The other day as I read in Mormon, I saw some really interesting wording that I thought would make a good blog post. But as I started writing about it, I realized that the only way to see the neat connection I saw was if you read the selection without regard to the verse markings. So I went on a tangent in my original post about how the verse markings can often get into our way. My thoughts and feelings kept flowing and that tangent became this whole post which I’m calling “The Three Degrees of Scripture Study.”
Originally posted January 5, 2017
A little while before the birth of our first kid, a wise ward member gave me some counsel I will never forget. He said that when a first child is born, there are actually three people born that day: the child is born into mortality, the woman is born into motherhood, and the man is born into fatherhood. The whole family takes a huge collective step forward in their roles. All emerge on the birthday as brand new creatures. So when my wife and I finally welcomed our son, I expected it to hit me harder. I expected my whole outlook and perspective on life would suddenly change now that I was a father. But that never happened.
In chapter 6 of Moroni, we get a glimpse of what it was like to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Nephite Saints:
And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
In the Church today, you’ll see a lot of fasting (like today). You’ll see a lot of praying. And you’ll probably see a little too much speaking one with another. But how often do we speak to each other about the welfare of our souls?
I get the feeling Nephi was a pretty patient, generous guy. Throughout all of 1 Nephi, he recounts many attempts by Laman and Lemuel to tie him up, beat him up, leave him in the wilderness to be devoured by beasts, throw him in the ocean, strap him to a flailing ship, and murder him when they arrived at the promised land. Yet through all their whining and anger and attempted murders, Nephi is very careful to always refer to Laman and Lemuel as his “brethren.”
But all that changes in 2 Nephi. Finally, when Laman and Lemuel are so past feeling that they and their descendants have all given themselves to the dark side and devolved into violent, hate-filled savages, Nephi has to acknowledge what sadly has been unfolding for decades by this point. In 2 Nephi 4, he refers to back to one particular experience where Laman and Lemuel try to drown him and in remembering this, Nephi thanks the Lord for protecting him against his “enemies.”
Nephi’s not the only one who’s experienced that change from brother to enemy, of course. There are many modern-day Nephis among us.
I was reading in the Book of Mormon the other day and came across this familiar verse:
But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
I always interpreted despising the “shame” of the world to mean despising the shameful practices and attitudes of the world. But now that I read it, another meaning comes out that I hadn’t considered before: despising the shame the world heaps on us.
I was sitting at a crowded airport gate a few days ago, planning out episode 9 of my Small and Simple Things Podcast*. This episode is all about the fall of Adam and Eve. As I researched, I fell on that familiar verse from the Book of Mormon:
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
Yes, Adam fell that men might be. As a seminary student, I loved that verse because it was short and trivial to memorize. Whoever says you won’t use the scriptures you memorize in seminary is wrong. Even today I find myself using the “men are that they might have joy” line to justify grabbing “just one more” donut from the box.
But this time, it was opened up more to me. It became a lot more applicable.
There are many things in our day to day, secular lives that we “ought” to do. Like putting the junk mail in the recycling bin instead of the trash can. Or opting for the salad over the meat lover’s pizza. But we often don’t do what we know we should. Why? Because we’re lazy?
Maybe. But I think it’s mostly because we see these “suggestions” as optional– like “extra credit” in life. They are something to strive for when time permits, but not something so important we should bend over backward trying to make it work. Trying out all the little “suggestions” in life all at once is impossible, and we know it. So we accept the fact that we simply can’t lose 50 pounds and reduce our carbon footprint and double-pay our mortgage and get that promotion and spend more time with family and learn a new language and write that novel all at the same time. Not everything is worth the effort right now. We have to focus on what’s most important (provide for our families, etc) and then decide which “suggestions” we want to focus on with our remaining attention. In other words, when it comes to secular matters, we are realistic and we prioritize.
But wait. We are faced with the same deluge of suggestions about the spiritual matters of our lives, too.
Years ago, I heard a Bishop say: “Brothers and sisters, the restoration was messy.” I didn’t think much about his wording at the time. But over the few years following (including my mission), I encountered a lot of people wanting to “educate” me about early Church history. Joseph Smith was the most common target, of course. They cited all sorts of stories about him that seemingly “proved” he was a lying, womanizing con man.
I mostly brushed off these claims during my mission. Those critics were not historians. I knew their agenda. I figured they were mostly lies, or at least huge distortions of the history. So, when I got home from my mission, I bought an 800-page history of Joseph Smith. It was written by an active stake patriarch and Church historian who worked on the Joseph Smith Papers project, so I figured his book would blow away all those false accusations with the fiery testimony of truth.
But I was surprised to find that instead of tearing down all the stories the critics had told me, history largely confirmed them. And you know what? That’s OK!
On Fast Sundays, instead of a full-length article, I write what I call a “fast thoughts” post. A short, unplanned look into a quick lesson I learned from the Book of Mormon. Enjoy.
Sometimes the scriptures are funny. Here’s one example: Alma the Younger. He and his gang of “bishop’s kids” were always causing all sorts of shenanigans and making their parents’ jobs much harder. They were getting into some pretty serious transgressions: preaching false doctrines, encouraging pride, leading many away from the Church, and pretending they’re not home when their ministering brothers came by.
A few weeks ago, I was called to be the ward mission leader. Since then, I have been pondering on what I need to do to magnify my calling. I have served with a lot of different ward mission leaders both on and off my mission. Some jumped in with the missionaries. Others never learned the missionaries’ names. Some rarely missed an opportunity to attend teaching appointments. Others rarely attended Church itself. Some were overbearing in their calling. Others couldn’t bare to be in their calling. It’s a wide spectrum.
So how does the Lord want me to serve? What should my focus be? How can I put new energy into visiting the “same ten people?” Or do we need a new approach entirely? A lot of weighty questions on my mind. I’ve been trying to discern how Christ wants me to serve in this capacity.