1 Nephi 18 – Not after the manner of Men

Have you ever built something ‘not after the manner of men’?30485879516a834af0b16aba5fd8fe23

I ask because Nephi affirms the divinity of his naval vessel to the reader. He explains that because he prayed a lot to the Lord, the Lord showed him great things. I think the same correlation would exist, even causation in fact inasmuch as we read the scriptures and study them intently. Recall that Nephi states that the Spirit shows men what we should do and the scriptures tell us what we should do.

As was powerfully demonstrated by the response to his prayer that the Lord confirm his father’s exilic revelations at the onset of the Book of Mormon (to leave Jerusalem before its eventual sacking by a foreign force), the answer to Nephi’s prayers tend to be quite visceral and virtual. That is to say, take stock of his dreams thus far:

  • The sack of Jerusalem and of Christ and of Twelve Apostles
  • A symbolic vision of the Tree of Life and Rod of Iron
  • The Birth, Life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ
  • A vision of John the Revelator and of the Bible’s compilation and dissemination among the Gentiles
  • The scattering of Israel, the Apostasy, some of the Reformation, and establishment of America
  • Particular wars of the American Revolution, but also between his descendants as well as those of his brothers’ and their devolution from the Gospel of Christ
  • The coming forth of his record in the form of the Book of Mormon and the emergence of other witnesses from the remaining ten Tribes of Israel that would validate both scriptural witnesses of Christ (Bible, Book of Mormon)

I don’t have many dreams of that nature (I mean jeesh those are intense), or any at all, but the last point is critical to understanding Mormons as tried and tested Christians. Many Christians don’t afford Mormons the time of day to be considered Christian because of the existence of the Book of Mormon. Well, that myopic affirmation does very little good to both parties and to bystanders – that criticism only divides everyone. Why? Well, Mormons believe other ancient scripture will come out that will independently corroborate with what Mormons consider revealed doctrine or Book of Mormon or Bible teachings (Christ visits other sheep, God spoke to not only the Jews and therefore loves everyone). Consider the Abrahamic papyri that Joseph Smith translated or the Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1948 and the 50s that detail the life of Qumran Society Christians who anticipated a Messiah such as Christ by performing baptisms 100 years before Christ or John the Baptist were born. Nephi asserts the doctrine of baptism and he lived 600 years before Christ.

Despite this, however, from Nephi’s perspective, consider that while he appears to criticize the Bible, he simply records and claims what is irrefutably affirmed by secular scholars and religious theologians alike today: that the Bible is no perfect book with any single unifying narrator (except God I suppose) and was compiled under dozens of scholars at the behest of a Roman Emperor (and into English from the Latin Vulgate and Greek Septuagint). Yet he still exerts faith.

On the other hand, many modern religious individuals faced with no seminary training pale at this reality and lose faith. Well that’s no good. Hence the Book of Mormon – it states that it is written to secure the Bible’s place as Logos, as the revelation it has been argued to be for centuries by pontiffs, bishops, and adherents alike. Traditional Christians would do well to consider just what role the Book of Mormon plays in doing so. Without denigrating the divinely inspired reformationists (Tyndale, Wyecliffe, Luther, etc.), Mormons believe God saw fit to finally and fully restore his Son’s everlasting Gospel and Church to the earth – to make it living and breathing again with heavenly apostolic authority, new scripture, and a clear vision of life’s purposes.

The Book of Mormon was translated by one person – a 24yr old prophet of God named Joseph Smith in New York State. The Bible was first compiled by feuding ecclesiastical leaders in the 300s AD under Constantine, compiled for the people of his Empire (the OT was written to the Hebrews, the NT written by Hebrews turned Christian to the fledgling Church in the Mediterranean) I affirm this single translating effort is the Restoration warning shot across the world’s bow, that God lives and communicates through a Noah, Abraham, Moses and Isaiah again, and through apostles like Paul who wrote letters to various Christian locations in his world. The Book of Mormon restores simple Gospel principles that Paul taught, or that Isaiah taught – but most importantly that Christ taught. It is my opinion that the Bible survived not only due to faithful people down through centuries or through power hungry potentates clinging tenaciously to a claim of ‘divine authority’, but because Christ blessed the Apostle’s words to go throughout the world and to ultimately bless those who would hear them. What’s been lost is the ability to communicate meaningfully and directly to God or the ability to confirm a religious leader’s claims as Christ affirmed in John 7:17. Laman and Lemuel didn’t need such an historical apostasy to occur, theirs was already in the making: and like the Israelites it was all of their own doing.

In essence, amidst these remarkable revelations, the Lord shows an ignorant seaman called Nephi how to build a ship. Laman and Lemuel probably snickered at that claim by saying Nephi attempted to make himself feel better for not being an expert boatman (whatever apparent faults or incongruous layout of the ship might be God’s idea, scapegoating God or passing the buck – but they soon learn because they definitely make it to the promised land!). What’s more is that their iniquity or disobedience and all around lame attitude causes them to all nearly perish at sea.

I can’t claim visions on the magnitude of Nephi, but I can claim the Spirit’s subtle suggestion that I go help a certain member or I see a certain person in my mind’s eye performing some chore or duty around the house, and I see how I can help. And sure enough, that person needed that help at that time. That’s been shown to me for sure.

I’m also calling on all Christians to seriously consider this unifying message, that Christ lives and guides His church again on the earth – you don’t have to only symbolically believe that the church of Christ is the vast body of believers the world over (from which Mormons are uniquely omitted L), but that Christ is seeking to unify his believers under His authority again with Apostles (Ephesians 2:19-20; 4:11-14) who leave, like Peter and James and John, their careers to fill the call to be special witnesses of Christ and His Resurrection. There has been no such Church since Christ’s day – until now.

May this be shown to you by the Spirit as you pray to know that since 1830 God has been building His Church, His way, and not ‘after the manner of men’.

SK

1 Nephi 16 – Epic Falls and Small Obedience

A) “No references?” I asked, disbelieving anyone would ever think to omit those essentials.

“No, I have none,” he responded, dropping the harsh h down his throat as most native Arabic speakers do (as if you’re going to clear your throat).

“You didn’t fill out the rest of it”, I said flipping through it quickly for job experience.

“No, it would be a lie to”.

He had diffidently, yet hopefully, handed me his application to work as an Arabic tutor or intake personnel for the Center at which I work. He carried the irony that tall, soft-spoken men do: gentle presence when we expect raw, Wreck-it-Ralph clumsiness. He’s in his late 20’s and family is all back in Egypt, friends too. I learned he arrived in America last August and has since moved through 5 locations with no job; I see now, he lives in nagging, exhausting fear.

For I read his application – the most reputable portion being his name and current address. After he handed it to me and returned to his desk, I saw he was hunkered over, his big yet lanky legs folded awkwardly beneath the desk. It somehow contained his massive hulk. He was seated behind a computer in the row behind me. We were now in class together because I was now observing one of my ESL courses to complete my MA practicum in Applied Linguistics. With heavy mental and emotional obstacles, his story is similar to many refugees and emigrants to the US, even many US citizens. My thoughts drifted to him as I wondered how he faces a loneliness I haven’t faced. Who knows what financial sacrifice his family made to relocate him from an unstable Egypt and war-torn region, from the choices of thousands of fellow Egyptians?

B) Two weeks earlier, as I sat with my colleague at work, she said, “I’m so mad at God. If a God really did exist, how could he allow so much evil to occur? You don’t have to answer that, but…”. Implying she’s not really asking right now, and I understood, we had monthly and weekly statistics to gather, so I didn’t feel obligated to fully answer her then and I didn’t.

But I did first agree with her concerning the sad, sorry state of the world. As I write now, I think of the evils of ISIS (ISOL or dash), Boko Haram in Nigeria, war in the middle east, human trafficking, innumerable instances of domestic abuse, regional poverty the world over and even in the US, minimal access to health care, racial tensions exacerbated in recent months in the US, job loss, and western political, social, and cultural forces appearing to upend much of the positive aspects of what’s pejoratively or denigratingly considered “traditional” in family and gender roles.

Asking if God exists, sincerely, is different than acknowledging his existence, or at least the idea of his existence, by blaming Him. It’s hard for many to learn, as had Laman and Lemuel, that God’s omnipotence does not extend into our wills (unless you believe everything’s already been done in the mind of God). Not uselessly have philosophers (St. Augustine, Boethius, and so many others) been kept busy a while considering the role agency plays in a world created by an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent deity or otherwise numinous force.

Heeding the divine injunction of a loving Savior to keep the 2 great commandments, godly forces are present in the service that others rend to you, and as you render to others. As Nephi recounts to us, his rather obstinate yet sometimes repentant brothers made choices that resulted in not only immediate effects (rebellion against Lehi and serious quarreling with Nephi), but generational results (entirety of a millennium of conflict, bitterness and revenge). While I believe that “all men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression“, we do live through the effects of others’ so-called, personal Falls – everyday negative choices. Not only our own limited capacities and foolish choices, but the millions of others’ around us. But sometimes people ignore this complex reality, choosing not to confront it, instead creating a simple scapegoat absolving us of any responsibility (aka God) to correct, amend or otherwise improve our situation. Ultimately declining to improve their own lives in truly living God’s commandments.

My righteous grandfather died due to a car accident during a foggy morning in the late 80’s, my other grandfather passed in 2007 due to lung cancer – he never smoked, my aunt recently passed last year because a driver ran a red light and she was on her motorcycle passing through the intersection. Watch this man’s commandment-blessed story of loving and forgiving the drunken driver who recklessly killed his wife and kids. And Laman and Lemuel had it rough – leaving plush comforts of a Jerusalem home and living for years in a forsaken, nomad-ridden desert: but so did Nephi, Sam, and Lehi. I mean, Nephi’s steel bow broke – the weapon or tool that could deal death at a distance, and find food, was gone. At Ishmael’s death (1 Nephi 16:35), his daughters murmured against Lehi and wanted to return, like Laman and Lemuel, to Jerusalem. They doubted the Lord’s goodness and revelations to Nephi and Lehi, and suspected grandiose, even kingly, vengeful desires from younger Nephi (v.38). After all, at this time the eldest receives the inheritance and birthright like the quintessential Biblical lineage, and birthright reckoning disputations of, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And that’s the problem: being unable to think and live outside the social distance box they’d forged for themselves, they thought “we are older, deserve power, status and position”. To them, Nephi was never an equal, a brother – he was either more, or less, than them. I wrote last post of a spiritual equation or faith-filled formula, and I encourage you to view this brief message from a true, duly ordained, modern Apostle of the Living Christ. He analogizes the commandments as an equation for happiness – which I testify, affirm, and validate that they are to anyone willing to try them. Christ declared them to be much the same (John 7:17, 14:15, 21, 15:10) and everything He did and commanded us to do, He did so that we might know Heavenly Father (John 17:3).

The Egyptian ESL student, my colleague, and I have each made choices within the world we’ve inherited and reap the consequences. But, living the commandments of God keeps me free from the world’s stain and my own daily, epic Falls – because living the commandments places me in a state to do good, be moral (virtue is its own reward), and receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. I’m not perfect, but I try. A young man (19) I know is getting baptized on the 11th of April because He knows the Savior’s commandments are true. And I know that His commandments are true, the consequential evidence is staggering, and besides, the Savior commanded that we do them. The disturbing NYTimes headlines sufficiently (if skewed as headlines) declare man’s views of himself. The ancient and modern commandments are graceful gifts and actions that man can’t devise and are small and simple (1 Nephi 16:29) things that, when done daily, result in the natural joy of the saints.

Find someone to serve and with whom to share such wonderful news! Thanks for reading…leave your comments below 🙂

SK