Again, it's been hard to write the blog, but that's not because I've had no insights through my reading.  Today I will read the last 9 pages of my first time through the book of mormon this year.  It has been an indescribable experience.  I've always been confident that the book of mormon was a true, god-given document, but now any doubts i had have been shattered.  There is just no other fathomable explanation for its origin, and the spirit i feel when i read it, and the personal revelation and guidance it brings is unmatched.  Never turn your nose up at the Book of Mormon.  It is a work that has withstood the test of time, and if it is read with an open mind, it will withstand anyone's tests.  I am so grateful for it.  I love this verse at the end of Ether 12:  "And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written that the grace of god the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.  Amen."  I wish that everyone would take that invitation, but no.  The end of Ether is a truly sad story as two civilizations destroy one another.  It rends one's heart, as I know it rends the heart of the father of us all, but as he has said countless time throughout this work, he will not uphold people in wickedness.  Wickedness, which almost always begins with selfishness and self-indulgence, brings about downfall of civilizations, not just the individual.  We must continually watch ourselves to see that we are meek, humble, submissive, easy to be entreated, God-fearing, loving, selfless, and striving in every way to follow Christ and his teachings.
 
 
Mormon is quite the character.  This verse alone says so much about him:  "Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts." (Mormon 3:12)  It is, once again, amazing what the power of Christ is.  When I see slews of wicked people my first instinct is not to love them with all of my heart, though it should be.  The Lord loves his children and He would love it if we could all see each other through His eyes.  His capacity to love is beyond most of us, but it doesn't seem to be beyond Mormon.  I am so grateful that Mormon took all the time and made all the effort he did to abridge the Book of Mormon and to make sure it was kept safe.  He is a special character.
 
 
This is arguably the best part of the Book of Mormon because we are to sit back and listen to the Savior teach us.  It's difficult to get through, actually, because I've basically highlighted every word that Christ has said.  There is so much I'd like to quote and comment on, but the prospect is a little daunting to me right now so i'll just mention a few things: 
    1:  Christ is very specific in how we should treat those in our midst who are "unworthy."  We are not to "cast them out of our synagogues."  (3 Ne. 18:31) so we are to embrace those of us who may be struggling, so that they might see a congregation as a place to come home to.  People who commit sin feel unworthy already.  They suffer a Godly and a personal condemnation which through repentance they can overcome.  Our condemnation is both unnecessary and unrighteous on our part. (I say our, but I do not exclude myself from the other side, for are we not all sinners?)
    2:  After Christ teaches in chapter 16 he says in chapter 17:2-3 "I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.  Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow and i come unto you again."  From these verses we learn a few things, the first being that we don't even have to rely on Christ's words at face value.  we can and should seek spiritual confirmation of spiritual teachings.  the second would be that if we prepare our minds, we will have greater capacity to understand the words which the Lord has to teach us.
    3:  3 Ne 21:10 "But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them.  Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil."  And it always will be.  the devil is cunning and crafty.  He will make people believe that good is evil and evil is good, but their wicked ways will last but a moment in the grand scheme of things and we are eternally admonished to endure to the end that we may have everlasting life and partake of the better part. 
 
 
Yes, i've slacked off with blogging.  but not with reading.  Well, I'm a teeny bit behind with my reading, but I can catch up today, easy-peasy.  I have worn out my marking pen.  I have been trying to mark all of the instances that discuss how God deals with his children and I'm in 3rd Nephi and I'm going to have to switch colors.  Heavenly Father does not neglect his children.  He is mindful of all they do both good and bad.  He is patient and always hopeful that they will choose the path of righteousness that he paved with his Only Begotten's blood.  How often did he send prophets in to teach his children the right way, practically begging them repent and forsake their wicked ways?  There are countless instances.  The Lord understands the thoughts of his people.  He knows how Satan works in their hearts and he knows the ways of the natural man.  Samuel the Lamanite's words rings true as he is prophesying saying, "But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say:  Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say:  Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth--and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet." (13:27)  As disgusting and perverse as that is, is it not true?  We see it all the time.  People want leaders that will tell them that they can do whatever they want with no consequences.  How sad this world would be, though, if there were no consequences for one's actions.  The Lord uses positive reinforcement.  If you obey his commandments he will pour blessings out upon you.  Interestingly consequences for iniquity often tend to be natural consequences:  casual sex can lead to unintentional pregnancy, sloth can lead to a lack of means to provide for yourself, crime will lead to imprisonment.  imprisonment can be physical but it can also be mental.  when you choose to do something that you know is wrong, your mind can override itself and shut down.  We often call this guilt.  People want to be told that nothing that they do is wrong so that they can be free of guilt.  Guilt, to a degree is a punishment, but more than that it is a tool to help us want to be better.  If we apply it correctly we can use the guilt we feel for our poor actions as motivation to never do that wrong thing again.  We can use it as a drive to help us want to turn to God because only He has the power to make that guilt go away.  We turn to him because we want to be rid of it and He is capable of granting us that freedom. 
    As 3rd Nephi progresses we see the signs of the birth and death of Jesus Christ.  We are upon the resurrection and his appearance to the people in this continent.  We can see, again, that he keeps all of his promises, and that prophets are truly inspired by a divine power.  I am ever more convinced that the power given to the prophets is a Godly power.  They will not lead us astray and they will continue to act in a way that will teach us what we need to do in order to gain salvation.  They will not coddle us in our wickedness, but teach us how to be righteous and strong so that when the Messiah comes again, we need not fear because our hearts will be prepared.
 
 
There is so much in Helaman that explains clearly why people become wicked, and why God doesn't support them in their wickedness.  I'll cite here just one example.
    Helaman 12:2-3 "Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One--yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.  And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him."  And again, he wants us to remember him and worship him 1- so he can bless us, and 2- so that we don't become corrupt and wicked and set our hearts upon worldly things.  i've never seen any citation that would lead me to believe that he wants to be worshiped merely for the sake of being worshiped and adored.  it is ALL for our benefit.
    Another scripture I want to cite here that is everything to do with my conversion is Helaman 10:6, just the first line:  "Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God."  The first time i read this i remember a very strong sensation in my heart.  A physical sensation, not just an emotional one, that testified to me that God is God, and as such he knows my name.  He knows my needs and how to succor and support me.  He knows the trials I need to reach my potential, and he knows how to give me comfort in those trials so that I will not become discouraged.  As I can call Him by name, so he can call me by name.  And he wants to know me and to have that personal relationship with me because I am his daughter.  If I love my daughter with everything I am and all I have in me, I can't imagine how much capacity an infinite, omnipotent and perfect person has to love me.
 
 
Even though Alma ends, the wars do not.  We are seeing in these pages a continued cycle of righteousness bringing prosperity, then pride, then a loss of prosperity, then humility.  We see a shift now in the conversion of the Nephites and the Lamanites and as we continue, we know, as Nephi knew, that the Nephites will become extinct but this is due exclusively to their unwillingness to adhere to God's commands. 
    A verse that i really stuck out to me is this one in Alma 61 verse 15: "...give unto [Lehi and Teancum] power to conduct the war in that part of the land, according to the Spirit of God, which is also the spirit of freedom which is in them."  To me this is an incredibly deep idea, and one that rings piercingly true:  The Spirit of God can be likened unto the spirit of freedom.  God wants us to be free.  His commands to us are given exclusively that we may obtain this freedom.  This picture is from the FHE manual in one of the first lessons.  It depicts how God's plan may initially seem restrictive and satan's may seem like the free-er option, but in the end it shows what those choices we make ultimately may lead to.
Picture
 
 
And the fighting continues.  Lamanites attack, Nephites defend, cities are conquered and reconquered.  The 2,000 stripling warriors go forth.  A lot of action in these chapters, but as this is another testament of Jesus Christ, we do see the hand of God in this action, still.  Alma 50 explains, "And thus we see how merciful and just are the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men... inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land.  But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord... And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites."
    Lately i have been drawn to the argument that the Lord is unjust in giving us commandments.  How does he have the right to tell us what to do?  Who is he that we should worship him?  To that argument i respond:  is there any commandment given that will not eventually do us good?  don't kill, don't steal, don't commit adultery, keep the sabbath day holy... are any of these commandments really going to make our lives miserable?  love God, love your neighbor... if God is the father of us all and created all things, or bodies, our families, the earth, our sustenance, the plan of salvation, and he has done all that he can to prepare a way by which we may be saved, even unto sacrificing his most beloved son, what in these actions suggests that he has not merited our love, devotion, and yes, even our worship?  He is our father in many senses.  For these reasons he out to be loved by us and respected.  Beyond being our father he is our God.  as such he is of a nature to be worshiped.  all-seeing, all-knowing, all-encompassing, he surpasses any earthly being we know of.  i can think of no argument to the contrary which would persuade me that God should not be worshiped, loved, and respected. 
    Returning to the book of mormon.  The stripling warriors nearly brought me to tears last night.  i've never had an emotional reading of the book of mormon until now!  These boys, and i say boys because Helaman informs us that they were very young, show a bravery and a faith far beyond many other characters i have seen.  in Alma 56 verse 46 we read, "For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me:  Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus."  And in verse 56 their faith is rewarded:  "...there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength..."  We also know that these boys were taught by their mothers that "if they did not doubt, God would deliver them." (47) and so he did.  And we have a shining example of faith and courage that is to be both admired and followed.  I must resolve to always stand up for what is right and I may also have faith that God will support me in His causes.
 
 
Had to play a lot of catch-up last night due to an extremely busy weekend.  In Alma chapter 48 we get to hear a lot about Moroni, and we encounter my favorite verse in the BOM.  First, Moroni, he pleads with the Lord that he might know whether or not his people should take up arms against their enemies and is key in inspiring faith in his people.  We know he has a strong heart, strong faith, and a strong relationship with our heavenly father.  There have been times when i have been concerned about my relationship with my heavenly father.  i often feel that i'm not doing enough.  that i should be better; that i should be "like unto Moroni" (17) but one time while reading the book of mormon i was absolutely floored by verse 19:  "Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni; for they did preach the word of god, and they did baptize unto repentance all men whosoever would hearken unto their words."  So i'm not Moroni.  I just have to be me.  As i strive to live the gospel and abide by the precepts i am taught, i am no less serviceable to the Lord than Moroni.  :)
 
 
As alma begins to teach his sons some deep doctrine of the gospel, reading becomes heavy, but at the pace i am reading it has been such an amazing feeling to really feel like my soul understands more about the nature of God.  who he is and what his plan really is all about.  i would do better to comment on my reading as i go because of the many many times i have been inspired with new realizations.  we are so blessed to have the scriptures so easily accessible to us.  may i propose one very important thing that i have come to believe:  whether or not you choose to read the book of mormon, you are responsible for its contents if you have had the opportunity to study them and have forsaken it. 
    Besides more specific doctrines, i would like to reiterate here the ongoing themes that i have seen in the book of mormon:  obey God's commandments and you shall have eternal life.  the righteous will prosper in the land while the wicked shall perish.  Christ's coming was prophesied of hundreds and thousands of years before he came, and all that was prophesied came to pass.  Christ's mission is to atone for our sins that we may have eternal life should we choose to take advantage of that sacrifice.  the scriptures are kept for a wise purpose in the Lord and prophets have been commanded to write the things of God throughout all history.
 
 
If you only ever read one chapter in the book of mormon, make it Alma 32.