Hearts Knit Together in Unity and in Love

This post is based on a sacrament meeting talk that I gave a few months ago that I have felt prompted to share on here:

One of the most dramatic stories in the Book of Mormon involves the four hundred and fifty individuals who follow Alma the Elder after he is converted by Abinadi’s powerful testimony of the Savior. Alma and his people came from a society that was riven by deep inequality, materialism, sexual transgression, and pride. And yet, when they gathered together at the waters of Mormon, Alma and the other fledgling converts were able to form a society where the people “[had] their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.”

How were they able to do so?

We also live in a society that is riven by deep inequality, materialism, sexual transgression, and pride. We too have made similar covenants to serve each other “in unity and in love.” And yet we too often we fall short of that ideal. In our church community, in our families, and in our own relationship with God, we are often divided by contention and pride.

Today, I would like to talk about the ways that Alma ensured that his people would be “knit together in unity and in love one towards another” and how we can do likewise.

To start, I want to quickly list ten things that Alma and his people did in order to maintain that kind of unity. I will then return to discuss in greater detail some of those that stood out to me

  1. The people made sacred covenants and relied on God’s covenantal promises (Baptism in Mosiah 18; Story of Mosiah 23)
  2. The people were devoted to serving one another. (Mosiah 18: 8-9)
  3. The people taught each other (Mosiah 18:25)
  4. The people sacrificed for one another (Mosiah 18:27-29)
  5. The people were led by inspired leaders and unified in their understanding of doctrine (Mosiah 18: 18-20)
  6. The people honored the sabbath day together (Mosiah 18:23)
  7. The people avoided contention and Pride
    1. Mosiah 23:7 – “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another”
    2. Mosiah 23:15 – “Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.”
    3. Mosiah 27: 3-4 And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men; That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.
    4. Alma 1: 30  And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were a thirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.

8) They were grateful

  1. Mosiah 25:10- And again, when they thought of the immediate goodness of God, and his power in delivering Alma and his brethren out of the hands of the Lamanites and of bondage, they did raise their voices and give thanks to God.
  2. Mosiah 26 And they did admonish their brethren; and they were also admonished, every one by the word of God, according to his sins, or to the sins which he had committed, being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.

9) They had a missionary spirit

  1. Mosiah 25:11  And again, when they thought upon the Lamanites, who were their brethren, of their sinful and polluted state, they were filled with pain and anguish for the welfare of their souls.
  2. Mosiah 28:3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not abear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.

10) The people forgave one another
Continue reading

Saints Book Club Chapter 7

At the start of Chapter 7, the translation of the Book of Mormon is progressing rapidly due to an unseasonably cold and wet spring which delayed the planting season. But in the process of translation, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery read of the Savior’s strong emphasis on baptism. Joseph had not been baptized and so he sought to learn how to receive the ordinance by properly.

The unfolding appearance of John the Baptist is familiar to us. But the significance of this event should not be underestimated. A divine messenger appeared to Joseph but also to Oliver Cowdery. Is this the first visit of divine visitation in the unfolding  Restoration that was simultaneously experienced by more than one person? I imagine Joseph must have felt relief at the fact that another person had experienced a divine vision with him. And the authority that John the Baptist gave them was nothing less than the power to act in the name of God.

While Harmony had temporarily been a place of refuge, persecution now intensifies. Emma, Joseph, and Oliver relocate to the Whitmer home. The Whitmer’s willingness to invite them into their home is remarkable. David Whitmer had learned about the translation process from Oliver, but did not yet know the Smiths. Yet the Lord knew David, and he helped to make sure that David could help in the translation process. That is very reassuring to me.

David is the Whitmer that we hear the most about, but not the only one who sacrificed much for the restoration. I loved Saints description of David’s mother Mary who was required to take care of her eight children and also serve her three visitors as she has a remarkable

Mary had little time to relax herself, and the added work and the strain placed on her were hard to bear.

One day, while she was out by the barn where the cows were milked, she saw a gray-haired man with a knapsack slung across his shoulder. His sudden appearance frightened her, but as he approached, he spoke to her in a kind voice that set her at ease.

“My name is Moroni,” he said. “You have become pretty tired with all the extra work you have to do.” He swung the knapsack off his shoulder, and Mary watched as he started to untie it.

“You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors,” he continued. “It is proper, therefore, that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”20

Moroni opened his knapsack and removed the gold plates. He held them in front of her and turned their pages so she could see the writings on them. After he turned the last page, he urged her to be patient and faithful as she carried the extra burden a little longer. He promised she would be blessed for it.

The old man vanished a moment later, leaving Mary alone. She still had work to do, but that no longer troubled her.

I have also always loved the story that is told in this chapter of Joseph needing to ask Emma for forgiveness after a fight before he could once again begin to translate. That is such a good example of how our personal righteousness and relationships can impact our ability to receive revelation and inspiration.

Similarly, the chapter depicts Martin Harris’s inability at first to see the angelic visit and witness of the Book of Mormon. I am so sympathetic to Martin for his faith struggles. He was asked to believe in something he had not seen. Yet, he was able t summon the  courage to pray until he as able to be a full participant. We often vilify or mock Martin Harris, but we can learn much from his  example when we struggle with doubt and uncertainty.

Saints Book Club Ch. 4

Chapter 4 of Saints has it all: buried treasure and golden plates, action and romance.

Joseph’s work in assisting with treasure seeking has been the subject of much controversy. This chapter smartly positions that employment in the context of Joseph meeting and courting Emma Hale. Whether Joseph was right to use his talents in pursuit of treasure seeking or not, God used his experience to put him where he needed to be to meet Emma.

I like how the chapter describes the romance between Emma and Joseph. You can see what each found so attractive in the other. Emma had grown up in relative wealth and privilege and I suspect that Joseph seemed so different. He was rugged and rough. He had a natural charm and was gregarious and humorous. Emma likely offered Joseph a sense of refinement and class that attracted him.

It was no surprise that Issac Hale did not approve of their relationship and marriage. Joseph was a poor hired laborer whose family had little property and little standing. Joseph must have appeared uneducated and superstitious. And the rumors of gold plates and angels would frighten any would be father in law.

Amidst this courtship, Joseph is charged with fraud for his work with Josiah Stowell. The charges are dismissed after Josiah testifies on his behalf. But I can’t imagine that those charges helped Joseph’s relationship with Isaac Hale.

When Joseph visits the Hill Cumorah again, he is warned that he is still using his skills to pursue financial gain and that he must quit working with money diggers. He is told that if he does not change his ways, he will not have another chance. This makes me wonder if there are moments in our lives where God gives us a similar warning and where we have to either step up and change of lose out on precious spiritual opportunities? Continue reading

Saints book club, ch 3

Chapter Two of saints ended right after the immediate aftermath of First Vision. Chapter Three looks at the years that followed which contain some of the many highs and lows of the life of the fledgling Prophet.

I have always loved how Joseph Smith candidly admits in his history that in the years after the First Vision, he fell into temptations and lost sight of the vision that he had. How relateable. Here is how this is described in Saints:

“Joseph and his friends were young and lighthearted. Sometimes they made foolish mistakes, and Joseph found that being forgiven once did not mean he would never need to repent again. Nor did his glorious vision answer every question or forever end his confusion. …Joseph was still unsure if God was pleased with him. He could no longer feel the forgiveness and peace he had felt after his vision of the Father and Son. Instead, he often felt condemned for his weakness and imperfections.”

I love being able to click on the footnotes in Saints and instantly be transported to the primary sources. These paragraphs combined information from the well-known account in the Pearl of Great Price, and also from an earlier 1832 account. The 1832 account has some wonderful details such as Joseph’s description of how his transgressions and sins “brought a wound upon my soul.” Joseph’s earlier account also lays bare how difficult and painful these years were for Joseph: as “his Fathers family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions.”

This backdrop gives Moroni’s visit a much deeper resonance. Joseph once again needed personal reassurance of his standing before God. He had “full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation,” and yet imagine the relief he must have felt when a heavenly messenger appeared before him.

And yet, despite the vision Joseph did not become transformed overnight. The first time that Joseph tries to get the gold plates does not go well to say the least. He is warned that he must not seek the plates for financial gain. “Still, Joseph could not help thinking that he now knew exactly where to find enough treasure to free his family from poverty.” (Saints).

After Joseph is rebuked for seeking the plates, Moroni appears and Joseph Smith has another remarkable vision that I had not been aware of:

“Look,” Moroni commanded. Another vision unfolded before Joseph, and he saw Satan surrounded by his numberless host. “All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness,” the angel declared, “that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.”

Joseph was undoubtedly aware of Satan after the assault proceeding the First Vision, and yet here Joseph is given to fully understand the power and influence of the adversary and how forcefully Satan would oppose him. I suspect that this must have been quite a wake up call for him.

Saints does not skimp in its depiction of one of the traumatic events of Joseph’s life–the death of his Brother Alvin. Immediately after the visit of Moroni, Joseph’s home was filled with joy. “Night after night he captivated the family with talk of the gold plates and the people who wrote them.” And then suddenly, his brother Alvin dies. The event was devastating to all the members of the household, especially Joseph Sr. who is described as “furious.” Neither Joseph Sr. nor Joseph Jr. ever forgot Alvin and many later events were influenced by his passing.

The second attempt to get the plates went slightly better than the first. Joseph got the plates out of the ground. And then he realized that the other items with the plates could be valuable and so he set the plates down out of his sight. Because he was not cautious with the plates, he is denied access to them again. Joseph had grown from the first encounter with Moroni, and yet he also still had a long way to go.

What stood out to you in this chapter? What did you learn? What questions did you have?

He Called Me By Name by Liz Lemon Swindle

A temple for Russia!

For nearly six years, I have watched General Conference with bated breath. As President Monson announced temple after temple, I waited but the words never came. I was happy for all of the incredible places in the world getting temples, but came away from each conference disappointed.

I served in Novosibirsk Russia under a visionary Mission President- who not coincidentally had been set apart by President Nelson. President Gibbons came to Russia with a single and divinely inspired goal – to help build a district and eventually a stake in Siberia. He promised the members that if they remained faithful, one day they would see stakes and temple dot Russia and specially in Siberia.

After six years, I had lost hope. After years of progress in constructing stakes and districts, the government crackdown was savage. First came anti-Mormon propaganda on TV. Next came an effort to label members of the church tratiors to the national fabric. An aggressive ban on proselytizing followed. And within just the past year, family history centers were shut down and meeting houses raided after evidence of criminal conduct was manufactured and planted.

With each unfulfilled conference prayer, I began to doubt whether God would truly be faithful to the promises he made through his divinely called servant. Today, President Nelson, a true Prophet of God, showed that it is not God that is unfaithful to his promises.

It is so appropriate that President Nelson would be the one to announce the building of a temple in Russia. He was the apostle instrumental in the opening up of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union territories to missionary work in the late 80s and early 90s. One of his many granddaughters served in Russia. He has spoken to the saints there on many occasions and has used their stories in conference.

I can’t begin to express how much this announcement means to me personally and to the saints in Russia. My Siberian Brothers and Sisters are probably currently as far from an operating temple as anywhere in the world. In 2010, the Church dedicated the Kiev Ukraine Temple which somewhat eased the burdens of travel. But worsening socio-political circumstances have dashed that dream. And even with a temple in Kiev, the distance is over 4,000 miles from the center of my mission. Those faithful members ride the trains for days and spend a week at the temple doing work night and day. Their faith and example resembles the early pioneers. It will truly be a glorious day to have a temple in Russia.

There will likely be opposition to the building of the temple. When a temple is built, a portion of the world is sanctified and set apart for the holiest purpose imaginable. Satan rages. But God will triumph.

I also celebrate the announcement of new temples to be built in Argentina, Nicaragua, the Philippines, the USA (UT and VA), and India, but for me the temple announced in Russia makes all the difference!