3 of the same chapter? I don’t know.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ye are Laying the Foundation of a Great Work

This is an answer to a question I had as I read 3 Nephi 21:22-29. I marveled as I read the passage about the “great work” which the Father would commence after the building of the New Jerusalem. I wondered, “how can that be, I thought we were gathering the world now?” But the passage is very clear and leaves little room for re-interpretation as “imagery.”

The great work the Father will do, to gather scattered Israel in, commences after New Jerusalem is built. We Gentiles have a role to assist in that work in assisting in the building of the city, but the Nephite’s descendants will be major players in that work.

So, to restate, I wondered, “what are we doing now then?” Then Spirit whispered to me in response, a passage from D&C 64:33. The verse reads, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” There’s more on this in the surrounding scriptures, but the context is clear. Out part of the Father’s great work in gathering in scattered Israel is we’re laying the foundation upon which that work will take place.

My prayers have always been that, “rather than be the mighty tree on the top of the hill, Lord I’m content to be the best bush I can be on the side of it.” Well, the foundation of a building is pretty important. I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


It’s been a while since I posted. I’m not too sorry about it because I’ve been preoccupied lately with a new job and a new chapter in my life. I’m hoping to get back on track with this entry.

I just have to say, this section of the Book of Mormon which tells of the Savior’s visit to the Nephites becomes much more relevant when in the midst of a trial you turn to the Savior for help. When I read about Him weeping for the people or blessing each child one by one, I’m left with the powerful impression that He feels the same for us.

I’ve been going to the temple quite a bit lately. Feeling the divine resonate within you as you ponder the profound truths which are taught there is something everyone should experience. There’s no way to share it because there are no words to describe it. I can say I’ve come to comprehend that God plays the long game. He’s interested in us being happy. He wants us to live… not just exist. The best way to live is His way and that way is what Jesus was teaching the Nephites. It’s also what the church teaches today.

For that I’m profoundly grateful. I finally get it that commandments are a blessing because they show how to attain the greatest joy you can have in this life. They don’t restrict you, they empower you. It’s like me in my profession: I have the power to write software because I know how to do it. If you don’t know what I do, you can’t do what I can. That’s how commandments are: they show you how to live joyfully in the face of adversity and in great prosperity.

This is what the Savior was trying to teach the Nephites. He told them when we, the Gentiles, got the gospel it would either bring us great joy because we chose to live it or great sorrow because we chose otherwise. Based upon what’s in these sections of the book, we Gentiles don’t get it.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Personal God... A Personal Savior

When the Savior blessed the children of the people of Bountiful, He also prayed for their parents. This passage underscores what I’ve written about before: with God, everything is personal. The written account speaks of how the people marveled when they heard the Savior pray for them. If you ever wondered what He says when He pleads our case to the Father, this passage in 3 Nephi 17:15-17 gives us a clue as to what it must be.

This fact is also shown when He blessed the children and the people went forth to touch his feet and hands. It was all one on one. How would you like some time like that with the Savior? The beauty of the Gospel is you can.

The personal nature of the Gospel is also manifest in the temple. There are no group ordinances — everything is done for the individual. When I go there, I represent just one person at a time. Implicit in all the church does and the doctrine of Christ is the importance of the individual.

I can’t comprehend how Heavenly Father is mindful of all His children everywhere across the cosmos, but He does. It’s enough for me to know that of all His children everywhere, He still knows me. Along beside Him, the Savior likewise knows us personally. That is comforting. That is one of the greatest truths of the Gospel: we are children of a personal, loving God. And representing our needs to Him is Jesus Christ, the Great Mediator. The Mediator who’s prayer for the people filled them with indescribable joy.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What do you want from this?

The "this" referred to the counseling sessions I began last Thursday. My therapist asked the question. I found the answer much harder to give her than I thought it would be. I realized, I have needs I can't define -- I know only that I have them.

In some aspects, my life is a shambles. The details aren't important for this post. Suffice it to say, if what I wanted in life was a course on a map, then I'm way off of it, in uncharted wilderness I don't recognize. In other aspects, I'm more thoroughly grounded in Jesus Christ than I've ever been. He is ever with me, especially now.

I still couldn't answer the question. So she gave me an assignment, to write down my values: what ones define me, what do I aspire to incorporate into my life. After thinking about it for a few days, I came up with a list of twelve which define my values-context: the framework upon which I live.

Those values are important to me alone, but my reading of the Savior's visit to the Nephite's is germane to my needs and I suspect to us all. You see, a lesson I've learned from my experiences of these past two years is, to varying degrees, we are all broken. Whether seen by all or hidden deep within our hearts, we all bear burdens of pain and affliction. Each of us needs the Savior's healing touch. The great lesson of His appearance to the Nephites is He healed them all. Not only did He heal them, He also taught them how to live meaningful, joyful, and happy lives. 

This is why Jesus Christ is so important: as He did for them, He can do for us.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Paths We Choose

If you were to plot the righteousness of the Nephites and Lamanites as a line graph, you’d get something like a sine-wave drawn over time with increasing amplitudes. We can see this in the cyclic nature of the Nephite society.

Leading up to the Savior’s appearance, which ushers in a great high point, you have the low point of the Gadiantons destroying the government. You have the righteousness following the Sign of His birth. Before that the imminent massacre of the righteous. And so it goes. I’ve wondered what the lesson there are for us in that.

One the one hand, I think we’re in that descent into wickedness which parallels the Nephites' path before the destruction immediately preceding the Savior’s appearance. We need to be mentally ready for the long haul. Several years ago, Elder Packer said in a conference talk we live in times where our children and theirs can experience joy, but in a wicked world.

One the other hand our lives I think are like the sine wave too. As we mature, so does our understanding and the consequences of our choices for good or bad increase over time. Mistakes as a child don’t carry the consequences of mistakes as a teenage youth. And those mistakes don’t carry the consequences of those of an adult.

The Prophet Joseph once made the observation about people’s life choices. He said most are content to live in the valleys where the path undulates. It never gets bad, but neither do they ascend the spiritual heights to see the true grandeur and majesty of God. But for those hardy souls who choose to ascend the heights, they will see great things — at the cost of great risk and severe trials. Nephi saw the Lord. Yet he also dealt with his brothers, Laban, the Arabian peninsula and an ocean. Alma had a war, Ammonihah, and the Zoramites. Mormon and Moroni both had a war and Cumorah. Abinadi, Noah’s court. Even the Savior had Gethsemane and Golgotha. Should we expect less?

Put another way, any athlete will tell you, you pay a price to become great. Spiritual growth is no different -- especially today.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Case for the Ohio River Valley

I think one of the archeological evidences for Book of Mormon events occurring here in North America are the fortresses described in 3rd Nephi. This is the time of the Great Siege I wrote about a year ago. There is evidence among the Hopewell ruins in the Ohio River valley which I think fit well with what happens in the Book of Mormon.

From it, we get the sense Zarahemla is to the West and Bountiful is to the East. Between them is the “center of the land” where the Nephites and Lamanites go to outlast the Gadianton Robbers. Next to Zarahemla is the Sidon River. Here’s how I see the match.

Zarahemla to the West: Havana Hopewells. The older Hopewell sites are along the West side of the Mississippi and run South to Florida. The ruins in the Appalachian mountains aren’t considered Hopewell because they use a different mode of burial. Interestingly enough, the mode these people use is more like how the Egyptians did it than the Hopewells. I’m just sayin’.

Bountiful to the East: Ohio Hopewells. The archaeological evidence shows the Hopewells migrated East and then began to shrink towards upstate New York. There, the last of their culture disappears around 450-500 AD. Cumorah anyone?

The Center of the Land: Crab Orchard Culture. This is the interesting part. In Southern Illinois there is an escarpment running the length of the state. If you look at the Ohio River to the East and where it joins the Mississippi to the South and with the Mississippi to the West, you see a bowl. Running in a line forming the rim of the bowl is the escarpment and all along it are the ruins of ancient fortresses. Picture yourself… you have wide rivers that are impassable by armies on three sides: East, South and West. Along the North side you have the escarpment and at the top of it, running its full length are these fortresses. It would be a great place for a large population to outlast an enemy.

Obviously, I don’t know for certain, but it’s a compelling match of what’s described in the Book of Mormon with what exists unmistakably in the archeology. Even the timing is right. Is it? It seems like it to me. The Meso-America advocates will disagree, but that’s what makes it fun to debate these things.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A True Sense of the Miraculous

Third Nephi starts with a literal bang and in my opinion, the most impressive sign God has ever given to man. For one night, after the sun goes down, the sky remains as bright as at mid-day. It’s followed by a new “star” which was visible in the night sky. The record doesn’t say how long it remained visible. My guess is it faded from sight over a period of days or maybe weeks.

From our perspective and knowledge of astrophysics, the event they saw is easily explained. In the distant past, a star exploded and in the act, emitted a powerful, focused, stream of energetic particles. They crossed the vastness of space and struck the Earth's upper atmosphere causing it to fluoresce in a massive aurora so brilliant it lit the ground like day and lasted through the night.

For me, the miracle isn’t in what happened, but in the timing of the event and the precision needed to aim the stream of particles to hit the Earth from astronomic distances. There are a couple of aspects to this which could simplify the complexity, but not enough to diminish its miraculous nature. Some might say, the wavefront could’ve been spherical in which case no aiming is needed, just timing.

The complication to this is we’ve not seen an explosion powerful enough to do that over the distances involved. To my knowledge there aren’t any known nova or supernova remnants close enough to us to account for this phenomena if it had emitted just a spherical wave. But, we have observed stellar explosions which emit two focused beams of particles which shoot off in opposite directions from the star's center.

The other miraculous aspect is the timing. I cant begin to imagine how many decimal places are needed to compute the travel time to the day to pull this off. Not only that, you need its "flight path" through space and you have to account for the effect of gravity fields of stars it passes.

Then there's the aiming. My guess is the explosion was somewhere not close but still inside our galaxy. Heavenly Father wasn't aiming from near-Earth, or interstellar but interstellar distances. That He scored a bulls-eye from so far away boggles my mind.

The Nephites and Lamanite knew none of this. For them the sky lit up without the sun for a night. The real miracle is how soon they forgot or discounted the event. But I can’t be too critical — I’ve experienced many smaller but much more personal miracles in my life. Yet I need a constant diet of them because I so quickly forget myself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Samuel the Lamanite

The role reversal of the Nephites and Lamanites is on its greatest display with Samuel the Lamanite. During this time, the Lamanites repeatedly sent missionaries to the wayward Nephites. Samuel was one of them. Yet his prophecies have the singular distinction of being the only ones the Savior insisted on being added to the Nephite record. I’m certain this endorsement is why his words also made it into the Book of Mormon.

It makes me wonder why. One of the reasons why it’s there is a bitter pill, but I’m grateful for it just the same. Samuel tells the people the Lord loves the Nephites. Because of that love and their wickedness, He chastens them to get them back in line. I don’t know about you, but living so I don’t get chastened seems a lot smarter thing to do than living so I need it.

I hadn’t noticed until reading through this, but an observation on what the unbelievers were saying about Samuel’s prophecies shows unbelievers tactics haven’t changed. What they complained about then, they complain about today. To borrow from Ecclesiastes, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” What do I mean by this? Critics today dismiss the archeological bullseyes scored by the Book of Mormon. An example is their dismissal of Nahom, saying, “out of so many guesses, mere chance says he’d get one right. It’s still a work of fiction.” Mormon tells it this way: “Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass…”

One of the things which occurs to me as I read through this is virtually all the people, Nephite and Lamanite, are or were members of the church. Any who are not now are not by choice. Makes me think of something President Benson said in General Conference in April 1987 about the passage in the Book of Mormon leading up to 3 Nephi 11. He said, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.” How true.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Helaman 11-12 - Do I Have Your Attention Yet?

Mormon’s  frustration at the wickedness and foolishness of the Nephite people shines in Helaman 11 and 12. The two chapters go together like Siamese twins. Chapter 11 sets the stage for Chapter 12 where Mormon steps completely out of the narrative which is otherwise remarkably transparent. By “transparent,” I mean the author, in this case Mormon, tells the story without any editorializing comments.

With chapter 12, Mormon writes a withering excoriation of human short-sited and selfish behavior. He starts off with, “And thus we can behold how false and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men…” The chapter is a study in contrasts. On the one hand you have God who’s faithfulness and love is never ending and unchanging. That is contrasted with man who is quick to forget God and be self-absorbed when blessed with great prosperity. For the Nephites, it didn’t take more than a few years before even the righteous were caught up in pride.

This rapid turn from humility to pride drives much of what happens in the Book of Mormon. From God telling Nephi what the Lamanites would be (a scourge to stir them up to repentance) to Mormon’s day where we see this fulfilled. It’s either wars with the Lamanites, famine or natural catastrophes which compel the people to turn to God for help.

It’s such a clear warning to us… for that’s the only reason he included it. He “saw” our day and knew how we’d behave. He’s trying to warn us in the clearest language he can use to not fall into the same trap. For good reason, I fall into it myself and I suspect I’m not alone in that trait. At this point, I consider it a mercy from God when he allows misfortune into our lives as He tries to get our attention so we’ll hear Him ask, “Do I have your attention yet? You’re headed in the wrong direction.” I’d like to get it right… sooner than later.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Helaman 8 - If He did it then, why not now?

Appalled by the people’s wickedness after his return from a mission to the northern lands, Nephi, son of Helaman II prays on his garden tower. More a lament than a prayer, it attracts a lot of attention. Soon a crowd of people is listening which gives him an opening to begin preaching to them. While I won’t go into the story’s details, a device he uses to persuade the people to believe him struck me. I want to talk about it.

In Helaman chapter eight, he recounts the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and compares them with his own. He knew unless they repented, a similar fate awaited them. He uses argument, if God warns people and then follows through on that warning in once instance, why do you think He can’t do it in another?

Likening this passage to my own life and time, I come up with this observation: if God promised to help you in the past and He did, why do you think He won’t help you again according to those same promises? There is substance to the expression, “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

As I face my dragons, my personal Gethsemane’s and all the other trials that come with living in mortality, I need to remember in whom I have trusted. God hasn’t changed. He is ever ready to help as promised. But just as Nephi, Lehi’s son, had trials and challenges as he sought to do God’s will, I will too. The promises were never that life would be easy only that it wouldn’t overcome us. With this assurance we can face them without fear.

That’s a great blessing.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Helaman - 7 - Faith, Grit and Grace

Nephi’s lament as he prays upon his tower is the heart of this entry. What Mormon chooses to include in the record shows remarkable insights on the fact he knew a lot about human nature. I think it also shows he had a witty sense of humor too.

Consider the lament. Nephi complains about living with such wicked people when he would rather have lived in THE Nephi’s day among people who were easy to entreat and quick to follow the Lord. I think had THE Nephi read those words about his older brothers he would have laughed. (I chuckled.)

Insights like this, which are many, in the Book of Mormon are priceless. It’s classic, “the good old days” or “the grass is greener” playing out before us. Nephi sincerely thought THE Nephi’s time was an easier time. Yet, unbeknown to him, but clearly known by us is how difficult those times were. That Nephi had murderous brothers to contend with, a barren wilderness and an ocean to cross. He had a family to provide for and protect with nothing but a brass ball, a broken bow, faith, grit, and sweat. Then there were the storms.

Suffice it to say, THE Nephi’s time in mortality was anything but a picnic: it was a demanding trial. He had his share of difficulty. He also had compensatory blessings. I suspect any trial 500 years in the past won’t look nearly so difficult as the ones you’re immersed in.

It’s no different for us. We can curse our fate and lament being immersed in trials or we can do as these men ultimately did. Get on our knees and plead for faith. Then armed with faith and hope, we can do what many say can’t be done: we can make miracles happen. Such is the power of God’s grace.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Helaman 6 - The Rise of the Secret Combinations

At the end of chapter five, a miraculous event occurs: the converted Lamanites give back to the Nephites all the lands they’d taken from them. It ushers in a period of unprecedented prosperity for both peoples. They have free run of both nations. Then an interesting role reversal occurs: the Lamanites become more righteous than the Nephites. They are the ones who send missionaries to reclaim the other.

While this happens, Nephi and Lehi leave for the northern lands as missionaries. We’re given no geographic markers for where this land is. For me, it’s a quandary since lately I’ve been in the Heartland camp when it comes to where the Lamanite and Nephite nations existed. For those who are wondering, that means I think there’s a compelling case for the Book of Mormon events transpiring here in the North American continent, particularly in the Ohio River valley and adjoining areas of the Upper Mississippi river basin. Yet this undefined "northern lands" could be that area too, which is an argument for the Nephites and Lamanites being in Mesoamerica. Anyway, it’s fun to contemplate.

While they are gone: they leave in the 63rd year and return in the 69th, things go from bad to worse for the Nephites. Like a cancer, the Gadiantons spread from the more wicked parts of the Nephites, my guess is the big cities, until all are seduced into the band. This is a huge warning to us. We must be engaged in protecting ourselves and families as the Lamanites were from the seductive voices of the adversary. The siren voices of the world are compelling if we let them steal the stage.

That it happened to the Nephites is a warning that it can happen to us too. We should be grateful Mormon shows us how to make a positive difference in this fight.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Helaman - Grandson of Alma the Younger

This entry is about Helaman, Nephi and Lehi’s father — or from a different perspective, Alma’s grandson.

Mormon doesn’t say much about him other than he escaped assassination because one of his servants discovered the plot in time to prevent it. He’s chief judge and high priest for ten years, which is twice as long as Alma served in that dual role. Unlike his grandfather or his son Nephi who served after him, he doesn't give up either role to deal with a religious crisis. Instead, he dies in office.

Despite all that time, not much is said about him nor is any mention made of his teachings. All we get is the rising wickedness of the people, the onset of the Gadiantons, and the many conversions which occur. None of his sermons are recorded. There are no exciting conversion experiences. All we get are 10 years of what must have been demoralizing work as he presided over his nation's turn from God to the Gadiantons.

What little Mormon does include is amazing. But we don’t read what he said while being chief judge. Instead we get some of his words in the form of counsel given to his son’s Lehi and Nephi. It’s mute testimony to just how severe Mormon was in editing the contents of the book. So, as we read, we need to keep in mind what we have is important for us to know. How much importance we attach to it is up to us.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Helaman 5 - The Rock Revisited

There are perhaps three passages in the Book of Mormon which stand above all the rest. First among them is Moroni 10:4-5. Right after it is Helaman 5:12 and the third of the top-three is Alma 37:37.

I’ve written about Helaman 5:12 before, but there is so much that can be said of it, I’m visiting it again. In my previous comment on this verse, I talked of what the foundation is (pleasing God before all others). There’s another way to look at this beautiful scripture: the grace and strength of mind, which Christ gives to all who ask it of Him, will swallow any pain. By swallow, I don’t mean it will take it away so you don’t feel any. A pain free life was never on God’s agenda for us: not even the one perfect being, Jesus Christ, lived idyllic nor pain-free.

No, by “swallow” I mean you are strengthened so it won’t destroy you. You can absorb the blow and still stand. Instead it will teach you compassion for the pain others feel. It will show you the pain Christ willingly endured for you and thereby draw you closer to Him than any other experience can. You will know despite all the things you’ve thought and done which you hope to hide from others, He already knows — and He loves you anyway.

The image is an accurate showing for it's the rock on which the light house stands which bears the brunt of the waves. In our lives, that Rock is the Savior.

In this state of mind, all the fiery darts, all the mighty shafts, the hail, the winds, and the waves will still leave their marks. You will feel it all deeply. But, you will have an inner place, an inner peace where these things can’t get. A place where you’ll see the Son of Man did descend below all things — for you. Though hell rages around you, you will feel safe and loved. And in this state, you will know with certainty, nothing can destroy you.

Such is the promise of Helaman 5:12.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Helaman 2 - The Gadiantons

In the US Air Force, every time a jet crashes, a small army of people try to determine what happened. They look at everything related to it. They examine the debris. Rebuild the jet from the debris if needed. They look at training and maintenance records. They examine anything which will help them understand what, how, and why it happened. Their goal is to prevent it from happening again.

After they finish the investigation, they write a report. In it is a second by second retelling of the flight from take-off to when the debris comes to rest. There's one line in every report that says something like this: "At this point, the accident was unavoidable." For me, it's the most chilling phrase in the entire report. You know something the aircrew may not have known at the time — they were going to crash and nothing could stop it.

Such is the moment in Helaman chapter two. It's here when the Gadiantons appear. While there were still wars to be fought, many miracles yet to occur, even the Savior's visit lay in the future. It was people's willingness to conspire together to literally get away with murder that would be their undoing.

This cultural cancer thrives on the selfishness, greed and pride of people. Not even the Savior’s visit could eradicate it — His visit just put it into remission for a few generations.

When I think of our society today and ponder this and Moroni’s plea that we be wiser than they were — well, let’s just say I’m grateful for the Savior’s promise in John: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Amen.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Helaman 1 - Humanity on Display

This chapter has human nature on display for all to see. My time in the Air Force showed me most military planners prepare to fight the last war. Not only generals and admirals, but also politicians (especially so) and defense contractors are prone to this. The people who change the face of warfare are the underdogs who are so desperate to win, they'll fight in a way no one expects.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan, its tactics were based completely upon how they beat the Germans in WW2. They couldn't deal with anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. The US Navy is still committed to aircraftcarriers because that's how they won the war in the Pacific. But cruise missiles are a daunting challenge for them.

This trait even happens in Helaman. Moronihah believed the Lamanites would attack just like they did when his father was in command. Only they didn't and as a result, the City of Zarahemlah fell to the Lamanites.

The Lamanites, thought the key to victory was the shields, protective garments, and weapons of the Nephites. Divine aid was something they couldn't grasp or imagine. So, while they capture Zarahemlah they still lost big by getting themselves surrounded. The armor and weapons they'd put so much trust in didn't help them at all.

It's vignettes like this which are so unerringly accurate in showing the humanity of the good guys that lead me to the conclusion, this book is not made up. Tolstoy maybe could have pulled it off. Joseph couldn't.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Alma 62-63 - The End of the War

There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from the end of the war. One is an exclamation point on need for national unity. Internal strife and factions almost destroyed the Nephites. The Nephites won only after the Chief Judge Pahoran, backed by the military might of Captain Moroni, put an end to the dissension.

Another lesson is given a choice, the masses, the people who actually get sent to war to fight, don’t like fighting and won’t. The Lamanite armies not only lost the battles, but also the war in large part because their soldiers defected and joined the Ammonites. No soldiers… no army. No army… no war. You really have to stir people up emotionally to get them to go to war because by nature people are appalled and terrified by it.

We get another glimpse into the different culture of the Nephites with the end of the war. They demobilize to a certain extent, but Moroni oversees the construction of more “places of defense” or refuge throughout the country. He then retires and hands over command of the army to his son, Moronihah. (Can you imagine the Commander of the Joint Chiefs saying, “I’m retiring now, so my son is going to take over in my stead.” Not in America.) The Nephites were okay with that. It would never happen here.

Helaman resumes the role of High Priest, but soon dies. Shiblon becomes custodian of the records. But he’s old too and knows he’s going to die soon. Since Pahoran doesn’t want the records, they are given to Helaman’s oldest son Helaman. I just have to comment here for a moment. We assume the custodian of the records is THE High Priest. Like so much of the Nephite society, these high leadership positions seem to be handed down from father to son among the Nephites. The judgeship passes from father to son. The army passed from father to son. The church did with Alma the Younger getting the job after his father. And then Helaman got it from his father.

Lest you think it was coincidence that the church leaders were such good men, I think the better interpretation is this patrilineal descent from father to son is something Heavenly Father worked with. So, he made sure men worthy of the callings were born at the right time to the right family.

And so ends the Book of Alma. The stage is set for the next epoch of the Nephite saga.

Personal Note: This actually is the end of my first pass of blogging through the Book of Mormon. It was  nearly a year ago, July 5, 2015 to be exact, when I made my first post on Helaman chapter one. Rather than rehash things, After this post I'm going to spend some time consolidating these entries into book form. Surprisingly, it's 47,000 words long - about 150 pages. I plan on posting it to Amazon where you can get it for free, or $0.99 if I must charge something for it.

In the mean time, about once a week, I'll post entries consisting of my impressions of our Gospel Doctrine lessons. It'll be more Book of Mormon goodness, but I'm going to spend most of my writing time working on a new Sci-Fi novel. I had a chance to pitch the idea to a book publisher recently and they really liked the idea, so I want to work on that to see where it goes. I plan on posting chapters to another blog so you can read along if you'd like.

I love feedback. If you'd like to see the contents of the past year's blog posts in a book, please let me know. The amount of interest will tell me how much effort to put into putting it together.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alma 59-61 - Capt. Moroni and Pahoran

There is not a better example in scripture of statesmanship than that of Pahoran’s response to a Capt. Moroni’s scathing letter. I’ve mentioned in a previous post where Moroni’s temper gets the better of him. Here it shines. Yet, it’s hard for me to fault him when you think of the context in which he wrote the letter.

It was a difficult time, and that’s a huge understatement. While there was some good news from Helaman about the war, there was considerable cause for concern too. Helaman’s small force had recaptured all the Nephite cities in that part of their nation. Yet his undermanned forces, were hurting for supplies, and ill fed. They held on through sheer faith.

Moroni just heard of the loss of the City of Nephihah. Additionally, his forces were understrength and underfed too. Without food and supplies, you don’t have an effective fighting force. Such were the conditions of Moroni’s army.

When you combine their dire straits with the shocking news of the Nephihah, you can begin to understand how concerned and fearful Moroni was. He knew from first hand experience, the government could send more men and supplies. That it wasn’t told him things were not well at home. Like us, Moroni knew the greatest threat to the Nephite society came from inside. Rot from inside would destroy them faster than an invading army could.

With these things weighing on his mind, he penned a letter to Pahoran excoriating him for betrayal and dereliction of duty. When I think of the craven, self-righteous and self-serving politicians we have today, there’s no way Moroni would survive writing such a letter to our current leaders. Not so with Pahoran. To his everlasting credit, he didn't take offense but saw the anxiety and fears in the letter and answered those.

I can’t help but think that in a quiet, personal place, Moroni’s prayer of thanksgiving to God for Pahoran’s reply was more than a little emotional. Such is the patriotism and faithfulness of Moroni to the cause of liberty and his people. Such was Pahoran's statesmanship. Would that we had such men as these in our military and government today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alma 56-58 - The Sons of Helaman

The tale of these 2060 young boys who went to war is another insight into the vast differences between the Nephite culture and that of Upstate New York in the early nineteenth century. No one today would think of making a 16 year old commander in chief of a nation’s army. Yet this is what the Nephites did when they made Mormon commander of their armies. Not even in 1829 would that sort of choice be made. The question is why? I don’t know if the Sons of Helaman set the precedent or whether they followed an existing tradition, but the Book of Mormon refers to them as young men. If you can be appointed commander of an army at age 16, what does “young” mean?

There’s no way to tell from what I understand of the record to say how old these young warriors were. But if someone who is 16 years old is old enough to command an army, I suspect the “expected” age to serve is younger. The “unexpected” age to serve, which is what these boys were, is younger still. It seems reasonable to me to assume it wasn’t age, but ability to wield a weapon that became the criteria for them. 

On a tangential note, I once read part of an autobiographical book whose title I’ve now forgotten, of a woman’s experiences living among the Hopi Indians. This happened around the beginning of the 20th Century. In it, she recounts how they adopted her into their society and let her see the Prophecy Stone. It has inscriptions which speak of the “Lost White Brother” who will one day return. There are other prophetic inscriptions explaining what events will happen before he does. One warns them to always seek peace because their forefathers renounced war by burying their weapons in the ground. How critics will explain that away?

On another tangential note, did you know the Navajo sing the same tune Jews do, when they recite the scriptural account of the creation? You need to watch a presentation by Michael Ballam about his thoughts on the Gospel in the 2011 BMAF conference. It’s on Youtube. Find the video and listen around the 7:30 mark of an encounter with some Navajo indians. It's thought provoking.

But, I digress. These young men’s faith and Helaman’s boldness as a commander lead to miraculous results as they defended Nephite lands. It’s a powerful lesson on faithful actions in the face of overwhelming odds. They weren’t crazy, but they did take some pretty big risks. And because of the protection earned for them by their fathers’ righteous sacrifices, they became the Nephite’s “secret weapon” which turned the tide of the war in that part of the land. You can't make this up: boys turning the tide of a war? Yet it and a myriad of other stories are there for the taking. A feast of lessons on faith, just waiting to be had.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Alma 49-55 - The War Years of Moroni

Most of the rest of the Book of Alma deals with a series of wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites. These aren’t the only wars between the two peoples. In fact, their history is filled with them. So why did Mormon spend so much time on these wars if he wanted to deal with war and its effect on a society? He was involved in a lot of wars himself so he could have spoken with greater effect had he used his own stories. So, again, why?

I think it’s because they are more like us than any other culture in the Book of Mormon. They had “elected” judges and we have democratically elected politicians. They had a society where religion and politics were separated some what, while ours is much more so. Their biggest down falling was pride, so is ours. In their day, the religious were in the minority as it is today. The threats to their religious liberty and lifestyle were closest to the ones we face. And so he wrote about their wars for our benefit.

I also think this section of the book has more to say about our role as religious citizens of a country than any other in the Book of Mormon. We read about the terrible threat of internal dissension. The invading Lamanites weren’t as dangerous as were the Kingmen and Amalikiah or his brother Ammoron. They were such a great risk, Moroni gets special dispensation from the people to take draconian steps to crush the dissent. (Support us or die!) It was blunt and brutal and effective. It gives a clear lesson that the greatest enemies are the ones from within.

It also talks about keeping covenants in the face of great adversity. The Ammonites were about to renounce their covenant of peace to help the Nephites fight. It took a lot of persuading by Helaman and others to get them to change their minds. But it also led to the advent of the stripling warriors. These two thousand young men became the lynchpin of the Nephite defenses on a different front. I’ll write about them in more detail later.

The bottom line is, this is what God thinks your involvement in civic affairs and politics should be. He covers the spectrum from civic involvement all the way to direct combat with enemy forces.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Alma 47-48 - The difference one person can make

If you ever wondered what difference one person can make, this section in the Alma should convince you that one person can make a BIG one! On one hand you have Amalikiah who’s ambition and lust for power was insatiable. He was Machiavellian in that whatever moved him closer to his goal, regardless of the cost on other people, was acceptable. Murder, betrayal, fraud were all on the table. In contrast, you have Moroni who lead by example, personified sacrifice, hard work and always making the harder right choice.

It’s worth pointing out, they both needed help of other people. One of the greatest differences between them is how they inspired other people. Amalikiah appealed to people’s sense of justice, their self interests and their patriotism. Moroni appealed to the same, including religious duty, but unlike Amalikiah, he told the truth.

To discern between the two is the challenge. I pity the Lamanites to a degree because they were deceived and went to war under false pretenses. They gave their lives for a lie.

So, how do you tell the two apart? We are faced with similar dilemmas in our day. We have many voices appealing to our self-interest, patriotism and sense of justice. Which is the safe way forward through all these competing messages? Ultimately, it comes down to the basics it always does: prayer, talking to God. Scripture study and pondering, where we listen to Him and by serving others, which gets us more in tune with God’s spirit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Alma 45-46 - A Nation at the Crossroads -- Amalikiah and the Title of Liberty

interesting that when a really bad guy shows up, God provides a good guy to counter him. Things get interesting when the people then choose which guy they want to follow. In our own history we had Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (apologies to all who liked Carter). More recently we had Obama and Romney. In the current election cycle we have Trump, Cruz, Sanders and Clinton. The Nephites had Amalikiah and Captain Moroni.

It was events like this which prove the prescient warnings Mosiah II gave when he set up judges. He warned when the voice of the people chose evil over good, the judgements of God would begin to be poured out upon them. In my life, I’ve seen the warning validated by events. In 1980, America chose Reagan. Most of you may be to young to remember, but I remember the boom years of the ’80’s and 90’s brought on by “Reaganomics.” I also remember America’s unquestioned world leadership at the time.

Now, we have a nation morally adrift and an economy and presence in the world which is not much more than a shadow of what it was. While we can blame Obama, it was the voice of the American people who chose him over Romney. We made that choice. Now we’ve chosen Trump and Hillary over Cruz. Is there any question the coming four to eight years will be more of the same? (Yeah, it’s kind of a sour pickle day for me.)

We can see from this passage in the Book of Mormon what happens when the voice of the people make the hard right choice over the easy one. They made the right call supporting Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty. While Amalikiah’s avarice and ambition lead to a war. Mormon observes these people were the happiest in all Nephite history up to the time after the Savior appeared to them.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mosiah 7 - A Look back at Ammon, a Nephite Warrior

Our Gospel Doctrine class yesterday taught out of Mosiah 7-11. I was so fascinated by Ammon, head of the Nephite expedition to find out what happened to the People of Zeniff, I wanted to make a short mention of him here.

Ammon is a descendant of Zarahemla, in other words, he’s not a Nephite by lineal descent, only by assimilation. Add to that, Mormon refers to him as a “strong and mighty man.” If Hebrew is the language being spoken here, then this is an idiom. Its meaning: “a great warrior.” When I think of great warriors in our society, I immediately think of a Navy SEAL kind of person. When you think about what they were called upon to do, it should be evident why such men were chosen for the mission. I doubt they were civilians but in a real sense, trained military professionals given a mission by the King.

Consider the context of the time. They weren’t just going on an expedition to find someone, though they were. They were doing so by going into a foreign, hostile, nation. While the conflict wasn’t immediate and on going — they weren’t in what we’d call today a “shooting war.” Capture still meant at least imprisonment and possible death. Imagine sending a SEAL team deep into ISIS controlled lands to see if the residents of a city are still alive and extract them if necessary. Added to the complexity of the mission is the fact they are going without logistical support and without any certain idea of where to go. This is a recon mission into hostile territory where they must live off the land — all without being seen.

It makes Ammon’s lineage all that more interesting. Why of all people was he sent? What interest did an assimilated Nephite have in a bunch of Nephites who left his country probably before he was ever born? I don’t know, but he did. And so he went. He’s one of the people from the Book of Mormon I think I’d like to talk to some day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Alma 43-44 - Captain Moroni

Excluding the Savior, if the number of pages dedicated to a person is a sign, then after Alma the Younger, the most important figure in Mormon’s abridgment of the Nephite record is Captain Moroni. This observation is strengthened by the fact that of all the prophets available to him, Mormon chose this man’s name for his own son. Moroni. The angel which adorns the cover of this book was named after a famous Nephite general!

As you read later in the narrative, Mormon gushes in admiration for him. So, it’s with great interest we meet this 25-year old who’s given command of all the Nephite armies. Given the structure of the Nephite culture, Moroni is of aristocratic birth, yet he’s not your typical aristocrat.

Think for a minute just upon Moroni’s actions in this part of the book. Though he’s general of the Nephite armies, he’s humble enough to ask Alma for divine help in knowing where his enemies plan to attack. To see how extraordinary this is, imagine a general today asking President Monson, what our enemies are going to do next. Imagine a general who is merciful to an army that has shown no mercy. Yet that’s what he did.

At the same time, he has a temper and it gets the better part of him. I’ve always thought it was a nice touch to show some of his humanity. It’s on much clearer display later on.

Moroni has alway been my personal hero in the Book of Mormon. He exemplified the type of military man I aspired to be: courageous, yet humble before God. A brilliant strategist, yet also willing to learn from others. It’s my opinion that many of the innovations he uses he learned from the Jaredite record. We see that in this passage in how he armed and protected his soldiers. Moroni’s army didn’t consist of mobile light infantry, but armored heavy infantry.

And he uses them to great effect. Sun Tzu would have admired how he maneuvers Zerahemna into  fighting him while crossing a river. You can’t exactly move fast and avoid things being thrown at you while you’re knee deep in water. Because of these actions, choices, and fervent prayers for help, Moroni’s smaller army defeats the larger Lamanite one.

Mormon makes an observation of about war which to me shows this is not some fanciful portrayal of a conflict. Instead Mormon labels war what it is: the work of death. We read about the see-saw of battle as first the Nephites then the Lamanites have the advantage. We read of the prayers and the courageous stand and the ultimate victory by the Nephites. Then there's Moroni’s graciousness in sparing the lives of the Lamanites. We also read the onerous task of dealing with the dead. While it was a great victory for the Nephites, we also see its cost.

It’s something to think about.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Alma 39-42 - A Letter to Corianton

We are the beneficiaries of Alma’s great love for his son Corianton. While the doctrines he teaches his son are important for us to know. How he treats his son, is of no lesser value. By today’s standards, if Corianton had been a missionary for the church, he would’ve been sent home for what he did. Who of us have had children who’ve done things that have broken our hearts? I think it’s for these people that we have this letter Corianton.

As such, this letter is a template which people can use to deal with children who’ve broken commandments with grievous consequences. What do we see? Alma matter of factly states what he’s seen and the consequences of his son’s actions. He warns him of the end of the path his son is on, but there are no bromides or other incendiary comments.

Then following the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost, he answers his son’s questions. He lets the interests and anxieties of his son lead the conversation if you will. Always, love comes through Alma’s words. I can’t help but think he was close enough to his son he could have such a conversation. He also studied the scriptures, prayed, fasted and pondered so he could answer those questions.

Such is the example for us. As I see it, the lesson is: build a close relationship and maintain it so when called upon by need, your child knows you love them as you speak to them. Let their questions and concerns guide what you say. And most important, be a good enough disciple yourself the Holy Ghost can draw on what you’ve studied and learned in the past to answer the questions.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Alma 36-38 - Letters to Helaman and Shiblon

This section of the Book of Mormon contains some of the most personal writing in the entire work. Only the letters of Mormon to his son Moroni evoke a stronger sense of love and poignancy. Also contained in this passage is THE chiasmus of the entire Book of Mormon, Alma 36.

These are not letters dashed off in a moment. They are instead, works of literary art Alma spent hours crafting. His intent wasn’t to write something beautiful and instructive, though they are. He wrote them to bare the most powerful witness he could to the reality of Jesus Christ and the events surrounding his conversion. While you can read them quickly in a few minutes and get something out of them. If you spend time pondering this passage and getting lost in the artistic beauty of the work, you’ll learn so much more.

To delve further into the literary artistry is beyond the time and space I can take here. If you’re interested here are a couple of links to much more detailed examinations of the chiasmus: Chiasmus in Alma 36, A Masterpiece: Alma 36

Also in this passage, Alma retells his conversion to his sons Helaman and Shiblon. He also hands over to Helaman custody of the plates, including instructions about what not to say of the Jaredite record. Contained in it is one of my favorite scriptures, Alma 37:37

“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings,
and He will direct thee for good.

     Yea, when thou liest down at night,
    lie down unto the Lord,

        that He may watch over you in your sleep.

    And when thou risest in the morning,
    let thy heart be full of thanks unto God.

And if ye always do these things,
ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”

A quick word to the observant, the punctuation here is not what is found in the current printing of the book, but what exists in Royal Skousen’s work, “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text.” I’ve presented it pretty much as it appears in that work, though I’ve marked the parallels with the indentations to make them easier to see. I did it so you can see Alma's use of parallelism to enhance the meaning of the passage. As you compare each level against its counterpart, you'll get a deeper meaning of what Alma is trying to say. This is just a taste of the literary artistry in this passage. Reading Skousen's version will increase your appreciation for the Book of Mormon and show in a compelling way, this is not the work of an Upstate New York farmer of 1829.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Alma 32-35 - Sermons to the Zoramites

I’ve lived with the nagging fear the tale of the Zoramites is in the Book of Mormon because it’s so easy for me to slip into behaving like them. After Alma shows us how they “worship,” he records three different sermons. Each one used to reclaim these people. Each one touches a different fundamental aspect of discipleship, which if used, will help us become better disciples.

So, what topics are taught? We have Alma’s visually evocative lecture on faith. Will you ever look at a seed again the same way? He promises the test of the seed will work even if all you have is a desire to believe.

Then there’s the admonition to pray for everything: your crops (work), family, enemies and friends. That not only do you pray for them, but that you should pray often for them. I tend to forget the flip side of this in that we also need to help the needy. In effect, it’s acts of charity which give power to our prayers. Or, put another way: if you want God to answer your prayers, serve His children.

There’s a powerful lesson on the Atonement and lastly, (at least for this post) there’s the dire warning that now is the time to repent. Now is the time to improve ourselves. Those who think they’ll wait to the next life to repent will discover the spirit (God or Satan) they choose to listen to in this life won’t change at death. I learned this when I first became a missionary. Back then I thought, “when I become a missionary, I will become a mighty servant of the Lord.” Wrong. To my horror and shock, after arriving in the Language Training Mission, I found out I was still me. The only way I became a servant was by a lot of hard work, prayer, scripture study and fasting. Change came because I worked for it, not because my circumstances had.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Alma 31 - The Zoramites

It’s rather ironic Korihor met his end at the hands of the Zoramites. He died literally under the feet of people who believed exactly as he taught. I can’t help but think he would’ve fared much better at the hands of the people who best lived the religion he eschewed, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s.

The Zoramites are caricatures of the person who is pious and religious just for show. They are also a warning to us who are striving to be true Christians. They were all about appearance and vanity: pious on Sunday, and anything but the rest of the week. They thought they were “God’s elect” saved and set aside to be redeemed while the rest of the world is destroyed. They loudly claimed from their towers to know things, which in reality were far from the truth.

My great fear is that I am an unwitting Zoramite more often than I care to admit. And that for me is the best lesson to learn from them. They thought they had a corner on the truth, which they didn’t. And they thought they were God’s special people, which they weren’t. If anyone was what the Zoramites thought they were, it would have been the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s.

Beyond that, the mission to reclaim the Zoramites contains a pithy observation by Alma: the preaching of the word had more effect on the behavior of people than any other thing, even the sword. You want to change someone’s behavior, teach them the Gospel. Once internalized, it will cause changes no amount of force could ever do. It’s why all of us here in mortality chose the Father’s plan of agency over Satan’s plan of force. Change and growth has to come from within, it can’t be forced.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Alma 29-30 - Other "true" churches and Korihor

There aren’t many greater contrasts in the Book of Mormon than Alma’s earnest prayer desiring to teach the Gospel to the world and the sordid tale of Korihor. On the one hand, Alma desires to be an angel (he knows what they can do!) to convincingly teach the Gospel to everyone. Then you have Korihor, an Anti-Christ, who teaches a message that in this life, it’s everyman for himself. Two men. Two messages: grace and charity on one hand, selfishness and pride on the other.

There’s an insightful gem into God’s efforts to teach His children tucked in Alma 29:8. There, Alma says the Lord grants to all nations in their own languages and cultural milieus all the wisdom He sees fit to give them. In Moroni is found the lesson that anything which points man to Christ is of God and good. Then in Jacob 5, we have God's effort to iteratively groom and prepare the olive vineyard for the last great harvest. They all show His' efforts to redeem and save His children are not confined to just this church.

I’ve been asked in the past how to explain the affirmations of other people in other religions who say their church is THE true church. How do I explain the witnesses they have had, I am asked. The key to the answer is in this verse. God gives to all people what their cultures prepare them to accept. As they master that and are ready for more, He'll find a way to give them more. I just happen to think the apex of His effort will always be found in the LDS church.

For the LDS church, there is more yet to come, even if it is nothing “more” than the sealed part of the Book of Mormon or the Law of Consecration. I look forward to the day those are revealed, but until then, I’ll do my best trying to live what has already been given. Even with that, I have a lot of work and growing to do.

Well, that took more space than I thought. On to Korihor. By reading and studying his messages, you will see all the arguments he hurled at Alma that are similarly hurled at the church today by its critics. See if these don’t sound familiar:

Church leaders’ motives are impure.

They glut themselves on the offerings of the members.

The church’s doctrines enslave people rather than free them.

There is no Christ.

There is a loving, all forgiving and friendly God who loves us as we are, so why work so hard being “good.”

The doctrines of the church are founded on the foolish traditions of long dead men.

What you see, feel or experience with your senses, is more important than what you learn through faith. (Atheists love this one, it’s the foundational axiom supporting the claim science is better than religion for teaching man about the world around him.)

Alma easily dismantles these arguments and exposes Korihor for the fraud he is. At the end of their debate, all Korihor does is demand, “I won’t believe until God shows me a sign.” So, God shows him one -- by striking him dumb and deaf. I like the judge’s observation, “who do you think God was going to manifest this sign on? Someone else?”

No longer useful to him, Satan abandons him. Like a used up candle, Korihor gutters out, trampled to death by the über self-righteous Zoramites.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Alma 25-28 - Then End of the Mission

I must admit, the previous post was a lot of fun to write and contemplate. If you haven’t read it and are interested in knowing how I roll, reading it will give you a good idea. Now, on with the rest of the Book of Mormon story…

Many of the unconverted Lamanites, mostly Nehors, are so angry with the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s they begin to make war again on them, again. With the death of the king, things go from bad to worse. Other than be destroyed, their only recourse is to flee to the Nephites and beg for their mercy and protection. This is what Ammon begs the new king to choose. He agrees to it on one condition, that Ammon inquire of the Lord to get His will in the matter.

Ammon does ask and the answer comes back a resounding “yes!” He's told to get this people out because Satan has such great hold upon the hearts of the Lamanites. Talk about an act of faith! They leave behind everything they can’t carry and flee into the wilderness just on Ammon’s assurance this is what the Lord wants them to do. Their best hope is becoming slaves to the Nephites. They flee. When they get to the wilderness dividing the two nations, they wait.

It’s while they're here, Alma meets them. The rest of the story is well known. It begins a theme that continues throughout the rest of the Book of Alma. Ever after when Lamanites seek asylum amongst the Nephites, they do so by renouncing war and burying their weapons in the ground as proof of their intent. It sets an interesting context for a tradition I read about that exists among the Hopi indians, that their ancestors did this same thing long ago. I’ve wondered if the two are related.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Geek Time - this has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon

I’m embracing my geekiness with this post. I read an article stating some astrophysicists speculate the observed phenomena described as “dark matter” may be grouped into particles like baryonic matter. This is Spock-fascinating stuff for me, but before I geek out on it, let me explain why.

First off, a primer on “baryonic matter." In school we're taught the basic building blocks of stuff are protons, neutrons and electrons. This was avant-garde material when I was young but it’s way out of date now. Today, instead of the basic three particles there are a whole slew of them not to mention several different ways to classify them. Based upon what’s called the “Standard Model,” there are quarks, leptons, bosons and the Higgs-boson. How many isn’t germane to the discussion, you just need to know there are lots of them. All are lumped under the category of “baryonic” matter. In effect, baryons make everything you see around you, including light and even electricity.

Gravity appears to be the glue that holds the universe, galaxies, stars and planets together and dancing along. Earth is round because of gravity. It orbits the sun because of it. The sun shines because its constituent mass is held so tightly together fusion occurs. You get the idea: gravity makes the universe go round.

Here’s the nub: there’s not enough matter in the universe to explain the behavior scientists see. Here’s why: when scientists run their computer models, they’ve found galaxies spin so fast they should be flinging stars all over creation. They’re not. Since the math for this is pretty inflexible, they had to find a way, some magic sauce, to make the equations work. That magic sauce is “dark matter” and “dark energy.”  The amount they determined was needed to explain how the universe worked was a lot higher than they expected. They computed, baryonic matter makes up less than five percent of the total. The rest came from these two other sources.

This is old stuff for astrophysicists. What geeked me out, is now there are indications dark matter may not be a single type of particle but a bunch of different types like baryons. In sophisticated circles, dark matter, goes by the moniker, “WIMP.” It's an acronym for "weakly interacting massive particles." It means wimps exert a weak gravitational pull on baryons. Because of this, galaxies spin along the way we see them and all is good. They don’t interact with baryons in any other observed way. A bazillion wimps could shoot through you right now and you’d never know the difference.

If that seems hard to believe consider this: atoms are mostly empty space. "How empty," you ask? Hydrogen the simplest atom, consists of one proton and one electron. The proton is the center, the electron “orbits” it. Now for the scale. Make the proton the size of the sun. Guess where’s the Jupiter-sized the electron is. Give up? It's further away than Pluto. That's a LOT of empty space!

Let’s step back from the geek brink for a second. Given this scale, what makes matter look solid is not what it’s made of but the forces these particles give off and interact with. You see, touch, eat, feel and essentially live because force of fields bouncing off of each other at the sub-atomic scale. Without them, you're a ghost!

So, now into the über-geekness of this post. Some scientists speculate this wimp-matter may not only have different types of particles, but also its own set of forces. Forces which could give it the ability to form stars, planets and even life. All unobserved and unaffected by us, yet occupying the same volume of space we do.

Because they are bound by gravity, who’s to say this spatial overlap isn't more granular than just at the galactic level. What if they overlap at the stellar and planetary level too? Imagine our baryon Earth and a wimp Earth, both occupying the same volume of space moving together. The baryon-Earth orbits the baryon-sun we see while the wimp-Earth orbits a wimp-sun.

The cool part is comments by Joseph Smith argue for this interpretation. Just a couple are: “Angels are from this Earth.” Maybe the baryon-Earth and the “wimp-Earth” are a single world in God's eye? There’s also, “spirit is matter too, just more refined.” The word “refined” may not be the best choice, but given he said it in the 1830’s he can’t be faulted for not knowing words we don’t yet know ourselves.

A wimp-universe makes a lot of sense. And while we call it dark, I suspect it’s anything but. We call it that for the same reason a blind man calls a sun-lit room dark — he can’t see the light. Now maybe, as we learn more about “dark matter” this understanding will change. Time will tell. For now, I think the “spirit world,” where we lived before coming to mortality, is this wimp-Earth. The universe it’s in is the “real” one. And the baryon-universe we can see is the temporary test environment.

Stretch your brain….

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Alma 21-24 - A Tale of Two People, the Lamanites and the Nehors

This passage could be called the Tale of Two People. On the one hand, you have Lamanites who are pure descendants of Lehi’s and Ishmael’s sons. On the other, you have Nephites who rejected their religion to become Nehors and then became Lamanites. What these two groups do is a sobering warning to us: keep your testimonies fresh and alive!

The pure Lamanites are converted and never fall away. They would rather die than take up the sword against any man. Contrast this with the Lamanite Nehors who were once Nephites, virtually none of them are re-converted. They also play key roles in the slaughter of other Lamanites and Nephites. In the end, they and their descendants become a driven, hated, and scourged people.

As I lament their fate, Alma 5:7 rings in my mind. Another people fell away into great darkness but the Lord brought them back. It’s why we should take great hope from the words of the living prophets and apostles who say to never give up on those we love who for whatever reason leave the church. Live the Gospel to the best of your abililty. Keep the welcoming lamp light lit. You just never know when something will touch their lives. Elder Nielsen's talk from April 2015, "Waiting for the Prodigal," is all about this. It's a must read.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Alma 18-20 - Lamoni's Conversion

The lesson on leading with faith, which began in chapter 17, is reaffirmed in this passage. Because Ammon followed the whisperings of the Holy Ghost he became an instrument in God’s hands to teach the Gospel to Lamoni. In a miraculous series of events, Lamoni, his wife, many servants, and others in his house are all converted too.

Mormon makes another comment about the divine protection Mosiah got from the Lord for his sons. The brother of the leader of those who sought to scatter the king’s flocks, who was killed by Ammon, sees an opportunity for revenge. He raises his sword to kill him and dies in the act. The lesson here is the Lord keeps His promises.

Yet the story continues on and Ammon shows his willingness to follow where the Spirit leads when he tells Lamoni he’s going to Midoni to save his brother Aaron and two friends. Lamoni chooses to go with him. On their way, they meet Lamoni’s father, the king over all the lands of the Lamanites.

A fight ensues that ends up with the king seeing just how much Ammon loves his son. It changes his heart towards Ammon and the people in his group. Which prepares him to be taught by Aaron.

These missionary stories are amazing to read and contemplate. There is a common thread here that begs further comment. These spectacular conversions occurred because Ammon and Aaron and the others had faith they could happen. They had it because they’d already seen it in their own lives and especially with Alma the Younger. They knew from personal experience what the Lord could do and so they went forth and acted, expecting Him to do it again. And He did.

It’s a powerful lesson that the Lord blesses us according to our faith. All we have to do is act upon it ourselves, live righteously and follow the Holy Ghost’s promptings.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Alma 17 - Ammon, A Son of Mosiah

Ammon is a poster child for missionaries or any one who chooses to serve the Lord. He’s bold yet humble, optimistic, faithful and passionate in his desire to do God’s will. When I think of Ammon as a missionary, I think of a teenage friend of mine who served in Korea years after I did. I spent two years of my life trying to proselyte by the book, knocking doors, street meetings and the like. I was blessed with some success and I’m grateful for my experiences.

My friend, on the other hand, felt impressed to proselyte by playing table tennis. He was pretty good at it and was instrumental in baptizing a multitude of people because of it. To appreciate this you have to understand that table tennis (ping pong) is popular there. Back in the day, there were many businesses where hundreds of people would play the game for hours. By connecting with the people this way, he got in many doors I was never able to enter. Once inside, people would ask, “why are you here?” And off he went.

Such is the case with Ammon. Following impressions from the Holy Ghost, he offered to be Lamoni’s servant rather than son. He ends up with a job no one wanted, sheep herder. It was literally a dead end job, where if you failed, you died — at the king’s hand. I’m pretty certain, he had no idea what lay in store for him. Throughout their preparations to come and in his own stated desires, all they hoped to do was save a few Lamanites. The Lord had bigger ideas.

Unlike me, he followed where the promptings took him. At the end of the chapter, he not only has the respect of the other sheep herder servants, he’s got the King’s attention. What happens next, is in the next post.

I just have to add this observation: for want of a better phrase, I’ll call it “God’s promise of protection to the obedient son of a righteous father.” God promises Mosiah his sons will be protected in their mission to the Lamanites. Ammon knew of this and when he faces off against a group of Lamanites who mean to kill him, he does so fearlessly. True to His promise, God protects Ammon. If it didn’t happen again, I’d say it’s a one-time deal, but the Sons of Helaman, have similar divine protection when they go to war for the Nephites. Is this a universal promise? No. But if the need ever arose, I want to live worthy of asking for it.