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.