Friday, December 11, 2009

What Is Most Important To Us

We had waffles for breakfast today.  Pancakes, Muffins, Potatoes, Sausage, Bacon, O.J., Milk, and don't forget the Hot Cocoa.  Syrup, Butter, Ketchup...........(I'm always amazed at how ketchup finds it's way to the breakfast table with teenagers).  It was a most excellent meal together!  

After breakfast, I asked everyone to share at least one of the following things with the class:

* Share your feelings about seminary this year.
* Share a personal experience you have had this year while reading the scriptures.
* Share your feelings about the Savior.
* Share what activity you have done at Christmas-time that brought you closer to the Savior
* Share with us the best Christmas you ever had, and why.
With a large class like mine, you can understand how intimidating it might be for us to share something so personal.   But I think we've become comfortable with one another over the last several months to be able to share some of these personal thoughts. Here are some things they shared.

SEMINARY:  Although there is a tremendous sacrifice involved, their day goes much smoother when they have gone to seminary that morning. They love being with each other and coming to seminary to be with other youth who have their same beliefs.  They know that every school morning, there is always someone at seminary, and they like that they can count on that. They love the Book of Mormon and come to learn more about it.   Seminary keeps us on track, keeps us reading our scriptures, keeps us focused on good things.

THE SCRIPTURES: I had a few students express their LOVE for the Book of Mormon! Reading their scriptures helps them to feel more spiritual. They are enjoying studying this book this year.

CHRISTMAS: Each person who spoke about their best Christmas shared that it involved isolated, private time with his/her family.   It wasn't about gifts and getting, but it was the company they were with, and the memories they made with them.  One person shared that the year her family did the most service was the year they received fewer gifts themselves and it was her favorite Christmas. One young man shared how his family is "secret Santa-ing" a needy family this year and how good that made him feel to help someone. One young lady shared how when her family couldn't afford much one year how someone had done something similar to them and how special that made her feel

THE SAVIOR: The One who brings us together at this time of the year is Jesus Christ.  One young man shared that all of the giving that happens at this time of the year is what is most important. It all boils down to a Christ-like feeling, and a love for each other. 

This is me today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Tougher Mission

Alma 5 led me to think about some young men in my ward who are currently out in the mission field.   One is serving in Lima, Peru, another in Monterrey, Mexico, another in Montreal, Canada, and yet another in Ogden, Utah.  They're all over the place. The 3 young men outside of the country are all speaking foreign languages, have had to adjust their diet, and immerse themselves in a different culture.   They have had to really stretch themselves and grow.  In some ways, they have had it "tough".    Elder Bohne in Utah has had it tough in a different way.  His mom shared with me that it hasn't been an easy mission for him.  He's speaking his native language, food is pretty good in Utah, and he even has relatives there.  He's doing an amazing job, but he meets people every day who have already heard his message and are not open to hearing it again. 

This reminded me of Alma teaching the gospel to the members of the Church of God in the land of Zarahemla...........

while the 4 Sons of Mosiah were teaching the gospel to the Lamanites in the land of Nephi.

Alma's group has heard this message before.  This same message of the gospel is new to the Lamanites.  I don't know if it's fair to compare, but what do you think? Which of these men in the Book of Mormon have the "tougher mission"?

My class decided that although the sons of Mosiah have a more dangerous mission, Alma has the harder, tougher, rougher mission.   In Alma 5, he's asking the members of the Church to assess their spirituality.  Some of them have fallen into apostasy.   These saints have been spiritually born of God at baptism, but now Alma is trying to help them re-"member".   He wants them to recommit themselves to having a changed heart; to become a member again, to be born again, to have a spiritual conversion.   This conversion would be strong enough to effect such a mighty change in them that they "have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)  Alma is trying to help them "turn back to the Lord", to avoid apostasy.

 Alma asks a series of questions in this chapter.  I counted over 40. The questions are to help the saints do a self-evaluation of their spiritual state.  The way he poses these questions somewhat suggests where they should be spiritually. What I like about this is that it's as if he's asking each of us, personally.  Similar to a temple recommend interview, I suppose.  As we read the Book of Mormon, this gives us a chance to self-assess the conditions of our own hearts.  Ironically, those who are humble enough to take the time to do this self-assessment are probably those whose hearts are already changed; softened.   It's those who feel that their hearts are sufficiently changed, but need more softening, who will probably be the ones to overlook this chapter in Alma.

I feel like writing to some missionaries today.  Do I dare send them some fruitcake? 'Tis the season!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stepping-Stones or Stumbling-Blocks?

This is my class.  We're different shapes, sizes, and colors.  But we're all stones, building the kingdom, one by one.

We identified a pride cycle in Alma 4 today. The Nephites had just been humbled by war with the Amlicites/Lamanites. They became "awakened to a remembrance of their duty".  As they were successful in performing their duty (to "establish the Church more fully"), there were many souls baptized into the Church, and they were blessed with prosperity because of their faithfulness and righteousness.   THIS IS WHERE THINGS GO BAD.  Pride and arrogance follows just after they enjoy the comfort of their wealth.  Their hearts are set on their riches and worldly things. Their inequality sets them apart from one another, and contentions build between them.   I think we just found ourselves all the way around the pride cycle, on the verge of war again. 

We noticed that when the saints were humble, they were stepping-stones to those who were not in the Church of God.  Their positive examples, their duty to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" to "mourn with those that mourn" and to "comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places", brought others to Christ, as evidenced in the baptism of about 3,500 people (Alma 4:5). 

But our other observation was that when the saints became proud, "there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God." (Alma 4:9)  Their negative examples became a stumbling block to those outside of the Church, leading them away from Christ.

A real struggle in this PRIDE CYCLE seems to be when we are blessed with prosperity.  That is a big part of our test here on the earth.  What will we do with what we've been given?  Do we use it all on ourselves?  What does keeping it do to us?  How will it feel to give it away?  Since that's a test we all have to face, you'll have to decide on an answer that suits you.  But in the scriptures, those who have been promised exaltation while in mortality, have willingly let go of their worldly wealth and prosperity.

Entertain the thought of each of us, lining up together, side-by-side, bearing pure testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel, one by one.  Picture yourself allowing others to lean on you and your testimony, using you as a stepping-stone to Christ. Imagine the strength of the Spirit as this is all happening, and the joy of those who are finding Christ for the first time through your example and the truth being taught.  Try to imagine how uplifting and unifying it would feel to be a part of that!  Now THAT feeling is "true prosperity".

Monday, December 7, 2009

How Do We "Mark" Ourselves?

This was my seminary teacher uniform today. Levi's jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt. I felt comfortable, yet uncomfortable at the same time.  Physically comfortable, spiritually uncomfortable.  What is expected of me as a seminary teacher is that I am to come dressed in "church attire"; basically, wearing a modest dress or a skirt.  Coming to seminary dressed the way I did could be taken as a sign of rebelliousness.  It would be a way of outwardly "marking" myself to separate myself from others who are like me.  It's an outward expression of an inward feeling.  By dressing this way, I am sending a message of being casual about the scriptures and sacred things.

In Alma 3, the Amlicites (who are apostate Nephites) have joined forces with the Lamanites in war against the Nephites.  They have chosen to "separate themselves" from the people of God by marking their foreheads with red.  Because they look just like the Nephites, they must distinguish themselves from them so they are not mistakened for Nephites in battle by the Lamanites. As far as I can tell, this is the first time in the Book of Mormon that there are a wicked group of people who have separated themselves from righteousness.  In the past, the righteous have always separated themselves from wickedness. 

In today's world, modest and immodest dress can be a "mark".  We can also choose to "mark" ourselves by the jewelry we wear, the language we use, our diet, our choice of entertainment, our hairstyle, etc.  Elder M. Russell Ballard warned: “There is an entire subculture that celebrates contemporary gangs and their criminal conduct with music, clothing styles, language, attitudes, and behaviors.... “I do not believe that you can stand for truth and right while wearing anything that is unbecoming one who holds the priesthood of God. To me, it is impossible to maintain the Spirit of the Lord while listening to music or watching movies or videos that celebrate evil thoughts and use vulgar language” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 51–53; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 38–39 ).

How we behave and dress in sacred places is also an indication of our reverence for and understanding of what is about to take place at that location.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught: "How we dress is an important indicator of our attitude and preparation for any activity in which we will engage.....Our manner of dress indicates the degree to which we understand and honor the ordinance in which we will participate." (Gen. Conf. Oct. 2008)   This would apply to us if we were attending the temple or any church meeting, especially sacrament meeting.  Reverence is an inner respect that is reflected in our appearance or behavior.   

When we are out in the world, we can still hold onto this reverence and let it dictate how we present ourselves as Latter-Day Saints.  Our attitude and behavior should still reflect the covenants we've made with the Lord, since we have taken upon us His name.  We represent Him at all times, in all things, and in all places.  Our attitude shouldn't change just because we're not at church.  Perhaps we aren't aware that the way we appear matters to anyone, but it does. Perhaps we don't mean to "mark" ourselves as a sign of rebellion to rules, laws, and restrictions. If we just asked ourselves the question: "How would the Lord want me to represent Him?"  The answer to that question should help us assess ourselves.

In my old age, I've notice that people change as their understanding matures.  It must start with the inside and it begins to show outwardly. It's a countenance.  In the following chapters of Alma, he will address this very topic with the Nephites. Stay tuned....... 

In the mean time, back to my seminary teacher uniform tomorrow. I did miss wearing the nice shoes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Look Out! False Doctrine Ahead!

President Ezra Taft Benson's quote sticks in my head: "The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ through two basic means. First, it tells in a plain manner of Christ and His gospel.......Second, the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ."  Whenever I come across an apostate in the Book of Mormon like Nehor, President Benson's quote reminds me of those orange traffic cones: Beware! Avoid! Caution! Pay attention to this!  President Benson also adds, "The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon are similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time."

In Alma 1, Nehor, an apostate Nephite, establishes his own church where he teaches:

  1. Teachers and priests should be popular (priestcraft - 2 Nephi 26:29) 
  2. Teachers and priests should not labor with their hands, but should be supported by the people
  3. All mankind are saved at the last day, and have eternal life (discounting the significance of, or need for, the Atonement of Christ)
  4. "Men need not fear nor tremble, but lift up their heads and rejoice" (sin is okay, therefore, no accountability, no opposition)
  5. No need for church standards

This just didn't make sense to us.  As a class, we tried to imagine:  "If we believed this, how would we live?"  Just a few thoughts we had were:

  1. We could act any way we wanted since we'd receive eternal life whether we worked hard for it or not.  Why work at all?  Why "serve" at all when you could get paid for the same work? 

  2. We could dress any way we wanted; standards are not necessary.

  3. We could choose to be taught by the most popular teacher.  What would that teacher need to offer us in order to win us over?

It was obvious that we were leaving out Jesus Christ and His Atonement.  Everything comes down to, and through, the Atonement. The only way we can achieve eternal life is through Jesus Christ. Repentance is necessary in order to be cleansed of our sins because no unclean thing can dwell with God. 
If we wanted Nehor's plan, we would have just sided with Lucifer in the war in heaven.  Why make it all the way down here to earth, and then choose Satan's plan when we rejected it in the pre-mortal existence?

This type of church is easy to believe; easy to follow.  It's appealing, BUT NOT TRUE!

Alma the Younger, the chief judge of the Nephites, wisely states: "and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction." (Alma 1:12)

Something to be aware of so we can avoid it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Faith, Covenants, & Love

Alma (the Elder)

One verse in Mosiah 27 caught my eye today; Mosiah 27:14.  The account of the conversion of Alma the Younger is primarily the focus of Mosiah 27. But within this account, I am touched by the example of his father, Alma, most of all.  

Mosiah 27:14 reads: "And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith."

I have no doubt that Alma the Younger was foreordained to do a great work.  In Mosiah 27:8-10, he is described as a wicked young man who uses his abilities to influence others to turn away from God.  While he was involved in seeking to destroy the church of God, his father, Alma, has "prayed with much faith" that his son would come to know the truth; to know of God.  Because of Alma's faith, the Lord sends an angel to show Alma the Younger the Lord's power, which he cannot deny. The power from the faith of Alma (the Elder) and his people, was enough that God was moved to answer their prayers.  Alma the Younger goes through a tremendous process of repentance and sincere transformation to become the great man that he was.

There is much to be said for the prayers of the faithful.   Faith in God is a real power.  God moves things and affects people according to the faith we have in Him, and according to His will.  It's real.   I have seen it and I have felt it.  We are also strengthened by the covenants we make with Him.  With those covenants come added strength and power as we are faithful.  We come to trust in God and he honors our trust with the showing forth of his power.  Alma's prayers were an exertion of his faith in God to be able to effect a change in his son.  

It is all a manifestation of love. Alma's love for, and trust in, God. Alma's love for his son. God's love for Alma and a recognition of his faithfulness.  God's love for Alma the Younger. Through Alma the Younger's transformation and maturity, he expresses his love and respect for his father, and develops a trust and love for God.

Although Alma the Younger is the focus of this chapter, I'm grateful to have been affected by the faithfulness of his "dad".