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.

Day 86: The truth of all things

Moroni 10:1-7

I finished reading The Book of Mormon! I love Moroni’s promise that if we ask God, He will confirm the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon to us.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

I have felt the Holy Ghost testify to me consistently throughout my reading these past few months. I know The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It stands hand in hand with the Bible to witness that Jesus is the Christ, that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real, that they have a plan for us, that salvation is available through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.

If you want to learn for yourself if The Book of Mormon is true, read it. The Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead, will testify to you in a way you will understand that it is the word of God. Remember that Jesus promised the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit of truth,” “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13, NT). You can recognize the presence of Holy Ghost by its fruits. The Holy Ghost brings feelings of and inspires “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, [m]eekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23, NT). Sometimes when the Spirit testifies of truth it clashes with preconceived notions and contradicts previously held beliefs. This can be jarring, uncomfortable, and off-putting. I invite you to push through those initial feelings to draw nearer to God, to discover God’s plan for you, to find greater happiness, to strengthen your family, to receive the promise of eternal life.

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him. (Moroni 10:32)

Day 79: The Nature of God

Mormon 9:9

One of the great truths restored to the earth through Joseph Smith in 1820 is the nature of God: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct Beings. They work together in unity as the Godhead to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, PoG). God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son have resurrected bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit which enables Him to fulfill his office and responsibilities.

The Book of Mormon sheds further light on the character of God. Moroni teaches in Mormon 9:9, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?” This recurring theme highlights several additional truths also treated in The Book of Mormon: God had a plan for His children at the creation of the world and He has the same plan today; God offers mercy to all who repent regardless of when they lived on earth; God required baptism before Christ came to earth and He still requires it for entrance to heaven; God fulfills all His words and promises today, just as He has done since the foundation of the world.

But as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I also believe in eternal progression. As eternal beings we have the opportunity to progress and develop to become like God. The implicit notion is that God also continues to progress and develop because, “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be” (President Lorenzo Snow, see article for source).

I remember teaching a very bright young man on my mission and I shared these two seemingly contrary beliefs in the course of a lesson. The young man thought he had caught me in a doctrinal dilemma: How can God be both unchanging AND capable of progression? What I learn from The Book of Mormon and continuing revelation is that God IS God because of core, eternal characteristics. He is goodness personified, honest, just, merciful, and more. God’s core characteristics don’t change but He can and does become more good, more merciful, more loving, more kind, more godlike and more perfect.

One of the things I find so beautiful about the Restored Gospel is that we have the opportunity to grow and progress in like manner to develop those crowning eternal characteristics.

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 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 65: No cause for unbelief

Helaman 14:12, 28, 31

I want to connect three separate ideas I came across in Helaman 14. This chapter continues the record of Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching and prophecies to the Nephites. Samuel doesn’t mince words and there are several important truths he proclaims in simple, clarifying terms that come to bear on every person on earth.

The first eternal truth identifies Jesus’ role in the universe. Samuel’s description of the coming Savior as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things” makes His sacrifice that much more compelling (Helaman 14:12). Our Creator sacrificed HIMSELF for us. He chose to come to earth, live through mortality in extremely humble circumstances, suffer excruciating pain, and endure an ignominious, painful death all for US. I stand all amazed.

A few verses later Samuel reifies this prophetic information by explaining that God will provide sensate proof of its reality and truth. No one has an excuse to not believe because “these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:28).

Finally, Samuel the Lamanite concludes his testimony of the Savior and the need to believe in Jesus Christ by reminding the people that they have the power to choose (Helaman 14:31). Even after the testimonies and the signs are given, each person must choose for him-/herself whether or not to believe and act on that belief. If they choose to believe in Christ, they choose life, eternal life through faith, good works, repentance, and consistent effort to follow Jesus Christ.

Day 44: Faith, Evidence, and Knowledge

Alma 30:15

Faith, evidence, and knowledge are big topics that require a much more in-depth treatment. I’m sure someone else much smarter and more eloquent has done that already, but this issue came up for me last year and I wanted to share a few (very) brief thoughts since Korihor treads on the subject in Alma 30.

In Alma 30, Korihor pops up as an example of an Anti-Christ, someone who tries to destroy the Church by preaching the Christ doesn’t exist. He is not successful for many reasons, including that God is real and the church Alma established under God’s authority had a lot of very committed members. One of Korihor’s arguments in verse 15 lays the claim that “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see.” God requires us to accept as true many, many things that we cannot see. We accept that He exists, without seeing Him. We accept that Jesus Christ is real, without seeing Him. We accept that the Resurrection will happen, that our sins can be forgiven, that baptism is necessary for salvation, all without “seeing” proof. Korihor specifically denies the possibility of gaining knowledge without using physical senses to obtain evidence.

The Book of Mormon teaches that knowledge of God and things pertaining to God come through means other than the five senses. Such knowledge comes through faith, prayer, fasting, studying God’s word, and acting on God’s word as revealed by His prophets. The scriptures suggest that a spiritual witness provides just as good or better evidence than what we can obtain through our physical senses. In Hebrews 11:1 (NT) the Apostle Paul teaches that “faith…is the evidence of things not seen.” When considered in tandem with Alma 32, Paul’s point could be that having and acting on faith in something true but not visible brings forth evidence for its truthfulness. And as Alma teaches, acting on faith in a particular principle will ultimately provide you with knowledge about that thing. Faith doesn’t require evidence but it can provide evidence. Faith and evidence can coexist. And while knowledge develops as a result of an exercise of faith, we continue to exercise our faith to grow our knowledge base of God, truth, and eternity.

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.

Day 22: Irreducible Truths

Jarom 1:2, 9

I have mentioned before that I love patterns. I also love categorizing things and naming categories. One of my hobby horses is “irreducible truths,” or eternal truths or fundamental/foundational truths. I like using the term “irreducible” because it captures an important aspect of this category: The truths they describe cannot be reduced further; they are foundational to the universe and provide the answer for so many questions rather than being questions themselves.

The prophet Jarom (son of Enos) states a couple of these irreducible truths in his very brief section of the Book of Mormon. In verse two he writes about why his writings are so short, namely that previous prophets covered what he felt were the most essential doctrines. He names the Plan of Salvation as one of these foundational principles that is both essential and already covered in the writings to which he had access, “and this sufficeth me,” he concludes. If I ever wondered what the critical knowledge of the Gospel is, here’s my answer. The Plan of Salvation teaches us where we came from, why we are here on earth, and where we are going after this life; this is reality.

Another fundamental truth Jarom touches on appears in verse nine. He references previous scriptural writings to testify of the fulfillment of God’s word that, “Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” I love how the Book of Mormon references itself, how writers recollect past writings and confirm the fulfillment of prophecies. To me this is a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, but, even more importantly, it is a testimony of God: It expresses the irreducible truth of God’s existence, His participation in our earthly experience, His role as covenant maker, and the simply stated fact that He fulfills ALL His words and promises. It behooves us to listen and heed His word.