One of the many annoying habits I am cursed with is that I like to sneak a peek at the last few pages of a book before I start to read it. I think I get a kick out of it because I feel like it gives me some kind of control in a world where someone else is the writer- and I can do my best to prepare for the outcome. Well, if you’ll indulge me- major spoiler alert!- we’re going to start our Book of Mormon reading challenge in the same way, right at the end of the book.
Think of the book’s last keeper and author, Moroni, son of Mormon. Moroni addresses us specifically, telling us that he is all alone. Think of the horrors that he has seen. Most of his life has been lived amidst a brutal battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites. He’s watched his people fall into wickedness, and he’s run from the slaughter himself. Men, women and children- the hope for the future- are all annihilated. Before his own murder, his father Mormon looked on the same scene and cried,
“O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!”
Though the war concludes most desolately, this is not enough for the bloodthirsty, hatred-filled Lamanites. They carry out their days hunting the land for remaining Nephites who they could wipe off the face of the land. Can you imagine the desperate fear that Moroni would have felt as he hid, alone, for years, desperately racing to finish the work of his forefathers? And with not a soul in sight, no audience to actually prophesy to- how hopeless and lost must he have felt in his role as a prophet, seer and revelator?
When I think of this, I consider him to be a most special servant of the Lord. His duties spanned centuries: first he, like his father Mormon, accounted for those centuries before him. He sealed the book that would later be called The Book of Mormon, and laid it in the ground. And like his father who taught him the gospel of Christ and raised him to fulfil his ordained role as prophet, so Moroni returned to offer the same service to the boy Joseph Smith in the latter-lays. He visited him yearly until Joseph was ready to take stewardship of the book. He was Joseph’s priesthood leader. It seems like Moroni is a prophet who defies the laws of time.
So, in this unique and most solitary time before he buries the sacred plates, Moroni prophesies to us. Moroni has seen horror and darkness in his time. But what he writes to us about, haunts him even more.
“Behold I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”
Bonnie Oscarson, at our last Women’s Conference, said
“Moroni says he has seen our day, and it includes wars and rumours of wars, great pollutions, murders, robbing, and people who tell us that there is no right or wrong in God’s eyes. He describes people who are filled with pride, caught up in the wearing of expensive clothing, and who make fun of religion. He is shown people who are so obsessed with worldly things that they allow the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by without being noticed.”
Have you seen what Moroni has seen? Is he right so far? Does this describe our day?
“Moroni asks a soul-searching question of us… ‘Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ?’ This indictment accurately describes the increasingly secular condition of our world.”
Now sisters, I want you to think of Moroni, and consider his question to you. How do you find it difficult- and it is difficult- to take upon you the name of Christ?
Here are some of your responses from the past few months that our presidency has heard or felt from you, or felt ourselves…
- I’m just not good enough
- I just don’t have enough time in the day to serve God
- I don’t know as much as she knows
- I’m not patient enough
- I’m too sinful and feel unworthy
- I don’t really have anyone who loves me
- I’m just lost… I don’t fit in here
- I don’t really know what to believe anymore
- I can’t understand why bad things happen when I’m trying my hardest to be good
- My beliefs are just so strange compared to my friends’ beliefs
- I’m worried my beliefs will offend the people I love
- I just don’t see the proof of God’s love right now
- What if my best isn’t good enough?
- I don’t know how to feel the spirit every day
- I don’t know how to get personal revelation
- I don’t know how the atonement can apply to me right now
- I’m a disappointment to God… He doesn’t want to hear from me
- I want to be better but I just keep making mistakes
Sisters, those stumbling blocks, those secret things that we clutch at- that we obsess over and worry about- they are almost sacred to us. I testify that those questions you ask and those things you worry about can be the making of your testimonies. I also testify that they are, somehow, the reasons that our Heavenly parents are mindful of you, and love you. We sat together recently as a presidency and we considered that while we don’t have everything in this life as we maybe want, a good place to start would be Moroni’s question… “why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ”. Our hearts were filled with humility and gratitude when we thought of you, because girls- whatever your struggles and your heartbreaks, whatever burden you carry… you’re here. You stay.
Reflecting on Moroni’s visions of our day, Sister Oscarson went on to say,
“in the last days even the very elect… according to the covenant will be deceived. Even we are at risk of being deceived by false teachings… Attacks against the church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase… President Russell M. Nelson [said] ‘we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ… who can detect deception in all its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers who express their beliefs with confidence and charity’…[Sister Oscarson continued,] We need to be prepared for the storms that lie ahead. It would be easy to throw our hands up in despair, but as covenant people we need never despair. As Elder Gary E. Stevenson has said, ‘Heavenly Father’s generous compensation for living in perilous times is that we also live in the fullness of times.”
Two things were reserved for “The Fullness of Times”: The Book of Mormon… and Me!
Two things were reserved for the fullness of times. One was… you. In Jade’s talk at Stake Conference a few weeks ago, she talked about our Heavenly parents’ design in reserving us for these latter-days.
Prophet Ezra Taft Benson has said,
“The truth of the matter is, you do live in a most exceptional time in the history of mankind. You young people will see events transpire which were prophesied from the beginning of the world. Prophets of old have seen your days and rejoiced in them. And yet, you will face challenges and circumstances, the severity of which has been unparalleled in generations past. For this you must be prepared… You were valiant spirits reserved for this exceptional time. Make the choice. Rise to the task of this momentous hour!”
Why do you think the second reserved piece of the puzzle was The Book of Mormon? From the handout:
2 Nephi 4:15 “[I have written] the things of my soul… for the learning and profit of my children,”
2 Nephi 25:21“The Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation.
2 Nephi 25:26 “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
Mormon 8:34-35: “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”
Ezra Taft Benson: I read, “Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men” (2 Ne. 11:8). I took that to mean that the scriptures are likened to me personally, and that is true of everyone else.
“If they saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, “Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?”
How grateful I am for The Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith called it the “most correct of any book on earth.” This is true because of its controlled stewardship. I consider, in contrast to that of the bible, the careful and guarded passage of this record: through the hands of trusted prophets, right to its escape from war by Moroni, who carefully buried it from the world, and I dare say protected it even in spirit until its instructed extraction by a new prophet in our day. It’s been supervised by God at all stages of its development, and what sits on my bedside table today is a record exactly as it was written; including a record of Christ’s visit as he really was, unedited by outside sources. This book is a primary source in the truest of forms. That’s the value of this book. It’s a history that has been in the world, but not of that corrupt world that Lehi left behind. (from Hollie’s study journal)
Moroni explained why this book was prepared and reserved to come forth in these, the most wicked of times:
“Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him…that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.”
Right now Lady Gaga is singing about “a million reasons to walk away… but baby I just need one good one to stay.” Sometimes, the power of God is so real, that one reason is all we need to keep going. But we can commit to be prepared and to live up to that great, premortally-introduced responsibility we have to champion the latter-days. Some of you are doing it gracefully. Most of us have our stumbling blocks. And some of us are standing on that tightrope, looking for that one good reason to stay. We’ve felt strongly the impression from the Lord to invite you to read the Book of Mormon. I’ve felt it personally, and I’ve felt an admonition from the spirit to remind you of it. Strangely also, as our presidency fasted together this week, I also felt the impression to prompt you to look for mention of the Book of Mormon in your patriarchal blessings.
“… The Book of Mormon teaches us truth [and] bears testimony of Christ. … But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book.”
And here’s Marion G. Romney’s apostalistic promise to you if you will do so:
“You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called ‘the words of life,’ and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. … ‘Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit.’”
The Book of Mormon continues to change the lives of all who read it. And why? It’s because the people whose lives are recorded in it are not that different to our lives. Their experiences, you will find, are relatable to the ones you endure day-to-day, and the miracles that we see in this book can be just as real in our lives too.
What stories have you read that have impressed or “spoken to you” before?
Elisabeth: (Alma 19: 16-17) Abish was privileged with a knowledge of the gospel. We don’t know if her employer, the queen, knew anything about her beliefs, but we can imagine that Abish was an example of the believers. And when the time was right she ran from person to person to share the gospel with the people in her community.
Louise: The Jaredites crossed the ocean in dim, smelly barges. They completely trusted God and in his promises. With no steering, or knowing how long it would take, they stayed faithful, “crying unto the Lord”, “singing praises”, “thanking the lord all the day long” for 344 days. Almost a year! Amazing!
Helen: The war chapters in the Book of Mormon are rich in gospel wisdom and spiritual insight. The pattern is clear: When the children of Lehi are successful, it’s because they make covenants first and swords later. They pray mightily for help from God; then they go to work and fortify their cities. The fail only when they allow themselves to be enticed, decoyed, and distracted from what they should have been doing. The stratagems of warfare are frighteningly similar to the stratagems Satan uses to ensnare God’s children today.
We know your lives are hectic. Aside from busy work, school and social lives, you may have institute assignments and busy callings to serve in. You may already be reading the Book of Mormon daily. But if not, or if you want to join us as a presidency (and we hope you will!), we want to challenge you to read the Book of Mormon with us in 85 days; the same amount of time it took Joseph Smith to translate this record that Moroni preserved and guarded through centuries for you and me to read today. We want to make it easy for you: every morning we’ll post a reading assignment and a question for you to ponder throughout the day. And every evening, for those of us that have had very little time to dedicate to reading, we’ll post an extremely short summary of the reading and one single verse. Even if all you read for these 85 days is one verse daily, I testify that your life will change. While we fasted this week, I also felt the permission to promise you that if you will read sincerely, there will be a moment that you will find yourself in the pages of this book. Maybe it will be the worst version of yourself; maybe it will be the best. Your relationship to the Book of Mormon will be a personal one, and I pray that gradually you and I will find a million reasons to stay!
Britannia Relief Society Presidency
You can download the handout for this lesson here: book-of-mormon