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“Mission of the Book of Mormon”

I quoted from this talk I received on my mission on a blog post and just had two requests for it in the past few days, so I figure I’d type this up and post it on my blog, because I don’t know if it exists on the internet or not. Anyway, not sure if this is for real, but it sure sounds like classic Holland, and it’s a fantastic message.

This was written just as it appears in the typed up form I received on my mission. Any mistakes I tried to note, though I’m sure some have slipped through, and others I’ve made of my own hand.

“Mission of the Book of Mormon”

1997 Mission Presidents’ Seminar
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Thursday, June 26, 1997

Thank you, Elder Tingey, and my brethren of the General Authorities and their wives who are here. And you mission presidents with your wives, thank you for serving. How are you doing? Are you a little glazed over? I know you’ve had two or three solid days of this. Furthermore your real delight is in anticipating President Hinckley in the morning. I am a sorry offering in the middle of all of that. I suppose I have no greater dream than that you will say of me thirty minutes from now what was said of the cross-eyed javelin thrower. “He didn’t set any records but at least he kept the crowd alert.” I want so very, very much to say something of value to you.

I know many verses of scripture have been read to you and many lessons have been  taught to you, but I wish to add a favorite missionary scripture of my own. I ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I am speaking without a written text so I apologize in advance to the translators. I want to talk to you the way a missionary often must speak. I want to say what’s in my heart.

May I ask you to turn to Doctrine & Covenants 31:3. I’ll try to give the translators enough lead time so that they and our multilingual brethren and sisters can turn to their own scriptures. Section 31, beginning in verse 3, is my prayer to you tonight. It is my promise, a portion of my testimony to you. It’s a wonderful verse that you ought to mark if you haven’t already done so.

“Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation.

“You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun. You shall begin to preach from this time forth, yea, to reap in the field which is white already to be burned.

“…Thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live.”

(Would the wives of the mission presidents underline that last phrase right now. Mission presidents may if they wish but I especially want the wives to remember that. It’s a promise. Your family shall live — in the very best sense of the word.)

“I say unto you, go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them.”

(A place is prepared not only for you, but “for them)

“Yea, I will open the hearts of the people and they will receive you…I will establish a church by your hand.”

The hour of your missions is come. Your tongues will be loosed and you will establish the Church. Your families will live. You will be gone only for a little time. We love you.

With that wonderful hymn, “An Angel From On High,” ringing in our ears, I have been invited to speak tonight about one aspect of verse four. “You shall declare the things what have been revealed to my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” Specifically, I wish to speak to you about the Book of Mormon and its centrality in our mission message, its fundamental role in declaring that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored.

It is impossible to overstate the roll [sic] of the Book of Mormon in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and its potential power in the hands of a missionary. Joseph Smith said once, “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations (of which the Book of Mormon is the principal [sic] and most perfect) and where is our religion? We have none.” You have also heard often what the Prophet said to the Twelve. “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man (and I would add, a woman) would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.

What would you do if you were restoring the gospel? What would you do if you were faced with the task of ushering in the dispensation of the fullness of times, the dispensation in which all other truths, all other covenants, all other ordinances, all other powers, all other aspects of the priesthood are going to come together? Where would you start? What would you do?

I suppose first you would call a prophet. You would find one that has not been tampered with and tainted by the world. You would get him old enough to begin to have his feet under him but you couldn’t have him much older than that. I think you would get somebody about fourteen and a half. Then what do you do? Well, you’ve got temples to restore to the earth with the endowment and all the other temple covenants. You’ve got Relief Society to organize. You’ve got tithing to teach and the Word of Wisdom. You ought to call a Quorum of Twelve Apostles at some point.

What would you do first? You would teach your young prophet (and the world) the gospel. That’s what you would do first. So you give him the Book of Mormon and have him study it by translating it. Joseph is asked to “pretend no other gift” until the Book of Mormon is published. So for all intents and purposes nothing else happens in that decade from 1820 to 1830 except that Joseph is to learn the gospel and provide the new Church (not yet organized) this basic missionary tract, this most basic of all restoration texts which will take the restored gospel to the world. The book will restore the Bible to its original meanings, and it will lead to the restoration of the priesthood. It is in the process of translating the Book of Mormon that Joseph and Oliver came to pray about baptism, leading John the Baptist to visit them followed by Peter, James and John.

So what we have as a new church with those six original members is (1) a sacred text and (2) the priesthood. We will get the Word of Wisdom but it will be 1833 before we do. We will get a Quorum of the Twelve but that won’t be until 1835. We’ll get the principle of tithing but it will be 1838 before we do, and so on and so forth right up to the temple ordinances restored in Nauvoo. But first of all we [sic] had  given us the pure gospel as taught in the Book of Mormon.

So it is impossible to overstate the role the Book of Mormon has played from the beginning of this dispensation and the role that it is to continue to play as the basic declaration of the truthfulness of the gospel as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. “You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun.” That’s your call, it’s my call and it’s the call of your missionaries. There are reasons why the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion.” Just a few. Let me read you this, if I may.

“The Prophet Joseph’s expression that the Book of Mormon is ‘the keystone of our religion’ is a profound and crucial observation. A keystone is positioned at the uppermost center of an arch in such a way as to hold all the other stones in place. That key piece, if removed, will bring all the other blocks crashing down with it. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon — its origins, its doctrines, and the circumstances of its coming forth — is central to the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The integrity of this church and more than 165 years of its restoration experiences stand or fall with the veracity or falsity of the Book of Mormon.

“To consider that everything of saving significance in the Church stands or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth, is as sobering as it is true. It is a ‘sudden death’ proposition. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward.

“Not everything in life is so black and white, but the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our religion seem to be exactly that. Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, a prophet who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from Moroni’s lips, and eventually received at this [sic] hands a set of ancient gold plates that he then translated by the gift and power of God, or else he did not. And if he did not, he would not be entitled to the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, nor would he be entitled to be considered a great teacher, a quintessential American religious leader, or the creator of great devotional literature. If he lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he would be none of these.

“I am suggesting that one has to take a do-or-die stand regarding the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. Reason and righteousness require it. Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order, but no one should tolerate any ludicrous, even laughable middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take, morally, literally, historically, or theologically.

“As the word of God has always been, and I testify again that is purely and precisely what the Book of Mormon is, this record is ‘quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing of both joints and marrow.’ The Book of Mormon is that quick and is that powerful. And it certainly is that sharp. Nothing in our history or our message cuts to the chase faster than our uncompromising declaration that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. A man of our faith taught the same principle, exactly the same principle, regarding the Savior. He said:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say (about Christ — that is that), ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something else. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feel and call Him Lord and God. But let us not (have) any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

It is exactly the same position we take about the Book of Mormon and about the Prophet Joseph Smith. It has to be.

So the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of the restoration.” Everything we teach has its roots in those first experiences in the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah. Everything that we have flows one way or another out of that original testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, those first hours, those first moments, those first declarations. Your missionaries must testify of this to the people. When those investigators seek a testimony of the Book of Mormon following their first discussion, as they go on their knees to pray about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon following their first encounter with the missionaries, there is a moral obligation, there is a spiritual impression which speaks to their own integrity that they must honor. And as the Book of Mormon is true, they will be taken to the waters of baptism, to confirmation for membership into the Church and the receipt of the Holy Ghost, to the reception of the priesthood, the privileges of the temple and all else that follows. I testify that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the restoration in no uncertain terms.

Secondly, it is the keystone of our doctrine generally. We have wonderful doctrine in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon plays a role in establishing doctrine, teaching doctrine, expanding doctrine and underscoring doctrine that is not available anywhere in either the Old or the New Testament. Regarding the Atonement, the teaching of Jacob and his father Lehi (to name  two) exceed anything in the Bible. I don’t say that condescendingly of the Bible. I love the Bible and I’ve taught it almost all of my professional life. But the Book of Mormon is so powerful regarding the Atonement. Nephi’s own teaching on that subject, of King Benjamin’s, or Alma and Amulek in their great team-teaching experience at Ammonihah, and on and on.

Consider the scattering and gathering of Israel. There is no document in the world, including the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Old Testament, that teaches the scattering and gathering of Israel in the detail and with the clarity that the Book of Mormon teaches it.

What about faith? Alma’s marvelous teachings of the subject, Moroni’s declaration in the Book of Ether – for that Paul taught about faith, the Book of Mormon has an order of its own, a level of its own.

Consider the resurrection. There are exactly, by word count, twice as many references to the resurrection in the Book of Mormon as there are in the New Testament. We are grateful for what the New Testament teaches but we would be without so very much of the doctrine of the resurrection if we did not have the Book of Mormon.

And baptism, including the injunction against infant baptism, obviously there is nothing anywhere in sacred writ that compares with Book of Mormon doctrine on the doctrine of baptism, including teachings about the Savior’s own baptism. You can see the missionary value of this book as we teach these fundamental doctrines. So the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our doctrine, giving us back so much of the doctrine of the Bible which has been lost.

But lastly and most importantly of all, and that which I wish to emphasize, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our doctrine of Christ . Among the last words of Nephi speaks are these: “If they are not the words of Christ, judge ye — for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words.” That’s his closing testimony from the last chapter of 2 Nephi 33.

We are taught in the Book of Mormon that one of the reasons we have the book, one of the reasons it had to be restored, was to restore “plain and precious” truths. Well, nothing in the world is more precious than the Son of God. There is nothing that compares to the value and wonder and beauty of Jesus of Nazareth. And so very much about Him was lost from those original records.

Consider this. How much do we know about Christ from the Old Testament?

Fortunately with Latter-day Saint eyes, we know a bit. We can find key phrases here and there. We can find some types and shadows. But by and large, left to our own, and most of the rest of the world being left to their own, We don’t have a lot about the Savior in the Old Testament. Then we consider, in the same breath, that eighty percent (technically, eighty-six percent) by actual page count of the Book of Mormon is from an Old Testament era prior to Christ’s coming into mortality. Consider what that has taught us. if you think of the brother of Jared’s vision alone, it would be worth everything required of us to take this book to the world. I counted (you can make your own count) twenty-five essential distinctive doctrines about Christ that are taught in that encounter between Jehovah and the brother of Jared. (If you find more, let me know and I will move my numbers up.) That is representative of what happens all through the book up to Christ’s actual appearance in the eleventh chapter of 3 Nephi.

No wonder the book says of such moments, “Never were greater things made manifest.” What was being made manifest was the living Son of the Living God. He is the principal [sic] character in the book. If you were to ask someone, “Who is the main character in the Book of Mormon?” They might be confused. It is a thousand years of history of the Nephites, plus another dispensation, if you add the Jaredites. It is unlikely that one figure will come to the fore over such a long period of time. They may say, “Well perhaps it’s Nephi or maybe it’s Alma, or maybe it’s Mormon, or perhaps Moroni.” It isn’t any of those.

The principal [sic] character in the book is Jesus Christ. From the first page to the last, it was intended to be so. That’s what the title page says. That’s what the book was designed to be — a declaration that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” (Title page). It is no wonder that the opening pages bring us Lehi’s vision of Christ appearing with His Apostles. It is no wonder that the last lines of the record are Moroni’s declaration that He will rise in the resurrection on the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is everything in this book.

I don’t pretend to know why we lost those original 116 pages, but I’m not losing any sleep about that because the Lord provided for that long before anyone needed to worry about translating them. The 116 pages are probably wonderful, but I cannot imagine that they could be more wonderful than the small plates of Nephi. It is inconceivable to me that anything could be better than that. Consider the teachings of the books of Nephi, of Jacob, of Enos and of Jarom and Omni and even the little editorial comment from the Words of Mormon. They are magnificent.

At least six times in the Book of Mormon the phrase, “For a wise purpose,” is used in reference to the making, writing and preserving of the small plates. One such purpose obviously was to cover the same material as the loss of 116 pages. If you want an example of God’s omniscience, here it is. He anticipated by 2,500 years, the possibilities of Mrs. Harris doing whatever she did with those papers. So He planned for that well in advance. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t know the future. He knows it in great detail.

But there is another wise purpose for including the smaller plates in what is the highly edited material in the Book of Mormon. In the tenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, forty-fifth verse, the Lord declared to Joseph Smith, “Behold there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel.” Whatever other “greater views” are given us, the greatest of all views is the view of Christ that comes from the stylus of Nephi and Jacob and Isaiah whose writings constitute 135 pages of the 145 pages of the small plates.

And what is so significant about those three? Nephi revealed the persuasive qualification they had. They had seen the premortal Christ.

“And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah for my soul delighted in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.”

The inclusion of the small plates of Nephi has to be one of the most fortuitous things that has ever happened in the great scriptural sequence of record keeping down through the ages.

One of the reasons we know the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our doctrine about Christ is because we find just such a phrase in the language of the book. If you are still turning with me, turn to 2 Nephi 31 and 32. At the  close of Nephi’s life, at the close of his testimony, we find this transcending, powerful witness of Christ prior to Nephi’s passing the record to Jacob, who will then include Isaiah in the teachings. (By the way, I haven’t got time to develop this, but please don’t think that Isaiah has just been dropped into the Book of Mormon to make your life miserable. I have spent my life with students who believe that Isaiah was simply a burden to overcome. In a book as highly selective and edited as this book is, every single line from Isaiah is there by design. In short, it is because he is this third of three witnesses, standing at the entrance of the Book of Mormon, one who has seen the Son of God and who says more of Him and teaches more of Him than all other Old Testament prophets put together.)

Now, back to 2 Nephi 31. Look in verse two. “Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrines of Christ.” Turn over to verse twenty-one. “Behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Look over at verse six in thirty-two. “Behold this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after He shall manifest Himself unto you in the flesh.” These wonderful phrases, of course, apply particularly to this material that come in 2 Nephi 31 and 32, but it is also resonating and teaching and underscoring what has been taught all the way through Nephi’s sermons.

There is a way to read the Book of Mormon (and it probably is one of the ways we should remember to read the Book of Mormon) which takes you figuratively from mountain top to mountain top for great teaching about Christ. There’s a lot of other material in the Book of Mormon. There is a lot of other doctrine. All of the doctrine, all of the history, all of the culture and all the anthropology is wonderful. In such a highly edited book, I think we ought to savor every word, every phrase on every subject. But above all else we ought to savor these majestic teachings about Christ.

Even though we don’t have the book of Lehi (that would have been in the 116 pages), we get something of him from Nephi. We learn of his dream in the opening chapter of the book, then “the tree of life” dream, a symbolic journey toward Christ recorded in 1 Nephi 8. We also have Lehi’s blessing to his children in the opening chapters of 2 Nephi. Then we go to Nephi’s own teaching, including that majestic opening revelation to Nephi, starting in 1 Nephi 11. By this time we are only nineteen pages into the book and we are getting this marvelous revelation about Christ — where He would be born, doctrines about the virgin birth, the prophecy of his baptism at the hands of John, wonderful, significant doctrines that run page after page through to 2 Nephi where he culminates with his “doctrine of Christ” (to which we have already referred). Then we have Jacob and Isaiah as mentioned. In the abridgment of the large plates, we find King Benjamin’s wonderful teachings about Christ. Then we go from King Benjamin to Abinadi. (I want to suggest to you in passing that Abinidi [sic] may be the most underestimated, under-read, under appreciated prophet in all the Book of Mormon. My admiration for him is unbounded. The doctrines that Abinadi teaches are something I missed, I am sorry to say, in the first dozen or so years I was reading this book.)

We don’t have to enumerate all these “mountain-top” teachings, but we go on to Alma senior and to Alma junior and to Amulek. Then we go to Captain Moroni, to Nephi, to Lei and conclude with Samuel the Lamanite, just prior to Christ’s advent into mortality. Going from these marvelous sermons, one to another, is one marvelous way to read this book — majestic, rolling teachings, time and time again, page after page, teaching us the doctrines of Christ.

In addition we have types and shadows of Christ throughout the Book of Mormon. I’ve already suggested the tree of life. Then there follows the olive tree. Following that Alma introduces the seed that grows into a tree with significance for the staff and the cross. These are wonderful symbolic shadows of Christ. Abinidi [sic] himself is the first great Book of Mormon martyr, a symbol, type, and shadow of Christ.

Let me use a different symbolic example, maybe one that we haven’t noted as often, the holy priesthood. I want to suggest to you that we know more about the priesthood and its relationship to Christ from the Book of Mormon than from anything we can find on the subject in the Bible. Consider Alma 13. We might not think of the priesthood as a type and a shadow, but to the Prophet Joseph Smith it was revealed that the full and proper name of the priesthood is the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. “Order” is a rich, broad word with several meanings, all instructive but one of which is “after the fashion, or example of, like, similar to.” The priesthood is as we are told, “without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to (God’s) foreknowledge of all things.” But it was also said of Christ that He was “without beginning of days or end of years who is full of grace, equity and truth.”

Look at Alma 13:2 “those priests were ordained after the order of His Son.” These priests are the only ones in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. This is one of those plain and precious truths lost but restored again in Alma 13. “Those priests were ordained after the order of His Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to His Son for redemption.” Look at verse sixteen. “Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of His order, and this that they might look forward to Him for a remission of their sins.” Both of those verses say there is something in Christ and something in his ordination to the priesthood (and something in our ordination to the priesthood, brethren) that should teach us the remission of sins and the redemption of the Atonement.

Then you get these similitudes between Christ and those who are ordained to His priesthood. Anyone ordained to the priesthood is “called and prepared from the foundation of the world.” They are “called according to the foreknowledge of God.” They are “called on account of their exceeding faith, good works and righteousness before God.” They are “called because they had not hardened their hearts of blinded their minds.” They are “free to choose good or evil and choose good.” They are “called to teach God’s commandments to the children of men.” They are “made a high priest forever.” They are “sanctified with garments washed white in the blood of the Lamb…” They are “unable to look upon sin save it were with abhorrence.” They are “made pure and ushered into the rest of God.”

Brethren, one of the sobering teachings in Alma 13 for me is the realization that the priesthood is symbolic of Christ Himself and it should symbolize our own righteousness as well. To stress that point we are then introduced to Melchizedek in verse sixteen. Melchizedek emerges as a great symbol of Christ. The Book of Mormon (and no other book) teaches us that Melchizedek was the king over the land of Salem (or Jerusalem). His people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination, had all gone astray and were full of all manner of wickedness. He exercised faith in spite of such opposition. He received the office of the high priesthood, according to the holy order of God. He preached repentance unto his people. He established peace and was therefore called the prince of peace. He reigned under his father. There is no other body of sacred writing anywhere that teaches more powerfully this symbolic relationship between a bearer of the priesthood and Christ.

Let me close. When Moroni and Mormon are alone, weary and heartbroken, they still write of faith and hope and charity. But it isn’t Paul’s approach. I’m not saying Paul didn’t understand it, I’m just saying that as we’ve received the New Testament, we haven’t been blessed with all that Paul understood. 1 Corinthians 13 sounds like a lovely, kind virtuous way to be a good neighbor, but the Book of Mormon teaches so much more with these words. Moroni says, “I remember that thou has said that thou has loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men. And now I know that this love which thou has had for the children of men is charity.” That definition of charity is more than being a good neighbor. This is at the heart of the Atonement of Christ. “Wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou has prepared in the mansions of thy Father.”

This is a powerful definition of charity. We are supposed to be Christ-like, we are supposed to be charitable, we are supposed to demonstrate love, but he is saying that were it not for real charity, capital C, the one time in all the world that real charity was demonstrated, i.e., the pure love of Christ — if it were not for that, “we could not inherit that place which thou has prepared in the mansions of thy Father.” This is the charity that saves. This is the charity that faileth not. Ours does not always save and it does sometimes fail. As much as we try, we fall short. But one time, by one Person, the pure love of Christ was demonstrated. Real charity was given to this world. Christ loved us perfectly and it lasts forever. That’s why we can say that real charity, never faileth. Henever fails us. The message of the Book of Mormon is that Christ does not fail us. That’s what we’re trying to tell the world. That’s what we’re trying to say through this basic missionary text of this dispensation. Christ’s love is pure love. He is the only one who has ever really mastered it while the rest of us are still trying to do so. his salvation will not fail, His ordinances will not fail, His church will not fail. This is the dispensation of the fullness of times. The restored gospel will never be taken from the face of the earth again. That is the message of the Book of Mormon.

Life has its shares of fears and failures. Sometimes things fall short. Sometimes people fail us, economics fail us, business or government fail us. But one thing in time and eternity does not fail us, the pure love of the Lord Jesus Christ as manifest in His Atoning sacrifice. That’s why we can inherit the place which Thou has prepared, Father, for us in the mansions on high.

I bear witness, as a witness, of the Lord Jesus Christ. I bear witness of the Book of Mormon that led me to Him. If you don’t think that the Book of Mormon matters to your missionaries, look at me. I’m not much of a visual aid, but I found the Lord Jesus Christ within the covers of the Book of Mormon as a nineteen-year old, walking through the rain and the mud of England, riding a bike with mud clear up the back of my coat and over the top of my head, tracting in cities that had never been open, with baptisms that did not come for a long time. Those nights, I went back to No. 3 Gilmore Road and read and read and wept. I knew that Jesus was the Christ, that the Book of Mormon was true, that the gospel had been restored. If the folks in England didn’t understand that, then I would just keep knocking on those doors until they did.

Yes, I know what the Book of Mormon means to a missionary. I know what role it has played in the message of the restoration. I understand how urgent it was for heaven to get it into the Prophet Joseph’s hands. I understand what it will yet mean in preparing the way for Christ to come, to rule and reign as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is a witness, it is a declaration from cover to cover, from title page to final verse, that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel has been restored. I also bear witness of that in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(Note: This is a typescript of Elder Holland’s message given at the pulpit. It was not delivered from a written text.)


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Filed under fokltale, Mormon Apocrypha, religion

The best missionary lesson ever

Tonight, I experienced the most remarkable missionary message in the history of missionary messages.

We had just finished having dinner with the missionaries. The wife and I made a commitment at the beginning of our marriage to help the missionaries whenever we can, and so we had gone out with them several times teaching and had gotten to know especially a young couple who lived two blocks from us. As we sat back after eating, they asked if they could share a message. “Of course!” we say, obligingly.

I settled into my seat, waiting for the general “Who do you know that we can share the gospel with?” message that missionaries often give at dinner appointments.

Elder Graham pulled out a talk and began to read a short excerpt about how hope is the motivator of faith and action and how hope, not technical skill, is more important in missionary work.

He then turned to us and said simply, “I know you as a family have hope in missionary work. We greatly appreciate all of the wonderful work you do with us, and the help you offer us. We want to sincerely thank you for your willingness to help in building the Lord’s kingdom.”

That was it. No commitment. No gentle reminders to do our duty. Just pure thanks. You could see it in their weary faces; they were grateful that we would go out with them for even just a couple hours a week, no skin off of our noses. The appreciation just shined from their expressions.

I was deeply touched. I glanced over at my wife, who admitted as much in the past that duty, not a desire to grow the Church, motivated her missionary work. I could tell that she was visibly touched as well (and somewhat taken aback).

They got up and left. We said our goodbyes. And as we cleared the dishes that night, my heart was full. Sometimes, Mormonism feels like a non-stop checklist of tasks, obligations, duties and commitments. However, two missionaries that night expressed sincere gratitude for our feeble offering — real gratitude. It felt good.

Conventionally speaking, for all intents and purposes, their lesson was a failure. There was no commitment at the end. It was mercifully short — less than two minutes. They didn’t even really teach a coherent gospel principle they could check off on a teaching record. But I hadn’t felt the Spirit so strong in the room after a missionary lesson in a long time.

And you can bet your socks that the next time the missionaries ask us to go out with them to teach, we will say yes in a heartbeat, even if it means clearing our schedule to do so.

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Reclaiming Missionary Folklore

Could you imagine running into this guy during Sacrament meeting?

Could you imagine running into this guy during Sacrament meeting?

If you asked me which books on my shelf I loved the most, within the top three would be my Treasury of Jewish Folktalesby Nathan Ausubel. A fifth printing from November 1948, I picked it up at a bookstore in Pike Place Market during my honeymoon. Since then, I’ve eagerly read page after page of folktales which have supplemented my life greatly.

There is something about storytelling and folktales that simply stick within our minds. Humorous anecdotes and jests can help bring a barbed lesson home without it irritating our pride, while a shared cultural myth or story can unite a people together with common knowledge and purpose.

Of course, just like any culture, our Latter-day Saint culture possesses a great deal of folklore – apocryphal tales of Joseph Smith, stories about Porter Rockwell that border fantasy, seemingly random myths such as Bigfoot being the walking incarnation of Cain. With these stories, it’s hard to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction, and that’s where most of the fun is – we tell them over and over again, passing these stories along, hoping that these stories might have an element of truth.

Talk to any missionary and you will, after you gain their trust, receive a tome of whispered tales. They don’t know the subjects personally, but a friend of a companion, or perhaps a trainer’s trainer’s trainer, or a friend from another mission reports a hard to confirm (but still incredibly fun and juicy) tale. Maybe a general authority (or even an apostle) walked into their mission, scanned the congregation, told half the missionaries by name to stand up, pack their bags, and go home. Maybe some missionaries helped cast out a devil, or just met a really (literally) insane person.

I’ve decided to start collecting these myths and folktales and compile a Treasury of Missionary Folktales (of sorts). I’m not trained in historiography or myth collecting, but I this is a subject that has fascinated me for a very long time. So if you have mission stories to share, please, by all means, share them! If you know of missionaries who have such stories, please forward this email to them and ask them to send theirs as well! It doesn’t matter if it’s just the whispers of rumors or if they can’t be confirmed – the more apocryphal the better. But if they ran into something that happened to them, that’s perfect, too. I’ll categorize and compile them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see mission story archetypes cropping up.

Please send any of the stories to missionfolklore@gmail.com. Thanks for helping out!

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More personal history: One by One

This post is a transcript of another one of my mission letters, dated for the week of “28 Nov 2005 – 4 Dec 2005.” The following week had been the low point of my mission coupled with one of the most humbling experiences in my entire life. I had been in a considerably difficult area for the past four months and felt incredibly frustrated and angry. The Assistants to the President (APs) had been sent to see what was up with an area that seemed lackluster and wilting. I had spent months in the attitude of Jonah preaching to the citizens of Nineveh that the great city would be destroyed unless they repent – and relishing in the idea of the Lord nuking it. The lesson I consequently learned only through tears and disappointment has helped shape my theological mindset and my spiritual world view and continues to do so today.

Dear President,

This week, I have felt a lot like Peter in the sense where I said, “Though I shall die with thee, yet will I not deny thee,” only to look back and see the faithlessness, causing me to weep bitterly. The training visit with the APs have caused me to re-evaluate a lot about how I’ve been doing missionary work.

This area has been a large growing process and I have felt that I had been working hard. I am, by the natural man, fairly lazy and so I have been surprised by my own dilligence[sic] in going out and getting shut down numerous times every day. Any other place I would have become discouraged a long time ago but something kept me from giving up and continually trying to improve this area. I had been praying and fasting for answers on how to get this area to catch on fire. Many ideas came together, but it was still producing meager results.

At the peak of my frustration and despair, the answer came to me thrice (the Lord always uses the magical number of 3). The first time, it was in sacrament meeting where a member spoke on how Christ deals with us not in the mass, but one on one. How nice, I thought, but I felt that message was more for the members. Then, in our interview, you said, “The genius is said in so little by Elder Holland – Just chat! The gospel will come up,” speaking of the CTI. Again, I thought, ah, that is nice. But again, I denied it as advice for me and I felt that advice was more for the members.

Then, at the training visit with the APs, as we contacted, Elder Dennis said, “You know, you can make more friends in 2 months caring about them than you can in two years trying to make them care about you.” I then realized what was missing. The Spirit quickened my mind and it all snapped together. I had been trying to deal with the UCO student body in mass, trying to invite as many as I could a day, always in a rush, not bothering to know them one by one, as Christ would. I failed to follow the counsel of our apostles in just chatting and instead tried to bludgeon people with the gospel. And I had failed to care about other people, instead trying to get people to care about me and the message I had. That night as we saw the success Elder Case and Elder Chang had on campus, (Elder Dennis & I spent some time contacting less actives and trying to invite them to the baptism) indeed that night I “went out and wept bitterly.” I wondered how I could have been so blind and insensitive to the Spirit, who was trying so hard to teach and loosen an inflexible and fossilized servant. I felt I had wasted the 4 months of the Lord’s time and even wondered if my paltry sacrifice on the altar was even acceptable to the Lord.

But thank goodness for the atonement! How I love it and appreciate it more and more each passing day. Elder Chang and I discussed what we were doing wrong and commited[sic] to implement this concept of caring, of having charity, into our missionary work. It works! We had much more success in contacting people and setting appointments. And I felt lighter and happier, more unburdened. Indeed, the difference is as stark as night and day. I felt this small thing is the one degree difference…

My regret is to not be able to bring back those 4 months…How I wish I could stay another transfer or two to undo the damage I have done. But I have learned a long time ago to not try and change the Lord’s mind.

Elder Chang and I strive to keep the commandments and the mission rules. Now that the light at the end of the tunnel is visible, there is an increased incentive to be exactly obedient. It’s not all roses and fun, I know, but the yoke of Christ is easy, I have found…

Thank you for all you do, president. You are a help for us all. I’m sure it goes unappreciated, but I am grateful that you demand so much from us (and I know that it isn’t you, but the Lord who is asking for it). And I am grateful for your faith in us. Thank you for not letting us settle for mediocracy[sic]. We love you and we’ll see you this Christmas (or sooner)!

Your brother in the gospel,

Elder Ted Lee

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Chapter 8 in a new light

When I left on my mission, Preach My Gospel was brand new. I have pictures in my mission album of the last day of the MTC, when they put out a box for old materials to be recycled, overflowing. They handed us the fresh manual, kicked us out the door and wished us luck in the field.

Consequently, I hold that manual dear to my heart. I’ve since then retired my old mission PMG and started working on another fresh one, and have found how useful it is even after the mission, especially chapter 8.

Chapter 8 was boring to me on the mission – How Do I Use Time Wisely? Mostly, it involved details on how to conduct a weekly planning session, a daily planning session and making goals. There’s a very spiritually packed section on accountability, and some good quotes about goal making, but overall, I breezed through it when it came around for study once more. I admit this with shame.

Since I’ve been married though, I started reading through it once more. I’ll admit; our scripture study has been sketchy, especially when it comes to studying together. Dantzel’s family would select a child, and that child would read a portion of the scriptures out loud for the whole family. With my family, we read in a circle, verse by verse. Both seemed less effective for two grown adults. This doesn’t mean we never talked about the gospel; we talked about the gospel a lot. But as far as a sitting-down-for-scripture-study couples study, we didn’t have any habits established.

Additionally, our planning was sporadic. Most of the time, we would plan to attend events only a couple days before, or decide what we would eat or where we would go or what we would do that evening at that very moment. This lead to many rash decisions (such as eating out, going shopping or watching television all night). As I’ve been transitioning from an hourly wage job to more project-based freelancing work, my awareness of goals and how I spend my time have increased (also, playing certain video games have also piqued my interest in goal setting, but that’s another post).

I suddenly saw Chapter 8 in a new light. Replacing “missionary” or “companion” with “wife” suddenly made this chapter painfully relevant. Replacing “investigator” with “child” made it family oriented. Of course, it can’t translate perfectly, but why not plan for a child’s baptism, confirmation, priesthood, temple ceremonies, future activity in the chuch, etc.? It would make raising children less ad hoc and frightening, and give you a plan on how to tackle parenthood.

Why not have weekly companionship planning sessions with the wife? Why not have a weekly companionship inventory with her? After all, the idea of “discuss[ing] any challenges that may be keeping your companionship from working in unity or from being obedient” sounds like a good idea for any marriage. “Resolve conflicts. Share with your [spouse] what you think his or her strengths are. Ask for suggestions how to improve.” Those all seem important for a marriage, and sound like it would help keep a relationship healthy and on track, not to mention nipping any problems in the bud before they blossom into something out of control.

On my mission, my mission president told me that Preach My Gospel should be in every home, and that after my mission, I should continue to study from it consistently, if not daily. I now understand why. Focusing on the basic, fundamental principles of the gospel not only ground us, but build a base for us to launch into deeper gospel thinking. Reminding ourselves of the true principles of the gospel and remembering that anything outside of it is essentially commentary keeps us from deviating from the pure gospel. And, of course, there are all kinds of goodies in here, from how to study the scriptures more effectively to sections like chapter 8, which make future parenting seem less daunting. This is a comforting thought.

Moral of the Story: Read Chapter 8 of Preach My Gospel, if you want some good information on how to organize your life and live effectively in a family unit. Also, I am the only blog to use “companionship inventory” as a tag in the WordPress blogosphere. Shameful.

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