One by One Pattern – John 1:45-51

I have just begun to study Elder Bednar’s new book – ‘One by One’. I have only got through the first chapter so far but am finding it a great read!

Elder Bednar discusses a number of experiences that he and others have had where the Lord has directed their paths to meet with and share an edifying moment with one single individual, often when they were going about the Lord’s business to many other groups of ones. He speaks of an experience, for example, when he was repairing the roof of his home and he needed to go to the local DIY store to pick up supplies. Whilst there, he met with a man who recognised him and was able to share a great experience of talking with him for 15 minutes where they both were edified.

My plan is to discuss each scriptural section that Elder Bednar then shares in Chapter 2 which lists numerous examples from Christ’s life where he carries out His Father’s work to each individual, one by one. These were real eye-openers for me! With each of these Elder Bednar specifically doesn’t provide a commentary but allows the reader to consider the message of the verses for themselves.

The first is found in John 1:45-51 – Jesus Reveals Things to Nathanael

45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

To begin with, in verse 45 we read that Philip goes to find Nathanael after having been ministered to by the Saviour. This is the pattern from the first verse. Philip was a one and then he was invited to go and minister to other ones. Nathanael was one who needed to hear of the Lord. What was interesting here is that the phrase ‘Philip findeth Nathanael,’ seems to suggest that Nathanael was sought for purposefully. We do not know why Philip felt impressed to speak to this Israelite specifically but we can take a message from this. When we are taught by the Spirit, we must share this experience with others. However, we cannot just expect the Lord to do all the work for us, or for people to miraculously appear in front of us to share the Gospel with. We need to do our part – we have to seek and find those we can minister to as Philip did. We need to look for the one.

46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

Again, more principles of ministering to the one. Philip does not expect Nathanael to believe just in his word or testimony. He invites him to come and see. In this sense, he is inviting Nathanael to experience what he has experienced for himself.  Each one has to experience the Lord and His Gospel. It will not do to have one experience it and others to just accept it from their words. Each one must go into the baptismal waters, meet at the sacrament table, make (and keep) sacred covenants in the Temple one by one. Come and see.

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

I can see this becoming a familiar theme when the Lord Himself ministers to those in His mortal ministry. Jesus saw Nathanael approaching and knew Him. He knew His name and His character. Now, there is a level here that I haven’t considered before. In order for this observation to be made by Christ and it to be recorded at least one other must have been present to hear Him comment. This one or maybe these other ones would have been taught a valuable principle from the Saviour speaking these words. The Lord did not need to verbalise them. However, for those around Him, they learnt that He knows God’s children and who they are.

48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

And again, the Lord demonstrates His omniscient power. To any observer who knew not the Lord’s origin or motives they may be tempted to assume Christ is demonstrating His ability in order to impress. However, there is a reason why Christ felt it necessary to show His ability in this moment. He is ministering to a one. Perhaps Nathanael had a little faith or curiosity that was then fuelled by this miracle or sign that He was able to recite to Nathanael where He had been.

49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The Lord then concludes this meeting with this one by testifying to him that he will see more miracles through his fledgling faith. This soon-to-be Apostle needed to be refined and taught in a relatively short space of time and the Lord was able to minister to Him as a one in a manner that enabled him to develop and grow.

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Worshipping around the Temple

Drawing Closer to the Lord

This is a wonderful time of year where we can reflect on how close we are to the Saviour. Life-changing decisions will be made every day of our lives. It is ever more vital that these decisions are made with the Lord in mind. In an address given by Elder Neil L Andersen, he stated:

“How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.”

The decisions you make with your lives each and every day will have an impact on the strength on your faith and the power of the hand of the Lord in your lives. What do you plan to do after Church on a Sunday? When and how often are you planning to study in the scriptures this week? The answer to these questions will have an impact on the person you find you are next week when you go to worship at the sacrament table again next week to reflect upon your covenants.

A Renewed Focus

As we enter the year of 2018, a great focus to have would be to gather in and around the Temple more regularly.

Do we recognise how blessed we are to have Temples on the Earth today? In D&C 109:13 we read:

“And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.”

We are taught in the scriptures that the influence of House of the Lord is so powerful that even being there at the doorway will constrain us to acknowledge that it is his House. On my mission we knocked on the door of a lady who invited us in straight away. With surprise and a spring in our step we entered. She went on to say she had been taught by missionaries almost 10 years ago and at the time, the Preston Temple had its Open House. She went to that sacred building and as soon as she entered the doorway, she said she knew it was a holy place, the House of the Lord and she could not deny it. Time and various barriers meant that she stopped receiving lessons and attending Church. However, almost ten years later it was clear that she had been constrained to acknowledge that the Preston Temple was sanctified, a holy place. She began attending Church again and receiving the lessons. The Temple’s influence and power had changed her heart.

Temple Recommend Holders

So, what does this mean for us? How can we ensure we make the most of the opportunity provided by the Temple? Quite simply – go!

For those of who hold a full temple recommend, never let it expire. President Howard W Hunter, the 14th President of this Church, was only sustained and called as the Prophet 9 months before his death in 1995. However, one strong, clear message that resonates from his ministry is the need for all members to hold a temple recommend. He stated:

“It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple. It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals and as families.”

At that time when President Hunter made this statement, there was around 47 temples in operation – that means since 1830-1995 (about 165 years) there had been 47 temples built. In the past 21 years till now, another 103 have been dedicated. Why would it please the Lord that every member of the Church is able to enter the Temple? Why has there been such a dramatic focus towards the Temple? If we continually live our lives in such a way that we can hold that recommend and regularly go then we will be living in such a way that the Lord can help us (can help you) guide important decisions in our lives. And in a world which, unfortunately, is becoming more and more unsettling to live in, it is even more vital we have power from on high to support us.

Once received and up to date, those of us who have already entered the Holy House of the Lord and have received our endowments have a lot of things we can do – yet we probably hold the most responsibility. In fact, we do! In D&C 82:3 we read some strong warnings:

“For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.”

This verse is not meant to sound harsh, but if we have entered those holy doors and we do not take the time to plan our regular visits to that sacred building, we must change. There are individuals in this Church struggling with afflictions and problems which mean they cannot enter right now, who would love to enter that Holy House to feel of the Spirit there. I have fallen victim occasionally to not going to the Temple as often as I should, just as we all sometimes don’t do things as often as we should. However, worshipping at the Temple stands out from everything else – if we spend the time to go to the Temple we will feel empowered and strengthened in all we do.

We often fall into the trap of planning Temple visits when we are reminded, or planning them simply when we remember. Can we be a little more proactive? I suggest 2 options:

  1. Plan dates for the whole year TODAY – decide that every third Tuesday (?) that you will do something dedicated to the Temple (notice I did not say necessarily go to the Temple but that would be ideal). If you need to shift a date, then shift it – don’t just cross it off.
  2. Decide as you leave the Temple when you will return. Too often we go to the Temple, feel a marvellous Spirit there, then we leave the Temple, go to McDonald’s, get home and most of that is forgotten – until we eventually remember that we need to go again a few weeks later.

Either of these options will help you get there more often.

Limited-Use Recommend or Non-Recommend Holders

Obviously there will be a large number who will not hold a temple recommend or hold a limited-use recommend to do baptisms and confirmations. Remember the words of President Hunter:

“It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple”

Notice that initially he doesn’t say his desire is for all members to hold a recommend – his desire is every member to be worthy of holding a recommend. There will be a variety of reasons why some do not hold a temple recommend: some are awaiting missions, some are awaiting marriage, some do need to make some changes in their lives – whatever the reason, our first priority is to ensure we live worthy – do whatever it takes. No change required is too small or large that isn’t vital. President Gordon B Hinckley once told of an experience he has:

“I recall a bishop’s telling me of a woman who came to get a [temple] recommend. When asked if she observed the Word of Wisdom, she said that she occasionally drank a cup of coffee. She said, “Now, bishop, you’re not going to let that keep me from going to the temple, are you?” To which he replied, “Sister, surely you will not let a cup of coffee stand between you and the house of the Lord””

The Lord’s standard is high, it may be a challenge to many. However, the eternal blessings are too important to miss out on! To all those who do not hold a recommend, live your life so that you may be able to receive one when the time comes.

Of course, that time may a little while off and so the question is, or should be, what can I do now though? How can 2018 be focused on the Temple for me? There are a number of things we can do (and actually, if all temple recommend holders do these things it will enhance our experiences even more!):

  • Family History Work

 

Family History work and taking those names to the temple has increased dramatically across the Church in recent years and this is not going away. Why? Because this is something that all can do and it will make the experience of going to the Temple even more personal.

One line in True to the Faith (pg 63) really stands out, saying 

“Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice – you perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves.” 

Notice it does not say our work is equal to the Saviour’s, in fact it explicitly says our efforts ‘approach’ the Saviour’s – He makes everything possible through His Atonement. However, we can receive great blessings from being a part. In fact the Prophet Joseph Smith stated in D&C 128:15 

“…For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as…they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect.”

Obviously our efforts help to bless our ancestors and help them progress. And before we say that your Uncle Fred is doing your family history and doesn’t let anyone else near it – please think about this, does Uncle Fred go to Church for you too? Doing our Family History is something that the prophets and apostles have challenged us all to do. And do not worry there will be something to do. Think about it. We each have four grandparents and that doubles each generation. In 10 generations we have 512 “grandparents”—not counting the thousands of other family members they bore. In 16 generations, we have nearly 33,000 direct ancestors. That doesn’t even include siblings, cousins and so on…Our family history hasn’t all been done—I guarantee it.

  • Visit the Temple

 

Again, this is something all can do! My family and I have made the decision from the last Stake Conference to go to the Temple once a month as a family. Our 5 and 3 year old cannot enter, but we make it a special visit. We go to McDonalds on the way (by the way, not every Temple visit requires a McDonalds…but it is recommended!), we talk about why we’re going and what do we find special about the Temple, and then we walk around the grounds reverently and point out features. Nothing is more amazing than seeing your 3 year old point out the angel Moroni and start speaking in their usual garbled language, or hearing your 5 year old asking when can we go to the Temple again. This may seem like a simple, trivial thing to do, but it has brought our little family closer to the Temple.

The priority of the Temple is to bring us to Christ and also our families. It can do that here in mortality and for the eternities. Commit to focus more on the Temple in 2018.

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…

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.

That I Might Draw All Men Unto Me

 

Don’t we deserve it?

I want to share two examples – one from the scriptures and one from my personal life – where we find an attitude that, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves in which will limit our potential, spiritual growth.

Several months ago I began a renewed study into the Book of Mormon and I have made slow but steady progress. It is slow because I have wanted to look more closely at the messages contained in the verses for experiences I can learn from. In 1 Nephi we see a constant struggle from Nephi and Lehi to teach and touch the hearts of their brethren or sons, Laman and Lemuel. At times, we in the Church depict Laman and Lemuel and wicked, slothful individuals who were so stubborn that even though they had many experiences that we would be changed by, they never seemed to change.

Whilst this may in part be true, we have to be cautious. There are, at times, moments in 1 Nephi where I think my personal reactions (and maybe some of your own) would be closer in nature to Laman and Lenuel’s than Nephi’s.

Shortly after Lehi’s Vision, and after Nephi’s own vision interpreting and unveiling many things, we find Nephi returning to the tent of his father. He finds them discussing here the things that Lehi has just taught. Pause to consider this – Laman and Lemuel, the brethren who were so reluctant to follow their father’s guidance from the Lord to leave Jerusalem, to retrieve the brass plates and other things, are seen here discussing the word of the Lord from Lehi and trying to understand the meaning of these words! Surely this is a massive step forward. But then we learn why they are discussing…we read in 1 Nephi 15:2-3:

And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.”

Nephi then quizzes his brothers further as to why they haven’t received this guidance. Let’s remember here: Laman and Lemuel are actually seeming to want to learn. However, it seems that they haven’t even thought to ask the Lord for its meaning. In fact, in verses 8-9 we read:

“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Laman and Lemuel were expecting an answer, despite not being close enough to the Lord to feel able to ask Him their questions. They wanted an answer, but they did not take the time to build a relationship with their Saviour to then be close enough to sense revelation when they sought it.

The experience from my personal life is from my mission and, actually, it is not one specific experience but something which happened often. I served my mission in the England Leeds Mission and (whilst I didn’t keep count of this) I think, out of all the questions I was ever asked, there was one that came up the most in our discussions. It was not “How many wives do you have?”, it was not “Are you really Christian?” and it was not “Where in Utah are you from?” – although I loved it when I was asked that one and then seeing the look at utter confusion when I told them I was from Manchester – I was a very popular companion to have for that reason. The most often question asked was not even “Do you not think that the purpose of our lives is the procurement and consumption of bacon?” (yes, that was a real and honest question I once had on a doorstep in York…). The question was “If God really existed, why he has let all these bad things happen to such and such who is one of the best people I know?”

In both these experiences, the asker is expecting an answer without being willing to grow closer to the Lord spiritually, in order to receive an answer.

In the talk I have been invited to base my remarks from by Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve, he made this statement:

“Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate Givers. The more we distance ourselves from Them, the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings. We are more prone to look around, identify inequities, and feel aggrieved—even offended—by the unfairness we perceive.”

 Is Life Fair?

This brings us to a question which even many of us in the Church have struggles over, even if we have an inordinate amount of faith in the Saviour. “Is Life Fair?”

Can we really say that life is fair, when there are thousands, even millions suffering in the world when they themselves have done no wrong?

Can we really say that life is fair, when no matter how careful one person is with their finances and they work so hard to provide for their families, that person could in the very next month find themselves struggling with debt due to circumstances outside of their control?

Can we really say that life is fair, when a person we know and love has lived the most righteous life possible and yet they still come up against the most difficult trials?

Whilst all of the above I have said is happening all around us, there is a much more striking reason for why life is not fair.

Elder Renlund went on to say:

Because they were distant from the Savior, Laman and Lemuel murmured, became contentious, and were faithless. They felt that life was unfair and that they were entitled to God’s grace. In contrast, because he had drawn close to God, Nephi must have recognized that life would be the most unfair for Jesus Christ.”

The further we are from the Saviour, the more we believe we are entitled to help and blessings from Him. Why is this? Because if we truly were closer to the Saviour, the more we would recognise how unfair it is that this perfect, compassionate, merciful man would have to endure more than any other person on this earth would ever have to endure, so that we could be forgiven for the errors we all make, be supported through our trials and experience the tragic events we have done (and will) experience.

Not only does the infinite Atonement allow all of us to receive enabling grace through the Saviour’s Atonement, but He has overcome all things for each and every one of us, of you. This is not just an infinite Atonement, but also an intimate Atonement. We read in Mosiah 15:10-11:

“And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?

Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed…”

The Saviour saw each one of usHe knows perfectly how weeel. And that is why, if we truly were close to the Saviour, we would feel that we all don’t deserve what He has done for us.

But oh, how grateful are we for the fact He has done this. Elder Renlund commented:

“The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him.”

The truth is that we all need to repent. Every single one of us. But despite the fact we all make mistakes, our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ did provide a Saviour for us. Why? Because our Heavenly Father (and our Saviour) love us with a perfect love. We all are in need of accepting this love and enabling grace through the Saviour’s infinite and intimate Atonement.

How can we stay true?

Despite knowing that we are so blessed to have this opportunity to draw closer to the Saviour and become changed through His enabling grace, we sometimes just may not think it is possible. We will be hit by challenges – some sent specifically by Satan to tempt and try us and some will simply by an effect of living in a fallen world – which can bring us to our knees. Elder Renlund said:

“Jesus did not say “if rain descends, if floods come, and if winds blow” but “when.” No one is immune from life’s challenges; we all need the safety that comes from partaking of the sacrament.”

Through the ordinances of the Gospel, administered by priesthood authority, we can draw closer to the Saviour, which will eventually bring us through life’s most difficult challenges. That is why the holy sacrament and sacred temple ordinances are vital because, without these we would struggle. And that is why we have an Area Plan which focuses on these key, regular events we can have (bringing a friend – sacrament, finding an ancestor – temple, both of which help us to become spiritually self-reliant).

In D&C 84:20 we read – Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”

To bring this post to a close, I’ll share an experience related by Elder Renlund in his address. He was speaking about a friend he has in South Africa who, through a simple mistake, was missed out by the priesthood holders in the sacrament worship. Another member noticed this and informed the Bishop, who invited her to a room to the side after the service. Elder Renlund went on further:

“A priesthood holder came in. He knelt down, blessed some bread, and handed her a piece. She ate it. He knelt down again and blessed some water and handed her a small cup. She drank it. Thereafter, Diane had two thoughts in rapid succession: First, “Oh, he [the priesthood holder] did this just for me.” And then, “Oh, He [the Savior] did this just for me.” Diane felt Heavenly Father’s love.”

When the sacrament is next passed to you by one holding the priesthood authority of God remember that, even though for convenience it was passed to the rest of the congregation, this miraculous opportunity to renew your covenants is offered just for you.

Draw closer to the Saviour through the sacred ordinances of the Gospel. Remember to take the sacrament and worship in the Temple often. As you do this, you will begin to draw closer to the Saviour, even if currently you feel so very far away. We are not “entitled” to blessings, as Laman and Lemuel believed, but we are fortunate that our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered all for us.

Jesus Christ has done everything for us – all he asks is that you come unto Him, and He will make your burdens light. He has promised us this and this is available to all, no matter who you are, because you are a child of God and He wants you to draw closer and return.

 

 

Case Study of Leadership: King Benjamin

One of the most incredible things about the Book of Mormon for me personally is the way we can receive guidance and direction from this text for many areas in our lives. It does not just guide us in spiritual matters of developing a relationship with God or develop our testimony of the Saviour – it also provides practical guidance.

One such example of this is the excellent case study of leadership that we find nestled in between the small plates of Nephi and the abridgement of the large plates of Nephi by Mormon himself. He begins the narrative of his abridgement by detailing the workings of King Benjamin. King Benjamin was described as an almost perfect leader. The manner in which he served left a legacy and indeed a great example for the rest of us to study. It begins in Words of Mormon 1:10-18:

10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.

Here we find straight away the type of leader that King Benjamin was. He did not simply ‘watch over the shop’ until the next person came to carry the responsibility on. He proactively worked on his stewardship and was diligent in his duties. Not only this, but it highlights King Benjamin’s value that he placed on the word of God. These were clearly of great import to him and it shows he recognised where great power came from.

11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.

12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.

King Benjamin’s people were not perfect and neither did they have a perfect time. They had their trials as has pretty much every civilisation in the history of mankind. Therefore, King Benjamin must have been a leader who listened and supported his people. I make this presumption because when his people gathered in later chapters in the book of Mosiah they were ready to change, they were willing to listen to this man of God – as such they must have respected him as a leader.

13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.

There’s a number of things to pick out from this verse. When King Benjamin ‘gathered together his armies’ he clearly enabled his followers to feel empowered and enthused to gather under his call. They came forward in numbers determined to defend their families and their lands. Also, ‘he did stand against them’ implies that he did not just direct the forces and instruct them on their duties, but he stood with them. He worked alongside those he served with, not ‘above’ them. We learn of this hands-on approach again with the phrase ‘and he did fight with the strength of his own arm…’. King Benjamin used his strength in defence of his people. Once again, he decided to give all he could to support those who others may have called those his ‘people’. However, it is clear from this that King Benjamin sw them as those he served, something very different from the general view.

14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.

However, despite putting all his efforts into serving the Nephites, once again there is recognition by Mormon, and by extension King Benjamin, where the true strength came from. They were able to contend because of their trust and the resultant blessings of the Lord.

15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;

16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people—

Interestingly, we then see another danger arise within the Nephite people, that of false prophets and false teachers. This time, King Benjamin again recognised the value of gathering and empowering the strength of others in his task. If he were to attempt to contend with the false truths being taught alone then he would have probably not been as successful. He was able to call upon help, delegating duties and tasks to those who could assist and therefore make the work more effective.

17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—

Not only did King Benjamin recognise where the source of true strength and power was but he also knew how to gain access to it – through righteousness and virtue. Because of this righteousness he developed, he was able to speak and teach with power and authority. How else could he deliver the sermon he gave towards the end of his life?

18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.

Finally, we see what I think sums up the 8 other points of a Model of a Leader well. King Benjamin laboured with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul. A true leader gives all for those he serves and ultimately, because of the attributes and skills developed as mentioned before, peace and prosperity reigned through the land.

If we want to see the evidence of King Benjamin’s leadership and the impact on his people, then you only have to look at the reaction to his call to the people to gather at the Temple to listen to his words. A great many people, so many that they could not be counted, gathered and their hearts were changed.

Filling Life with Light

As I was reading the Book of Mormon today there popped out a verse that seemed to have been put in there since I last read that section (that happens, right?)

It is found in Jacob 6:7 and it reads “For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?” This wonderful little verse identifies a key principle. As we go throughout life we have a days to live, hours to use the best we can. Life is a wonderful thing to live, however we need to make sure we use it wisely. How we fill our lives can have an impact on the decisions we make later on.

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that “How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes.” The more light we fill our lives with, the closer to the Saviour we will feel, the more we will feel of His Spirit and the more confident we will be when choices to sin arise to make the right choice. Not only this, but we will be able to avoid the cunning wiles of Satan, for they are not obvious or apparent at times. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained “Who is it that is deceived in this Church? Not the man who has been faithful in the discharge of duty; not the man who has made himself acquainted with the word of the Lord; not the man who has practiced the commandments given in these revelations; but the man who is not acquainted with the truth, the man who is in spiritual darkness, the man who does not comprehend and understand the principles of the Gospel.” We cannot allow ourselves to not study the word of the Lord for our lives will have an impact on it. It isn’t impossible but it is certainly more likely that we will try and do good around us if we study the words of the prophets – words that testify of Christ and His divine character; a character that we can try to pattern our lives after.

Very recently, President Thomas S. Monson, current President of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a very simple but powerful promise. He said “If you are not reading the Book of Mormon each day, please do so. If you will read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, the Holy Ghost will manifest its truth to you…I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day.” The definition of the word ‘implore’ is “beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something” – the prophet of the Lord is begging us – all of us – to read the Book of Mormon everyday. There are many reasons for this but one of them is clear – to fill our life with more light. Please read the Book of Mormon for yourself everyday, it will fill your life with more light also.