Cover image: Courtesy of the author.
Burg Eltz is one of many beautiful castles not far from us in Germany. Built in 1157, it has remained in the same family and was never destroyed. It’s a fun castle to hike to from several possible directions because it appears suddenly, due to dense vegetation and the Elzbach river on its three sides, towering up high. It is built on an oval rock that serves as its foundation, and many rooms have unusual shapes because their architecture follows the shape of the rock.
I love this idea. What if our lives – without a single piece left spilling over – followed unique patterns on the sure foundation of Christ? What would need to happen to design and structure our efforts to be built on such a foundation?
In Helaman 5:12, a scripture we know well, Helaman counseled his sons to “remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation…which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” The stunning Burg Eltz has lasted more than 850 years on its solid foundation. What would happen in our lives if we truly built them on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ?
Like a mighty fortress on a hill, Jesus Christ will help us weather our storms, withstand temptations that seek to destroy, and be a towering light to those wandering through the dense struggles of life. Helaman 1-6 helps us learn how we can become more like Christ despite the “serious difficulty” and “serious contention” that surrounds us (Hel. 1:1-2).
DISCUSS and PONDER:
Pres. Nelson has challenged us to conscientiously and carefully transform our home into a sanctuary of faith (Becoming Exemplary Latter-day Saints). What have you done to remodel your home, physically or spiritually, into a center of gospel learning? How have you figuratively cut your rooms to fit exactly upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ? What blessings have you experienced by doing so as a family?
Pride separates me from the Spirit and strength of the Lord
When I think of pride I think of President Ezra Taft Benson’s noted talk “Beware of Pride” delivered in the April 1989 General Conference. He called pride a “misunderstood sin” and that a message of the Book of Mormon is to teach us of the “sin of pride.” He said, “The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen.” Enmity toward God “takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers.” Enmity towards our fellow man “is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.” Pres. Benson calls pride “a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves.”
We frequently refer to the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon, referring to the pattern of prosperity and downfall, humility and repentance. We see the Nephites struggle as the book of Helaman begins. Contrast some of the descriptors in Helaman 1: anger, stir them up, difficulty, wroth, contention, flatter, divisions, and rebellion; vs. unity, liberty, and the voice of the people. I found it helpful to answer some of the questions posed in Come, Follow Me so I made this chart:
DISCUSS and PONDER:
How does pride separate us, as the Come, Follow Me heading says, from the Spirit and strength of the Lord? How is pride more readily seen in others than in ourselves? How is contention a form of pride? What are some ways we can reduce contention in our home?
- With older kids and teens, watch (or re-watch): Bullying — Stop It (10:22) and discuss. What other ways do we see bullying and meanness manifest? How can we be less hurtful and more kind to others?
- With younger kids, watch The Prideful Ant (4:36) and discuss what the ant learned
I can be sanctified as I yield my heart to God.
I live in Frankfurt, Germany, and there are many cars, bikes, and pedestrians. One of the first critical skills I learned was how to yield to whoever has the right of way. When walking, I stay out of the bike lane so I don’t get hit. When driving, I am extra mindful of bikes and people. I’ve learned the unique traffic patterns in my neighborhood. At one corner, for example, the bikes are given a green light slightly before cars and there are usually several bikes to yield to. I learn to look not only ahead but in my rear view mirror multiple times to make sure all the bikes have gone before I proceed. Sometimes they appear out of nowhere, but when I carefully look, I see them and yield. The autobahn requires eyes on all sides, simultaneously looking ahead and behind. I watch for cars that race up from behind, entering and exiting vehicles, and cars that quickly zip in and through traffic.
What does it look like to yield our hearts to God? How can we better give Him the ultimate right of way?
In Helaman 3, the Church goes through a season of great prosperity:
- continual peace is established in the land (Hel. 3:23)
- many blessings are poured out and the leaders are astonished beyond measure (Hel. 3:25)
- tens of thousands are baptized and united unto the church of God (Hel. 3:26)
- continual rejoicing, peace, and exceedingly great joy in the land (Hel. 3:31-32)
Mormon teaches that:
- the Lord is merciful unto all who will call upon His holy name in sincerity of heart (Hel. 3:27)
- the gate of heaven is open to all who believe in Christ (Hel. 3:28)
- the word of God is quick and powerful and will conquer the cunning snares of the devil (Hel. 3:29)
Yet, pride begins to creep in again for some, and the more humble part of the people “suffer great persecutions, and … wade through much affliction” (Hel. 3:34). We learn what the followers of Christ do to remain strong in Helaman 3:35:
- fast and pray oft
- wax stronger and stronger in their humility and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ
- fill their souls with joy and consolation
- are purified and sanctified in their hearts because they yield their hearts unto God
DISCUSS and PONDER:
Read in the Guide to the Scriptures the definition of sanctification: “the process of becoming free from sin, pure, clean, and holy through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” What does this look like in our daily lives? How do we become free from sin, pure, clear and holy? What do we need to do so that Christ always has the right of way as we yield our hearts toward Him? How does this relate to building our lives on the sure foundation of Christ and remodeling our homes into sanctuaries of faith?
Watch (or re-watch) this video: Sanctify Yourselves (4:37) and discuss what it means to be ready and worthy to be used as an instrument in God’s hands. (Elder Holland’s full address is excellent and is found here)
My faith is strengthened by “the greatness of the evidences [I have] received.”
How do you see the hand of the Lord in your life? How do you help your family to see more of it? There is so much we can learn from our life experiences. Elder Neil L. Andersen taught recently at General Conference, “God powerfully and very personally assures each of us that He knows us and loves us and that He is blessing us specifically and openly. Then, in our moments of difficulty, the Savior brings these experiences back into our mind” (Spiritually Defining Memories, April 2020).
After hearing wise and heartfelt counsel from their father, Nephi and Lehi “went forth, keeping the commandments of God, [teaching] the word of God among all the people of Nephi ” (Hel. 5:14). They “did preach with great power” and helped many dissenters repent and repair the wrongs they had done (Hel. 5:17). They saw much success, such as in Zarahemla when 8,000 Lamanites were “baptized unto repentance” (Hel. 5:19). They also suffered great afflictions and were cast into the same prison that Ammon and his brethren were cast by the servants of Limhi (Hel. 5:21). This prison-temple, as Elder Holland called Liberty Jail, was a holy place. Though they suffered much and went without food and were threatened, Nephi and Lehi had their own spiritual manifestation and were “encircled about as if by fire” and stood “in the midst of fire and were not burned” (Hel. 5:23). Seeing this “marvelous thing” (Hel. 5:26), their “hearts did take courage” (Hel. 5:24) and they began to teach the stunned Lamanites.
It is often in the greatest struggles of our lives that we grow the closest to God and see His hand. Elder Holland taught, “You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced…These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace” (Lessons from Liberty Jail, Sept. 2008).
I find this counsel especially comforting as I think of what we have all experienced as global humanity these past few months. No matter how hard it gets or what we continue face, the Lord will teach us and reach us if we are willing to walk with Him.
As Nephi and Lehi taught, the prison walls started to shake but they did not fall (Hel. 5:27). Instead, a cloud of darkness and “an awful solemn fear” came upon the Lamanites who had gathered. (Hel. 5:28). The Lord called them to repentance and we learn much about the Lord’s voice and how it speaks to us.
It was “not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul” (Hel. 5:30). The Lamanites were “immovable because of the fear which did come upon them” and it took them a few times to understand the voice. Through it all, Nephi and Lehi’s faces “did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels” and were noticed by a Nephite dissenter named Amininab (Hel. 5:35-26, 39). The others asked Aminadab what they should do and he says, “ye must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you” (Hel. 5:41).
What happens next is one of the most beautiful redemptive experiences in the Book of Mormon and becomes a “spiritually defining memory” for the 300 souls in attendance.
The people cried unto the voice they heard and the cloud of darkness dispersed (Hel. 5: 42). As Nephi and Lehi shone “in the midst of a flaming fire,” the “Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts” (Hel. 5:44-45). Again, a voice as a whisper said, “Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world” (Hel. 5:47). The heavens opened and “angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them” (Hel. 5:48).
We don’t know exactly what this incredible experience looked and felt like, but it had a powerful impact on all who saw and heard. The Lamanite dissenters “did go forth, and did minister unto the people” and “did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers” (Hel. 5:50-51). The Lamanites became, the “more part of them, a righteous people” because of their “firmness and their steadiness in the faith” (Hel. 6:1). They preached unto the Nephites with “great power and authority” and shared their conversion experiences (Hel. 6:4-5).
DISCUSS and PONDER:
Spiritual experiences strengthen us, teach us, and can influence others as we share them appropriately with others. Much good comes when we make an intentional effort to see the hand of the Lord in our life and to share the “evidences” we have received with our families. As a family, what are some ways you can better look for the Lord each day this week?
Show the animated part of Elder Andersen’s talk about luminous stones that help brighten the road ahead.
- Find some clear glass stones, sea glass stones, or any smooth rocks. Slips of paper could also work. Place them in a bowl and encourage family members throughout the week to write a word or phrase on the stones that reminds them look for the Lord’s hand in their day. Maybe they will write PRAYER, SCRIPTURES, KINDNESS, SERVICE, GOALS, or FOLLOW THE PROPHET. Maybe they will write a specific thought or scripture that stood out to them. Maybe they will write something that reminded them of the Lord’s love or a blessing noticed. A single word is sufficient to trigger a powerful reminder.
The goal is to better see how the Lord communicates with us and how we hear him in our everyday experiences. [I’ve recently started sharing on Instagram @illuminatingstones short thoughts and lessons I’ve learned as I’ve been doing this. Follow along if you’d like.]
Building our lives on Christ by making and keeping our covenants not only strengthens us but helps all around us. Like the towering Burg Eltz and its rooms designed to align with the oval rock it rests on, we can structure our lives on the Savior’s sure foundation.
Doing so is not easy, and like Nephi and Lehi, we will face afflictions and opposition along the way. Yet, as we turn heavenward, and seek to better see the Lord’s hand in our lives and to hear Him, we will be “filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory” (Hel. 5:44). We will find “great joy and peace” (Hel. 6:14). We will “grow exceedingly in the knowledge of [our] God…[as we] keep his statutes and commandments, and…walk in truth and uprightness before him” (Hel. 6:34). The Lord will “pour out his Spirit” upon us (Hel. 6:36).