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?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Prayer

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 prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount

Prayer

Do

  • Enter into your closet, shut the door, and pray
  • Address Heavenly Father, who is Holy
  • Pray for His will to be done
  • Pray for His kingdom to come to the earth (This includes pryaing for others – even our enemies!
  • Ask for assistance in your needs
  • Ask for forgiveness
  • Ask for strength to do what we were sent here to do

Don’t

  • Don’t pray like a hypocrite
  • Don’t pray in front of others, simply to be seen by them
  • Don’t use vain repetitions. In other words, don’t mindlessly speak to God, by rote. Make it meaningful!

Prayer, Christ and the Atonement
Christ teaches us about prayer – not only in word here in Matthew 6, but also in deed. We can read of a few examples of His prayers in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon.

Based on what Christ teaches in Matthew 6, we see that Christ understands the true purpose of prayer: communication with God. I want to break that down further – prayer is our chance to commune with God. When I think of it as communing, the concept of prayer becomes more personal, sacred, and intimate. That is exactly what prayer should be.

Christ actually exemplifies this when He performs the Atonement. In fact, prayer is one of the most important parts of the Atonement.

In Matthew, we read:

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.

Christ knew that He was going to perform the Atonement. Prayer was always a crucial part of it. Christ explained what He was doing in the garden as praying.

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

As the Savior begins to take on the sins of the world, he feels sorrowful and heavy. He felt so stressed by the sins He was taking on, that he felt sorrowful unto death. He asked Peter, James, and John to accompany Him. He sought comfort and camaraderie.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

When the Savior left the presence of the apostles, he fell on his face and prayed. He was overcome with the burden of the Atonement. We read some of what Christ prayed for – that the burden He was chosen to bear could pass from Him. He prayed to be relieved of His trial! Christ’s example shows that it is okay to pray for relief.

Of course, he included the essential caveat, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Because Christ was one with God, because Christ knew the will of God, He knew that God wouldn’t let the cup pass from Him. Yet He still prayed.

I’m not completely sure of the lesson that is being taught here, but one thing that stands out to me is that the Savior knows that our Father in Heaven is loving and kind. He wants us to share our most intimate thoughts with Him. He can’t help us if we aren’t opening ourselves up to Him in the first place.

Matthew continues:

And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

After agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane, the Savior finds that the apostles are asleep. He then warns them:

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I find this interesting. The advice that Christ gave to His disciples – to watch and pray – is the exact method that He is using to get through the hardest trial, temptation, and agony ever felt by man. Christ’s flesh was strengthened and He performed the excruciating work of the Atonement through prayer.

Christ spoke from experience. His spirit was willing, but His flesh was weak. He had prayed that the cup pass from Him because of the flesh. Yet, His Spirit triumphed, thanks to prayer, and he did as the Lord would have Him do.

We then read:

“He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.

And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” – Matthew 26:36-46

We cannot underestimate the power of prayer. It is prayer that He turned to three times as He suffered the sins, pains, and sicknesses of the entire world. It is prayer that enabled Christ to perform the Atonement. Christ didn’t pray to get our approval. He didn’t pray to come off as righteous or pious. He prayed because it was a natural part of His relationship with His Father. His prayer was heartfelt, pure, and meaningful. Though He repeated the words of His prayer a few times, they were no where near “vain or repetitious.” He prayed for strength, and, above all, He prayed for God’s will to be done.

Christ, through the Atonement, exemplifies not only all that prayer should be, but the remarkable power of prayer.

***
What have you learned about prayer as you have studied Matthew 6? What does Christ’s example – especially when He performed the Atonement – teach you about the powerof a true prayer?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Giving Alms

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 giving alms.

The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount

Doing Alms

Do

  • Do them in secret – Your left hand won’t know what your right hand does.

Don’t

  • Don’t sound a trumpet when you do them.
  • Don’t do them before men – to be seen of them.

Why?
This advice, not to do our alms to be seen of men is the first thing mentioned in this chapter. Why does it matter? Isn’t doing good doing good – even if others see?

And, even as I write this, I realize my mistake. Jesus teaches not to do alms before men to be seen of men. This explanation helps us understand what Christ means. Of course, there are times when we will do our alms, and it will be obvious – because it is the nature of that kind of service.

I think of a few years ago, when the tornado hit Joplin. Within days, members of the church were set up, cleaning and serving the people. They were wearing yellow helping hands tee-shirts. They were seen while serving.

The key question is, who is magnified. Yes, they were wearing yellow vests – but not to elevate any single person. Instead, when and if we ever do our alms before men, it isn’t to make ourselves look better – it is to magnify the Lord and build His kingdom. Our actions should be directing people to Christ, not to ourselves. We can learn more about this by studying the Savior’s example.

Doing Alms, Christ, and the Atonement
Christ’s motive for performing the Atonement wasn’t for fame, money, position, or power. It was for us. Christ performed the Atonement so we could overcome the effects of the fall and receive salvation.

In fact, had Christ been looking for the glory of men, I don’t think that He would have been crucified by the Pharisees. If He was looking for acceptance and power, He probably would have united with them.

The performance of the Atonement in the garden of Gethsemane was done completely alone. Christ suffered with only the support of an angel. He didn’t do this in front of anyone. He didn’t suffer the sins of all in the town square, with a trumpet, and demanding attention be placed on Him. Christ suffered, alone, in a garden, while his friends slept.

Though Christ gave the greatest of all alms all alone, He was rewarded openly. He was resurrected and glorified. And thanks to this selfless act, we can all be rewarded with such a reward.

***
What have you learned about giving alms? What does Christ’s example – especially when He performed the Atonement – teach you about service?

15 Things Helaman Teaches us About Stewardship over Youth

I have recently gotten a new calling in my ward*. I’m in the Young Women’s presidency. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the Young Women’s is a group of young women ages 12-18. I have served in the Young Women’s in the past. It is such a fun calling. The youth are so vibrant. They are intelligent, happy, and want to do well.

However, it can be a little daunting to serve with the youth. Fortunately, in the Book of Mormon, we can find a great example of someone who was a steward over the youth: Helaman.

A Little Background Information
Helaman was a general in the Nephite army in the Book of Mormon. Specifically, Helaman commanded a group of 2,000 young men (boys, really). You can read more about the circumstances of this army in Alma chapters 56-58. He was a steward of the youth.

Even though we might not be leading young men into battle, many of the principles that Helaman exemplifies in his stewardship over the youth can be applied in our lives. We will study them today! :)

Helaman's Stripling Warriors

Helaman’s Stripling Warriors

15 Ways Helaman teaches us to Be a Better Steward over the Youth

  1. Helaman knew those he served. He knew their circumstances – See Alma 56:3-6. Helaman knew the circumstances of these young men. He knew that their fathers had buried their weapons of war – with a covenant never to go to battle again. He knew that their families had been converted to the gospel and were true to their faith.

    We can also gather that, because they were the sons of those who buried their weapons of war, then some of these boys were most likely fatherless. Helaman knew these boys. If we want to effectively serve our youth, then we need to know them. We need to know their circumstances, their families, their cultures.

  2. Helaman honored their families and supported them – See Alma 56:8. Helaman knew the covenant that these boys’ fathers had made. Because the kingdom was at war, and because their liberty was in jeopardy, the fathers were thinking of taking up arms again to fight and defend their country. However, Helaman insisted that they didn’t break their covenant.

    Helaman supported these families, and, as leaders of the youth, we need to do the same thing. We need to be mindful of the families of those whom we serve. These families aren’t here to serve us or “support us” in our calling, we are called to serve and support them.

  3. Helaman loved the boys he served. – See Alma 58:10. Helaman addresses these boys as his sons. He explains that they were worthy to be called sons. What does this mean? I suppose it means that he deeply loves and cares for these young men. He feels responsible for them. This all stems from his love for them.

    We need to also love the youth we serve. It may not always be easy, but if we don’t love them, then being a good steward is pretty much impossible.

  4. Helaman protected them. – See Alma 56:39 Helaman took his charge over these youth very seriously and he protected them. Sure, they had signed up for war, but he wanted them to stay as safe as possible and devised strategies where they would be used as a decoy without ever having to fight.

    We need to protect our youth. They face a spiritual enemy that wants to destroy them. We need to protect them just as Helaman protected his warriors.

  5. Helaman trusted the boys and he trusted their families. – See Alma 56:46-48. When you read this exchange between Helaman and his sons, it is fairly obvious that he trusts them. Even though they are young and inexperienced, he trusts their testimony and strength.

    The young warriors also explained that their mothers knew that God would deliver them, and they do not doubt their mothers.

    Helaman reacts with support and relative awe. He doesn’t say, “You haven’t been in a war. You know nothing.” He doesn’t respond, “What does your mother know about this situation.” Instead, he trusts the young men and he trusts their families.

    It is so important for us to trust the youth and their families. Of course, the Spirit can help us to discern between right and wrong. But we have to be sure that our own opinions aren’t blocking the Spirit. We can trust that the youth we serve do have testimonies and do desire to serve God. When we trust the youth, they will rise to the occasion just as these 2,000 stripling warriors did.

  6. Helaman followed the Spirit – See Helaman 56:44, 50. I know that I just made the point that Helaman protected his sons; however, of utmost importance is that he followed the Spirit.

    The plan was for the 2,000 warriors to be a decoy. However, the Lamanite army stopped marching after them. Helaman thought that they figured out what was going on, and then decided to attack Antipus’s army. But he couldn’t be sure. Maybe they were just waiting so they could trick this small group and then lure them into a trap. In any case, action needed to be taken. The Lamanites were no longer taking the bait. After consideration, Helaman knew that they needed to fight the Lamanites and save the other army. He turns to his young army and says, “Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?”

    Even though it was Helaman’s desire to keep these boys out of battle, he followed the Spirit – knowing that they needed to fight without knowing what the outcome would be. He trusted in God and followed the Spirit.

    Like Helaman, we need to stay close to the Lord and follow His Spirit.

  7. Helaman rejoiced in the victories of his “sons.” – See Alma 56:54-56. After their victory against the Lamanite Army and helping to rescue Antipus’s army, Helaman checked on his sons. Not only did they rejoice in their victory, but Helaman was overjoyed to find that not a single one of these boys had fallen to the earth. They were all alive, and Helaman was happy.

    When we are stewards over the youth, we, too, need to rejoice in the victories of our youth. This can happen in a variety of ways. I think that, as we come to love the youth we serve, rejoicing in their victories comes very naturally because we love them.

  8. Helaman allowed his young warriors to be exposed to danger. – See Alma 57:18-19, 23. This can be so difficult. I think that it would have been difficult for Helaman, too. He spent so much time protecting his sons from battle, he still had to allow them to be exposed to the dangers of war. They were, after all, soldiers.

    After one especially difficult battle, there were many people who had fallen and died. Thankfully, again, all of the stripling warriors were spared of death, but about 200 of them had fainted with a loss of blood. Helaman needed to allow his sons to be exposed to this danger in order for them to do what they were sent there to do.

    Likewise, we leaders must be wise, and we must allow our youth to be exposed to danger. This doesn’t mean that we’ll take them to a place we know to be evil. It just means that we need to accept our circumstances, our purpose, and that our youth are strong just like these young warriors were.

  9. Helaman cared for his sons and saw that they were healed. See Alma 57:24-25. Immediately after a battle, Helaman ordered that the wounded should be brought out from among the dead, and that their wounds should be dressed. He found the 200 or so of his sons that had fallen from a loss of blood. Helaman made sure that they received the medical attention they needed.

    Just as Helaman saw to their healing, we need to see that the spiritual and emotional wounds of those whom we serve (or perhaps the physical, you never know, I guess!) are also healed. We can do this by investigating the scene and doing what is necessary to “dress” the wounds that are suffered by those whom we serve.

  10. Helaman was a spiritual example of faith. See – Alma 58:10-12. There was a point, after these battles, where Helaman and those he commanded were waiting for provisions and supplies. But nothing. They waited. Nothing.

    Instead of Helaman murmuring against his superiors, he simply led his group of stripling warriors in prayer. Helaman was an example of faith and loyalty. That being said, he still brought up the issue to his superiors. It was appropriate for him to report what was happening with them. In fact, had Helaman not reported this shortage, then they wouldn’t have discovered the insurrection that happened in Zarahemla.

    Helaman handled this difficult situation with poise. He was a spiritual leader to his youth without being a doormat.

    We can do the same. We need to be spiritual leaders to our youth. They need to hear us pray. And we ned to support those who are over us. Even if things aren’t going well, we don’t need to murmur. We can responsibly report, and find the source of the problem in a humble but effective way.

  11. Helaman was wise. He only did that which was absolutely needful. See Alma 58:16-28. Helaman was a commander in a war. He understood the need to be efficient and wise. He didn’t send his troops out without thinking about their strategy. He didn’t have them do anything more than that which was absolutely needful. What’s the purpose? How effective would a tired and overworked army be?!?

    Because Helaman was a good steward, he wisely chose to do only that which he, and his young army, needed to do. Because of his wisdom, he was able to overtake an enemy city purely by strategy – without any blood shed (on either side).

    We need to be wise, too. Often, I think that it is the American (and Mormon) way to just do everything we can. We want to start our race sprinting. We overcommit and then find ourselves tired or even sick. This is not what we, wise stewards of the youth, can afford to do. We need to do only the needful thing. Sometimes, this might mean saying no – even to good things. We don’t want to waste precious time and effort on something, even if it seems like good. We must be wise enough to prioritize. We are at a war, of sorts, and we have to be good stewards over these youth!

  12. Helaman put his trust in God. – See Alma 58:33. Despite the troubles that Helaman’s army was facing (in not receiving needed provisions from his own country), he still put His trust in God. He didn’t fret. He didn’t worry. He trusted God.

    It could be easy to fret and worry – Helaman was responsible for 2,000 young men. Wouldn’t his responsibility justify worry and perhaps even a little bit of “ark steadying?”

    But Helaman simply trusted God.

    As stewards of youth, we also need to trust God. Yes, this world we live in can be dangerous. It can be easy to think that we need to go above and beyond to protect this group of children we have stewardship over. However, I’ve found that worry usually leads to a frantic pace or frenzied stress. And a frantic pace/frenzied stress is not trusting in God! It’s a waste of our energy, and it will often yield very poor results.

  13. Helaman was aware and thoughtful of his circumstances. He questioned without murmuring. See Alma 58:35-36. I have alluded to this point already, but it is worth an extra mention. While at war, Helaman and his forces were not receiving reinforcements. Instead of saying, “Oh well, I’ll just wait,” he still acted. He wrote a letter to his superior and informed him of the situation.

    Now, it’s important to note that we can question and we can inform – without laying blame on someone. This is exactly what Helaman did. He wasn’t a doormat, neither was he bullish. He was simply direct and honest.

    Because of Helaman’s honesty, Captain Moroni was made aware of a bad situation happening in the country – a coup. The armies weren’t receiving any help because their own country was under siege. Had Helaman not alerted Moroni of his problems, then they wouldn’t have been able to learn about this problem.

    As wise stewards, when we run into issues “from above,” then we will not be afraid to open an honest dialogue with our “superior.” We also won’t murmur or complain. Instead, when we are fair and measured like Helaman, we’ll be able to make real progress and, perhaps, even discover another issue that truly needs attention.

  14. Helaman was blessed by God in his stewardship. – See Alma 58:39-40. Because of Helaman’s faithful service, he was blessed in his stewardship. Throughout his tenure as the general of this small army, throughout all of their battles and other hardships, not a single soul was lost.

    I can’t say that if we are faithful, then none of the souls we have stewardship will be lost. Everyone has their own choice to make. That being said, if we faithfully serve, then the Lord will bless us in our stewardship. He will bless us with peace. And we will be able to have a positive impact on the young ones we work with – no matter what they choose to do with their lives.

  15. Helaman was always focused on the Savior. See Alma 58:40-41. I think that this is probably the most important point. Always, at the center of his motives and service, was the redemption and Atonement of Christ. Helaman was empowered by Christ and sought to protect and stand fast in the liberty that had made him free. Because of Helaman’s focus on Christ, he was able to accomplish the above 14 points. This is truly what made him an exceptional leader.

    If we want to be the best leaders we can be, then we will focus on Christ, as well. What does this mean? I think that it means we will teach the principles of the gospel.

    But it also means so much more than that.

    I think that it also means we teach the youth that the focus needs to be on the Savior. I think that it means we act as a conduit – or a pathway for their own relationship with the Savior. It can be tempting to want to be the person who is so cool and fun – it is easy to try to use our own charm, personality, money, gifts to convince the youth we serve to love us. But that’s not the point. We need to use our own experience with Christ to convince the youth to also love Him. It’s not about us at all, really…and Helaman knew that.

What stands out to you about Helaman’s leadership over the youth? Do you serve young men or women? What do you do to be a better steward?

The Atonement: The Beatitudes (8/8)

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 5

“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

This is the final of the beatitudes that we’ll be studying. I feel like I’ve learned so much! I hope that you have, too.

This last beatitude is actually a little longer than the others. We can quote it in one verse, but the Savior actually continues on:

” Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

Before I began to really study this beatitude, I wondered, why did Christ tell this one last of all? and Why did Christ explain this one more than He did the others? I’m not completely sure of the answers. (Besides, they would only be speculation, anyways). But I’m keeping them in mind. In a way, I suppose it implies importance to this beatitude. In any case, think about this while we study the beatitude.

As with the other beatitudes, we will first discover what this beatitude means. We will then see how Christ exemplified it during His great work of the Atonement.

The Meaning of the Parable

Persecuted for righteousness’ sake

You don’t have to think very long or hard to find examples of people who have either persecuted the righteous or have been persecuted because they were righteous. A few quick examples include: The people in Lehi’s Dream (1 Nephi 8), Joseph Smith (See here), The Savior (Luke 23), Abinadi (Mosiah 17), and Alma both persecuted others (Mosiah 27 and then after his conversion was persecuted (Alma 14). There are even modern-day accounts of people who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Jeffrey R. Holland shares a few examples in this talk).

The point of this list is to say that people have always been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The short list above is not even the tip of the iceberg. So many of the people I listed here who were persecuted for righteousness’ sake were martyred. What dedication! Yet the beatitude says that “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” how could persecution unto death be considered a blessing?

Jacob, the son of Lehi, was reminded about his suffering:

“Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” – 2 Nephi 2:2

Trusting that we’ll be blessed for enduring persecution requires us to trust in God and His perspective. It can be difficult to see how such endurance could be a blessing. I’m often guilty of thinking, “Oh, things will be alright. If I’m righteous, then the Lord will spare me of my suffering.” Sometimes, this is true. Because of righteous decisions, there is a great deal of suffering that I’m spared of – self-inflicted problems such as addiction.

However, this beatitude reminds us that there are times when, even though we’re righteous, we will suffer. Some people, like many mentioned above, suffer to the death. There are times when we won’t be delivered from the difficulty and affliction we’re in until we die. We must maintain an eternal perspective while going through this life, otherwise it is impossible to endure persecution.

***
There is another aspect to being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. I can’t help but think about the people who are doing the persecuting. What on earth is their motive? An unnamed high priest wonders the same thing when Korihor is about persecuting the people of God and preaching against the gospel:

“And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him [Korihor]: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?” – Alma 30:22

In other words, this high priest is asking Korihor, “What’s your deal? Why are you changing God’s ways and laws? Why are you trying to frustrate our happiness? There are so many more witnesses than you of God and His divinity. What gives???

Why do people persecute others? What motivated the Pharisees to hate the Savior so much? Why did Korihor, Sherem, and Nehor seek to destroy the church in the Book of Mormon. Why did mobs of people attack and then kill Joseph Smith? What motivates those who persected in the past and those who persecute others now?

In the Book of Mormon is recorded Lehi’s dream. He had a vision where he saw many people walking along a path and an iron rod to the tree of life. This path was arduous and difficult. The people needed to endure trials, mists of darkness, and even scoffing and mocking in order to finally partake of the fruit of this tree. Along this path were people in a “great and spacious building” who mocked the people who were faithfully holding tight to the rod of iron and making their way to the tree of life.

Why did they mock? What was it to them? We find out more about these people from Nephi:

“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.” – 1 Nephi 12:18

The people in the great and spacious building were motivated by the “vain imaginations” and pride.

Other helpful examples are the excuses given by three prominent “anti-Christs” in the book of Mormon.

Why did Sherem persecute the people and preach against God? He tells here:

And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment. – Jacob 7:18

Sherem preached against righteousness because he had been deceived.

Why did Nehor preach against the church and then even kill Gideon, a righteous man? We learn in Alma:

“And it came to pass that he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.” – Alma 1:5

Nehor preached against righteousness because he was able to get power and money for his self-promotion and teaching. Nehor later killed a righteous man, and was consequently put to death. At his execution, Nehor admits that what he had taught people was “contrary to the word of God,” (Alma 1:15).

Why did Korihor persecute the righteous? He explains it himself:

“But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” – Alma 30:53

From these four examples, I can only surmise that people persecute the righteous because they are proud, they are deceived, they want power and prestige over others, and because righteousness is not really pleasing to our carnal, natural minds.

I think it is important to remember the motives of those who persecute against righteousness. Sometimes the reason is pathetic- the people are confused or deceived. Other times, the reasons are insidious – they want power over people. Understanding these motives can help us to fight them off. Those who preach against the gospel and persecute righteousness can be very convincing.

Kingdom of Heaven

Next, the Lord teaches that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Before investigating this further, the first thing that strikes me is that Christ doesn’t say, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for they will be blessed with monetary riches.” He doesn’t say that they “…will experience great health throughout their lives.” He doesn’t promise friends, an easy life, or many of the things that we consider blessings.

Instead, Christ offers something that no one or thing else can offer: the kingdom of Heaven. I think that if we remember that this is the blessing, then we will also better be able to keep perspective of our current trials and tribulations. In other words, this beatitude demands us to have an eternal perspective.

Now, what is the kingdom of Heaven?

I can’t help but think of the many parables that Christ gives in Matthew 13. In this chapter alone, we learn that the kingdom of Heaven is:

  • “Mysterious” – it is not understood by the natural mind, but by the Spirit. (Verse 11)
  • Will be purged of the tares. (Verse 24)
  • Like a mustard seed – the least of all seeds, but greatest of all herbs: growing into a tree. (Verse 31)
  • Like leaven – a small amount will leaven the whole loaf. (Verse 33)
  • A treasure in a field and when a man finds it will sell all he has to buy that field. (Verse 44)
  • A pearl of great price. (Verse 45)
  • A net that is cast into the sea and gathers of every kind. All of the bad is discarded, then all truth and goodness is included. (Verse 47)

As I look through this list, I’m struck by a few things: the kingdom of Heaven is, of course, God’s kingdom. It is perfectly cleaned. In fact, it has been cleansed by Him. The tares were cast out. The garbage caught in the net was discarded. Only the pure remains.

Additionally, I’m formulating another idea of the kingdom of heaven. It is abundantly rich. Like the mustard tree, it is large and strong even though it had humble beginnings. It is a pearl of great price. It is everything in the earth that is good and true. I really love understanding this concept. I have recently gotten into yoga and meditation. There are so many good practices from eastern religions. As I’ve learned more about them, I remember to keep the Savior at the center of everything that I’m learning, but that the gospel is all truth circumscribed into one great whole.

This is the kingdom of Heaven: all that is good, just, and true. It is all that is beautiful and joyous. It is every pure and good thing. It isn’t just this ethereal idea of people floating around in clouds and blowing trumpets (although there may be some of that…who knows). My point is it is more than that. The kingdom of Heaven is substantive. It is all of everything – truth, goodness, purity. I need to remember that God isn’t just offering us a life of hanging out in the sky. He offers us the abundant life. To those who are righteous to the point where they will endure persecution because of their righteousness Christ offers everything in His kingdom.

Understanding this makes martyrdom, even, seem like a small price to pay for everlasting joy and abundance.

Jesus Christ – His Atonement and Persecution

Now that we understand more about this beatitude, we will look at how it can possibly relate to Christ’s Atonement.

Persecution for Righteousness’ sake

Well, at first glance, I think that it is really easy to see the relationship between this beatitude and the Atonement. The entire Atonement is fraught with persecution and suffering. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

One
Christ was righteous, and I mean Righteous. He is the essence of all righteousness. His example is perfect. He was pure. The Atonement – which was taking on our sins and imperfections and paying the price that justice demanded of them so that we could receive mercy – could only be performed by Him. Because of His purity, only He could offer Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (Christ in Gethsemane), by Harry Anderson

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (Christ in Gethsemane), by Harry Anderson

It is interesting to me, too, that Christ – immediately after paying the price of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane – would be betrayed, falsely accused, and arrested.

Two
After being arrested, he is taken before Pilate and questioned. He then is taken to Herod where he is treated like some kind of circus freak. (Herod wants him to “perform”). This is all before the real persecution starts. But it’s bad enough already. Can you imagine being falsely accused and then taken before local judges/magistrates where they treated you like some kind of freak show? How horribly humiliating.

But Christ’s persecution – all because He was righteous – doesn’t end there.

Christ is sentenced to death, primarily because a mob chanting, “Crucify Him!” refused to release a known robber. The Pharisees and wicked people that condemned Christ were largely offended by who He was – the son of God – one who healed, served, and performed miracles. Instead of seeing that Christ was their promised Messiah, because they had been so far removed from righteousness, they persecuted it.

As Christ endured His sentence, He also endured a great deal of persecution.

Nephi describes Christ’s experience succinctly:

“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” – 1 Nephi 19:9

AFTER Christ had already suffered the pains of every sin and infirmity of every person in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ then suffered the humiliation of false accusation, arrest and judgement. Then, He continued to suffer mocking, scourging, and smiting.

Matthew relates what happened to the Savior as He hung on the Christ but before He gave up the ghost:

And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,

He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” – Matthew 27:39-43

I find this to be one of the most bitterly ironic passages, or paradoxical, maybe hypocritical? I don’t know. But this passage is annoying, at best, and I shake my head in amazement. These unbelieving Jews, the people of the covenant, didn’t understand their own religion or their God. And what they persecute Christ for demonstrates their ignorance and pride.

They walk by Him, wagging their heads. This implies a sense of persecution and mockery, for sure.

Then, they tempt Christ, saying, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They claim that because He can’t save Himself, then He’s obviously not capable of saving anyone else. But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand their own laws and ordinances. They didn’t understand the symbolism of the blood sacrifice that they offered – as a type of the sacrifice that He would offer.

The thing that is ironic here is that because Christ didn’t save Himself in that moment, he saved Himself and all mankind. Had Christ not endured persecution for righteousness sake, and He had the power not to, then He would not have been able to finish His work. By staying on that cross,and by dying, He was saving Himself and others!

Three
Thankfully, we have the advantage of hindsight when thinking of Christ and His Atonement. We know that three days after being crucified, He was not in the garden tomb. He was risen. And He lives.

Sometimes it is easy to think that we could endure the persecution that those who lived in the past endured, but we forget that they didn’t have the advantage of hindsight.

When I think of Christ’s experience being persecuted, I am reminded of the fact that sometimes the wicked do have the power to hurt us to the point where we may die. Sometimes the wicked do obtain material wealth and power over others. We see this with war criminals. We see this with the Pharisees that condemned Christ.

But we must maintain perspective. The devil had power to bruise Christ’s Heel, but with that very heel that had been bruised, Christ was able to crush the devil’s head.

Righteous will prevail. It’s worth enduring persecution for.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Because of all that Christ suffered – even unto death; because He chose to descend below all, He was able ascend above all and inherit the kingdom of God.

And, because Christ has suffered our sins, we can covenant with Him and also become joint heirs and inherit the kingdom of Heaven.

***
Last week, I went to the Mesa Easter Pageant with my kids. When Christ was being crucified, T-Rex was perplexed, “Why didn’t he fight?” He asked. It was cute, and it was a good question.

That’s the thing, though. Christ didn’t fight the immediate problem. He could have He could have escaped and destroyed His executioners. He could have avoided all persecution. He could have silenced the Pharisees or He could have given into their traps. Of course, Had he done that, then the Atonement would not have been performed, Salvation for all would have been thwarted and niehter the Savior nor anyone else would have been able to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, as I write this, maybe the right answer to my little boy is, “Oh, but He did fight. He fought the true fight of agency and mastery over sin and temptation. He performed His work. He was resurrected. He lives. He didn’t get diverted by a little difficulty (okay, crucifixion is more than a “little” difficulty). Instead, He stayed focused on His real battle, and He conquered.

***

What have you learned about being persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Have you experienced this in some way? How did you endure?

The Atonement: The Beatitudes (7/8)

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 5

“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

So, as I study this scripture, I have to admit, this beatitude has always stumped me a little bit. It’s the promise that kind of makes me wonder…aren’t we all children of God? I mean, really, aren’t we all children of God, no matter how we act or what we do?

Obviously, I know that the Savior knows more than I do. I know that if the Savior says this then it’s not that He has to clarify, it’s that I need to seek clarity. I need to understand what He means. So…that’s what we’ll be doing today. Anyway – I’ve been trying to think of a succinct and organized way to write this post, but I’m not sure exactly how to do it. So, bear with me as I go through the thought process on 1) Understanding this Beatitude 2) Seeing how it Applies to Christ’s Atonement.

Children of God and Children of God

Nice heading, huh?

As I mentioned earlier, we are all children of God. I know this. I know that He is the Father of our Spirits. There is ample scriptural evidence of this. Heavenly Father (notice the title!!!!) formed us, created the earth, and provided a way for us to come and live on this earth so we could progress in our eternal lives. He knows each of us intimately. He is the father of our spirits.

There is absolutely no doubt that we are children of God, and I don’t think that Christ wass suggesting that we somehow have to “qualify” to become Heavenly Father’s children. However, there is a difference between being His Spiritual children of our Heavenly Father and then becoming a child of God (As in the Godhead, not solely Heavenly Father), through covenant. In fact, when we are baptized, it is referred to as being born again. To whom are we born? God.

King Benjamin Addresses the People

King Benjamin Addresses the People

King Benjamin explains this well:

“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.” – Mosiah 5:7

Alma the younger, shortly after His conversion also teaches:

“For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” – Mosiah 27:24-26

In the beatitudes, when Christ suggests that we can become the children of God, this doesn’t refer to what we already are: Spirit sons and daughters of Heavenly Father. He refers to our receiving the blessings of the baptismal covenant with God. We are all spiritual children of Heavenly Father, but because of our fallen natures, we have been cut off from Him. In order to be a child of God, we need to covenant with Him and be spiritually reborn.

We know that Christ exemplified this Himself when He was baptized despite the fact that He was pure. He still needed to covenant with God to fulfill all righteousness. Being a peacemaker and being called a child of God is dependent on our covenanting with Him.

I think that understanding this is crucial to understanding the rest of the beatitude.

What is a peacemaker? What is peace?

The second point to understand with this beatitude is what Christ actually means by being a peacemaker. In order to understand that, we really have to ask “what is peace?” Is it simply not fighting?

Well, sure, not fighting is a part of it. (See 3 Nephi 11:29.) It is easy to think of peace in terms of how the world thinks of it – a lack of contention or war, but Christ has already explained that He doesn’t offer peace as the world defines it.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27

The “world” has defined peace largely as an absence of warring, fighting, strife. I looked up the definition of peace on dictionary.com, and the first six definitions have to do with an absence of something – war, strife, difficulty. The seventh definition – tranquility and serenity – is probably closest to what Christ means when He offers peace. In other words, Peace isn’t merely an absence of ill will, malignant deeds, or debilitating trial. It is, instead the presence of God’s Spirit and love. Christ offers us peace of conscience. We can experience peace, in Christ, even during the midst of the most difficult trial. No one or no thing else can offer this.

When we understand peace in the way that Christ means it, then peace becomes more powerful and more desirable. Peace becomes a transcendental power rather than some innocuous vacuum-like state. Obtaining peace, then, is the first step in becoming a peacemaker, and it all goes back to the covenant that we talked about earlier in this post. We can find an equation here…

1) Covenant with God → 2) Experience God’s Love for us and feel His Peace → 3) Proclaim peace to others by sharing the gospel and magnifying our callings. = 4)Being Called a Child of God

Covenant with God in the Waters of Baptism

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Does peace come before or after baptism? And I guess that the answer is – both. It can come to us in glimpses before baptism. This peace and comfort is what motivates us to be baptized. However, we cannot really obtain the peace that Christ offers without being baptized.

He invites us:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

When we come unto Christ and take His yoke upon us, which is taking His name upon us, which is done in the waters of baptism, then we will find rest unto our souls. When we take on Christ’s name, we’ll be able to have peace.

In order to be a peacemaker, we first need to have peace in our souls. This comes when we humble ourselves, have faith, and take upon Christ’s name in the waters of baptism.

Experience God’s Love for us and Feel His Peace

I know that this seems kind of obvious, but I want to list it as a step because it is important to recognize that we cannot possibly share something with others that we have not first obtained ourselves. We cannot make peace without first having peace.

When the people who had listened to King Benjamin’s speech accepted it, they wanted to covenant with God. They had experienced the peace that comes when we covenant with Christ.

” And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.” – Mosiah 4:3

Proclaim Peace to Others by Sharing the Gospel and Magnifying our Callings

After obtaining our own peace of conscience through repentance and covenanting with the Lord, we can proclaim peace to others.

How does this look? Does this mean that we go around, making peace signs, telling people, “Give Peace a Chance”? Does this mean that if your kids are fighting at home, then you start singing, “Love at Home”?

Maybe.

But, really, that’s only a surface solution. Being a peacemaker is proclaiming peace. I think that Christ wants us to be the kind of peacemakers that will establish everlasting peace and joy – the peace that He offers.

A few years ago, I was on a walk listening to the radio. Several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were being announced. I didn’t disagree with the nominations, yet inwardly I thought to myself, “We have this all wrong, the real peacemakers are simple, young men and women. The real nominees should be the missionaries.

Elder Quentin L. Cook has taught:

“My heart rejoices when I realize that in our day tens of thousands of young men, young women, and senior missionaries have accepted the call to be emissaries of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They are taking the restored gospel of peace to the world, one person and one family at a time—a work of righteousness to bring this peace to Heavenly Father’s children.” – Quentin L. Cook, Personal Peace: the Reward of Righteousness

The missionaries, one by one, are accepting the call to serve. They are set apart, and they leave their families, their lives, their ambitions, their futures to serve God and proclaim His gospel of peace. It is beautiful. This scripture comes to mind:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” – Isaiah 52:7

This duty and blessing doesn’t only apply to missionaries. We can all establish peace in our homes, in our communities, and even in a worldwide setting by sharing the gospel.

There are two examples I want to share. The first is of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon. In the Words of Mormon, we read:

For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—

Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.” – Words of Mormon 1:17-18

King Benjamin had followed the aforementioned pattern. He was a holy man. He had covenanted with God. He knew the peace of the Gospel. Through the authority he and other prophets held, they spoke the word of God with power. This is how they established peace in the land. They didn’t enact programs or laws. Instead, they bore pure testimony with authority. They taught the gospel of repentance. They established a culture of faith and peace.

Another example is Melchizedek. He was a prophet in the Old Testament and was also known as the prince of peace.

“But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.” – Alma 13:18

Melchizedek, like King Benjamin, established peace by preaching the gospel.

We are Called the Children of God

We’ve already talked about what it means to become a child of God by covenanting with Him in the waters of baptism; however, being called a child of God comes after we proclaim peace – not after we covenant with Him. In other words, covenanting with God isn’t quite enough. It is when we keep our covenant, which includes sharing the gospel with others, that we are then called children of God.

The Prince of Peace – Jesus Christ

When Christ was born, the angels declared:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:14

Even though the Savior was born, warring didn’t cease, fighting and opposition didn’t disappear. In fact, Joseph, Mary, and the very Prince of Peace would have to escape to Egypt to hide from the edict sent by Herod to kill all of the children under the age of 2. Yet we know that Christ brought peace to the earth.

We can look at the pattern discussed in this blog to determine how Christ did bring peace to the earth.

1) Covenanting with God
Christ, to fulfill all righteousness, was baptized. He covenanted directly with Heavenly Father – even though He was pure and didn’t need the cleansing effect of baptism. He exemplified what we all must do; He covenanted with God; and by doing so, he inherited all that God has – including peace and rest.

2) Experience God’s Love
Throughout Christ’s life, He experienced God’s love. He had a close relationship with His Father. When Christ was baptized, Heavenly Father announced, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17

It is this love, I believe, that empowered Christ throughout His ministry. Because Christ was pure, He was united with God. He could feel God’s love purely. He understood His relationship with His Father, and He also expressed this pure love to others throughout His ministry.

I want to think of this feeling of God’s love and peace, however, within the context of the Atonement, itself. Did Christ feel God’s love for Him while He performed His great sacrifice? I think so.

While Christ suffered in Gethsemane, he called out, asking for the bitter cup to be removed. Yet He did Heavenly Father’s will – which was to endure the bitter agony of the Atonement. Heavenly Father didn’t leave Him alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. We read,

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” – Luke 22:43

Of course, later on, Christ would be forsaken by God. I think that, in a way, this teaches us about the companionship of God – when we’re doing what is right; and how God’s love gives us unparalleled peace.

So, I invite you to follow my logic for a second.

Christ was perfect. He was pure. He had never committed any sin or infraction against the laws of Heaven that would have warranted a separation from God. Unlike the rest of humanity, He had a unique dual-nature. He was both man and the literal son of God. This may be hard to understand. Certainly, I can’t pretend to comprehend it. However, we know that His nature was literally divine. He is the literal offspring of God.

Because of this, He wasn’t bound by the effects of the fall. His purity and His godly nature enabled Him to have a closeness with God that none of us can achieve. The Savior, because of His perfect life did not know what being cut off from God felt like.

I think it is safe to say that every one of us understands being “cut off” from God. Sure there are times when I’ve felt close to God. Yet, I sin, and I’m learning, and there have been times I’ve cut myself off from God knowingly. There have also been times when I have felt like Joseph Smith when he asked, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”Doctrine and Covenants 121:1 I have experienced this before. As I get closer to God, I find how precise and pure He is. I guess that what I’m saying is, as I become a more spiritually tuned being, I’m seeing how sensitive the Spirit is. In my life, the pavilion that covers God’s hiding place is often a result of my own imperfections, and unfortunately, that happens more often than I’d like.

However, the Savior hadn’t really experienced any kind of disruption between His closeness with God. He was perfect and had access to God in a way that I can’t imagine. Up until that moment on the cross. In that brief, terrible moment, in order for Christ to truly descend below all, Heavenly Father had to “forsake” His perfect Son. And when this happened, Christ immediately recognized. He cried out:

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

Christ was accustomed to peace. He didn’t fret. He didn’t worry while He slept and the tempest raged. He didn’t freak out when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss. He didn’t fight Pilate, Herod, or any of the high priests who condemned Him. He was filled with the peace of God and proceeded through the work of the Atonement in a peaceful manner.

3) Proclaim Peace to Others by Sharing the Gospel and Magnifying His Calling
Okay – so this is the final part of being a peacemaker. And, boy, did Christ proclaim peace. The entire work of the Atonement is a proclamation of peace. His calling was to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin, so we could experience peace.

I love the scripture in Isaiah:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

The phrase, “the chastisement of our peace was upon Him” has always stood out to me – probably because it is relatively difficult to understand. My thought is that Christ took on the chastisement that would come as a result of our sins so we could feel peace. Mercy cannot rob justice. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He was chastised so that we could experience peace. His stripes heal us.

The Atonement is the greatest proclamation of peace in the history of mankind. It is because of Christ’s Atonement that we can experience peace. Truly He is the Prince of Peace, and we become peacemakers when we share the message of the Savior and His Atonement.

4) He is called a child of God
This point is pretty obvious, and my blog post is already long, so I won’t go in depth here, but it is worth mentioning.

Christ covenanted with God. He experienced Peace. He proclaimed Peace. Because of what He did: suffering, dying, and being resurrected – He was able in inherit all God has. He is a child of God. And because of Christ, we can also partake in this inheritance.

Pretty amazing, huh?!

***
I have loved studying this beatitude. What do you think of it? What have you done in your life to cultivate peace in your own heart? How have you shared this peace? What do you do to be a peacemaker?

Preach My Gospel Family Study Updated

chococatania:

Just an update! :) :) :) Finally!!!

Originally posted on chococatania:

Hello there,
I just wanted to let you know that I have updated the Preach My Gospel Family Study Guide. Week 6 is now available. I’ll be adding many more weeks (up to week 25) over the next several days/week.

Preach My Gospel Family Scripture Study

Thanks for your patience in this! You can always check the sidebar which will redirect you to my scribd account – where the most recent version of the program is always available.

This program will be a total of 36 weeks of devotionals/scripture study assignments for families.

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