Thursday, August 8, 2013

President's Weekly Letter #47


My favorite Book of Mormon character is Amulek and I will tell you why.  He was a well known business man with a large family with much kindred and friends.  He was industrious, well to do, successful and influential.  I envision him as an all round successful guy who was well liked and generally happy with his life in the community though not real religious.  He later made a commitment to follow the Lord and because of his conversion, he sacrificed and endured many hardships and eventually lost everything except the clothes on his back.  Because of his service, we are blessed with some of the clearest and persuasive gospel teachings in the Book of Mormon.  He is an example of a common person like you and me who was willing to sacrifice all that he had for his convictions.

His story is set up as follows.  The sons of Mosiah with a small number had departed on their missions to the land of Nephi to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Lamanites.  (I often compare our difficult circumstances of hard opinions that we encounter every day to their circumstances.  They had it worse.  The Lamanites preferred to kill them instead of simply slamming a door in their face.)  King Mosiah proposed that the Nephites be granted liberty and freedom and the government to be regulated by Judges.  Alma the younger, the son of Alma a former priest of King Noah’s and who fled after believing Abinadi’s teachings, remained in Zarahemla not going with the sons of Mosiah.  Shortly before King Mosiah and Alma the older died, Alma the younger was appointed to be the first chief judge of the government and also the high priest concerning the affairs of the church.  We have insight into their times:

“10 … and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.” (Alma 4:10)

Alma realized bearing pure testimony against the people was the only way to reclaim them.  He delivered up the judgment seat to Nephihah and dedicated himself to the ministry as the high priest.  Alma had some success in preaching and baptizing in various cities.  He eventually went to the city of Ammonihah to preach.

Satan had gotten great hold upon the people in Ammonihah leaving them with stone hard hearts.  The people knew who he was.  They said, “We know that thou art high priest over the church…but you have no power over us because you gave up the judgment seat to Nephihah therefore you are not the chief judge over us.”  They abused him and cast him out.  Alma departed being weighed down with sorrow.  An angel appeared to him and commanded him to return and preach to them again.  I find it interesting that this was the second time an angel visited Alma, the first time was to call him and the sons of Mosiah to repentance.  This time the angel tells Alma, “I am he that delivered the first message unto you.”  I wonder if Alma didn’t say, “I thought I recognized you.”  Alma returned speedily to Ammonihah.  As he entered the city he asked a man for food.  The man was Amulek.  Alma tarried many days with Amulek before they began to preach unto the people.” (Alma 8:20, 27) 

They preached together.  When Amulek introduced himself, we learn he cared deeply in the well being of his family and friends:

“…I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry…I knew concerning [the things of God], yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heartAs I was journeying to see a very near kindred, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto me and said: Amulek, return to thine own house, for that shall feed a prophet…and he shall bless thee and thy house; and the blessing of the Lord shall rest upon thee and thy house…it was this same man who has been speaking unto you concerning the things of God…For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed…”  (Alma 10:4-11)

Alma and Amulek went on to confront Zeezrom, the most expert among the lawyers and taught him along with the very hard hearted people.  Some of the people including Zeezrom believed their words and were cast out.  Alma and Amulek were imprisoned, starved, beaten and abused.  They witnessed the burning by fire of the wives and children of those believers who were cast out plus anyone else who believed or who had been taught to believe in the word of God plus their holy scriptures.  Eventually through answer to prayer, the earth shook and the prison walls fell down slaying their captors while Alma and Amulek walked out of the prison unharmed.  The wicked people who saw and heard this, fled before Alma and Amulek.  Alma and Amulek were then commanded to leave Ammonihah.  They went to Sidom where they established the church among those who had been cast out from Ammonihah.  Zeezrom joined the church and later became a missionary.  A few months later the armies of the Lamanites destroyed the people and city of Ammonihah.

9 “… the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
10 But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.”  (Alma 16:9-10)

And what became of Amulek?  Apparently all his family, friends and kindred were killed. 
Where he had called home and his possessions were no more.  I wonder what his friends, family and kindred said to him as he and Alma were leaving Ammonihah.

 “…Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred;
… after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing [that the people began]…to worship God… he took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.”  (Alma15: 16-18)

Amulek taught some of the greatest sermons in the book of Alma including Chapter 11 over the resurrection.  Nowhere is the doctrine of the resurrection more clearly described.  In Chapter 34 he taught truths of the atonement and an unequalled sermon on prayer.  He taught with power and persuasion.  He was an ordinary guy like you and me, who made commitments consistent with his conversion and then lived in alignment with those commitments.  It was not easy for him, yet he persevered and is now a role model of sacrificed and diligence for all of us.
President Robinson

President's Weekly Letter #46


Abraham Lincoln, a noted storyteller, is credited with telling the following story.  There was a farmer who had a very large shade tree towering over his house.  He had cleared valley land in a forest around his house leaving the house situated in the middle of the cleared, fertile farm.  The center piece of the beautiful farm was this majestic-looking tree, and apparently perfect in every part; -- tall, straight, and of immense size and shade -- the grand old sentinel stood by his forest home at the center of his beautiful farm.  One morning, while at work in his garden, the farmer saw a squirrel run up the tree into a hole; he wondered if the tree might be hollow.

He proceeded to examine the tree carefully and, much to his surprise, he found that the stately tree that he valued for its beauty and grandeur was hollow from top to bottom. Only a rim of sound wood remained, barely sufficient to support its own weight.

What was he now to do? If he cut it down, it would destroy the beauty and value of his farm and possibly do great damage with its great length and enormous spreading branches. If he let it remain, his family was in constant danger. In a storm it might fall, or the wind might blow it down, and his house and children be crushed by it. What should he do?

As he turned away, he said sadly: "I wish I had never seen that squirrel!

Elders and Sisters, the dry humor of this story is obvious, and it has always been a classic for me as it relates to human nature.  The problem still exists regardless of whether or not he saw the squirrel.  Never having seen the squirrel would only force upon him the inevitable consequence of the reality and remove his choices for remedy.  Most people are unwilling to confront the truth, actually hoping in some cases that it will simply go away. 

Consider for a minute that the tree is repairable and represents your personal performance as a missionary.  No one is perfect so change for everyone including you is needed for improvement.  Change is inevitable but most people resist or simply endure change while only a few initiate change to stay ahead of and proactive in the game.

The key is to see the squirrel every day and then change into a more polished missionary by making small course adjustments along the way.  Imagine if you had someone with whom you could talk at the end of each day, who could clearly remember the events of the day and who cared enough to be honest and tell you “that was good” or “that could be better”.  You would see the squirrel each day.  If such feed-back were possible every evening, you could review all actions, decisions and interaction that you were involved with during the course of the day and resolve to continue or to change the way you work.  Fortunately, you have just such a friend in the Savior.  Remember his promise by Ether:

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.  (Ether 12:27)

I know you will literally see your own growth if you put the promise of Ether to the test and discuss with your Father in Heaven your actions during each day, ask for direction on what went well, what went poorly and how to improve and then feel for the answers.  Using the scriptures, prayer and words of the living prophets you can receive this important learning and knowledge that will help you grow.  Out of Preach My Gospel we read:                                                                                                                               

“…With a desire to please God, recognize your weaknesses and be willing and anxious to improve.

The Lord commanded, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) ... Through study and prayer, seek help for your specific questions, challenges, and opportunities…

… As you study diligently, prayerfully, and with pure intent, the Holy Ghost will enlighten your mind, teach you, and help you understand…”  (PMG p. 115, 119)

I have a mandate from the First Presidency to send “converted” missionaries home at the end of their missions.  Elder Li in his parting testimony stated a simple truth.  “Conversion does not come through focusing on conversion.  Conversion comes from doing the work.”  By doing the work with steady improvement you will: experience the atonement in your own life and see it’s affect in the lives of others, experience feeling and following the spirit, increase your knowledge, grow your love for and relationship with God and Jesus Christ and increase your love for the people. 

I have a picture in the mission home that I frequently refer to.  It shows a vertical rock climber making her way carefully upward on a vertical mountain face.  The inscription states, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  You can make great strides in conquering yourself by taking time each day to prayerfully review the day’s performance, even with the small things, seeking instruction and with willingness to correct-up.  Through this instruction from the Holy Ghost to identify areas needing improvement, you can see the squirrel in your behavior.  You can make course corrections and never sadly say, “I wish I had never seen that squirrel.”
President Robinson

President's Weekly Letter #45

The scriptures are full of teachings about the atonement of Jesus Christ; that great act, planned in the pre-existence, which allows us to overcome physical death and spiritual death.  Amulek taught eloquently in Alma Chapter 11 that Christ would come and redeem his people by taking upon himself the punishment for the sins of those who believe on his name and that all shall be raised from the temporal death.

Before the birth of Christ, the atonement was frequently prophesied.  Prophets taught the atonement would cleanse us of our sins and raise our physical body of flesh and bones from death.  For example: 

Isaiah said: “ 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5)

Nephi prophesied: “12 …the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 9:12)

However, a big part of the power of the atonement is sometimes overlooked.  Jesus Christ suffered the pains, sickness, anguish, regrets, temptations, etc. of mankind so that we can gain relief from these burdens when we take our inevitable turn to suffer with them.  This third gift of the atonement is taught throughout the scriptures but it often goes un-used because it is over looked, ignored, and misunderstood.  A few references to this part of the atonement are:

“18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18)

“1 Behold, and hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, your advocate, who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.” (DC 62:1)

“3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…
 4 ¶Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:4)

Alma clearly taught this third component of the atonement, when teaching in verses 12 and 13 that Christ will blot out our sins and loose the bands of death.  In verses 11 and 12 he said:

“11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
 12 …and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)

What this says is, the suffering of Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross exceeded the combined suffering from infirmities of all human beings since the worlds were created.  Somehow he vicariously experienced all the temptations, grief, heartaches, sickness, physical pains, handicaps, emotional burdens, depressions, loneliness, unfairness, etc. of us and all the human family before us and after us.  He personally knows all these things and this suffering because he lived and suffered them in Gethsemane. 

These experiences of pain and suffering that come to all human beings at one point or another cannot just simply be whisked away by us or God.  The laws of this cause-and-effect world do not allow it.  The suffering is a consequence of something.  Through prayer, we can seek relief from burdens, above which we cannot bear.  The burdens do not simply disappear; they are transferred to Christ’s shoulders to bear.  Christ literally knows how to succor his people because he descended below all of us and experienced our infirmities.  This parallels our casting the punishment for sin on Christ’s shoulders through sincere repentance.

A few years ago an LDS author named Stephen Robinson wrote the book, Believing Christ.  One of the theses in the book is that many members of the Church of Jesus Christ “believe in Christ” as the Son of God and our Savior and Redeemer.  But, they do not always “believe Christ”; what Christ says and promises. 

Christ says he will succor us and bear our burdens, temptations, and grief, but we often never ask in prayer to use that portion of the atonement but bear those burdens ourselves.  We ask for forgiveness of sin and hope for a glorious resurrection, but forget that through the power of the atonement he also has his hand outstretched and is offering to relieve us from life’s burdens that seem too heavy to bear.

In the Mission and in your life, you may struggle with temptation, sickness and other ailments.  I encourage you to believe Christ and put it to the test.  Ask for relief through the power of the atonement.  The Lord will bless you and answer your request as you strive to live his commandments because he stated:

29 For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings
shall be as a stumbling block before them.
 30 And again, he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison.  (Mosiah 7:29-30)
President Robinson 

President's Weekly Letter #44

A few years ago while serving as the Young Men President in my home ward, I observed that “giving of your substance” is emphasized and reemphasized in the scriptures.  The boys in my quorum were still in High School and essentially had no substance; they could not give money to the poor and the needy.  Yet the commandment still stood.  This made a strong impression on me as I pondered how these Priests age young men could comply with this commandment; now or in the near future when they would become missionaries.  I came to realize that “substance” is not only money, but what you have to share.  And, the “poor and the needy” are not only people with no money but also people who are poor and needy spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.  Since no one is perfect, then using this definition everyone is poor and needy in some way.  The following outlines a few of the scriptural references to “giving of your substance” which takes on a whole new dimension using the spiritual definition not the literal definition. (By the way, I think it is also mandatory to take literal the commandment and to give generously of your money and material wealth.)

For the purposes of these scriptures, think of the following literal physical needs as symbolic for the spiritual needs listed below.  Many other spiritual metaphors could be listed:
·      Our Substance – our ability to minister and our: time, attention, prayer, good deeds, uplifting words, compassion, spiritual support, succor, home or visiting teaching, etc.
·      Sick – with worldliness
·      Afflicted – with sin
·      Poor – in spirituality
·      Needy – in faith
·      Hungry – for meaning in life
·      Naked – without armor of righteousness and shield of faith
·      Heal – Spiritual sickness
·      Raise the dead – raise the spiritually dead
·      Lame – cannot walk the narrow path
·      Blind – cannot see truth, Christ and Christ centered life
·      Deaf – to the word of God
·      Cast out devils – evil that dwell in hearts of man
·      Beggars -  want what you have

Mosiah 18:27-28.  Alma commanded the people of the church to freely impart of their substance which is that which he has to the spiritually needy and spiritually naked souls?

Mosiah 2:21-25.  The Lord created us and gave us our substance.  It is not ours to retain.  In the first place he preserves and supports us day to day that we may live and breath so we are indebted to him.  Secondly, he immediately blesses us when we keep his commandments, so we are still indebted to him.

DC 104:12-18.  We are accountable as a steward over earthly blessings.  All things are the Lord’s.  The earth is full and there is enough to spare.  We must take of our [the Lord’s] abundance and impart to the poor and the needy or lift up our eyes in hell.

Alma 34:13-28.  Christ will bring salvation to all those who shall believe.  We must exercise our faith unto repentance and pray.  After all this, if we turn away the needy, naked, visit the sick and afflicted, impart not your substance to those in need, your prayer is vain and availeth you nothing.

Mormon 8:37-39.  In our day men will love their substance more than the poor, needy, sick and afflicted. 
“39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?”

The Savior’s own teachings are rich in admonishment to give of your substance.  To cite just a few:  the parable of the good Samaritan, the young rich man, the parable laying up treasures in heaven and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

Mosiah 4:15-27. We are to succor and administer our substance to him who stands in need.  Never say to yourself this man has brought upon himself his misery and then withhold because his punishments are just.  We are all beggars and rely on God to give us our substance.  We are all beggars for a remission of sins.  God grants to us whatsoever we ask, so we ought to impart the substance we receive from him to others.  It does not belong to you but to God to whom also your life belongs.  Impart of your substance and you will retain a remission of your sins from day to day.

“26 I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
 27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength…”

Giving your substance is a serious commandment.  Your substance is what you have.  For the rest of our lives, I hope we will remember that imparting our substance includes not only money but also our ministering and our: time, attention, prayer, good deeds, uplifting words, compassion, spiritual support, succor, home and visiting teaching, etc.
President Robinson