The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ

Book of Mormon Tad R. Callister

This quote comes from, “The Book of Mormon – A Book from God,” by Tad R. Callister from the October 2011 General Conference.

I love this testimony and truth about the Book of Mormon. Look at the language Elder Callister uses:

  • emblazoned
  • undeniable
  • merciful
  • remedy
  • superior healing power

Truly, the Book of Mormon is powerful.

The Book of Mormon teaches us principles that will give us “book knowledge” about the gospel. But there is more. When we read the Book of Mormon every day, we are inspired to live what we have learned. It is when our reading and our daily commitment to live what we have learned combine that we gain experiential knowledge of the Savior.

We will then have a witness of Him emblazoned on our souls. And what does that mean – that we are really close to a really “neat” guy – that we are super knowledgeable about someone who was a “great rabbi”?

No!

It means that we are empowered by the Atonement. It means that we are healed from our sins. It means that we are comforted caused by the pain of others. It means that we are made whole from the infirmities we face in mortal life. It means that we are empowered to overcome our weakness.

Having Christ emblazoned on our souls means that we know of Him through study and that we know Him through intimate experience.

I know that this is true. The Book of Mormon has been a beacon in my life. It has brought me close to the Savior. It has worked with the Bible to help me understand 1) Why I need a Savior, and 2) How the Savior truly is a manifestation of God’s love.

Do you have a witness of Christ emblazoned on your soul? How has the Book of Mormon helped you to gain this witness?

Struggle and Surrender

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I’ve been thinking about resolutions, change, and everything else so many people think about when Jan 1 rolls around.

I’ll fully admit that I love the new year. I love making new goals. I love assessing my past year. And I love marching forward. This doesn’t mean that I’m great at keeping goals. I’m not. I think that my strength might be that I’m not a perfectionist – I don’t get caught up on what I haven’t done or how I’ve failed. I just look forward to what I can change.

So…it’s that time of year, and I’ve been thinking about my resolutions – what I want to change about myself and how I want to move forward. Interestingly enough, it has me looking at my weaknesses and struggles.

Struggles

It’s an interesting word. I think that we say it a lot. I know I do. We say things like, “I struggle with my weight.” “I struggle at keeping my budget.” “I struggle with reading my scriptures.” “I struggle …fill in the blank…”

I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve said it because

  1. It seems like a humble thing to do – admit to my weakness and struggle.
  2. It’s a reminder. I can give myself a break because I struggle with something.
  3. It’s practically an excuse. – It is hard to change because I struggle with that.

In the past, tended to think of a struggle as some kind of force I was absolutely powerless against.

***

Recently, I was meditating and praying, pleading with the Lord to help me with my struggles. As I did, the words, struggle and surrender, echoed in my mind. They left an imprint on me, and I decided to find out why.

What is a struggle? I wondered. Well…here it is – the definition:struggle definition

I had an epiphany. Struggling is my choice. I don’t have to do it! I don’t have to struggle with my weaknesses. My struggles often feel so much bigger than me, but they aren’t. In fact, my struggles were of my own making. I was the one choosing to struggle!

Now, I think that it is important to make a clarification. Weaknesses and struggles aren’t the same thing. Weaknesses are parts of our personality that often make our lives more difficult. A struggle, however, is what we do with that weakness. And, I have spent many years struggling against or with my weaknesses. Weakness is what I was born with. Struggling with them is my choice.

Sometimes there seems to be a lot of stress with weakness – like there is this big responsibility we have to “turn them into strengths.” Well. That’s simply not the case. The Lord teaches:

Ether 12:27

Ether 12:27

The Lord gave us weakness not so that we would struggle against it and try to “fix it” ourselves. He gave us weakness so that we would be humble.

He gave us weakness so that we would surrender.

It’s also important to recognize what surrender means in this instance. I’m not suggesting that we would surrender and “give up” in this fight against our weakness by giving in to them. On the contrary, we surrender ourselves, the natural man, or our wills to the Lord.

I’ll give an example – I’ve been struggling (there’s that word again) with my hands. I have a serious issue of dishydrotic eczema. My hands are swollen and itchy. Sometimes they even ooze. I’ve been on Prednisone four different times in the last year because of this condition. It has taken me some time to figure out the cause of it – mostly dietary.

My favorite foods – wheat, nightshades, and almonds seem to make my skin go crazy – my hands will blister, burn, itch, and sometimes I even get hives on my arms. This situation with my hands has been difficult on me, and I have spent many hours in prayer concerning them.

I knew that I needed to change my diet, and I was working on it, but I struggle with that. I struggle with it! Like it’s some carte blanche excuse. I would often plead with Heavenly Father that He would heal my hand condition, while I still ate the things that I knew triggered them. I wanted him to be magic. All because I struggled with giving up wheat and nightshades.

I sat, meditating, and I knew that instead of struggling, I needed to surrender. Struggling was my choice. Instead of struggling because I refused to give up my precious foods, I simply needed to surrender and say, “Okay. I do love wheat-based foods. I do love tomatoes and peppers. I do love almonds. But they hurt me. And if giving them up is what it takes to heal, then I’ll do it. I’ll give them up for thy help.”

***

The Lord wants to heal us physically and spiritually. And He will. The trick is that instead of wrestling against God, we simply need to submit ourselves to Him. When we finally choose to surrender the sins and habits that we are usually quite fond of, then, finally, His grace can begin to heal us.

***
Chinese Handcuff

One final analogy. Have you ever played with those Chinese handcuffs? I remember getting them from dollar stores when I was a kid. You put your fingers in, and the harder you pull, the stronger the hold.

It is when you finally surrender – when you stop resisting – that you find liberation.

Likewise, it is not when we struggle, but when we surrender to the Lord that we will find liberation, peace, and joy.

I’m the Canoe

canoe

I’ve been trying to figure out an analogy for a few days.

Imagine a canoe. There are people in it. One person is seated toward the front of the canoe, with a paddle. This person is strong. He/she is primarily required to paddle.

There is a person in the back of the canoe. This person is the most experienced of all in the canoe, but not necessarily the strongest, physically. This person is in charge of steering the canoe, and must be able to diplomatically lead the rest of the people in the canoe while directing their little boat.

Though not pictured, imagine that there is a person in the middle of the canoe. This person also has a paddle, but isn’t quite as strong as the person seated in the front, nor is this person as experienced as the paddler in the back of the canoe. The middle-person is learning about canoeing. As far as propelling the canoe goes, he may not be the most important canoe-er, but he is there.

I’ve been thinking about people in a canoe – in terms of family. In thinking about this, the question is, who is the paddler in the bow? In the stern? In the hull?

Well, it’s obvious to me that children are the paddlers in the hull. They are part of this team, they paddle from time to time, they help, but are not of critical importance…yet. They are training and gaining experience for when they will one day sit at the stern or the bow.

So. That leaves us with the person sitting in the front of the canoe and the person in the back. I’ve been wondering, which one am I?

There are days when I feel like I’m steering this ship. You know what I mean. I remember in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when the mother explains to the daughter:
man is the head

Even though this is funny, and I admit that I can act somewhat “neck-like” at times (without being manipulative, of course!), I don’t know if I’m the one on the back of the canoe. We don’t always move according to my direction. Maybe I’m actually in front.

I’ll also admit that there are days, many days, when I feel like that I’m in the bow. I’m paddling, paddling, and paddling. I wake up, feed the kids, exercise, start homeschool (which is quite a list in and of itself), feed the kids lunch, keep them from fighting/destroying the house/general chaos, throw a load of laundry in, talk to my husband about the business, take the kids to the library, make dinner, … you get the idea. We all do this.

I’ll say that again. We all do this. As in, not only are mothers paddlers, but fathers are, too. I know that my husband has a billion things going on in his life: he has to paddle, paddle, paddle.

I don’t think I’m steering. I’m not sure if I’m the primary paddler either. But I know that I’m something in this little analogy that I’ve got swirling in my head.

***

Last night, I was feeling a little frustrated. It was Saturday, I had been looking forward to some time just sitting, breathing, and catching up. But, the whole day flashed before my eyes. Nothing particularly bad happened, but my expectations for the day weren’t quite met, and I needed a little encouragement. A little buoying up.

I was thinking and praying about my frustrations of the day when I realized the solution to my analogy. I’m not steering the ship, nor am I powering it forward. I’m not sitting idly in the hull. I’m not any of the oarsmen.

I’m the canoe.

I bear up my family, support them, stabilize them. My role isn’t particularly glorious, neither is it obscure. I’m simultaneously a part of the action yet partially submerged under water.

Sometimes I feel tired and “waterlogged.” And then the question comes to my mind, who ever really takes time to appreciate the boat? I might spring a leak, which causes panic and maybe even a fair amount of cursing. ;) Despite everything else that is going right, those paddlers in the boat can only see the one small fissure. Of course, that fissure is letting in water, so I can’t blame them. I just wish they could see how often everything goes right.

This line of thinking isn’t necessarily helpful as it usually leads to further temptation – It’s a temptation for me to imagine life without them for a moment. No burden to bear. No dirty feet, no rocking back and forth. No bickering about who is paddling, about who splashed whom. I’m tempted to think of a life other than carrying my people, their needs, their worries, their weight back and forth – all done without much of a thought of that vessel that carried them.

It’s tempting to imagine life in the middle of a peaceful lake, with me just floating aimlessly.

Yet, the truth is, I am the canoe, and when you see a canoe in the middle of the lake, empty, it’s a problem. Typically, an empty canoe looks like this:

docked canoe

An empty canoe is docked. It’s going nowhere. While it’s not useless, you could say that an empty canoe doesn’t have much of a purpose. A canoe’s purpose comes into play with every person that boards it: Children, spouse, friends, siblings, students, and more. While it can be tiring to bear the weight of these people, I must admit that I’m honored. I don’t mind being partially submerged, stepped on, sat upon. I don’t mind being weighed down and directed. Without them, I’m going nowhere.

And I also know that without me, they aren’t going anywhere, either.

***
This morning, still a little down, I decided to re-read the talk, Behold Thy Mother, by Jeffery R. Holland, one of the current Twelve Apostles.

Anyone who is familiar with General Conference (A meeting for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where we hear from a living prophet and apostles) knows that there are talks for women or about women/motherhood from time to time. I have to admit that I’ve always liked these talks. They encourage me. They motivate and inspire me.

However, I will admit that I’ve had this sneaking suspicion from time to time – are these talks just “pep talks?” Are they obligatory, “keep the women happy” talks?

This morning, I re-read Elder Holland’s talk, and I was reminded, this isn’t just some pep talk to tide me over until next conference. No. These talks are messages from God. The Lord knows that I am a canoe, and He is grateful for my decision to be this kind of a woman.

Elder Holland taught:

“Bear, borne, carry, deliver. These are powerful, heartening messianic words. They convey help and hope for safe movement from where we are to where we need to be—but cannot get without assistance. These words also connote burden, struggle, and fatigue—words most appropriate in describing the mission of Him who, at unspeakable cost, lifts us up when we have fallen, carries us forward when strength is gone, delivers us safely home when safety seems far beyond our reach. “My Father sent me,” He said, “that I might be lifted up upon the cross; … that as I have been lifted up … even so should men be lifted up … to … me.”

But can you hear in this language another arena of human endeavor in which we use words like bear and borne, carry and lift, labor and deliver? As Jesus said to John while in the very act of Atonement, so He says to us all, ‘Behold thy mother!'” – Jeffrey R. Holland

We women are all “canoes.” I don’t mean only mothers, either. I know other women who have born others up, strengthened them, and even delivered them. I’ve had these types of women in my life. Of course my own mother, I’ve had others, too. Kerri, Stephanie, Kara, Sister Chisholm, Vanessa, Chandra, Donna, Jocelyn, Hillary, Janay, Rachelle, Krista, Niki, Celeste, and sooo many more women. They have helped to bear me up and deliver me along when I’ve needed some support. At times, I’ve been a willing paddler, while they have acted as my canoe.

Elder Holland continues:

“You see, it is not only that they bear us, but they continue bearing with us. It is not only the prenatal carrying but the lifelong carrying that makes mothering such a staggering feat. Of course, there are heartbreaking exceptions, but most mothers know intuitively, instinctively that this is a sacred trust of the highest order. The weight of that realization, especially on young maternal shoulders, can be very daunting.

A wonderful young mother recently wrote to me: “How is it that a human being can love a child so deeply that you willingly give up a major portion of your freedom for it? How can mortal love be so strong that you voluntarily subject yourself to responsibility, vulnerability, anxiety, and heartache and just keep coming back for more of the same? What kind of mortal love can make you feel, once you have a child, that your life is never, ever your own again? Maternal love has to be divine. There is no other explanation for it. What mothers do is an essential element of Christ’s work. Knowing that should be enough to tell us the impact of such love will range between unbearable and transcendent, over and over again, until with the safety and salvation of the very last child on earth, we can [then] say with Jesus, ‘[Father!] I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’” – Jeffrey R. Holland

At first, last night, when I realized I was “the canoe,” I felt a quiet sadness wash over me. I thought of my roles as a woman: as someone who has given herself to her husband and children. Though I have done so willingly, last night I was feeling sorry for myself, wondering when it will be my turn to fulfill my own dreams and chart my own course. When will they support me?

Heavenly Father heard my frustrated prayer, and I was comforted in my heart, but I also felt a confirmation from the Spirit: Yes. You are a canoe. Yes, I’ve made sacrifices, and I will continue to do so. But the Lord would help me to understand more in the future.

As I said, I felt comfort wash over me, even though I was still a bit troubled at the thought of being a canoe. I decided I’d just be patient, go to sleep, and that I’d figure this out later.

***

This morning, as I read Elder Holland’s talk I felt confirmation of my thought last night. I am indeed a “canoe.” We women, who are choosing to righteously nurture those in our lives – our families, friends, and even strangers – we are canoes. It’s not particularly glamorous, but to the Lord and to the people in that boat it is valuable.

I am the canoe.

Grandma

I’ve been thinking about writing a post since Friday. And honestly, I should have written this post a long time ago.

This is how I think of my Grandma

This is how I think of my Grandma

This is my Grandma.

She passed away this Friday.

Grandma and Me

Grandma and Me

At the beginning of my life, I had a very close relationship with my Grandma. I was born in San Francisco, and my Grandma lived only a few hours north. My mom wasn’t married to my biological father (there was no man in the picture at my birth), so when I was born, it was just my mom, my grandma, me, and my mom’s roommate Doris.

Women.

Strong Women. And a little baby.

Grandma, my cousin, and me...I'm the baby looking for an escape route.

Grandma, my cousin, and me…I’m the baby looking for an escape route.

When I was about two, my mom got married to my dad, and then we moved to Houston. I didn’t have as much interaction with my Grandma after that.

Yet I have memories. We took a few trips out to California. She and my Grandpa made a few trips to Houston. My grandma would write us letters. She would send us books and tapes where she read the text out loud, so we could listen to her tell us a story. She made me a quiet book when I was a baby. And she made me a quilt.

Grandma and Grandpa on their Wedding Day

Grandma and Grandpa on their Wedding Day

Even after my parents got divorced, my dad would always remark about my grandmother, his ex-mother-in-law, “She’s a pretty amazing woman.”

And she was.

She could do it all. She knit, crocheted, quilted. She cooked and cleaned. She gardened. She raised a family and she was a breadwinner throughout most of my mom’s childhood – in a time when most women didn’t work outside of the home.

I remember Grandma coming out to Houston when my brothers were born. She’d clean, cook, and help my mom…all while crocheting baby blankets, tying quilts for my sister and I, and doing some small renovations in our house. Even though I didn’t understand everything that went into what she was doing, I remember that I loved having her there. And I remember that she never seemed too tired. She never complained. She worked, worked, worked, and we reaped all of the benefits.

This is another favorite picture. Doesn't she look like a feisty, fun girl?

This is another favorite picture. Doesn’t she look like a feisty, fun girl?

In some ways, my grandma seemed kind of no-nonsense. She had such a work ethic. Yet she was also absolutely hilarious – in the kind of quiet way that sneaks up on you. She was so practical, so matter of fact.

One time, when I was an adult, my Grandma was visiting me while I lived in Utah. We headed to Target to buy her a shirt. I was helping her look for something that she might like. I found a shirt, and thought it was very basic, it had something printed on it – some kind of label or brand. I honestly can’t remember.

She said, “What’s that, written on the shirt?”
“I think it’s the name of the brand.” I replied.
“Well, I’m not getting that. They don’t pay me to wear their clothes.”
“It’s a good price, though.”
“I’m not a walking billboard,” She said, and she found a plain, coral tee shirt that suited her much better.

I appreciate this outlook more and more every time I think about it.

So Pretty.

So Pretty.

After living in Houston for about 14 years or so, when I was a teenager, we moved to Pennsylvania – which happens to be even further away from California. We didn’t see my grandma for a really, really long time.

So much attitude. I LOVE IT!

So much attitude. I LOVE IT!

My grandma endured trials. So many trials. She was very poor, in a material sense, throughout most of her life. My Grandpa had a difficult upbringing of his own, and suffered from his own vices as a result. My grandma had to pick up the slack most of the time.

She suffered through the death of a son (My uncle died of cancer in his early 20s), she suffered through the death of four of her grandchildren. Yet she remained faithful and determined. She never seemed to complain or feel sorry for herself, despite experiencing true grief.

Grandma as a Child

Grandma as a Child

When I went to college, I moved to Utah. I was able to have more experiences with her – anytime she came to Utah for a family reunion, or when I would visit her in California. I tried to make more of a relationship with her by writing her letters and talking to her about family history. I was an okay granddaughter back then even though I hadn’t been geographically close to my grandma for so many years.

I went to California when My grandparents celebrated their fiftieth anniversary.

Fifty Years

Fifty Years

I went to California a few years after that, when my Grandfather passed away.

Grandpa

Grandpa

And then, a few years after the death of my Grandpa, my Grandma had a stroke. I don’t know who was most devastated by it – my grandmother, or her children and grandchildren. Everything about her changed.

The stroke didn’t effect her physically as much as it effected her mentally. It’s amazing how the brain works – how much we take it for granted. She had a lot of trouble speaking and communicating. She knew what she wanted to say, she knew how to say it, but it wouldn’t come out of her mouth.

She was a different woman.

It was a shock to all of us, but I think maybe it shocked her more than anyone else. She had always been so capable, and now, she was struggling with the most simplest of communication.

Despite this trial, she still bore such a strong, moving testimony of the Savior and the Gospel. Though her speech was slurred, her simple testimony that “This book, the Book of Mormon, is good,” was powerful and clear through the Spirit that accompanied her conviction.

She still worked hard. She came to my house when my first daughter, Tiger, was born. She held and rocked the baby, sang “I am a child of God,” and crocheted Tiger’s blessing dress.

She made progress and was able to keep living on her own. I stayed at her house once, shortly after she got this little (six-pound) dog, Millie. It was so cute. Grandma would clean, and garden, and cook. She would walk the dog, then hold it in her lap while complaining to it, “Someone needs to teach you to work. This is still one of my favorite memories. Hilarious.

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandma and Grandpa

More time passed, as did more strokes, and more difficulties, and then eight years ago it was determined that she would move away from California and to Pennsylvania to live with my mom.

She hung on for eight years. With each passing day, clinging tighter to her memories and her family history.

It was all so hard for her at the end, which almost makes me angry. I’m not angry at God or even Grandma. It’s just that general sense of anger – the kind that actually gives you the strength to persevere, in spite of your challenges.

I’d like to think that I inherited that stubbornness from her.

Maker's Gotta Make

Maker’s Gotta Make

I recently moved to Hawaii, and all of my stuff is still on the mainland. My sewing machine – in storage. My crochet hooks – in storage. My knitting needles – in storage. My art supplies – in storage. My embroidery floss – in storage.

Hawai’i is paradise, but at night, I need something to keep my hands busy. I finished a small project I was working on, and I’ve been craving making something.

I was telling my mom about this, and she laughs. “You can’t just watch T.V. You always have to do something.”
“Exactly!” I agreed. “I like watching a movie or show at night, but I can’t just sit still and do it. It drives me crazy.”
“You’re just like Grandma.”

It was a true compliment.

I hope that I’ve inherited a fraction of her faith, strength, work ethic. I know that I haven’t inherited her green thumb, but I hope that I’ve inherited her hands that make, that produce, and serve.

You know, actually, I do feel it. I feel like a part of her is in me, and I know that a part of her is in my children, too.

I’m so grateful for mothers and grandmothers. Women. I’m so grateful for my Grandma. This world was a better place because of her.

I only hope to honor and uphold her legacy.

Christ’s Advice on Loyalty to and Trust in God

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

In Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He gives us advice on giving alms, prayer, forgiveness, fasting, prioritization, and loyalty to and trust in God.

Today, we’ll focus on the final point taught in Matthew 6 – our loyalty to and trust in God. We’ll learn about unintended worship of mammon, trusting in God, and seeking His kingdom. Finally, we’ll look at the Atonement and see how this teaching helped Him to perform His sacred work.

Loyalty to God

Do

  • Do remember that it is impossible to serve both God and mammon.
  • Do remember that life is more than meat. (What we eat.)
  • Do remember that our body is more than our raiment. (How we clothe ourselves.)
  • Do remember that God knows our needs.
  • Do seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Don’t

  • Do not attempt to serve two masters.
  • Do not take thought for life – what you’ll eat, drink, wear, etc.
  • Do not be materialistic.
  • Do not take thought for the morrow; the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

We will study this section by breaking it down into three main parts.

You Cannot Serve Two Masters

The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn De Morgan

The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn De Morgan

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24

So – the Savior teaches us here that we can’t serve two masters. And who are our masters that we, at times, attempt to serve simultaneously? God and Mammon.

Mammon. I decided to look this word up. I’m familiar with it, of course, but just to be sure that I wasn’t assuming anything, I looked up the definition in the dictionary and found that Mammon is idolatry, treasure, worldliness.

It seems like it would be an easy thing not to do. Who, while worshipping Christ, would also worship mammon? It seems hypocritical. And while Christ often spoke to the Pharisees about hypocrisy, it’s important to remember that the Sermon on the Mount was given to the disciples. So – this is an issue that we believers really need to be concerned with. Our attempt to serve two masters might be happening more often than we think.

Ways we might be serving Mammon rather than God:

  • Excessive consumption of TV and media. Do celebrities and social networking become our “gods”? (I admit that I have a difficulty with internet and media! And I know that it gets in the way with my own ability to be serve God).
  • Addiction to food, drugs, pornography, or gambling These things become our “god” rather than the Lord. In many cases, these addictions can turn us against God. I understand that addiction is real, and I don’t want to make light of the situation for so many. I also know that in order to really beat an addiction, we have to submit to something else – God! We can’t serve to masters. Either our addictions will strip us away from God, or God will save us from our addictions.
  • Consumer Debt. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have come to the conclusion that being in excessive debt is our attempt to serve two masters. We think that we’re serving God, but we have this other master – Visa or the Bank – that we must answer to. The master of debt never sleeps. It accrues interest. It burdens us. Not only that, but how can we possibly serve God fully if we have the master of excessive consumer debt. I could go on about this, but don’t want to for this post. Maybe it is something that I will write about later in another blog post.

In any and each of the above mentioned forms of mammon (and I’m sure that there are more than what I just now came up with), we cannot serve God as we serve this other beast. It’s impossible.

It is impossible to multitask our allegiances.

Not only that, but the thought that we can is insidious – we will end up loving the one and hating the other.

Take No Thought

Interestingly enough, the scripture about serving God and Mammon isn’t the end of the chapter. It is a part of this series of verses. I have always thought of this scripture on its own – rather than it its context. Thinking about how it fits into the entire chapter of Matthew 6 might shed light on how serving mammon will turn us away from God.

In the very next verse, the Savior asks,

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” – Matthew 6:25

I’ve been thinking about why this verse follows the “no man can serve two masters” verse. It’s because they are related.

Instead of serving the master of mammon – worldliness and materialism – we ought to serve the Lord. We know this. And what usually gets in the way? Well – besides our tendency to be like raccoons (shiny stuff!), we kind of get wrapped up in our day-to-day needs.

Of course, we should be self-sufficient, and that’s something to consider. But the Lord is telling his disciples not to take any thought for their life. Instead, they should focus their efforts on something else.

This topic (just like the serving two masters topic) could be studied even further, but the point I want to make is this – instead of getting hung up on many of the details in our lives, we need to trust in God. He knows what we need. He knows that we need food, shelter, and clothing. He has created this entire earth – including us – and He understands the conditions of our lives. He will help us with them!

Our perceived needs should never trump our devotion to God.

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Just to be clear – I don’t think that the Lord is telling us to be lazy bums. He’s not telling us to get stuff for free from others who have more than we do. He’s not telling us to get everything we need from the government. This isn’t some kind of economic or political treatise.

In fact, I think that this is the exact opposite. He’s letting us in on the secret to how we can get all of our true needs met. Christ is telling us the order and pattern of His kingdom. He’s teaching us how to prioritize our efforts. And we can rest assured that we will be blessed for our obedience. Whether we are blessed now, temporally, or in the next life, we will be blessed for keeping His commandments.

The Savior explains:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33

Before we seek clothing, food, shelter, entertainment, or anything else, we should seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we prioritize the Lord, then the other needs we have will fall into place.

I actually think that it might go deeper than that, too.

I know that when I have started to prioritize the Lord’s kingdom first, before what I considered were my “needs,” I got a better idea of what my actual needs were. The Lord has not only sustained me in life, but He has molded me into a better person who isn’t always claiming to need another bigger, better thing. I’ve come to learn more about what is of true worth and value in this world.

When we choose to serve God over mammon, take no thought of our daily “needs”, and seek God’s kingdom, we show our loyalty to God and learn to rise above materialism. We learn to prioritize God’s kingdom, and trust that He will provide a way for us to have what we need and when we need it.

The Savior, of course, is a perfect example of this.

Christ’s Atonement

The Savior was a simple man from a simple background. It’s safe to say that He didn’t get caught up in a rat race to get ahead. He knew who He was. He knew whom He worshipped. And, above all, He sought His Father’s Kingdom.

During the act of the Atonement, we see this come together.

Only complete devotion to God would be able to empower Christ to get through the agony He suffered in Gethsemane. Even a single deeply-residing devotion toward the world would have nullified everything He did. He was perfectly loyal to God; He loved God perfectly.

Christ didn’t seem to take any thought of what He would eat, drink, wear, or do during this great work. He didn’t worry. He knew a trade – He was a carpenter – and I suppose that He had supported Himself before His ministry. He wasn’t out “bumming” off of people. Additionally, he wasn’t fretting about His retirement plan, His job, His house. He didn’t worry about having the latest in sandals or togas. He was secure that His needs would be met. He completely trusted His father.

During the Atonement, He didn’t take any thought of what would happen to Him later on. He lived in the present moment, always seeking God’s kingdom and fully submitting to every horrible thing that He was subjected to. He was burdened with the weight of the world in Gethsemane, judged and mocked in Jerusalem, and then crucified on Calvary. Yet he took no thought for Himself. Instead, He healed a centurion’s ear, saw to it that His mother was taken care of, and forgave the Romans who crucified Him.

Because of His consecration and complete devotion to God, all that God had was added to Him. He inherited glory and power. He overcame death. And because He diligently sought the Kingdom of God, He can offer it to all of us.

***
Our own potential can only be reached when we completely submit ourselves to God and give up worldliness. It can be difficult. But, instead of letting our minds be clouded by fears and worries, we should look to build His kingdom and trust that He will prepare a way for us to keep the commandments He has given to us.

***
Thanks for reading this today. I’m not sure that it is my best writing. My mind is hazy. This has been in my queue for a long time. Even though this might be written in a pretty confusing way, I feel the concept here with clarity. I know that we cannot serve two masters. I keep learning more and more about myself – how much pride and fear that I have. They reside deep in my soul and take so much to get rid of.

I know that as I look to the Savior’s example, I am encouraged. I can seek God’s kingdom. I can worry less about the details of my life and trust in the Lord. I can trust that He hears my prayers, understands my needs, and that He knows me, personally.

What do you do to “take no thought”? How do you seek Him? How have you benefitted by serving God rather than mammon?

On Being a Dreamer

Hello hello. I know that it has been a while – several months! There are good reasons for this – we have moved.

A few months ago, we sold our house, sold all of our stuff, took a trip across the country, and then moved far, far away. It has been both a liberating and a bit of a scary experience. I guess you could say it has been a moment of truth.

For more than a year and a half, Homey and I have been working on some crazy goals. We have been chasing dreams. Call it what you will. In all of it, we have been mindful of the Spirit through prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, fasting, and through careful study of our patriarchal blessings.

Sometimes I feel a little indulgent – in dreaming big, but I’ve come to believe that Heavenly Father wants us to dream big. After all, He has promised us Heaven if we are faithful. He has promised even more than that – to those who are faithful and covenant with Him – we can inherit all He has to offer us, including: “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…” (See Doctrine and Covenants 132:19.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is – I’ve learned that I can’t “dream big” enough. Heavenly Father’s dreams surpass mine every day of the week. With this knowledge in mind, Homey and I are dreaming big. We are doing what we can to live to our fullest potential. We want to keep the law of consecration by creating a better life – for ourselves, our families, and others.

It has been quite a ride.

At first, when you embark on such a daring quest, it’s fun – it’s novel. You have a lot of steam. You feel buoyed up by the Lord and by the confirmations that He gives – that you are on the right path.

Like anything, though – such a journey must be met with adversity and trial. It’s a fact. It’s a law. Anything worthwhile requires a lot of hard work and probably a healthy amount of “risk.”

We have faced that, too.

Anyway – I don’t know what I’m trying to say her in this post. I guess I just want you – whoever reads this – to know that I’m still here. I’m still learning. I’m learning soooo much. I hope that I can share more of these stories at a future point.

I also want to say that I know that God is a “dreamer.” I know that He wants each of us to do great things with our lives. And, what’s even more amazing is that He has relationships with each of us, individually. He doesn’t expect each of us to be “great” in the eyes of the world. We aren’t all expected to become president. Christ, arguably the greatest to ever live on this earth, lived a simple life. He wore sandals, served others, and didn’t really have a home. The point is that it doesn’t necessarily matter what we do – what constitutes a great life is our willingness to live up to the measure of our creations. We can live up to the measure of our creation by assessing all of our time, talents, blessings, and abilities and then by using them to build God’s Kingdom.

I also want to say that I know this path isn’t always all that super-duper easy. It hasn’t been easy for Homey and Me. I know that the path to fulfillment and purpose isn’t easy for anyone on this earth. This is precisely why it is such an exciting and worthwhile path.

Although this path we’re on hasn’t been easy, it’s been amazing, and I’ve already been blessed beyond my understanding. I’ve seen miracles in my life. I’ve felt the power of God in my life. And I’m excited to keep on going.

Sunrise in Hawaii.

Sunrise in Hawaii.

On the road - the Vermillion Ciffs

On the road – the Vermillion Ciffs

Hawaiian sunset

Hawaiian sunset

Aloha!

Aloha!

Getting a Kiss from a Cow in Massachusetts

Getting a Kiss from a Cow in Massachusetts

On the Road - Yuccas in New Mexico

On the Road – Yuccas in New Mexico

Grandpa and Sasquatch

Grandpa and Sasquatch

World's End in Massachusetts

World’s End in Massachusetts

Massachusetts on the Fourth of July

Massachusetts on the Fourth of July

Fenway Park

Fenway Park

mmmm.....wawa hoagie....

mmmm…..wawa hoagie….

The George Washington Bridge

The George Washington Bridge

Fun on a ride in Hershey, PA

Fun on a ride in Hershey, PA

The Wasatch Front

The Wasatch Front

A Mountain Spring in Utah

A Mountain Spring in Utah

On the road...on the border of Eastern Colorado and Kansas

On the road…on the border of Eastern Colorado and Kansas

Goodbye home

Goodbye home

The view of Moab and red rocks from the La Sal Mountains

The view of Moab and red rocks from the La Sal Mountains

Somewhere on the road in New Mexico or Colorado

Somewhere on the road in New Mexico or Colorado

Hidden Valley Hike, Moab, Utah

Hidden Valley Hike, Moab, Utah

Where is your path taking you?

Understanding Virtue: A Scripture Chain

In my ward, we are doing a Book of Mormon Summer reading challenge. This will help the young women to complete their value project for virtue: to read the Book of Mormon. The challenge is to read the Book of Mormon in 70 days – during the summer. (It is roughly 7.5 pages a day).

I’m going to start my summer reading challenge tomorrow. Today, I wanted to figure out what to study as I read the Book of Mormon. So…I’m thinking about the Virtue value project. I’m struck by the following question:

“What did He and those who followed Him do to live virtuous lives?” – from Virtue, Personal Progress Value Experience

And I think that’s what I want to study/learn about

Virtue!!!

Virtue!!!

Personally, I feel like we have a pretty limited understanding of virtue. I think that many of us feel like virtue means chastity. If so, then why not simply call it chastity? Maybe then we’ll elaborate and say, “Purity.” Still. Virtue is not really interchangeable for either chastity or purity. Sure, virtue includes chastity and purity, but I really think that it is that and more.

Here is a quick scripture chain that might help to shed a little light on virtue.

Proverbs 31:10

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” – Proverbs 31:1

This is the “virtue” scripture that usually comes to mind. It seems nice. I don’t know. We might have some stereotypes or even wrong impressions about this scripture. This isn’t a scripture that describes a woman who is quiet and appeased by a bunch of gems. This isn’t a scripture that describes a woman who is property that can be bought.

The rest of 31 describes the many “virtues” of this virtuous woman. They include:

  • She is trustworthy.
  • She does good – especially within the context of her marriage.
  • She works with her hands.
  • She brings food. She physically nourishes her family.
  • She wakes up early and takes care of her stewardship.
  • She is a wise investor.
  • She is a gardener – or creator.
  • She is a hard worker.
  • She knows that her merchandise is good. She is confident.
  • She has many skills – she is knowledgable.
  • She is charitable to the poor.
  • She is not afraid or helpless.
  • She provides well for her household.
  • She is elegant.
  • She causes her household to be elegant as well.
  • She brings fame and honor to her husband because of her many strengths.
  • She is strong.
  • She is honorable.
  • She is wise.
  • She is kind.
  • She is not idle.
  • She is a mother.
  • She is prolific in good works (of all kinds).
  • She fears the Lord.
  • She is praised.

All of these items in this list are ways that this woman is virtuous. You could say it another way – she is powerful. Her purity and chastity are part of what makes her virtuous, but she is more than that, too. She gets stuff done. I want to be like her, you know?!

Really look through this list with an open heart and mind. Today, we’d call the virtuous woman a “super-woman,” perhaps. She has a lot going on, for sure, but these things are all achievable – not all at once, but over time. (That’s nearly always the way). We can become wise, elegant, chaste, charitable, honorable, and strong. We don’t have to throw all of the balls in the air and do them at once. We have a lifetime to develop these qualities. And, while we’re striving, I believe we can consider ourselves to be virtuous women.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:45

“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” – Doctrine and Covenants 121:45

Now, lest you think that the charge to be virtuous only applies to women, here is an example where men are told to be virtuous, too.

Throughout verses 41-46, the Lord instructs Joseph Smith on the use of the Priesthood. In verse 39, the Lord warns Joseph of the nature of most men in regards to the Priesthood and to power, in general:

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” – Doctrine and Covenants 121:39

So – the Lord then tutors Joseph Smith on how to be a man who righteously bears the Priesthood of God. Since we made a list for the ladies, we’ll make a list for the men.

  • Not power hungry
  • Long-suffering
  • gentle
  • meek
  • loving to others – unconditionally
  • kind
  • exhibiting pure knowledge
  • without hypocrisy
  • without guile
  • reproving – which means GENTLE CORRECTION
  • sharp – exact and quick – so the dude who reproves with sharpness will correct gently with exactness. He won’t do a “hack job” of it. “Reproving at times with sharpness” doesn’t mean being a bully. Quite the opposite.
  • guided by the Holy Ghost
  • loving, especially to those whom he has gently corrected
  • knows that “faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”
  • bowels are full of charity
  • virtue garnishes his thoughts at all times – his mind is pure and chaste which makes it poweful
  • confident in God
  • gains an understanding of the doctrine of the Priesthood
  • has the Holy Ghost as a constant companion
  • righteous
  • a father

So – men also have high standards. Both men and women are expected to be not only virtuous, but to strive to be the best people that they can be. We are all expected to be not only pure and chaste, but also motivated by faith and filled with charity. This enables us to be empowered by God.

Virtue figures into this greatly. I think that virtue is not only a commitment to be righteous (pure and chaste), but it becomes a well of power within us.

Luke 6:19

“And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.” – Luke 6:19

This scripture is about Christ – when He healed some people “vexed with unclean Spirits.” I find this use of the word “virtue” particularly interesting because it challenges our modern notion of virtue.

Here, we wouldn’t describe Christ’s virtue as “chastity.” It is something else. It is a power to heal others.

His healing power is described as virtue also when the woman touches His hem and is healed:

“And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” – Luke 8:46

Christ was traveling in a throng of people. Undoubtedly many were touching Him. But only one was healed, and when that healing took place, He could feel his power being physically transferred to this woman.

There is a connection between virtue and power.

We will study one final example like this.

Alma 31:5

“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” – Alma 31:5, emphasis added.

God’s word, as Alma knew, was virtuous. Not only does virtue, in this context, mean pure, righteous or chaste, we learn that virtue is a power that is stronger than the sword.

***

Now that we have studied these verses, I think that we can make better sense of virtue. Virtue is power that is rooted in righteousness and purity. It’s power comes from our decision to be righteous, chaste, and made pure through the Atonement of Christ. So, virtue is definitely related to chastity and purity, but it is a little bit more than that!!! Virtue is a source of power.

Virtue is not a power of force. It is not a power of material wealth. It is a power that surpasses the understanding of this world. Virtue is a power that can enable us to heal, to nourish, to strengthen, and to provide. Virtue is a power that is rooted in our Savior and can only be accessed when we are doing what we can to be like Him.

Really, virtue is pretty awesome. So I will agree with the proverb. The price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies. The price of a virtuous man is far above titanium.

I want to develop this quality.

Okay, I’ll end with one last scripture – because it is applicable and might give us a hint on how to develop virtue for ourselves.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:38-40

“And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.

For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. – Doctrine and Covenants 88:38-40

So – if we want to have virtue, then we have to identify that it is built upon laws and principles. Virtue is only built upon the very highest principles of righteousness.

Additionally, if we want to be virtuous, then we must learn to love virtue. I have a feeling it is one of those qualities that continues to add to itself as we continue to progress and apply the Atonement in our lives.

***
What are your thoughts on virtue? Do you think it is an outdated stereotype or a source of strength and power? How can you work to develop virtue in your life?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Prioritizing

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, prioritize, and remain loyal to God.

Today, we’ll focus on what the Savior teaches us about prioritizing our lives, why it is important, and how He exemplified it in the Atonement.

What do you treasure?

What do you treasure?

Prioritizing

Do

  • Do lay up treasures in heaven
  • Do keep in mind that where your heart is, there is your treasure also</li<
  • Do keep your eye single to God and full of light

Don’t

  • Don’t lay up treasures upon earth.
  • Don’t get distracted from God. If your eye is not single to God, then your body is full of darkness.

Catania, Why are you calling this prioritization, rather than materialism or financial advice?

Maybe you already know the answer to this question. Maybe you have already thought of this scripture in these terms: that the advice to lay up treasures in heaven is all about prioritization. I have to admit, however, I’ve always thought that this was merely a small sermon on materialism.

It is so much more.

The Savior is teaching us how to prioritize our lives. And the advice is simple: lay up treasures in heaven.

If we have this at the center of what we do, then we won’t waste time on the things that are corrupted by moth and that rust. Instead, we will find that we have spent our lives on doing the things that will bring us joy – both here and in heaven.

I think that this advice is less about finances and materialism because of what the Savior says in verses 22-23:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” – Matthew 6:22-23

By the way – there is a JST in verse 22 that helps us understand it more:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single to the glory of God, thy whole body shall be full of light.” – Matthew 6:22 – JST is included in italics

Additionally, we learn that “single” means (from the Greek translation): healthy, sincere, without guile.

This advice that Christ gives is associated with “treasures in Heaven.” If you look at the entire chapter of Matthew 6, The Savior does address materialism pretty directly (that will be the next blog post – no man can serve two masters). However, here we learn that we need to lay up treasures in heaven, and to have our eye single to God.

There are many things that we might be treasuring above God. Popularity. Fame. The “perfect” body. Perhaps we even treasure something that is good, but somehow it becomes something that causes us to take our eyes off of God’s glory. Keeping our eye on God’s glory is the key to laying up treasure in Heaven.

The Benefit of Having an Eye Single to God’s Glory

I really like the concept of having an eye single to God’s glory – or an eye of faith. It is the only way to really succeed in this life and return to Him in the life to come. And there are a few really great scriptural examples of this kind of eye of faith.

I’ve written about how Alma had an eye single to God’s glory in this blog post.

Another example of an eye single to God’s glory is that of Stephen.

In Acts, we read about Stephen. He was a Christian disciple in the early church. He had been taken by a council of the Jews and was being questioned. He stood fast to his faith, taught the council how Moses was a type of Christ, He witnessed against the council – and their wickedness, and He testified of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

The council of the Jews wasn’t too excited about what Stephen had to say. In Acts, we read:

“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” – Acts 7:54-56

Many of you are probably familiar with this story. Stephen looked up steadfastly into heaven and then saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Stephen Sees Jesus on the Right Hand of God, by Walter Rane

Stephen Sees Jesus on the Right Hand of God, by Walter Rane

Usually, when I think of this story, I kind of stop here. Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven. He saw two personages, he testified of them, and he was martyred for his testimony.

But take a second, and really think about it. Think about what Stephen was doing: He was looking steadfastly into heaven. In other words, his eye was single to God’s glory.

I don’t think that this was the first time Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven. In fact, I kind of think that he had been looking steadfastly into heaven long before this moment. He did this through expressing his faith and living as a disciple. Because he had developed his eye of faith, when he was under immense pressure, he didn’t back down out of fear. He still looked steadfastly into heaven, received a sure witness, and died protecting it.

I love this example because Stephen was literally looking into Heaven. He is a good example. His example teaches me that I can do the same – on a more spiritual level. I can look steadfastly into heaven by covenanting with God and then keeping those covenants. I can look steadfastly into heaven through prayer, scripture study, and obedience to the commandments. Going to the temple often also helps to focus our gaze heavenward.

Additionally, I know that if I will focus my eye on God’s glory, then I will be strengthened during the times of intense pressure and temptation.

Keeping my eye single to God will fill my body with light – just as the Savior promised. And it is the way that I am able to keep Christ’s charge to “lay up treasures in heaven.”

Christ, The Atonement, Treasures in Heaven, and An Eye of Faith

Of course, Christ was the perfect example of everything that we should be – proper prioritization included. Throughout Christ’s life, He focused on laying up treasure in Heaven.

For now, we’ll look only at His experience of the Atonement – and how He chose to lay up treasures in Heaven by prioritizing God above all else.

In the Garden of Gethsemane
Christ never gave into His own desires. Even though He suffered greatly, He still prioritized the will of God. While suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, three times He said:

“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” – Matthew 26:39

Christ – doing the will of God – was laying up for Himself treasure in Heaven. The treasure He obtained was resurrection for Himself and all mankind. He also obtained the great treasure of an Atonement that could exalt all of us.

Christ’s Capture
After suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas came and betrayed the Savior with a kiss. As Christ was being arrested, Peter smote off the ear of an officer. Christ healed the injured man and said to Peter:

“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” – Matthew 26:53-54

Again, Christ prioritizes God’s will above all else. Even though He finished suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was still much more to suffer and endure. His Atonement and work was not yet done. He still had to keep His eye single to the glory of His Father in order to finish the work of the Atonement.

Christ made the deliberate choice to allow Himself to be arrested and judged. He could have escaped the officers and high priests. He could have had twelve legions of angels defend Him.

However, He knew what His work was. He understood God’s will and God’s purpose for Christ. Instead of laying up treasures on earth and protecting Himself, physically, Christ chose to lay up treasures in Heaven and finish His work of the Atonement.

The Judgment of Christ
Again, Christ had a chance to lay up treasure on earth rather than in Heaven when He was judged by Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again. Yet Christ submitted to their judgment.

Pilate was relatively uninformed of the divinity and mission of Christ. He only knew that the Jews he ruled over were stirred up. Pilate was motivated by treasures on earth, so He wanted to pacify these angry constituents. Yet, Pilate also seems to be worried about condemning an innocent man – who is potentially the very Son of God.

Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)

Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)

The contrast between the two (Pilate – who lays up treasure on earth; and Christ – who lays up treasure in Heaven) is striking:

“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;

And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.” – John 19:8-13

Pilate – who prioritized his earthly wealth and stature – went against his intuition and was swayed by the Jews argument – that by letting Christ live, he was jeopardizing His relationship with Cæsar.

Christ, on the other hand, prioritized God’s will. Though He had more power than Pilate and any other earthly force, Christ submitted to the will of God. Christ was judged and then condemned to death by crucifixion.

The Crucifixion
Christ faithfully kept His eye single to God’s glory. This steadfastness enabled Him to perform the work of the Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane and accept His capture and judgment. Of course, He would still have to overcome another great hurdle – the actual crucifixion.

I can only imagine the pain of the crucifixion, but the only time Christ cries out is when His father forsakes Him. We read:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34

I think that this is worth mentioning because we know – Christ always had an eye single to God’s glory. He never looked away from God. Yet God looked away from Him. Elder Jeffery R. Holland humbly and succinctly explains the reason that Christ had to be forsaken, even though He never took His gaze off of His Father:

“With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering. Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.” – Jeffrey R. Holland

While we struggle to keep our eye single to God’s glory, we will not have to endure what Christ faced. We will be blessed with the companionship of the Spirit when we live worthy of it – exercising our eye of faith. Of course, there are times when there seems to be a pavilion that covers the Lord’s hiding place. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:1.) However these “pavilions” are usually caused by our own lack of faith or even disobedience. Even when it is difficult to “see” the Lord, we can follow Christ’s example and keep our eye firmly fixed on God’s glory.

Christ’s gaze had always been fixed on His Father, and while on the cross, Christ continued to lay up treasures in heaven by sacrificing His very life – even while Heavenly Father forsook Him and left Him to finish His work by suffering alone.

Because Christ prioritized God, He submitted to the excruciating work of the Atonement. In doing so, the Savior did lay up treasure in Heaven not only for Himself, but also enabled all of us to lay up treasure in Heaven, too.

***
What can you do to prioritize God and lay up treasure in Heaven? How can you keep your eye single to His glory? How does Christ’s example in the Atonement help you to better understand this teaching from the Sermon on the Mount?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Fasting

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

Today, we’ll focus on fasting.

Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson

Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson

Fasting

Do

  • Do anoint thy head and wash thy face
  • Do fast in a manner which is only obvious to God

Don’t

  • Don’t have a sad countenance so that you appear to be fasting to others.

Why?
Before exploring how Christ exemplified this during His act of the Atonement, I think that it is helpful to consider why Christ gave us this advice in the first place.

What does the Savior mean when He teaches us to “anoint thy head and was thy face”? I have to admit, I’ve never thought much about this before.

We learn more about anointing in the Bible Dictionary:

“To apply oil or ointment to the head or the person. Anciently anointing was done for reasons both secular and sacred. It is a sign of hospitality in Luke 7:46 and of routine personal grooming in 2 Sam. 12:20 and Matt. 6:17.” – Bible Dictionary: Anoint

I can’t say that I completely understand what is meant by Matthew 6:17 – other than we can approach our fast in a very reverent manner. The fast isn’t something we do to show off to others. It is a serious practice that can result in miraculous blessings. So – when we fast, we ought to prepare appropriately.

Additionally, we should avoid fasting as the hypocrites do – which is to fast in an ostentatious way: so everyone knows we are fasting. In Matthew 6, we are warned not to have a sad countenance or to disfigure our face. I interpret this to mean that we shouldn’t go about having a sour expression.

I think that this is true for a few reasons.
1) Like prayer, fasting is very personal and is an intimate practice that can help us to focus our thoughts, meditation, and prayers on the Lord. We don’t need to let any other noise into this process. Fasting helps us to remain free from distraction.

Lately, I’ve also learned a lot about fasting. When we are fasting, we start to burn ketones for energy, rather than glucose. Provided that we aren’t addicted to sugar (so we aren’t busy going through the withdrawal symptoms of sugar addiction), fasting can be a way that our body moves into a ketotic state. Our brains are primarily made up of fat and really benefit from burning ketones. When we are fasting, and burning those ketones, our brains are quite alert, and we’re thinking very clearly. I think that this explains why fasting can be such a beneficial thing for us spiritually. Instead of worrying about sugars and our next meal, Insulin is quiet, ketones are being spent, and we’re able to focus more on our thoughts. We experience clarity and closeness to our spirits. This is why fasting has always been beneficial to every religious group. It truly changes us – on a spiritual and physiological level.

In this way, we can be freed from some of the distractions that come from constant feeding, and then let our brains be filled with elevated thoughts and inspiration.

2) We shouldn’t “disfigure our faces” or have a sad countenance because fasting is a joyful exercise.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn:

And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.

Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.” – Doctrine and Covenants 59:13-14

There is a connection between fasting and joy. Interesting. At first, this seems nearly impossible. But I think that’s because we get so wrapped up in our physical needs and limitations.

When we learn to put off the natural man, (and what better way to do that than through fasting!), we become liberated. We experience joy and progression when we jump off the hamster wheel that is the “natural man.”

Now, I recognize that fasting can be difficult. I have faced this. If you are finding fasting difficult -rather than joyful – I invite you to examine your diet. Are you eating too much sugar? Are you eating foods that drive up insulin, cause leptin resistance, throw all of your hormones out of whack, and continually reinforce hunger? I have and currently am in a struggle with this. However, I have found that with cutting sugar and drastically reducing my consumption of processed foods (and most grains), and instead eating more fats, I’ve been able to fast more. I’ve been liberated from that constant hunger. And finally, I am beginning to understand what it means to experience REJOICING and prayer when I am fasting. Diet seriously makes a difference. That’s not the point of this blog post, but I wanted to include it because it’s possible.

And maybe our diet on regular days has more to do with fasting than we realize.

Maybe fasting often, in a true manner, will help us to maintain control in our lives on a regular basis. I don’t think that the Lord wants us to fast one day a month, and then live an unhealthy and gluttonous life for 30 days. Ultimately, we should become masters of our entire lives – spirits, emotions, minds, and bodies. Fasting can help us to achieve this.

Okay…sorry about that diversion. I’m kind of thinking out loud here, I know.

3)I think that Christ addressed fasting in this way – associated with sorrow and with the instruction to be anointed and washed because of the customs common in His day. In the Bible Dictionary, we learn:

“The Day of Atonement appears to be the only fast ordered by the law. Other fasts were instituted during the exile (Zech. 7:3–5; 8:19); and after the return, fasting is shown to be a regular custom (Luke 5:33; 18:12). It was regarded as a natural way of showing sorrow. Along with the fasting were often combined other ceremonies, such as rending of the garments, putting on sackcloth, refraining from washing the face or anointing with oil (2 Sam. 12:20; 1 Kgs. 21:27; Isa. 58:5). All such observances were, of course, liable to become mere formalities, and the danger of this was recognized by the prophets (Isa. 58:3–7; Joel 2:12–13; Zech. 7:5–6; see also Matt. 6:16–18).

By Christ’s time, fasting was associated with the one formal fast ordered by Mosaic Law – The Day of Atonement. That Day was set apart for showing the sorrow for sin and promising not to do them again. I suppose that, over time, fasting became associated with this holy day, and not much else.

I kind of wonder if something similar has happened in our own day.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have a day that is set aside for fasting – Fast Sunday. On the first Sunday of each month, we fast by skipping two meals (or refraining from eating and drinking for 24 hours). It is suggest then use the money that we would have spent on our food and donate it to the poor.

It’s a nice tradition.

However, I must admit, I usually fast only once a month. I have grown accustomed to it. Often, I have looked at it like a chore – rather than a gateway to enlightenment and joy.

Fasting is so much more than a demonstration of sorrow. It is so much more than something Mormons do on the first of the month. Fasting strengthens us and teaches us.

When explaining how he had received His testimony, Alma the Younger explains:

“Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” – Alma 5:46

When the apostles were unable to cast out a devil, the Lord told them how to develop their faith:

“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

The Sons of Mosiah were men of a “sound understanding.” This came because they had searched the scriptures. We also learn this about them:

“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” – Alma 17:3

I guess, what I’m trying to say is – fasting should be more than the tradition. It is a method to unlocking the mysteries of God in our own lives. If we approach it this way – rather than by rote mindlessness, we will find fasting to be a source of strength, joy, and enlightenment.

Why else would we go without food?!

Christ, the Atonement, and Fasting
I have no real reason to guess that Christ was fasting while He peformed the Atonement. Okay, I have no idea, actually.

The whole event really started at the Last Supper. So, He ate and drank there. Then, Christ went and suffered in the garden of Gethsemane. No mention of food or drink. So – he might not have been eating. I’m not sure if this would be considered a formal fast or not. Like I said, I have no idea.

After suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, He was betrayed, judged, and condemned. He suffered on the Christ, and finally, when His work was complete, He asked for a little to drink. He was thirsty and was handed a cup of vinegar.

Even though there is nothing to suggest that Christ fasted formally during the period of the Atonement, we know that He did fast for 40 days and nights before He began His ministry. This practice is an example of what would be necessary in order for Christ to perform His great work of the Atonement and to give the ultimate sacrifice of His life. Christ understood the power of the fast, employed it in His life, and taught His disciples to use it as a tool to sharpen their faith and grow closer to the Spirit.

***
What does this part of Christ’s sermon on the mount teach you about fasting? How has fasting been a benefit to you in your life? If you haven’t fasted, what do you think that you can do to implement it in your life?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice about Forgiveness

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on forgiveness.

The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount

Forgiveness

Do

  • Do forgive others

Don’t

  • Don’t forgive not – or hold grudges

Very clear advice…

Why Forgiveness Even Matters

I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness over the years. I, like any of you reading this, have been hurt by others. I have also hurt others.

The first thing to ask is why forgive? Why does it even matter?

In Matthew 6, we learn:

“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.” – Matthew 6:14-15

According to the Savior’s words in these verses, we need to forgive others so we can be forgiven. It seems cut and dry. But, I have to admit. I’m not completely satisfied with that reasoning. In a way it seems kind of like there is this big scoreboard in Heaven with tally marks showing the offenses we’ve received and the times we’ve forgiven others. In other words, it feels like a “rule.” As if Heavenly Father is in heaven saying, Well, you haven’t forgiven so and so…so I can’t help you. (Can you imagine Him saying that, eyes closed, nose in the air? Nope. Neither can I.)

I have come to learn that there is always much more to every commandment than the idea that it is simply an arbitrary commandment.

So…let’s think about this more…

If you look at the context of the advice on forgiveness, Christ says it while He is teaching about prayer. Hmmmm….We have discussed Christ’s advice on prayer here, and we have learned that prayer, alone, was powerful enough to sustain Christ through the Atonement.

Forgiveness is related to prayer. And if we want to have power, then forgiveness is a part of that.

I’m not completely sure why. I feel like I’m figuring this out in my own life. For many years – if not most of my life – my prayers have really struggled. I mean, really bad. I would say them, but it was kind of a chore. Of course I experienced powerful prayers from time to time, but I just can’t say that I ever really figured out how to pray in a way that would bring the kind of power I desired in my life.

Recently, I have started meditating and combining it with prayer. Such mindfulness has helped me immensely. The thing I’ve really learned a lot is that in order for us to pray in the way that Christ has taught, we have to be one with God. The Bible dictionary teaches:

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. – Bible Dictionary: Prayer

So – the goal of prayer, as so perfectly exemplified by the Savior, is to align our will with God’s. Because of Christ’s prayer, he was able to secure that which God was willing to bless Him with (an Angel, power to perform the Atonement, the power to be resurrected). This only happened because Christ’s will was aligned with God’s.

Obviously, a major part of prayer is the alignment of will. And I think that this is where forgiveness really figures into the equation. If we want to align our will with God, then we need to become more like Him. We need to free ourselves from fear (which gets in the way of faith) and also of contention (which is of the devil). In doing so, we will have faith and we will forgive. It is this mental clarity that will then set the stage for powerful prayer.

Can we really pray if we’re wrapped up in emotions like fear, regret, hatred, or jealousy? Can we really expect to find power in prayer – enough power in prayer to come off conquerer over Satan – if we are consumed with his contentious and unforgiving spirit while praying? (See Doctrine and Covenants 10:5).

I think that when we think of the connection between forgiveness and prayer, and when we think of the potential power of prayer, then the commandment to forgive doesn’t come off as a rule given from a power hungry God as much as it is a hint! It’s the secret to success! It’s the way for us to become the people we want to be. Forgiveness will give us freedom and clarity. And it will make the way available for us to pray powerfully.

Christ, Forgiveness, and the Atonement

The Atonement really is all about forgiveness. The sacrifice of the Atonement was given so that Christ could fulfill the demands of justice while offering us a way to receive mercy. Because of Christ’s Atonement, God is both a just and a forgiving God. It is impossible to separate forgiveness and the Atonement.

While the entire Atonement revolves around concepts of love and forgiveness, Christ also exemplifies His advice – to forgive – in a very specific way.

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified!

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified!

In Luke, we read:

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” – Luke 23:34

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified. Imagine that! Wouldn’t this have been a good time to teach them a lesson? Could you imagine? He would have had every right to say, “Excuse me. Do you know who I am. What do you think you’re doing???”

Instead of trying to condemn them, trying to “correct” them or teach them a lesson, Christ simply accepted the situation. Those soldiers were ignorant. They had no idea what they were doing. Christ forgave them. And it was relatively simple because He knew that they were clueless.

When we look at the whole picture, we will often find that those who harm us may also be “clueless.” When we look at the whole picture, we will often find that nothing we do or say will change a person – so it is better to simply accept them and then move onto the phase of forgiving them, rather than hold onto our pride and grudges. Typically, we can’t change people. So why waste the time trying? Instead, when we forgive, we relieve ourselves of the burden of the pain we’ve experienced. We are then able to let go and enjoy liberty.

Christ shows us this perfectly, by forgiving those who crucified Him. Because He forgave them, He was able again to focus on His work – which would require His entire attention. He couldn’t waste a single ounce of energy being angry with another person. His forgiveness enabled Him to finish his work, return to Heavenly Father, and be resurrected.

***
What do you think about forgiveness? Have you been able to forgive those who have wronged you? If you have, how did this forgiveness liberate you and enable the power of the Atonement to take effect in your life? If you haven’t forgiven another, what do you think that you can do to forgive them?

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