Monday, July 4, 2011

Choosing to Hearken and Receive

In Alma we read one of the greatest missionary stories of all time as the sons of Mosiah, princes among Nephites, forsake wealth and power to teach the enemy Lamanites about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their extraordinary success is matched by extraordinary trials as they overcome imprisonment, starvation, disbelief and persecution to teach the gospel. In a moment of joy as they realized together their incredible missionary success, the oldest of these sons, Ammon, declares, "our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold...thousands of them do rejoice, and have been brought into the fold of God" (Alma 26: 3-4).

Four hundred years later, the prophet Mormon walked among the descendants of Ammon and his brethren, their converts and their once-righteous Nephite nation. Christ had visited the people and they had enjoyed the presence, teachings and miracles of Christ's authorized disciples for nearly three hundred years. Now a wicked people, Mormon writes that he tried to preach to them, "but my mouth was shut, and I was forbidden that I should preach unto them; for behold they had wilfully rebelled against their God" (Mormon 1:16).

In these two examples we see two wicked peoples, with identical family histories, yield two very different responses from the Lord. Ammon and his brethren rejoiced that they had, "been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work" (Alma 26:3). And when "our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back," Ammon records, "behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success" (Alma 26:27). Yet Mormon, "was forbidden to preach unto them, because of the hardness of their hearts; and because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake" (Mormon 1:17).

If God loves all of His children, we may wonder why He would bless one people with faith and conversion and curse another and forbid the prophets to preach to them. It may seem unfair or like His love is conditional. Yet the difference between these two societies is not the way they were treated by a God who loves them both, but the way they used their agency to respond to that love.

Both of these peoples had been taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. The wickedness of the Lamanites taught by Ammon was the result of generations of false teachings and disbelief on the part of their ancestors. They were taught the gospel and responded with conversion so pure and so true they were willing to die in a massacre to hold true to their covenants and to their God. The Nephites of Mormon's day were raised in the gospel; their ancestors had beheld Christ with their very own eyes, yet they chose abandon their family legacies for the pleasures of greed, immorality, self-indulgence and rebellion.

So we see the wisdom of God as He teaches us the principles of eternity: "And the mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves; for it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet. For the world cannot receive that which ye, yourselves, are not able to bear; wherefore ye shall not give your pearls unto them, lest they turn again and rend you" (JST Matthew 7:10-11).

And again, "he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel-- repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost... The days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you have never known" (D&C 39:5-10).

Fourth Century Nephites had already trampled sacred covenants to become the wicked people they were. They were taught the gospel in their homes and they chose to not to receive it, but to discard it and regard it as slop for the pigs. Not many years from the time of Mormon's writing, they even turned against the Church to tear it into pieces and destroy it.

The people of Ammon's time, the self-declared Anti-Nephi-Lehis, hearkened unto the voice of the Lord and were baptized. They wanted nothing more than to be free of their sins and diligent in their faith.

Like the Ammonites and the Nephites of Mormon's time, each of us must decide each day whether we will receive Christ. We must decide whether we will build the foundations of our testimonies on the rock of Jesus Christ and his gospel, or whether we will be overrun and washed away by the world and her philosophies like the wicked Nephites. We must decide if we will be true to our family's legacy of faith, however long or short, or if we will abandon our opportunity and advantage for the excitement of popularity or the world's esteem. We must decide who we will serve: God or mammon.

The decisions the move us closer to Christ or the slippery slope of apostasy come by the dozen every day. The movies we watch, the conversations we have, the offenses we choose, the love we give and the way we use our time are just a few of the daily, if not constant, decisions that pull us one way or the other. If we expect ourselves and our families to be like the people of Ammon, we must learn to hearken to the voice of the Lord as the Ammonites did. As we do so, we will arise to the level of the covenants we have made, our sins will be washed away, we will call upon the name of the Lord, and we shall receive the Spirit of God and blessing so great as we have never known.

Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved. Helaman 12:23

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