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

1 Nephi 15 – Thickheaded and Hardhearted

“”There is a Biblical and Talmudic admonition never to speak of God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But rather as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” – thus to underline that each patriarch and matriarch came directly to God. Each found him in the same way and at the same sacrificial cost.”  ~Truman G. Madsen (Clark, 2005)

Obstacles to Creating Knowledge

In similar Abrahamic fashion, the incontrovertible results of Moroni’s invitation to all readers to disprove his claim to individual revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost validates the reality that each person not only can know that his words are true, that Jesus is the Christ, but that God is a sentient being that responds to prayer. You need not rely on a bishop, apostle, preacher, imam, or rabbi – you can know for yourself. He claims one can also know “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). Before we get to that, however, recognize that Laman and Lemuel incessantly box their ears at “this hard doctrine” (Maxwell, 2000) and never pay the sacrificial cost of placing one’s will on the metaphorical altar in daily prayer and obedience to ancient and modern commandments and covenants. The continual surrender and alignment of one’s own will, in comparison to relinquishing money or possessions is, arguably, the only kind of true sacrifice one can make, without which you are left to your own rational and empirical devices.

After his visions, Nephi asks his brothers if they’d asked God themselves about the massive and sweeping prophecies he’d seen for himself and subsequently relayed to them (contained in the preceding 4 chapters). To which they reply “We have not: for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9). They’ve thrown their hands up at praying long ago and don’t consider their unwillingness to communicate in prayer, or that they have hard hearts and at least feel for the idyllic past and the comforts of home and society in Jerusalem. An essential factor is absent: a sincere desire to know for themselves. Recall that Spirit is truth, and “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). I want to really unpack that statement, because it’s loaded. But, simply put, anything that contributes to knowledge of the past, present and future is truth (and too much of one is harmful).

They thought and hoped only for the past, like the future Pharisees and Sadducees who did not believe God revealed truth through prophets in their day. And then, boom, the Son of God appears, teaching “as one that had authority” (Mark 1:22). Just like scientific inquiry, how do we get at that truth: questions and tests. The Pharisees failed to ask the right questions of Christ, seeing his revelations as only the political challenges to their sociopolitical status and power that they without doubt were grasping to tenaciously. As one LDS author recently put it, “What makes the LDS Church so different? Questions have been restored to the earth.” (Christensen, 2013). Just as scientific inquiry uncovers or discovers natural or quantum laws, so too do LDS questions reveal eternal laws. So let’s start with the first question(s): Does God exist and is the Book of Mormon true scripture of Christ?

Getting that knowledge of God according to Moroni’s conditions (Moroni 10:3-7) 1)

Recall what God has done for you and humanity (be the opposite of Laman and Lemuel and consider all the goodness in your life as a mass of hard evidence – Moroni 10:6) 2) Literally ask God, in the name of Christ, if the Book of Mormon “is not true” 3) Ask sincerely, or with “real intent” to value the answer 4) Having faith in Christ 5) Don’t deny the power of God – so doubt your doubts If that burning or peaceful feeling occurs, don’t deny it  though you may want to for the implications are just as real – that God lives and communicates in ways we just can’t explain as of yet. Science exists because we can’t explain observable phenomena, and want to, and when you read and pray to God just as he describes, the phenomena is bound to happen. But, what if it doesn’t work (ie. I don’t feel the Spirit)? You probably haven’t satisfied any of the above conditions…It’s mind bending, I know, moreso than the general or special theories of relativity even.

Where the Scientific Method Fails

For instance, “If the hypothesis-testing process fails to eliminate most of the personal and cultural biases of the community of investigators, false hypotheses can survive the testing process and then be accepted as correct descriptions of the way the world works” (Baumgardner, 2008). Does Moroni’s test eliminate biases, or subjectivity, and achieve objectivity? Yes. In other words, you’re not going to make the answer appear out of thin air just because you simply want it to (delusional). Maybe I can explain.

For example, while I served my 2 year LDS mission in Canada ‘(05-’07) I wanted to know what level of truth and truths was in each Church or religion. So, as we attended Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, and Pentecostal services with our investigator-friends and subsequently I felt the Spirit. Usually once a preacher or minister or priest expressed deep devotion and sincere confession of faith in testifying that they knew Christ lived and died for their sins because they had felt the Spirit testify to them too. The truth was they believed in Christ and the Spirit bore witness to my spirit that it was so, whether on the pulpit or the street. Someone once said that we in the Church have no  corner on spirituality. Eternal principles found in Hindi and Buddhist practices and worship reveal to me the Spirit works strongly in individuals not of my faith.

While I had always understood that concept, I had no stark, direct or experiential proof or evidence of that until then. I was overjoyed, shocked and thankful that Heavenly Father had validated not only truth but the process itself, the faith-based method of revelation. So then, since we are question askers and truth seekers wherever it is to be found, my mind and heart had received light and truth (intelligence) through some obedience on my part and immense grace of the Spirit on the other (D&C 93:36-39). But as I took in the rock band on stage or observed the more incoherent and convulsive speaking in tongues in the pew behind me, the Spirit left…and so did we.

Certain practices are not conducive to the Spirit, so I learned, and hence the objectivity. My mental awareness perked up involuntarily when the Spirit left those circumstances. However, I believe I felt the Spirit present during a Passover dinner at a friend’s house  while waiting for Elijah to be present at the meal and at synagogue as parts of the Torah were read. I felt the Spirit in a Mosque In Canada while observing the immense submission and prostration characteristic to Muslims during one of the 5 calls to prayer as they removed their shoes before entering the Mosque proper, as we do when worshipping in LDS temples. While I haven’t been to a separate house of worship in a year or so, I can validate I’ve felt the Spirit during conversations with coworkers and neighbors, and while listening to some bits of the news on NPR or am590, or in scientific journals, or on mountain hikes because I can differentiate and synthesize logic and faith. In essence, we don’t discard anything that is true, unless it’s superceded by further light and knowledge; and its corollary is also true from experience: we aren’t obligated to believe what’s not true.

So, have some faith and try these steps out! Even seek to disprove them like all good science experiments do by seeking to feel the Spirit in all sorts of environments (in different churches, physical locations, times of day, your emotional states etc.). Note when it works and when it doesn’t. This faith formula is in the Bible (James 1:5, Galatians 5:22 and more) but crystal clear in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10 and Alma 32, entire book of 1 Nephi and Enos). Start obeying what Latter-day Saints believe are modern commandments and you’ll find they increase that feeling from the prayer (or that you perhaps feel as you read this…). Be like Nephi and Abraham – satisfy or reproduce the conditions, let the answers (data results) flow. This method is what everyone wants to believe but can’t let themselves – Mormon or not, let yourself test it a little more this week.

-SK

References

Baumgardner, J. (2008). Exploring the limitations of the scientific method. Acts & Facts. 37 (3): 4

Christensen, C. (2013). The power of everyday missionaries. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Maxwell, N. (Oct, 2000). Insights from my life. Ensign.

All Is Vanity

In chapter 12 Nephi observes the downfall of “multitudes of people”  and cities (v. 1-4) in war and slaughter over hundreds of years prior to Christ’s American advent; he then witnesses the violent upheavals of nature in America, concurrent to the Savior’s death in Jerusalem, that decimate cities and lay waste to the structures and even increasingly corrupt and degenerative societal structures that fomented within these ‘modern’ or ‘avant-garde’ locations, fulfilled in 3 Nephi 8-10. Hundreds of years of society and technology wiped away in hours. Suddenly, to the Nephites, all had become vain (Ecclesiastes 1:2), at least to those left alive.

Nephi says as much when he states that “the large and spacious building…is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men” (12:18). We all know to be vain means to be excessively proud of one’s achievements, attributing success to only oneself and equating one’s identity with past successes, and is ultimately foolish because you value image over substance, ultimately satisfying only finite desires that come and go and that do not reciprocate the time and effort put into achieving that coveted status or position of prominence. As any political headlines establish (perhaps Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, thousands of others), reputation can be obliterated in an instant. Even worse, others make a living off such obscene lifestyles (Miley Cyrus…? and fill in the blank____). But that’s on the large scale.

Everyday interactions with intimates and strangers involve us saving face (or promoting face) to some degree in favor of who we truly want to portray, at the expense of acting in all genuine, honest, intent at understanding and taking in who we’re talking to, sitting next to, ordering lunch from, etc. I’m not saying dispense with politeness or generous acts of unexpected kindness, but as hard as it is, we can better learn to recognize what attributes and practices the great and spacious building contains, permits, and accepts, instead of choosing to increasingly render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. As citizens of the Kingdom of God on earth first before the nation we live in, our code of conduct is to mirror the Prince of Peace’s eternal first and second commandments and not to be confined to the ebb and flow of secular solutions and salutations. Such fleeting and egotistically inflationary traits are unable to produce a single man for all seasons, as was Thomas More, whose staunch Catholicism emboldened him to not condone King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in 1538 to marry Anne Boleyn. A decision and faithful position that cost him his life.

This happily brings me to briefly mention the Christmas season (in which we celebrate the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice of his life and its unmatched eternal reason for so doing), which while able to instill the Spirit of love and charity characteristic of Christ and his genuine disciples, seems at times to degenerate into gift-giving of man-made ‘treasures’ – the one we all recognize as the latest version of the tablet or iphone, causing us to keep up with the Joneses. Not bad, inherently, such loving acts can ring hollow when compared to the enduring peace offered by Christ through His Gospel and companionship of the Holy Ghost. Honestly, I enjoy giving gifts that do help live life with more enjoyment as anyone else – books, movies, clothing, games, specially engraved jewelry, tickets to sporting and cultural events, chocolate chip brownies, etc. But isn’t it powerful to consider that even the prophetic word engraved on brass scripture or on clay plates and tablets isn’t enough for salvation, though it guides us there, but is to be written “with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3) and commandments written “upon the table of thine heart” (Prov. 3:3). Sounds like Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni know what they’re talking about when each of their books ends with a focus on praying to Heavenly Father for spiritual confirmation that their words were written by the Spirit.

Furthermore, back to the topic of vanity, the Lord told Samuel that he chose Jesse’s youngest son David, an unimposing, rough and untutored sheepherder, after Jesse had sent seven of his eldest sons before Samuel to be chosen as Israel’s king. And in the process of finding the new king, the LORD revealed to Samuel (or reminded him because he too was chosen at a young age) that He does not judge a man as man does, by physical prowess and stamina or by intelligence and wisdom, because he “looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Hence, the young and socially unencumbered boy became king, much as young Samuel was chosen by the Lord to be the standing prophet in Israel (1 Sam. 3). David used his royal position to commit murder in cold blood over an already grievous sin which he’d already justified because he wanted to satisfy it.

Vanity is an outgrowth of pride – believing we’re doing the ‘right’ thing because we say so and have reasons that sound good to us. The angel tells Nephi that such pride causes one to fall into the river of filthy water (v. 16) leading one to a hellish state of existence unable to partake even of the world’s pride upon the high ledge above, let alone the most desirable fruit of the tree of life on the other side. What occurs prior to that sad state? Wandering off and getting lost in the dark mists which are the devil’s temptations that both blind eyes (how man looks at people naturally) and harden hearts (how the Lord observes people). Both manners of observing and judging mortal reality and eternal truth are damaged, corrupted (thankfully, not to the unrepentant). Nephi states that his descendants’ pride and Satan’s temptations make them vulnerable and weakened to the point that the Lamanites overpower them (v. 19).

These half-century bouts of war and contention sandwich the Savior’s glorious mortal Ministry and the bestowal of the Holy Ghost to both the Twelve Apostles and the twelve disciples in America, who function similarly as witnesses to His resurrection and divinity. It is to the glorious fruits of their faithful and divinely inspired efforts that we look in hope to the next chapter, showing us what merciful truths emanate from the Savior of the world and his faithful disciples, showing not all is vanity, but some is holy.

 

Happy Studies!