Sunday, December 27, 2020

Come Follow Me: D&C 1

 Come Follow Me: D&C 1 - Hearken O Ye People

Section One

A Voice of Warning
This section was written in November 1831, 1 1/2 years after the Church was officially organized. It is a proclamation, not just to the members, but to "ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together."

Imagine, a church of just a few hundred people, with just a few congregations in New York and Pennsylvania, coming forth with a proclamation to people throughout the world.  Missionary work was just beginning.  The members had yet to gather to Kirtland, or to open the great proselyting mission in England (still several years ahead). For a Church which now has millions of members worldwide, and experienced the "Mormon Moment" (2012-13), this proclamation may not seem so profound.  But for the little church in the woods to call the world to repentance was definitely a foreshadow of what was to come.

This section states that the Lord's servants will go forth with the gospel of repentance to all the earth!  We can see that this prophecy has come to pass. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now has over 50,000 missionaries. During this period of Covid-19 pandemic, it has also learned to reach out to many people worldwide over social media. Imagine how many people have been touched by "Light the World" during Christmas, or President Russell M. Nelson's invitation to #GiveThanks over social media during Thanksgiving.

The Lord's message is usually not one of sweetness, but is a voice of warning.  Great destruction will come upon the earth, and only the humble who turn to God will ever hope to escape it.  When we consider the technological advances in warfare since Joseph Smith's day, we can already see how the last 2 centuries have been filled with carnage and death.  The American Civil War had more American casualties than WWI and WWII combined.  The technologies developed between 1831 and 1860 included the telegraph, railroad, gatling gun, repeating rifle, etc.  Robert E. Lee developed new 'strategies of war, which allowed an outnumbered South to last years in battle.  Sherman and Grant's final strategy of total destruction of any who opposed them (demonstrated by Sherman's March to the Sea, burning Atlanta and many other cities, and Grant laying siege to a starving Vicksburg Mississippi), are strategies still used in genocidal warfare today.

Hitler slew millions, as did Stalin and Mao Tse Tung.  With the introduction of technology, even a jet airliner can be a weapon of mass destruction, as we saw on 9/11.  Still, the threats increase, as radical nations and groups gain access to more and more potent weaponry.  The Lord's warning in D&C 1 is more true today than it ever was.

"Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh;

And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth" (D&C 1:12-13).

Not only have humans been afflicted by warfare, but the Lord has withdrawn his protection on many occasions, allowing nature to ravage the world. In 2004, a giant earthquake and tsunami hit the Indian Ocean region, killing more than 100,000 people. Today's Covid 19 pandemic has killed 332,000 Americans, and almost 2 million deaths worldwide, as of this writing. Not included in such a statistic are the numbers that have been seriously affected by the illness, nor the overwhelmed hospitals and medical workers.

The sins and wickedness of humans continue growing. World slavery is at an all time high. There are more people in slavery today than during the entire African slave trade of early American history. Many of the slaves today are children, used both in hard labor and as sex slaves.

And it seems dangers and trials occur more than once.  When D&C 1 states "for the Lord is nigh", does this only mean that the 2nd Coming is near? What does "nigh" mean?  For Christ to have created the earth 4.5 billion years ago means that the term "nigh" could mean centuries. Or even millennia.  Or does it mean that the Lord is near in another way, such as he is watching over the earth and we cannot hide our sins from him?  Or does it mean that each of us will die, and will face him at that time?  Perhaps it means all of these.

Voice of the Servants

"And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people" (vs 4).

Here we get some interesting phrases.  The term "servants" is in addition or separate from "prophets and apostles."  We note that it is the "voice" of the servants and the "words" of the prophets and apostles. This could mean the voice of living servants (whether prophets, apostles, missionaries, etc), or the written words of ancient and perhaps modern prophets and apostles.  Note that when this revelation came out, there was no Quorum of 12 apostles.  Joseph and Oliver were ordained and called apostles, They were the only living prophets.

If the "prophets and apostles" include Joseph and the other leaders of the early Church (or for us, our prophets and apostles today), then who do the "servants" include?  Are they only the missionaries? Or could they also include those of other churches who seek to serve Christ and preach the Bible throughout the world, as well? In Alma 29:8, the Lord made clear through Alma the following:

"For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true." 

It may be that "servants" may be more than just those found in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. It may include sincere seekers of truth in other religions and places that share the knowledge and light God has given them.

However, the vast majority of the world does not fit into this description of "servant." Instead, we read:

"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

 They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets" (vv 15-18)

The people of the earth have strayed from God's ordinances and broken the covenant.  By Joseph's day, the ordinances of old had been altered or ended.  Infants were being baptized. The Protestant world did not recognize priesthood authority as established in the Bible.  There was no laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  No temple existed upon the earth.  They had traded Jesus' celestial covenant for something less.

Religions were springing up everywhere, mostly based upon protesting some belief or practice in the church they broke off of.  Each of them focused on different concepts and creeds that created God in their own image and belief, rather than seeking the fullness of the gospel through living prophets and apostles.  With these new religions came the seed for a modern day Babylon.  Many of today's Christian religions ignore the importance of obedience and covenants.  They see no harm in people sinning, as long as their lips profess Christ. There are even some churches today that claim to be Christian, but do not require belief in the Messiah-ship of Christ.  For them, he was a good teacher, who preached love, or whatever their version of "love" is supposed to be.

For others, life's solutions are found in politics, wealth, hobbies, or other pursuits. There are many today, including within the Lord's Church, who seek happiness and solutions through following an earthly "god." Their presidential candidate can save the world. Their new age philosophy can bring hope and peace. Their social justice or political platform can bring the new Utopia.

Which gods are we following?

For this reason, Joseph Smith was called to preach the celestial covenant to the world.  And "others" were also given commandments to preach from the Bible.  Some of these may be Latter-day Saints, but many may also be good god-fearing believers who preach the Terrestrial covenant (like the Mosaic law) to the inhabitants of the earth.  I think that Mother Theresa was one example of the "others" called of God.

That Faith Also Might Increase

"The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—

But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
 That faith also might increase in the earth;
That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
 That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers." (vv 19-23)

When this revelation was given, the tiniest and weakest church in all the world likely was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It teaches a powerful message that each person may have the Holy Ghost to guide them in their spiritual education, so that they do not have to give or receive counsel from man's philosophy (aka "arm of flesh"). 

Every person speaking in the name of the Lord means they witness of Christ through the Holy Ghost. As Nephi taught, "angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost" (2 Ne 32:32-33), and we can speak with the tongue of angels as we learn to speak that language through receiving the Holy Ghost.

God wants all people to be prophets.  This means we become worthy through receiving the everlasting covenants and ordinances to receive the Holy Ghost, and then learn to listen, live and speak by His power. Today, however, most people (including many saints) speak with the tongue of Babylon and witness of Babylon's form of salvation.  It is the relying upon the arm of flesh and counsel of men, who only know what Babylon has to offer, which they preach: money, endless wars, greed, power, racism, prejudice, division.

The Weak Things

"Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (vv 24-28)

God speaks through our weaknesses.  So we should expect mistakes and errors to creep in on occasion. This is even true for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Thomas S. Monson.  When we find the occasional mistake or mistaken belief by a Church leader, we simply need to know that the Lord will correct it in his own time with continuing revelation.  At the same time, we can be comforted in knowing that these mistakes will not prevent us from the greatest blessings of God through his everlasting covenant in Christ, as long as we are humble and willing to repent.

Amazingly, the Church has grown rapidly, even though most of our missionaries are 19 year old kids!  Can you think of anyone more prone to errors to send out to preach the gospel?  Yet, this error prone group continue yearly to baptize hundreds of thousands of people.  Why? Because the fundamentals and the core doctrine are correct.  Because the Holy Ghost can teach us greater "knowledge from time to time."

Only True and Living Church

"And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually." (v 30)

At the 2012 IUPUI Mormon Conference in Indianapolis, Latter-day Saint professor Phillip Barlow noted that the  Mormon Moment of 2012 (with Mitt Romney as presidential candidate) was bringing the Church "out of obscurity and out of darkness", but there were many members who would prefer we remain obscure and in the dark... There's a lot for each of us to think about in that statement.

Are we sharing the gospel? Do we share our testimonies with those around us, and on social media? Are we actively seeking to bring the Church out of obscurity?

I also wonder if we interpret the phrase "only true and living church....with which I, the Lord, am well pleased" correctly?  First, was this true only in Joseph's day, or has it changed since then? Are there other churches today that the Lord is well pleased with?  Second, is he still well pleased with us?  Finally, are there any churches that are true and/or living that the Lord is "somewhat pleased" with?

For me, the word "true" means it contains truth.  Given the previous passages that note weakness and error even in our church, we cannot assume this means a perfect knowledge of truth.  The word "living" means to breathe and grow - are there other churches that breathe and grow, as well? Can a terrestrial Church of Jesus bring a measure of life into its congregants?

Even more, Christ's Restored Church is based on Celestial truths, ordinances, priesthood and covenants. However, are our lessons and teachings in Sacrament meetings, Sunday School, and other meetings "true and living?"  Do we ensure we are speaking true things, and not our interpretations of true? Over the years, I've seen members interpolate portions of the gospel to mean one cannot be of a certain political persuasion and still be a member in good standing. In 2012, many members loved Mitt Romney, but hate him today and consider him an apostate. Yet, this is the same former stake president, who holds a current temple recommend. Are such concepts, then, true?

And then, are the things we teach "living?" Do they breathe life into those who hear them? Are our Sacrament meeting pulpits on fire, or do they put the high priests to sleep? Are we speaking words that may be true, or are we preaching by the power of the Spirit of God? Are our Family Home Evenings a weekly fight that begins and end in prayer, or are they uplifting and bring happiness to each family member?

It is important that we do not take the words we read for granted.  Perhaps with this very first section of the D&C, we can see how the great and marvelous work the restoration of the gospel was through an imperfect and weak man, like Joseph Smith; and that perhaps there are others called throughout the world to help prepare people along the way, so they will be ready for the everlasting covenant when the missionaries teach them about it.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Come Follow Me: Moroni 10

 Come Follow Me: Moroni 10

Gifts of the Spirit
Chapter 10

In verses 3-5, we learn that faith in Christ and his gospel begins with real intent.  We cannot discover God and his eternal truths without real intent and desire not only to know, but to do whatever it is that God reveals to us.

Again, Moroni speaks on faith, hope and charity. As we seek with real intent, we receive these and other gifts of God through the Holy Spirit.  “And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things” (v 5).  We learn these things through the gifts we are given.

If we are not receiving some of the gifts of the Spirit in our lives, we should ask ourselves: why not?  Are we not spiritually preparing ourselves?  Are we not seeking the gifts of the Spirit?

President George Q. Cannon noted:

How many of you are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in your family circle or in your secret places, contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father in the name of Jesus to manifest Himself to you through these powers and these gifts? Or do you go along day by day like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling upon the subject, without exercising any faith whatever, content to be baptized and be members of the Church and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this?
“I say to you, in the name of the Lord, as one of His servants, that you have need to repent of this. You have need to repent of your hardness of heart, of your indifference and of your carelessness. There is not that diligence, there is not that faith, there is not that seeking for the power of God that there should be among a people who have received the precious promises we have….
“If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections…. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, "Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature." He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things and to give gifts that will eradicate them…. That is the design of God concerning His children. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth.
“The Lord has said in a revelation to the Church that the Saints should "seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; for verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments…
"How many Latter-day Saints are there who supplicate the Lord for the gifts which they need? …Every defect in the human character can be corrected through the exercise of faith and pleading with the Lord for the gifts that He has said He will give unto those who believe and obey His commandments.” (Millennial Star, 23 Apr. 1894, 260). 

Come Unto Christ

Finally, Moroni encourages and invites us to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him” (v 32).  Of all the gifts of God, the gift of Christ’s atonement is the greatest.  As we have studied the Book of Mormon over the past year, we have found the Nephite prophets bringing us back to this concept time and again.  From Lehi first seeing the Messiah descend from God’s throne to bring him his prophetic calling in 1 Nephi 1, to the resurrected Jesus inviting the Nephites to come to him and touch the wounds in his hands and feet and be healed by him in 3 Nephi, to Moroni’s final words to us in this last chapter, we are invited to believe in Christ and his atonement. 

It is a free gift to any who will humbly ask for it, repent, and allow the Lord to give them a mighty change of heart: from a heart of stone to a heart of pure gold.  Christ can heal us, if we will let him.  He has suffered through all the pains and infirmities in the world, so he can succor us (Alma 7).  He is the only path back to the presence of the Father and eternal life.  He is the Resurrection and the Life.  He is the Way.  He is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father.  He is the center of our faith and hope. 

The message of the Book of Mormon is this: We invite all to come to Christ and be perfected in Him.  We invite all to come to Christ and be healed by him.  We invite all to Christ, and let him bring you back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Come unto Christ.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Book Review: Exploring Mormon Thought, God's Plan to Heal Evil


Book Review: Exploring Mormon Thought, vol 4, God’s Plan to Heal Evil, by Blake T. Ostler


Exploring Mormon Thought: Volume 4, God's Plan to Heal Evil


Evil exists.

Pure, unadulterated evil exists. It exists in nature. It exists in humans. We see the evil in war, in genocide, child sex trafficking, deadly diseases that ravage the bodies of the victims, earthquakes, and famines that slowly starve the innocent to death. Evil exists.

In his three previous volumes on Exploring Mormon Thought, Ostler probed the depths of God’s attributes, his love, and the concept of divinity. Here, he takes us through what is perhaps the most troubling questions haunting mankind: Why does evil exist? Why does God allow evil to happen?

Exploring Mormon Thought, God’s Plan to Heal Evil is smaller than the previous books (about 225 pages), but is as packed full of rich treasures as the other ones. It is divided in the following twelve chapters:

1.       What We Learn From the Problem of Evil

2.       The No Minimum Evil Defense

3.       The Free Will Defense

4.       The Less Evil Options Argument

5.       Natural Law Theodicies

6.       A Mormon Finitistic Theodicy

7.       A Mormon Process Theodicy

8.       A Relational Agape Theodicy

9.       The Plan of Agape

10.   Is it Justifiable to Permit Consent to Personality-Destroying Evils?

11.   Are Radical Evils Essential to the Plan of Agape?

12.   Atonement in Mormon Thought

Healing Evil: A Conclusion

In chapter one, Ostler discusses what he terms “radical evil.” This is the type of evil that causes most humans to cringe. It can be man-made or brought about by nature. He gives three examples for our consideration: smallpox, a man harms and kills a little girl, and a young girl is accidentally crushed by a car that rolled backward.

He discusses each type of disaster. Smallpox has slain millions and millions of people. If smallpox were necessary for God’s plan, then why did God allow mankind to eradicate it? If it isn’t necessary for mankind’s salvation, then why did God create it in the first place?

Such questions lead people to several theories to explain such events. One thought is a good God would never create such evil, therefore there is no God. This, perhaps, is the main cause for many people to embrace atheism; they cannot imagine a god that causes so much evil in the world.

Ostler then takes us through the main theories available by the Christian and philosophical world of religion.  Ostler shows that much of the problem of evil lies in the concept of creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing). If God created everything from nothing, then he created evil. He created the evil in humans. He created smallpox and all other diseases. He created a world that suffers from famine, and natural disasters.

Along with this concept of creation from nothing, are concepts from St. Augustine and Calvinism that promote the ideas of predestination and that man does not have free will/agency. When one considers deeply such beliefs, they lead inexorably to the concept that God creates the evil men do, and since man has no choice in the matter, God is actually responsible for all evil. Those God condemn to hell are cast down because of God’s choices, not the individuals involved in the sin/evil.

For me, such a god is not worthy of worship.

Ostler goes through various religious theories (theodicies) that are prevalent, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each theory. Some are complete theories, while others are incomplete (such as the Divine Infusion Theory, with which Ostler concurs).

Ostler then begins to explain strengths we find in Latter-day Saint theology. God did not create things from nothing. Matter and Intelligences are coexistent with God. So, when God creates spirits or rocks, these things must choose to obey (see Abraham 4:10-12). Some things are not in the direct control of God. When spirits are created, God has a hand in the process, but does not control the entire event.

Second, Ostler promotes the idea that God knows all things up to the current moment, but does not know the future, except to predict it as a grand chess master. While this is not what most Latter-day Saints believe, it does fit in well with our theology. There are instances in scriptures where God is “surprised” by a person using free will (such as the Brother of Jared seeing the finger of God in Ether 3). As he explains in depth in a previous volume of Exploring Mormon Thought, if God perfectly knows the future, then we cannot have true free will/agency. It also means God is responsible, in effect, for all evil.

However, when God has these two limitations: cannot create things from nothing and does not perfectly know the future, it opens the door for evil to come about on its own accord.

And it is here that Ostler then shows us the strength of his Agape Theodicy.  Agape is the Greek word for Christ-like Love. While I won’t go into detail on his theory here, he shows it to be a complete and intriguing explanation for evil. Evil exists. Radically dark evil exists. While God cannot totally eliminate or separate evil that coexists in the universe from our experience, God can directly be involved with us in ending evil. Through concepts such as the light of Christ (which illuminates and is in all things), and the atonement of Christ, we can use our agency to help Christ to eliminate evil.

So, in discovering a cure for smallpox, we are involved in bringing goodness and order to the world, reducing the chaos and evil that comes naturally with matter. We are helpers in bringing order to the universe and establishing God’s kingdom.

Second, and more importantly, the atonement of Christ is an ongoing event. While much of it occurred in Gethsemane and on the cross, whenever we repent, Christ pulls us into his embrace. That embrace may cause him a moment of pain right now, as he empathizes and forgives us, but the eternal joy that occurs for both Jesus and us becomes a healing balm.

Third, Ostler considers the premortal existence and foreordination. He explains that in the original councils, we may all have accepted the possibilities of going through horrific events, in order to bring to pass the work of God and the ultimate end of evil. Yes, we conceivably agreed to be foreordained to experience great tragedies. This also, according to Ostler, may be why so many of God’s spirit children refused to accept his plan, and embraced Satan’s plan instead.

Fourth, life doesn’t end here. It seems the Spirit World becomes a place to heal, as well. All of this ends in a glorious resurrection for those who repent and embrace Jesus.

For Ostler, it is all about being in a Godly relational experience. The Godhead are three beings entwined in the perfect relationship. They are One through their loving familial ties.  For Ostler, this is exactly the kind of relationship Christ desires to have with us, and through him, to bring us into an agape relationship with the Godhead.  It is becoming One with Christ that we eliminate evil and are able to heal the pains and struggles inherent with evil.

In Ostler’s Agape Theodicy, we find a strong and compelling theory of how God seeks to heal the evils that are in the world. Yes, the evils are terrible and cause death, emotional and physical pain, and sorrow. However, through the atonement of Christ and his perfect love, God heals all the pains, sorrows and afflictions.

While some concepts may be new and even different for many Latter-day Saints, Ostler’s views are well thought out and provide us with a better understanding of how the atonement of Jesus Christ works, why there is evil in the world, and how we have an active part in bringing about God’s plan of salvation and healing. Whether you fully agree with his theory or not, it deserves careful consideration. It absolves God from being the source of all evil, and it shows our part in embracing the overall plan of God. Finally, it shows us how a loving God provided a Savior that heals us and warmly brings us back into full agape relationship with the Godhead.

Now available at: 

Greg Kofford Books



Sunday, December 06, 2020

Come Follow Me: Moroni 7-9

 Come Follow Me: Moroni 7-9

With this penultimate lesson on the Book of Mormon, we read some of the final thoughts of Moroni.  This is his final farewell to us.  Perhaps in these last chapters of the Book of Mormon, we read the key concepts to lead us to Christ and exaltation in God’s kingdom. 

Real Intent, Faith, Hope and Charity
Ch 7

What we get first are more of the words of Mormon, who sent letters, teaching and giving advice to his son in the last few years before the final destruction.  Moroni is quoting his father decades after the final destruction. Perhaps these are Mormon’s final words to his son, and Moroni wishes to share them with us.

At some point in Mormon’s life, there were synagogues and true believers in Christ for him to address.  It may be that these few believers were among the few true believers that would later be hunted down by the Lamanites for not denying the Christ.

“…by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.  For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing” (vv 5-6)).
There are two key points to being a good person.  First, being involved in good works or behavior. Second, that there is real intent, or pure intentions behind the works.  When watching bad or evil behavior, it is easy to determine a person is bad.  We see someone kill or steal, and we think it is a bad person, because the works are evil.  But real intent is also important, and Moroni will note this again in what is perhaps the most well known LDS missionary scripture in the Book of Mormon: Moroni 10:3-5. Without real intent, we are giving lip service at best, and are hypocrites at worst.  How often do we praise a famous wealthy person for doing what appears on the outside as a great act, such as donate money or time to a worthy cause, only to find they have done it for their own benefit to pursue their own wealth and fame.

To only be doing good on the outside for one’s own glory, and not for the glory of God, means our hearts are not in the right place.  We must, therefore be careful in how we consider others.  Just doing or saying something that seems good, does not mean the person is seeking God’s path.

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (v 13).

Fortunately, Mormon tells us there is a way to see what is good and what is evil.  The things which are truly good, do not just seem good on the outside.  They will also encourage and invite us to “do good continually” and to “love God.”   So, if a person does something that seems good, but they do it to receive glory and praise from the world, then it is not of God. It is an act of man that may do good things on the surface, such as feed little children or provide a benefit to the poor, but it does not touch the soul of man. 

And that is a problem with much of the effort in the world today: they focus on the flesh, but not on the eternal welfare of others.  They feed the body, but the spirit dies of starvation.  So it is with some of the government programs we have.  We feel we benefit people by giving them food stamps and welfare assistance, and in some sense we do.  But do we satisfy their bodies, while allowing the spirit of man to wither and die?  The prophets have encouraged us to be self reliant, and that work is good for man, for instance.  Do we help or hurt people by giving a partial solution that looks great on the outside, but still leaves them starving for God on the inside?
Also, we live in a time when people no longer "invite," but rather attempt to shame people into believing and conforming.  Extremism, much of which is brought on by those seeking to save the world through political or social activism on both the right and left, often choose anger and shaming as their methods to get people to tow the line. This is not the way God normally works. Man has God-given agency. God doesn't want people forced to comply with his laws, but wants them to freely choose to believe and obey. This is why the Book of Mormon focuses so much on faith, hope and charity; and less on pure obedience. Even discussions on the Law of Moses (based on enforced conformity) are set in the understanding that it is to lead us to Christ and the higher law.

Babylon, or the world, offers a solution that feeds the natural man, but not the eternal nature of man. In this format, Satan stirs people up to anger. They do not become the "peaceable followers of Christ."  

There is a way to determine just where a person, political or social organization, nation, or other organization stands in regards to good and evil:

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.  But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.   And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.  Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ” (vv 16-19)
What encourages us to believe in Christ and do good works is of God.  All else is not celestial.

And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?  And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing” (vv 20-21).
There is no way to lay hold upon good things or to do good things without faith, hope and charity.  What kind of faith? Only that faith which leads us to believe in Christ.  Again, there is one way to do truly good works, and that is with real intent.  Real intent comes from the person or persons who seek Christ and to live a Christ-like life.  Feeding hungry people is not in and of itself a good or eternal work.  Feeding both their bodies and spirits is a good work.  Leading them to Christ is a good work, which all Christians may do.  And as others do good works and seek to lead people to God, they also may perform good works to the level of understanding of God they have.
Evil comes when men seek to get gain of some sort, including wealth, power, and prestige. There are many who donate to the poor in order to get attention from the world. Sadly, some charities spend some donations on the needy, but the main staff receive unnecessarily large salaries out of the donations.

Evil also comes when people try to establish that something sinful should be viewed as good. Isaiah, often quoted in the Book of Mormon, noted those who "called evil good, and good evil" (Isa 5:20).

While we begin with faith, hope helps us through the trials. Close your eyes for a moment and envision yourself in that last day, standing before Christ and having him embrace you. How does that make you feel? Think of the peace, quiet joy, and increased faith such thoughts bring. This is hope.

As we develop faith, hope becomes the anchor to our souls(Ether 12:4), which helps carry us through trying times.  As we grow in faith and hope, we desire to be more Christ-like, and so learn to develop the love of Christ, which is charity.

One thing we sometimes do not understand is that faith, hope and charity are gifts.  We cannot easily develop them on our own, no matter what works we do.  Instead, they are given to us, as we grow closer to God. Mormon encourages us to pray with all the energy of heart to have charity (Moroni 7:48) and God will pour out the gift of  agape love upon us.  If we knock, if we ask, if we seek it, God will give it to us as a free gift.  But we must have real intent.  We must truly desire it, and not just give lip service.  To the level we are ready to receive it, God will bestow it upon us, as he will provide all other gifts we seek.

Little children are saved in Christ
Chapter 8

Moroni provides to us a letter from his father, which Mormon sent him soon after he was ordained an elder, possibly over his own synagogue, and regarding baptism of children.  It may seem an anachronistic 19th century attack aimed on some Christian faiths, but there are elements that go beyond the modern Protestant view.  Mormon and Moroni’s world is falling into an apostate state, and Moroni has asked his father about the practice of some to baptize their little children.  It is not a modern problem, but a sign of apostasy that occurs when people do not understand the atonement of Christ.

Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me” (v 8).

Note that there IS a curse of Adam.  There is a falling of man from God’s presence. Mankind cannot return back to God because of his fallen nature.  All are dead physically and spiritually. They need a physician to heal them.  They need to follow the prescription given by the physician: faith, repentance, covenants, ordinances, and receiving the Holy Ghost.

However, through Christ, little children are automatically saved in Christ.  There is no need for circumcision or baptism for little children, because Christ’s gift resurrects all of them.  Because of Christ’s gift, temporal and spiritual death have no power over little children, as they are incapable of sinning.  Only when they reach the age to understand right from wrong, and are able to sin, will they also need to repent and receive the covenants and ordinances of God. Only then will they need the physician to heal them, so they can live forever with their little children.

So, what does this have to do with Moroni’s emphasis on faith, hope and charity in these last chapters?  We must learn to have the faith, hope and charity of a little child, in order to be saved with them through Christ. 
Moroni 9, Pure Evil
Four years ago, when the Book of Mormon was last studied in Sunday School, this chapter was not covered in the manual. Now, given the changes in the world, perhaps it is important to study it.

We see that the people, who once saw Christ and became a Zion society for two centuries, have now devolved. Those who were once surrounded by angels are now surrounded by demons. The three Nephite disciples, who could not taste of death, have been removed. The Spirit of God has completely left them. Lehi's prophecies about the Land of Promise are now complete. No longer are the people in the spiritual presence of God, and their depravities will soon cause them to be destroyed out of the land.

In this letter to his son, Moroni, Mormon notes:

"And now behold, my son, I fear lest the Lamanites shall destroy this people; for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another." (Moroni 9:3)

We live in a time of anger. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. The social justice warriors are angry against the alt-right warriors, and vice versa. They justify their anger, as they are all certain that God is on their side. Yet, they are all giving in to the enticings of Satan, who stirs men up to anger continually. This anger eventually leads to such atrocities as we see here in Moroni 9. We've seen it in the past: Hitler turning his people to anger against the Jews. Ku Klux Klan angered against freed black people. Whether we gas them en masse, or lynch them one at a time, the anger is what justifies the atrocities.

For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually." (Moroni 9:5)
As I write this, we are going through the recounts of the presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. President Trump is challenging several swing state counts, claiming massive election fraud. Although he has not won any court cases and his own attorney general has declared there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the election (enough to change the election results), he continues to stir up his followers to anger. As a non-partisan, I've been excoriated by several of his followers on social media for stating where the evidence currently takes us. Some of Trump's followers have encouraged the president to declare martial law and retain the office, contra the Constitution. I'm sure that if the election were to have gone to Trump in this same manner, the left would be equally angry. 

Angry people do not listen to reason or evidence. They are founded upon a set of beliefs that cannot be changed, regardless of the facts or evidence. Such leads to the conditions we find in the last days of the Nephites and Jaredites.

This is in great contrast to what Mormon taught in chapter seven on faith, hope and charity. 

So, where do we currently fit on the spectrum of Christ-like love on one side, and pure evil anger on the other side? What must we do to accept the invitation to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him"?  We'll discuss that in the next lesson.