CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 16.
The last chapter, 1 Nephi 15, was packed full of deep doctrine and layers of principles and tons of revelation-inspiring-thoughts-to-ponder. Even for someone who wants to know, it is a lot to soak in. For someone who doesn’t want to know, like the murmuring brothers of Nephi, it is almost too much.
The first verse of this chapter opens with their response “Thou has declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.”
Nephi points out to them that these things are only hard to those who don’t want to know them, but that these teachings give hope to those who want to know the truth.
So, says Nephi (still not giving up on his brothers), if you want to be righteous and if you are willing to hear the truth, then do it! But he also calls them out by saying that if they were already walking uprightly before God, then they would not be murmurming. He encourages them to keep the commandments of the Lord with all diligence.
This turns out to be a good talk for his brothers, and “they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes for them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness” (verse 5).
That verse always gets my attention, because I know that feeling – like Lehi wanting his family to taste the fruit… but I also wonder if those who helped me get baptized ever felt that way about me, having joy and great hopes for me, that I might walk the paths of righteousness. I know it is the love and care and teaching of so many that have helped me along the way, and I do thank the Lord for using them to accomplish His work, and do try to pay attention to what the Spirit teaches me through these people.
So now, after all this teaching, after all this Spirit tutoring, the adventures continue. Thus far Lehi’s family has left Jerusalem, his sons went back to fetch the records, they brought back wives for marriage, Lehi shared his dream-vision, Nephi prayed about what it meant, and the murmuring brothers are once again quite and obedient (temporarily).
Now back to the story: Nephi says that he and his brothers got married, and that Lehi tells everyone it is time to journey into the wilderness.
“And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (verse 10).
So they follow the way this ball points, traveling through the wilderness.
While in the wilderness, Nephi and his brothers use bows and arrows to obtain food, as well as slings with stones.
When his brothers cannot get food, they go back to complaining, to murmuring.
When Nephi is ready to go get food (before even trying, you might notice) he asks his father (priesthood holder and prophet) where to get food.
He and his father pray about it to know where to go.
“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball… And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them” (verse 26, 28).
I love this story, because it is this ball that works like a compass, except instead of it pointing north it points in the direction that the Lord wants them to go. It is a type, symbolic of the Spirit. For us, the Holy Spirit uses revelation, scriptures, leaders and each of us for each other as ways of showing us which ways to go. But even now, that only works if we are paying attention and doing what it says. The Holy Spirit (and the revelatory process) works only in response to the faith, diligence, and heed (obedience) we give it.
“And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (verse 29).
So Nephi goes where he is told, and is able to get food for his family. When he brings the food back, they are full of joy (I would be!), and “they did humble themselves before the Lord, and did give thanks unto him” (verse 32).
They continue the journey, but soon mourn the loss of Ishmael, the friend from Jerusalem who came along for the journey. His daughters, now married to Nephi and his brothers, grieve their father. However, they let the grief get the better of them, rather than working it out in healthy ways and honoring their loss. They begin to complain about all the “afflictions in the wilderness”, and so the murmuring starts again. So much destruction comes from murmuring! These girls murmur so much, and get everyone else so stirred up, that people want to go back to Jerusalem.
So the murmuring brothers, Laman and Lemuel, plot to kill Lehi so that they can go back to Jerusalem. They also want to kill Nephi.
This is how they did “stir up their hearts to anger” (verse 38).
“And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us…” (verse 39).
Tonight the kids visited the baby, which comforted them and cheered her up. We are grateful to her caseworker, who permitted them all to visit instead of only Anber, saying we are her family and her support system, and she needs us. It was very special they all got to go in to see her, and the first time that was possible. What a feeling for us, to just be the Christensens!
Then the kids went with Nathan to play at the Ronald McDonald House playground while I fed her the second full cup today, and put her down to sleep.
Then I snuck off to meet them for dinner at RMH:
We needed this time together, fr resting and strengthening and reconnecting. It was so important. The kids relaxed tremendously. It was too late for them to be up, so I hope it doesn’t just ruin tomorrow for them, but they really needed to connect.
I gave them a tour of the place, showing them my memories and connecting for them the places we had talked on video chat last summer. I was surprised how much they remembered. They were really excited! I even showed them the “meditation room” where the Evansons brought me sacrament every Sunday last summer.
We did scripture study together, and had family prayer, during which we thanked Heavenly Father for keeping His promises about Baby Girl.
Then they visited the craft room, where they got to make cards for the baby, before picking out tootsie pops and candy on their way back out to the van.
They got a taste of RMH life as they left the cozy play to pile back in the van to drop me off at the hospital.
It was good for them, both to reconnect to us and to make their own connections to the baby’s hospital experiences.
It was necessary, as this will always be her life, long as we have her with us, and so also a part of our lives for a season. It’s exhausting, the kind of exhausting that comes when the law of consecration comes to shine light on all your selfish shadows. The blessings, though, are real, and the joy beyond description.
If I had to describe it, though, it would be loud and also sticky.
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 15.
This chapter changes gears. After Nephi’s pondering of his father’s vision, after his prayers to understand that vision, after the revelation that comes in response… after the unfolding of all these things, then Nephi must “go and do” again.
Always, these things are very internal, very deep inside of us, and change us, but we are not called to a monastic lifestyle. We are called to share, to testify, to teach, to edify. So while we can go deep within ourselves, we must return to the surface and interact with the real and present temporal world once again.’
Nephi leaves his private, solitary place and returns to the tent of Lehi his father, where his family is.
There he finds his brothers not just murmuring, but now fighting and arguing over what Lehi’s vision and teachings had met.
There are two things interesting about this:
1. They are arguing instead of edifying. Always, we are to be testifying, or sharing, what we are learning and what are experiencing. Not just one to another, like teacher-student, but all of us to each other, so that we are all built up and encouraged and lifted. This is mutual edification, and what you are learning teaches me more about what I am learning, and what I am learning teaches you more about what you learning. Because it is one Spirit, if we are at-one with each other, and in tune (at-one) with the Spirit, then truths and revelations should becoming even as we speak to one another about what God is doing in our lives. Here, the brothers are doing the opposite: complaining and arguing about what it means, instead of asking the Lord, instead of doing the work to be tutored by the Spirit. Look at how much – chapters and chapters – Nephi learned, just because he asked. And then asked again. And then asked again.
2. It feels like a lot of time has passed because Nephi learned so much over several chapters. But really, he has just gone for a stroll. It may have been a few moments or a few hours, but all that Spirit-tutoring happened in a relatively short amount of time. It does not take a great deal of “time” to be instructed or tutored by the Spirit, so much as it takes availability and willingness. Nephi was worthy of the Spirit’s instruction (through obedience and faithfulness), and he sought it out. He studied in his mind what he was learning, he prayed about it, and he asked what it all meant. If we live in such a state as to be look for, even expecting, the Lord to be communicating to us, we will become more and more sensitive to recognizing it. We will see, hear, and understand a great deal in very little time. We will be able to see clearly and discern what is of God and what is not, and what it means if it is of God and how to find our escape if it is not of God.
“For he (Lehi) truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought” (verse 3).
When Nephi saw this, he was “grieved because of the hardness of their hearts” (verse 4). He was sad that they did not understand, when it was so good to understand. He was sad they did not ask the Lord. He was sad they were still negative and argumentative and murmuring-ish. He was sad they were missing out on such joy and happiness so easily available to them. He was sad they lacked faith. He was sad for all the consequences that will come from this.
He spoke to them, to ask why they were fighting.
They said it was because “we cannot understand the words which our father has spoken” (verse 7).
Specifically, they are confused about the natural branches of the olive tree (Jews) and the Gentiles.
Nephi slams them, every so gently and appropriately, asking if they have asked the Lord yet.
They say no. But they don’t just say no. They say they haven’t asked the Lord because the Lord hasn’t answered them.
This is silliness. It is stubborn-head-ed-ness.
The Lord is waiting to answer them, but first they must ask.
But it also shows that they do not experience revelation. This is significant, and worth grieving!
The reason they do not experience revelation is not because the Lord is silent, but because their hearts are not soft and ready to receive the answers He has to give. Living worthy of the Spirit (being obedient, being faithful, doing what it says when it prompts you to do something, refraining from doing something when it warns you) is not just not doing really big, bad things. It is also the small and simple things like being kind, being generous, and having gratitude. Things like negativity, complaining, arguing, disrespect, ingratitude, and murmuring are a good way to turn the lights out on revelation.
The Spirit works to enlighten us, to uplift us, to brighten our understanding/minds/hearts/spirits.
If we do things or say things (or use a tone or say things in a certain way) that are not uplifting and enlightening and brightening and ennobling, then we are not prepared for the Spirit to give us such a gift.
It is a commandment to live in such a way that we have access to the help and guidance of the Spirit. This is what keeps us on the course. This is what corrects, instructs, and guides. This is what shows us the way. This is what keeps us company. This is what equips us with the tools we need to survive mortality.
So Nephi says to them, “How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (verses 10 and 11).
It is a promise that we will receive revelation, that God will enlighten us so that we know the way, so that we know what to do, so that we know who to become.
When there is a commandment with a promise, that means there is something WE are supposed to do and something HE is supposed to do.
That’s a covenant.
We have a covenant with the Lord that we will be obedient (keep our hearts soft and submissive to Him, do what He says, ask in faith, be kind and good and positive and encouraging and gentle and soft, ponder and pray and ask, expect answers, and diligently seek answers) and that He will provide understanding and knowledge through the Holy Spirit.
We will see, we will hear, and we will know.
We will know.
That’s the covenant.
Now that the brothers are paying attention, Nephi is able to teach them. Because now they want to know, and have closed their arguing-fussing-complaining-negative mouths long enough to listen, to receive understanding, Nephi teaches them.
So Nephi says that in Lehi’s visions and teachings, the house of Israel was compared to an olive tree, and the scattering of the tribes of Israel is like branches breaking off the tree.
He teaches them that the Gentiles will get grafted in, so that it is really one tree.
This teaching has tons of layers, but here are only four of the most important pieces:
1. The literal teaching of the physical scattering of the tribes of Israel, with the future implication of the Gospel being shared with Gentiles as well as Jews (thank you, Paul, in the New Testament), and then the present day gathering of all believers as one people (the restoration of the full Gospel in the present (latter) day.
2. The spiritual aspect of being born in the covenant (original tree) (growing up in the Church) but still needing to choose the covenant (be grafted in) as an individual doing their own conversion work.
3. The process of those who did not grow up in the church converting to the church.
4. “The house of Israel” is an important piece. In Moses 6:57, it refers to Heavenly Father as “Man of Holiness”, meaning He-who-is-holy. Then it says that the Lord, who is the Only Begotten Son, has a title, a name like His Fathers: “the Son of Man”. In the New Testament, all four gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) refer to the Lord – at some point – as the “Son of Man”. But Moses 6:57 clarifies for us the full title: if Heavenly Father is called “Man of Holiness” and his son is called “Son of Man”, then the full title for the Lord is “Son of Man of Holiness”. From this we get mankind, kindred, kin, all meaning like-one-another, or the-same-as-the-pattern. So we get this:
Heavenly Father = Man of Holiness
Lord = Son of (Man of Holiness)
In the same way, if we – who are “the House of Israel” by birthright – do the work to choose the covenant, then we become more than the House of Israel.
We become the House of the Lord.
The House of Israel is a genetic lineage, with promised blessings.
The House of the Lord is a chosen adoption, with claimed blessings.
How do we get from promised blessings to claimed blessings?
By being “adopted”.
How do we get adopted?
How do we choose?
We take His name upon us.
How do we take His name upon us?
At our baptism, we declare ourselves willing to take His name upon us. At the Temple, we actually do so. At Sacrament, we remember that we have done so.
We are “adopted” at the Temple.
At the Temple, we become the People of Holiness. We become the House of the Lord.
He gives to us His righteousness, and we give Him our Holiness. This makes us The House of the Lord.
Holiness to the Lord.
The House of the Lord.
“The House of the Lord” has, like all things, both a temporal (physical) and spiritual meaning.
It is, physically, the House of the Lord. It is a consecrated, set apart space that is His holy house.
But it is also, spiritually, the place we go to become His people, to be adopted, to choose the covenant, to become His people: “the House of the Lord”.
“And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved” (verse 14).
“And then at that day will they not rejoice and give praise unto their everlasting God, their rock and their salvation? Yea, at that day, will they not receive the strength and nourishment from the true vine? Yea, will they not come unto the true fold of God” (verse 15)?
“Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree” (verse 16).
So Nephi explains to his brothers that what Lehi meant was that all this would not come to pass until after the scattering of the Jews.
Now the brothers are paying attention, even participating. So they ask another question: In Lehi’s dream-vision, what was the “rod of iron” that lead to the tree?
Nephi explains to them that this was the “word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (verse 24).
This is one of my favorite examples of the Book of Mormon clarifying Biblical text: if you understand the “rod” as being the word of God (words of the prophets, scriptures, etc.), then it brings a whole new understanding to Proverbs 13:24 and what it means to “spare the rod”. Now we understand the verse doesn’t mean that you should beat your children; rather, it means that you should teach your children the words of God. Teach your children scripture, and they will know the way to go. Teach them to hold onto the rod (the words of God), and they will be led to the tree of life (back to the presence of our Heavenly Father). Chasten them with scripture principles that are true, and it will teach them how to make their own choices and guide their own lives by scripture principles that lead them to safety and happiness. It’s a powerful understanding once you have the definition!
President Hinckley said, “The more surely you rear your children in the ways of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with love and high expectation, the more likely that there will be peace in their lives,” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 99).
So this is what Nephi wants to teach his brothers.
“I, Nephi, did exhort them to give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, I did exhort them with all energies of my soul, and with all the faculty which I possessed, that they would give heed to the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things” (verse 25).
Exhorting is more than just teaching. It is a kind of pleading, a kind of clarifying, a kind of urging forward. It’s a pleading-explaining.
And Nephi did it with everything in him, wanting his brothers to remember and obey God, to keep His commandments always in all things.
Always. In all things.
It’s not a buffet. It’s not a pick-and-choose which things we want to obey. It’s not a when-it’s-easy kind of choice.
Always. In all things.
Nephi’s brothers are still participating, and so they ask what the river in the dream represents.
Nephi explains that it is the separation between what is not of God and what is of God. He says that this is hell, to be separated from God’s presence. Not that hell is so much a place, as much as the feelings one has when they are separated from God.
This really gets the attention of the brothers, and so they ask for more: They ask if this means “the torment of the body (guilty and negative feelings) in the days of probation (mortal life, this lifetime, now)” or does it mean “the final state of the soul after the death of the temporal body” (verse 31).
Nephi answers that it means both. When we do something wrong, and feel guilty, that – right there in the now moment – is part of judgment, part of our paying the price. It is us being aware of our separation from God. It is our awareness that we have removed ourselves from the House of the Lord, from being the people of Holiness.
But it is also the state of the soul after death: if one is not worthy to enter the presence of God, then it cannot happen. God is holy, and nothing not-holy can enter His presence. God wants us to be happy, and we will judge ourselves for what quality of life we will experience later. We will be judged according to our works in this life. Our “works” is not just what we do, or “good works” as some interpret it, but rather what law we follow.
This is our work, to follow His laws. Each law has a corresponding blessing, or inheritance (state of being and/or kingdom). Together, all the laws demonstrate our love for Him and for others.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
So what are the laws the prophets have given us? There are only 5. Everything else comes from these 5.
1. The Law of Obedience – this law was given to all of us premortally, and we all followed it enough to earn the opportunity to come to Earth. The Family Proclamation says, “In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
2. The Law of the Gospel – this law is for all people who ever lived or will live on Earth. It is the premortal covenant that Christ would atone for our sins (which He did), and that we would testify of it (which we should be doing in our words and by how we live). It is the story of where we came from, why we are here, and what happens to us when we die. It is the Atonement. It is the good news that our Heavenly Father wants us back home, and has promised to provide a way for us to succeed.
These two laws are for all people.
All people who were born on earth get immortality because Christ conquered the powers of death. He gave life to us all.
But the quality of that immortality is determined by how many (which) of the other three Laws we follow.
How close we get to live to Heavenly Father later depends on how close we live to him now.
It’s no different than my own quality of life now. If I had never finished high school, I would be living a very different lifestyle. I might still be happy and comfortable, but I would not have access to the things (blessings) or freedoms that I have access to now. Or, if I had finished high school but not finished college, and was still working at Subway, my life might be a little better, but still not access to this full “promised land” of my shiny yellow house. If I had finished college, but not gone to grad school, then I would be better off than if I had dropped out of high school, and probably would have gotten a job better than just Subway. But I wouldn’t have the paycheck, benefits, and flexibility in scheduling that I have now.
In the same way, our quality of life later will differ by what we choose now. Our choices every day are eternal: not just for the moment now, in the illusion of impulse, but our choices now are actually our own judgments of ourselves. Our choices now prove what laws we are able to follow, what quality of life we qualify for later.
To work at Subway, I didn’t need a high school diploma.
To work at my first job with autistic kids, I had to have a high school diploma and a college diploma.
To be a therapist, I have to have a college diploma, a grad school diploma, and a license.
I had to qualify for that level of profession.
So while the first two laws are for everyone, the last three laws are the ones that show what kind of immortality-experience, or what eternal life, we qualify for. These three laws determine what quality of life we choose (now) to experience later. The laws are not just consecutive, but progressive. Each one builds on the one before, so that the second law includes the first but is higher than the first; the third law includes the first two, but is the highest of the three. In the same way, the inheritance for each is greater in a progressive sense. You cannot live a higher law without first being able to live a lower law.
1. The first Law of the first inheritance is the Law of Sacrifice.
While this was ultimately fulfilled in the great atoning sacrifice of Christ, we are to emulate it by our own sacrifices for His kingdom.
After Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, “he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying, “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:5-7).
Just as His sacrifice was required for the remission of our sins, our sacrifice (in honor of His) is required to retain that remission of sins. To sacrifice means “to make sacred”, and we are made sacred (set apart) through obedience. So even this law hinges upon both the Law of Obedience (to make ourselves sacred through obedience) and the Law of the Gospel (remission of sins is made possible by His atonement).
In this way, sacrifice is a prerequisite to revelation:
“Whenever the Lord revealed Himself to men in ancient days, and commanded them to offer sacrifice to Him, … it was done that they might look forward in faith to the time of His coming, and rely upon the power of that atonement for a remission of their sins” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith , 60–61; see also page 58).
Knowing HIS sacrifice (of the Atonement) does bring us to OUR sacrifice, which is a “broken heart and contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:19-20). This means not only repentance and obedience, but also loving others well, being kind, being gentle, being compassionate, and keeping a spirit of gratitude. These are the traits we must develop to retain a remission of our sins.
We need a remission of our sins if we are to become holy, right? And as we become holy – as we become the people of holiness – as we become the House of the Lord – then we take upon His name. If He knows our Name, then what is our adoption certificate? Our adoption certificate is our Temple Recommend, which includes the verification of our physical sacrifice of tithing. Tithing is so critical, such a part of following the Law of God, that D&C 85:3 says tithing actually enrolls our names with the people of God. It is tithing that enrolls our names as being adopted into the House of the Lord; it is the sacrifice of tithing that proves we are people of holiness. Not only that, but just as the blood of the Lamb protected the House of Israel at Passover, so will tithing protect the House of the Lord when the Messiah returns for the Second Coming.
“Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man (of Holiness), and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming”(D&C 64:23).
The first law has its own inheritance promised, and we know the first level of promised inheritance is called “the Telestial Kingdom”. Those who are able to follow the first law will gain the first inheritance. They will be happy there, and enjoy that life because they know they can live at that level of moral code, of spiritual expectations. They will be confident because they have already achieved
2. The second law (for the second inheritance) contains sacrifice within it. It is the Law of Chastity (or Fidelity to one’s spouse).
Chastity requires an internal purity.
This internal purity is a purity at the physical, emotional, and mental levels of experience.
Chastity means not DOING anything physically (sexually) with someone to whom you are not married.
But, Jesus pointed out that even THINKING about it is the same as doing it (Matthew 5:27, 28).
In the world of therapy, we make a triangle by connecting thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. These three things cannot be entirely separated. What you think about is what you feel, and what you do is based off that. In a simple way, we see how people who THINK negative thoughts, complain, and murmur FEEL miserable. Then they ACT mean or hateful or yell or isolate or behave in some negative way to show (“act out”) how bad they feel, which reflects what ugly, dark thoughts they are having.
In the same way, someone who is thinking about someone else inappropriately will start to have feelings related to those thoughts. Someone in this kind of inappropriate emotional attachment or emotional affair will act out that affair – whether it is escalating to an actual affair, or whether it is isolating from their current spouse. Emotional attachments can be as dangerous and unhealthy as an actual affair, and in many ways worse because they can be so secretive and long-lasting.
However, we know because thoughts, feelings, and actions are so intensely connected, you only need to change one to change the others.
If you focus on positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts, you feel better.
If you focus on good feelings in appropriate contexts, you will have healthy attachments that are appropriate.
If you make good choices, you have experience more happiness.
Chastity develops a unified core of self that is pure on the physical, emotional, and mental levels.
These skills must be developed because they are required for the next law. The previous law (Sacrifice) empties you of all of “you”, gives up what is yours in order to acknowledge (in gratitude) that everything you are and have comes from God. This law cleanses and purifies what is left of you, sanctifying you as holy, as set apart, as dedicated. It is the holy purity of what is not-violated. The next law gives that holiness to Him as we become His people, “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord”.
You can see how one law naturally flows into the next, how learning to meet the requirements of one law develops the ability to meet the requirements for the next.
Meeting the requirements for this second law qualifies you for the second (and better, higher) inheritance, the Terrestial Kingdom.
3. This third law (or 5th of all 5 Laws) contains within it both sacrifice and purity: the Law of Consecration.
D&C 109:12 defines consecrated as “to be holy, that thy holy presence may be continually in this house”.
“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1).
This is the giving of our whole being (both existence and experience of it) to God. This is the exchange: we give our whole being, all that is us and all that is ours, to Him, and then he does cause “a might change” in us so that we become a new person ” – justified, sanctified, and born again with His image in our countenances (see Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:14; Moses 6:59–60).
When we become like Him, holy as He is holy, when we become adopted into the House of the Lord, it is then that we qualify to enter His presence. We do not qualify in and of ourselves, but because He has adopted us and so we have the rights of inheritance. It is by the atonement that we are covered. We give Him our sins and transgressions and failures, and He gives us His righteousness. The Holy Spirit works this into our very being, so that we are changed, so that we become as He is. When we are holy as He is – by the power of what He has accomplished in and for us – it is only then that we qualify to enter His presence, to return home to the promised land of the celestial kingdom.
These are the things Nephi teaches his brothers.
These are the things which are “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (verse 36).
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 14.
Nephi’s vision of the future unfolding for the Gentiles continues in chapter 14. We are in the midst of reading the same pattern as always given in the Old Testament: when people are obedient and follow the Lord, they are healed and gathered and blessed; when they are not obedient and do not follow the Lord, they are scattered and sent into some form of bondage.
But always, the moment we return to Him, He is there waiting – has been there waiting – all along, like the prodigal son returning to his father. And like that father, our Father is waiting and watching, so that He sees us even when we are still “a great way off” (Luke 15:20).
Let’s take apart verse one to see how it unfolds:
“if the Gentiles shall hearken
(listen to His words, obey what He says to do or not do, act in faith in response to what we learn)
unto the Lamb of God
(the Savior, the words of the Savior)
in that day he shall manifest himself unto them in word
(through Scripture, through prophets, through personal revelation),
and also in power
(through the Savior, through the Holy Spirit, through the Temple, through revelation in response to obedience),
in very deed
(the reality of His work being accomplished in us and around us in everyday life),
unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks
(delivering us from a variety of forms of bondage, making us strong where we are weak, atonement for our sins).”
And so we see how when our hearts are hard against the things of God, we remove ourselves from experiencing the workings of God, and so deny ourselves the understanding the things of God.
But when our hearts are soft and turned toward God, we experience His working in our lives, and so we then also begin to understand the things of God. It changes us, and it leads us home.
This is covenant language, right there in verse one.
We know it is because it describes what we should do, and what the Lord will do.
If we will do this…., He will do this….
This covenant language is emphasized in verse two, when it says that IF WE do not harden our hearts against the Savior (if we do what He says), then HE WILL count us as as children of Abraham: they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel. This is the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant that was around since before the beginning of time but named after Abraham because he was so faithful in keeping it. This is the difference between Nephi and his murmuring brothers who were also born into the covenant: Nephi chooses to become part of the covenant by being like Abraham, which means to be obedient and faithful to the Lord. We now have the New Testament, with the example of the Lord Himself, and so do strive to be obedient and faithful by following the example of Christ. This is how we choose, regardless of biological lineage, to become “children of Abraham”, to become a covenant people. We can only do so by being obedient and faithful.
And when we are obedient and faithful, then we are “a blessed people” (verse two).
When we keep our covenants (by being obedient and faithful), then we are a people who receive the blessings of the covenant.
These blessings include that of the promised land, which has both the temporal and spiritual meaning of safety and protection and provision in our lives now (temporal) and returning to our Father’s presence in the celestial kingdom later.
But we must be obedient and faithful to receive these blessings, for the greatest bondage is to be separated from our Father-in-Heaven. Choosing behaviors or habits or interactions that are not of Him, separates us from Him. Choosing behaviors or habits or interactions that are of Him draw us closer to Him. The more we act like Him, the more we become like Him. We are embryos in that process, President Kimball said, but still we strive to become more like Him – to let Him make us holy – so that we can eventually be so purified from what is not of Him, so sanctified by what is Him – our sins exchanged for HIS righteousness – that the work of the atonement will be complete, and we can re-enter His presence because we will be as He is.
This does not mean we ever catch up to God, or we change who God is.
The more we become like Him, the more His glory increases. He gets credit for the changes in me, because it is His work in me – not my work in myself. So the more I change, the more I improve, the higher He lifts me – the more He Himself is elevated.
It is His work in me, and so any glory from that process is also His.
It is like our earthly parents: my mother will always be my mother. When I was an infant, she cared for me and nurtured me into childhood, then my teenage years, then my more challenging young adult years, and then into the healing and growing years since. But just because I finally got my act together (was “rescued”, as President Monson would say), or just because I reached the age my mother was when she had me, or just because now my mother and I became grown-up friends, doesn’t mean I caught up to her. She is still, and forever will be, my mother. She will always know more than I do, always have more experience than I do, and always be ahead of me in her own progression. All the time I am working and learning and progressing, so has she. Our becoming at-one does not change the fact that she is my mother, or that she is ahead of me in life experience or age progression.
Heavenly Father knew from the beginning that the atonement of the Savior would be needed for me to make it back home like the prodigal. The Savior’s work of the atonement was an exchange that was in part immediate and final, and in part a process. The immediate and final part was conquering death. All of us will have immortality, and that work is already done and accomplished. It’s settled. The part that is still in process is my choosing to participate in the progress of Emily, the great exchange of my sins for His righteousness. The more I let the atonement work in me, so that by the Holy Spirit working to sanctify me, to cleanse me, to purify me, so that I am more and more made of His substance, more and more filled with His righteousness rather than what is not of Him… the more I become like Him, which does qualify me to be closer and closer to Him as I continue that process.
We become more and more at-one.
But I can never catch up to Him, because He is my Father.
To be at-one is to have peace and joy.
That is what Satan wants to destroy, and how he so easily leads us away from at-one-ness, away from the working of the atonement, by trying to get us to choose things and behaviors and interactions that separate us from God so that we are not at-one.
But this is only a trick, an illusion.
Because the Savior has already come, and His work is already done.
The at-one-ment has already been made possible.
We just have to let it work; we just have to choose it.
It is the choosing it that softens us.
“if the Gentiles repent it shall be well with them” (verse 5).
But He lets us choose. It’s part of wanting us to be happy and comfortable, to the degree we have developed that in ourselves.
“I will work a great and marvelous work among the children of men;
(His “work” is defined in Moses 1:39, as our immortality and eternal life)
a work which shall be everlasting,
either on the one hand or on the other –
(quality of eternal life we choose)
either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal,
or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds
unto their being brought down into captivity,
and also destruction,
both temporally and spiritually” (verse 7).
This is our choice, the angel says to Nephi in verse 10: to either follow God or not, to become obedient and faithful like Abraham or not, to follow the example of Christ or not, to choose the things of God or not, to become children of the covenant or not.
Nephi sees there are two churches, the true church (with the authority restored, as we learned in the last chapter) or not.
In verse 12 Nephi realizes that the numbers of Saints will always be fewer than the people of the world, but that the Saints will be stronger despite the numbers.
In verse 14, Nephi understands that the covenant people are strengthened by righteousness and the power of God.
This is powerful in several ways.
First, the actual story of what Nephi is seeing.
Second, the process by which Nephi is seeing this vision, that he is still receiving line-upon-line of revelation through pondering and obedience and prayer, by asking for more and more understanding and being diligent in the work to deepen his understanding further and further.
Third, the idea that it is righteousness that strengthens us and what it implies for us as covenant people. It is no longer the child-understanding of “because He said so”, but the grown-up-understanding of “because it is good for us”. If we follow Nephi’s pattern of seeking further revelation and deeper understanding to this, layers and layers will come like a book unfolding as its pages are turned.
Then, Nephi says, he sees how the people become divided into two camps (much like Nephi and his murmuring brothers, and the descendants that come after them).
The two camps are for-God and against-God.
We know this from since always. Sometimes we call it “the War in Heaven”. Before any of us came to Earth, Heavenly Father presented the plan for us to come to Earth and gain experience in making choices and prove that we could be obedient in all things, that we truly love Him by choice and not just default.
Jehovah, who is the Christ, presented His plan for the atonement, so that we could return to our Heavenly Father knowing it was by his grace and mercy that we made it back home.
Lucifer, who is Satan, presented his plan that he could force everyone (by removing agency, or the ability to choose). The problem with this is that since he would be getting us back home by force, then all the glory would be his. This is how he tried to steal glory from Heavenly Father.
And so we had the great war in heaven, in which we pleaded and urged our loved ones to choose Jehovah, to do it the way Heavenly Father designed.
Lucifer and those who chose his plan were thrown out, and did not get to be born on earth in bodies to learn how to make choices or practice being obedient.
The rest of us, all of us who are born into bodies, all of us here on Earth, chose Jehovah and the plan as Heavenly Father designed it, for HIS glory.
But we sometimes forget that same war still rages on. Satan still tries to remove our agency, through ignorance or hard-heartedness or anything that tricks us into not having choices. That’s why it is bondage: we get stuck without choice, or we give up our choices in exchange for something else.
In my office, I see this show up in many forms. Sometimes it is financial bondage. Sometimes it is addiction. Sometimes it is Esau giving up his birthright (celestial kingdom blessings through the covenant of marriage) for a bowl of porridge (immediate gratification of an affair) (Genesis 25:34).
The same war rages on, and we continue to urge our friends and loved ones – the same friends and loved ones we have had since before the beginning of time – to choose the right.
That’s our premortal covenant: Christ would accomplish the atonement (He did), and we would testify of it (we must).
But the war will be won.
Verses 15-17 sound like verses from Revelation in the New Testament, talking about “wars and rumors of wars” in the end times.
Then the angel tells Nephi about John, who did write Revelation:
“… Behold, one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (verse 20).
“And he shall see and write the remainder of these things… and he shall also write concerning the end of the world” (verse 21, 22).
“… the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew” (the Bible) (verse 23).
Then Nephi understands. He knows.
This is the building of his testimony.
First it is believing. But with pondering and revelation, faith becomes knowledge.
“And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John” (verse 27).
And this was only a “small part”, he says, of what he saw and learned and heard.
Can you imagine?
These amazing chapters culminating in this one are all a result of his pondering and study and praying. These chapters describe for us not only what he saw and learned, but also the process of revelation that he experienced. We are to ponder and study and ask for more, we are to listen and look and pay attention. We are to ask what it means, what is true, and how to apply it to ourselves.
And then, when we understand, when we know, then we must “go and do”. We must act in response to what we have learned. We must testify of it. We must share.
That’s what happens in the next chapter, when Nephi returns to his murmuring brothers in hopes of sharing what he has learned.
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 13.
Chapter 13 continues Nephi’s tutoring session with the angel, with this chapter having a particular geographical/political/historical perspective.
In his vision, Nephi sees “many nations and kingdoms” (verse 1), and the angel clarifies that these are the nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles (verse 3).
He sees the kingdoms setting up churches not of God, and political persecution of believers. He sees Saints being martyred and tortured and imprisoned.
This is an important piece in Mormon perspective: it is the apostasy.
LDS beliefs acknowledge that there are many different kinds of churches, and even agree that many of them hold great pieces of truth.
LDS beliefs include the belief that anything that is good comes from God, and that all truth is from God.
However, we also understand the historical tracing back of different branches of different churches and how they came about. In some ways, this was good and important and vital because most churches popular today were established during the time of the Reformation, and that was a vital and important movement in Christianity. It led to the Great Awakening, the search for the true church, the demand for freedom to practice religion as one deems appropriate for themselves. There were real problems, and the people wanted real answers. All of this was very important historically, and vital in the search to return to our roots – to the church as the Savior Himself had established it when He was on the earth.
When the Savior was on the Earth, He established the pattern for church-ness. He organized it, He called the leaders, He taught them the truths and the way things were to be done. He taught us what kind of people we need to be.
Even more importantly, He had the authority to do this, and He gave authority to the leaders He chose for them to continue the work.
Between the time of Christ, and the beginning of church-ness as we know it today, that authority was lost.
People may have known or remembered what to do or how to do things, but that authority to do so was lost along the way.
In LDS world, this is called “the Apostasy”.
It is like someone practicing medicine without a license. They may know what to do, and maybe even studied in school. But they don’t have the license to practice. They may know all the right things, and may be quite skilled, but they do not have permission from the those in charge to be doing what they are doing. They do not have the authority to do what they are doing.
For things to really be legit, even when you know the truth, everything should be done on the up-and-up.
During the apostasy, or after the time all the original Apostles were hunted down and killed – martyred – the people continued to do what they knew to do, but the authority to practice these things had been lost.
But still, many remembered the pattern, and many continued going through the motions, and many had deep and powerful individual relationships with God.
We are grateful for these Saints, and for the things they teach us, and for their prayers and efforts and battles for the truth so that the principles and concepts were passed down. It is because they gave their lives to study and writing that Scriptures were passed down. It is because they fought for their beliefs that truth was not lost. It is because of their efforts, even to the giving of their lives, that we have the Bible in every language in the world, and can hold it in our own hands.
But Satan, the angel tells Nephi (before all this happened), is going to try and stop it.
Of course Satan doesn’t want Scriptures to get passed down generation after generation!
Of course Satan wants to tweak and pervert and twist and change the things of God; it is what he has always done.
And so Nephi sees how there will be an Apostasy, after the time of Christ. He sees the Apostles will be killed, Saints will be martyred, and sacred ordinances of the church will be twisted and changed and perverted. He sees that there will be churches that rise up in pursuit of money instead of God, and he sees that there will be hypocrites in fine clothes instead of saints who care for the poor. He sees church leaders seeking after the praise of the world, even by destroying the true saints, instead of building up the saints by seeking the things of God.
Nephi’s vision continues, and he sees the lands and kingdoms separated by seas and oceans.
Then it gets really exciting:
He sees his own descendants in the promised land to which his father is now leading them.
LDS believe that this “promised land” in the metaphorical sense is our returning to the presence of our Heavenly Father, and that in the temporal sense this promised land was the American continents.
Then he looks back across the seas and he watches the Spirit of God come upon a man who seeks to travel the ocean to Nephi’s own promised land, or to the American continents.
LDS believe this is a prophecy pointing to those who later discovered the American continents, as well as its native peoples who are Nephi’s descendents.
Nephi watches as “multitudes of the Gentiles” (verse 13) come to this promised land of the Americas, led there because of religious persecution.
He sees these immigrants become a great nation, and that they prosper in the land as long as they humble themselves before the Lord (which has always been the requirement, even in the Old Testament, not just the Book of Mormon). Always, when the people are humble and repentant and acknowledge the Lord and do what He says, the people are gathered to receive their inheritance and they are blessed temporally (physically, now) and spiritually (now and later). When they are not a humble people, then they are scattered, sent into bondage, and experience calamities. This has always been the pattern since the beginning of time: the people are provided for and protected as long as they choose to remain in the care of their Shepherd, but are scattered and endangered when they decline His offers for help or remove themselves outside of His protection. This truth applies to us as individuals, families, communities, and nations.
In verse 19, Nephi prophesies about the Americas fighting for Independence from Europe and free from religious persecution: “And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.”
And he sees these people having their Bible.
The angels asks Nephi if he knows what the book is, and Nephi says he doesn’t know.
So the angel explains, “The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophesies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass.”
So then Nephi understands, that these people will have a book that is a record like his metal plates. The book is the history of the Jews, from creation forward, and includes the same writings of the prophets as what Nephi has (even Isaiah and Jeremiah, who are prophesying at the time of Lehi taking his family out of Jerusalem).
But the angel tells Nephi that the Bible will also have writings from the Apostles, as witnesses to the Savior. These are the gospels and the letters to the new churches before the apostasy. But then the angel also tells of the apostasy: “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away… And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men” (verse 26 and 27). It is then, says the angel, after the scriptures have been altered and many things left out or even changed, it is after that when the Bible will be published as one collection, one book, and it will be true – but missing many pieces. It is true as far as it is translated correctly, but many will have tried to change it.
We know this is true from history, with the many councils that met to try and decide which sacred, holy writings would be included in the book that we now know as “the Bible”.
But, the angel says, the Lord does not want the Gentiles to “remain in that awful state of blindness” (verse 32).
And so, the angel says, the Lord will visit a descendant of Nephi.
That gets Nephi’s attention.
The Lord will visit a descendant of Nephi, and restore the full truth, the whole story, “the full Gospel”, back to the people.
“For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious..” (verse 35).
The angel describes how the record Nephi is now in process of writing, of keeping and preserving, of passing down to his son, and to his son after him, how this record will get passed down generations and then be hidden to be kept safe. Then, in His own time, the Lord will bring this record out of hiding to restore the full Gospel to the people.
This, we know is how Nephi’s record, and the records kept generations after him, becomes the Book of Mormon.
And we know it literally was hidden, and found, and how it did restore the full story to the people.
It’s an amazing process to watch, to read, to experience!
It will “come forth”, the angel says, “by the gift and power of the Lamb.” (verse 36).
And those who study it will understand it by “the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost” (verse 37), which is why we work so hard to live worthy of the Holy Spirit, so that it can correct and instruct and guide and teach us as we study. And when we do, like Nephi studying his father’s vision, and when we ponder and pray and ask with a heart and spirit that is worthy of influence from the Holy Ghost, then it is like the world coming into focus, and we begin to understand. We receive revelation a bit at a time, building on each tiny piece before it. As we continue to study, we begin to see whole chunks, as if glasses have been put on our eyes, lights have been turned on, and we learn to see colors and letters and words.
In this way, the Book of Mormon is a companion to the Bible, for it does explain pieces you don’t understand without it. Things you read for your whole life, have seen hundreds of times, never make as much sense as they do after reading the Book of Mormon and having that understanding to go with it. It’s almost like the Book of Mormon explains the Bible, interprets the Bible, better than any other writing or dictionary or theological study.
Because the Book of Mormon is “another testament of Jesus Christ”.
And it does help a person understand how everything – everything – in the Bible, even in the Old Testament, points to Christ.
“These last records (the Book of Mormon),” the angel tells Nephi, “shall establish the truth of the first (the Bible)” (verse 40).
The Bible and the Book of Mormon are united in purpose, with all of it pointing to Christ.
“they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” (verse 41).
I am glad He is Shepherd of me.
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 12.
CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 12 translated from Hebrew.
In response to his pondering and seeking understanding, Nephi’s vision continues.
Specifically, in response to his asking for the interpretation of his father’s dream, the angel continues to explain to Nephi what the dream means.
Nephi sees his descendants, and the descendants of his brothers. He sees them living in a “land of promise”, which refers to the physical and actual place where they live – and also is a metaphor for returning to the presence of Heavenly Father. Because we know this, anytime you read in Scripture and it talks about “the promised land” or the “land of promise”, etc., you can know it is covenant language happening and that it may be talking about a physical, temporal place, but also is a metaphor for the celestial kingdom. In this case, he sees the actual land that is promised to his family, but is also aware they cannot live there (or return to Heavenly Father) if they do not keep their covenants.
In his own vision, Nephi sees “wars and rumors of wars”, and many cities after many generations have passed.
I saw there the mass of people,
even their vulgar and common culture,
and that they were not living as a set apart people.
I saw there were as many of them as the sand of the sea.
I saw these vulgar people gathering themselves
to prepare for war against each other.
I saw wars and rumors of wars,
and even wars caused by rumors,
and many cold-hearted killings
by the cold steal of weapons
amongst people already divided by dissension.
Then Nephi sees storms greater than ours: “I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises…” (verse 4).
When he describes earthquakes and other natural disasters, it is more than just the weather.
It is the earth joining in the warning voices of prophets.
The earth’s voice of warning escalates as the people themselves escalate in their refusal to listen.
It’s a more vivid picture in Hebrew:
I saw lightning and heart thunder;
that is to also say,
I saw prophets and heard their voices
warning the people,
and the earth shook at what they had to say.
Even evil shuddered
against monuments built in the ground;
that is to also say,
evil shuddered against temples built in the land.
Yes, I saw the earth torn,
with rocks and boulders thrown to the ground
like little child-stones.
That is to also say,
I saw a people fallen in pride,
suddenly nothing when they should have known better.
I saw mountains collapse
in on themselves.
That is to also say,
I saw governments fail
and cultural icons shamed.
I saw that fields were broken up.
That is to also say,
I saw political boundaries
change like geography,
and economies collapse.
I saw cities sunk;
that is to also say
I saw families failing
because of spiritual degeneration.
I saw many cities burned with fire;
that is to also say many endured much
to be refined and purified.
I saw many cities fall
because of the quaking;
or, that is also to say
that I saw many families fail
because they were afraid
and not acting in faith.
This is the testimony of nature, the groaning of the Earth, the waiting for the Lord to return so that the Earth may be cleansed and her people gathered.
And the Savior does come, Nephi sees in his vision.
“I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them” (verse 6).
Nephi also sees the Holy Ghost coming upon “twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen” (verse 7). The angel goes on to explain that these twelve will judge the twelve tribes of Israel, and that Nephi’s descendants will be judged by them because he (Nephi) is of the House of Israel. But judgment is not to be feared, for all will understand and agree with their judgments, and the quality of their eternal life will match that which they have prepared for and chosen now – so they will be comfortable and happy with their judgment, knowing eternal life is a gift of mercy.
And those that believe are “righteous forever” (verse 10) because of HIS righteousness gifted in exchange for their sins through the atonement, the at-one-ment, the work of the Savior.
And the angel said to me,
“These generations are made whole
(complete and perfect and peaceful)
in the blood of the Lamb
due to their faith in Him
(as evidenced by covenants kept).”
The angel then continues explaining Leh’s dream:
The “mists of darkness” are the temptations of the devil (verse 17).
The “large and spacious buildings” is pride.
Nephi sees into the future, seeing his descendants. He sees that when they “dwindle in unbelief”, they become a dark and filthy people who are full of idleness and do not do the things of God.
Then as I pondered further,
I sought to understand more.
And the angel said to me,
“See? Do you see how
the people atrophied
when their faith wasted away?
They became a decadent
and degenerate people
Then as I pondered further,
I sought to understand more.
And indeed, I looked and I saw
the people waste away
as their faith atrophied,
creating a darkness over them
until their lives were full
and dirty economics
and filthy treatment of each other
at the expense of others
and by violence
and by stealing
and by lying
and by relationships outside the Order of God.
This was the greatest abomination
because they could have been
a holy people of God,
even the House of the Lord,
their offering being Holiness to the Lord.
But there is hope in the symbols already interpreted in the last chapter: the “rod of iron” is the word of God, that is a “light” for the path.
The path leads to the tree, which represents the presence of Heavenly Father, and the happiness we have when we live at-one with Him.
Tonight our first graders went to a fireside at the ward here for baptism preparation! They got to sit in the chair across from the bishop, do an activity about covenants, see the closet of white clothes, and walk through the bathroom into the baptismal font to practice the logistics about where they go and what they do and what it will be like. It was amazing for them!