Monday, April 23, 2007

Alma 5

There is so much in this chapter. This is one of those passages in the scriptures that you really have to read carefully and not let the length of it distract you lest you begin to glaze over the valuable gems found therein.

We ought to read Alma 5 regularly and while we are alone … where we have quite and plenty of time to ponder the many, many questions Alma poses.

Spiritual Timeline

The first half of this chapter seems to be divided into segments of time with each segment having a recommendation.

The Past - Remember

Alma begins his address to the members of the church by reminding them of the captivity and deliverance of their fathers from the hands of King Noah and from sin.

Then he asks them three questions regarding remembering.

"Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers?"

"Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and longsuffering towards them?"

"Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?"

Their fathers were in physical and spiritual captivity and no one but the Lord could deliver them (from King Noah and the Lamanites and from Hell).

How often do we stop and remember what the Lord has done for us? We should count our blessings often. As we remember the things the Lord has done for us, our gratitude will increase and we will desire to serve the Lord more. The most important thing the Lord has blessed us with and that we ought to always remember is our change in heart … our personal testimony.

The Now - A Time to Act

This life is so short and we only have a limited window to prove ourselves on this earth.

Among the many things we must do in this life, we must repent and turn to God. Just as Alma's father and those who followed him had their hearts changed, so too we must "believe in the words" of the prophets and have that "mighty change wrought in [our] heart[s]." (Alma 5:12)

We must humble ourselves and put our trust in God and then we will be spiritually born of God and have "his image in our countenances" (Alma 5:14) and we will "sing redeeming love." (Alma 5:9)

The mighty change of heart that Alma refers to is not simply a reformation of our actions. It is a fundamental change in our way of thinking and therefore in our way of acting. The world would reform a man from the outside in, while the gospel would reform a man from the inside out.

After reading this chapter, I listened to a talk by Elder Maxwell while driving home from work. Towards the end of this talk he said, "Yes, there are real costs associated with meekness. A significant down payment must be made. But it can come from our sufficient supply of pride. We must also be willing to endure the subsequent erosion of unbecoming ego. Furthermore, our hearts will be broken in order that they might be rebuilt. As Ezekiel said, one’s task is to “make you a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezek. 18:31.) There is no way that such dismantling, such erosion, such rebuilding can occur without real cost in pain, pride, adjustments, and even some dismay. Yet since we cannot be “acceptable before God save [we are] meek and lowly in heart” (Moro. 7:44), the reality of that awesome requirement must be heeded! Better to save one’s soul than to save one’s face." (Neal A. Maxwell, “Meekness—A Dimension of True Discipleship,” Ensign, Mar 1983, 70)

Ezekiel 36:26 further states, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."

There are also those who are born and grow up faithfully in the church who may have kept the commandments out of respect and duty. But eventually these hearts will have to fundamentally change too. They will eventually realize how much the Lord has done for them and they will love Him and cease to obey out of duty and will begin to obey out of love for God.

And as we love God (the first great commandment), we will strive to be like him. And as we strive to be like him, we will have his image engraven upon our countenances and we will feel to sing the song of redeeming love.

I don't know if there is a particular hymn that signifies the song of redeeming love, but one hymn stands out in my mind as a song of redeeming love. I Stand All Amazed was a hymn we sung often in the Missionary Training Center and on my mission. I used to not appreciate that song as a young man, but as a missionary, I grew to love that song and I felt that the words in that hymn appropriately described how I felt about the Savior.

I still remember one Sunday in my post-missionary days during sacrament meeting singing this moving hymn.

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.

Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.

Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

My heart felt weak and I was truly grateful for what the Lord has done for my rebellious and proud soul. Why would he do it for me? Does he really love me? And then the last verse brought me to tears and I could only read along as I wept.

I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.

Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

I am still moved to tears whenever I think of that sacred hymn.

The Future - Are We Prepared?

The third part of the spiritual timeline is that of the future. All that the gospel strives to do is prepare us for that great judgment day when we meet God and represent our actions in this life. Some of us will be prepared and we will be welcomed into heaven. (Alma 5:16) Others of us will think we can lie to God and say that we were good, but indeed we were not. (Alma 5:17) Still others of us will be harrowed up in our sins and we will have "a perfect remembrance of all [our] wickedness." (Alma 5:18)

Regardless of our current situation in life, we would benefit from "looking forward" to that day. As we "imagine to [our]selves" what that day will be like, then perhaps our actions will change to the better.

There is nothing quite worse than the feeling of being unprepared on an exam day. In my first semester back from a mission, I enrolled in a calculus class. I had never take calculus before and thought that I'd do well enough. I soon found myself struggling with the homework and quizzes. I knew I would not do well in the final and I was woefully under prepared. I entered the testing center knowing full well that this would be the worst exam I would ever take. It was a depressing feeling and I shutter to think back to that day. I exited the testing center with a final exam score of 13%. Thankfully I was able to take the course over again two semesters later and performed much, much better because I was prepared.

Garments Washed White with the Blood of Christ

I've always thought the idea of our garments being washed white with the blood of Christ was an interesting phrase and idea. How can something be white which is drenched in blood? I don't know if my reasoning is doctrinally sound, but the way I view this phrase is that the only blood we should have on our garments is the blood of Christ. Metaphorically speaking, his blood washes out all other blood and stains (if we repent and become His disciple). Much like a modern-day stain remover that you purchase at the store which removes stains, Christ blood removes stains from our souls.

Taking that analogy a step further … my son wears a white shirt to church every week. Just a couple of weeks ago, he got a bloody nose during sacrament meeting and blood dripped all over his shirt. Interestingly enough, it was the same Sunday I gave my talk which was the same Sunday the High Counselor gave his talk on repentance in which he used this same metaphor, even bringing a bottle of stain remover as an object lesson. My wife got his nose to stop bleeding, but the blood on his shirt remained and dried for the rest of the day. When we arrived home, I took his shirt and applied stain remover to the blood spots and let it soak. Later, we washed and dried the shirt. The following Sunday, I noticed that his shirt was completely white … no mark of blood stains.

Christ's blood (atonement) is the stain remover. It is available to everyone. For the atonement to be of use to us, we must apply it to our lives and then we must take the necessary steps to clean up our lives. Had we washed my son's shirt without applying stain remover, the blood stains would have remained.

Just as we must apply stain remover to our clothes quickly and often in order for stains to be completely removed, so too we should apply the atonement to our lives quickly and often. We do not know when we will be called home to our Father in Heaven and therefore it is imperative that we prepare daily. (see Alma 5:27)

Entering the Path to Discipleship

In our daily preparations, we must strive to become true disciples of Christ. Discipleship is attained in two parts. First we must repent and cease from doing evil. Secondly, we must actively build up the kingdom of God and strive to serve others by placing our will on God's alter.

The remainder of Alma 5 deals with repenting and ceasing to do those things that build up the kingdom of the devil.

Alma counsels the church in Zarahemla to strip themselves of pride (Alma 5:28) and envy (Alma 5:29). He teaches them to not mock and persecute others (Alma 5:30). He also counsels them to not set their hearts on costly apparel and riches and the things of the world (Alma 5:53). Lastly he teaches them to not turn their backs to the needy and poor. In summary, he says, "come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things." (Alma 5:57)

This summary by Alma reminds me of a talk by Elder Larry W. Gibbons in the October 2006 General Conference. Elder Gibbons said, "In the priesthood leadership session of a regional conference, we sang the hymn “Ye Elders of Israel.” The chorus contains a line “O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell.” Following the singing, Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke and expressed the thought that bidding Babylon farewell is actually one of our challenges, that too many of us like to keep a summer cottage there." (Larry W. Gibbons, “Wherefore, Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 102–4) We cannot keep one foot in the Church and one in Babylon. We must come out and be separate.

Fasting and Prayer and Testimonies

We tend to think of fasting and prayer in terms of receiving a blessing for ourselves or in behalf of another. For example we might fast and pray for the way be cleared for a temple to be built in a land or city. We might fast and pray for a loved one to be healed of a serious illness or disease. But how often do we fast and pray for our testimony? Perhaps as we fast and pray for these other things and as we receive those things we seek our testimonies are strengthened.

Alma left no room for doubt. He was not simply satisfied to hang on to the coat-tails of those who preceded him. He believe them, but he wanted to know for himself that what had been previously spoken by the prophets was true. Therefore, he fasted and prayed many days and the Holy Spirit of God manifested to him the truth of those things. He gained his own testimony by the spirit of revelation. (Alma 5:44-47)

There is a one-liner in my patriarchal blessing that says, "Realize that in the Last Days the saving forces will be the Priesthood and the testimony of individual members."

Elder Faust reiterated this when he said, " Satan has had great success with this gullible generation. As a consequence, he and his angels have victimized literally hosts of people. There is, however, an ample shield against the power of Lucifer and his hosts. This protection lies in the spirit of discernment through the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift comes undeviatingly by personal revelation to those who strive to obey the commandments of the Lord and to follow the counsel of the living prophets.

"This personal revelation will surely come to all whose eyes are single to the glory of God, for it is promised that their bodies will be “filled with light, and there shall be no darkness” in them. All who come unto Christ by obedience to the covenants and ordinances of the gospel can thwart Satan’s efforts. The humble followers of the divine Master need not be deceived by the devil if they will be honest and true to their fellow men and women, go to the house of the Lord, receive the sacrament worthily, observe the Sabbath day, pay their tithes and offerings, offer contrite prayers, engage in the Lord’s work, and follow those who preside over them.

"There are forces that will save us from the ever-increasing lying, disorder, violence, chaos, destruction, misery, and deceit that are upon the earth. Those saving forces are the everlasting principles, covenants, and ordinances of the eternal gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. These same principles, covenants, and ordinances are coupled with the rights and powers of the priesthood of Almighty God. We of this Church are the possessors and custodians of these commanding powers that can and do roll back much of the power of Satan on the earth. We believe that we hold these mighty forces in trust for all who have died, for all who are now living, and for the yet unborn." (James E. Faust, “The Forces That Will Save Us,” Ensign, Jan 2007, 4–9)

Lastly, we learn in Alma 6 that "the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God." (Alma 6:6)

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