The other day my kids and I were discussing the angelic visitations recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 1. We named everyone who received such a visit (Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) and I asked the kids if they could remember the first thing the angel said to each person or group. My oldest daughter excitedly answered, “Don’t be afraid!” Why would an angel sent from God say “fear not” before anything else?
We could tie a specific expression of fear to each of the New Testament figures who received an angelic visitor. Zacharias may have been afraid of what people would think of a geriatric father. Mary could have feared for her socio-economic future and her life. Joseph was already afraid of society, shame, and (probably) what would happen to Mary if he divorced her. The shepherds may have been completely disoriented by the angel’s sudden brilliant appearance in the dead of night and probably feared for their lives and their sheep. Each group may have also been afraid at the outset of what God might require of them and feared being equal to the task.
Fear seems to be a universal emotion. In my mind it is distinctly tied to mortality. Fear doesn’t exist in the presence of God, in heaven––God is always encouraging us to cast out fear because it is contrary to His nature and what He wants us to experience (see 2 Timothy 1:7, NT).
I readily relate to the fear each group must have experienced. Fear is one of my default emotions: Fear of what people think of me, fear for my children when they’re out of my sight, fear for what my kids will pick up at school, fear of being shot down when I share the Gospel, the list goes on. The angel’s words of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 probably had a calming effect and created a sense of confidence and peace in the listeners. The words of 1 John 4:18 came to my mind as I pondered this theme and they had a similar effect on me: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear….” How does “perfect love” cast out fear, I wondered? What does “perfect love” look like?
If I love my kids perfectly, then I prioritize Gospel learning with them and I have faith in the lessons we learn at home; I have hope in their salvation through Jesus Christ (should anything happen to them while out of my immediate care); I am able to see the bigger picture and don’t get caught up in minutiae. What if I loved God perfectly? If I love God perfectly, then I keep His commandments, I love and serve others willingly; I put God before anything else in my life, I prioritize scripture study and prayer; I turn the other cheek and don’t hold grudges; I trust fully in His power, His plan, and His love.
And then there will be no room for fear.
Ether 12:4-9 and Moroni 7:38-48
I have been waiting since October to write about faith, hope, and charity. They are one of my all-time favorite Gospel topics to ponder and talk about. I don’t think it’s an accident that of all the Jaredite writings he abridged, Moroni chose to summarize Ether’s teachings on faith, hope, and charity; and then use some of his precious time and energy to copy in a letter from his father on the same topic. We should pay close attention to these verses!
Moroni boils down the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these three foundational principles: faith, hope, and charity. They describe a process we must all go through, developing, first, faith in Jesus Christ. We start by believing that He is real, that He is God, that He came to earth, suffered, bled, and died on our behalf. We exercise faith in His ability to forgive sin by repenting. We exercise faith in Him when we keep His commandments. Moroni says that hope follows faith. Hope is a specific belief, hope “for a better world,” the belief that we will receive Christ’s promised gift of eternal life (Ether 12:4; Moroni 7:41). Building on the stepping stones of faith, then hope, we develop charity, “the pure love of Christ,” the love that compelled Him to sacrifice Himself for us (Moroni 7:47). Christ loved us enough to lay down His life. We need to love others enough to share the Gospel, serve, and help them on their path to eternal life.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)
Ether 14:2 and Moroni 1:4
These last chapters of The Book of Mormon are so sad. Entire civilizations are destroyed in the short space of a few years. The root cause of their destruction is loss of faith in Christ and failure to keep the commandments of God. One of the key failures: love thy neighbor. I am taking this lesson to heart as I have seen in my own life the destructive potential of turning my neighbor into my enemy.
This lesson really hit home as I remembered times in my life when I felt angry at people. Angry at my peers in school, angry at the young man in college who I knew I was perfect for but he didn’t return my feelings, and more. That anger inspired terrible thoughts and bitter feelings; nothing good came of it. The Jaredites as well as the Nephites and Lamanites took this to the extreme. “[T]hey have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually” (Moroni 9:5). These groups did terrible things to each other in the run-up to their destruction.
In contrast to the anger and wickedness that turns people into enemies, God inspires us to love each other, to be friends, to help each other, to lift each other’s burdens, to work together towards salvation. Moroni is a shining example of this kind of charity. In Moroni 1 he introduces his final writings by saying that the Lamanites are actively hunting down Nephites and believers. They put to death anyone who will not deny Christ so Moroni wanders “withersoever I can for the safety of mine own life” (Moroni 1:3). Despite this extreme hardship, Moroni decides to write “a few more things, that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day” (Moroni 1:4, emphasis added). The Lamanites literally want to kill Moroni and he is still concerned for the welfare of their souls and souls of their descendants.
This is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ points us toward: friendship, love, desire for the salvation of others. God wants us to love others––even our deadliest enemy––enough to labor for their salvation. Satan would turn us all to enemies. God wants us to share, be friends, serve one another, and experience joy together.
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.
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.
3 Nephi 15:16-24 and 1 Nephi 13:40-41
When Jesus appeared to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas, He established His identity, His importance to their lives, and His law, the law of Christ. One of the most critical truths for us to understand is that there is “one fold and one shepherd” (3 Nephi 15:21). Jesus personally declared His divinity, His role as Savior and Redeemer, and the primacy of His law. His words in 3 Nephi echo earlier prophetic writings in 1 Nephi that “there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” (1 Nephi 13:41). This is Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon serves as a second witness of Jesus Christ. It stands alongside the Bible as a testimony of His divinity, it clarifies important points of doctrine such as the need for baptism by immersion by the proper authority, and teaches additional doctrines such as the Plan of Salvation in beautiful simplicity.
The role of Jesus Christ in our lives can be summed up in simple statements of truth. Just as there is one shepherd and one God over all the earth, so is there one plan and one law that apply to everyone on earth: “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved” (1 Nephi 13:40). Our purpose on earth is to learn charity, selflessness, to become more like God, to repent when we fall short, to make promises to God, to keep His commandments, and to prepare for eternal life. Jesus Christ set the example and makes all this possible through His Atonement and Resurrection. By following Jesus Christ according to the pattern He set anciently and reestablished through His church today, we choose the path to eternal life.
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).
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.
Of all the sins committed by the Zoramites, the one that intrigues me the most this time reading the Book of Mormon is their belief in being chosen people. The Book of Mormon states that “the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord” (Alma 31:1). They would mount a special platform and recite a prayer that included, “We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish” (Alma 31:28). The Zoramites’ belief in being saved because they’re chosen and others perishing because they are not chosen goes against one of God’s defining characteristics and primary concerns. Up to this point in the Book of Mormon, the prophets have repeatedly stated and provided examples in action of God’s character, what constitutes righteous behavior, as well as essential and eternal doctrines. At the heart of God’s character is His love for mankind, His children. And His primary concern is their eternal welfare. The Zoramites, in perverting the ways of the Lord, lost these beautiful and essential truths.
God’s love––charity––impels so many Book of Mormon people to share their knowledge of Christ and the Plan of Salvation with others. The concern for the welfare of others’ souls leads them to fear for their eternal wellbeing and they go to incredible lengths to bring as many people to Christ as possible. But the greatest example of charity is Jesus Christ. Charity impelled Jesus Christ to accept the daunting role as Savior and provide the Atonement for all of God’s children. He willingly accepted this responsibility so that every single one of His Father’s children would have the opportunity to achieve eternal life.
In the absence of charity, apathy toward and carelessness for our fellow man creep in. As Christmas approaches, let’s examine our lives and discover ways we can change our hearts to love our fellow man more perfectly, more like Christ.
Alma 17:12-13, 16-18
I want to share some of the positive and joyful results of my mission––especially considering that this month I celebrated the tenth anniversary of entering the Missionary Training Center.
In 2007, nearing graduation from Brigham Young University, I listened to Bonnie D. Parkin speak at a regular Tuesday devotional. Her message on finding one’s personal ministry struck, thrilled, and terrified me. “Ministering involves extending charity—that pure love of Christ—to others, one person at a time. By doing so, we offer a kind, generous, peaceful, and pure heart.” I felt her message resonate with my spirit, telling me this was something I needed to do! She continued, “Opportunities to minister may come within the formal stewardship of a calling or assignment, or they may come as we spontaneously extend ourselves to someone in need” (Parkin, “Personal Ministry: Sacred and Precious,” BYU Devotional [Feb 2007]). Spontaneously extend myself to someone in need?! For years I had feared reaching out in this way despite feeling the Spirit nudge me many times to do just that. I needed some courage and confidence in my ability to follow the promptings of the Spirit.
Four sons of Mosiah, filled with the pure love of Christ, left the comfort and safety of their Nephite community along with several other missionaries and traveled into the lands of the Lamanites hoping “that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption” (Alma 17:16). They felt this incredibly strong conviction about Jesus Christ and the need for EVERYONE to know about Him and the Plan of Salvation. So much so that they risked their lives to go on this mission. The group, ministered to by Ammon (Alma 17:18), “took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites…trusting in the Lord (Alma 17:12-13, emphasis added). This is what I lacked!
One of the greatest blessings of my mission was developing the courage to act, the trust in the Lord to move forward with ANY assignment, the gumption to get out of my comfort zone, and the self-confidence to act on the promptings of the Spirit. The Lord provided me experience after experience to teach me these principles and help me develop these characteristics. I felt many times that God designed all these lessons to prepare me for my lifelong personal ministry. I see how He helped me on the path to becoming a reliable and effective instrument in His hands (Alma 17:9). And He taught me what it takes to be an excellent disciple of Christ. I’m not perfect in this by any means but the Lord also taught me how to further improve throughout my life. I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything.