Bible Videos in Preparation for Easter

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been releasing a series of brief videos covering the last period of Christ’s mortal ministry (they will release many more videos in the future covering more of His life and teachings). All the videos the Church has released or will release are available on BibleVideos.org. Each video is professionally but simply and powerfully done, sticking to the King James Version text from the Gospels. I’ll post the videos in temporal order.

Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

The Last Supper

Jesus Warns Peter and Offers the Intercessory Prayer

The Savior Suffers in Gethsemane (click to visit the page, I cannot embed the video yet).

Jesus is Tried by Caiaphas, Peter Denies Knowing Him.

There will be four more videos released before Easter; I’ll post those once they are up.

Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked

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14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue [from the Greek vomit] thee out of my mouth.

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Rev. 3:14-22).

John covered a lot of doctrine in these verses. I want to focus mainly on verses 17 and 18: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

The church members in Laodicea were prideful. They believed they were wealthy because they had worldly riches. They are oblivious to the fact that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. How can they [we] not know that they are wretched?

The prophet Alma taught his son: “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.” (Alma 41:10-11).

When we are doing things that are contrary to the nature of God, when we are not striving to like a godly life, we are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. We cannot be happy, at least not truly happy. It is simply not possible. Now, we might lack insight about our unhappiness but we, in our sinful states, are unhappy all the same. The converse of this is not true – not all sorrow or unhappiness or depression is caused by sin – but if we believe the scriptures, we know that those who sin (particularly if they are not sinning in ignorance) are living in a state contrary to the nature of happiness and are wretched and miserable.

What does all this have to do with the Laodiceans and their worldly wealth? The prophet Moroni watched his civilization crumble because of wickedness. He watched culture and religion decay into wildness and anarchy. Why did this happen? Pride. “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Moroni 8:36-37).

We learn in the New Testament a similar connection between pride, money, and wickedness: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).

The cure for this cancer of pride and wickedness is to flee from the love of money. We must flee from pride just as Joseph fled from Potipher’s wife. We do not just run away, we run towards Christ and His Atonement; we run from evil towards good. That is the only way to avoid being “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” even if we have worldly wealth. Sin blinds us to our condition. We, as I wrote earlier, in our sinful states do not realize that we are blind. We follow blind guides instead of reaching for Christ, who can heal our blindness. Those who repent, those who follow Christ will overcome the world just as He overcame the world. Those who are righteous will be able to sit with Christ in His throne, which is His Father’s throne. Those who overcome can become like Christ and inherit what He has inherited. Do we sell this eternal inheritance for a worldly bauble? Do we give up a throne for a minute of amusement?  The only true and happy way is through Christ.

Arising from darkness – the miracle of forgiveness

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This is the talk (with very slight modifications) I gave in Sacrament Meeting today. Much of it is found in other posts on this blog but I edited, arranged, and added the material. It was an almost 30 minute talk (I’m grateful I had prepared enough material, although I had plenty of backup prepared as well that I did not have the use).

With the strike of an automobile, one year ago tragedy struck our family. As I have shared a number of times on this site, my 11 year old niece Allison was riding her bicycle when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. It has been a challenging year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? Do we forgive or do we allow the cankering cancer of hate to grow inside ourselves? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The healing waters of Christ cannot wash away our hurt and grief if we keep them locked up within the stony tables of our hearts instead of offering them up to Him. Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow, suffering, and pain. Sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in our lives. We can even find joy amidst the hardship as we turn towards Christ. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

Jesus offers hope and healing to all who mourn. Isaiah tells us that the Savior: “bind[s] up the brokenhearted [and] proclaim[s] liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…. [He] comfort[s] all that mourn; [and] appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion [and] give[s] unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). In these tender verses we learn of Christ’s role as healer. He pours forth the olive oil of mercy unto those in need and He comforts those who mourn: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

God shall wipe tears from our eyes – what a touching, beautiful, and miraculous experience that will be! This is a miracle we can perform for others. Pres. Harold B. Lee said of this miracle – the miracle of healing those who sorrow and who suffer with spiritual sickness: “The greatest miracles I see today are not necessarily the healing of sick bodies, but the greatest miracles I see are the healing of sick souls, those who are sick in soul and spirit and are downhearted and distraught, on the verge of nervous breakdowns. We are reaching out to all such because they are precious in the sight of the Lord and we want no one to feel that they are forgotten.” (Lee, April 1973 General Conference). The Lord came to heal the sick – in body and spirit. We are commanded to follow Christ; we must to do as He did and reach out to and heal those who are dejected and sick in spirit.

Even in times of our own suffering we can help heal others. In the days before Allison’s funeral, my sister and her husband took time to visit and comfort the boy who was driving the car. Allison died because of his mistake but he was going to have to live with her death. They wanted to let him know that they forgave him for what happened. “There was hurt but no hate.” (Faust, April 2007 General Conference). They exemplified one of the greatest miracles in life – the gift of forgiveness. This is a gift given to us by Christ and one we can give to others. Those who Pres. Lee said are “sick in soul and spirit and downhearted and distraught” might be aching for one thing from us – the healing that comes from us offering the gift of forgiveness.

We are approaching the time when we celebrate Christ’s birth. As Christmas day nears some of us might be worried about getting presents planned, organized, finished, purchased, packed, wrapped, and shipped. We might wonder how we are going to pay for presents. In this bustle it can be easy to feel overwhelmed; it can be easy to forget that the greatest gifts are gifts of ourselves. Whether we can afford to buy and give expensive presents or not, we can all afford to give one gift – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did to us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring said of forgiveness,

“Many of us have lost loved ones to death. We may be surrounded by individuals who seek to destroy our faith in the gospel and the Lord’s promises of eternal life. Some of us are troubled with illness and with poverty. Others may have contention in the family or no family at all. Yet we can invite the Light of Christ to shine on us and let us see and feel some of the promised joys that lie before us…. [Christ] came into the world to be the Lamb of God, to pay the price of all of the sins of His Father’s children in mortality so that all might be forgiven. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14-15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received. When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this [time] you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Some people are quick to forgive others. There is a story of told of George Albert Smith, who was president of the church from 1945 to 1951. The story goes as follows,

“George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have called the mayor of Salt Lake City and said, ‘What kind of city are you running? [I want] that blanket back.’ Or he could have called the chief of police and said the same thing. Or he might have said to the guard, probably a Latter-day Saint, ‘Are you blind?’ [Instead], What did he do? He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket…for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.’” (Madsen, Presidents of the Church, p.224).

Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, especially those who wronged him. We are commanded to forgive one another in part because the Lord is so willing to forgive us; we need to follow His example. “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C: 64:9-10). My sister and her family were able to forgive the young man who struck Allison. We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not mean that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins. It also does not mean that we cannot seek appropriate recompense when necessary, but we should always forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving heart. When we refuse to forgive others, we give them control over us; we let others determine our happiness. In our unforgiving, we do more harm to ourselves than to those whom we do not forgive. While we need to forgive others, sometimes that forgiveness needs to be directed inwardly.

Elder Holland stated: “There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life—either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist….”

“When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal….”

“Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the ‘high priest of good things to come.’” (Remember Lot’s Wife)

Forgiveness is such an central principle and commandment that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He included the following phrase: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Again, the lesson is that we are required to forgive others if we want to be forgiven. After Jesus ended His prayer He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). That seems like a strong case for the importance of forgiving others! It is a simple condition for forgiveness – forgive others to have our sins forgiven. There can be more to being forgiven, but forgiving others is a necessary step.

Others might wrong us but sometimes we are the ones who have wronged others. In these instances we must ask for forgiveness and repent. There is a story of a man who snapped in anger at his children. They started to cry. Realizing his error, he went to their room and asked for forgiveness. They quickly jumped into his arms and kissed him, forgiving him for any wrong. This man stated:

“I learned a lot of lessons from that. But the one that sticks with me the most, because I’m a father, is that it’s a father’s job to repent first. That’s what is means to me to be a father – to be the first one to repent and heal the relationship. My children were anxious and willing to forgive and be friends with me. But I had to start it. It seems to me that that’s the way relationships are healed. It’s no more complicated than that. It may take longer in some cases, but there isn’t much more to it than simply yielding your heart to what you know is the truth and saying, ‘I’m sorry.’” (Warner, Bonds that make us free, p. 261).

I’ve made my share of mistakes in parenting. Parenting is hard work; it takes effort and patience. But it also takes more than that; it takes love and selflessness. As a parent it is especially important to be the first one to repent and ask for forgiveness. Repentance is often a necessary step to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is precisely what Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection were about. 2000 years ago a baby was born in humble circumstances. His birth came without much earthly adulation but the heavens were resplendent with signs and wonders for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Angels appeared to shepherds, wise men followed a gleaming star, and the righteous and wicked alike went without night in the New World. That tiny baby was the Son of God – the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. He who showed his spirit body to the brother of Jared now had a body of flesh. He who will return as Christ the Conquering King came first as a lowly Babe in Bethlehem. There is little we know about His early life; we do know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, dwelt in Egypt, and grew up in Nazareth. He was visited by wise men some time in his first few years of life. He grew up learning from Joseph and Mary. At age 12 He spent time teaching the priests in the temple – they marveled at His knowledge: How does the son of a carpenter, a 12 year old boy know so much about the scriptures?! At age 30 Jesus started His ministry full-time. Over the next three years He lived without a home, spending most of His days walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem. He called men to be apostles. He taught, healed, and performed many miracles. The greatest miracles He performed were forgiving sin. Jesus then instituted the sacrament, atoned for all the sins, sicknesses, and pain of humankind, stood trial, and died upon the cross. But that was not the end! On the 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead, bringing everlasting life to all people. He rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death and hell.

Jesus accomplished all this to bring the possibility of eternal life to humankind. He did this because He loves us. Because of this love and His power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and to each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C: 64:7).

We can be forgiven but sometimes before we repent the darkness of sin can be overwhelming. We might cry out with the fearful sailor:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.

There is a change on all things made.

The rocks have evil faces, Lord,

And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

Sin leads to a hellish darkness of separation from God – poignant and painful – a pain that feels endless. This separation from God is spiritual death. However, there is help available there is a way that we can be born anew, free from this type of death. This help comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and through repentance. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds that burn away the dreary mists of life. Through Christ’s suffering, we are provided solace for sin. Jesus is our song in the darkness of night. He is our pillar of fire. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas of sin. This is the true miracle of forgiveness – that the turmoil of our suffering can turn to peace.

Alma, the great Book of Mormon prophet, shared his experience in overcoming his sins. He rebelled in his youth; he led people away from the church and from God. His family prayed and fasted for him and through a great miracle, he was able to repent of his sins. He described his repentance to his son:

“13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities…I saw that I had rebelled against my God…

16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:13,16-20).

This light and joy from Christ can replace the darkness and sorrow. The Lord is willing to forgive us as we repent. Alma did some terrible things but he was able to repent.

Elder Holland said recently, “Whoever you are and whatever you have done, you can be forgiven. Every one of you…can leave behind any transgression with which you may struggle. It is the miracle of forgiveness; it is the miracle of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. But you cannot do it without an active commitment to the gospel, and you cannot do it without repentance where it is needed.” (Holland, Oct. 2011 General Conference). I testify that this is true. I’ve been blessed with the miracle of forgiveness in my life; I’ve seen this miracle work wonders in the lives of others. One of Satan’s most insidious lies is that we are not good enough to repent; that we could never be forgiven. We are good enough and we can be forgiven. The miracle of forgiveness is a manifestation of Christ’s mercy.

In what is one of the most moving descriptions of the Lord’s mercy, the prophet Micah described the Lord’s feelings for the House of Israel – for all of us. Micah expressed his hope for redemption; he said: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness” (Micah 7:7-9). The Savior pleads our cause. He is our court-appointed defense; what better defense can we have than someone who truly, completely, and perfectly understands and loves us? Christ can bring us out of darkness into the light. Micah later continues with another moving and loving description of the Lord: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19). The Lord executes justice but he delights in mercy and is compassionate. He loves each of us dearly.

The Savior’s life was filled with many acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind; He cured all manners of infirmities; He cast out devils; He took time to bless children even when He was tired and hungry; He brought the dead to life. However, His greatest act of mercy was the Atonement. “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Ne. 9:21-22). This single act made it possible for all to live again and for all to receive forgiveness of sins as they repent and have faith in the Lord. The way is prepared. “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). The Savior’s mercy, His forgiveness, is offered freely to us as we repent.

As we repent, the Lord’s Spirit cleanses us and the Savior’s Atonement sanctifies us. The great prophet Enoch was taught these truths: “Ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:59-60).

This is a three part path to sanctification. First, when we sin, we need to repent. An important part of that process is baptism. Second, through confirmation and the re-confirmation that comes when the Holy Ghost burns in our hearts, we can have our sins forgiven; we are absolved of guilt and brought back into alignment – we are justified – with Christ. Lastly comes the greatest miracle – through the blood of Christ we can be sanctified. This means we are not only forgiven, it means that our very nature is changed so that we no longer have desires to do wrong. It means that we become holy as God is holy.

I have been speaking about our need to forgive others as well as our need for forgiveness. In a hymn we learn more about forgiveness.

“As now our minds review the past,

We know we must repent;

The way to thee is righteousness—

The way thy life was spent.

Forgiveness is a gift from thee

We seek with pure intent.

With hands now pledged to do thy work,

We take the sacrament.” (As Now We Take the Sacrament)

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ gift to each of us as we repent. Forgiveness is the gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to others. No matter who we are or what we own, forgiveness is the greatest gift we can receive. None of us can return to or Father without the Savior’s mercy.

Mercy is a major component of forgiveness. In order to receive mercy, we must be merciful. We are commanded to be merciful: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Mercy is a beautiful doctrine but one eternal principle seems at odds with mercy – justice. Justice and mercy are usually mentioned together even though many times they seem like they are mutually exclusive of each other. On the surface, it does not seem possible for someone to be both just and merciful.

In the book of Alma we find one of the clearest descriptions of the interplay between justice and mercy. We learn that justice must be served – it is an eternal law that cannot be broken: “Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God…. Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:13,25). However, we know that God is both just and merciful. Justice must be fulfilled but God provided a way for justice and mercy to be served: “And now, 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” (Alma 42:15). The Great Lawgiver, even the Lord Jesus Christ, offered himself as a merciful sacrifice so that justice would be fulfilled. The great Book of Mormon teacher, Jacob, younger brother to Nephi, called the Plan of Salvation the “merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Ne. 9:6). The Plan of Salvation is a Plan of Mercy.

Mercy is such an important principle that it is one of the main messages of the Book of Mormon. In the first chapter of the first book in the Book of Mormon Nephi writes, “Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20). Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. Lehi had had a vision and started preaching the impending destruction of Jerusalem. It was not a popular message. However, the Lord was mindful of Lehi and his family. Lehi had a special calling to leave Jerusalem and work his way to a promised land. That is the Lord’s mercy; He delivered Lehi’s family from destruction. Their path was not easy but the Lord was merciful. Nephi explained how to obtain mercy – simply have faith in the Lord. The Lord has merciful feelings for all people. However, He can only be as merciful as people allow Him to be: “Thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him” (Mosiah 29:20). He cannot fully bless us with His mercy if we do not have faith in Him and if we do not pull all our trust in Him. To receive a fullness of mercy we must repent of our sins.

We can trace the Lord’s mercy throughout the Book of Mormon as people are freed from bondage – physical and spiritual. Even though much of the tone of the Book of Mormon is negative – it is after all, a chronicle of civilizations that destroyed themselves – there is always the underlying message of hope and mercy that things will work out in the end. This is the message for our lives – there is repentance and forgiveness. There is mercy to be found. This is a promise given to those who return to live with God again. This is one of the great miracles in life – that we can be forgiven of our sins and be able to return to live with God. Heavenly Father is willing to forgive us because He loves us. As we repent, we can have the pain and hurt of sin washed from our wounded hearts. We can be made whole and pure.

Forgiveness is a precious gift we must give others and one that we can receive ourselves. It can be a gift of peace to others and a blessing of joy to ourselves.

Ephesians 2

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Chapter 2 in Ephesians is full of powerful doctrine. There is more than I can cover without turning this post into a casserole of Utah proportions (this is simply a reference to the popularity of casseroles in Utah – they are usually simple to prepare and can feed a lot of people, so they are useful for church functions).

Paul (we assume Paul wrote this epistle) talks about Christ’s role as Reconciler. He redeems us from our fallen state: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off were made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13). When we are fallen or when we are not part of Christ’s covenant people (i.e., Gentiles), we are strangers. We are separated from the flock. Christ’s blood brings us near, it removes the title of stranger, adding the title of fellow citizen with the saints: “Now therefor ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19).

That is an important thing to keep in mind – that we (members of the Church) are of the household of God. Who are household members? They are family (this is one reason why in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we call each other “brother” and “sister” {we are also all spirit brothers and sisters}). So we, through the blood of Christ, become sons and daughters of God. We all are spiritually but through sin – none of us is perfect – we suffer spiritual death. Christ’s Atonement gives us life as we repent, which is how we accept His redemption. Repentance is more than just a verbal and spiritual acknowledgment, it involves real contrition; it also involves ordinances – baptism and confirmation and the sacrament. Through Christ’s Atonement we can be adopted back into God’s family. What does it mean to be a son or daughter? It means that we have the potential of the parent.

Now we get to another interesting verse. Those who are saved by Christ, who are now fellow citizens with the saints (meaning those who have joined Christ’s church)  “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:20-21). So those in Christ’s church (again, this is anyone who is redeemed – which is a process, it’s not a one-time event – by the blood of Christ) must be built upon a foundation of the apostles and prophets. Some might believe that Christ gave us the original apostles and they were enough, however, Judas Iscariot was replaced and Saul/Paul was later called as an apostle so clearly there was a pattern established to have new apostles called when needed. Paul also stated: “And he [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13). These are things that have not happened yet – a unity of the faith; knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man. We still have a lot of work to do until we reach those goals. What this means is that apostles, prophets, evangelists (called Patriarchs in the LDS Church), pastors (we in the LDS Church use the term “Bishop” but the role is the same), and teachers all should be part of Christ’s church. So our foundation as members of Christ’s household is upon prophets and apostles. We need them to guide us and to help perfect the saints and perform the work of the ministry. They are our sure foundation with Christ as the Chief Cornerstone. Christ is the chief prophet and apostle; He is more than prophet and apostle, of course, but those callings are His to bestow on others.

Thus, Christ’s church has to have prophets and apostles. His church is the “building fitly framed” in which the saints dwell (in this case Christ’s church is not restricted to an earthly institution, it includes His organization in Heaven. So when we as a church – when we as members of the church – are truly saved by Christ’s blood, we can become sanctified as a holy temple in the Lord. This sanctification is the process that truly lifts us to God as His sons and daughters. This process is only possible through Christ’s redeeming blood.

Remembering Allison

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With the strike of an automobile, one year ago today tragedy struck our family. My niece was riding her bicycle with her father and her sister when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. A young man’s failure to brake resulted in a broken body and many broken hearts. It has been a tough year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As I wrote in a past post: “The healing waters of Christ have a hard time washing away our hurt and grief if we keep it locked up within the stony tables of our hearts.” Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow and suffering and pain. His bruised and broken body can help us overcome the pains in our lives. The sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in this life. We can even find joy amidst the hardship. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

I urge you to read what I wrote last year in response to Allison’s death. During that time our family was surrounded by so much love. The love removed some of the hurt. I also have a series of posts on lessons I have learned from death. These posts were written in 2009, before Allison’s death.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
  6. Part 6
  7. Part 7
  8. Part 8
  9. Part 9
  10. Part 10
We still sorrow for Allison; the separation still hurts. We miss her but we know that she is surrounded by family and peace. We know that through the sealing power of the Priesthood of God she is part of my sister’s family forever. Allison is not forever lost, we will see her again in a glorious and joyful reunion.

Grading on the Curve

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In some classes the professor does what is called grading on a curve. Sometimes this means fitting the class grades to a strict Gaussian distribution with a “C” grade as the mean and all the other grades evenly distributed around that point. In this case some people will get lower grades than they “earned” if the average was above a “C”. However, most of the time grading on a curve results in a boost to everyone’s grades. For example, if the class mean unadjusted grade is a 75%, a professor might move the average up 5% points, adding 5% points to everyone’s grades. In college I had two courses where the examinations were designed for a 33% to be a “C”. That means that if I only got 33/100 points on an exam, it would be curved up to where it looks like I received a 75/100 on the examination. The exams were designed so no one, or maybe the rare individual, received a 100/100 on an exam. Some people believed this manner of examination to be unduly harsh and unjust. Even having to struggle through taking such difficult exams, I appreciated the theory of that design. Making examinations difficult allows the professor to see a true range in abilities and learning. If a test is too easy, too many people get perfect scores and they do not learn anything and the professor does not appropriately judge their knowledge. I think it teaches an important point about the justice and mercy of God.

The Book of Mormon prophet taught this important truth about the role of the Savior in the balance between justice and mercy. Nephi wrote, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23). In the test of this life, God has designed what some see as an onerously difficult examination. Sometimes it seems like we are thrown into the test without preparation. However, we were prepared, we just do not remember all of the preparation. Because it is difficult, all of us fall short of perfection on the test. Only One ever received a perfect score – Jesus Christ. Because of Christ’s divinity and calling, he is able to provide the mercy to counteract the justice. He provides the curve that makes up our shortcomings. Through His grace we can be saved “after [above and beyond] all we can do.” Our Heavenly Father, through Christ, can take our imperfect scores and curve them up to perfection. However, in the school of life in order for our grades to be curved up we have to accept the curve. This means we have to do a set of things in order to receive the curve. We do this by faith in Christ and by receiving the necessary ordinances – baptism, confirmation, temple endowment, temple sealing. By these efforts are we able to fully accept the grace of Christ and receive His curve that will lift us to perfection and to home. We could not make it without Christ and His atoning sacrifice.

Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews

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We read in Hebrews 1, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1-4).

In these verses we learn that Christ was appointed heir of all things; He was “made so much better than the angels” and received a greater inheritance and more excellent name (i.e., God). If Christ was appointed heir, that means that at some point He was not heir. He grew into His inheritance.

From these verses we also learn that Jesus created the worlds (our earth plus other planets {we could also probably include moons and stars in there as worlds}) acting under the direction of the Father (“God…[spake] unto by his Son…by whom also he made the worlds.”). Heavenly Father created the worlds, but by His Son.

We also learn that God the Father and Jesus Christ look the same (“the express image of his person”) but are not the same individual. They are, however, completely unified in purpose and power.

In Hebrews 2 we learn some more about Christ: “But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:6-10).

Christ was made “a little lower than the angels.” Wait, didn’t we just read previously that Christ was made “better than the angels”? We did. Christ was “a little lower than the angels” because He could die. He was mortal and died. Through His death, all death was conquered. Through His sacrifice, we have a way to return to Heavenly Father in glory. Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, he received a crown of glory and honor and dominion. Through His atonement, Christ, “the captain of [our] salvation” was made perfect. What this means is that He was not perfect before this event (suffering, death, and resurrection). He was sinless and blameless but not perfected like unto His Father. However, He is perfect now.

What this all implies is that we can follow a similar path. We do not have to atone for our sins if we accept Christ’s atonement through faith and repentance and the ordinances of the restored gospel. We can become joint-heirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17). This means that just as Christ is perfect, we too can be made perfect through His atonement. We can become like Him.

From these two chapters we learn 1) that Christ is a distinct individual from the Father; 2) He created the worlds under the direction of God; 3) His perfection and Godhood were bestowed upon Him by His Father (i.e., perfection is a process) and were not who He was in the beginning; 4) we can receive of God’s glory like Christ did.

Remembering 9/11

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Ten years ago on a bright Utah morning, the weather was cooling down as Fall approached. I woke up early to get ready for a class. It was my first semester back at Brigham Young University after my mission. I had spent the summer working and enjoying time with friends. It was a busy summer; many recently returned missionaries find that they feel like they have to be constantly doing something. This stems from the 60-80 hour work weeks most missionaries have. All this work, 6+ days a week, then we come home and have so little to do, comparatively. In this mindset I had a busy summer and was excited to be back in school in order to continue my education and figure out what I wanted to do in life.

I had two classes on Tuesdays – Introduction to Psychology and History of Civilization. My first class was at 8 AM so I was up early, getting ready for the day. I turned on the television to watch the morning news while I finished preparing for school. CNN had some shocking news. Something – a plane or a missile (reports were unclear at that time) – had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The smoke pouring from the building was shocking. Everyone was in shock. Then, as I was watching, a plane hit the second tower. Shortly later, the towers collapsed. We know the rest of the story.

I attended both of my classes that day. I think one of my classes was cancelled after we got there but I have notes from my psychology class. I watched the news coverage. Everyone was in shock. I read news stories online and saw additional photos and videos of the events of that tragic day. But I do not have a lot of specific memories other than that. I had never been to New York City. I did not know anyone from New York or who had a personal connection with someone who lost a life in the attacks. I was only weeks into a new semester after a two year break from school. I was living in a new place with new roommates. There was so much going on that I do not remember a lot from that time. I say this not as an excuse or to lessen the events of the day; I say this because there are so many more people who were affected much more than I was. My country had been attacked; my fellow Americans had been attacked but many people lost loved ones in the attacks. Many people were there to see the devastation in person. The effects on me were circumstantial but still vivid. It’s difficult to imagine what it would have been like – and what it still is like – for those directly affected by the attacks.

What I do remember is how our nation – the United States of America – came together; we united as people, we united as states, we united as a nation under the banner of stripes and stars and under to banner of freedom. We united across faiths and ethnicities. We united as one. This has been the foundation of our nation for many years – e pluribus unum – out of many, one. We stand united, we fall divided. Unity is something desired by the followers of God. Jesus prayed in His great intercessory prayer (see John 17) that He and we might be one with His Father.

It was as a united people that we banded together in prayer and service. Many people answered that horrific act of hate and violence at the hands of wicked men with acts of love and compassion. There were firm responses – tyranny does not understand love and does not respond to charity. But as a nation, our love for one another burned brighter and with more clarity in the days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001. Our hearts turned to family and friends. Our hearts turned to strangers. Good Samaritans shared of their oil of life, their means, and of their love with those in need.

Shortly after the events of 9/11, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley talked at General Conference. I’ll quote from his address.

“You are acutely aware of the events of September 11, less than a month ago. Out of that vicious and ugly attack we are plunged into a state of war. It is the first war of the 21st century. The last century has been described as the most war-torn in human history. Now we are off on another dangerous undertaking, the unfolding of which and the end thereof we do not know. For the first time since we became a nation, the United States has been seriously attacked on its mainland soil. But this was not an attack on the United States alone. It was an attack on men and nations of goodwill everywhere. It was well planned, boldly executed, and the results were disastrous. It is estimated that more than 5,000 innocent people died. Among these were many from other nations. It was cruel and cunning, an act of consummate evil.

Recently, in company with a few national religious leaders, I was invited to the White House to meet with the president. In talking to us he was frank and straightforward.

That same evening he spoke to the Congress and the nation in unmistakable language concerning the resolve of America and its friends to hunt down the terrorists who were responsible for the planning of this terrible thing and any who harbored such.

Those of us who are American citizens stand solidly with the president of our nation. The terrible forces of evil must be confronted and held accountable for their actions. This is not a matter of Christian against Muslim. I am pleased that food is being dropped to the hungry people of a targeted nation. We value our Muslim neighbors across the world and hope that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer. I ask particularly that our own people do not become a party in any way to the persecution of the innocent. Rather, let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive. It is the terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down.

We of this Church know something of such groups. The Book of Mormon speaks of the Gadianton robbers, a vicious, oath-bound, and secret organization bent on evil and destruction. In their day they did all in their power, by whatever means available, to bring down the Church, to woo the people with sophistry, and to take control of the society. We see the same thing in the present situation.

We are people of peace. We are followers of the Christ who was and is the Prince of Peace. But there are times when we must stand up for right and decency, for freedom and civilization, just as Moroni rallied his people in his day to the defense of their wives, their children, and the cause of liberty (see Alma 48:10).

Great are the promises concerning this land of America. We are told unequivocally that it “is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). This is the crux of the entire matter—obedience to the commandments of God.

The Constitution under which we live, and which has not only blessed us but has become a model for other constitutions, is our God-inspired national safeguard ensuring freedom and liberty, justice and equality before the law.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets which we have had constantly before us.

From the day of Cain to the present, the adversary has been the great mastermind of the terrible conflicts that have brought so much suffering.

Treachery and terrorism began with him. And they will continue until the Son of God returns to rule and reign with peace and righteousness among the sons and daughters of God.

Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us.

May the God of heaven, the Almighty, bless us, help us, as we walk our various ways in the uncertain days that lie ahead. May we look to Him with unfailing faith. May we worthily place our reliance on His Beloved Son who is our great Redeemer, whether it be in life or in death, is my prayer in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

Ten years have passed since that fateful day. Some people have turned to God. Others have cursed God and turned away from Him. The unity and love was short-lived. We are once again a nation that is divided. Lasting love and peace will not be obtained separately from God. He is the source of goodness and love. He is our solace and our song in the fearful night. May we as a nation and a world turn towards God. We must build our foundations upon Him and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ:

“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12).

We live in a tumultuous time. As we turn toward God and Christ, we will find peace amidst the storms of life. That is one of the great miracles in life – that we can find solace when our world is crashing down around us. Christ’s Atonement does not prevent the hurt or heartache but it does provide the help and healing. The Atonement of Christ is where we as a nation and a world will find peace over the events of that tragic day ten years ago.

Sacrament: Body and Blood

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The symbols of the sacrament of the Lord Jesus Christ that we use in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are bread and water. When the bread and water are blessed in Sacrament Meeting at church, they are done in just that order – the bread first and then the water. We do this because that is the order that the Savior instituted the sacrament.

The bread of the sacrament represents Christ’s body. The water represents His blood. In that vein (pun intended), the bread represents Christ’s power over the body, over physical death. The water represents His atoning blood and power over spiritual death. When we partake of the sacrament we do so as part of our repentance of sins (strictly speaking, we do not repent through the sacrament, we should repent before we partake of the sacrament; however, the covenants we make during the sacrament are similar to the ones we make during baptism. Through the sacrament the Lord blesses us with the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost justifies us to God. Thus, in a lot of ways partaking of the sacrament is part of our repentance process). Further, when we partake of the sacrament we are also doing so in remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and looking forward to our own resurrection. Christ provides salvation over death and hell through His body and blood.

I have written about this before but I taught this yesterday to my Priest Quorum and thought the concept was worth reposting.