Sunday, June 28, 2009

This Do in Remembrance of Me

This week's article is about the sacrament. I wanted to do something about keeping the Sabbath day holy but that is turning into a post on its own rather than simply an article of the week. Instead, I chose one aspect of the Sabbath--the most important aspect--and that is the sacrament.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in a General Conference address some fourteen years ago, gave this talk entitled, "This Do in Remembrance of Me." In this talk, Elder Holland helps us better understand the importance of the sacrament and what we can do to better show our appreciation of this sacred ordinance. He explains that the sacrament is the real purpose of our church meetings and that the ordinance should be the focus of the entire meeting.

The sacrament is one of the most important ordinances we have been given because through it we renew the promises and covenant that we made at baptism. Let us not undervalue this sacred ordinance.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope

As I was searching for an article of the week, I came across this article by President James E. Faust about which I had forgotten. The article, entitled, "The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope," perfectly answers the question that I tried to answer with the post Faith v. Works. Of course I re-find this talk after I finish answering need_to_know's question. Such is life.

Either way, President Faust's talk, given at the October 2001 General Conference, is great and you all need to read it. He so wonderfully describes exactly how the atonement of Jesus Christ works in our lives in relation to faith, works, desire, and sin.

As I re-read the talk, my testimony that President Faust was an apostle of the Lord was strengthened and my understanding of the atonement increased. This is a powerful article and I challenge all of you to read it and figure out what you need to do in your lives to more fully take advantage of the atonement and show Jesus Christ your gratitude for all He did.

Christ lives. He lived and died for us. We have the option to now live and die that we may return to live with Him and our Father in Heaven once more.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

...consider the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God

This is possibly my most favorite verse in all of recorded scripture. It comes from King Benjamin's address to his people in Mosiah 2:41.

And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

Keeping the commandments blesses us both temporally and spiritually. A lot of us are especially in need of temporal blessings right now and we always need spiritual blessings. We can choose to live in a blessed and happy state. And remember that these things are true, for the Lord God hath spoken it. You can't get a more powerful promise from a more powerful being.

Be blessed and happy, why not?


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

...persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come

A few days ago I was reading in Book of Mormon and came across a passage that stuck out to me. I’ve read this verse multiple times and have marked it and noted it and this time I gained yet another insight. The verse is Jarom 1:11 and it reads:

Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.

In our day and age, many seek signs or proof that something exists. We want to know with a surety that something is real and true or fake and false. Money is poured into science and the proving of theories and principles. Think about it, this principle is true for all of us; when something extraordinary or abnormal happens, we say, “no way, I don’t believe it! I have to see this.” While some of the interest to see before we can believe stems from mere curiosity and excitement, we can also be skeptical and untrusting of the unknown and unproved.

Jesus Christ atoned for our sins that we may become clean and return to live with Him, our Father in Heaven, and our families forever. God created an entire plan for us to come to earth, gain bodies, have the chance to learn, grow, be tried and tested, repent, and gain eternal life. Now, the atonement has already happened; Christ came to the earth two millennia ago and bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. We have the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and others in the New Testament who were present as the events of the Savior’s life transpired and words of others who saw the birth, life, atonement, and death of the Savior in vision (see 1 Nephi 11; 2 Nephi 10:3; Alma 7:9-16; Helaman 14).

Some would say that the words of the prophets in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, and those in our day are enough; that the scriptures and words of modern-day prophets are sufficient proof that the atonement really happened and that Jesus is the Christ. Yet others are more skeptical and require more proof, a sign from God almost. In our day, we have “proof” through the histories in the scriptures and the testimonies of living apostles and prophets that Jesus is the Christ, that He came and atoned for our sins, and that if we repent we can become clean and inherit the kingdom of God and people still don’t believe.

With all of this in mind, let’s go back to the verse in Jarom. Think about the people that Jarom, Moses, John the Baptist, and others taught. As I read the above-quoted verse, I thought about how much harder would it have been for the people who lived before the Messiah to bank on salvation from a sacrifice that hadn’t even been made yet. The people had to look forward unto the Messiah, without signs and proof, and simply live by faith and hope. We have records of the atonement and we must develop faith and a testimony strong enough to believe that it happened. They had only the words of the prophets that the atonement would happen sometime or another in the future, long after they had died, and would somehow take effect in their lives.

The Lord requires us to walk by faith and not by sight (see 2 Corinthians 5:7) and gives us signs and witnesses only after a trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6). Often these signs aren’t angels or great manifestations but simply a gentle, confirming witness from the Spirit that what we are doing is right or what we believe is true. Living by faith instead of seeing isn’t easy, but the rewards of such a lifestyle have wonderful eternal consequences. Signs do not convert. They did not convert the children of Israel as Moses led them around the wilderness for 40 years and they do not convert us in our day. Faith is where it’s at, the people of the Old Testament and the first part of the Book of Mormon needed it because Christ hadn’t come yet. We need it even though He’s come and we have record of it. The Spirit confirms to every sincere, searching soul that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God (see Moroni 10:3-5). Remember, ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you (link). Our proof is the whisperings of the Spirit and the visible results of a righteous lifestyle.

Christ lives and loves us. He did come, the people in Jarom’s day and many others before the meridian of time believed, acted, and will receive salvation through the atonement, and many after have believed and acted and do believe and act and will receive salvation through the atonement. Ours is the choice to find out how the atonement can and will help us. Ours is the choice to hold onto that which we can touch and see or to let go and be set free by that which we can know through faith.


Monday, June 15, 2009

How Do I Love Thee?

This week's article comes from a devotional address given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at Brigham Young University on 15 February 2000. The talk is entitled, "How Do I Love Thee."

Elder Holland teaches how we can and should apply the Christlike attribute of charity in all our relationships and especially in our marriages and courtships. He talks about love, trust, understanding, patience, hope, endurance, faith, care, selflessness, and other Christlike qualities that help us develop not simply tolerable relationships but great relationships; relationships that will last into the eternities.

I love this talk. It is applicable on so many levels because each of us has many different relationships in various stages that can all be improved. We can all stand a little taller; President Gordon B. Hinckley, fifteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said of our day:

It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike. (“This Is the Work of the Master,” Ensign, May 1995, 69)

My two favorite quotes from this talk are:

The solutions to life's problems are always gospel solutions. Not only are answers found in Christ, but so is the power, the gift, the bestowal, the miracle of giving and receiving those answers.

No one ought have to face such trials alone. We can endure almost anything if we have someone at our side who truly loves us, who is easing the burden and lightening the load.

Elder Holland is an apostle of the Lord. His words are the Lord's words, and the Savior's words comfort, uplift, edify, and inspire. Our Heavenly Father loves us and would that we loved our spouses, families, and neighbors with the same perfect love.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Hope Through Lives Centered on Jesus Christ and His Restored Gospel

I was reading today and came across this quote by President Howard W. Hunter, 14th prophet in this dispensation.

If our lives and our faith are centered on Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right.

(The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1997], 40)

This quote kind of puts things into perspective, huh? Remember the article of the week a few weeks ago by Elder Scott, "Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind" that talked about if we are living right then we have peace of conscience? As we go throughout life and experience hardships and good times, the trials are lessened and the good times are enhanced by the knowledge that we are doing what we are supposed to do.

From last week's article came the quote by Elder Christofferson, "come what may, we can face life with hope and equanimity, knowing that we will succeed in the end because we have God's promise to us individually, by name, and we know he cannot lie."

The second half President Hunter's quote is equally as powerful. No matter what success the world tells us we have, no matter the amount of money we make or lofty positions we hold, all of it is all temporary if our lives are not in line with the teachings of our Savior. We have temporary happiness or pleasure but none of it is lasting if we are not build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. If we do have our priorities straight, then we can use our money or positions to do good, advance the work, and bless the lives of God's children. Our life will be successful and we will feel fulfilled.

Think of the word permanent. President Hunter is referring to the eternal perspective, not just the time spent in this life. If something in our lives goes wrong, if we lose our job, or our house, or a loved one, or even if our shoelace breaks in the middle of a bad day and it's too much, none of it is permanent and in the end, all that is wrong is made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


The Challenge to Become

This week's article comes as a suggestion from my little brother. It's entitled "The Challenge to Become" and is a talk given at the October 2000 General Conference by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle.

This article is great because Elder Oaks clearly outlines the difference between merely believing or doing and becoming. For instance, he teaches that service is not as great as charity, which is the pure love of Christ. It is not enough to serve, we must serve out of a sincere love for our fellow man and for God. It is not enough to believe, or say that you have a testimony, we must become converted, and do those things that our testimony leads us to do and become the disciple we are commanded to become.

Read this talk with an open mind and decide what you can change in your life so that you are doing and becoming and not just going through the motions. God is willing to help us chnage for the better if we ask for His help.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gaining a Testimony

I was reading this talk today by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This isn't an article of the week and I only want to focus on the last couple paragraphs of his talk.

Elder Ballard discusses how we can learn the lessons of the past in order to "build personal testimony on a solid bedrock of obedience, faith, and the witness of the Spirit."

And so it returns, as it always does, to your own personal faith and testimony. That is the difference-maker, my young brothers and sisters. That is how you know. That is how you avoid the mistakes of the past and take your spirituality to the next level. If you are open and receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in your lives, you will understand the lessons of the past, and they will be burned into your souls by the power of your testimonies.

And how do you get such a testimony? Well, there’s no new technology for that, nor will there ever be. You cannot do a Google search to gain a testimony. You can’t text message faith. You gain a vibrant, life-changing testimony today the same way it has always been done. The process hasn’t been changed. It comes through desire, study, prayer, obedience, and service. That is why the teachings of prophets and apostles, past and present, are as relevant to your life today as they ever have been.

Learning the Lessons of the Past,” Ensign, May 2009, 34

Oftentimes, we try to find proof and hard evidence upon which to base our testimonies. We want books or articles that prove this, that, or the other and we don't want to believe that there is life after death or that we have a Heavenly Father merely because we "feel" like there is. Moreover, when we do have testimonies of the Gospel and of the plan of salvation, and when others are having a hard time believing us because we have no hard evidence why we believe what we do, only feelings, it can be frustrating.

However, as Elder Ballard teaches, no matter how the process by which we gain information changes over time, the process by which we gain a testimony and develop a relationship with our Father in Heaven never changes. As silly as doing a Google search to gain a testimony sounds, sometimes that's how we act. We begin to forget that only a desire, study, prayer, obedience, and service, i.e. striving to lead a Christlike life, will bring us closer to our Savior and our Father.

I know that only through sincere prayer and continual study of the words of the prophets both ancient and modern can we develop a testimony strong enough to get us through the challenges that we will face in our day. The Lord loves us and will bless us with His confirming Spirit as we strive to come closer to Him.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Faith v. Works

Some time ago I received the following question on the blog:

Why do Mormons believe the Atonement is not enough for our salvation, that it must be earned by "good works" to reach a "higher level of heaven?"

To begin, Mormons do believe the Atonement is enough for our salvation.

However, before we discuss this question, I will apologize to the asker of the question that it's taken me forever and a day to post a response. The full answer to this question is not short by any means simply because we do not have the advantage of a discussion. Therefore, I attempted to cover everything that I thought this question may encompass so that you are satisfied with the answer. But before you read the rest of this post, read the following articles first:

As Latter-day Saints, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:3). The Atonement is enough for salvation; in fact, there is no other way to receive salvation except relying on the merits of Him who is mighty to save (see 2 Ne 2:8; 31:19; D&C 3:20). King Benjamin taught his people that, “salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:18).

Jesus Christ hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, He was oppressed and He was afflicted. With His stripes we are healed (see Isaiah 53:4-7). He suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind, He took upon himself the pains and sicknesses of His people, and he took upon Himself death and our infirmities, “that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; . . . that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (see Alma 7:11-12). Christ suffered to the point where He “sweat as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).

We do not deny the grace of God and we certainly do not undermine the importance of the Atonement, which is the single most important event in all of human history. President Gordon B. Hinckley, fifteenth prophet in this dispensation, described the Atonement as, “the keystone in the arch of our existence” (“The Things of Which I Know,” Ensign, May 2007, 84).

Commandments and Laws

Yet works do play a part in our salvation; the Lord gives us commandments for a reason. God is perfect and no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God (see Alma 11:37; 3 Nephi 27:19; Isaiah 52:11). He commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth, He gave the children of Israel the Ten Commandments, He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Later, He fulfilled the Law of Moses and gave a higher law and taught of repentance, forgiveness, fasting, and other things that that we must do and commandments by which we should live. We also have the law of tithing (Malachi 3:8-10), the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89), and more. God does not do things just because or without a purpose. He knows what actions produce true, lasting happiness, which actions only provide temporary enjoyment then misery, and which actions only provide misery. Therefore, He gives us commandments as guideposts so that we may know how to be happy. None of His teachings are mindless. His work and His glory? To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39).

Jacob, in the Book of Mormon, taught this of the relation between laws and our eternal happiness:

And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. (2 Nephi 2:13.)

Commandments provide us with the knowledge of how to obtain happiness and avoid sorrow. They are not suggestions, they are commandments and we are commanded to live by them. The reward? A place on the right hand of God with our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.

Now, the commandments themselves do not save, just as the law of Moses did not provide salvation in its time. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi taught that, “salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the Atonement, which God himself shall make for the sons and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.” (Mosiah 13:28.) Works alone do not provide us with eternal life; only the saving power of the Atonement can make us clean and living the laws of God qualify us for the cleansing power of the Atonement.

Justice and Mercy

So how do works and mercy and justice all work together in relation to the Atonement? Alma the younger helps us understand the relation between mercy and justice in the forty-second chapter of Alma and I encourage you to read the chapter in its entirety. We know that God is just; He gave us commandments and when we break the commandments, we must suffer the related consequences. This is most unfortunate for all of us because no one is perfect—we all sin and are unclean and therefore cannot dwell in the presence of God. The scriptures refer to the effects of sin as a spiritual death. “If it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord” (see verse 11).

Where is the hope with a plan like that? There is none.

Alma continues, “mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God” (see verse 13 and remember 2 Nephi 2:13).

Yet Our Heavenly Father loves us and He is a God of hope. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope. Therefore, before the foundation of the world, a plan was created that God may be both Just and Merciful. “The plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (see verse 15).

Thus we see our great need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, for on our own accord we can do nothing to make ourselves clean. How great a hope this marvelous plan of salvation gives us! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). How loving is our Father in Heaven that He would give His Son that we may become clean and return to live with Him again! How unselfish and loving is Jesus Christ to willingly volunteer to experience all the pains and sickness and transgressions of all of His brothers and sisters!

Faith Without Works is Dead

Faith is an action word. When we have faith in Jesus Christ and the saving power of His Atonement, we desire to repent and live better. We do as Luke teaches and, “bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). When you have faith in Jesus Christ, you trust the Lord enough to follow His commandments (see Preach My Gospel, ch 6, p 116).

Faith is more than just merely saying that you believe; those who say that they have faith yet continue to live contrary to God’s will and teachings do not understand the principle of faith. King Benjamin taught that we should, ”Believe in God, believe that he is, . . . believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10-11).

Do you see? Faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement leads to desires of repentance and becoming clean. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ died for us, we recognize the infinite love that He and our Father in Heaven have for us. When we recognize and feel that love, we desire to do as the ask and keep the commandments and serve others. Desires lead to action and action satisfies God’s stipulation that we confess and forsake our sins that we may become clean.

Therefore, by doing works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20) we are not denying the cleansing power of the Atonement and underemphasizing the principle of faith; rather, we are showing God that we sincerely believe in Him and His plan and are willing to show our faith by making the sacrifices necessary to apply the Atonement in our lives.

I realize that the Bible contains numerous scriptures stating that faith not works saves, etc., and there are numerous others that “prove” that works are required. These verses that seemingly contradict each other can be confusing. That’s the wonderful thing about the Restoration of the Gospel—we don’t have to speculate and try to interpret God’s mind on our own! Instead, we have the added blessings of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the words of the living apostles and prophets. God isn’t trying to keep anything secret from us; on the contrary, His teachings are all very straightforward and with the help of modern revelation, the ancient revelations become clear.

Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, Our Redeemer. Because He and our Heavenly Father love us, they created a plan in which we can choose to follow them in faith and return to them or not. They knew that we would fall once in a while as we are tried and tested and thus prepared a way that we may become clean again. Jesus Christ did atone for the sins, afflictions, and sufferings of us all and we can choose if we want to accept the cleansing power of the Atonement. In order to apply the Atonement in our lives, all we must do is continually repent and strive to keep the commandments and not sin again. Of course, God is patient and understanding and will forgive us as many times as we sin and repent so long as we are sincerely striving to do better and are always striving to improve our lives and bless the lives of those around us.

The Book of Mormon is God’s word, the Church of Jesus Christ is restored on the earth today and contains the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ along with the fulness of priesthood keys and authority. President Thomas S. Monson is God’s living prophet today.

I leave you with the words of Moroni, from the last verses of the last chapter of the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

This is true.


Monday, June 1, 2009

O Remember, Remember

I suggest reading or listening to the whole talk. I add my testimony that as we look for the blessings of the Lord and consciously strive to see His hand in our lives, we will begin to notice more and more the manifestations from Him that He does love us and that He does care about us. Sometimes we just get too caught up in our worldly cares and become blinded such that we begin to think that the Lord doesn't do much for us at all.

God loves us, we are His children and He desires nothing more than the very best for us.

The Power of Covenants

This week's article comes from the most recent General Conference. It is a talk given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the quorum of the twelve apostles entitled, "The Power of Covenants." The audio/video link is here.

Elder Christofferson very clearly explains what covenants are, why they should be eternally important to each of us, and the blessings received from making covenants. I especially like how he explains that even though we may be righteous and keep the covenants that we have made, we are not necessarily immune to trial and hardship but our covenants help us cope with the hard times.

These are the words of an apostle of the Lord and they are true.