Beginning to Build part III

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Helaman shares some insight about his experience building on the rock and his words are later quoted by his sons.  If you’re familiar with the Book of Mormon, you know that Helaman comes from a long line of people who had solid experiences with rebuilding relationships with Christ.  If you’re not familiar with these folks, no worries.   I want to share a few beautiful stories of people who had misunderstood the Savior or people who had rejected Him altogether, and were reminded of the opportunity that we all have to change and rebuild.

A man named Alma (the great-great-grandfather of Helaman) served as a priest for a rather selfish and misguided king named Noah.  Alma heard the testimony of a believer named Abinadi and something inside him felt the truth in Abinadi’s words.  Maybe he couldn’t exactly articulate it but he realized he had quite a bit to learn about the Savior and he decided to seek Him.  Alma left the service of the king and sought to know the Savior in the ways this man Abinadi had described Him.  Unfortunately, by this time, Abinadi had been killed so Alma had to seek inspiration from heaven as he thought about Abinadi’s words. One of Abinadi’s chief complaints about these priests in particular was that they had been giving the people a very wrong impression of the Savior’s teachings and compassion (sound familiar?).   As Alma begins to glean understanding and share some of his new thoughts and impressions about the Savior with other people,  he gets varying responses but there are quite a few people who are interested in the doctrine Alma is learning.  When he teaches the people, his focus is on repentance (changing and learning about obedience firsthand from our choices) and redemption (belief in our ability to merge with the Savior’s proffered grace), and faith (belief that He can and wants to help) on the Lord (Mosiah 18:7).  When Alma begins to create a culture of goodness about him using the Savior’s principles  his focus is on compassion.  Alma’s ability to convey his thoughts and feelings about the Savior is profound to me because once he tore down so many of his preconceived ideas, he started teaching people one of the most simple and powerful principles by which Heaven operates:

“And it came to pass that he said unto them; Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life-

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8-10)

The principle is loving each other, the action is baptism which is choosing to make a commitment with God to honor that heavenly principle of compassion and work on obeying it.  As a blessing for those who want to serve as witnesses of Him (walking reminders that He and His love are real), God offers an extra measure of His presence in their lives.  In this instance, it was His spirit.  No one forced them there.  There was no compulsion, there was no strong-arming.  It was simply an invitation.  Alma had realized that by loving others, He was blessed with an added measure of the Spirit.  God is no respecter of persons, so Alma was offering that opportunity to anyone else who wanted to approach Heaven.  There were inevitably doctrinal questions, as people began this new life with curiosity, about how compassion is extended to so many people and how to cultivate it.  And there were answers that came but at the core of a disciple’s life, then or now, I believe that compassion is what one will find.  And I imagine Alma had to accept the Savior’s compassion for himself in order to articulate it for those around him.  Alma simply taught the people to love each other the best that they could and they found joy in doing so.  Amidst all the doctrine he was picking up and all the revelation he was receiving, I think he was able to focus himself and others on this most important aspect of the Savior’s teachings (Matt 22:40) because he had painstakingly rebuilt every bit of his knowledge about Jesus Christ as he thought about Abinadi’s words and received personal revelation from God through the Spirit to help him understand how to move closer to heaven.

The reasons we may have to rebuild are varied.   Choices, either our own or other people’s, may reveal to us some weakness in our foundation.  Circumstances beyond our control may bring a need to rebuild to our awareness.  Ultimately, I’m not even so sure it matters why we need to rebuild because in the end, I think the only important thing is that we make the attempt because along the way, all the things we feel and learn about compassion and understanding as a result of our efforts to rebuild on the Rock bear divine similarity.

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Beginning to Build part I

If the Pharisees had felt energized as opposed to threatened by learning things they didn’t know or if they had understood that the Savior’s principles could remain the same even if the outward expression of them looked different, they may have been able to see Him.   In other words, if they had had a relationship with Christ, they probably would’ve, at least faintly, recognized His principles in action.   I sincerely believe that Heaven operates by a handful of key spiritual principles which are manifest in a myriad of mortal observances.  And as we come to know the Savior those principles become more defined.  But the Pharisees had relied on their actions almost exclusively and when it came to recognizing the Savior those actions weren’t enough.  It seems heartbreaking that they could watch the sacrifice of animal after animal under the Law of Moses and then witness the crucifixion without even a twinge of familiarity.

I think the parable of the wise man and foolish man can illustrate the difference between lonely actions and actions tied to relationships:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

And the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matt 7:24-27)

If we’re going to invest the time and resources into building a house, especially one that we want to occupy and invite others into, it would be wise to identify the most solid foundation possible.  I imagine we’d look for something steady, something that will only change minimally over the passage of time.  For the Pharisees, the foundation was all of the tiny little things that they did in the name of religion.  They built on the sand which may have come from the rock but was not ever going to be the rock.  The acts were a mortal cue for their spirits to seek Him, to understand Him and build their lives on that knowledge of Him, not solely on His rules.

That foolish man the Savior spoke about, I don’t think he started out foolish.  His foolishness was only revealed when the storms came.  Perhaps the blurry line between the place where the infinite slab of rock ended and the sand started was hard to identify so it was hard to know where to build.  And maybe the foolish man had some concerns about the steadfastness of his dwelling or maybe he’d experienced some slight shifting but it wasn’t until the large challenge came that he realized his foundation was simply unequal to the demands of a heavy storm.  I’d like to think that after that awful storm, when he sat in the ruin of his house, he gave himself some space to come to terms with what had just happened.  Sometimes tumultuous storms strip away the periphery of life so completely that we are left with a focus on the things which are the most important…which oftentimes are our relationships.  Amidst the devastation of his surroundings,  it seems like the once-foolish man would have a choice to make. He could give up and determine that rebuilding wasn’t worth the effort for something that could be so easily destroyed.  Did he walk away feeling understandably frustrated, angry or betrayed?   Or did he look around and realize he could try again?