Look to the Book, Look to the Lord

I have been studying about  a topic which can help us come closer to the Saviour more than many other things and, at this Christmas season, it is an appropriate subject to consider. I will be share a couple of personal experiences. I share these experiences with you cautiously in the hope you will understand that personal revelations and experiences are not always the same for different people – the reason I say will become clear later on.

In the well-known verse in John 17 we read this statement from the Saviour himself:

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

If we are to receive eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God and indeed the very reason for our existence here on the earth, we are to come to know the only true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing less will do. If we are indeed to try and find the Lord in our lives, we should be devoting our best efforts to this task.

At this Christmas season, we may wonder what the best gifts to give are. In thinking about coming to know the Lord more, or looking to Him, I am reminded of an experience on my mission. 8 years ago, around this time of the year…My companion and I were out knocking doors in the Leeds Mission, specifically Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. We came to one house and a lady opened the door. The house was all decorated for Christmas, there were lights illuminating the front garden and a star was actually hung, positioned above the doorway just inside the house. I thought to myself ‘Could this star be a guide to us, leading us to someone willing to let the restored Gospel of Christ into their life?’ As soon as we opened our mouths to share this wonderful news, my initial hope (like many other times) was sadly deflated. However, with star above her head and twinkling tree behind her, what she said has stuck with me even seven years later. She said “Oh no, no, no. I’m really sorry but I really just don’t have time for religion or God right now – but I hope you have a great Christmas,” and then promptly shut the door…

As my companion and I left yet another door with no room for the Saviour, I couldn’t help find the whole situation of what I saw amusing. Why of all the closed doors, and homes with Christmas decorations that refused the Saviour’s Gospel should this one be remembered by me to this very day? Really, I don’t know. But, there has been one message to me that has rung true – do we look to the Lord as we should? We may not have rejected his Gospel by being here today, but do we honestly always invite Him in – or are we sometimes too busy to consider the blessings He has enriched our lives with?

Indeed, the Saviour of the world came and we celebrate this at Christmas time. He is a precious Gift. However, we must remember Him and look to Him. How can we daily remember Him and look to Him? There are many answers but the one I want to focus on is something which itself is an impressive gift. It is a miracle, it is filled with the Holy Ghost, it has the power to literally change the lives of people by its very presence – it is the Book of Mormon.

The Power of the Book of Mormon

Elder Gary E Stevenson said:

“Within the book’s pages, you will discover the infinite love and incomprehensible grace of God. As you strive to follow the teachings you find there, your joy will expand, your understanding will increase, and the answers you seek to the many challenges mortality presents will be opened to you. As you look to the book, you look to the Lord.”

We must look to the Book of Mormon. If we are struggling with an important decision, if we are going through a horrendous trial or if we are simply trying to know our Saviour more, as discussed earlier, then we have to look to the book. There is a power in that book that changes lives. I have witnessed it in my life and in many other people’s lives – there is no denying it!

President Joseph Fielding Smith asserted:

“No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon.”

We cannot honestly stand before the Lord and say we know Him if we have not read the pages of this book. This brings us back to the verse in John read earlier…

The power of the Book of Mormon is real. I have seen it in my life as a witness of Christ. In my first area on my mission, about six months into my mission in Bradford, my companion and I received a media referral from a man asking for a Book of Mormon. What this meant is that someone had seen an advert on TV or gone onto lds.org and requested a Book of Mormon. If you think opening a carefully wrapped present that is a complete surprise to you on Christmas Day is exciting, you have no idea what it is like for missionaries to open a letter saying that someone has specifically requested you to come with a Book of Mormon. My companion and I were almost skipping down the road! We knocked enthusiastically on the door, and someone was living in that house! Our excitement heightened (because half the time there was no one living there for these media referrals). At first he seemed surprised to see two (very happy looking) young adults standing at his door holding a book in their hands. He had indeed requested a Book of Mormon but not necessarily a visit – nevertheless he welcomed us in and began to explain why he had requested the book…

…our hearts dropped. This man had indeed requested a Book of Mormon, but not for the purpose we had hoped for. He had gone out his way to request a copy of this sacred record for the intent purpose of proving how it was false, not of Christ. You can imagine our disappointment. What followed next was about 30-45mins of the worst moments on my mission. This man pulled out argument after argument, supposed evidence after supposed evidence of how the Book of Mormon was a fake, a sham and a convoluted work of a man who himself was a supposed criminal. What made things worse was our reaction. Maybe it was the way we had been caught off guard, maybe it was the fact I personally had never been put in a situation like this, but all my companion and I did was try to use biblical references and reasoning to defend our faith. We left, heads drooped and excitement long gone with the Spirit that had left us in that, what can only be described as a ‘bible-bash’. If I was to compare the level of my faith to something, it would be an ember – still there but with no power. What made our hearts sink lower was the fact that this man had clearly enjoyed this discussion and wanted to see us again. Not wanting to seem like we were ‘defeated’ and probably with some pride which we had to repent of, we set a return appointment the following week.

Now, I will pause this experience here for the moment. My faith was not gone but it was indeed shaken. Maybe we should have asked ourselves this question which Elder Stevenson posed:

“Can you see the Book of Mormon as your keystone, your spiritual center of strength?”

In a world where our faith will be questioned, sometimes with someone simply asking us about our faith or unfortunately sometimes with some contending it. This is a sign of our times – we were warned that the world would become more and more difficult to live our faith in, leading some, even the elect, to have a crisis of faith. This is why the Book of Mormon must have a key role in our personal lives and testimonies. Elder Stevenson went on to say:

“When you read the Book of Mormon and pray with a desire to know it is true, you too can receive the same impression in your heart… You may also find that as you stand and bear witness of the Book of Mormon, you will feel the same spirit of confirmation. The Holy Ghost will speak to your heart. You can also feel this same spirit of confirmation when you hear others share their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.”

This sacred record was written for the building of your testimony. It wasn’t even written for the benefit of those who were living at the time. Remember, the Nephites never had the Book of Mormon in its entirety! Moroni saw you when he said in Mormon 8:35:

“….Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”

 So, the following days were difficult. Fortunately, the day we met the man was a Saturday so we had Church the very next day, and it was a Fast Sunday. Both my companion and I applied fasting and prayer to the Lord to strengthen us. We went to the fast and testimony meeting, still struggling, still an ember. As the testimony part of the meeting began, something miraculous began to happen. Testimony after testimony was borne, and slowly but surely, that ember of faith burnt brighter and brighter in my bosom. This ember sparked into a small flame and before long I was lifted out of my seat. As a missionary, I didn’t tend to bear my testimony from the pulpit on a fast Sunday (I enjoyed hearing the members’ testimonies) but today was different, I was commanded to get up. As I stood, I bore my testimony and as I did so I realised why my faith had not burnt out completely, why that life-saving ember was still present until it could be rekindled by my fellow Saints. It was the fact I had come onto my mission with my own testimony. I had read the Book of Mormon for myself and prayed to know of its truth…

…I was 15 at the time and the year was 2005. This was the year that President Gordon B Hinckley made a promise which I am eternally indebted to him and the Lord for making. He promised in the July of that year that if all members read the Book of Mormon from start to finish before the 31st December that year and prayed to know of its truth, their testimony would blossom, it would grow miraculously. I had never before read the Book of Mormon from start to finish all by myself so I took on the challenge. I will never forget the evening of the 24th December 2005. I finished reading the Book about a week early and prayed to know of its truth for myself. What happened next can only be described as a revelation – I felt the power of the Holy Ghost impact in my heart with such joy that I laughed and cried tears of joy. I received my testimony.

Now remember, not all will receive their testimonies in the same manner, some may receive their testimony slowly but surely without really realising it (Elder Bednar and Elder Stevenson to name a couple were people with such experience), but what we all must do is gain that witness for ourselves – it will prove vital in the coming days.

What happened in my experience? Well, on the day of our appointment, (the miracles keep coming) we both studied the same material in our personal study – the PMG Chapter entitled ‘Use the Book of Mormon to respond to objections’. In that chapter President Ezra Taft Benson is quoted as saying:

The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.”

We went to that appointment, listened to his objections, and bore our testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon stating its sacred nature and its witness of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, he did not set another return appointment but he did say he appreciated our faith and how we had listened and responded to his questions. We left that day and I’m sure he feels no different but hopefully, just maybe, there is an ember now in his heart which can one day be kindled to receive a testimony of Christ’s Restored Gospel…

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Minister through Actions not just Words

A quick post focusing on a few verses from Alma 17:22-25 which highlights some very important principles about ministering and trying to serve as Christ did.

At this stage of the narrative, Ammon has put himself into the hands of the Lamanites as he and his brothers have gone to try and teach them the Gospel. Ammon went to the land of Ishmael and there he is brought before King Lamoni, ruler of that area – as was the custom of the Lamanites whenever they captured any Nephite. Generally there were three outcomes of these captures: the Nephite would kept in prison, cast out from among the Lamanites or they would be slain. The encounter between King Lamoni and Ammon begins as such:

22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.

23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.

This is an incredible statement by Ammon. Never at any point in the account of the sons of Mosiah did they say that they wished to live amongst the Lamanites until their death. They had requested that they be allowed to go into the land of Nephi to preach, that they might try and bring as many souls as they could to repentance. We know that they were desperate to do this when we read in Mosiah 28:3:

“Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”

Clearly they had that in the forefront of their minds. However, they never stated that they intended to never return to their people. And yet, this is exactly what Ammon is laying on the line here. He is saying that he is willing to give up the associations he enjoyed before, the culture he was raised in, even his close family and friends with whom he will have built eternal bonds with in order to serve this king. This gives us a little more insight into King Lamoni’s apparent U-turn in his manner towards this foreign Nephite. The account continues:

24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.

Quite the turnaround. Ammon has gone from, at best, being cast out from this people to being offered one of the daughters of the king as his wife. Surely King Lamoni must have recognised something in this Nephite – some honourable qualities which meant he was deserving of such a gesture? We cannot be sure why but that is what Ammon was offered. Surely this was it! This was Ammon’s way in to receive power and influence among this people. He would have been a prince – and as such have a powerful voice amongst the people. What better way to teach the Gospel than from such a position of authority in the land? Ammon however had no such privileges in mind. He knew there was a better way, a way which at first may seem to have been a backwards step. We read on:

25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

Ammon decided to reject the status of a prince and request the position of a servant. He descended from potentially being a prince among the Lamanites or even a king among the Nephites to work (possibly for the rest of his life) under King Lamoni. He decided to take the mantle of a servant – one who devoted his life (voluntarily) to supporting King Lamoni. However, this seemed to have a bigger impact on King Lamoni. We learn later that King Lamoni was amazed that Ammon was so dedicated in his service to the king. This is what then opens his heart to listening to what Ammon had come to say – his message of the Gospel.

Words are important in teaching the Gospel. However, actions are probably even more so. Ammon recognised this in deciding to give up all to show his sincerity and concern for King Lamoni. From this action, King Lamoni quickly developed a lot of trust in Ammon and was more than ready to receive a message from him when the time was right.