Thursday, October 27, 2011

Uh oh, Dad’s dreaming again... (1st Nephi 3)

Chapter 3 of 1st Nephi is home to one of the most beloved verses of scripture in all Latter-day Saintdom.  It is spoken about, taught about and sung about in thousands of LDS chapels around the world, in hundreds of languages.  Ask any member of the church anywhere in the world, “What is a good scripture about having faith to be obedient?”  9.4087 times out of 10 the answer will probably be 1st Nephi 3: 7.  Before we read it, I’d like to talk about principles.

You can find 3 basic things in the scriptures:  Facts, truths and principles.  All three are important, but of those things that we can apply to our lives, these are listed in ascending order of importance.
A fact is a detail in the storyline that adds to our understanding, but is not essential to know. 
Example:  1st Nephi 3: 1 
1.  And it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with The Lord, to the tent of my father.


A statement of truth about something of eternal significance, which, for one thing, allows the Spirit of the Lord to testify to us of the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This verse helps the story flow, gives context to what follows, and is even spiritually edifying, but isn't as necessary to know as other things.
Example:  1st Nephi 3: 20

19.  And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers;
20.  And also that we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time.
These verses teach us that the words uttered by the prophets from the beginning even down to now has been given to them by the Spirit of The Lord, and by His power.  The Holy Ghost is able to bear witness to us that this is true, that the scriptures are the Word of God, thus deepening our faith and our testimonies.

A formula from The Lord, which, if applied, will result in a promised blessing.
And the scripture we've all been waiting for:  1st Nephi 3: 6-7

6.  Therefore, go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.
7.  And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father:  I will go and do the things which The Lord hath commanded, for I know that The Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
A principle is a very important part of scripture.  They are recipes for blessings and true happiness.  The Prophet Joseph Smith said about the BOM, "...a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book." The Lord’s message to us in these verses, or one of His messages at least, is that if we are willing to obey His commandments without bellyaching about it, He will favor us, and provide the means to obey, even if we don’t know what we’re doing.

Well, what does it mean to be ‘favored’?

Verse 1 of 1st Nephi says, “…having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of The Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God…”  What a great promise for being willing to obey.  It doesn’t matter how many afflictions you may have in the course of your life, when all is done, you will feel and know that you were blessed.

(not actual photo)
Anywayz, back along the borders of the Red Sea, Lehi had a dream in which he is told that he needs to send his boys back to Jerusalem to get some plates made of brass that are currently in the possession of a fellow named Laban.  Laban is probably Lehi’s cousin, or at least a relative.  Laman thinks it sounds like a real drag, man, and Lemuel always thinks what his mentor Laman thinks, but Nephi and Sam believe that this task was given to them, not by their dad, but by The Lord.  And, whatever The Lord asks Nephi to do, he will, come heck or high water, do. 

That's me dreaming, not Lehi.  Now this is camping.
Turns out Laban doesn’t want to give the brass plates up.  Laman and Lemuel immediately throw in the towel and start back toward the campsite at the Red Sea, but Nephi suggests that they go to their old house and gather up their gold and silver and stuff, and make a trade for the plates.  This idea didn’t pan out either.  When Laban saw their property he saw nothing wrong with taking it and keeping the brass plates too, so he sent his servants after the Lehi brothers to kill them and steal their property. 

1st Nephi 3: 26

25.  And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.
26.  And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban.
Ain’t that Laban a stinker?  Well, don’t worry; he gets his in the next chapter.  I would like to point out a lesson we could all learn from these guys.  Sometimes you need to let go of your hold on the world in order to save yourself.  How’s that for a gleaned profundity, you like it?  I knew you would.

Well, of course, ol’ Laman and Lemuel are more than ready to, again, book it for home at this point.  Nephi lectures them again, & tells them they ain’t goin’ back without the plates.  So, of course, they try to wack him (and I do mean wack).  They get a stick and beat him with intent to kill.  

There are some terrible acts of violence committed in this world of ours.  People do actually hurt others, even their own brother.  The Lord gave us, in the beginning, the choice of whether or not to follow him, and whether or not to sin.  He said to Adam, “…nevertheless thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee, but remember that I forbid it…” (Genesis 2: 16-17, or Moses 3: 16-17).  In some cases, however, there are events that are of such high importance, He must intervene.  The Lord had a work for Nephi to do, therefore he must live.  And, the descendants of Lehi and others that will join the story later must have those brass plates.  It was vital that these records were kept and preserved and used for the benefit of the peoples of the BOM, and, in turn, us.  The Lord sent his messenger to stop Laman and Lemuel from beating Nephi and Sam to death, and to help them know that The Lord will help them get the plates from Laban. 

1 Nephi 3: 28-31

28.  And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman.  Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.
29.  And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of The Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying:  Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod?  Know ye not that The Lord has chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquitities?  Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and The Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.
30.  And after the angel had spoken unto us, he departed.
And the Pièce de résistance

31.  And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying:  How is it possible that The Lord will deliver Laban into our hands?  Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?

And that’s chapter 3 of 1st Nephi.  I must apologize for being so long winded.  I love the BOM.  I do.  Several years ago this fellow in my ward in Ohio was speaking in church when he referenced me while talking about the BOM.  It was such high praise.  He said, “That’s one of the reasons I love it when John Barney teaches about the Book of Mormon, because he’s been there.”  I hesitate to write that, because it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, but that made me feel so good when he said that.  The Book of Mormon has given me a closeness to and an understanding of The Savior Jesus Christ that I would never have known without it.  When I say I love the BOM, I’m really saying I love my Savior, because that is what the BOM has done for me, and that is why I love it.  I just hope that when I am told to do something by The Lord (or His servants), and given the assurance that I can do it even when I’m not sure how, that I can be a Nephi and not a Laman.  I can think of way too many examples of when I was a Laman. 


Don’t be a Laman.  Be a Nephi.  Go and do the things which The Lord has commanded you, for He gives no commandment unto you that he does not provide a way for you to do it.

Peace be with you…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When dad says go, we go (1st Nephi 2)

When we left our story, Lehi was trying to carry The Lord’s message (“Repent and believe in The Messiah or be destroyed”) to the Jews at Jerusalem.  His message was one of peace as opposed to harsh consequences.  Those people decided they wanted to kill Lehi instead of listen to a Prophet of God, and the consequence was death or captivity for most of them when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (these folks were from the Northeastern Saudi Arabia/Southwestern Iraq area) conquered the Kingdom of Judah 14 years later in 586 BC.  The captivity lasted for near 70 years. (See 2 Chronicles 36: 11-20)

Geo quiz:  Can you find the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Nile River, etc .  The black arrow shows Lehi's fleedom.
Obedience to The Lord, even if it seems hard or we don’t understand all the reasons, is ALWAYS a better way to go.  The Lord had a plan for Lehi, a plan that would eventually touch the lives of millions.  Lehi did not know why he had to leave the lap of luxury and “dwell in a tent” (1 Nephi 2: 15) the rest of his days, but to those who love God, the whys don’t matter, just the commandment.  I wish I was a man like unto Lehi.

1 Nephi 2: 1-4. 

1.   For behold, it came to pass that The Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him:  Blessed art thou, Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life.
2.   And it came to pass that The Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.
3.   And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of The Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.
4.   And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness.  And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.
That road would have come in handy, huh?
It couldn’t have been easy for Lehi’s wife and children to leave their home and all their toys and go with their dad, based solely on a dream that he had.  Out of his 4 boys, 2 were leaders and 2 were followers.  The oldest, Laman, was a doubting no-account, and, in my opinion, may have been bi-polar or schizophrenic, while the third oldest, Nephi, was a faithful seeker of truth.  The second oldest, Lemuel, took after the doubter, and the youngest brother, Sam, thought Nephi was the better choice.  Must have been awful for Lehi and Sariah to have their kids fighting all the time, but there even turned out to be a purpose in that.

Lehi loved all of his kids, and never stopped trying to teach his disobedient sons to follow The Lord.  They made their camp in a valley next to a river, near the Red Sea.  Lehi called the valley “Lemuel” and the river “Laman”. 

1 Nephi 2: 9-10

9.  And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying:  O that thou mightiest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!
10.  And he also spake unto Lemuel:  O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of The Lord!

Provo Utah LDS Temple
I had one of those “Aha!” moments one time as I read these verses.  The Laman River runs into the fountain of the Red Sea.  What is a fountain as it is used here?  The footnote teaches that this “fountain” or “fount” means source.  So, the Laman River runs into the source of the Red Sea.  In the same context, what is meant by the “fountain of all righteousness”?  It is the “source of all righteousness”, right?  This made me think of the holy temples The Church builds today.  Most of the temples that I’ve been to have a fountain somewhere on the grounds.  Let’s glean a principle from this:

If we continually come unto the source of all righteousness, which is The Savior Jesus Christ, we will gain a firmness and steadfastness to our faith and our character, becoming immovable in keeping the commandments of The Lord.  I don’t know about you, but I’m way too movable (except when I’m on the couch).  Lesson:  Come unto Christ.  Method:  Attend the temple for one.  And when The Lord’s prophets tell you something, LISTEN! to them.

And, there’s also something to that term “Source of all Righteousness”...

Em & me at the Christus, Temple Square in SLC
You can be obedient all day long, every day, until the cows come home, but Jesus Christ is the source of our righteousness.  Later in 2nd Nephi we’ll get to a verse where Lehi tells one of his children that, though his days will be spent in the service of his God, he will be redeemed because of the righteousness of his redeemer (2 Nephi 2: 3).  Obedience is essential in developing and maintaining a relationship with The Savior.  And from that relationship with Jesus Christ, we can grow in faith and righteousness to be a closer version of that person that only He can help us to become, culminating in our redemption and exaltation in and through His righteousness, His grace.  The old debate about grace vs. works is such a goofy argument. 

That’s me being goofy with my nieces 12 years ago
I was going to try to move up through chapter 4 of 1st Nephi where there is much excitement and bloodshed, but I don’t want to skip too much, and I’m afraid these blogs will be too long to read.  I’d like to mention some scriptures from the first 2 chapters of the BOM that stand out to me.

1st Nephi 2: 7

7.  And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones and made an offering unto The Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.
You gotta love Lehi’s attitude.  People seek to kill him, then he gets evicted from his comfyness into the desert, and he is just thankful to The Lord for His tender mercies

1st Nephi 2: 12-14

12.  And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father.  And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that god who had created them.
13.  Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets.  And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.
14. And it came to pass that my father did speak unto them in the valley of Lemuel, with power, being filled with the Spirit, until their frames did shake before him.  And he did confound them, that they durst not utter against him; wherefore, they did as he commanded them.
Yup, there’s yer doubting no-accounts for ya.

1st Nephi 2: 16-17

16.  And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
17.  And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which The Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit.  And it came to pass that he believed in my words.
And there’s yer faithful seekers of truth.  Nephi and Sam were obedient first, and then The Lord showed them his mysteries.  I wish I was a man like unto Nephi.  Take note of Nephi saying he was “large in stature”; I’ll talk about that later.

1st Nephi 2: 23-24

23.  For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also.
24.  And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.
Remember that part about there being a purpose to the sibling rivalry between Laman & Lemuel and Nephi & Sam?  Yup, you got it.

Tune in next time when an angel of God steps in to stop a bully.
Peace be with you…

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In the beginning… (1st Nephi 1)

One of my favorite things to do is to, after finally coming to the last chapter of the BOM, Moroni 10, read it, and then to begin again with the first chapter of the BOM, 1st Nephi 1, on the same day.  It’s a symbolic statement that I’m never finished with this book. 

First, some back ground…

About 700 or so years before the coming of Christ, Isaiah was alive and well, and recording the revelations he was receiving from The Lord.  Isaiah is one of the hardest books of the Bible for me to understand as a whole, but it also contains some of the most profound and clear prophecies of Jesus Christ and His mission ever recorded.  Isaiah 53 is a heart wrenching account of the atoning sacrifice of The Savior.  Other verses speak of His birth (“For unto us a child is born”).  In Isaiah 9: 6 a detail is added to the New Testament’s account of Christ’s suffering that chills me.  It says they plucked out his beard.  I don’t know why that gets to me so much, considering everything else He went through; it just does.

A century later prophets of God were still warning Israel to repent and call upon God.  Jeremiah was among these.  He lived during the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judah, and was persecuted and even jailed for his efforts in The Lord’s service.  Another prophet, not mentioned in The Bible, was Lehi.  Lehi resided in Jerusalem with his wife Sariah, his sons Laman, Lemuel, Nephi and Sam, and also several daughters (we don’t know their names).  Lehi saw in vision the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and Israel being brought into captivity.  His efforts in warning the people fell on as many deaf ears as Jeremiah’s did.  The Lord warned Lehi to gather his family and flee Jerusalem because the people were going to kill him. 

Thus begins the Book of Mormon.  Lehi and his family fled Jerusalem into the wilderness, leaving behind land and gold to follow the will of The Lord.  The first part of the BOM was written by Lehi’s son Nephi.  I've heard many people, including myself, testify of the truthfulness of the BOM, but one of my favorites is from Nephi himself:  "And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge." (- 1st Nephi 1: 3)

So, hows about we go to 1st Nephi and study a little…

1 Ne 1: 1-2. 
1. “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea having had a great knowledge of the goodness of and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.”  2. “Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.”
Nephi’s reference to ‘goodly parents’ probably refers to Lehi and Sariah’s wealth as opposed to their parenting skills, although I’m sure they were good parents too.  And, being wealthy, Lehi could afford to educate his children; therefore, Nephi was taught in the learning of his father.  Lehi had spent time in Egypt, and was fluent in the Egyptian language.  The language the BOM was originally written in was Egyptian, or “reformed Egyptian” as they called it, allowing for the fact that their Hebrew culture most assuredly impacted their use of the language over time.  Nephi and the other prophets of the BOM inscribed their writings on metal plates in order that they would be preserved for many generations, even until our day.  Space on the plates was limited.  Since Egyptian hieroglyphics used far less room than Hebrew would, they chose to go that route.  

The first prophecy of Jesus Christ in the BOM comes in verse 19 of the first chapter.  Lehi tries in vain to teach of the coming of a Messiah and His redeeming power, just like prophets had been doing for generations.  And much like many of their experiences, Lehi telling these people that they were sinful and need to repent ticked them off something fierce. 

That’s it for today…
Tune in next time when we join our heroes as they flee, go back, flee again, go back, and flee again.

Peace be with you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sixtieth Impression

I received my 1st copy of the Book of Mormon (BOM) just after my baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was 8 years old (1974, yikes!).  I read 6 verses before I put it down for another 7 years.  The 6th verse of chapter 1 of 1st Nephi talked about a Prophet named Lehi, and how a pillar of fire came down and dwelt on a rock in front of him.  To an 8-year old who had already seen the movie The Ten Commandments this provided a visual that stayed with me, and made me excited 7 years later to find out what happened. 

I read the BOM all the way through for the 1st time at age 15 as part of an assignment for a religion class that ran concurrent with High School called Seminary, taught by Brother Swenson.  What was my 1st impression?  I have no idea.  In that Seminary class, one of the goals that we were encouraged to achieve was called ACAD (A Chapter A Day), a goal that developed into one of my best habits. 

Some time in my late teens I started to read my chapter a day in the morning before school or work or whatever, and another chapter a day at night before going to bed.  If you read 2 chapters of the BOM every day, you will finish it twice in 9 months.  Allowing for skipped days, if there aren’t too many of them, a good soldier can get 3 aimed rounds off in 1 minute, er… you can read the BOM 3 times during a year.  I served a proselytizing mission for The Church from age 20 to 22, during which I read the BOM 8 times.  From that time until about 2 years or so ago I read the BOM 2 or 3 times a year.  I’m almost 45 now, so let’s see.  I’ve read the BOM about 60 times (give or take a few).  Now, before you accuse me of bragging, let me get something straight right now.  You better believe I’m bragging.  I’m very proud of that accomplishment. 

You needn’t suppose that I’ve neglected other important books of scripture completely.  I have read the New Testament a number of times, as well as the Doctrine & Covenats and The Pearl of Great Price.  I have tried to read the Old Testament all the way through, but haven’t done it yet.  I have read from it and taught from it quite a bit, though.  So much for bragging, huh?

To start off my BOM Blog, I’ll share some of my feelings about this wonderful book.  I love my Heavenly Father.  I love His Son Jesus Christ.  I enjoy a close relationship with them, God as my Father and Jesus as my Savior.  When I pray to Heavenly Father in the Name of Jesus Christ, I feel a tenderness there.  I really feel like I’m speaking with someone I know and love, and who knows and loves me too.  Heavenly Father knows the John Barney who is deep inside of me, like nobody else could know him.  He knows how I feel now, how I felt last year, how I'll feel next year, and how I felt when I was 6 years old.  Most of the time when I pray, I pray on my knees with my head bowed, eyes closed in humble reverence to His status as All Mighty God.  Other times, I speak casually to Him while walking or driving, as if he was a great and loving friend walking with me.  Jesus Christ is The Son of God.  I love Him dearly.  I worship Him and honor Him with all the might I have in me.  In 1st John 4: 19 it says, “We love Him because he first loved us.”  My first impression when I read this verse was that we love Christ and appreciate His sacrifice for us.  Deeper thought showed me that, though my first impression is true, some of what John was saying was that the power of Christ’s atonement, and its ability to heal us from all sin and infirmity, purifies our heart, and gives us the ability to love really Him.  You know, like a positive feedback system.  The more we love Christ and lean on His atonement, the more we come to understand the atonement and Christ’s true love for us, which enables us to love Him even more.  And the cycle continues.  What does all this have to do with the Book of Mormon?  Reading from the BOM, and the attending Spirit that always comes when I do, I have come to know and understand Jesus Christ in a way that would never have come any other way.  I love the Bible.  I love it when Paul says:   

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth , and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
I can’t say how these verses would have struck me if I were someone else who had never heard of the BOM, but I can say that, because of the foundation of Jesus Christ on which I am built, the solidness of which comes from my experiences with the Book of Mormon, this passage of scripture from Paul strikes my heart and makes it sing its truth.  I love how Paul tries to express how much The Savior loves us, but then really can’t because it is just beyond words.  I know the feeling.
So, that’s it for today.  Peace be with you.