NT 19: Atonement and Harmony with God

Paul’s letter to the Romans may very well contain the highest concentration of my favorite scriptures. I love Paul’s imagery and his powerful testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Romans 5 offers a beautiful explanation of Christ’s role in the salvation of the human race. As always, my reading of these scriptures is grounded in revealed, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doctrine.

Paul’s teachings about Christ’s role in salvation rely on the foundational doctrine of the Fall which explains the necessity of a redeemer. The Fall describes Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Their choice to disobey the commandment not to eat that fruit resulted in not just their dismissal from Eden but it brought upon mankind the conditions of physical death and spiritual death (separation from God through sin) (see v. 12). Paul describes sin as an ubiquitous condition of mortality: it is taken as granted that humans will sin (v. 19). A divinely ordained law establishes the shape of sin and, by so doing, necessitates consequences.

The consequences, however, are not insurmountable nor are they eternally damning if we follow Jesus Christ. His law requires the performance of specific ordinances and daily behavior in order to qualify for salvation. He will help us keep the law while providing forgiveness if we fall short of the law’s requirements. He justifies us according to our faith (v. 2) and repentance. One of Paul’s beautiful images relates to his conception of salvation as returning to harmony with God. Where mortality and sin put us into conflict and discord with God, Christ brings us back into harmony with God the Father by providing forgiveness of sins as well as resurrection (v. 1, 10). This is the crux of Christ’s Atonement, that He provides redemption from sin and death, the blessings of salvation which “abound unto many” “through our Lord by whom we have now received the atonement” (v. 15, 11). Christ puts as at-one with God.

Where sin is a given condition of mortality, pervasive, and sure to lead to spiritual death, we can find relief in Christ’s grace which does “much more abound” (v. 20). His grace is more ubiquitous than sin. Personal righteousness (i.e. performance of ordinances, keeping commandments, repentance) will insure that grace reigns “unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21).

NT 13: Finding the Faith-promoting Narrative

As I read the story of the Gentile woman in Matthew 15 last week I felt tempted to approach the scriptures from a feeling of indignation. But that did not seem like a productive effort. To read the Gentile woman’s experience in Matthew 15:21–28 as solely an example of victimization is to perpetuate the historical narrative about women and reaffirm women’s victimhood––all without providing any deeper, faith-promoting insight. To only focus on one side of the story is to miss the beauty of the exchange. To only see the woman as a victim is to miss the manifestation of a strong, inspiring character.

There is so much good to learn from this story! The Gentile woman demonstrates incredible determination in pursuing a miracle from Jesus, even after the disciples have tried to get rid of her. She shows amazing faith by pursuing healing at the hands of someone with whom she had no social, cultural, or religious intercourse. Her motherhood shines as she pushes against socio-cultural norms to save her daughter’s life. Her wit excels as she accepts the appellation “dog” without reaction and turns it back to Jesus to again request the miracle within the context of His analogy. And you know how the story ends…she gets her miracle.

Though stories about women are comparatively few in the scriptures, the Gentile woman stands out to me as a story of strength and resilience. Over the years, women of faith, wit, and goodness have blessed my life in countless ways. Maybe that’s the new narrative we can write, one of women uplifting others, women carrying others’ burdens, women strengthening each other, women blessing humanity.

Can you think of time when your life has been blessed by a woman?
Can you think of opportunities in which you might be able to bless humanity?

 

NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

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 82: Where my treasure is

Ether 14:1

As I read in Ether 14 about the curse on the land, I remembered a related experience I had a few years ago. In Ether 14 the Jaredites have become so wicked that they are on a crash-course for total destruction. The “curse on the land,” as Ether and Moroni call it, resulted in material possessions disappearing: “if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place wither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it” (Ether 14:1).

Whether this means that people were stealing each other’s stuff or something else, I’m not sure. But a few years ago, when we first moved to our current state, things started disappearing from our car. It culminated (for me) in the theft of my iPod. It feels really trivial now and I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I was really mad about it. For years. I used to listen to music every day on it. All my favorite music was there. I also had recordings of myself singing on my mission, recordings from a choir I sang with, favorite audiobooks. Suddenly I didn’t have any of it anymore. I had to accept that I would never get it back.

I take the history from Ether as a warning that the “curse” could come back. Certainly theft is a major problem in our society and it will probably only get worse. But the warning I really took to heart this time is to let go of material things. Jesus taught, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NT; 3 Nephi 13:21). I really treasured my iPod. The length of my bitterness (and anger at my husband for not locking the car) should have been a big red flag to me that my heart wasn’t in the right place.

I am trying to change my attitude toward material possessions and change my heart to treasure my family, my faith, and my God more than anything else in the world.

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 67: Season of Miracles

3 Nephi 7:15-21 and 3 Nephi 8:1

As I read these verses today, I reflected on President Russell M. Nelson’s prophetic invitation to the women of the Church during October General Conference. In extending the invitations to fast from social media, read the entire Book of Mormon by the end of the year, establish a pattern of regular temple attendance, and fully participate in Relief Society, President Nelson promised an increase of spiritual power in our lives. As President Nelson suggested, miracles can happen when we turn to Jesus Christ.

The prophet Nephi (the third) demonstrates in 3 Nephi 7 and 8 how this process works. Nephi lived during a tumultuous time in Book of Mormon history. Large numbers of people were converted to Jesus Christ, then turned to wickedness quickly and en masse. Some converted back. The government was overthrown; society made a huge shift in its basic organization. Nephi had his work cut out for him preaching repentance, prophesying of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection, and trying to ready the people to meet their Savior.

Nephi had incredible access to God’s power in the midst of this upheaval. He ministered “with power and with great authority” (3 Nephi 7:17). He testified boldly and diligently. “[S]o great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily” (3 Nephi 7:18). Everything he did––casting out “devils and unclean spirits,” raising his brother from the dead, and many more––he did “in the name of Jesus” (3 Nephi 7:19-20). The key to working miracles? Faith in Jesus Christ, and spiritual purity. “[A]nd there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity” (3 Nephi 8:1).

The invitations President Nelson extended will bring God’s power and influence into our lives because those activities not only draw us closer to the Savior but they also cleanse us spiritually. During this season of miracles, let’s identify ways in which we can improve our spiritual health so that we can work miracles in the lives of those around us.