Day 79: The Nature of God

Mormon 9:9

One of the great truths restored to the earth through Joseph Smith in 1820 is the nature of God: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct Beings. They work together in unity as the Godhead to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, PoG). God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son have resurrected bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit which enables Him to fulfill his office and responsibilities.

The Book of Mormon sheds further light on the character of God. Moroni teaches in Mormon 9:9, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?” This recurring theme highlights several additional truths also treated in The Book of Mormon: God had a plan for His children at the creation of the world and He has the same plan today; God offers mercy to all who repent regardless of when they lived on earth; God required baptism before Christ came to earth and He still requires it for entrance to heaven; God fulfills all His words and promises today, just as He has done since the foundation of the world.

But as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I also believe in eternal progression. As eternal beings we have the opportunity to progress and develop to become like God. The implicit notion is that God also continues to progress and develop because, “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be” (President Lorenzo Snow, see article for source).

I remember teaching a very bright young man on my mission and I shared these two seemingly contrary beliefs in the course of a lesson. The young man thought he had caught me in a doctrinal dilemma: How can God be both unchanging AND capable of progression? What I learn from The Book of Mormon and continuing revelation is that God IS God because of core, eternal characteristics. He is goodness personified, honest, just, merciful, and more. God’s core characteristics don’t change but He can and does become more good, more merciful, more loving, more kind, more godlike and more perfect.

One of the things I find so beautiful about the Restored Gospel is that we have the opportunity to grow and progress in like manner to develop those crowning eternal characteristics.

Day 78: Scripture For Our Day

Mormon 8:34-41

The Book of Mormon, as compiled and abridged by the prophet Mormon, was intended for our day. God planned well in advance for its discovery, miraculous translation, and transmission around the world. Fully aware of God’s intentions having read the prophecies regarding the record’s future, Moroni wrote, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35).

I never fail to get goosebumps when I read this verse from Moroni! If you ever wonder whether The Book of Mormon is truly an ancient history that records the details of real people’s interactions with God, this verse should lay to rest any doubts. And once you realize The Book of Mormon is speaking to you, the scriptures open up new meaning. As I read, I consider that everything included in the record was carefully chosen and can have direct correlation to our day and circumstances. I sometimes ask myself when I read, “what am I supposed to learn from this? What is the intended message? Why was this included and what should I take from it?”

These past 78 days of reading The Book of Mormon have only solidified my conviction that it is an ancient record, written by real people thousands of years ago. They knew God, they made covenants with Him; they learned about Jesus Christ and looked forward to His coming; they practiced baptism by immersion and taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ; they testify of Jesus Christ’s reality, His role as Savior and Redeemer, and the crucial importance of repentance and preparation to meet God.

What message does The Book of Mormon have for you?

Day 77: Lonely, but Never Alone

Mormon 8:2-3, 23-24

Moroni, the final Book of Mormon prophet-historian, was to his knowledge the last Nephite living around 400 AD. An enormous army of Nephites had been decimated at a final, massive battle; of 24 known survivors (Mormon 6:11, 15) only Moroni escaped the Lamanites’ dogged determination to wipe out every last Nephite (Mormon 8:2-3). “[A]nd I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people” (Mormon 8:3). Moroni was truly alone. His father had been killed, his people were destroyed; he was left to wander the land in constant fear of his life: “And whether they will slay me, I know not” (ibid.).

Have you ever felt alone? In our day, it’s entirely possible to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated, lonely, unheard, unnoticed, uncared for. I have experienced this. After graduating from college and moving in with my grandma, I struggled to make friends in my single adult congregation. I still remember the pain and embarrassment of trying to make friends and singling out a man one Sunday who I didn’t know was engaged. When his fiancée showed up the next Sunday, I realized what I had done. I felt foolish, embarrassed, frustrated. But nothing could compare with the utter loneliness that descended on me. As a missionary, geographically and technologically cut off from my family and assigned to live with perfect strangers, I felt afraid and isolated for many months. Literally no one knew me. The people who should have been my friends didn’t seem to care about me.

Somehow Moroni pressed on. And somehow, I did, too. Moroni testified:

…and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them. And he knoweth their prayers…. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word. (Mormon 8:23-24)

Like Moroni, I discovered Christ in my extremities. As I walked my lonely paths, I found the Savior walking beside me. He heard my prayers; He organized small details of my life to speak comfort to me and bring great blessings; He provided me with opportunities to grow, to develop self-confidence, to hone talents, to learn how to minister to others, to get outside my comfort zone, to succeed against self-imposed limitations and stiff odds; He kept me safe when I was afraid; He provided for me in my hours of need.

It is tempting in the depths of despair and loneliness to conceitedly think that no one understands. But Jesus Christ truly does understand. He walked the loneliest path of all, through Gethsemane and on to Calvary where even His closest friends abandoned Him. He bore the weight of our sins, suffering, illness, and pain completely alone. On the cross, Jesus even lost the support of His Father’s presence, needing to fully comprehend spiritual death so as to fulfill His role as Savior. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so…. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are” (“None Were with Him,” General Conference [April 2009]).

Jesus Christ understands. He can help you carry your burden, whatever it is. He has felt your pain, loneliness, despair, disappointment. He stands ready to wrap you in the arms of His love and mercy. No matter who you are, what you have done, where you live, Jesus Christ knows and understands you. He loves you perfectly. He can heal you, just as He did Moroni anciently, and just as He has healed me.

Day 76: This life is the time

3 Nephi 27:19-26, 33

One of the last messages Jesus shares with his disciples pertains to our post-mortal existence. Life continues after life on earth but its quality will be determined by the choices we make on earth. Every person who has ever lived on earth will stand before God and asked to make an accounting of his/her life on earth. Jesus taught and exemplified the choices that cleanse us and qualify us to “stand spotless before” Him at the judgment and receive the blessings of eternal life.

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:19-20)

Jesus reminded his disciples that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32) and that the necessary steps to eternal life constitute a “strait gate” and “narrow way” (3 Nephi 27:33).

I love how direct The Book of Mormon is and the many truths it recovers in simple, straightforward terms. Media and pop culture can make fun of Judgment Day all they want. I believe that it will really happen and I want to be sure I am following Christ’s path so as to be ready to make a joyful accounting of my life.

Day 75: Peace on earth

3 Nephi 26:17-21

When I read the Christmas story from Luke 2, I prefer to use the translation of verse 14 that makes a slight change in verbiage from “peace on earth, good will toward men” to “on earth peace to men of good will” (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition). The more I study the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I am convinced that lasting peace on earth can only be achieved when every person lives the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is exemplified in The Book of Mormon.

Consider what happened in the Americas following Christ’s ministry among the Nephites and Lamanites. The apostles Jesus ordained traveled around, teaching the people, baptizing them and giving the Gift of the Holy Ghost (v. 17). The Church of Christ was organized (v. 21). The apostles and baptized members of the Church “did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them” (v. 20). The people taught and ministered to each other (v. 19). As a result of the spread of the Gospel, the rise of the Church, the people keeping the commandments and ministering to each other, “they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another” (v. 19).

This sounds like peace to me! People living in harmony, sharing generously with each other, loving each other, being just to each other. Jesus teaches people to love, to give freely, to be kind, to think the best of others, to work on personal imperfections and be generous with the imperfections of others, to care for the needs of others, to be just and merciful, to tell the truth, to have good will. If everyone lived this way all the time, we would have peace on earth.

So, rather than wish for peace on earth this Christmas, I’m going to try a little harder to live after the manner of peace and teach my children to do the same.

Day 74: The Sacrament

3 Nephi 18; 20; 26:13

The Sacrament is a sacred ordinance performed weekly in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations. The Sacrament is a symbolic “lord’s supper” in which anointed priests (usually young men between the ages of 12-18) bless and pass the bread and water. Baptized members of the Church take the Sacrament each week to renew previously made covenants with God as well as to formalize personal repentance.

I wrote previously about saving ordinances and their necessity for receiving eternal life. The Sacrament is an ordinance that points us to Jesus christ and helps us remember Him. It also helps individuals become washed clean from sin (much like what happens at baptism) and find spiritual renewal. In many ways, the Sacrament facilitates the keeping of covenants, provides a marker for spiritual growth, and keeps us oriented toward Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ established the Sacrament among His apostles at Jerusalem and it is one of the first ordinances He introduced in the Americas. He repeated the ordinance of the Sacrament many times during His ministry among the Nephites and Lamanites, including miraculously providing the bread and wine in 3 Nephi 20:3-9 (see also 3 Nephi 26:13). Third Nephi 18 records the first sacrament in the Americas. Jesus prepared and blessed that first sacrament while instructing His Nephite and Lamanite apostles on the proper method and ceremony:

Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.

And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.

And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:5-7)

A few things to point out:

  1. “One ordained among you”: The Sacrament can only be prepared, blessed, and passed by Priesthood holders.
  2. The Sacrament should be a regular part of worship in Christ’s church.
  3. The Sacrament is for people who believe in Jesus Christ and have been baptized by the authority and power of God in Christ’s church.
  4. We follow Christ’s example when we participate in the ordinance of the Sacrament.
  5. The Sacrament is a symbolic ritual in which the bread reminds us of Christ’s body, His physical sacrifice and mortal death.
  6. We signify to God that we remember Christ when we eat the bread.
  7. Christ promises us that we will have His Spirit with us if we remember Him.

The second half of the Sacrament is the blessing and passing of the water (they used wine in Jerusalem, the Americas, and the early days of the Restored Church).

…[H]e commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it….

And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.

And…ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:8, 10-11)

The slight variations between the blessing of the bread and wine (water today) are so instructive. The water, as the second half of the ordinance, rounds out and completes the ordinance. When we have drunk the water we have completed the full ordinance; we demonstrate to God that we have been obedient to this commandment and we signify that we will keep all of God’s commandments. The water represents Christ’s blood, both the blood that dripped from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane and the blood shed on Calvary during the Crucifixion when the soldier pierced Christ’s side. The promised gift of Christ’s Spirit to be with us is reiterated as we complete the ordinance.

The Sacrament points us to Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, the ultimate act of charity that makes eternal life possible. Because Jesus Christ suffered, died, and resurrected, He can redeem us from sin, bring us back into God’s presence, and gift us eternal life.

Day 73: The Dearest Souls

3 Nephi 17:5, 17

Have you ever met someone or had a friend in whose presence who feel really good? Good in the sense that you feel perfectly comfortable, your best self, and at home? There have been several people in my life for whom this was true, and I made myself annoying on more than one occasion when I tried to spend as much time as possible with them.

Jesus announces in 3 Nephi 17 that He needs to leave for a short time to fulfill other assignments but that He will come back. He looks around at the crowd of people to discover they are distraught. He “beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them” (v. 5). In this brief space of time, the people have formed a close bond with the Savior and they don’t want Him to leave. They love how they feel in His presence and they don’t want it to end, even just for a few hours.

The Savior stays a little longer healing the sick and afflicted, praying for and with the people, ministering to the children. Christ is filled with the truest, purest form of love that exists. That love infused His being as well as everything He said and did while visiting the Nephites and Lamanites.

And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father. (3 Nephi 17:17)

The response of the people to Christ’s ministrations, prophecies, and prayers makes perfect sense: people can feel the love you have for them. They can also sense dislike. If you are having trouble loving the people you serve, pray for your heart to be filled with love. Nothing communicates God’s reality more effectively than one of His children sent to serve another. Nothing communicates God’s love better than service offered with love and selflessness.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ I hope that I can communicate just such love to those I serve and to my fellow persons in everything I do and say and feel.