Journey through the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 14 (What Man?)

“9 Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?

10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Today in my Sunday School class we spoke about the Savior’s use of metaphors/parables and also his use of questions. These verses illustrate the savior’s brilliant teaching approach. Here, he uses rhetorical questions that are modeled after real world scenarios. He wants to invoke in his listeners a visceral reaction. He doesn’t want passive listeners.

For most, his questions invoke a memory of a kindly parent or efforts to be generous and loving to one’s kids. These emotions crescendo in his declaration that we are evil. The natural man within us wants to resist. The natural man wants to believe that it is good and righteous. Yet, the light of Christ within us testifies of the truth of his words. And it is this tension that pushes the listener to self reflection. Ideally, it pushes the listener to recognize the goodness of God and to turn to him.

We can learn much more the Savior’s rhetoric and his questions.

Exchanging Guilt for Faith 

 I’ve now been a member of the Church for nearly 8 years, and in that time I’ve tried talking to all of my friends and to everyone I come in contact with about the Gospel. Despite that I’ve seen none of my friends express any real interest. And I haven’t experienced any miracles of that type spoken of in conference. For that reason, Elder Anderson’s talk on missionary work really resonated with me:

“Even with a strong desire to share the gospel, you may be less than happy with the success of your past efforts. You may feel like a friend who said, ‘I have talked to our family and friends about the Church, but few have shown any interest, and with each rejection, I have become more hesitant. I know I should do more, but I am stuck, and all I feel is enormous guilt.’”

I’ve not had success that fits into missionary statistics. Nevertheless, in that time I’ve also had incredible conversations about faith. I’ve been able to touch and strengthen others in ways that I would not have been able to otherwise. And I’ve been able to keep my desire and fire for missionary work strong. 

Elder Anderson warned that while guilt may be a motivator at first, we cannot continue onward with drive and purpose without a more powerful fuel:

“I suggest that you stop feeling guilty about any insufficiency you think you have in sharing the gospel. Rather, pray, like Alma taught, for opportunities ‘to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places … that [others] may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, [and] have eternal life.’ This is a much stronger motivation than guilt.”

If we continue to have faith in the message of the Gospel and in its power to bless others, then continued missionary work becomes easy. Despite discouragement or failure, we can continue resolute in our journey. We can never give up because we understand how great the stakes are, both for ourselves and others.

You Can Make It!

I loved Elder Cornish’s hopeful message that we truly can and will make it back to God through the power of the Atonement of Christ. As Elder Cornish notes, it is easy to often get discouraged when we fall short of God’s perfect standards. It is easy to begin to wonder whether we are good enough.

“As with my own experience, our members often ask, ‘Am I good enough as a person?’ or ‘Will I really make it to the celestial kingdom?’ Of course, there is no such thing as ‘being good enough.’ None of us could ever ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ our salvation, but it is normal to wonder if we are acceptable before the Lord, which is how I understand these questions.”

At times, we can see the teachings at Church as disheartening because we recognize our failings. But the Lord does not want us to experience frustration. Instead, he simply wants us to be encouraged to get better:

“Sometimes when we attend church, we become discouraged even by sincere invitations to improve ourselves. We think silently, ‘I can’t do all these things’ or ‘I will never be as good as all these people.'”
Elder Cornish lays out the solution. That solution involves turning to God and seeking comfort from him rather than comparing our selves to others. It involves trusting him and his merits and grace:

“Please, my beloved brothers and sisters, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. We torture ourselves needlessly by competing and comparing. We falsely judge our self-worth by the things we do or don’t have and by the opinions of others. If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future. The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us. Please sincerely ask Him what He thinks of you. He will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.”

If we turn to God and ask him what he thinks of us, then we can also know that we have reason to hope. We can also know that we will make it back to God.

“Let me be direct and clear. The answers to the questions ‘Am I good enough?’ and ‘Will I make it?’are ‘Yes! You are going to be good enough’ and ‘Yes, you are going to make it as long as you keep repenting and do not rationalize or rebel.’ The God of heaven is not a heartless referee looking for any excuse to throw us out of the game. He is our perfectly loving Father, who yearns more than anything else to have all of His children come back home and live with Him as families forever. He truly gave His Only Begotten Son that we might not perish but have everlasting life!1 Please believe, and please take hope and comfort from, this eternal truth. Our Heavenly Father intends for us to make it! That is His work and His glory.”

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 13 (Take no Thought)

25 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
In the Sermon on the Temple Jesus directs these remarks squarely to his disciples. 

I have always loved these verses for the bigger picture message that God will take care of us as we trust in him. As I worried about how I could afford law school without parental support as I contemplated leaving on a mission, these verses provided me with great comfort. I knew God would provide a way.

Yet, there is a danger if we take these verses to an extreme and begin to believe that God will simply give us things without effort or preparation on our part. God wants us to labor diligently over our stewardship. We cannot put off difficult labor and expect that God or others will provide. Such is the pathway to bitterness and disillusionment.

By directing his words to his disciples who are chosen to preach full time, the Savior makes clear that we are to be anxiously engaged in our daily labors. But we are to trust that ultimately God knows all things and will provide.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 12 (More Blessed)

Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.

2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.

Jesus begins his great sermon at the temple with an injunction to listen to those 12 disciples that he has chosen. And promised that all of us who take heed to the Lord’s anointed will be blessed. He also emphasizes that those who come after his earthly ministry will be even more blessed because we are willing to hearken unto the words of Christ’s special witnesses and be baptized with humbleness of heart.

This framework changes the following familiar text in significant ways. No longer is the sermon being given to those I commuted to Christ as General guidance. Instead, the principles of the sermon on the mount are framed as guidelines to discipleship within the Church and on the Gospel path.

Other differences underscore this point. For instance verse six focuses on receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a token of membership:

“6 And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.”

Again when later focusing on reconciliation with other brothers and sisters, the focus is on coming to Christ:

24 Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.

Finally, the crowning change of this chapter comes in the final verse as the savior acknowledges his own perfection in a way that he did not during his mortal ministry:

“48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”

This whole chapter is therefore transformed in light of its Christcentric framework. I am so grateful for the new depth and meaning that this transformation brings.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 11 (Arise and Come Forth)

14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.15 And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.
16 And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:

17 Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.

These chapters are the Crown Jewels of the Book of Mormon. From its first pages the Prophets saw this event. So many wished to be able to see the savior face to face. And here he was.

One of the Savior’s first acts among the Nephites is to invite all those who saw him to come and personally feel the prints on his hands and feet. This is instructive for us. The Savior extends a similar invitation to us. We are invited to personally come and feel. We are invited to come and know for ourselves.

We may not see Christ in the flesh, but we have just as real and opportunity to come and know Christ. Our knowledge can be just as sure as if we were able to personally touch and feel. I am so greateful for that opportunity and blessing.

Meeting Jesus and Being Transformed

In the April 1974 conference, President Monson spoke movingly of the example of the savior and “the capacity of the Redeemer to change men’s lives.” His description of the power of the savior to change others is memorable:

“We discover he is more than the babe in Bethlehem, more than the carpenter’s son, more than the greatest teacher ever to live. We come to know him as the Son of God. He never fashioned a statue, painted a picture, wrote a poem, or led an army. He never wore a crown or held a scepter or threw around his shoulder a purple robe. His forgiveness was unbounded, his patience inexhaustible, his courage without limit. Jesus changed men. He changed their habits, their opinions, their ambitions. He changed their tempers, their dispositions, their natures. He changed men’s hearts.”

But what stood out to me most in President Monson’s talk was his discussion regarding Paul. President Monson describes Saul of Tarsus as a ” scholar, familiar with the rabbinical writings.” We don’t often think of Saul as a scholar but this is a fair description given his study under the tutelage of the great rabbi Gamaliel. Yet as President Monson notes “these writings did not reach Paul’s need, and he kept on crying, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24.)

This is an unusual way to use Paul’s declaration of Romans. But ultimately it goes a long way towards explaining Saul’s miraculous conversion. Even though Paul was faithfully observing his faith, he felt a certain lacking or discomfort. Ultimately, I believed that we all feel that sense of discomfort when we are not living according to the teachings of Christ and his Church. We feel a longing for something more.  And that longing keeps us searching, hoping, and praying.

For me, no matter how often I studied or worshiped I felt something missing. The deepest philosophical teachings on the world provided only cold comfort. At times, I was not even aware of the longing. But when I first encountered the teachings of Christ, it filled a hole I didn’t know was there.

President Monson’s talk connected me to Paul and to his conversion. With Saul/Paul I can also say that “one day [I] met Jesus, and behold, all things became new.”