The Good Lord Pardon Every One

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One challenge we may all be prone to is to be critical of people who do things that we perceive to be inappropriate. Sometimes this challenge is accentuated in the church, as illustrated by an experience I had as a missionary. It was a Sunday and I had been assigned to give a talk that day. A brand new convert named Brian was planning to bring his wife and children to church for the first time. I was so excited they were going to come on the day when I was speaking.

I remember sitting on the stand waiting for Brian to come; I was nervous because the meeting had started and Brian hadn’t arrived yet. The ward I was in at the time had a tradition in which they would shut all the doors to the chapel once the sacrament hymn began. Young men were assigned to stand by the door and make sure people would not enter the chapel during the Sacrament to retain a spirit of reverence during this sacred ordinance.

As bad luck would have it, Brian, his wife and three children came striding into the chapel just after the chapel doors had closed. From my vantage point on the stand, I saw Brian walk into the room –he looked so proud to be there. I knew it had taken a lot of effort for him to persuade his wife and children to come with him to church that day and could see on his face that he exuberantly was feeling, “We made it, we’re here!” I saw the happiness on his face. Then I watched one of the young men say to him, “You can’t be in here right now. You can’t come in.”

I know that what the young man meant to say was, “We typically don’t want people to come in during the sacrament,” but what Brian heard was, “You’re not welcome here.” He felt humiliated. So he turned, along with his wife and children, and walked straight out of the chapel.

I waited until after the sacrament, hoping he would come back. When he didn’t, I walked out of the chapel and got one of the other missionaries to drive with me to Brian’s house.  Brian was humiliated and told me, “I’m never going back to that church.” He never did. It was because he did something that he technically wasn’t supposed to do, but was such a minor detail. Somebody had made a big deal about a minor issue and it caused a lot of hurt.

Unfortunately, this type of thing happens all too often. I remember another experience I had along these lines, also having to do with a recent convert. Her name was Angela. She and her family had been baptized and they had been coming to church for a few weeks. During a Relief Society meeting she was asked to read a verse out loud from the Bible. Angela did not have a King James Version of the Bible and so she read the verse using a different Bible translation. Right there in the meeting a woman publicly rebuked Angela for not using a King James Version of the Bible.

I know the King James Version is the approved English version of the Bible in the church, but Angela didn’t know that. When I saw her after church, she was crying and felt so discouraged. But to Angela’s credit she had the courage to keep going to church even after this difficult experience.

These two experiences have caused me to reflect on my own life and times I have been critical of other people for not doing things exactly the way that I would have them done. A powerful perspective to keep in mind when people are not doing things “exactly right” is found in the story of Hezekiah and the Passover he held in Jerusalem.

Although Hezekiah was the king of Judah, he wanted to celebrate the Passover with people from other tribes of Israel. He wrote to the Israelites who were dispersed throughout the northern and southern kingdoms, inviting them to come to Jerusalem for a special Passover. He said, “Yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God…for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:8–9).

The Chronicler continues, “So the posts passed from city to city throughout the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun…divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:10-11).

Thus faithful Israelites from various tribes gathered in Jerusalem for a special Passover. There were some logistical challenges with such a large feast. Specifically, the Chronicler states, “There were many in the congregation that were not sanctified: therefore the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:17).

Killing the Passover lambs is one of many technical aspects of the Passover. And unfortunately, some of the tribes from outside of Judah were apparently unaware of all of the rules regarding proper Passover observance. We read that “A multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not cleansed themselves, yet they did eat the passover otherwise than it was written” (2 Chronicles 30:18). In other words, these individuals made some protocol errors in partaking of the Passover.

As readers of the Old Testament, we might nervously think, “Uh oh. I know what’s going to happen next – if you mess with Passover, you’re probably about to get zapped.”

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, “Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, the good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19). Even though there had been some procedural errors, these people’s hearts were in the right place.

It’s as though Hezekiah said, “They’re trying to do the right thing, let’s overlook the bad, let’s look past some of these small mistakes and see the good.” When we’re working with people who don’t do things “just right” may we all remember and perhaps even repeat aloud Hezekiah’s generous phrase, “The good Lord pardon every one.”

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“The Lord Shall Deliver Me”

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Lately I’ve been exploring the concept of “deliverance” in the Book of Mormon, and I’m excited to share some of the things I’m finding. These are just preliminary thoughts, but I hope they will be helpful. The word “deliver” is used 231 in the Book of Mormon, and nowhere is it more concentrated in its use than Mosiah chapters 7-25. In these chapters we read of different Nephite groups who were captured by the Lamanites. For now, I want to compare and contrast what happens with the people of Limhi and the people of Alma (although things get even more interesting when the priests of Amulon are thrown into the mix).

When the Lamanites came upon Limhi and his people they used a strategy that relied on their own abilities to soften the hearts of the Lamanites. “And it came to pass that those who tarried with their wives and their children caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them. And it came to pass that the Lamanites had compassion on them, for they were charmed with the beauty of their women” (Mosiah 19:13-14).

In contrast, Alma and his people used a different approach when they were discovered by the Lamanites. Although the people were afraid when the Lamanites arrived, “Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them. Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children. And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 23:27-29).

Both groups avoided being destroyed by the Lamanites; however, note that Limhi’s people trusted in the persuasiveness and charm of their wives. In contrast, Alma’s people turned to the Lord for deliverance, rather than trusting in their own strength.

This same contrast between trusting in oneself and trusting in the Lord is manifest in how these groups handled their captivity. Limhi and his people focused on man’s ability to deliver them. For example we read,

  • “And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage” (Mosiah 7:15)
  • “that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage” (Mosiah 8:7)
  • “All the study of… king Limhi and his people, was to deliver themselves out of the hands of the Lamanites (Mosiah 21:36)
  • “Limhi began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage” (Mosiah 22:1).
  • I [Gideon] will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.(Mosiah 22:4)

Eventually Limhi and his people did escape, apparently delivering themselves through the ingenuity of Gideon and the strength of the beverages they served to the Lamanites. Perhaps Limhi’s people believe that it was their own works that had saved them. However, in Mosiah 25, after all of the Nephites had safely made it back to Zarahemla, Alma “did exhort the people of Limhi and his brethren, all those that had been delivered out of bondage, that they should remember that it was the Lord that did deliver them” (Mosiah 25:16). It is interesting that the record states that Alma specifically reminded Limhi and his people who it was that delivered them.

In contrast, consider what happened to Alma and his people when they were sought to escape from the hands of the Lamanites. As Alma’s people received sore afflictions “they began to cry mightily to God” (Mosiah 24:10).

When they were told they could not pray, they “did pour out their hearts to” God (Mosiah 24:12). They then received the following assurances from the Lord, all of which emphasized that it was the Lord who would deliver them.

  • I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:13).
  • “Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:16).
  • I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:17)

Alma and his people knew the source of their deliverance, for after they escaped, “they poured out their thanks to God because he had…delivered them out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:21).

This contrast between Alma and Limhi is more nuanced than it initially appears to be. At times Limhi and his people acknowledged that they would need the Lord’s help to deliver them (see Mosiah 21:14), and Alma and his people did more than simply pray. When the Lord told them to leave they spent all night “gathering the flocks together” (Mosiah 24:18). Think about what it would have felt like to be a Nephite gathering flocks together at 4:00 AM, exercising your faith that the Lamanites will not wake up on time (when had that ever happened? Can you imagine the awkward moment that would come if the Lamanites had woken up?)

Perhaps a key distinction between the people Limhi and the people of Alma is that although both groups of people worked for their deliverance, Alma’s people had a deeper trust in the Lord and confidence that He would deliver them. They knew they needed to do their part; however, they deeply recognized that it was the Lord would deliver them.

I have had experiences in which I have been like Limhi and his people, focusing all of my energies on delivering myself from the problems I faced. One such experience came while trying to sell our home in Miami. The market was terrible and there were hundreds of comparable homes for sale, some at prices much cheaper than ours. I worked feverishly to do everything I could to sell the home. But as I came to learn more about deliverance, I began to plead more fervently that the Lord would manifest his power and deliver us. I continued to put forth effort, but focused more on building my faith that the Lord could and would exercise his mighty power. And He did.

Just in the past few weeks, I’ve been facing a challenge that, while not earth-shattering has taken up a lot of my time and attention, and I’ve been really worried about it. As I was teaching Mosiah in class I was reminded of the importance of praying for deliverance and started doing so more with more effort than I had been. I didn’t stop working to solve more problem, but I did pray more and exercise more faith that God could deliver. This past week the problem was completely resolved; it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I completely attribute my deliverance to the Lord.

It is good to study out problems and work for our own salvation as Limhi and his people did. But even if we resolve our challenges, apparently through our own abilities, we must remember that “it was the Lord that did deliver” us (Mosiah 25:16). Like Alma and his people, as well as many others in the scriptures, we may find that an important key to resolving the challenges is to remember the Lord’s promise when he said, “I will deliver you” (Mosiah 24:16).

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Jacob’s Textual Legacy

The Prophet Jacob

The Prophet Jacob

One area that I’ve been interested in studying is how different Book of Mormon prophets use each other’s words. I think there is a beauty that appears in the Book of Mormon when see the level of connection between Book of Mormon prophets. Recently I’ve focused on a project called Jacob’s Textual Legacy. The article highlights how several prophets, including Nephi, King Benjamin and Moroni utilize Jacob’s words. Engaging in this study helped me more fully realize the significance of Jacob’s words. Take a look at the article – I hope you enjoy it.

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What Shall I Do?

One of the questions Brad Wilcox and I discuss in 52 Life-Changing Questions from the Book of Mormon is “What Shall I Do?” This is a powerful question. I talked about it at Time Out for Women. Here’s an excerpt from that talk:

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Clicking Our Way to Happiness

timthumbOne of my favorite people is Hilary Weeks. Her music is amazing and in my interactions with her I have found her to be extremely genuine, caring and an all-around great person. So I’m excited to give a shout out for one of her great inventions — Billion Clicks.

As a promotional video explains, the idea behind a Billion Clicks is simple. 1. We are what we think about. 2. We can control our thoughts. 3. The things we measure, we improve. So the basic concept is that you measure the amount of positive thoughts you have each day by clicking a clicker — to count the positivity in your day. It’s a fun way of counting your blessings.

I heard Hilary speak about clicking at Timeout for Women and absolutely loved the idea. That same day I bought a clicker and tried it for myself. It’s true that when we’re counting the positive things in our lives, they are so much easier to find. I passed the clicker around to my children and they loved it.

Now Hilary has started the Billion Clicks website, dedicated to helping people have more positive by clicking their way to one billion positive thoughts. The new clicker comes in a beautiful package, and contains a great booklet about the power of positive thinking. We’ve got one at our house and have found it to be a positive influence for the whole family.

During the month of November, Hilary is sponsoring a promotion where if you buy one clicker boxed set, you can get an additional clicker free (just to clarify, it’s one clicker kit (with the box/booklet/etc.) and one additional clicker. So one for the family, one to give away! You can order them here, using the code JOHN349. Happy clicking!

 

 

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Psalms in the Book of Mormon

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My daughter noticed that I was dressed up on a Saturday morning and asked where I was going. I said, “I’m going to BYU to give a talk at the Sperry Symposium. Would you like to come?”

“No,” she said. “I’ve already heard all of your talks.”

“I don’t think you’ve heard this one,” I replied. “It’s about Psalms in the Book of Mormon.”

“There are no Psalms in the Book of Mormon,” she said. She then began to recite, “1st and 2nd books of Nephi, Jacob, Enos…there are no Psalms!”

“You really need to hear my talk!” I told her.

The fact is, that even though the Old Testament Psalms are not specifically referenced in the Book of Mormon, many Book of Mormon passage use language from the Psalms. I wrote a chapter on this topic for the 2013 Sperry Symposium. Feel free to download the article and see if you learn anything new about how Book of Mormon authors employ the Psalms!

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The Silent Lesson

One day during my second semester as a part-time seminary teacher, a student named Mindy came into class and asked, “Brother Hilton, are we going to do a silent lesson this year?” When I told her that I had never heard of a silent lesson, she said, “Brother Kirkham just taught a silent lesson, and I heard it was really awesome. You should ask him how to do it.”

Wanting to be a good seminary teacher, I approached Brother Kirkham and asked him to teach me about silent lessons. He obliged, and I began regularly using them in a variety of gospel settings, including seminary lessons, Young Men and Young Women classes, institute courses, BYU religion classes, Especially for Youth sessions, and Education Week classes. Silent lessons provide a unique way to help students have an in-class experience that helps them connect directly with the scriptures and the Spirit.

While some teachers already use silent lessons, many may not be familiar with this approach. I recently wrote an article for The Religious Educator called “The Silent Lesson,” that explains what these lessons are and how they can be created. As part of the article, I also posted a version of a silent lesson online, for illustration purposes. I hope it can be a helpful catalyst in getting others to think about how to effectively utilize silent lessons. You can see more here. Read the article and explore the silent lesson! I hope the idea of silent lessons can be a blessing in your life, if it isn’t already.

Note: if you are using a Mac, it may not play properly. However, I found an article online that has helped some Mac users make it work; hopefully it is helpful!

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543 Questions

question markMany years ago I was inspired by the question “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” This question led me on a quest that has really blessed my life (I even wrote an Ensign article about it).

In 2006 I was really curious about how many questions there were in the Book of Mormon. I laboriously copied and pasted the text of the Book of Mormon from LDS.org into a Word document and used the find/replace function to make my big discovery (drumroll please…). There are 543 questions in the Book of Mormon. That is a fun fact you can share with your friends (it’s a great conversation starter at parties…) (BTW I now know that it’s much easier to figure out … just download LDSVIEW and search “^?” –BINGO. Life was so much harder back then. :-)) And to make your life even easier, if you’d like to download a spreadsheet of all the questions in the Book of Mormon, you can find it here.

I’ve played around with these questions for several years and once made them the centerpiece of my talk at Timeout for Women. When I started teaching at BYU, two wonderful research assistants (Andreina Stevenson and Alyssa Aramaki) helped create a spreadsheet that included all the questions and helped me do some initial analyses of patterns found across them.

Brad Wilcox was gracious enough to be willing to collaborate with me,on a book and so about 16 months ago we began writing 52 Life Changing Questions from the Book of Mormon. It was a joy working with Brad, who is one of my heroes. I just received some copies of the book, which should be in stores soon (it is already available online). Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some excerpts from the book and sharing additional insights I’ve gained by focusing on the questions asked in the Book of Mormon.

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Never Complain

Never Complain

It all started with me telling my kids to eat their oatmeal because children were starving elsewhere. Of course, they told me to send it to them…

I’ve been thinking a lot about these six words lately: “Never complain, others have it worse.” One of my good friends told me to NEVER compare, and I even gave a talk about not comparing. But lately I’ve felt that it is helpful to recognize that compared to so many in the world, I really have nothing to complain about. I recently blogged on this topic at TOFW; I’d love for you to read the post and let me know what you think.

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Suit Up!

I have been recently involved in a great project called  Suit Up!

It’s a follow up to Armor Up! and I’m honored to be a part of it. Seven authors collaborated on the book, with each of us addressing one of the verses in Doctrine and Covenants 4.  I’m always a little nervous when a book comes out — because one never knows how it will be received. But I’ve been gratified to find out that it has been helpful to some people. A reviewer named Heidi on deseretbook.com said,

“What a wonderful resource for LDS youth preparing for a mission!  Each article provides straightforward counsel about how to prepare to become a servant of the Lord. While it is directed specifically at young people becoming missionaries it also applies beautifully to all who want to serve the Lord. Each article also includes a QR code that takes the reader to short videos demonstrating the topics being discussed as well as brief discussions held by the authors with young people preparing to go on missions. Very informative and helpful, I highly recommend this book for both young people preparing to go on a mission and their parents/leaders. There is also much here of benefit to anyone who wants to become a better servant of the Lord.”

So thanks for the kind words Heidi. I hope that this book will be a helpful resource for those preparing to serve a mission!

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