That I Might Rid My Garments of Your Blood – Mosiah 2:27-28

27 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.
28 I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.
(Mosiah 2:27-28)

accountable – Required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible
(Oxford Dictionary)

Central to the definition of accountability is the obligation, at some future time, to account for one’s actions. For example, speaking to the young people of the Church earlier this month, President Russell M. Nelson explained why he was so anxious to enlist their help in the gathering of Israel:

Think of this, my dear young brothers and sisters, right now I am preparing for the day when I will be required to give an accounting to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to President Brigham Young, and others—and ultimately to the Lord—about my stewardship as God’s prophet upon the earth today. I do not want to be asked, “Brother Nelson, why were you not more clear with the youth about their part in gathering Israel? Why were you not more bold in enlisting them to participate?”
So, now I am inviting every young woman and every young man between the ages of 12 and 18 in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to enlist in the youth battalion of the Lord to help gather Israel.
(“Hope of Israel,” Worldwide Youth Devotional, 3 June 2018)

At work, in my church callings, and in my community responsibilities, I have found that I am more diligent and conscientious when I am aware that I will have to account for my decisions and actions. For example, at work, we are going to begin holding mid-year review meetings beginning next Monday. Knowing that I will be required to speak about my contributions to my employer during the first six months of the year motivates me to contribute meaningfully so that I can approach that conversation with confidence.

Like President Nelson, King Benjamin was aware that he would one day stand before God and have to account for his actions as a leader of his people. As he tells them in the passage above, he called them together at the end of his life to give them words of counsel, so that he could go to his grave in peace. He tells them that his goal is to “rid [his] garments of [their] blood.” What does that mean? As we read yesterday, a parent is at least partially culpable when their children follow their bad examples. Likewise, a spiritual leader bears some of the blame for their followers’ bad choices if they have not taught them clearly right from wrong. (See Jacob 1:19.) Benjamin wanted to be sure that he had fulfilled his responsibility as a leader before standing in God’s presence. He did not want the sins of the people attached to him like a stain because he hadn’t done enough to teach them.

Today, I will remember my accountability to God for my own actions and also for my leadership responsibilities. I will remember the inevitability of a future meeting with Him in which I will have to answer for my actions. Like King Benjamin and like President Nelson, I will strive to be the best parent and leader I can be so that I will be prepared for that future meeting.

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Ye Have Grieved Their Hearts – Jacob 3:10

10 Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day.
(Jacob 3:10)

The Lord taught Joseph Smith that if parents who are disciples of Christ fail to teach their children about faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, “the sin be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:25). Similarly, in the passage above, Jacob emphasizes to parents that their poor examples will not only bring sorrow to their children but may also negatively influence their children’s behavior. As Jacob testifies, parents bear some of the blame for the sins their children commit because of their own bad examples.

I realize that it’s possible to think of this verse legalistically, as an explanation of how accountability will be assigned for wrongdoing. But I also think of it in practical and empathetic terms: Doesn’t a parent naturally suffer when their child is suffering? And if a child suffers because of poor decisions which were influenced by the parent’s behavior, isn’t the parent likely to feel even worse?

As Robert D. Hales taught:

We, as parents, have the privilege and the responsibility of teaching gospel principles by our example and testimony to our loved ones….
Now I find myself asking the question, “How will my children remember me?” How will your children remember you?
No parent on earth is perfect. In fact, children are very understanding when they sense and feel that parents truly care and are attempting to be the best they can be….
Certainly parents will make mistakes in their parenting process, but through humility, faith, prayer, and study, each person can learn a better way and in so doing bless the lives of family members now and teach correct traditions for the generations that follow (“How Will Our Children Remember Us?” General Conference, October 1993).

Today, I will remember the influence my behavior can have on my children. I will strive to set the best possible example for them. I will remember that the choices I make today can affect not only my own happiness but also the happiness of the people I love the most.

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Ye Have Broken the Hearts…and Lost the Confidence – Jacob 2:35

35 Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.
(Jacob 2:35)

In Jacob’s second sermon, after condemning the sin of pride and the resulting class structure which was beginning to appear among the Nephites, he turns to what he calls their “grosser crimes.” The people have begun to justify marital infidelity on the grounds that scriptural characters, including David and Solomon, had many wives and concubines. Jacob responds by clearly stating the Lord’s standard for the Nephites: “There shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none” (Jacob 2:27).

Why is this standard so important for the happiness of Jacob’s people? Because relationships are built on trust, and to betray the trust of the people you love most wreaks immeasurable havoc in the hearts of those people. God loves all of his children and wants them to treat one another with respect, as Jacob has already established during the first half of the chapter. (See Jacob 2:20-21.) Then what are we to say about people who betray the trust of the people closest to them and most vulnerable to that betrayal? Three times in the chapter, Jacob uses some form of the word “tender,” which means both “gentle” and “sensitive.” Intimacy creates vulnerability, and as Jacob warns, God cares very much how we treat people who have placed their trust in us.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has emphasized, the law of chastity is so important because it protects the most intimate of relationships. To be unfaithful, “either with imagination or another person…destroys that which is second only to our faith in God—namely, faith in those we love. It shakes the pillars of trust upon which present—or future—love is built, and it takes a long time to rebuild that trust when it is lost” (“Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul,” General Conference, April 2010).

Today, I will remember that the people we are closest to—our immediate family—have placed extraordinary trust in us and are therefore susceptible to extreme harm if we betray that trust. I not take lightly the sensitive feelings of my wife or the confidence of my children. Consistent with Jacob’s admonition, I will treat those relationships with the respect and care that they deserve and require.

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Stiff Necks and High Heads – Jacob 2:13-14

13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
14 And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
(Jacob 2:13-14)

In Jacob’s second sermon to the Nephites, he calls them to repentance for two sins: pride and lustful thoughts. In the passage above, he describes the sequence of events which led to the sin of pride:

  1. They received many blessings. As Jacob reminds them, they can’t (or at least shouldn’t) take full credit for their prosperity. “The hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly,” he says, “that you have obtained many riches.” If the Nephites had remembered the source of their prosperity with gratitude, they might have avoided becoming proud.
  2. The blessings were not distributed evenly. As so often happens, during this time of great prosperity, some people received more blessings than others. This presented both an opportunity and a challenge to those who received more.
  3. The wealthy people began to flaunt their riches. By wearing expensive clothing which their neighbors couldn’t afford, they were able to give the impression that they were more important than their neighbors.

Incidentally, I don’t think “stiff necks and high heads” sounds very comfortable. Jacob borrowed this phrase from his brother Nephi (2 Nephi 28:14), who may have been inspired by Isaiah’s description of the daughters of Zion (2 Nephi 13:16-24). In the interest of looking rich, these people began to associate their own worth with their worldly possessions, particularly their clothing. As Jacob warns them, they are in a precarious position. The same God who gave them these possessions could take them away if they did not respond to their privileges with more gratitude and humility.

Any time blessings are distributed unevenly, we face the same challenge. Will those who have received more share with those who have received less? Or will they forget the source of their blessings and convince themselves that they received more because they deserve more? Will they show off their blessings as a symbol of their superiority, or will they maintain a sense of individual worth which is separate from the blessings they have received?

Today, I will remember my blessings with gratitude. I will seek to remember my value as a child of God, independent of any possessions, talents, or status that I may receive in this world. To the degree that I am blessed more than other people, I will recognize that God doesn’t distribute blessings unevenly to reward some of his children for being better than others, but rather to give them opportunities to share with one another.

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That Which Will Give Them the True Knowledge of Their Redeemer – 2 Nephi 10:2

2 For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.
(2 Nephi 10:2)

Near the beginning of Jacob’s first sermon to the people of Nephi, he connects the gathering of Israel with missionary work. “When they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer,” he says, “they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance” (2 Nephi 6:10). Now, after teaching the people about resurrection and atonement and emphasizing the things which can keep people from opening their hearts to the Savior (wealth, education, sinful behavior), he reassures his people that at least some of their descendants will be delivered from their captivity. He says that, through God’s mercy, they will “be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.”

I think the indirection in that sentence is intentional. He might have said simply that “our children shall be restored to the true knowledge of their Redeemer.” But that would convey something different—it would imply that this knowledge will simply be given to them, with no effort on their part. In contrast, Jacob’s actual words suggest that the people are given access to tools which will enable them to come unto the Savior.

The first chapter of Preach My Gospel explains that the purpose of a missionary is to “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” The missionary’s purpose is not to bring the gospel into people’s lives, although that is his or her desire. It is not to bring people to the Savior, although that is the outcome they hope for. Instead, it is to help people receive the gospel by inviting them to take actions which will enable them to come unto Christ.

As Elder David A. Bednar has taught, learning about the gospel requires active participation, not merely passive acceptance, on the part of the learner:

Consider how missionaries help investigators to learn by faith. Making and keeping spiritual commitments, such as studying and praying about the Book of Mormon, attending Church meetings, and keeping the commandments, require an investigator to exercise faith and to act. One of the fundamental roles of a missionary is to help an investigator make and honor commitments—to act and learn by faith. Teaching, exhorting, and explaining, as important as they are, can never convey to an investigator a witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. Only as an investigator’s faith initiates action and opens the pathway to the heart can the Holy Ghost deliver a confirming witness. Missionaries obviously must learn to teach by the power of the Spirit. Of equal importance, however, is the responsibility missionaries have to help investigators learn by faith (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Address to Church Educators, 3 February 2006).

Today, I will remember the importance of active participation in the process of gaining spiritual knowledge. As a learner, I will participate actively in my church meetings today. And as a teacher, I will remember that I can’t give my students spiritual knowledge; I can only help them take those actions which will enable them to receive it.

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And Also from Everlasting Death – 2 Nephi 10:25

25 Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen.
(2 Nephi 10:25)

I’ve been thinking today about physical and spiritual death. The Bible Dictionary defines physical death as “the separation of the body from the spirit.” It defines spiritual death as our separation from righteousness: “to be alienated from the things of God” (“Death,” Bible Dictionary).

Jacob begins his first sermon to the people of Nephi by quoting several chapters from Isaiah about the scattering and gathering of Israel (2 Nephi 6-8). Immediately after quoting those chapters, he begins to teach them about the resurrection and the atonement (2 Nephi 9). There must have been a connection in his mind between God’s power to rescue Israel from captivity and God’s power to rescue each of us from death. In fact, he talks about both kinds of death as a form of captivity: bodies held captive in graves and spirits held captive in hell (2 Nephi 9:12).

The fear of physical death is deeply ingrained in each of us and rises to the surface quickly when we feel endangered. But during a typical day, we have a harder time disciplining ourselves to do those things which will ultimately prolong our lives, such as eating appropriately, exercising, and getting adequate sleep. The longer the time horizon, the less powerfully we are motivated by the prospect of physical death.

I think it is the same with spiritual death. There are times when we feel very acutely our separation from God. Enos felt it one day as the words of his father “sunk deep into [his] heart.” His soul hungered, and he prayed all day and into the night for a remission of his sins (Enos 1:3-4). But on a day-to-day basis, it is not easy to motivate ourselves to do those things which will strengthen us spiritually and help us maintain our connection with God.

In the end, as Jacob teaches in the passage above, we are all subject to both physical and spiritual death. It is only through the resurrection and the atonement, gifts of God through Jesus Christ, that we can overcome either of them. Still, I wonder if a longer time horizon and a deeper awareness of the dangers we face might motivate us to establish better habits of both physical and spiritual health.

Today, I will recommit to maintain good health habits. I will exercise, eat wisely, and ensure that I get sufficient sleep. I will also engage in scripture study, prayer, and pondering in order to reduce my separation from God and invite His power into my life.

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They Who Have Endured the Crosses of the World – 2 Nephi 9:18

18 But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
(2 Nephi 9:18)

In this passage, Jacob identifies two characteristics of righteous people, whom he also calls “saints:”

  1. They believe in Jesus Christ (the Holy One of Israel).
  2. They endure “the crosses of the world” despising “the shame of it.”

Belief is an important first step, but the ultimate goal is to sustain that belief over time through the difficult experiences which accompany discipleship.

As Neal A. Maxwell explained, the risk we face when we bear the crosses of the world is that they may distract us from our focus on receiving the blessings of the gospel:

The poet-prophet Jacob speaks of the saints as having “endured the crosses of the world” (2 Nephi 9:18) and as having “despised the shame” of the world. Obviously, this involves more than coping with the mere passage of time. What are the “crosses of the world”? We cannot be sure, but the imagery suggests the bearing of a cross placed upon us by the world, as Jesus did; there may be persecutors and unhelpful onlookers, and the Church member is set apart (if not set upon), yet he does not flinch when accused and scoffed at by those who would make him ashamed, for he has no real reason to be ashamed.
It is best not to try to delineate too precisely between the crosses of the world and the cares of the world. The former may press us down, while the latter divert us. But the outcome is the same—the climb is stopped; instead of overcoming, we have been overcome (Wherefore Ye Must Press Forward, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977, p.109).

What does it mean to “despise the shame of it?” I think it means to ignore any humiliation or embarrassment we might be subjected to. A similar passage in the King James Version of the New Testament says that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Other translations of that passage indicate that He “scorned” or “disregarded” the shame associated with being crucified (http://biblehub.com/hebrews/12-2.htm). Sometimes we compound our suffering with self-consciousness. If we can stop thinking about how we are perceived by others and instead maintain our focus on the ultimate goal—exaltation in the kingdom of God with a fulness of joy—then we will have the motivation to endure the trials along the path and to ignore any ridicule we might experience along the way. As Nephi said of his father’s vision, many people “did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not” (1 Nephi 8:33).

Today, I will endure whatever “crosses” I may experience gracefully and with dignity. In particular, if I am inappropriately criticized while pursuing honorable goals, I will not allow myself to be distracted or discouraged.

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