Thursday, December 31, 2009

Alma 57

We learn more about the young men who fought under Helaman's command. Their number increased to 2,060, and after another pitched battle with the Lamanites, Helaman writes that 200 were severely wounded but that they were miraculously preserved:

25 And it came to pass that there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood; nevertheless, according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds.
26 And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain. And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power.
27 Now this was the faith of these of whom I have spoken; they are young, and their minds are firm, and they do put their trust in God continually.

We learn that what their mothers taught them was that "there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power." I can imagine these faithful mothers sending their young men off to fight and promising them that if they would believe in God and not doubt that they would be spared and return to their mothers. Every mother who sends a son or daughter on a full-time mission should have this same hope and teach this same faith. 

Alma 56

46 For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus.
47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.

These 2,000 young men (Helaman says that they were all of them very young - we could speculate on their youth, but we know from the text that they had never fought) had great faith instilled in them by their mothers. Mothers have power to build a generation of faith or of doubt. President Harold B. Lee said the following:

"A mother’s heart is a child’s schoolroom. The instructions received at the mother’s knee, and the parental lessons together with the pious and sweet souvenirs of the fireside, are never effaced entirely from the soul.

Someone has said that the best school of discipline is the home, for family life is God’s own method of training the young, and homes are largely what mothers make them."

(The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 289)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Alma 55

19 But behold, this was not the desire of Moroni; he did not delight in murder or bloodshed, but he delighted in the saving of his people from destruction; and for this cause he might not bring upon him injustice, he would not fall upon the Lamanites and destroy them in their drunkenness.

Warfare is only settled in victory by one party or the other. Although Moroni sought total victory over the Lamanites, he was not a man to kill for no purpose. This balance in his approach was driven by his sense of justice and fairness. It didn't matter to him that this same sense of fairness and justice was absent in his enemy. We often focus on the shortcomings of others and blame them for conflict. If only they would change, things would be all right. The way to peace in our relationships is in ourselves. As we live according to the teachings of Christ, we can be at peace no matter what others may do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Alma 54

Ammoron suggests in his letter regarding prisoner exchange that the Lamanites had the right to govern. No one really has the "right" to govern others. Even God only asks that we surrender our will to him. He doesn't demand the right the govern our lives. He only asks that we voluntarily submit to his commandments and love him. So, when the framers of our government worked on our system, they believed that God was the true Sovereign and that our rights were given to us by him.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Alma 53

The Lamanite converts of Ammon and his brethren were pacifists. They had made a solemn covenant to never take up arms again. But their sons had made no such covenant, and in the time of general warfare they wanted to help their brethren. They made a different covenant: 

17 And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.

Mormon clearly admired these young men when he made his abridgment of the records.

20 And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.
21 Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.

What does it mean to be valiant? The word is from Middle English words meaning worthy, strong, and courageous and to be of worth.

These young Lamanite men were valiant. They had the courage to do right. They were strong in the spirit, active, and true (meaning loyal and trustworthy). They were men of truth, meaning that they were honest in all things. They were sober. I think this means that they took the truth seriously -- it was not a casual commitment for them. And they apparently gained all of these attributes because they were taught and undoubtedly studied the truth, and they were taught to keep the commandments of God.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alma 52

Teancum, the Nephite general, is a model for leadership. He received and followed orders from Moroni, who was the chief general, but he also was creative and took initiative. He accepted Moroni's command, but he also acted on his own to do what was wise. For example, he was directed to attack and seek to take the city of Mulek from the Lamanite occupiers. He marched on the city, but after assessing the defenses and his own forces, he retreated to await reinforcements. Any priesthood leader, father, or husband, should seek to follow the directions of the prophet, but he should also listen carefully to the Spirit and use the gifts and talents given to him by the Lord to do what is right in the confines of the direction given.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alma 51

There are always those who consider themselves superior - who believe that because of birth or family or some other circumstance they are entitled to power or authority or to be the elite. The warning of the Book of Mormon is that the idea that people are somehow better than their peers is ultimately destructive of liberty. When all men and women are alike and consider themselves children of God, they treat each other with respect and forbearance. In Alma 51, the people divide into "king-men" and "freemen" based on their support for equality under the law.

Moroni received authority to compel the king-men to fight the Lamanites or be imprisoned or killed. With that authority, he ended this rebellion:

 19 And it came to pass that there were four thousand of those adissenters who were hewn down by the sword; and those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and bcast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period.
  20 And the remainder of those dissenters, rather than be smitten down to the earth by the sword, yielded to the standard of liberty, and were compelled to hoist the atitle of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities, and to take up arms in defence of their country.
  21 And thus Moroni put an end to those king-men, that there were not any known by the appellation of king-men; and thus he put an end to the stubbornness and the pride of those people who professed the blood of nobility; but they were brought down to humble themselves like unto their brethren, and to fight avaliantly for their freedom from bondage.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Alma 50

23 But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.

It is curious that during this time of war and conflict, of feverish construction of fortifications and preparation for armed conflict, that this would be a happy time. The key is in another verse in this chapter:

22 And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times

The Primary song for children declares

Keep the commandments; keep the commandments!

In this there is safety; in this there is peace.
He will send blessings;
He will send blessings.
Words of a prophet:
Keep the commandments.
In this there is safety and peace.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Alma 49

These chapters regarding war between the Nephites and Lamanites contain many lessons, but they also seem to me a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. It's hard to imagine such a complicated history of political intrigue, military strategy, and detailed military tactics being entirely invented by a poor farm boy with little formal education.

One lesson from chapter 49, is that we need to prepare ourselves for the attacks of our adversary. We can build fortifications in our lives to protect us against temptation. The narrow entrance to the Nephite fortifications makes me think of the need to restrict the access of media to our homes. If there is only a narrow entrance and we guard that entrance, we can protect our homes from the evil that Satan makes available through cable and the internet.

President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of fortifying our homes in April General Conference, 1979:

"We need continually to fortify our homes and families and defend them against the onslaught of evils such as divorce, broken families, brutality, and abuse, especially of wives and children. We need to constantly guard against immorality, pornography, and sexual permissiveness that would destroy the purity of the family members, young and old.
"Such evils are very real and very threatening. One has but to read the headlines of our newspapers and magazines to become frighteningly aware of the crumbling, destructive influences which surround us.
Perhaps I sound like an alarmist. If so, it is because I am alarmed. I am greatly concerned, and so are my Brethren in the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles and others of the General Authorities.
"If we could but suggest you go home and lock these evils out by closing and bolting the windows and locking the doors of your homes securely, it would be a simple matter.
However, such security would be ineffective against the evils of which we speak. They come into our homes on ether waves by radio and the television screen. We find these evil forces almost everywhere we go. Exposure is almost constant. We track them into the home from the school, from the playground, from the theater, the office, and the marketplace. There are but few places we go in our everyday world where we can escape them.
"What then must be our service? What must we do? We must be constantly alert to their evil presence in our homes and destroy them as we would the germs and filth of disease. We must hunt them from the closets of our minds, freeing ourselves of such worldliness, quenching the embers of wickedness before they become destructive flames. How do we do this?
"If we would escape those deadly thrusts of the evil one and keep our homes and families free and solidly fortified against all destructive influences so rampant about us, we must have the help of the very founder and organizer of this family plan—the Creator himself. There is only one sure way and that is through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and being obedient to its profound and inspired teachings. Surely we must be made to realize that the purchase price of a family hearth free of such evil influences is the keeping of the commandments of God."
Spencer W. Kimball, “Fortify Your Homes Against Evil,” Ensign, May 1979, 4

Therein lies our greatest protection -- keeping the commandments of God.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Alma 48

Amalickiah is an amazingly clear example of a demagogue. The early 20th century American social critic and humorist H. L. Mencken, defined a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots." Amalickiah used propaganda and demagoguery to sway the Lamanites:

  1 And now it came to pass that, as soon as aAmalickiah had obtained the kingdom he began to binspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea, he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their ctowers, against the Nephites.

 The Book of Mormon was written for our day. I believe these stories of political intrigue, corruption, secret combinations, etc., are meant as warnings to us. We should be extremely wary of any effort by political leaders or pundits to preach and inspire fear or hatred of others. Our commission is to take the gospel message to all the world. There are enemies of our nation, but we should constantly look to take the truth to the nations of the earth and not hope for their destruction.

The Nephites loved their enemies.

  21 But, as I have said, in the alatter end of the nineteenth year, yea, notwithstanding their peace amongst themselves, they were compelled reluctantly to contend with their brethren, the Lamanites.
  22 Yea, and in fine, their wars never did cease for the space of many years with the Lamanites, notwithstanding their much reluctance.
  23 Now, they were asorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not all—they were bsorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, cunprepared to meet their God.
  24 Nevertheless, they could not suffer to lay down their lives, that their awives and their children should be bmassacred by the barbarous ccruelty of those who were once their brethren, yea, and had ddissented from their church, and had left them and had gone to destroy them by joining the Lamanites.
  25 Yea, they could not bear that their brethren should rejoice over the blood of the Nephites, so long as there were any who should keep the commandments of God, for the promise of the Lord was, if they should keep his commandments they should aprosper in the land. 
So, we should defend ourselves, our freedom, and our families, but we should also love everyone, keep the commandments of God, and reluctantly take up arms.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Alma 47

36  Now these dissenters, having the same instruction and the same information of the Nephites, yea, having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord, nevertheless, it is strange to relate, not long after their dissensions they became more hardened and impenitent, and more wild, wicked and ferocious than the Lamanites—drinking in with the traditions of the Lamanites; giving way to indolence, and all manner of lasciviousness; yea, entirely forgetting the Lord their God.

The most vocal opponents of the restored gospel are those who once accepted the truth. When you turn away from the truth, you have to justify your actions to yourself in some way or just not care. Some leave the fold due to apathy, but they rarely become active opponents. But those who engage in sin and seek to justify themselves in doing it often rage against the church and condemn its peaceful practitioners. All are free to believe as they choose. So, those who seek to tear down any faith should ask themselves why they feel it necessary to do that. Attacking the beliefs of others does not confirm the truth of my own beliefs.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Alma 46

Liberty is a blessing from God. Mormon wrote of Captain Moroni, the great Nephite military leader and man of God. Mormon often inserts conclusions drawn from the records he abbreviated. In Alma 46, he says of Moroni, "he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren." (v. 13) This made me think of one of my favorite paintings of George Washington kneeling in the snow at Valley Forge petitioning God for help in the cause of liberty. Mormon also comments that liberty is a "blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous' sake." (v. 10) Thomas Jefferson wrote in July, 1774,

"The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time."

The United States of America is a nation based on the premise that the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are gifts from the Creator and the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. I love this country. I was just in Argentina, and I recognized once again how blessed we are as a nation. Most Americans don't appreciate the great gifts they have. I pray we remember.

When Moroni declared liberty to the people, they "came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God." (v. 21) I pray there are still those who will rally to the cause of liberty as elements in our society chip away at it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alma 45

After great tribulation in their war with the Lamanites, the Nephites "were exceedingly rejoiced, because the Lord had again delivered them out of the hands of their enemies; therefore they gave thanks unto the Lord their God; yea, and they did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceedingly great joy."

I like the idea of worshipping God with "exceedingly great joy." I think sometimes Latter-day Saints are a somber people. Of course partaking of the emblems of the Saviors flesh and blood is a sacred ordinance, and there should be great reverence during that holy time. I'm talking more about our general demeanor. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. His promise to us through his atoning sacrifice is happiness and peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come. That should fill our souls with joy, and that joy should be manifest to others as our witness of the Savior's love for all men and women.

Filling our hearts with joy and gratitude for Jesus and his love for us helps us be humble. Unfortunately, when we are so richly blessed and fail to acknowledge his hand in our lives, we can lose the light and joy.

23  And now it came to pass that after Helaman and his brethren had appointed priests and teachers over the churches that there arose a dissension among them, and they would not give heed to the words of Helaman and his brethren;
24  But they grew proud, being lifted up in their hearts, because of their exceedingly great riches; therefore they grew rich in their own eyes, and would not give heed to their words, to walk uprightly before God.

I love the Lord. I know that he lives. I feel his presence often in my prayers. I want to pattern my life after his teachings and draw near to him so that I have that presence in greater abundance, and have joy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Alma 44

Having the Lamanites surrounded, Moroni negotiated with Zerahemnah over the terms of surrender. The conditions were simple: lay down your weapons of war and covenant to never come back to fight the Nephites again. Any who would do those two things were allowed to return in peace to their own lands. In spelling out these terms, Moroni used this phrase: "by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness." (v. 5)

The word of God is a guide to peace and happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Nephi wrote of his father's vision of the tree of life (1 Nephi 11):

25  And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.

One of my favorite scriptures is from Psalms 119. It expresses my love for the scriptures, the study and application of which I know brings us to know the Author and leads to life eternal.

103  How sweet are thy words unto my taste!  yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104  Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
105  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Alma 43

We are engaged in a war that began long ago (D&C 76):

25 And this we saw also, and bear record, that an aangel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who brebelled against the Only BegottencSon whom the Father dloved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son,
26 And was called aPerdition, for the heavens bwept over him—he was cLucifer, a son of the morning.
27 And we beheld, and lo, he is afallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!
28 And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old aserpent, even the bdevil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our cGod and his Christ—
29 Wherefore, he maketh awar with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.

Our Father in Heaven knows that we battle with temptation and the powers of evil in this world. Every day, Satan is at work to pull us down and make us miserable like himself. But God did not leave us without armor and help in time of need. One important help he has given us is his word through a living prophet.

When Moroni wanted to determine what he should do as a military commander to defend his people in battle, he sought the prophet Alma and then did as Alma told him on faith alone.

23 But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should ainquire of the Lord bwhither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
24 And it came to pass that the aword of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti, that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni.
25 Now Moroni, leaving a part of his army in the land of Jershon, lest by any means a part of the Lamanites should come into that land and take possession of the city, took the remaining part of his army and marched over into the land of Manti.

I know that if we follow the counsel of the living prophet and apostles whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, that our lives will be blessed and we will be able to withstand the evil day.

Paul wrote the following admonition to the Ephesians (chapter 6):

10 Finally, my brethren, be astrong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole aarmour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we awrestle not bagainst cflesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the drulers of the edarkness of this world, against spiritualfwickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Alma 42

In my opinion, this chapter in the Book of Mormon may declare the atonement of Jesus Christ better than any passage in all of scripture. Alma clearly explained the principles of justice and mercy and the role of the Savior in making mercy and forgiveness possible on condition of repentance. 

  22 But there is a law given, and a apunishment affixed, and a brepentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the claw, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.

  23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and amercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the batonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass thecresurrection of the dead; and the dresurrection of the dead bringeth eback men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to befjudged according to their works, according to the law and justice.

  24 For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also amercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.

  25 What, do ye suppose that amercy can rob bjustice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.

I feel my Savior's love when I read these things. He loved me enough to suffer and die for me so that he could answer the demands of justice and pay the price for my sins if I would only love him and do my best to keep his commandments. I do love him and I'm trying to keep his commandments and be a true disciple. I know he has done his part. I pray I can do mine.

  15 And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself aatoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of bmercy, to appease the demands of cjustice, that God might be a dperfect, just God, and a emerciful God also.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alma 41

The principle of agency is taught in great detail in the Book of Mormon. Alma teaches his son Corianton personal responsibility for our choices in this way:

3 And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.

4 And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—

5 The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
What are the desires of my heart? What do I want? No one consciously wants misery, but we often choose evil over good. The more difficult decisions in life are sometimes choosing good over good. When the Lord offers us so much in life, we sometimes are confronted with multiple good things that we can do. If we listen to the voice of the Spirit, we can not only learn to consistently choose good over evil, we can become sensitive enough to be able to choose between good, better, and best.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alma 40

In Alma 40, we learn that the spirits of all men - good or evil - are taken to a spirit world after death where they are in a paradise of peace and rest or where they are tormented by the lives they have led as they await resurrection and judgment.

There is an interesting statement Alma makes in passing: "all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men." (v. 8) For God, all things are present. He knows all things, and in his omniscience, there is no past, present, or future. We measure the passing seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years. But our lives are very short windows in the timeline of eternity. If we had some of that eternal perspective, we might live our short earthly lives differently. Amulek taught (Alma 34):

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
We should use the day of this life that we have been given to prepare for eternity.

Alma 39

11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.

Corianton was a missionary who allowed himself to be lured away from his missionary labor by a wanton woman. Alma's words must have stung: "When they saw your conduct they would not believe." Our deeds speak louder than our words. Everyone observes how we act and live our lives. If they see a life of hypocrisy, they may turn from what we believe.

The epistle of James tells us that "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." You can't profess belief in one thing and then live something else and be stable and at peace. And when you live in ways contrary to the truth you know, you display the kind of hypocrisy that drives people away from the truth. It's hard to separate the message from the messenger.

Corianton is a happy example. He apparently listened to his father, repented, and is mentioned later in the Book of Mormon as a servant of the Lord. (See Alma 49:30)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alma 38

  5 And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your atrust in God even so much ye shall be bdelivered out of your trials, and your ctroubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

This promise appears again and again in the Book of Mormon. It's not a promise of safety from trials, but it is a promise of delivery from affliction. One central message of the Book of Mormon is that those who endure in faith  and in obedience to the commandments of God eventually overcome every trial.

 12 Use aboldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bbridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.

This counsel of Alma to his son Shiblon is good counsel to all as we teach others. We can be bold in teaching the truth without being overbearing and seeking to impose our will on others. I think that's why this counsel is immediately followed with the advice to bridle all passions so that we can be filled with love for others. One of the great challenges of parenthood is to teach children with patience and love when they are exasperatingly slow to listen. Applying these principles makes the difference. I wish I had understood sooner so that I would have been a better father when I needed to be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Alma 37

The Liahona was the brass "compass" that Lehi found at his tent door one morning early in their travel in the wilderness. It wasn't a compass that we would recognize. A magnetic compass always points one direction -- it aligns with the earth's magnetic field and points north. The Liahona pointed the way they should travel as long as they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God and following the direction of the prophet Lehi and the writing which appeared from time to time on the Liahona itself. When they were disobedient or neglectful, the Liahona did not work for them.

Alma's great analogy in this discourse to his son Helaman follows:

  43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a ashadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

  44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the aword of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

  45 And now I say, is there not a atype in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

  46 O my son, do not let us be aslothful because of the beasiness of the cway; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would dlook they might elive; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.

The holy scriptures are our compass -- our guide to eternal life. If we look at the map and follow it, we will find our way to peace in this life and eternal life with God.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Alma 36

17 And it came to pass that as I was thus aracked with torment, while I was bharrowed up by the cmemory of my many sins, behold, I dremembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

Alma's account of his conversion to his son Helaman gives me hope on a number of levels. In verse 17, Alma says that when he was miserable and swallowed up in sin, he remembered the words of his father regarding the Savior and His atonement. We do the best we can to testify and teach those we love, and sometimes they appear to ignore what we believe and choose their own path. Sometimes they rebel against things that are good and right and lead lives of dissipation and sin. We can continue to pray for them and love them and recall the example of Alma the Younger who remembered "to have heard." And that example gives me hope that the day will come for those I love that their hearts will be filled as Alma's was.

20 And oh, what ajoy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

Alma 35

  9 And he breathed out many threatenings against them. And now the people of Ammon did not fear their words; therefore they did not cast them out, but they did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did anourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants.

This is a wonderful example of true Christian love and charity. The people of Ammon were outcasts from their own people. They received and ministered to the Zoramites who were outcasts from their own people. The trials we face in life can help us develop great empathy for the plight of others and develop in us the finer virtues of compassion and charity.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Alma 34

32 For behold, this alife is the time for men to bprepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of cthis life is the day for men to perform their dlabors.

What is life were a single day? What would you do with that day? We live as though there will always be a tomorrow, and so we waste so much of the great gift of life we are given. Henry Thoreau wrote that "The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." Our days are numbered. When you look back at life, does the day you spent seem to matter? I can count of lot of wasted days. Thoreau also famously said, "As if you could kill time without injuring eternity." So, what will you do with the day of this life?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alma 33

After Alma had spoken of faith as a seed that could be planted and nourished, the people wanted to know  "whether they should believe in aone God, that they might obtain this fruit of which he had spoken, or bhow they should plant the cseed, or the word of which he had spoken, which he said must be planted in their hearts; or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith." (v. 1)

What would we say if someone asked how they should "begin to exercise their faith?"

Alma chose three scriptural witnesses to tell them what seed to plant and where their faith should begin. He used two witnesses that are lost to us except for these passages in the Book of Mormon - a beautiful prayer by a prophet named Zenos and a single sentence from a prophet named Zenock. The reason that he used both passages is that they referred to the mercy that is available to us because of the Son of God. His third witness was the story of the children of Israel when their camp was infested with poisonous serpents. Moses fashioned a brass serpent and raised it on a staff in likeness of the eventual sacrifice of the Savior.  All who looked up at this image lived. 

Alma taught from the scriptures with examples that had meaning to the people he taught. He used the prayer of Zenos not just to teach them that ancient prophets testified of the Son of God, but to connect with their concern that they could not worship because they had been cast out of the churches they had helped build. He had a second witness from an ancient prophet Zenock, and he had a scripture story of Moses with which they should have all been familiar, but the significance of which they clearly did not understand. Teach from the scriptures as there is great power in the word.

This is a masterpiece of teaching. Alma's summary ties these things together beautifully.

  22 . . . abegin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to batone for their sins; and that he shall crise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the dresurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be ejudged at the last and judgment day, according to their fworks.

  23 And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall aplant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, bspringing up in you unto ceverlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your dburdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye ewill. Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Alma 32

Faith starts as a small seed that we plant with hope. We hear what we hope is true - that God loves us, that families can be together forever, and that we can have peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. That  sounds wonderful. We want to believe that it's true. Now that the seed is planted, it is up to us to nourish and water it with faith and righteousness. As we do that, the seed springs up in the form of blessings that provide the evidence of things we hoped were true. Just as it takes time to nurture a seed and protect it until it sprouts, then becomes a seedling, and then finally bears fruit, it likewise takes time to experience the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ through faithfully following Him. As we do, we discover what Alma refers to as light.

34  And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect?  Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
35  O then, is not this real?  I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

What a wonderful question! Is this not real? What is felt in the mind and heart is as real as the tree that grows from a small seed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Alma 31

5 And now, as the apreaching of the bword had a great tendency to clead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” – President Boyd K. Packer “Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17

Yesterday we attended church in Keller with Mimi and her family. A man who served as president of the Sydney Australia Mission spoke during a combined priesthood and Relief Society meeting regarding missionary work and sharing the gospel. He discussed principles (doctrine), and we all remarked afterward that we were inspired to go and do.

We have to feel that something is true, and that feeling works on us. Sometimes we reject feelings because we know that feeling leads to knowing and that knowing obligates us to do. If you can say that you don't know, then you are not obligated to do.

As I study the word of God and the doctrines of salvation, I feel the Spirit, and my heart is changed. That "mighty change of heart" described in Alma 5 leads me to do better. As Mormon notes and as Elder Packer said, the study of doctrine and the preaching of the word of God has the greater power to influence people to do what is right than anything else.

One more thought -- Alma and the other missionaries to the Zoramites discovered a peculiar form of worship had arisen. It's something that we should look for in our own lives. The Zoramites had abandoned the simple things that nurture your relationship with God.

10 Neither would they observe the aperformances of the church, to continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation.

Instead of daily prayer, scripture study, and obedience to the commandments, they gathered once a week for a show of piety.

23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, anever speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.

Being a Sunday Christian is an insidious form of hypocrisy. We can fool ourselves into believing that we are somehow righteous and acceptable to God because we go to church once a week. There is a difference between being active in the church and fully converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's not to say that we shouldn't attend church. Years of consistent church attendance and hearing the word of God preached and taught have changed my life. But it is in the consistent effort to apply the gospel in our daily lives that true change occurs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Alma 30

This chapter is the account of Korihor, the Anti-Christ, and his interview with Alma. Korihor's arguments were all common tacks taken by those who are seeking to persuade people that belief in God is foolish:
  1. No man can know of things to come (v. 13)
  2. You just believe because you accept the "foolish traditions" of your fathers (v. 14)
  3. You can't know things that you can't see (v. 15)
  4. You're just worked up and emotional - the "effect of a frenzied mind" (v. 16)
  5. You've lost your senses altogether - "this derangement of your minds" (v. 16)
  6. Everyone fares in this life according to his own abilities - how he manages, uses his "genius," and uses his strength - what some people might term social Darwinism (v. 17)
  7. Whatever a person does in this life is "no crime" (v. 17)
  8. When a person is dead, that's the end of it (v. 18)
  9. Religion and morality are essentially slavery and are a way for those in authority to control us (v. 23)
I have to say that I have heard each of these arguments from someone at some time. I think I have even heard one of two of these from someone I love.

Alma's response teaches us how to respond to similar assaults on the truth.

40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no aGod, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.

  41 But, behold, I have all things as a atestimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? 

Korihor asked for some miracle to be performed as proof of Alma's position.

  44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of aall these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the bearth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its dmotion, yea, and also all the eplanets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

Everything testifies that there is a God. I know He lives.

Alma 29

  1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the atrump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

  2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and acome unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.

It's not his wish that is remarkable to me, but why Alma wished it - "that there might not be sorrow upon all the face of the earth." That wish for the elimination of sorrow is the mark of true charity, the pure love of Christ. God is love, and peace, and joy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Alma 28

12 While many thousands of others truly amourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the bpromises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending chappiness.

Having presided over a number of funerals, I have observed that mourning results from the separation and sense  of loss that we all have at parting from someone we love. But those who live without hope in the resurrection and in the redeeming power of the atonement of Jesus Christ suffer a different kind of loss. With faith it's possible to feel sad and mourn for the loss of our loved ones and at the same time look forward with hope. The Lord spoke to Joseph Smith and gave this direction (D&C 42):

45 Thou shalt alive together in blove, insomuch that thou shalt cweep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not dhope of a glorious resurrection.

46 And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not ataste of bdeath, for it shall be csweet unto them;

47 And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Alma 27

18 Now was not this aexceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of bhappiness.

The keys to finding peace and true happiness lie in repentance and in humility. A 1980's country song talked about "looking for love in all the wrong places." When we are humble seekers of happiness, we can find and feel that peace which passes all understanding. We can have that in the midst of any storm in life. The connection to Jesus Christ conveys power to weather any difficulty with grace and happiness, whether the challenge is family trouble, employment problems, or the loss of a loved one.

Ammon's Lamanite converts suffered intense persecution at the hands of those who should have loved them and had no reason to hate them. But Mormon writes the following of them:

 27 And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their azeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly bhonest and upright in all things; and they were cfirm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.

I hope someone can say in a eulogy for me that I was perfectly honest and upright in all things and that I remained firm in the faith of Christ to the end.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Alma 26

This chapter is so rich in truth. Please read it for yourself. I will only highlight one idea.

12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things

Their friends in the city of Zarahemla derided them for thinking that the Lamanites might be reclaimed. Ammon even asks "could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?" (v. 1) When we proceed in faith doing what we think is right, we often cannot see how things will possibly work out. That's what faith in the Lord is -- proceeding with hope and trusting in him that he has power to make us equal to the task. In his strength we truly can do all things.

Alma 25

16 Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation

Obedience to God's commandments is essential, but never sufficient. As we learn to obey his commandments, receive sacred ordinances, and make and keep sacred covenants, our faith in Christ is strengthened so that we obtain and retain hope through faith sufficient for eternal salvation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alma 24

10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain

Forgiveness and release from guilt are perhaps the greatest manifestations of the love of God in our lives. The Savior's atoning blood pays the price, and those things that plague our conscience and keep us awake at night can be taken away from our hearts. I'm grateful for that peace of mind.

Moroni inserts a comment at the end of chapter 24 that was his conclusion as he abridged more than a thousand years of history. Those who fall away, having once known the truth, just can't leave it alone.

30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alma 23

6 . . . as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them—yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.

What results in conversion so strong that one never falls away? The word conversion comes from a Latin word that means "to turn around." If we find the narrow way, we have to turn around and leave the path we're on. The depth of our conversion then determines whether we stay on that new path or eventually stray. I pray that my conversion is deep enough that I can endure to the end in following Christ.

I noticed a statement in this chapter that intrigued me. Moroni tells of the great success these missionaries had among the Lamanites. He says that "thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe." But then he says this about the Amalekites, who were Nephite dissenters living among the Lamanites.

14 And the Amalekites were not converted, save only one; neither were any of the Amulonites; but they did harden their hearts, and also the hearts of the Lamanites in that part of the land wheresoever they dwelt, yea, and all their villages and all their cities.

What I wonder about is that one Amalekite who was converted. Even in the most hardened people there is one that will soften his heart and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. It would have been miserable for him as the one convert among those who were hard-hearted and opposed to the truth, but that one person had the courage to accept the truth in spite of all kinds of opposition from family and friends.