NT 4: Casting Out Fear

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.

Day 83: Charity and Friendship

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.

 

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 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 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.

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 45: In the Absence of Charity

Alma 31:28

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.