I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to jump back in to blogging after a year hiatus. I’ve missed the mental and spiritual exercise! I hope that your 2022 ended on a high note and that 2023 is off to a great start.
In a convergence of New Year’s resolutions, my inaugural post of 2023 draws on our first Family Home Evening of 2023–goal setting!
My husband and I drew pie charts à la the children and youth program design from our church in preparation for this FHE. We labelled each quarter with the four areas of personal growth from the program: spiritual, intellectual, social, physical. We made enough for each adult and child to have their own 2023 Goal Chart.
For the lesson we began by singing “Seek the Lord Early” to orient us towards the point of goal-setting (i.e. become more like Jesus Christ) that I wanted to reinforce. I provided a brief reminder of the Plan of Salvation (that we come to earth to learn, grow, and become more like Jesus). We talked about setting goals as a way to motivate self-improvement, focus our lives on meaningful work, and measure our progress. We then set about writing our goals in each category. We talked and sought ideas from each other. Adults helped children brainstorm, flesh out ideas, and write their goals.
We have all of our family’s pages posted in a public spot where we can easily refer to them. I plan on following up every week during Family Home Evening to keep us on track to reach our 2023 goals.
The story of Lamoni’s father really gave me pause this time studying the Book of Alma. My haphazard Come, Follow Me study with my kids led me to highlight his story. I’m struck by his “astonishment” and his stewing or disquiet over his confrontation with Ammon and Lamoni (see Alma 20:27; 22:3, BoM). What is it that makes the king over the whole Land of Nephi want to understand what Lamoni has learned from Ammon, that has completely changed Lamoni? I think the answer is discomfort. Suddenly the king who was satisfied with his power and wealth and living a very comfortable life doubts his identity and place in the world, so much so that he offers his entire kingdom to Aaron as a desperate attempt to get answers, to try to relieve the discomfort (Alma 22:15, BoM).
In some ways Aaron’s teaching initially increases the king’s discomfort. The Fall is a story of displacement: Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God establishes the conditions of mortality for their descendants, the entire human race. These are conditions of separation from God’s presence, toil to survive, disease and death. But Aaron quickly presents the solution to the King’s sense of displacement and the displacement of the human family: Jesus Christ, the Savior, will come to earth and be a living sacrifice to reconcile mankind to God, to make repentance possible, to bring us back into God’s presence where we belong (Alma 22:13-14, BoM). Lamoni’s father embraces this truth readily because he first understood the pain of displacement. He desired a solution and recognized that the true resolution was more important than any worldly comforts to which he was accustomed:
What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
Alma 22:15, BoM
Do we feel the loss of God’s presence deeply enough? Do we fear enough the potential permanent separation from God if we don’t repent and follow Christ? I am not a doom and gloom Christian but I do see how getting caught up in modern comforts, entertainment, and/or wealth can completely obscure the reality of human life and our collective spiritual destiny. The joy that Lamoni’s father experiences upon accepting Christ as his Savior and Redeemer can inspire us all to seek greater understanding of our purpose here on earth and to receive the great joy promised to all God’s children who follow Jesus Christ.
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.
The war chapters of Alma continue to enlighten me! I’m coming away with a lot of new insights and applications to my own life. In Alma 54 Captain Moroni calls out Ammoron in a letter proposing a prisoner exchange. Moroni doesn’t pull any punches as he accuses Ammoron of “murderous purposes” and warns him to repent. It got my thinking that Amalikiah initiated the war and Ammoron continued it out of greed. Amalikiah wanted to be a king, he divided Nephite society, he murdered the Lamanite king, he riled up the Lamanites, and he waged war against a peaceful people, all for the sake of his ambitious greed.
Moroni seems to really despise the brothers, especially for the incredible loss of life they caused. Taken in a Gospel perspective, treating people as expendable goods is like an ultimate evil. Being careless of other people, disregarding the worth of a soul, or focusing on oneself to the detriment of others all run contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around the worth of souls and God’s desire to bring back to Him as many of His children as possible. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate example of the ultimate good when He laid down His life for us, so that we may live. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NT).
“[I]s not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” Alma asks his younger son, Corianton. God provides the Plan of Salvation because we are each precious to Him. Each and every person who has lived, currently lives, and will live on earth is a beloved son or daughter of God. So loved in fact, that our brother Jesus Christ volunteered to suffer and die on our behalf and our Father in Heaven agreed to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son for the purpose of redeeming the entire human race.
The Plan of Salvation, as explained by Alma to his son, provides the opportunity for mankind to overcome the effects of Adam and Eve’s “fall” and become worthy to enter God’s presence after this life on earth is complete. The two debilitating effects of the Fall include: 1. Spiritual death (separation from God by sin); and 2. Temporal death (separation of body and spirit)––both of which prevent us from entering God’s presence and receiving eternal life (Alma 42:6-7, 9).
The Plan of Salvation hinges on the infinite and eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God Himself coming to earth to experience mortality just like the rest of us but with a clear and heavy purpose (Alma 42:15). Jesus used His mortal ministry to re-establish the essential practices/ordinances of baptism by immersion and bestowing the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He provided the perfect example of how we should live on earth to qualify for eternal life (Alma 42:4, 13). Then He performed the Atonement by which in a miraculous way He accepted the punishment for all our sins. He suffered, bled, and died to complete this crucial transaction, allowing Him to judge and forgive sin (condition 1; Alma 42:22-23). It also provides the gift of Resurrection for every single member of the human race (condition 2; see Alma 40:23).
I love the clear and detailed explanations Alma provides in these chapters about what happens after this life. I love the Savior Jesus Christ for making a glorious life after death possible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NT).
Celebrating Thanksgiving today put me in mind of gratitude and its supreme importance to this life. When a person is grateful, s/he humbly acknowledges the contributions others make and genuinely appreciates them. King Benjamin taught his people that gratitude constitutes one of the most important ways we can try to repay God for everything He does for us. As I read through verse 38 in Alma 34, I realized that Amulek shaped much of this sermon to the Zoramites around being thankful––why we should be grateful to God and ways we can appropriately show our gratitude.
First, why should we be grateful to God? King Benjamin instilled in his people a sense of their indebtedness to God. At the heart of our debt to God is the willing sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son to “atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:8). Jesus’ earthly ministry and “great and last sacrifice” give our lives meaning and preserve the purpose for which we were created: we cannot reach our divine potential and inherit God’s kingdom without access to repentance and forgiveness (v. 16). The Great Plan of Redemption comes as a gift from Christ, for “he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name” (v. 15). Jesus encircles us “in the arms of safety” through His Atonement, saving us from the harsh demands of justice by satisfying them Himself (v. 16). God pours out “mercies and blessings” upon us (v. 38).
We are truly indebted to our Heavenly Father and Jesus for everything they do for us! Our existence is only made possible through them. Rightly did Amulek counsel the Zoramites to “live in thanksgiving daily.” He provides specific instructions for how we can appropriately show our gratitude. We need to believe in Jesus Christ for starters and “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (v. 15, 17). We need to call on God in prayer everywhere, all the time, every day for mercy, for protection, for strength (v. 17-26). We need to pray for others and deliberately and compassionately serve the poor and needy (v. 27-28). We need to soften our hearts and “prepare to meet God” (v. 31-32). We need to repent, cleanse our souls, and fear God (v. 35-37). We need to be patient and develop “a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (v. 41).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a 2000 Brigham Young University devotional, “Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent. It forges bonds of love and fosters loyalty and admiration” (Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU Speeches [Oct 2000]). As we follow Amulek’s counsel to continually demonstrate our gratitude to God, the quality of our lives will improve, our spirits will be strengthened, and our love for God and His children will grow immeasurably.
Of all the sins committed by the Zoramites, the one that intrigues me the most this time reading the Book of Mormon is their belief in being chosen people. The Book of Mormon states that “the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord” (Alma 31:1). They would mount a special platform and recite a prayer that included, “We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish” (Alma 31:28). The Zoramites’ belief in being saved because they’re chosen and others perishing because they are not chosen goes against one of God’s defining characteristics and primary concerns. Up to this point in the Book of Mormon, the prophets have repeatedly stated and provided examples in action of God’s character, what constitutes righteous behavior, as well as essential and eternal doctrines. At the heart of God’s character is His love for mankind, His children. And His primary concern is their eternal welfare. The Zoramites, in perverting the ways of the Lord, lost these beautiful and essential truths.
God’s love––charity––impels so many Book of Mormon people to share their knowledge of Christ and the Plan of Salvation with others. The concern for the welfare of others’ souls leads them to fear for their eternal wellbeing and they go to incredible lengths to bring as many people to Christ as possible. But the greatest example of charity is Jesus Christ. Charity impelled Jesus Christ to accept the daunting role as Savior and provide the Atonement for all of God’s children. He willingly accepted this responsibility so that every single one of His Father’s children would have the opportunity to achieve eternal life.
In the absence of charity, apathy toward and carelessness for our fellow man creep in. As Christmas approaches, let’s examine our lives and discover ways we can change our hearts to love our fellow man more perfectly, more like Christ.
Several years ago I accompanied a set of sister missionaries to a first teaching appointment. The man we were teaching had been referred by a friend of mine. He and his wife had moved from China, earned college degrees in the US, and recently purchased a home. As we made introductions, the man mentioned that he and his wife were still settling into life in America and often felt out of place. I remembered Ammon’s words from Alma 26:36 and felt a kinship with this man––are we not all “wanderers in a strange land?”
Earth is not our first home and it will not be our last. We were spiritual beings first, children of heavenly parents who sent us out from their heavenly home so that we could have the opportunity to become like them. They sent us to earth to provide us with a mortal experience necessary to prepare us for returning to our heavenly home. Earth is not the final destination on our journey: It is a stopping point where we learn how to use our agency, choose to follow Jesus Christ, make mistakes, repent, participate in the saving ordinances, serve others, and develop godly attributes. Only through the Atonement of Christ can we qualify to return to our first and real home.
The kinship I felt that day as a fellow wanderer in this “strange land” we call earth reinforced to me Ammon’s words “that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). God loves each of His children regardless of the distinctions so peculiar to mortality. Culture, creed, race, education, language, political affiliation, geographic location, nationality are mortal constructs, purely temporary and secondary to our shared eternal identity as children of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to all people, for we are each numbered and known to God; He wants each of us to qualify for and receive the greatest gift He can bestow––a place in His house to dwell forever.
Having trained in the Humanities, I value the creative genius that brings music, visual art, and performance art to the world. I find so much of worth in these creations, because, so often, they point me to God. I have felt my mind quicken and my spirit resonate with art, music, and literature as I discover something good, true, and beautiful. These qualities speak to the source of creative genius, even the Creator of all.
But when the arts become exercises in ego or explorations of evil practices for the sake of curiosity or titillation, they lose any elevating connection to God and we are reminded that “since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself” (Alma 22:14). So much of what we do on earth only has lasting meaning if it points to God and includes Him in the process. Think how very different an average day might be if you began that day with a prayer asking God to help you work on improving a bad behavior, to give you an opportunity to help someone in need, and to watch over a particular family member. How would dedicating your day to these specific purposes change your thoughts, your actions, how you looked at other people throughout the day, and more? What we do on earth takes on its greatest meaning and significance when we make God part of the details.
Jesus Christ adds value and purpose to our lives through His Atonement. Despite human ability to create marvelous works of art, innovation, and mechanical brilliance we cannot merit anything of ourselves in an eternal sense. Only “the sufferings and death of Christ atone for [our] sins, though faith and repentance” (Alma 22:14). We cannot save ourselves but Christ can. He suffered, bled, and died for us all so that we could have the opportunity to repent and gain eternal life. “[H]e breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory”––He provided the gift of Resurrection to all “that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory…” (Ibid.)
I want to share some of the positive and joyful results of my mission––especially considering that this month I celebrated the tenth anniversary of entering the Missionary Training Center.
In 2007, nearing graduation from Brigham Young University, I listened to Bonnie D. Parkin speak at a regular Tuesday devotional. Her message on finding one’s personal ministry struck, thrilled, and terrified me. “Ministering involves extending charity—that pure love of Christ—to others, one person at a time. By doing so, we offer a kind, generous, peaceful, and pure heart.” I felt her message resonate with my spirit, telling me this was something I needed to do! She continued, “Opportunities to minister may come within the formal stewardship of a calling or assignment, or they may come as we spontaneously extend ourselves to someone in need” (Parkin, “Personal Ministry: Sacred and Precious,” BYU Devotional [Feb 2007]). Spontaneously extend myself to someone in need?! For years I had feared reaching out in this way despite feeling the Spirit nudge me many times to do just that. I needed some courage and confidence in my ability to follow the promptings of the Spirit.
Four sons of Mosiah, filled with the pure love of Christ, left the comfort and safety of their Nephite community along with several other missionaries and traveled into the lands of the Lamanites hoping “that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption” (Alma 17:16). They felt this incredibly strong conviction about Jesus Christ and the need for EVERYONE to know about Him and the Plan of Salvation. So much so that they risked their lives to go on this mission. The group, ministered to by Ammon (Alma 17:18), “took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites…trusting in the Lord (Alma 17:12-13, emphasis added). This is what I lacked!
One of the greatest blessings of my mission was developing the courage to act, the trust in the Lord to move forward with ANY assignment, the gumption to get out of my comfort zone, and the self-confidence to act on the promptings of the Spirit. The Lord provided me experience after experience to teach me these principles and help me develop these characteristics. I felt many times that God designed all these lessons to prepare me for my lifelong personal ministry. I see how He helped me on the path to becoming a reliable and effective instrument in His hands (Alma 17:9). And He taught me what it takes to be an excellent disciple of Christ. I’m not perfect in this by any means but the Lord also taught me how to further improve throughout my life. I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything.