BoM 8: Personal Testimony, Personal Responsibility

One of the Come, Follow Me prompts for last week’s study of Mosiah 25-28 suggested that we discuss the importance of taking responsibility for our own testimonies. Chapter 26 identifies “the rising generation,” those who were children at the end of King Benjamin’s reign, did not understand his teachings and did not make the covenant along with their parents, and who chose not to believe and not to be baptized as they grew older. (See Mosiah 26:1-2, BoM.) Testimony, or belief, is the foundation for participation in a faith community.

Another great word for testimony is conviction. The older generation who, under King Benjamin, entered into a covenant with God to believe in Christ and take His name upon them, were convinced of the truth of King Benjamin’s words (see Mosiah 5:2-7, BoM). This conviction led them to behave in ways consistent with the teachings of their king and the diverse group of people became unified under the covenant. They had peace in their land, they welcomed strangers to join their community, they worked hard to serve each other. Each person who had made the covenant honored it individually and as a community of believers.

Years ago I sat in an ecclesiastical endorsement interview with my Bishop so that I could attend a church university. My bishop asked me to share my testimony. I shared typical statements of belief: I know the Church is true, I know Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration, I know Jesus Christ lives, etc. When I finished, my bishop unforgettably stated, “that’s nice. That is a very simple testimony.” The paternalism dripping from these words offended me deeply. What’s wrong with my testimony, I fumed to myself? It’s a sincere testimony!

About six years later I discovered what my bishop meant. As I suffered through the first months of my mission, with my self-construct crumbling, facing rejection every day and feeling very isolated among colleagues who didn’t know or love me, I had to learn to rely on a personage who I believed in and whose existence I felt certain of, but with whom I had never had “real” experience.

You see, it turned out that I had been living the Gospel in a vacuum, following the teachings of the Church and keeping commandments in carefully controlled settings that presented almost no challenges to me or to my faith. I grew up in a sheltered home, was oblivious to many things in high school that could have given me some real life experience, attended a Church university where it was easy to keep Church standards and follow Church teachings, and then lived with my grandmother while I worked and prepared for my mission. Each situation certainly had its own challenges, but none of those challenges constituted the sort of rich environment that allows for deep testimony development or growth. I lived the Gospel but with very little opposition. Without realizing that I had created a controlled environment for myself, I made internal claims as to having overcome various personal weaknesses. In reality I hadn’t actually overcome anger management problems, I had only removed myself from situations that caused flare ups. I didn’t actually love other people like Christ does—I just created an environment for myself in which I could associate with people when and where I wanted to and love from a distance.

All of that changed on my mission where I was suddenly forced to live in an environment completely out of my control. I begged God to help me get out of the worst of the situations and then I developed a bitterness against Him for not removing the challenges. This was my first real experience grappling with faith and testimony. Did God really exist if I couldn’t feel His presence? Did He really exist if He didn’t answer my prayers right way or in the manner I expected?

As I endured and tried to process the various experiences of my mission, I began to learn profound truths about the nature of testimony and what it takes to truly believe, to be convinced and change one’s behavior to be consistent with those convictions. King Benjamin’s people became so convinced of their lost and fallen state—they felt that truth deeply—that they begged for a solution. They believed in Christ because they also felt deeply the truth that only He could save them. (See Mosiah 4:1-3, BoM.)

In my darkest moments as a missionary I relied on the basic “simple” truths I had learned as a teenager: Christ exists. I found a deeper connection to Him in my anguish and built personal strength to believe regardless of my circumstances. I learned how the Atonement is supposed to work in helping us change our “natural wo/man” tendencies to godly characteristics and behaviors—it’s a painful process that cannot happen in a vacuum! I needed opposition (2 Nephi 2:11, BoM) to challenge me, to allow me to confront my weaknesses and, with Christ’s help, practice behaving in better ways until my heart could be changed and I could “naturally” behave in godly ways; in other words, have my nature changed.

I experienced a new facet of God’s grace as part of this testimony-building experience. For several months on my mission my behavior towards my companions was nothing short of despicable. My self-construct or false identity was gone and I began behaving in my most “natural” way; it turned out that a really mean and judgmental person had been lurking beneath my façade (see Mosiah 3:19, BoM). Despite my awful behavior, however, I experienced how deeply Christ loved me and desired my improvement. He blessed me continuously with powerful experiences ministering to local members and investigators, He magnified my singing voice to touch people’s hearts, He helped me and my companions teach in unity with the Spirit, He saw the unspoken righteous desires of my heart and answered them in subtle and meaningful ways. I didn’t deserve any of it—I recognized that all too clearly—but the patience and love with which Christ ministered to me helped me begin changing my heart. As I experienced the power and depth of Christ’s love for every single person on Earth I began to see others with new eyes.

So, while I “knew” as a young person that God is real and that Jesus Christ is my Savior, I did not have the experiential knowledge that makes for a deep or multi-faceted testimony. Not until I followed spiritual promptings to serve a mission and had to take responsibility for my spiritual life, did I begin to build true conviction.

The message I most wanted to share with my children this week is the importance of taking responsibility for their personal testimonies. We discussed different experiences they could have as children that will help them build their testimonies. I can teach them simple Gospel truths, simple enough that they can understand (see Mosiah 26:1, BoM); but I also need to invite them to take action to find out for themselves if and how those principles are true and what that truth means for them. This is the locus of belief or faith.

As a parent I want to create a safe environment in which my children can learn and grow in both secular and spiritual knowledge, but I also want them to have significant life experiences earlier than I did that will help them build deep and abiding convictions in God’s literal existence, His awareness of them, the worth of souls, and Jesus Christ’s infinite love and ability to help us all become exalted individuals and families.

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.

NT 17: What Does the Atonement Mean to Me?

Last week in Come, Follow Me we read about the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane. I was also preparing to speak on Sunday about the Atonement. I reflected frequently on what I know and continue to learn about the Atonement. These are a few of the lessons that came to mind as I read and pondered Matthew 26 and Mark 14.

  1. Even Jesus wanted to give up: “let this cup pass from me” says so much to me about the extremes and agonies of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. One of the miracles of the Atonement is that He wanted to make the suffering stop…but He completed it because He knew that it was necessary to provide the opportunity for repentance and eternal life for all of God’s children.
  2. Weak things become strong: to me, the Atonement provides the opportunity for transformation––not just sinner to saint, or mortal to immortal, but also shy person to enthusiastic ministering sister/brother, or socially awkward to strong friendshipper. In a miraculous way through the Atonement, Christ is able to step into our weaknesses, give us His strength to begin improving, and teach us how to improve.
  3. Will power and energy: on my mission I learned that even when bone tired and without energy, I could keep working if I had the desire/will power.
  4. He really does understand: again, a miracle of the Atonement I don’t fully comprehend, but I know Christ understands each and every person who has ever lived on earth. He knows what we’re going through, and He CAN help.
  5. Being enough: not sure what I meant by this originally but we all need to embrace the fact that Christ loves us––imperfect us––just the way we are. He loves us enough to also see our eternal potential and encourage and facilitate its development.
  6. Joy in misery: this is another transformation topic I ponder…the fact that even in the midst of experiencing tremendous pain, disappointment, or misery, we can experience joy in the Gospel through Jesus Christ.
  7. Just me and God: learning to rely on God without having anyone else physically present on whom I could rely was a fear-inducing but necessary lesson. While studying Come, Follow Me I have reflected on how confident Jesus must have been to teach the way He did, prophesy the things He prophesied, and pursue His path to Atonement, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. God the Father was His bedrock and He needs to be ours as well.

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 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 69: Humility and Giving Credit

3 Nephi 9:15-22; 11:11; 13:25-29

I need to toot my own horn for a minute (with a purpose). Today I feel pretty proud of all I accomplished. I got my kids dressed and fed, I cleaned up messes off and on throughout the day; I unpacked no less than five boxes and continued working on setting up four different rooms; I made cookies with my kids, cared for a sick child, tailored a dress (that I made eight years ago) to wear to my husband’s work party, and repaired two other items of clothing; I made dinner, got the kids to bed on time, and helped my husband mount our television on a wall. Did I mention I also vacuumed the family room and flattened 10 empty boxes? I would give myself a big old pat on the back and spend some time savoring my accomplishments, but I’m trying to heed a warning given in The Book of Mormon.

In 2 Nephi 12:8, the prophet writing at the time quotes Isaiah’s prophecy of the last days, that people will “worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” I am definitely guilty of this! I love making things, whether it’s clothing, crafts, home renovations, you name it, I love my creations, sometimes to an absurd degree. After reading the prophecy in 2 Nephi 12, I have really tried to cut back on my creative pride. Not that it’s inherently wrong to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, but when we let pride in our own accomplishments obscure the most important creations and diminish our gratitude for their source, then we run into problems.

I found new meaning in the 2 Nephi prophecy and my own attempts to heed the warning as I read 3 Nephi 9, 11, and beyond. These chapters record true miracles of creation, sacrifice, and love that should take center stage at all times. In 3 Nephi 9:15, the resurrected Jesus Christ speaks to the Nephites and Lamanites from heaven, proclaiming His divinity and role as Creator. He is “the light and life of the world” (v. 18), he has “come unto the world to bring redemption…, to save the world from sin” (v. 21), he has “laid down [His] life, and [has] taken it up again” (v. 22). When I consider what Jesus Christ has done for mankind, for me, for my children and husband, I am humbled. The “works of my own hands” pale in comparison to the miracles of repentance and mercy made possible through the Atonement and Resurrection.

When I let pride in my temporal creations become an obsession, I neglect the true miracles of creation manifest in my children, in the beauties of the earth around me (3 Nephi 13:25-29), in my very existence, and in the promise of eternal life offered as a gift of love by the Savior Jesus Christ. These I will try to cherish more completely instead.

Day 54: No greater love

Alma 54:7

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).

Day 49: Precious Souls and Redemption

Alma 39:17 and Alma 40-42

“[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).

Day 28: Seeing Eye to Eye, Part II

Mosiah 16:1

This idea of seeing eye to eye has intrigued me for years. What I have deduced from continued study and pondering is that seeing eye to eye means that a certain level of understanding has been achieved and everyone involved operates on the same level or plane of understanding. Abinadi is definitely focused on a specific set of knowledge that all people on earth will gain in this moment; namely that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Abinadi’s prophecy, like other similar prophecies, has always given me hope on a personal level, however. Where interpersonal conflicts and disagreements are concerned, I usually think about this prophecy and wonder if it could also mean that people who have wronged me will recognize their error and we will resolve our differences. Or that people who have argued together over an issue will realize and embrace the truth; it’s not about who’s right, it’s about everyone recognizing the truth at the heart of the matter. Or that multiple people party to an ambiguous situation will finally all understand the truth of it.

Whether this will happen or not, the fact of the prophecy that all people will come to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is a really big deal to me. Multiple prophets have repeated this prophecy. Its boldness underscores its truth in my mind. The prophets already knew the truth and they tried to help the people of their day gain that testimony as well. But regardless of who chooses to believe now, at a given time EVERYONE will know.