Day 68: The Arm of Mercy

3 Nephi 9:3-14

While the death and destruction of 3 Nephi 9 are pretty devastating, I was struck by the Savior’s words as he speaks from heaven to the Nephites and Lamanites. In verses 3-11, Christ names specific cities, describes their destruction and the reasons for it. The Savior was intimately aware of even the minute details of people’s lives, behavior, actions, geographic location, and more. And despite all of the wickedness, despite the ways in which the people rejected Christ and His prophets, He invites them “we ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? … Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).

Have you ever carried an emotional, spiritual, or other weight around with you for a while, long enough that you have forgotten what it’s like to live without that weight on your shoulders? I have. I also know the relief and freedom of finally having that burden lifted, realizing what I have lost while carrying it around, and rejoicing in my new freedom. This is what it’s like when the Savior heals you. Sins weigh us down, whether or not we recognize it in the moment. When we repent and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, those spiritual burdens will be removed; the difference will be stark.

No matter what you’ve done, the Savior is eager to help you repent and heal you. He has satisfied the demands of justice and, if you turn to Him for help, He can apply mercy. And He will heal you.

Day 65: No cause for unbelief

Helaman 14:12, 28, 31

I want to connect three separate ideas I came across in Helaman 14. This chapter continues the record of Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching and prophecies to the Nephites. Samuel doesn’t mince words and there are several important truths he proclaims in simple, clarifying terms that come to bear on every person on earth.

The first eternal truth identifies Jesus’ role in the universe. Samuel’s description of the coming Savior as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things” makes His sacrifice that much more compelling (Helaman 14:12). Our Creator sacrificed HIMSELF for us. He chose to come to earth, live through mortality in extremely humble circumstances, suffer excruciating pain, and endure an ignominious, painful death all for US. I stand all amazed.

A few verses later Samuel reifies this prophetic information by explaining that God will provide sensate proof of its reality and truth. No one has an excuse to not believe because “these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:28).

Finally, Samuel the Lamanite concludes his testimony of the Savior and the need to believe in Jesus Christ by reminding the people that they have the power to choose (Helaman 14:31). Even after the testimonies and the signs are given, each person must choose for him-/herself whether or not to believe and act on that belief. If they choose to believe in Christ, they choose life, eternal life through faith, good works, repentance, and consistent effort to follow Jesus Christ.

Day 54: No greater love

Alma 54:7

The war chapters of Alma continue to enlighten me! I’m coming away with a lot of new insights and applications to my own life. In Alma 54 Captain Moroni calls out Ammoron in a letter proposing a prisoner exchange. Moroni doesn’t pull any punches as he accuses Ammoron of “murderous purposes” and warns him to repent. It got my thinking that Amalikiah initiated the war and Ammoron continued it out of greed. Amalikiah wanted to be a king, he divided Nephite society, he murdered the Lamanite king, he riled up the Lamanites, and he waged war against a peaceful people, all for the sake of his ambitious greed.

Moroni seems to really despise the brothers, especially for the incredible loss of life they caused. Taken in a Gospel perspective, treating people as expendable goods is like an ultimate evil. Being careless of other people, disregarding the worth of a soul, or focusing on oneself to the detriment of others all run contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around the worth of souls and God’s desire to bring back to Him as many of His children as possible. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate example of the ultimate good when He laid down His life for us, so that we may live. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NT).

Day 47: Live in Thanksgiving Daily

Alma 34

Celebrating Thanksgiving today put me in mind of gratitude and its supreme importance to this life. When a person is grateful, s/he humbly acknowledges the contributions others make and genuinely appreciates them. King Benjamin taught his people that gratitude constitutes one of the most important ways we can try to repay God for everything He does for us. As I read through verse 38 in Alma 34, I realized that Amulek shaped much of this sermon to the Zoramites around being thankful––why we should be grateful to God and ways we can appropriately show our gratitude.

First, why should we be grateful to God? King Benjamin instilled in his people a sense of their indebtedness to God. At the heart of our debt to God is the willing sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son to “atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:8). Jesus’ earthly ministry and “great and last sacrifice” give our lives meaning and preserve the purpose for which we were created: we cannot reach our divine potential and inherit God’s kingdom without access to repentance and forgiveness (v. 16). The Great Plan of Redemption comes as a gift from Christ, for “he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name” (v. 15). Jesus encircles us “in the arms of safety” through His Atonement, saving us from the harsh demands of justice by satisfying them Himself (v. 16). God pours out “mercies and blessings” upon us (v. 38).

We are truly indebted to our Heavenly Father and Jesus for everything they do for us! Our existence is only made possible through them. Rightly did Amulek counsel the Zoramites to “live in thanksgiving daily.” He provides specific instructions for how we can appropriately show our gratitude. We need to believe in Jesus Christ for starters and “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (v. 15, 17). We need to call on God in prayer everywhere, all the time, every day for mercy, for protection, for strength (v. 17-26). We need to pray for others and deliberately and compassionately serve the poor and needy (v. 27-28). We need to soften our hearts and “prepare to meet God” (v. 31-32). We need to repent, cleanse our souls, and fear God (v. 35-37). We need to be patient and develop “a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (v. 41).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a 2000 Brigham Young University devotional, “Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent. It forges bonds of love and fosters loyalty and admiration” (Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU Speeches [Oct 2000]). As we follow Amulek’s counsel to continually demonstrate our gratitude to God, the quality of our lives will improve, our spirits will be strengthened, and our love for God and His children will grow immeasurably.

 

Day 43: Journeying Back to Our Heavenly Home

Alma 26:35-37

Several years ago I accompanied a set of sister missionaries to a first teaching appointment. The man we were teaching had been referred by a friend of mine. He and his wife had moved from China, earned college degrees in the US, and recently purchased a home. As we made introductions, the man mentioned that he and his wife were still settling into life in America and often felt out of place. I remembered Ammon’s words from Alma 26:36  and felt a kinship with this man––are we not all “wanderers in a strange land?”

Earth is not our first home and it will not be our last. We were spiritual beings first, children of heavenly parents who sent us out from their heavenly home so that we could have the opportunity to become like them. They sent us to earth to provide us with a mortal experience necessary to prepare us for returning to our heavenly home. Earth is not the final destination on our journey: It is a stopping point where we learn how to use our agency, choose to follow Jesus Christ, make mistakes, repent, participate in the saving ordinances, serve others, and develop godly attributes. Only through the Atonement of Christ can we qualify to return to our first and real home.

The kinship I felt that day as a fellow wanderer in this “strange land” we call earth reinforced to me Ammon’s words “that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). God loves each of His children regardless of the distinctions so peculiar to mortality. Culture, creed, race, education, language, political affiliation, geographic location, nationality are mortal constructs, purely temporary and secondary to our shared eternal identity as children of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to all people, for we are each numbered and known to God; He wants each of us to qualify for and receive the greatest gift He can bestow––a place in His house to dwell forever.

Day 42: On the Merits of Christ

Alma 22:14

Having trained in the Humanities, I value the creative genius that brings music, visual art, and performance art to the world. I find so much of worth in these creations, because, so often, they point me to God. I have felt my mind quicken and my spirit resonate with art, music, and literature as I discover something good, true, and beautiful. These qualities speak to the source of creative genius, even the Creator of all.

But when the arts become exercises in ego or explorations of evil practices for the sake of curiosity or titillation, they lose any elevating connection to God and we are reminded that “since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself” (Alma 22:14). So much of what we do on earth only has lasting meaning if it points to God and includes Him in the process. Think how very different an average day might be if you began that day with a prayer asking God to help you work on improving a bad behavior, to give you an opportunity to help someone in need, and to watch over a particular family member. How would dedicating your day to these specific purposes change your thoughts, your actions, how you looked at other people throughout the day, and more? What we do on earth takes on its greatest meaning and significance when we make God part of the details.

Jesus Christ adds value and purpose to our lives through His Atonement. Despite human ability to create marvelous works of art, innovation, and mechanical brilliance we cannot merit anything of ourselves in an eternal sense. Only “the sufferings and death of Christ atone for [our] sins, though faith and repentance” (Alma 22:14). We cannot save ourselves but Christ can. He suffered, bled, and died for us all so that we could have the opportunity to repent and gain eternal life. “[H]e breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory”––He provided the gift of Resurrection to all “that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory…” (Ibid.)

Day 31: A Testimony of Christ

Mosiah 26

The Book of Mormon is replete with the words of Christ and testimonies of Him from His prophets, angels, missionaries, and disciples. I find the dialogue of Mosiah 26 especially beautiful. The premortal Christ responds personally to Alma the elder’s concerned pleading for help on how best to administer the Church in Zarahemla and deal with apostasy and persecution. I don’t feel the need to embellish this section with too many of my own words so allow me to highlight and make brief comments on the passages that really stand out to me:

  • God makes the all-important statement of existence: “I am the Lord their God” (v. 26)
  • God clarifies His role as the Creator: “it is I that hath created them” (v. 23)
  • He states one of His essential roles: “I am their Redeemer” (v. 26)
  • God testifies of Himself and His supernal role: “it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world” (v. 23)
  • God confirms His power and the qualifications for salvation and exaltation: “it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand” (v. 23)
  • God acknowledges the official organization over which Alma presides: “this is my church” (v. 22)
  • He declares His mercy: “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (v. 30)

Jesus Christ created our earth and mankind under the direction of His Father. He took upon Himself the conditions of mortality in order to understand what we, His children, experience so that He can best help us. He suffered, bled, and died to make repentance viable, forgiveness possible, and gift Resurrection to everyone who has lived, lives, or will live on the Earth.

Day 19: Healing the Wounded Soul

Jacob 1-2

And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul. (Jacob 2:8)

How does the word of God heal the wounded soul? On the surface I think the logical explanation is that the word of God is another name for the Gospel of Jesus Christ––faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end. Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ literally heals the soul because participating in those steps results in a soul’s redemption and exaltation.

As John writes in his Gospel, Jesus Christ is the literal word of God (see John 1:1, NT). Our souls gain many wounds over a lifetime, whether it is broken hearts, pain for the sins of loved ones, scars from our own sins and transgressions, regret, unkindness, just to name a few. But Jesus Christ, who suffered so much on earth, learning through His mortal experience how best to help each of us with our individual pains, sicknesses, afflictions, sorrows, can heal any wound. One of the miracles of His Atonement is that it gives Him power to understand and apply the perfect treatment.

 

Day 14: Justice and Blessings

2 Nephi 15:25

More Isaiah! I’m beginning to see why Nephi felt such an affinity for the writings of Isaiah…maybe just a little. There are so many treasures of knowledge to mine in these chapters. I want to share a thought I had about the justice of God while reading 2 Nephi 15:25.

Isaiah 5, quoted here, begins by laying out a long list of sins. While Isaiah directed his writings toward the ancient children of Israel, this list serves also to inform humankind about temptations common to mortality and to warn against the consequences of sin (choosing to disobey God and give in to these temptations).

In a way, this chapter explores two sides of the justice of the God. God works within an established set of eternal laws, such as consequences follow sin. God helps us keep our spirits safe by providing commandments which, if followed, allow us to reap the benefits of obedience rather than be harmed by the natural consequences of sin. God metes out justice by distributing promised blessings for obedience, and enforcing the consequences of disobedience and sin.

Second Nephi 15:25 explores both the “punishment” side of God’s justice and introduces an important element that enables the “blessing” side of His justice. Verse 25 follows on the heels of the long list of sins God and His prophet have observed among the people and want to warn humankind agains; it confirms the consequence side of God’s justice:

Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets.

Note the factual (if not graphic) account of consequences meted out. It is just of God to enforce the consequences of wickedness. He warns and sends prophets to warn, prophesy, invite repentance, and give people every opportunity to choose obedience and not sin. God is just, therefore He must follow through on the forewarned consequences.

The verse concludes with a confirmation that, yes, God is going to be angry (and sad and disappointed) when people deliberately disobey Him and sin. But it also introduces a note of hope:

For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

It is also justice of another sort that God, in the midst of meting out consequences, offers an opportunity for the wicked to come back; “his hand is stretched out still,” inviting us to repent, to choose to be obedient, and to qualify for blessings. This captures a recurring theme throughout Isaiah of the loving, entreating God who invites His children to repent and turn away from sin. I get the sense from the juxtaposition of ideas in the closing line that He would rather mete out the justice of the good: promised blessings granted for obedience and righteousness.

No matter what we’ve done, we can repent and turn to God. He loves each of us and invites us to change our hearts and behavior through Jesus Christ so that we can qualify not just for blessings in mortality, but for the greatest blessing He can bestow—eternal life.

Day 12: Plan of Salvation in a nutshell

2 Nephi 10:25

Ever since my mission I am always on the lookout for pithy, one-scripture references that capture the core message of any of the missionary lessons. Plan of Salvation one-shot scriptures are especially tricky considering all the components involved, but 2 Nephi 10:25 addresses the essential parts of the Plan with beautiful, invocational phrasing.

Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen.

Isn’t that fabulous?! This verse is so succinct. The reality of life is that each individual on earth has an immortal spirit and a mortal body. In order to return to live with God, He has provided the Earth for our testing ground and preparation. We each need our spirit and body united together and clean from sin in order to enter God’s presence. But every mortal body is subject to physical death and we each sin while on earth (“everlasting death”), which separates us from God spiritually. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of mankind: He provides resurrection as a free gift to all, in which our spirits are bonded with a perfected, glorified body of flesh and bone; He also provides access to forgiveness of sin (cleansing of one’s spirit) by the power of His Atonement.