Thursday, January 27, 2011

We Believe: Atonement and Mercy

Article of Faith #3: We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

We believe that Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world.  He was the only one who could sacrifice himself for the mistakes and transgressions for the whole human race.  He willingly suffered until He bled from every pore because of love for each and everyone of us.  He then suffered brutality and shame as He was led from trial to trial.  Beaten, spat upon, mocked, whipped, and crowned with plated thorns, Jesus Christ then marched to Calvary where He suffered upon the cross.  He laid down His life willingly; no one could take it from Him.  On the third day He rose and became "the first fruits of them that slept (1st Corin. 15:20)."

We believe that not only were the pains of our sins suffered by our Savior, but also every pain and heartache we can experience in this life.  The prophet Alma taught "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and  afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people...that he may know how to succor his people. (Alma 7:11-12)"  Christ can give us aid in any circumstance we face because He has been there and knows the pains that we are bearing.

We believe however, that just because Christ suffered our pains and our sins, life is not a free ride.  As the prophet Nephi taught, "It is by grace we are saved, after all we can do (2nd Nephi 25:23)".  God has given us the laws of the gospel for us to live and to obey.  Just as a gift given at Christmas means nothing until the recipient opens and uses the gift, so does Christ's unmatchable gift of the Atonement only take effect as we use it in our everyday lives.

We believe that one of the greatest blessings of the Atonement is that of mercy.  Because Christ suffered the price for our sins, He can extend mercy unto us for those things which we have repented of.  Through Christ's mercy, judgement day can go from a day of despair and darkness to a great and marvelous day of peace and joy.  Through that gift of mercy we will have the opportunity to live with our Heavenly Father and our families for all eternity.

How grateful I am for the Atonement.  Through Christ we have a Friend that we can turn to when things go bad.  We have the greatest Supporter the universe has ever known when we have our trials.  We have a Savior, who paid the price for our sins and did for us that which we could not do for ourselves; paved the way for eternal life.  I know that Christ lives and loves us more than we can understand.  I know that obedience brings blessings for this world and the world to come.  Mercy is the great gift Christ has extended to each of us, so let us take it in and use it on a daily basis.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We Believe: Agency, Accountability, and Justice

Article of Faith #2: We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. 

The second Article of Faith represents our belief that each of us have the God-given gift of agency and that we are "free to choose liberty and eternal life...or to choose captivity and death (2nd Nephi 2:27)".

We believe that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a necessary step in the Plan of Salvation.  Had Adam and Eve not fallen then they would have never brought forth children, nor would the world have continued in its progression (see 2nd Nephi 2:22-23, Moses 5:10-11).  As the prophet Lehi taught his sons, "Adam fell that men might be (2nd Nephi 2:25)."

We believe that God has given unto man his agency or the ability to choose (see D&C 101:78).  We are free to choose what we will do with our lives, what path to follow, and what to be.  I love the scripture that says, "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things... men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will...For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward (D&C 58:26-28)."

We believe that just like everything in the world, you are free to make a choice but you cannot choose the consequences.  That is the principle of justice; obtaining that which you earn by your actions, whether for good or for ill.  If we do that which is right and in harmony with God's law, then we are promised blessings (see D&C 130:20-22).  The inverse is true as well; if we break God's laws, then we are subject to the consequences which were put in place before the world was created.

We believe that we will all be held accountable for our lives and for how we exercised our gift of agency.  We read in the Bible, " I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened...and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Rev. 20:12, see also 2nd Nephi 9:12-15)."  If we were to be judged only on the principle of justice, then we would feel "glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence (Alma 12:14)" for none of us are perfect.

I know that agency is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us as His children.  I know that we are all making choices that are following the footsteps of the Savior.  I know that justice is real, and were it not for Christ we would all be in trouble.

picture taken from the Book of Mormon Student Manual, pg 114

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We Believe: Godhead

Article of Faith #1:  We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

The first article of faith addresses the most important principle of the gospel, the Godhead and our relationship with God.

We believe that God is our Heavenly Father, literally the father of our spirits.  He has a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bones and that we are created in His image (see D&C 130:22, Gen. 1:27).  He sent us here to Earth so  that we could learn and become more like Him.  Our Heavenly Father has an infinite amount of love for each of us and weeps when we weep and rejoices when we are glad.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten son of our Heavenly Father; that "by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God (D&C 76:24)."  We believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, established His church, and taught the gospel. That He willingly took upon Himself our sins, pains, and afflictions, gave His life upon the cross for all of us, and rose the third day conquering death.  He is our Advocate with the Father and our closest Friend.

We believe that the Holy Ghost, unlike the Father and the Son, is a personage of Spirit and does not have a body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22).  His mission is to testify of truth and help us draw nearer unto our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  He is the Comforter (see John 14:26), a protector, a guide, and the Testator (see Moroni 10:5-7). 

Though separate individuals, our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are all united in one purpose, that is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39)."  It amazes me to think that the three greatest beings in the universe care about each one of us individually and want us to be happy.  I am grateful for the knowledge of the Godhead and Their role and influence in my life.

*picture taken from Doctrine and Covenants seminary study guide, pg. 106

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Gentlemen, this is a football"

Vince Lombardi was the legendary coach for the Green Bay Packers from 1959-1967 and then coached the Washington Redskins for one year.  His career stats included 96 wins to 34 losses, six Division championships, two conference championships, and two Superbowl wins.  He won Coach of the Year in 1959, was inducted into the hall of fame in 1971, and is the namesake for the current Superbowl trophy.  What was his recipe for success?  It included a good coaching staff, players who would work and give it their all, ingenuity and clever thinking, and a good fan base.  I personally feel that one of the key ingredients was the opening speech that Vince Lombardi gave his team the first day of pre-season training.  His legendary speech would always begin with the words, "Gentlemen, this is a football."

Players who had played the game of football for years beyond counting, who knew the game and what it was about and their coach would begin with those five simple words, "Gentlemen, this is a football."  Vince Lombardi would then go over the basics of what a football is and its role in the game.  He would then take his team out and show them the field, explaining where the out-of-bounds lines and the end zones were.  He would go over the basics of the game, explaining rules and organization of players.  The question is, why spend time on the basics of the game when everyone knew them?  Repetition is the word that I think of;  repetition and necessity.

In life how often do we need to go over things again and again.  Whether it is training for a position at work or memorizing information for a school exam, we all review the basics over and over and over and over again. 

The gospel is the same way.  I remember every year for seminary we would spend the first two class periods going over the plan of salvation.  Why?  because it is that important!  Elder Russel M. Nelson once addressed this repetition of gospel principles.  He said, "Some of you may wonder if there won’t be some redundancy. Of course there will! Isn’t it wonderful that we can gain the added benefit of repetition. Even the Savior taught the same doctrines multiple times to reinforce concepts. Consider how often He teaches us through the scriptures to believe and be baptizedKnowing that we need to learn principles line upon line, precept upon precept, the Lord repeats many concepts so that we do not miss them. Such instruction...will help increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." 

Think of building a house.  If you were to put up the walls without a floor, what would happen?  How about trying to add the roof without the foundation?  I am going to say it is a safe assumption that you wouldn't get very far.  The same is true with the gospel.  How can we build a mansion of faith in Jesus Christ if we do not have an improving knowledge of who He is?

Because of that view of need for basics, I am going to spend the next few blog posts going over the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the Articles of Faith.  I know that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass and the Lord wants us to know the basics of His church (See Alma 37:6-7).  I know that even if we think we understand the doctrines there is more for us to learn and apply.  So echoing the words of Vince Lombardi, "Gentlemen and women, this is what we believe..."

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Touch of the Master's Hand"

One of my favorite scriptures is Moroni 10:32.  Here Moroni knows that he only has a little room left on the plates and is very selective of what he writes, only putting the most important things.  He says, "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 perfected in Christ."  The simple invitation of coming unto Christ and allowing the Atonement to perfect us as long as we give our all is so powerful.

"Christ in Gethsemane" by Harry Anderson
 Before my mission I thought that since I knew a bunch of scriptures referencing the Atonement that I knew what the Atonement is.  I was sorely mistaken.  I have come to a new appreciation of our Savior's sacrifice for all of man-kind as I have seen a change in my life and a change in the lives of those we come in contact with everyday.  I have seen trials made lighter and peace given to those that need it.  I have sicknesses been healed and pains lessened.  I have seen hope come to the hopeless and forgiveness to the guilty.  I have seen as others have "come unto Christ" that Christ has taken a new priority in their lives and the Spirit has had a greater influence on their behalf. 

One of my favorite poems of all time is entitled "The Touch of the Master's Hand" written by Myra Brooks Welch in the 1920's.  Her poetic description of the Atonement goes as follows:

’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone!” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game—and he travels on.
He’s “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.
The Savior does not care how wealthy we are or how much education we have.  He does not care whether we are from the wealthiest nation or the poorest country.  He does not care whether we are black or white, bond or free, male or female, all He asks is that we love Him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. (See 2nd Nephi 26:33)  Because of His infinite love, we may all continue to better ourselves and change our lives to be more like Christ's.  Because of His love, our Savior laid down His life so that we may have a chance to live with God again.  Because of His love, He "suffered these things for all, that [we] might not suffer if [we] would repent (D&C 19:16)."  I know that the Atonement is real.  I know that if we hearken to the words of Christ we may be free from guilt and pain.  I know that Christ lives.
For more reading, please see Boyd K. Packer's talk "The Touch of the Master's Hand" and Bruce R. McKonkie's talk "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane"

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

The old adage of "monkey see, monkey do" has been something that I have always found humor in and has always stuck with me.  As far as I can tell, the story behind the saying is that monkeys will imitate what they see, whether for good or bad, helpful or hurtful. 

Even though watching monkeys imitate some of the crazy things they see is funny, there is a more serious problem; that is people acting just like monkeys and copying some of the not-so-brilliant things they see.  How many problems in the world come up because someone tried something they saw somebody do on TV which looked really cool and some friend encouraged them to try it?  There is a reason I'm sure that commercials began to include the subtitle of "Don't try this at home.  Stunt done by a professional." 

Role models also play a big factor in the long-term picture.  I know most kids and adults have their heroes they look up to, whether a family member or an athlete or an actor.  What if that person does something that isn't of the highest standards?  What message does that send to the people who are looking up to them?

The big question is, are we that kind of role model?  Are we the friend who is encouraging someone to do something stupid or to rise to a new level?  The Savior taught that "Ye are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16, 3rd Nephi 12: 14-16).  We become a light and an example to everyone of the Savior and His love for us; just as a lighthouse guides men to the safe harbor.

I know that the example we set is paramount to those around us.  If we are not doing our best, then we truly cannot expect others to rise to the great sense of happiness we have received.  Let us each follow more perfectly the perfect example, Jesus Christ, and live our lives as He would have us do so, and not like the monkeys of the world who do whatever seems cool and new.
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