Sunday, October 18, 2020

Book Review: Miracles Among the Rubble, by Carol R. Gray

 Book Review: Miracles Among the Rubble - Bringing Convoys of Humanitarian Aid, Hugs, and Hope to a War-torn Region, by Carol R. Gray

Miracles Among the Rubble: Bringing Convoys of Humanitarian Aid, Hugs, and Hope to a War-torn Region

This is very different from many of the recent book reviews I've done. Most of the books I review tend towards gospel teachings or the scriptures. In this book, published by Greg Kofford Books, we get an entirely new experience. It is a semi-autobiographical look at some of Carol's experiences leading convoys of humanitarian aid to the devastated areas of Bosnia and Croatia, during the civil war with the Serbs.

The book is divided into 26 short chapters, each describing a trip to Bosnia, bringing truckloads of food, medical supplies, clean water, and other needed assistance to the region. The chapters share the heartbreak of war and the hope that is renewed by Carol and her crew of volunteers, as they travel from England, across Europe, and to the dangerous regions.

However, the book starts unexpectedly with an unrelated, but key, event in Carol's life. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 29. She was only to have weeks left to live. It helped her to focus on the most important things, such as family. Six years later, as a Relief Society president in England, she became focused on the Balkan war. The Spirit whispered to her to help, so she found a charity that would transport items to Bosnia that she could obtain, by rallying Latter-day Saint members from her region. As the day approached to hand the supplies over to the Charity organization, they rescinded their offer of transporting the donations.

Distraught over this news, she prayed as to what to do next. The Spirit gave her the inspiration to obtain some trucks and volunteers and drive the supplies to Bosnia herself. That first trip turned into over 40 trips over several years, often bringing a dozen or more large trucks of aid to areas close to the front lines of the war.

Her first trip was taken with her college age daughter, Samantha, who eagerly agreed to go with her mother. As some of the truck drivers were happy to drop off their supplies at the border, Carol sensed she needed to go further into the country, where the most destitute would be found, and ensuring the items got into the hands of the needy, rather being placed on the black market.

In the chapters, she describes various people she met, dangers in traveling due to hidden landmines, shelling and machine gun fire. On more than one occasion, she found herself driving over makeshift bridges, put together with tires, oil barrels and planks of wood. All of her chapters end with a spiritual message of a truth she and others learned on the trips.

For example, for one trip, she was asked to bring toiletries and cleaning supplies. It was for a new village that was quickly built for about 100 women and their children. Carol was surprised to find that the women and children had been freed from the Serbian rape camps. The women and children feared men, and so the men on the convoy initially stood apart, until the Bosnian women personally welcomed them into their village.

On another trip, a Bosnian friend of Carol had opened her home on the Dalmatian Coast to the injured. Carol's friend worked tirelessly, comforting the wounded soldiers and civilians who found their way to her house. Carol could not imagine how a beautiful place as this, could be so uprooted by violence. It showed her that people in dire situations can make a huge difference for others.

Even those driving in the convoys  were often changed by the experience. Carol notes a man named Fred, who was an alcoholic and close to losing his family and work. He begged to drive with her. The experience changed him greatly, as he hugged and comforted children and others, who really needed a shoulder to cry on. After the trip, he had sworn off drinking and returned to his family and work.

Another gentleman, who was in the military and was very stern and strict, told her that he was not a hugger. However, over the two week trip, his heart softened. As they pulled into their first Bosnian village, he jumped from the truck and began hugging the people. 

She also shares how triumph can come from tragedy. In one place, she heard a child screaming. As she went to check it out, she found that the child's leg was being amputated, the child having stepped on a landmine. The surgery was being performed without anesthesia, as there was none available. This shook Carol. She thought and dreamed about it all the way back to England. Once there, she prepared a convoy of medical equipment needed in Bosnia.  

Each time a special item was required, the Lord provided it to her, often just in the nick of time. She describes the doors that opened for her, as she saw a new need appear. Her list of miracles in the book is quite impressive, even though they obviously do not begin to number all the miracles that occurred in the lives of the drivers, the medical personnel, and especially, the people of Bosnia.

Carol finally succumbed to cancer in 2010, and the book was lovingly finished by her daughter, Samantha.

After reading this book, I stopped to reflect on the service I have given. Was it enough? Was I willing to enter into dangerous places, in order to serve those most in need? Was I willing to give up some of my creature comforts and idle time to make a difference in the lives of others?

It brought me pause. 

I highly recommend this book. It will make you uncomfortable, as it did for me. Yet, it will also enrich you, seeing that one person can make a big difference in bringing Christ-like love and service to others that perhaps live far away and are currently strangers. It doesn't require us to enter war-torn nations to experience such things as Carol writes in her book. It can be those affected by wildfires, hurricanes, floods, poverty, or hatred. But this book becomes a wonderful eye-opener to the possibilities of what each of us could do to bring down a little heaven on earth to those in true need.

 

Available at:

Greg Kofford Books

Amazon


Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 27-4 Nephi

Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 27-4 Nephi

 

The Things of God, Man and the Devil
3 Nephi 27

The twelve disciples fasted and prayed, wishing to know what the Church should be called.  Obviously, there was contention on the matter among the members of the Church, and perhaps even among the Twelve.  Sadly, this occurred even after Jesus commanded them not to contend when he first visited in 3 Nephi 11. The Lord reappeared, telling them to stop their disputing.  He explained that if a church is named after Moses or someone else, then it belongs to that person.  Therefore,


“…if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Ne 27:8).


This might seem like a no brainer issue, but something similar happened in Paul’s day (1 Corinthians 3).  Even in the early days of the Church, it changed its name from “The Church of Christ” to “The Church of Latter-day Saints” and finally to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, but only after the Lord commanded it.


“For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). 


Because of the name change away from the Church of Christ in the 1830s, there were some members in Kirtland Ohio that felt the Church had strayed from its roots and believed Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet.  This is how important a name can be, anciently and today. There is purpose in our modern prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, calling us to use the full name of the Church of Jesus Christ, and not to call ourselves Mormons. While Mormon rolls easier off the tongue, it isn't descriptive of what our Church really is all about. Nonmembers often are surprised to find we are Christian, because they only know us by the nickname. It is imperative that we pronounce firmly and decisively that we are not followers of Mormon, but are the disciples of Jesus Christ, seeking to be saints in these last days before the Second Coming of Christ in glory.

But just because a church calls itself after Christ’s name, does not mean it is his Church. It must also be “built upon my (Jesus’) gospel.”  To the extent that a church strays from that directive, it is less and less the Lord’s church.  A Church built upon the gospel will show forth the Father’s works.


if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. For their works do follow them, for it is because of their works that they are hewn down; therefore remember the things that I have told you” (3 Ne 27:11-12).


Here, the Lord gives us an insight on not only the churches that are in the world, but all organizations and things found on earth.  All things are founded upon the Lord’s gospel, man’s gospel, or Satan’s gospel.  Of the three, only the Lord’s gospel promises eternal joy and peace.  The other two are temporary, and one may find “joy” {perhaps “pleasure” is a better word} in those things. But eventually the things of man corrode and fall apart, while the works of Satan will all end tragically.

How do we determine the things of man?  A simple illustration might help us see this.  Many eons ago, my youngest son asked me to buy him the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game for his Nintendo system.  He told me that it would make him the happiest person on earth.  So, for his birthday, I purchased it for him. Indeed, he seemed like the happiest kid in the world when he unwrapped it.  For days he played the game, almost without stop.  After a couple weeks, I noticed he wasn’t playing it. I asked him why he wasn’t.  He responded that he now had beaten the game several times and was bored with it.  No longer did I see the face of the happiest kid in the world, but someone who needed his next “fix.”  In a world of avarice and greed, this is now ubiquitous. Today, we find people looking for happiness in the things they buy or rent, the number of vacations they have, the number of kills on their current video game, the nice restaurants they frequent, the size of their house and SUV. Yet, even though most Americans are wealthier now than when my son was 8 years old, they are more miserable than ever. Pleasure does not equal lasting joy.

Meanwhile the scriptures explain to us that the things of God fill us with the Holy Spirit, which brings us joy and peace.  King Benjamin insisted that happiness only comes from turning to Christ and His gospel, believing and repenting, then receiving the ordinances and the Holy Ghost as a constant companion (Mosiah 2-5).  A person who continually walks with the Spirit never becomes bored with spiritual experiences, even though they may come in very simple packaging and little fanfare or marketing.

Meanwhile, the things of Satan addict people to evil.  Whether it is sexual perversion, violence, greed, or any other immoral practice, does not matter. Satan gives the person big sensations to experience.  Such feelings are often addictive, which is why people become addicted to sex, drugs, violence, and a variety of other things.  Once ensnared, Satan no longer has a need to support the person, and allows the person’s world to collapse. Satan is miserable and seeks to make the rest of us miserable with him (2 Nephi 2).

It is possible that some churches work under the power of God, or partially under his blessing.  It may be that others work under the doctrine of man’s gospel – not evil, but not virtuous, either.  Then there are some practices and beliefs that are totally wicked.  Here are the three choices set before most of us: Telestial, Terrestrial or Celestial life.

I am lifted up

Jesus continues by explaining, 


“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.   And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.   And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Ne 27:15-17).


All men will return back into the presence of God, to be judged of their works.  There are two parts of this judgment: those who repent and are baptized, and those who endure to the end.  The first part notes the Justification of Christ’s atonement.  Those who believe and repent (symbolized by baptism) are made guiltless, or sinless.  They are saved from Outer Darkness and spiritual death.  Meanwhile, those who also seek to endure to the end, keeping the commandments and being righteous, are Sanctified by Christ’s atonement and the Holy Ghost.  As a person seeks to grow in righteousness, they receive a greater portion of the Holy Ghost, making the person more holy and sanctified than before.

For those who do not believe, repent, nor endure to the end, there is only one place for them: Outer Darkness.  Because we have this life and the Spirit World, we have time to be justified and rescued from eternal hell fire.  However, the longer we wait, the less time we will have to become sanctified to a higher level of heaven than just the Telestial.  So, it is important not to waste our probationary period here on earth.  These teachings are made clearer by Jesus:


And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end (Justification)  Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (Sanctification)” (3 Ne 27:19-20).


Jesus then explains we are judged from the books.  The apostle John noted that the Book of Life AND the books of works were brought forth in the final judgment.  Those who have been Justified are found in the Book of Life.  Those not found in the Book of Life are cast out into Outer Darkness.  For those who are in the Book of Life, they are then judged according to the books of works, to determine how holy and sanctified the individual has become (Revelation 20:12-15).

Transfiguration and Translation
3 Nephi 28

The Twelve desired a gift.  Nine of them wanted to live to old age, and then be received into heaven. They were granted this blessing.  However, three of the group wished to dwell upon the earth until the last day. 


Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.  And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.  And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand: (3 Ne 28:7-9).


Here we learn some important concepts of Translation:
1.       They do not “taste of death.”    It means they will not experience death.  They shall die and be reborn in a twinkling of an eye, so quick there is not time to experience what death is.
2.       They will live in a translated state until God accomplishes all of his work and Christ comes in glory at his Second Coming.
3.       Satan has no power over them.
4.       They do not endure normal pain, but will experience the pains and sorrows of the world.  Experiencing sorrow for the sins of the world seems to suggest they somehow experience, at least in part, the sorrow and pain Jesus felt in taking upon himself the sins of the world.

We are told that the translation experience required they be transfigured or changed from a mortal to an immortal body.  Transfiguration is normally expressed in temporary events, such as when Moses or Joseph Smith saw God.  They both returned to their mortal state, but weakened from the experience.  For those who are translated, the transfiguration is a permanent transformation, making them holy and sanctified both spirit and body.  Though not resurrected, they are in between the resurrected and mortal states.

For these three, this was an ascension event.  They likely were brought up to the throne of God where the change from mortal to immortal was made.  It is actually an event that is anticipated in the LDS endowment, when the members are asked to put the temple robes on top of their normal white clothing.  This change from mortal appearance to immortal appearance, or to a transfigured or translated or resurrected state, is important to recognize.

Mormon speaks to us of the forthcoming Book of Mormon
3 Nephi 29-30

Mormon returns to share his thoughts with us.  He focuses on the works of his hands, the abridgment of the large plates of Nephi.  He explains briefly the main and key events and teachings therein.  The Lord lives and all which his prophets have foretold will come to pass.  When the Book of Mormon comes forth, then Israel would no longer be spurned by God.  Since its publication in 1830, we see that the Jews are returning to Israel. They again have their own nation.  Hundreds of thousands of Lamanites (both direct DNA and cultural descendants) have read the Book of Mormon and know that they are of the House of Israel.

Can you imagine how that sounded at the time Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated Mormon’s words?  Only a handful of people believed in the work they were doing.  No one but Joseph saw the metal plates until the Three Witnesses. The early Saints were persecuted and driven from place to place, and still there is this prophecy in the book itself stating that its words would come to the House of Israel, and help prepare them for the Second Coming!


And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel. And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.  And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you” (3 Ne 29:2-4).


With the coming of the Book of Mormon, God is beginning to fulfill his work and covenant with Israel.  What a bold statement to make, if this book were made by a fraud.  Instead, we see it coming true.

One thing Mormon does warn Israel and Gentile alike: do not take lightly the revelations and miracles of God.


Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!  Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!” (3 Ne 29:6-7).


In chapter 30, Mormon briefly calls upon the Gentiles to repent.  They must become a part of spiritual Israel, or be destroyed at his Second Coming.  The path is as described many times in the Book of Mormon: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism for remission of sins, and receiving the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Fourth Nephi – the Nephite Millennial Zion

In Fourth Nephi, we begin by seeing the results of the great destruction among the Nephites, followed by the coming of the resurrected Lord, and finally through the teaching of the Twelve.  People throughout the lands of the Nephites and Lamanites repent.  They have a “Millennium” of more than 200 years, before things begin to break down.

What constitutes the key factors behind this Zion period?

1.       “... And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost”
2.       “…the people were all converted unto the Lord” – not just a few. One cannot have a Zion, if some of the people are not converted, truly converted, to the Lord.
3.       “…there were no contentions and disputations among them” – note they had contentions over baptism and the name of the Church, which Jesus had to settle for them.  Now, there were no contentions. Satan had no power over this people.
4.       “…every man did deal justly one with another.”   There were no Gadianton robbers seeking to get gain or advantage over another.  All were honest in their dealings with their fellow man.
5.       “And they had all things common among them….”  Note, this does not say whether the material goods were taken by government via taxes and redistributed.  More likely, they distributed to the poor via the Twelve disciples or an organization set up by them to manage it (local teachers and priests?).
6.       “…they were all made free….”  There were neither slaves nor servants among them. Remember, much of Nephite history deals with one form of slavery or another:  Lamanites seeking to enslave Nephites, Zoramites enslaving their poor, Gadiantons enslaving those who would not join them.
7.      "...There were no more -Ites..." People were not judged by class, race, culture, or nationality. Instead of looking at each other's differences, they were united by the things they had in common, most of all their faith in Christ. Today, we are so very far from this concept. We seek to divide ourselves, in order to make ourselves special and different from others. We declare our gender, our sexuality, our culture, our race, our wealth, our nationality. What Jesus wants from us is to recognize that each of us is a special and loved daughter or son of Heavenly Parents, and Jesus is our salvation.
 
8.  They were all “partakers of the heavenly gift”.  This is a phrase that we could spend lots of pages writing about.  The heavenly gift?  Is it the Holy Ghost?  The 2nd Comforter?  Perhaps.  But I think it more suggests the concept of Zion as a model of heaven.  Enoch’s Zion was made perfect, the whole people were translated (like the 3 Nephites just mentioned above), and Zion was lifted up and taken to heaven.  It was made into a Celestial temple.  Now, the Nephites had their own Celestial temple here on earth.  The heavenly gift is to dwell in unity among a Zion people, who have all things in common – material and spiritual things, who are all converted to Christ, and who are ready to become one with the Godhead. We discussed in the last lesson about us becoming part of the Divine Council of God, united and One, even as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are One. If we wish to partake of the heavenly gift, we must make ourselves ready to receive it.

And so we see that Christ’s teachings have led us to this point, where we find the people, no longer Nephites and Lamanites, but the people of Christ, living as the pure in heart in a perfect society of love, harmony and peace. They are as the Divine Council of seraphim in heaven (Isaiah 6), who are all agreed and focus on the things of God. They are of one heart and one mind.

Sadly, it only lasts a few centuries.  Then greed, contention and worldly desires set in.  The people quickly devolve from the finest in the world to the worst the world has ever known.  Once a people have been so enlightened by truth and witnessed Christ as they did, they can never again put the genie back into the bottle and be regular people.  There is only one direction, and that is straight down, as if they got too close to the edge of heaven, slipped, and fell straight to hell.

Herein we see a prophecy of the world today.  A people are led by God to discover the promised land. They prosper when they follow God, and suffer when they disobey their covenant with him.  They eventually come to a great destruction, followed by the Coming of Christ and a Millennial reign.  Afterward, Satan is loosed for a season, wherein the demons will gather those sons of perdition to his side.  All of this leads to a grand and ultimate fight at the end of the world, with the wicked destroyed, and the world is prepared for a new, reborn, people: a Celestial people living on a now Celestial earth.
 

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 20-25

 

  Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 20-25
 
The Sacrament again
3 Nephi 20

Jesus provides the bread and wine to the Nephites.  He administers to his twelve apostles, who then administered to the twelve groups of Nephites.  As noted in previous lessons, while baptism sometimes seems like an individual ordinance and covenant, we see in the renewal of those covenants via the Sacrament that it is a communal experience.  The people renew their covenants as a group.  This is part and parcel of Christ’s desire to make them one people, by having them covenant together as one.
 
Note that in this instance, Jesus blessed and gave the Sacrament to his Twelve, who were then commanded to bless the Sacrament and give it to the people. Here, Jesus is showing His Order. He does all things through his servants that is possible. While we seek God individually through prayer, study and meditation, there is a communal component to salvation that requires us to go through the proper chain that Christ has set forth.  
 
We can get close to Christ and be saved on an individual basis, but we cannot be exalted alone.  For example, Alma the Younger was able to escape hell by personally praying to the Lord for rescue, but when he saw the light, he saw Lehi with God and the Divine Council from a distance. Alma wished to be with them. This part required becoming part of the community, the divine council. To become part of the Community of God, one must become one with others in a communal covenant. This communal covenant is represented by the Sacrament, and shows that it is through Christ's flesh and blood AND through priesthood power (the Twelve, in this case) administering ordinances that we become one covenant people.

Jesus teaches of Isaiah

Afterwards, Jesus commands the people to study the words of Isaiah, especially in regards to the Lord’s promises with Israel (as we read in 3 Ne 16:18-20).


“…when they (Isaiah’s words) shall be fulfilled then is the fulfilling of the covenant which the Father hath made unto his people, O house of Israel” (3 Ne 20:12).


Isaiah foresaw the coming of the gospel to the Gentiles, their later apostasy. Now the Lord would return the covenant to the house of Israel and the few humble Gentiles that continue to believe.  The final gathering of Israel will occur at that time.  Currently, we are primarily involved in the spiritual gathering of Israel.  In the last times, we will see the physical gathering of Israel.  They will come to know their Lord and follow him.

As for the Gentiles, if they reject God and work against Israel, the Lord tells the Nephites:


Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver….And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles….And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people (Israel); yea, even I will be in the midst of you.” (3 Ne 20:16-22).


Israel (whether the Jews or the descendants of the house of Joseph, etc.) will have the covenant with God.  He will make them powerful and lead them to victory.  Only those Gentiles who humble themselves and repent shall avoid the destructions of the last days.

Again, Jesus references the covenant with Abraham.  This covenant is all about the people as a group, and not an individual.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob symbolize the Godhead, and Israel are their children, invited to be the Divine Council.  When Israel learns to be one as a covenant people, they become holy and God can dwell in their midst.  In conjunction with the Abrahamic covenant, the Lord quotes Isaiah to place a well known quote into the context of the covenant people:


And then shall they say: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings unto them, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings unto them of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!” (3 Ne 20:40, Isa 52:7).

This is how the Divine Council will acclaim God's glory in these days and in the last days. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah was transported to the Celestial Temple, where he saw the chief angels (seraphim) surrounding the throne of God, praising Him and his works. After being cleansed, Isaiah joins the Divine Council and takes active part in bringing to pass God's plan. 3 Nephi 20:40 is a hymn or psalm from the Divine Council to their Lord Jesus Christ, and if we are true, we will also be invited to join that council someday.


Depart from Babylon


“And then shall a cry go forth: Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch not that which is unclean; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (3 Ne 20:41).


Here we see two concepts: leaving Babylon behind (both physically and spiritually).  Babylon represents the evils and sins of the world.  The Gentiles will forsake God in exchange for the wealth and prestige of Babylon.  They will spiritually decay and canker.

The “vessels of the Lord” represents the holy items connected to the Temple or Tabernacle (Ark of the Covenant, table of shewbread, Mercy Seat, Menorah, etc).  When the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, they took with them a portable temple, the Tabernacle of Moses.  The priests and Levites were the only ones allowed to carry the sacred items from one site to another.  Once reestablished, the priests were to offer sacrifice and perform other important ordinances within the holy sanctuary.  Whether carrying incense burners or the Ark of the Covenant, the priesthood holders were expected to be clean or holy.  When one priest offered strange fire to the Lord, he was destroyed.  As the Ark of the Covenant was being carried and tipped a little, a Levite tried to steady the ark. Since he was not allowed to touch it, he was not clean nor allowed to be near the ark.  The Lord destroyed him, as well. 

That these comments are tied to the Sacrament helps us to know just how sacred the bread and cup are. We are to be holy, as if we were to take upon ourselves the Ark of the Covenant, or to stand within the Holy of Holies in front of God's Mercy Seat between the two cherubim.

There are many Gentiles among us today who seek to steady the ark, even though they have not the authority.  Many heavily criticize the doctrines and teachings, the Brethren and other leaders, whom the critics see as weak or foolish.  These doctrines and leaders are not required to be perfect.  They are expected to be clean.  In humbly seeking to be holy, the Lord sanctifies them.  Meanwhile those who offer strange fire or steady the ark will find that the Lord will destroy them someday, if they do not humble themselves and repent. Our responsibility is not to divide the people of God, but to join ourselves to them, even if we have differences. We are to join our strengths to the people of God in humility, following his servants who are authorized of God, knowing that God will work out the imperfections over time.

The Gentiles and Israel
3 Nephi 21


“...it behooveth the Father that it should come forth from the Gentiles, that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles, for this cause that the Gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent and come unto me and be baptized in my name and know of the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel;
And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel” (3 Ne 21:6-7).


The Lord gives the sign of the last days to Israel.  The Gentiles will receive the writings of the Nephites and deliver them to the lost tribes of Israel.  At that time, the fulfilling of the covenant with Israel shall commence.  When the Gentiles, by and large, reject the gospel truths they once embraced, then the house of Israel will be restored completely to the covenant.  Those Gentiles who humble themselves will become a part of the house of Israel.  This includes most of the members of European, Asian, and African heritage.
 
Finally, the Lord will do away with Babylon.  It will be destroyed.  Anyone involved with the enticements of Babylon risk being destroyed.  

In this last day, Jesus states that the “work of the Father shall commence.”  It is a work that is tied directly with the believers and followers, those of the spiritual and physical house of Israel. They shall learn, as a people, to call upon the Father in Jesus’ name.  This work is one of spiritually converting and physically gathering Israel to the promised lands: Jerusalem and Zion.  It is to make us one people, a Divine Council. The righteous will not have to leave in haste, as Lot had to escape Sodom.  But they will gather under the power of God in Zion and her stakes, as well as the Jews in Jerusalem.  This will be the refuge for the righteous. They will learn to be united, or they will not be Zion. Once united as a people, they then can be accepted by Christ as His people, and welcomed into the holy councils of God.

3 Nephi 23
 
Jesus again encourages the people to study the words of Isaiah. In the Book of Mormon we've been encouraged many times to study Isaiah. Nephi and Jacob quote him. Abinadi explains Isaiah's teachings on the Suffering Servant, and whose feet are blessed on the mountains for publishing peace. Yet, so many of us are leery to study Isaiah, because his prose and teachings seem so complex and confusing. We are as first graders given the challenge to learn algebra. The secret is not to give up, but to improve our focus. Seek the guidance of mentors, tutors, teachers, and experts. Little by little, we gain a greater grasp of what Isaiah teaches, until we are no longer first graders, but have become experts ourselves in spiritual algebra.

Jesus then peruses the records. Clearly, writings are of utmost importance. What records are we preparing and saving for future generations? Perhaps a refocus on writing occasionally in our journal, or blogging about key important spiritual issues, teachings and events (as I do with my blog here) is needed.

Note that Jesus finds that the teachings of Samuel the Lamanite are missing from the record. I gain two insights from this. First, what is missing from my own records that I need to write down and share? Is it time to write my life's spiritual history? What needs to be included in it and not left out?

Second, the Nephites did not include an important set of prophecies in their writings. Why? Did they presume the Lamanites would maintain their own records? Were they a bit prejudiced against Lamanites preaching to Nephites? While we do not have the answer, the question is important and can help us to consider those we exclude in our own lives.

3 Nephi 24-25

Malachi's prophesies regarding the Coming of Christ are the only ones found in all four books of Latter-day Saint scripture. In this instance, Jesus is already with the Nephites. He has come suddenly to his temple in Bountiful. Now he casts their minds to the future, when the final fulfillment of this prophesy will come to pass. There will be a great Coming of Christ to all the world, and it will be similar to His Coming in glory to the Nephites. It will be preceded by great destruction. Isaiah notes that the Sun and Moon will be darkened (Isa 13:10).  

We have seen some of this prophecy come to pass. Jewish tradition for Passover is to set aside a chair at the Seder (sacred dinner) for Elijah. A child is sent to the front door to check if he has arrived.  For Latter-day Saints, Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple during Passover (D&C 110). He gave them the power to turn the hearts of the fathers and children to one another, so that the earth would not be wasted at Christ's coming.  That power includes the sealing powers that united families and friends together for eternity in the Temples of God. This is God's work to create a united Zion people, a Divine Council, an eternal family all sealed to God through Christ.
 
As of this writing, there are 168 temples throughout the world. Twenty more will have ground breaking ceremonies in 2020. Others are in construction phases or recently announced. Brigham Young once foresaw that there would be hundreds of temples during the Millennium, with the work of God feverishly being done day and night, to offer up the ordinances of exaltation to any living or  deceased person willing to receive them. This is the work that is turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, as their children bring saving ordinances to their deceased ancestors. It is no wonder that during this time of Corona Virus quarantine, we are still encouraged to seek out our ancestors through genealogical research, and prepare them for the day when they also can have their ordinances performed vicariously, once the temples fully reopen again.

Meanwhile, we reach towards our children through home church, supported by programs and Sacrament meetings held in our chapels. 

We are building a Zion people on both sides of the veil. We are preparing a covenant people, ready to be One in Christ, a Divine Council.






Sunday, September 27, 2020

Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 17-19

 Come Follow Me: 3 Nephi 17-19



Pondering upon the words of Christ
3 Nephi 17


“Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again” (3 Nephi 17:3).


Jesus is giving the Nephites a temple experience.  They have seen God.  He gave them new power and authority, as well as a new baptism ordinance.  He received them by this covenant (and soon will do so with the Sacramental bread and wine), healed their sick, invited all believers to touch his hands and feet as a witness that he is the Christ.

Now, he wants them to go home and ponder this experience.  As with the modern temple initiate, the first experience with the endowment is like drinking from a fire hose.  One cannot understand it all in one sitting.  We do not begin to understand Jesus’ teachings in the scriptures, from his prophets in Conference talks, the temple ordinances and covenants, or our own personal revelation, without pondering it. It is through pondering and meditating upon the things of Christ, we receive personal inspiration. God can clarify our experience, making it meaningful to us. A scripture we read in our childhood means something entirely different today, simply because our experiences in life have changed us. Continuing personal revelation is necessary to keep the gospel fresh, alive and growing in mortality. Those who lose their way, often are lost because they did not spend the time pondering and seeking personal revelation. The gospel becomes irrelevant, old, musty, and out of step with changing times, when we are focused on the world. However, as we meditate on the sacred, we find living waters and the breath of life flow through us and refresh us spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. 

Prayer is important, but without meditation, it is just words. Oliver Cowdery sought to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, and was allowed to try. When he failed, the Lord explained that he wasn't able to translate, because Oliver thought he only had to pray about it, rather than ponder upon each character that appeared to him and determine a possible translation for himself before asking if it were right (D&C 9). We often fail ourselves in the same way. Why don't we receive more revelation? Because we don't seek after it as did Joseph Smith and others who do have things revealed to them.

Meditation on the things we learn gives understanding. Without understanding, truly understanding, what we now know, we are unable to receive more.  We must understand what we now have, so we can then prepare our minds to receive more.  If a person does not understand multiplication and division, that person will be unable to understand algebra or calculus.  To not seek to understand what we are taught today, we are not ready to receive more knowledge and truth.  Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why so many people do not receive a testimony of the gospel of Christ: they have not prepared their minds sufficiently in the right manner – through prayer, meditation and faith.
 
The first weekend in October is General Conference, where we will hear from the prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ. Are we preparing our minds to hear them on the morrow?

Jesus prayed and wept

Jesus knelt with the people and prayed to God for them.  


“And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father” (3 Nephi 17:16-17).


Previously, Jesus told them how to pray.  Now, he is demonstrating to them how the highest form of prayer is done.  The prayer is so deep and moving that there are no words to describe it.  We do not know whether the things Jesus said cannot be spoken or written because they are forbidden or too sacred to write, or whether they are just so powerful they cannot be put down in mortal terms.  Clearly it was not in the Nephite language, which could be written, but in a heavenly language they could understand – even though it still was something their hearts could not fully conceive. 

I wonder: how often do we pray so intensely that it makes such an impact on the hearers and on the heavens, whether angels are moved, our families on both sides of the veil are blessed, our fellow worshipers, or even just each of us alone are illuminated?

The children join the Divine Council

Jesus then had the children come forth and blessed them.  Unlike the adults present, who were still in the process of repentance (remember the wickedness and destruction they just went through?), the children were pure, innocent and holy in Christ. Of such are the kingdom of heaven.  The adults were tasked with pondering the teachings given them – they were not ready to receive more just yet. The children, however, were ready.


And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them” (3 Ne 17:23-24).


Isaiah is the prototype prophet to enter into and join the Divine Council. Not only did he hear the angels give God praise, but Isaiah engaged in their heavenly work (Isaiah 6).  It reminds us of the original Divine Council, wherein Christ responded to God's question, "whom shall I send?" (Abraham 3). In 1 Nephi 1, Lehi had a vision wherein Christ and his 12 apostles descended to him, and included him in the Divine Council of angels.  The brothers Lehi and Nephi, sons of Helaman, also had angels descend in the midst of fire to them in the Lamanite prison (Helaman 5), where they conversed.  Now, we have the children of the Nephites become part of the Divine Council.  In essence, this was their temple endowment, bringing them back into the presence of God and other divine beings.  The adults likely saw their children surrounded by holy burnings and seraphim, but were not allowed at that time to join the experience.  As with Alma the Younger when he was saved from his sins, he saw Lehi with God and wished he could be there with him (Alma 36). We can view this event from the adult side of things.  They were allowed to watch from a distance, but not participate.

Again, this is one of the key concepts in the Book of Mormon: the great Theophany, bringing people back into the presence of God.

The Sacrament
3 Nephi 18

Next, Jesus implements the sacramental bread and wine.  This is noted to be particularly for those who have been baptized, as a continuation of the covenants made with God and Christ.  Remember from the previous lessons that Christ’s purpose is to have all the Nephites become one covenant community, united in all things.  While baptism can be seen as an individualized ordinance, the Sacrament is an ordinance and covenant shared by the community.  It is what brings our individual baptisms together into one whole as believers who seek to build Zion, a people of one heart and mind.

Why are we not to partake of the sacrament unworthily?  Because the Sacrament reflects all of our covenants we make with God and the community.  In partaking of the Sacrament unworthily or without believing, we mock the sacrifice of Christ and his atonement.  We are to bring forth a contrite spirit and broken heart.  Those who are unworthy bring forth pride and rebellion to the Sacramental table.

Note that the Sacrament also symbolizes the table of shewbread in the Tabernacle/Temple of ancient times.  The bread represented the manna sent from heaven to feed Israel while they were exiled in the wilderness.  As manna had to be gathered each day, so the shewbread was replaced daily.  Also found on the table was wine.  These were an offering to God, as well.  In this we see the Sacrament has a connection with the ancient temple, as well as with the temple of Christ’s body. 

In partaking worthily of the Sacrament, Christ promised us to have the Holy Ghost always with us.  The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead.  This is how all initiates begin to enter into the presence of the Godhead, by first receiving the Holy Ghost.  We receive the Holy Ghost, as well as the atonement of Christ, by covenant and an ordinance.  These prepare us for further interaction with the Godhead, until we enter fully into their presence.

Prayer again

Christ again speaks on prayer.  This time he expanded upon his previous teachings: where, when and how to pray.

In conjunction with teaching the Sacrament, Jesus is explaining that both bring unity.  Pray for our wives, children, those who are unworthy to partake of the Sacrament.  Jesus teaches and re-teaches the key things to make us one with the Godhead.

The Disciples teach the people
3 Nephi 19

Once Jesus had ascended, the people went back to their homes and spread abroad that the Lord would return the following day. Many sought to be there for his return.  While awaiting the return of Christ, the apostles were actively teaching and performing ordinances. What exactly did the 12 disciples teach?

They divided the great crowd into 12 groups.  They taught the things Jesus taught the day before.  They had them kneel and pray.  


And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
 And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Ne 19:8-9).
Jesus provided a rote script for the disciples to teach, then a simple prayer that all shared. This was communal teaching and praying. The people were united in prayer and belief.

The initiates, now prepared with prayer and basic teachings, were ready to go into the waters of baptism and then receive the Holy Ghost, the thing they desired most of all.  Interestingly they would desire the Holy Ghost.  Why not to see Jesus or God the Father? Because the 12 taught them the proper order of things.  They would first learn to know the Spirit before ascending into the presence of the Son and Father.  As they were baptized, the people were filled with the Spirit of God, making them holy.They were sanctified and made clean, thus ready to receive Jesus.


“And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them” (3 Ne 19:14-15).


As with the pure and holy children from the day before, now the baptized and purified initiates are worthy to join the Divine Council of heaven.  This time, they experienced the divine angels, who ministered to them, making them more holy.  Only then did Jesus come down and they received of a fullness. They were in the Presence of the Lord.

It is worth noting that the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood include the “ministry of angels”, while the Melchizedek Priesthood’s keys include the “mysteries of godliness” and seeing the face of God.  This is noted in the ordinances connected to each priesthood (D&C 84:19-26).  We see baptism as an ascending from a telestial state to a terrestrial state, with the guidance of the Holy Ghost.  From there, we may receive the ordinances and covenants of the higher priesthood, today connected to the temple, and enter the presence of Christ.  Finally, Jesus will lead us into the presence of the Father.  All of this ties directly into our modern temple’s teachings, ordinances and covenants.

Again, Jesus prays to the Father concerning the Nephites, who have now prepared their minds and received baptism, and so are ready for the blessings and visions they have received.  This is the pattern: Faith in Christ, repentance, baptism/ordinances/covenants, receiving the Holy Ghost (or Christ, or Father in certain instances).  In following the pattern, we become one even as the Godhead is one.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Book Review: Mosiah, a Brief Theological Introduction by James Faulconer

 

Book Review: Mosiah - a Brief Theological Introduction, by James E. Faulconer



Note: this is the fifth book in a series by the Maxwell Institute covering the Book of Mormon. 

Different from many other series on the Book of Mormon, this one is a primer for new students of theological studies. 

 


 

Review:


James Faulconer is perhaps my favorite Latter-day Saint theologian and philosopher. He has an innate ability to take difficult concepts and lay them out in a way that makes those concepts understandable, while still engaging and stretching the reader. In his book on Mosiah, Faulconer doesn’t disappoint.


The book contains the following chapters:

  1. Why this Structure?
  2. Good Kings and Bad Kings: the Futility of Politics , the Necessity of the Atonement
  3. Salvation as Creation from Nothing
  4. Are We Not All Beggars?
  5. God Himself Shall Come Down


Faulconer notes that there are so many things going on in the Book of Mosiah that he could only discuss a few in this introductory book. However, the concepts he shares are illuminating, bringing out key concepts from the book that are very relevant to society today.

 

“Whatever else we say about the theology of Mosiah, that message is at its core, as it is at the core of the Book of Mormon as a whole. The Book of Mormon comes to us promising that what was true anciently continues to be true today. God’s children are not cast off forever; they will be redeemed.


“What does it mean to read the book of Mosiah with an eye to its message of comfort 

and redemption? It means to read theologically.” (pg 6)


This, perhaps, is one of the best definitions of what theology (the study of God) is. We can study

 the book to guess at where it happened. We can study it as literature. We can study it in a variety of ways. To study it theologically means we seek to understand God and our relationship with God.

 The book begins by giving a chronological timeline of the book of Mosiah. This is important. Faulconer shows that the book of Mosiah is a fragmentary document. First of all, its first few chapters were lost along with the other 116 pages that Martin Harris misplaced. We can infer some of the things missing from the lost section: history of King Mosiah 1 and the reign of Benjamin.  

 The book is fragmented in other ways. While it begins with King Benjamin’s sermons, this event occurs 20 years after the story of Zeniff begins. The book jumps around from one group to the next. It can seem complicated to keep the various story lines separated. In this same way, Faulconer notes that one of the book’s points is that government and civilization is also fragmented. The Book of Mormon discusses the fragmentation of peoples throughout the book: Lehi fleeing Jerusalem, Nephi escaping the Laman, Mosiah leaving the land of Nephi, Nephite dissenters going over to the Lamanites, Gadiantons, the list goes on.  It is this fragmentation or division with which both kings Benjamin and Mosiah2 are concerned. Benjamin will seek to unite his people through unity in Christ, while Mosiah2 will attempt to unify the people by also establishing the rule of judges.

However, as Faulconer notes, “Benjamin’s answer to the question of unity, the question which the book of Mosiah begins, is repentance and keeping covenant rather than a form of government.” (pg 24)

 
This concept is very important in today’s intense political wrangling and division (2020). The true answers for governmental and civil success are not in the policies we gain from Congress, 

Parliament, or any ruler in today’s world. It comes through personal repentance and making individual and communal covenants with God. Imagine if all people everywhere would strip themselves of hubris, anger and self-righteousness, and repent. Then, as with the people of Benjamin, join together in making a covenant of unity (Mosiah 4:1-5).

 Faulconer explains that this begins with Benjamin’s sermon - which is likely why Mormon placed this event prior to the story of Zeniff - in explaining just how civilization must be built and maintained.


Interestingly, he gives us a new definition of the word “nothing.” Benjamin teaches us to view our own “nothingness,” which often is confusing for modern Latter-day Saints, as we often teach that we are of infinite importance and children of loving Heavenly Parents. As Benjamin ties his speech to the Creation, Faulconer suggests that we view “nothing” from that same Creation story aspect. Unlike traditional Christianity, Latter-day Saints believe that God created the earth and universe from existing materials. These materials exist in chaotic form. Formless matter is “nothing” compared to the ordered creations of God. So, when we view ourselves as nothing, we can view ourselves as being in a chaotic, formless state, ready for God to bring us out of the void and into a holy and ordered state. Such understanding of this term ties it closer to modern Latter-day Saint views of us being children of God. We are his children, but require God to take us out of our confusion and chaos, and bring us into new life through Christ. Benjamin takes us from our personal Creation to our Fall into sin and formless chaos, and then our rebirth through Redemption through and by Jesus Christ.

Faulconer explains how faith and a view of our own nothingness leads to remission of sins, which naturally leads us to service to others, which equates to service to God. Why? Because it creates unity and civility among us. Again, governments cannot save mankind, only a turning to Christ. His discussion on this topic is fascinating and helps tie many important Book of Mormon concepts together, all leading to our personal and communal relationship with Father and Son.

 Abinadi’s sermon has one of the most difficult sentences in the Book of Mormon, in that it isn’t a complete sentence, but a series of somewhat connected clauses:


“And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son— The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.” (Mosiah 15:1-2)

I’ve pondered for decades on these verses, always feeling that some of its meaning was escaping me. Faulconer breaks down this confusing mess in chapter 5. In doing so, he notes the difficulties and points out the portions that are easily understandable, and which are open for possible interpretation. He offers the possibilities and shares his own views on what each clause means to him. In this, he goes into detail on how Jesus is both Father and Son, while still distinct from Heavenly Father. While many have viewed this fragmentary sentence as Trinitarian, Faulconer shows how it is uniquely Latter-day Saint teaching, bringing up the history of the Trinity, Arianism, and the restored understanding of the Godhead through modern revelation.


In his conclusion, Faulconer reemphasizes key points of the book of Mosiah:

 

“This fragmentary book about a fragment people is obsessed with the question of unity. How are the people of God to avoid the internal divisions that tear them apart and make them no more God’s people? The things we learn int he book of Mosiah should be read through the lens of that question about preserving the community, the church. As part of answering that questin, the book of Mosiah shows us good kings and one especially bad king, and it shows us Mosiah2’s reform of the Nephite government in response to his concern about bad kings. But it is clear that reform is not the point.” (pg 112)


Faulconer notes that the point is unity, and unity only comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, receiving a remission of sins, and following Christ in service and unity with our fellow man.

I learned much about the book of Mosiah from Faulconer’s brief introduction to the book. I now will be viewing the sermons by Benjamin, Mosiah2 and Abinadi in a very different way. During this very intense political period, I’ll examine my own views, how I treat others who disagree with me politically, and know that the answer to our divisions, poverty, and disasters is not through government, but through and in Jesus Christ. Knowing my own nothingness, or chaotic form I often find myself in, I can look to being reborn and recreated in Christ.


Brother Faulconer, thanks for again bringing light and understanding to me. It has changed me, and I know any that read this book will also be changed both intellectually and spiritually. 


Mosiah, a brief theological introduction by James Faulconer, is available through the Maxwell Institute: https://mi.byu.edu/brief/

Also available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mosiah-theological-introduction-James-Faulconer/dp/084250012X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=faulconer+mosiah&qid=1600613506&sr=8-1