BoM 9: This great joy

The story of Lamoni’s father really gave me pause this time studying the Book of Alma. My haphazard Come, Follow Me study with my kids led me to highlight his story. I’m struck by his “astonishment” and his stewing or disquiet over his confrontation with Ammon and Lamoni (see Alma 20:27; 22:3, BoM). What is it that makes the king over the whole Land of Nephi want to understand what Lamoni has learned from Ammon, that has completely changed Lamoni? I think the answer is discomfort. Suddenly the king who was satisfied with his power and wealth and living a very comfortable life doubts his identity and place in the world, so much so that he offers his entire kingdom to Aaron as a desperate attempt to get answers, to try to relieve the discomfort (Alma 22:15, BoM).

In some ways Aaron’s teaching initially increases the king’s discomfort. The Fall is a story of displacement: Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God establishes the conditions of mortality for their descendants, the entire human race. These are conditions of separation from God’s presence, toil to survive, disease and death. But Aaron quickly presents the solution to the King’s sense of displacement and the displacement of the human family: Jesus Christ, the Savior, will come to earth and be a living sacrifice to reconcile mankind to God, to make repentance possible, to bring us back into God’s presence where we belong (Alma 22:13-14, BoM). Lamoni’s father embraces this truth readily because he first understood the pain of displacement. He desired a solution and recognized that the true resolution was more important than any worldly comforts to which he was accustomed:

What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

Alma 22:15, BoM

Do we feel the loss of God’s presence deeply enough? Do we fear enough the potential permanent separation from God if we don’t repent and follow Christ? I am not a doom and gloom Christian but I do see how getting caught up in modern comforts, entertainment, and/or wealth can completely obscure the reality of human life and our collective spiritual destiny. The joy that Lamoni’s father experiences upon accepting Christ as his Savior and Redeemer can inspire us all to seek greater understanding of our purpose here on earth and to receive the great joy promised to all God’s children who follow Jesus Christ.

BoM 5: Boundless Mercy and Blessings, Likening the Scriptures

Tonight for Family Home Evening we tackled 2 Nephi 26. I was taken with the quote from Joseph Smith in one of the suggested study subtopics from Come, Follow Me for this week, that God is “more ‘boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive’ (The Joseph Smith Papers, “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1,” p. 4 [addenda], josephsmithpapers.org).” My kids wanted to make Muddy Buddies as well so I considered if there was a ready way to liken the scriptures and use the treat-making as an object lesson. And I hit on something great!

We started by reading the quote from Joseph Smith and discussed what “boundless” means in context. We defined what it means to have boundaries and then talked about how Jesus has no limits on His love, mercy, or the blessings He wants to share with us. We read 2 Nephi 26:20-22 to lay the groundwork for our thinking about boundless love and mercy. I paraphrased a little, asking if the people described in those verses are making good choices or bad choices. Once we established that they’re making bad choices, we moved on to Nephi’s exclamations about the love of Jesus Christ for “the world” (all people in the world, I clarified) (see v. 23-33). I used our easel to summarize ways in which God is merciful as described by Nephi in the verses.

My narration helped them connect the fact that God loves everyone and wants to bless everyone, even if they’re making bad choices. Mercy comes into play as God blesses us even when by many standards we don’t seem to be deserving. My kids really got this as I asked whether they always make good choices. Does Jesus still love you when you make bad choices? I asked them. YES! They exclaimed.

I felt it was important to add a final note (like Nephi) about obedience. All God asks from us is to be obedient to His commandments. Nephi lists out many of them but I just wanted to touch on this essential component.

Then we began on the Muddy Buddies….

I explained that we’re kind of like the cereal—a little plain, tasty but nothing special. Jesus, however, wants us to be our best selves possible and offers us many different ways to achieve greatness (in my narration, “to become more delicious”). The kids took turns adding ingredients which I simultaneously wrote into our existing list, discussing with the kids as I went.

At one point I asked the kids what ingredient we should add next. My oldest suggested chocolate. I asked, “how do you know to add chocolate?” When she finally got to, “we need to follow the recipe,” I brought us back to obedience. God offers us unlimited mercy, continually inviting us to repent and come to Jesus to “buy milk and honey without price.” He freely offers magnificent blessings, but we have to follow His recipe as found in the scriptures and taught in His Restored Church to receive the greatest blessing of all—eternal life.

The girls were pretty quiet by the end—yes, they were eating Muddy Buddies hand over fist—but they were also attentive as I closed the lesson and testified of the importance of following God’s “recipe” for a happy and, eventually, eternal life. A basic understanding of mercy (we defined this as unlimited love for and desire to help/bless someone even if they’re making bad choices) seemed to click. I hope they caught a glimpse of the Savior’s boundless love for each of them.

*No promotional considerations were made in writing this post. (It is simply hard to separate the cereal from its iconic recipe.)

Day 85: These Three

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)

Faith, Hope, and Charity

 

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 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 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 71: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

3 Nephi 16:12

While Jesus ministers to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas He makes several prophecies and clarifies doctrinal truths. In 3 Nephi 16 He speaks about His gospel and its importance to our mortal experience on earth. In fact, Jesus suggests that qualifications for righteousness turn on the axis of accepting and living the gospel.

What is “the gospel?” Thanks to the Restoration and the translation of the Book of Mormon, we have a really clear understanding today. The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches principles and provides ordinances necessary for mankind to become worthy to receive eternal life. Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance form two foundational principles of the Gospel. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, performed by someone with authority from God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two halves of the initial ordinance necessary for salvation. Lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ, obedience to His laws, participation in further ordinances, and keeping covenants are necessary to “endure to the end” of this mortal life and qualify for eternal life.

Day 70: Restored Truths and the Importance of The Book of Mormon

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.

Day 69: Humility and Giving Credit

3 Nephi 9:15-22; 11:11; 13:25-29

I need to toot my own horn for a minute (with a purpose). Today I feel pretty proud of all I accomplished. I got my kids dressed and fed, I cleaned up messes off and on throughout the day; I unpacked no less than five boxes and continued working on setting up four different rooms; I made cookies with my kids, cared for a sick child, tailored a dress (that I made eight years ago) to wear to my husband’s work party, and repaired two other items of clothing; I made dinner, got the kids to bed on time, and helped my husband mount our television on a wall. Did I mention I also vacuumed the family room and flattened 10 empty boxes? I would give myself a big old pat on the back and spend some time savoring my accomplishments, but I’m trying to heed a warning given in The Book of Mormon.

In 2 Nephi 12:8, the prophet writing at the time quotes Isaiah’s prophecy of the last days, that people will “worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” I am definitely guilty of this! I love making things, whether it’s clothing, crafts, home renovations, you name it, I love my creations, sometimes to an absurd degree. After reading the prophecy in 2 Nephi 12, I have really tried to cut back on my creative pride. Not that it’s inherently wrong to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, but when we let pride in our own accomplishments obscure the most important creations and diminish our gratitude for their source, then we run into problems.

I found new meaning in the 2 Nephi prophecy and my own attempts to heed the warning as I read 3 Nephi 9, 11, and beyond. These chapters record true miracles of creation, sacrifice, and love that should take center stage at all times. In 3 Nephi 9:15, the resurrected Jesus Christ speaks to the Nephites and Lamanites from heaven, proclaiming His divinity and role as Creator. He is “the light and life of the world” (v. 18), he has “come unto the world to bring redemption…, to save the world from sin” (v. 21), he has “laid down [His] life, and [has] taken it up again” (v. 22). When I consider what Jesus Christ has done for mankind, for me, for my children and husband, I am humbled. The “works of my own hands” pale in comparison to the miracles of repentance and mercy made possible through the Atonement and Resurrection.

When I let pride in my temporal creations become an obsession, I neglect the true miracles of creation manifest in my children, in the beauties of the earth around me (3 Nephi 13:25-29), in my very existence, and in the promise of eternal life offered as a gift of love by the Savior Jesus Christ. These I will try to cherish more completely instead.

Day 59: Belief and Action

Helaman 3:27-30

I felt so moved this morning as I read the Book of Mormon writer’s (I think it’s Mormon here) reflections on the miracle of the Savior’s saving power.

Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked–

And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

I’m not going to try to embellish these verses but I do want to point out a few of the phrases that struck me so forcefully.

  • “The Lord is merciful unto ALL” and “the gate of heaven is open to AlL”
  • We must be sincere as we lay claim on God’s mercy
  • Being saved requires that we believe in Jesus Christ and “lay hold upon the word of God,” act on our belief
  • The word of God cuts through the distractions and temptations of this life
  • Our goal in this life should be to become women and men of Christ
  • Laying hold upon the word of God, acting on our belief/faith, will “land our immortal souls” in the kingdom of heaven
  • If we follow the strait and narrow course to the kingdom of God, we will have the peace of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23)

I am so grateful for the Savior Jesus Christ, for His mercy, His love for ALL God’s children, His Atonement, His saving power, and His invitation to follow Him and receive the gift of eternal life.