Lehi’s Dream – Love of God

Lehi’s Dream – the vision of the tree of life – has many marvelous meanings and analogies behind it. It is one of the first main gospel ‘teachings’ in the Book of Mormon and highlights really just what the Book of Mormon is for – to bring others to the knowledge of Christ and, eventually, the true love of God. We see this in the vision described by Lehi in 1 Nephi 8 and explained later to Nephi in 1 Nephi 11.

If we look at the vision in terms of missionary work – we see a good description of the emotions and efforts of the work placed before us.

At the beginning, Lehi finds himself at this tree of life. He tastes the fruit and says “I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted…And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy…” (1 Nephi 8:11-12). Thus we see that this fruit was very delicious to the taste and it made Lehi feel great. This fruit can be related to as the love of God – the abundant blessings that we receive from our loving Father’s hand – in particular eternal life, living in the presence of Him and our families together forever.

As such, if we want to dwell with our families forever, they need to qualify as well. So Lehi continues “I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also…” (1 Nephi 8:13) – he immediately looked for his family to taste of what he just had. He wanted to share it with them so that they could have the joy that he had – just as we should be with the Gospel in our lives.

What is also interesting is the way that people would make it to the tree/eternal life. In order to reach the tree, people had to “press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 18:30). This links into what we need to do to receive all the blessings of the Atonement. Grasping to the rod could represent holding to the gospel covenants. As such, commitments and covenants help us move closer and closer to the eventual goal of celestial glory. An interesting point is that the people had to hold to the rod right until they reached the tree – and hold on tight. Due to the mists of darkness (temptations of Satan), if they didn’t hold fast they would be lost – if they didn’t endure to the end then they wouldn’t reach he blessing of eternal life.

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Belief, Faith and Knowledge

The three terms belief, faith and even knowledge are often interchanged as though they are synonyms – all with the same meaning. However, there is a definite difference between them all.

In the Oxford Dictionary – her are the three definitions:
Belief: “something believed (accept as true)”
Faith: “reliance or trust; belief in religious doctrine”

Knowledge: “the facts etc that someone knows; knowing a fact or about a subject”

The easiest one to separate is knowledge, which will be discussed later, but belief and faith do seem to be similar – however a closer look differentiates the two.

Belief “may consist in a merely intellectual assent,” says Elder James E Talmage (Articles of Faith pg 96) whereas “faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action.” (Articles of Faith pg 97). From this, it emerges that someone might believe something to be true – however, they do not act on that feeling. Faith, on the other hand, leads to action – it is a trust or reliance on a subject and acting accordingly. Faith is what is necessary for us to receive salvation and exaltation – not merely believing that to be the case. Another interesting thought is that one can have a belief – or even better, knowledge of a fact – and not have faith whereas you can’t have faith and not believe.

For example, it says in James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Further, a man possessed by devils was causing havoc “But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5:6-7). These devils believed Jesus to be the Christ, in fact, more than that – they knew Him to be the Christ. These spirits, unlike us, do not have a veil over their memory and so they remember perfectly the Grand Council in Heaven and the fact Christ was ordained as our Leader and Saviour. However, despite having this perfect knowledge, it doesn’t help them – they do not have the trust in Him as their Saviour (i.e. faith) because they have enlisted to follow the other ‘leader’.

Now, compare this with Peter’s statement to Christ. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Peter has belief that Christ was the Son of God, maybe even a knowledge but it couldn’t have been much more knowledge than the devils had (after all they knew perfectly he was the Christ from their unveiled experience) – so what was different between Peter’s attitude and the evil spirits? Faith! Peter not only believed THAT Jesus was the Christ but also believed IN Him as the Christ and what He would do.

To illustrate the point that mere knowledge doesn’t save, Elder Talmage uses an example of a scientific man who discovered, through scientific tests and observations, that the supply of water in a great city was tainted and was causing outbreaks of cholera, which was killing many people. He proclaimed this and the people, never having seen the physical tests to prove it, acted on faith and would drink sterilised water. The scientific man, despite his perfect knowledge, one day forgot and drank unsterilised water and died. His sure knowledge didn’t save him, but the people’s faith did save them. The man wasn’t wise and didn’t apply the knowledge he had received to his own life – thus it is with one who has belief but no faith. “Faith in Christ leads to action.” (Preach My Gospel pg 61) and is key as the very first principle of the Gospel.

Independent Spiritual Learning

Today in sacrament meeting there was a focus on self-reliance, particularly on spiritual self-reliance. A few thoughts came to mind as I listened to the various messages and principles.

This story was shared from the June 2017 Ensign about seagulls who became dependent on being provided with their nourishment. It says:

“Years ago the seagulls in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, were starving. For generations the gulls had learned to depend on the shrimp fleets to feed them scraps from their nets. The shrimpers eventually moved from the area. The seagulls had not learned how to fish for themselves; nor did they teach their young how to fish. Consequently, the big, beautiful birds were dying even while there was plenty of fish all around them in the water.2

We cannot afford to become like the seagulls; nor can we let our children go through life dependent on us, or others, for their knowledge of the Lord. “Our efforts,” said President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, “must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant.”3 When we become self-reliant gospel learners, we know how to feed ourselves spiritually and strengthen our relationship with God.”

We have to become self-reliant in developing our spiritual centre and also help our children and those we minister to become self-reliant in searching for their answers also. If the answers are always provided, or the things to study are only provided in a structured programme, then they will never learn to seek for answers and guidance to their own problems.

Spiritual self-reliance is something we can all aim for. It is a goal completely within our own choices and influence. Obviously it can be made more difficult from other factors but we have direct influence over whether we can strengthen our spiritual self-reliance or weaken it. It says in John 7:37-38 “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” We can come unto the Lord at any time to drink from living water through studying the scriptures, praying or many other ways – but the problem is that we need to do it as often as we can, rather than have ourselves thirst.

Of course, self-reliance doesn’t just include spiritual self-reliance, but other areas of our lives too. Elder L. Tom Perry gave an experience in the October 1991 of when he was younger and how his parents taught him a valuable lesson. Interestingly before he shared this experience he said this: “Never before in my life has the doctrine of self-reliance been more needed to be preached and encouraged for the benefit of the Saints. We live in a time of rapid change. Governments are rising and falling. Industries are blooming and then all too soon becoming obsolete. New discoveries in science are soon overshadowed by new findings. Unless we are continuously expanding our understanding and vision, we, too, will become out-of-date. Research tells us that individuals entering the labor market today will be forced to find three to five different career paths during their productive years.” This was 26 years ago! How much more relevant is this now! I heard a fact recently that of my generation (20-30 year olds), a third of us when we reach the age of 60 will still be renting accommodation rather than own our own home. Whilst this is not a direct indicator of “self-reliance”, it highlights the more and more challenging financial circumstances of the world we live in.

Anyway, Elder Perry shared this:

“My parents established a family tradition in our home which was fun for me in my early years and has become even more meaningful as I reflect back on it as the years have passed. On the first birthday of each child the family would gather in the living room. In the center of the living room floor, our parents would place articles for the one-year-old child to select. The selection to be made might indicate an interest the child would pursue in life. The articles were the Bible, a child’s bottle filled with milk, a toy, and a savings bank, filled with coins. The child was placed on one side of the room and the family on the other side. Family members would encourage the child to crawl toward the objects and make a selection. This was all in fun, of course…

Now I propose to you that in this entertaining family activity we can find the most fundamental principles of self-reliance. First, the scriptures represent our need for spiritual nourishment…

Second, the bottle filled with milk symbolizes the physical body’s need for nourishment…

Third, the toy I mentioned earlier represents the acquisition of things of the world…

Finally, the fourth item, the bank. It is a symbol of our financial well-being.”

As we consider how we can ensure we become more self-reliant, it is important that we think about these four areas. Are there any steps we can take to help us become more self-reliant in any of these areas? Some may be more challenging than others but we can make small steps in many ways.

Accounts of the First Vision

The basis of this post has been drawn from the following website and some ideas selected from it. The post are my thoughts and contributions to this topic:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-are-there-multiple-accounts-of-joseph-smith-and-almas-visions

With the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, there has always been opposition. Arguments and theories to denounce the truth of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations have been voiced and brought forward. Most, if not all, of these arguments have all stood their ground but ultimately not been able to prove the fact that Joseph Smith was not inspired of God.

One of these supposed reasons for why the Restoration should only be a footnote in American religious history rather a true global event is the evidence of accounts from the First Vision. Some have claimed (and continue to claim) that Joseph Smith did not see the Father and the Son in the grove of trees on that spring day in 1820 because the accounts, or versions, he gave of this experience differ from one telling to the other.

I considered telling of the experience here in case any reading were not aware of this First Vision but then realised that telling one account of the experience would not help as there have indeed been a number of accounts from Joseph himself that differ in details. A useful visual of what is contained or not contained in certain versions can be seen below:
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As can be seen here – there are four separate documented versions of the First Vision given by Joseph Smith himself. Incidentally, this makes the First Vision “the best-documented theophany—vision of God—in history,” meaning we have a lot of evidence to draw from here. However, because of the lack of certain details in different versions of the vision, some try to claim that this shows that Joseph Smith made the vision up, that it didn’t really happen – otherwise wouldn’t he remember every detail? For example, the Saviour was not introduced by the Father in Joseph’s first documented telling of the experience in 1832 yet in the 1835, 1838 and 1842 versions the Father is described as introducing the Saviour. Some question the truth of the entire First Vision because of this.

From all four versions, there are these details that are consistent: that Joseph had questions about which religion was true, he searched the scripture, that there was a vision and he spoke with the Lord Jesus Christ. The other details (such as Satan attempting to prevent the prayer, the pronouncement that Joseph’s sins were forgiven and the context of there being religious excitement in America at that time) are not found in all the accounts.

So, this means the event didn’t happen? Personally, I find it astonishing that some can cite this as a reason for the First Vision not happening. Stories that happened are retold often with certain details being omitted or being made more of a focal point for the lesson they are told for. Experiences and stories are rarely told for no reason, without a teaching point to be made.

I will refer to three examples where experiences or events are retold for various purposes and yet this does not lessen the fact that they happened.

1. Alma the Younger is converted

In Mosiah 27, Alma 36 and Alma 38 we read of the same pivotal experience, the angel appearing to Alma the Younger to halt his destructive progress against the Church of Christ and invite him to the Saviour. Some details of the accounts are remarkably similar. For example, Mosiah 27:11 states that the angel spoke with “a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood,” and Alma 36:7 states: “He spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet.” Alma 38:7 does the same thing: “I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.” This is just one example of a similarity but there are others in the three accounts.

However, as with the First Vision, some details are inconsistent. For example the role of the sons of Mosiah. In Mosiah 27, there are quite a number of references to them in that experience, in Alma 36 they are mentioned once and in Alma 38 they are not mentioned at all. Does that make us question their involvement with the vision of the angel? Does that make us wonder whether they were actually present or not? Of course not. In this example, the detail is dependant on the person giving the account and the lesson they want to teach by it.

2. The Gospels

You could write a book (and dozens of dedicated students of the scriptures have) about the reasons for the differences in the four Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I will not try to cover all the possible examples due to the time it would take and also because I am no where near as familiar with the scriptures as I would have to be to offer an effective narrative.

However, I will take the greatest moment in the history of mankind as a good vehicle to demonstrate how the four Gospels, whilst they offer similar commentaries of the Saviour’s life they do have key differences. The reason? It depends on who told the story and what message they were trying to get across. Whether it’s King Mosiah or Alma and whatever message they are trying to get across, there will naturally be a leaving out of details or an emphasis of points

3. My experience – or any of your examples!

Basically the point is that any experience shared can be used in part or any parts emphasised to make a point. We may leave certain parts out or made certain parts the main part if we want to focus on that. Does that change the actual event? Of course not!

Harper, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 1.

Making Mountains of Us

This entry is based on an article given in the January 2010 Ensign about a mountaineering guide who explains how, in order to appreciate the top of the mountain, you need to experience the valley first.

When he gets visitors to the park, Richard Chen finds that most, if not all, the visitors are there to ascend up the Jade Mountain. The article says “Visiting the peak, with it’s manmade trails and wonderful view, is a great experience, but Richard tries to explain that there is much to learn and much hidden beauty to find in the more difficult-to-access river gorges and canyons below.” However, there are some visitors who don’t care about that and they are positive they only wish to reach the top via the easiest route.

There are so any lessons that can be learnt from this spiritually. Christ, as ‘the way’ (John 14:6) and the only True Guide, wishes us to return back – with as much experience in this mortal life as possible. Elder Neal A Maxwell said “One’s life … cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free…Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’…Real faith … is required to endure this necessary but painful developmental process.” How can we expect to receive what the Father has if we do not pass through the way prepared by Him?! “…thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment…if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…” (D&C 121:7-8) said the Lord to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail.

This idea is similar to the mountain Richard Chen takes his visitors up – they have ‘grown’ higher and higher over thousands of years through the heat and pressure of the two tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust colliding together. This causes the mountain ranges to rise up and up. This can also be likened to our lives as we face bigger challenges and pressures, like a refiner’s fire – we become stronger and stronger.

Mighty Change in Heart

When we are baptised into the Church of God, it does not complete our path of discipleship. We need to continue to endure to the end. There is something that can greatly assist us to, not only endure faithfully to the end, but also ‘enjoy’ life faithfully to the end. That is, receiving a mighty change of heart. This will give us a desire to follow the commandments of God – not just follow them because we have been asked to.

This change of heart can come about in many different ways. It might come as we pray earnestly, studying the scriptures or actively trying to obey a commandment. Here are a few examples:

The people of King Benjamin were not a wicked generation – the King had reigned in righteousness, equity and fairness. However, a mighty change in heart still had to, and did, take place. This indicates it’s certainly not just the wicked who can receive a mighty change in heart. After King Benjamin delivered his powerful sermon from the tower, the people said “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2) This is a perfect example of what happens when we receive a change in heart, you have no disposition to do evil. The change is so powerful that Satan has no effect on you!

Alma the Younger was another person who was given this powerful change in heart. He, unlike the people of King Benjamin, was wicked. At the time he was seeking to destroy the Church of God and yet he was given an experience that would change his life forever. As the story goes, he was stopped by an angel and was unconscious for “the space of two days and two nights.” (Mosiah 27:23) As he was in this state he cried out to God for forgiveness. When he came to, he said “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit…” (Mosiah 27:24) and the Lord had told him that unless people “become new creatures…they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 27:26) Alma became a ‘new creature’ or, in other words, had this change of heart.

Many more examples are given of this mighty change – however, there are obviously those whose hearts are too hard that they can’t (or won’t) change. Of course, I’m sure God has the power to penetrate any heart, but it’s down to people and their agency as to whether they will let him in or not. The first example that comes to mind is that of Laman and Lemuel. In the story of retrieving the brass plates, Laman and Lemuel begun striking Nephi and Sam with rods because they felt that they’d lost everything. An angel appeared and commanded them to stop, telling them that the Lord would deliver Laban into their hands. Even so, “…after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur…” (1 Nephi 3:31). For a person who was prepared to receive this mighty change (like Alma) this experience would have had a great impact even to the point of conversion, but we see Laman and Lemuel were too hard-hearted to receive that. Another example is that of Pharaoh when Moses was commanded to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. They saw many miracles and wonders in Egypt, wrought by God through Moses and Aaron, even to the point that Pharaoh’s magicians said “This is the finger of God…” but “…Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them…” (Exodus 8:19) – his heart would not be changed.

One of the most tragic occurrences is when one does receive a mighty change of heart, but then later on forgets and loses it. Elder Dale G. Renlund explained this in the October 2009 General Conference. He said, speaking of physical heart transplants “…the patients own body recognises the new, lifesaving as ‘foreign’ and begins to attack it. Left unchecked, the body’s natural response will reject the new heart, and the recipient will die.” It is the same with our new, spiritual heart. If we do not give the proper care and attention we need to, problems and even loss of the spiritual change will occur. Elder Renlund went on to say “Occasional heart biopsies are performed wherein small pieces of heart tissue are removed and then examined under a microscope. When signs of rejection are found, medications are adjusted. If the rejection process is detected early enough, death can be averted.” We ourselves need to perform these biopsies on our spiritual hearts, particularly when there has been a positive change. Our medications are things like reading the scriptures, praying, obedience, fasting and so on. If we become casual or carnal in taking our medication, we are putting our spiritual hearts at risk.

One example of this is Saul in the Old Testament. He was chosen by God to be King over all the Israelites and was very blessed spiritually. In fact it says “that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart…” (1 Samuel 10:9) so he also received a mighty change in heart, so much so that he was found later prophesying among prophets (see 1 Samuel 10:10-12). Saul was blessed and given great success for a time – but it all went wrong. It began with Saul offering a burnt sacrifice to God without the authority – practising unrighteous dominion. Samuel arrived and said, once he discovered this “…Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandments of the Lord thy God…” (1 Samuel 13:13) and, further disobedience led to a loss of this spiritual rebirth. This culminated in 1 Samuel 16:14 JST where it says “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit which is not of God troubled him.” How did this mighty man lose the spiritual experience of his heart’s mighty change to become one of the most tragic figures in the Bible? He did not preserve that mighty change by obeying God’s commandments and by doing so, allowed an evil spirit to enter in and take the new heart’s place.

This also occurred in the History of the Restored Church. In Kirtland, Ohio some of the greatest spiritual experiences of this dispensation were bestowed on the people by the Lord there. One of these experiences was the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. However, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the January 2010 Ensign tells us that “Members of the Church – even some of those closest to the Prophet, many of whom were present at the dedication of the temple – apostatised and condemned Joseph as a fallen prophet.” How could these members witness such marvellous scenes, and undoubtedly experience some sort of changes in their hearts, and then reject it all? One of the latter-day prophets, President Harold B. Lee taught “Testimony isn’t something that you have today and you keep always…Testimony is either going to grow and grow to the brightness of certainty, or it is going to diminish to nothingness, depending upon what we do about it. I say, the testimony that we recapture day by day is the thing that saves us from the pitfalls of the adversary.” We need to, everyday, be nurturing our mighty change in heart, just like we would our testimony. As we preserve our conversion feelings and fuel our testimony with that – we can become powerful witnesses of the truth.

Importance of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ we are encouraged to have questions. Two recent invitations during the recent General Conference reaffirmed this to me. One was from Elder Jario Mazzagardi who told of an experience he had early on in his Gospel life. He was a convert and a few months after his baptism he says “Questions began to arise in my mind…”, particularly around why the Restoration had to happen geographically where it did. As he described these ponderings a message became clear to me: having questions is good. Not only is it good but it is vital for our spiritual strength. Another evidence to me that we should be having questions to consider is a new page that has been developed as a result of General Conference  (actually it seems to have been create in April 2015 first but it has been updated for this Conference). This page suggests questions we may have been having and how Conference answered them. It also invites viewers to send their own questions and subsequent answers in.

Why am I focusing so much on questions? There may be times we have questions which challenge our faith in Christ. Such questions are natural. We have forces around us pulling towards and away from God in a constant daily battle – of course we will be influenced. However, with a firm testimony of Joseph Smith and/or the Book of Mormon as scripture, any serious concerns can be aided (notice I didn’t say they will instantly go away). This is partly why the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are so important to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or ‘Mormons’). We do not worship these important parts of our religion, only our Saviour Jesus Christ is worthy of our worship along with our Heavenly Father, but they can help us in our worship.

For example, if someone says ‘I don’t believe that God is there, or speaks to people anymore,’ but has gained a testimony that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, then they just need to make that link. If the Book of Mormon is true, that means that Joseph Smith was a prophet and therefore, the account of the First Vision really did happen. If there are serious concerns and the person doesn’t have a testimony from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that is where the problem lies (despite whatever the question is).

President Ezra Taft Benson taught “…All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship etc, basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation…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…”

And there it is. Sincere seekers of truth who are wanting to change, to become better people through Christ, can overcome any challenge or objection by a belief in the Book of Mormon being the word of God.