Jacob 5, if you are not familiar, is a long allegory about the house of Israel. Zenos, the author, compares the house of Israel to an old, decaying olive tree and describes all the efforts of the master gardener to save the tree and its fruit. It’s one of those chapters that tend to get only touched on lightly. There just doesn’t seem to be much there. Israel is like a tree. It gets corrupt, so the Lord scatters it across the earth. It does OK for a while but then it produces inedible fruit, so it’s grafted back into the original tree one more time. Israel is then gathered for the last time and the end.
That’s the way I looked at it for a long time, anyway. But all that changed a few days ago when the awesome Taylor and Tyler invited me (video linked at bottom) to not just think of the house of Israel, but of myself as the tree in the allegory. I owe a lot of my insights to their video. Likening the scriptures to myself in this way gave me new insights relating to my personal spiritual growth, my plan for life, and even this weird situation where we’re having Church at home! Here’s what I learned about the way the master gardener takes care of me when I consider myself as the tree:
When I was little, I thought missionaries were basically superheroes. I pictured stalwart, obedient, faithful young men and women going all over the world, guided by the Spirit and teaching the truth in majesty and power, saving souls like a spiritual Superman. But then I went on a mission and learned that you can take a teenager to the temple, endow him with power from on high, set him apart from the world, commission him as a duly ordained minister and representative of Christ, put a name tag on him, and send him out with the Spirit… but a teenager will still be a teenager. Laziness, apathy, rebelliousness, phone addictions, slacking off, hormones, and general stupidity abound in the mission field just as they do at home.
Having worked closely with missionaries both on and off my own mission, I think it’s safe to say that across the board, teenagers just aren’t qualified to be missionaries. In fact, I would dare say no one is qualified to be a missionary. Or an Elders Quorum President. Or a Bishop. Or the Prophet. We are all every one of us supremely unqualified for the job.
It’s no secret that the world rejects the prophets. I mean, after all, a prophet’s job is to share the uncomfortable truth about what we’re doing wrong and call us to repent, right? Not exactly a comfortable message. But looking in the Book of Mormon, time and time again, you see that the threats and the condemnation and the calls to repentance are usually not the main reason people get angry at the Lord’s prophets.
In a previous post, I talked about our responsibility to learn to truly “treasure” the word of God like the Nephites did– specifically, that we need to do better at prioritizing our study of the Book of Mormon. We need to “level up” our study so that we’re not just reading the words on the page like a novel, but truly study and dig deep.
This is all easier said than done, of course. Most of us find it really difficult to dig in and “delight” in the Book of Mormon like we ought to. Why is that? I asked my Sunday School class this question recently. They’re 16 and 17 years old, so you know they are world-class experts on all the reasons to not do something. They identified 10 obstacles they face when trying to dig deep in the Book of Mormon. Just like the defensive plays in the Super Bowl going on right now, these “blockers” can really get in the way of our scripture study:
Those who know me know I really like economics. It’s a fascinating subject, and even humorous at times. There’s a classic economics joke that goes something like this:
Two economists walked past a Porsche showroom. One of them pointed at a shiny car in the window and said, “I want that.”
“Obviously not,” the other replied.
OK, OK, so while economists may be smart, comedians they are not. But it’s one of my favorite jokes because of what it teaches: when it comes to economics, what you say you want is not important– it’s your spending that tells us what you really want. If the first economist in the joke really wanted the Porsche bad enough, he would scrimp and save for years or subject himself to an insane car loan so he could buy it. The fact that he is not planning to buy it means that he obviously does not value the Porsche to the amount that the showroom is asking.
I originally wrote this post in July of 2017. I’ve updated it since:
Christ gave His chosen Twelve Disciples in both continents a rare opportunity. One by one, he asked them “What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?” Eleven of the Jewish Disciples and nine of the Nephite Disciples asked for the same thing:
We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
But John and three unnamed Nephites requested to remain on the earth and serve the Lord long after their natural lifespans. I used to wonder why the disciples were not unanimous in asking for that blessing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a missionary forever?
This all started a few weeks ago when our primary president came to me with an interesting request. She wanted the kids to meet a very special visitor: the great Nephite prophet, Moroni. So I found myself this morning standing in front of a bunch of kids, wearing a white nightgown, holding a homemade aluminum foil leaf of the Gold Plates, and telling them “my story.”
I was reading the last chapter of the Book of Moroni the other day. Moroni is running short on time and even shorter on space on the plates at this point, so you know he’s gotta be really careful about what he includes and how he words his final messages to us. Not surprisingly, he spends the entire time testifying of Christ and the Atonement. During his last few verses– his “dying breaths” so to speak– he pleads with us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness… and love God with all your might, mind and strength.” And, as with all scripture, this invitation comes with a promise: if we will accept Moroni’s invitation to come unto Christ, “then is his grace sufficient for you.”
The wording of that promise struck me. It sounds kind of backward, doesn’t it?
A previous post discussed how a rebel coalition of Lamanite soldiers combined together to stand valiantly against commands of the wicked king to go to war against the Lamanites. The rebellion could have been the turning point for the whole Lamanite nation. And they had every advantage:
- They had the numbers (the majority)
- They had the weapons
- They had the mountain
- They had the warning and foreknowledge
- They had the conviction
Like the Lamanite rebels, we come into life with every advantage over the forces of our own adversary. But in the end, all the advantages were not enough for the Lamanites. And if we’re careful, our advantages won’t be enough, either.
I am indebted to a wonderful sister in my ward for her testimony today. From the pulpit, she read these words of Nephi, describing his family’s efforts to start settling once they landed in the New World:
And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem.
See, if I were Nephi, I would be a little hesitant to plant all my seeds right away, wouldn’t you?