BoM 4: Scattered…but Not Forgotten

Towards the end of 1 Nephi we see a really tender moment between Nephi and his older brothers. Lehi’s family has just arrived in the promised land, everyone is getting settled and Nephi resumes his record keeping and Gospel instruction. In the process of reciting details prophesied about the anticipated Messiah’s earthly appearance, Nephi mentions the scattering of Israel. This would be a poignant moment for Nephi and his brothers: they belong to Israel but God commanded their family to separate themselves from Israel and take a harrowing journey to a new land. They have become part of the prophesied “scattered Israel.”

As I read about Israel being scattered across the isles of the sea, I realized how that must have sounded to Lehi’s children—the isles of the sea were probably the most remote and desolate places they could imagine; it might be roughly equivalent to someone saying “Mars” or “Jupiter” today. Lehi’s family was now completely cut off from everything familiar and comfortable, with no chance of getting “home” back.

But Nephi’s message, and the tender moment, looks ahead to the future of their children and grandchildren down to our present day when God has promised that He will remember the isles of the sea and gather Israel again.

Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers. Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.

1 Nephi 19:15-16, BoM

Nephi’s message of hope in covenants, Christ, and the love of God doesn’t seem to be lost on his brothers—they end up asking more questions in order to better understand the prophecies. (See 1 Nephi 22, BoM.)

How often do we feel separated from “home” or like we’ve been “scattered on the isles of the sea”? Sometimes we feel like heaven has gone quiet. Sometimes our own choices have led us off the covenant path and away from God. Some of us wonder if we could ever find a way back or if God will even be aware of us anymore. But His promise to the ancient Israelites holds true for all of God’s children. He does remember us. No matter how far we’ve gone we are always within God’s reach. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7, NT).

No matter how distanced we feel from heaven, God is always able and willing to close the gap and gather us back to Him.

Day 78: Scripture For Our Day

Mormon 8:34-41

The Book of Mormon, as compiled and abridged by the prophet Mormon, was intended for our day. God planned well in advance for its discovery, miraculous translation, and transmission around the world. Fully aware of God’s intentions having read the prophecies regarding the record’s future, Moroni wrote, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35).

I never fail to get goosebumps when I read this verse from Moroni! If you ever wonder whether The Book of Mormon is truly an ancient history that records the details of real people’s interactions with God, this verse should lay to rest any doubts. And once you realize The Book of Mormon is speaking to you, the scriptures open up new meaning. As I read, I consider that everything included in the record was carefully chosen and can have direct correlation to our day and circumstances. I sometimes ask myself when I read, “what am I supposed to learn from this? What is the intended message? Why was this included and what should I take from it?”

These past 78 days of reading The Book of Mormon have only solidified my conviction that it is an ancient record, written by real people thousands of years ago. They knew God, they made covenants with Him; they learned about Jesus Christ and looked forward to His coming; they practiced baptism by immersion and taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ; they testify of Jesus Christ’s reality, His role as Savior and Redeemer, and the crucial importance of repentance and preparation to meet God.

What message does The Book of Mormon have for you?

Day 74: The Sacrament

3 Nephi 18; 20; 26:13

The Sacrament is a sacred ordinance performed weekly in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations. The Sacrament is a symbolic “lord’s supper” in which anointed priests (usually young men between the ages of 12-18) bless and pass the bread and water. Baptized members of the Church take the Sacrament each week to renew previously made covenants with God as well as to formalize personal repentance.

I wrote previously about saving ordinances and their necessity for receiving eternal life. The Sacrament is an ordinance that points us to Jesus christ and helps us remember Him. It also helps individuals become washed clean from sin (much like what happens at baptism) and find spiritual renewal. In many ways, the Sacrament facilitates the keeping of covenants, provides a marker for spiritual growth, and keeps us oriented toward Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ established the Sacrament among His apostles at Jerusalem and it is one of the first ordinances He introduced in the Americas. He repeated the ordinance of the Sacrament many times during His ministry among the Nephites and Lamanites, including miraculously providing the bread and wine in 3 Nephi 20:3-9 (see also 3 Nephi 26:13). Third Nephi 18 records the first sacrament in the Americas. Jesus prepared and blessed that first sacrament while instructing His Nephite and Lamanite apostles on the proper method and ceremony:

Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.

And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.

And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:5-7)

A few things to point out:

  1. “One ordained among you”: The Sacrament can only be prepared, blessed, and passed by Priesthood holders.
  2. The Sacrament should be a regular part of worship in Christ’s church.
  3. The Sacrament is for people who believe in Jesus Christ and have been baptized by the authority and power of God in Christ’s church.
  4. We follow Christ’s example when we participate in the ordinance of the Sacrament.
  5. The Sacrament is a symbolic ritual in which the bread reminds us of Christ’s body, His physical sacrifice and mortal death.
  6. We signify to God that we remember Christ when we eat the bread.
  7. Christ promises us that we will have His Spirit with us if we remember Him.

The second half of the Sacrament is the blessing and passing of the water (they used wine in Jerusalem, the Americas, and the early days of the Restored Church).

…[H]e commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it….

And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.

And…ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:8, 10-11)

The slight variations between the blessing of the bread and wine (water today) are so instructive. The water, as the second half of the ordinance, rounds out and completes the ordinance. When we have drunk the water we have completed the full ordinance; we demonstrate to God that we have been obedient to this commandment and we signify that we will keep all of God’s commandments. The water represents Christ’s blood, both the blood that dripped from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane and the blood shed on Calvary during the Crucifixion when the soldier pierced Christ’s side. The promised gift of Christ’s Spirit to be with us is reiterated as we complete the ordinance.

The Sacrament points us to Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, the ultimate act of charity that makes eternal life possible. Because Jesus Christ suffered, died, and resurrected, He can redeem us from sin, bring us back into God’s presence, and gift us eternal life.

Day 71: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

3 Nephi 16:12

While Jesus ministers to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas He makes several prophecies and clarifies doctrinal truths. In 3 Nephi 16 He speaks about His gospel and its importance to our mortal experience on earth. In fact, Jesus suggests that qualifications for righteousness turn on the axis of accepting and living the gospel.

What is “the gospel?” Thanks to the Restoration and the translation of the Book of Mormon, we have a really clear understanding today. The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches principles and provides ordinances necessary for mankind to become worthy to receive eternal life. Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance form two foundational principles of the Gospel. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, performed by someone with authority from God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two halves of the initial ordinance necessary for salvation. Lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ, obedience to His laws, participation in further ordinances, and keeping covenants are necessary to “endure to the end” of this mortal life and qualify for eternal life.

Day 70: Restored Truths and the Importance of The Book of Mormon

3 Nephi 15:16-24 and 1 Nephi 13:40-41

When Jesus appeared to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas, He established His identity, His importance to their lives, and His law, the law of Christ. One of the most critical truths for us to understand is that there is “one fold and one shepherd” (3 Nephi 15:21). Jesus personally declared His divinity, His role as Savior and Redeemer, and the primacy of His law. His words in 3 Nephi echo earlier prophetic writings in 1 Nephi that “there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” (1 Nephi 13:41). This is Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon serves as a second witness of Jesus Christ. It stands alongside the Bible as a testimony of His divinity, it clarifies important points of doctrine such as the need for baptism by immersion by the proper authority, and teaches additional doctrines such as the Plan of Salvation in beautiful simplicity.

The role of Jesus Christ in our lives can be summed up in simple statements of truth. Just as there is one shepherd and one God over all the earth, so is there one plan and one law that apply to everyone on earth: “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved” (1 Nephi 13:40). Our purpose on earth is to learn charity, selflessness, to become more like God, to repent when we fall short, to make promises to God, to keep His commandments, and to prepare for eternal life. Jesus Christ set the example and makes all this possible through His Atonement and Resurrection. By following Jesus Christ according to the pattern He set anciently and reestablished through His church today, we choose the path to eternal life.

Day 58: Remembering

Alma 62:49-50

Memory is a really important concept in the scriptures. We are meant to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8, OT), to “always remember” Jesus Christ (Mormon 4-5, BoM), “and to remember his holy covenant” (Luke 1:72, NT). Remembering should impel us to action such as doing sabbath appropriate activities; fostering thoughts of Christ to influence our day-to-day choices and behavior; making choices in keeping with our covenants.

Following Captain Moroni’s successful conclusion of the war, Nephite society began again to flourish. Many people became wealthy and the society as a whole prospered. Usually this spells disaster for the Nephites “[but] notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes…” (Alma 62:49). The crucial difference between pride and humility? Remembering.

The Nephites were not “slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him” (ibid.). Part of remembering God seems to include a present awareness of His existence and one’s relationship to Him. Keeping God present in our thoughts helps us keep an accurate perspective on mortality. Also, the Nephites

“did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies” (Alma 62:50).

By maintaining a present and active awareness of God through memory, the Nephites stayed humble, they prospered temporally, their society expanded, and they received many blessings from God.

One additional thought I’ve been mulling over is how I experience joy every time I remember something specific God has done for me. That feeling of joy improves my life in the moment but also motivates me to active gratitude through obedience and careful covenant keeping.

What experiences have you had that bring you joy in the process of remembering them? How could more intentional “remembering” make God more present in your life?

Further Reading

Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember Remember,” General Conference (Oct 2007).

Day 48: Peace in this life

Alma 38:8

Peace is often connected in the scriptures to promises associated with eternal life and exaltation. In Alma 38, the prophet Alma the younger helps us understand how to receive peace in this life, a peace that prefigures the permanent and eternal peace of the next life.

Alma recounts his conversion story for his middle son, Shiblon, in this father-son interview of counsel and Gospel teaching. Alma hasn’t made any secret of his wild and wicked youth, and uses his experience as a launch pad to help others understand the importance of the Gospel and the reality of Jesus Christ. Alma is a powerful witness of the mercy of God and the saving power of Jesus Christ. He tells Shiblon that after the angel warned him and the sons of Mosiah, Alma “was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul” (Alma 38:8). Have you ever felt “bitter pain” or “anguish of soul”? Can you imagine feeling that constantly for three days?! But when Alma, remembering something his father had preached, called upon Jesus Christ to have mercy on him, he received “a remission of [his] sins” and found “peace to [his] soul” (ibid.)

In Alma’s experience, receiving a remission of his sins resulted in peace. There’s the obvious explanation that a person feeling tormented by his/her sins will be at peace once s/he has repented and received forgiveness from God. But I see additional insight here into the nature of peace and what Alma is really getting at. We experience peace in this life when our conscience is clear and we are in good standing with God. If we are keeping the commandments and following God’s counsel and laws, we will have peace. In my own experience, I can have this kind of peace even in the midst of stressful situations, life challenges, or other problems that typically cause pain and distress.

True peace comes through Jesus Christ as we repent regularly, keep God’s commandments, and live up to our covenants.

Day 41: Silver Linings

Alma 20:29

In Alma 20:29 we learn of the intense suffering of Ammon’s brother Aaron and some of his mission companions. After trying to teach different communities of Lamanites and being harshly rejected, the group ended up in prison where they experienced “hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions.” “All kinds of afflictions.” We each know what it is like to suffer. Whether disappointment, chronic pain, abuse, uncertainty, fear, afflictions hound our mortal lives.

The circumstances of Aaron’s imprisonment and release put me in mind of a phrase from the Doctrine and Covenants: “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). The Lord turned a terrible experience for Aaron and his companions to great good for King Lamoni and his father. Lamoni became an independent ruler and was able to proclaim religious freedom in his land. Aaron and his companions were able to teach King Lamoni’s father, help him repent, and then aid him in establishing Christ’s church among his people. Aaron and his brethren eventually “brought many to the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 21:17). If you look at the sequence of events in Alma 19-20, you can see the Lord’s hand.

I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do want infuse hope into your experience. The Lord promises that if you “[s]earch diligently, pray always, and be believing…[and] walk uprightly and remember” your covenants, “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). Remember that the Lord is bound by His promises. When we keep the commandments and fulfill our covenants, the Lord can open the windows of heaven. If we will be “patient in all [our] sufferings” like Aaron and his brethren, we can move forward with our lives, trusting in the Lord to turn even the worst suffering into great good. No experience will be wasted. He is a God of miracles who will transform all suffering, all sorrow, ALL afflictions into something of great worth that will be for your good.

Day 38: Steps into the Darkness

Alma 8-14

Having finished Alma 14 today, I see a good moment to pause and reflect on two themes exemplified in Amulek’s experience as a reactivated church member and new missionary.

1. When God asks you to do something, He doesn’t give you every detail in advance.

Amulek says he had heard the call to repent and turn back to the Lord many times (Alma 10:6). He ignored it. But when God sent the angel with the brief message to receive into his home a hungry prophet of God, he acted (Alma 10:7). The brevity of the angel’s instruction to Amulek and the scarcity of information provided really stands out to me. Amulek acted with faith to follow the angel’s instructions. He expresses his faith to Alma upon their divinely directed encounter, stating simply, “I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house” (Alma 8:20).

What stands out to me is that Amulek likely had no idea what was going to be expected of him once he took this faith-filled step into the darkness. God didn’t include advance notice that he would be asked to “go forth and prophesy unto this people” (v. 29), nor did He provide lesson plans, a warning about how the people would react, or instructions for the coming days and weeks. The only instruction provided was, “Thou shalt receive [Alma]” (Alma 8:80; Alma 10:7).

God will extend many invitations to us over our lifetimes. Let’s be like Amulek and act in faith, knowing that whatever He asks will ultimately “be a blessing unto [you] and [your] house.”

2. Doing God’s will does not guarantee that you will be kept safe or avoid unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even dangerous situations.

I used to tell myself that if God had told me in advance everything I would experience on my mission, I never would have gone. And, yes, pre-mission me had a right to feel really nervous and scared about serving a mission. But I would never trade the joy I experienced helping others repent nor the covenant friendships I forged as a missionary.

The Book of Mormon doesn’t share much about Amulek’s state of mind or feelings about becoming Alma’s mission companion except to record that he willingly took his step into the darkness and faithfully acted on God’s invitation and instructions. The people we’re asked to serve in the places we’re asked to go have their agency. They are free to act as they want and see fit. When we accept an assignment from God to go serve, doing God’s will does not guarantee that people are going to be nice, welcoming, accepting, or even polite.

Amulek learned first hand about being rejected in the harshest ways possible: he and Alma were plotted against (Alma 10:13), he was called a liar (Alma 10:28), they were “bound with strong cords” (Alma 14:4), they were unjustly accused and illegally tried on false charges (Alma 14:5), they were forced to watch people they taught be burned alive (Alma 14:8-10), they were attacked and beaten multiple times (Alma 14:14, 20, 21, 24, 25), they were imprisoned while tied up with no clothes (Alma 14:17, 22), they were starved (Alma 14:22).

Just the potential for this kind of suffering while doing God’s work is reason enough for almost anyone to refuse an assignment. But when we really believe deep in our souls that God is real, that His work is vital, that the Plan of Salvation is in effect, that the human race has the opportunity to live with God forever OR be cast off to suffer eternally, then the potential for earthly suffering on God’s errand takes on a whole new perspective. Taking the chance on potential (temporary) suffering to bring even one person to Christ has to be worth it.

God may or may not protect you while you are on His errand, He won’t interfere with anyone’s agency, you may or may not have to go to dangerous places, you may or may not be required to have many unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences; but God does guarantee blessings, He does promise that His righteous works will be fulfilled, He does promise that suffering and misery are temporary, that they will end and be replaced with peace and joy.

Elder Holland spoke to this principle years ago in October 1999 General Conference. I’ll end with his closing words:

I testify that God lives, that He is our Eternal Father, that He loves each of us with a love divine. I testify that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh and, having triumphed in this world, is an heir of eternity, a joint-heir with God, and now stands on the right hand of His Father. I testify that this is Their true Church and that They sustain us in our hour of need—and always will, even if we cannot recognize that intervention. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. (Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,General Conference (Oct 1999.)

Day 33: Stand Fast in the Faith

Alma 1:24-25

Alma the younger was serving as the High Priest of the Church and as the first Chief Judge over the Nephites when the Church began facing a crisis of membership. Persecution, pride, sin, and apostasy began to take their toll and even “many [members] withdrew themselves from among them [the Church membership]” (v. 24). The emphasis on community and interpersonal relationships in this chapter suggested I pay attention to the family and friends who take part in and/or observe a loss of faith.

I have seen people withdraw from Church involvement in my own lifetime and noted what happens to the family members and friends who are closest to the individuals. As a youth I watched helpless as a friend left the church, only to be followed by her parents and siblings. Recently I have watched friends leave the Church, their spouses and young children remaining active for a time but eventually leaving the Church as well. I was a ministering sister to a couple who left the church years ago soon after three of their children “withdrew.” I sensed that my friends’ inactivity was a result of feeling hopeless: They wondered what they could have done more for their children but no longer saw a point in remaining active in the Church.

The response of the Nephite church members is instructive. “Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith” (v. 25). I appreciate that the writer here acknowledges how difficult (heart-rending even) it is to watch members of your church community (friends and family likely) lose their faith and withdraw from participation in the Church. But pay attention to how they deal with their disappointment: “nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God” (v. 25). In the case of my ministering family, I felt strongly that if they would renew their faith and be steadfast in keeping the commandments, they could bring so many blessings to their entire family. It would not be a hopeless case if they would keep the faith and honor their covenants.

I really believe that if we will honor our covenants, keep the commandments, be steadfast and immoveable, God will keep His promises to us, even to benefit and bless loved ones who have left the Church.