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?

Declaration (Staying Faithful to the End)

Next week, I’ll be turning 35. I’m practically middle-age. In some ways I can’t believe it, yet in other ways it really isn’t all that big of a deal. For all of these 35 years, I’ve been attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was baptized when I was eight, participated in the youth programs of the church, I completed personal progress, and attended early morning seminary while in high school.

As an adult, my commitment to the church hasn’t changed. I have gone to the temple (and I go regularly), I have graduated from Institute, I have had children, and have held various callings in the church.

For 35 years, my life has been marked by consistent activity in the church and, for the most part, a thriving testimony.

first thing in the morning...at nearly 35 years old...yeah.

first thing in the morning…at nearly 35 years old…yeah.

There are many people like me. Who are born and raised in the church and who live lives of faith.

But the thing is, even with such faith and devotion to the church, there are no sure things, or at least it seems that way. Even if we’ve lived faithful lives, we still have to keep pushing forward. We can’t coast or become complacent. Not only that, but our faith is continually tested, and we can find that even after a lifetime of faith, we’re giving up.

Now, this is not me saying that I’m giving up. I’m just thinking about how it happens.

Several years ago, I had a discussion with a friend. It went something like this:

Friend: I have a such a strong testimony of the church, I love it so much. I can’t imagine my life without it.
Me: I know what you mean. I feel the same way.
Friend: But sometimes I get afraid. What if I don’t keep the faith? What if something happens, and I stop going to church or forget my testimony?
Me: [I thought for a moment] You know, I’m not afraid of that.
Friend: Really? [I could tell that she thought I was being a little too self-assured.
Me: I think that I’m more afraid that there will be a time when I’m not working as hard. When I’m not praying like I should be praying. When I’m not feasting on the words of Christ. When I’m not attending the temple with clean hands and a pure heart. When I’m not serving in the church diligently and cheerfully. I’m afraid that there will be a time that these things start to “go”, and then I’ll be afraid that I leave the church.

We both agreed that the way to stay strong in the gospel is by doing the small things. But this conversation I had with my friend haunts me when I hear things like A general authority doubting the church. Or how I’ve recently had friends who, after decades of devotion to the church, decide to leave it. Somewhere along the line, for various reasons, people lose their faith, their commitment, or both.

Alma asks this question to disaffected church members:

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” – Alma 5:26

It seems like this is a relatively common phenomenon, people have a change of heart, they feel the love of the redemption offered through the Atonement of the Savior. But the feeling fades away. This can lead to something as simple as inactivity in the church or perhaps even something more serious like apostasy and leaving the church altogether. In any case, the result is the same, we forget the witness we’ve had in the past, and fail to live up to the covenants we’ve made. This has serious consequences. And…above all…it defeats the purpose of everything we’re doing right now.

I’m not living faithfully now so I can give up later. I’m not spending countless hours serving at church, Driving hundreds of miles to attend the temple, donating thousands of dollars for tithing, attending 3 hour church services weekly, etc., etc., etc. –I’m not doing all of these things now to simply give up on them later!

I know that the decision to leave the church, or at least stop attending, isn’t made that way. No one thinks, Okay, I’ve dedicated my life to the Savior, but now I’m done. I understand that other things happen. We face hardship in our lives that test our faith. We may be hurt or offended by another in the church. For various reasons, commitment can be hard to maintain. Our faith is tested, and fear and doubt creep into the tiniest corners of our hearts.

My question..and, up to this point, my crappy answer

And it makes me wonder, how do we do it? how do we endure to the end? How do I make sure that I remain faithful? This seems like a hard thing to predict because I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know the trials of my faith that I’ll face in the future. I don’t know how I’ll react when I’m facing the trials that I can’t predict. I find myself asking, Will I remain faithful?…gee, I sure hope so. This answer is unsatisfactory. It seems so powerless. It’s as if I’m leaving my eternal salvation up to chance.

The thing is, I know that my salvation isn’t up to chance. It is up to me. We were sent to this earth to be agents to act, and not to be acted upon. We are free to choose our destiny: liberty and eternal life or captivity and death. Our salvation (or damnation) isn’t something that will just happen to us.

Developing an Eye of Faith to Ensure Continued Commitment

It seems that the key is to develop an eye of faith. Alma is a great example of this. When he is in his “comatose” state (after seeing an angel), he is in excruciating pain: caused by his many sins. He cries to God for mercy, and Jesus snatches him out of his agony. After this, but before regaining consciousness Alma has the following experience:

“Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.” – Alma 36:22

Immediately after Alma sees this snapshot of Heaven, he awakens. And, I believe, that this vision pushes him forward in faith. Of course the harrowing and hallowing experience of redemption of sins is a major reason for His faithful service to God. But think about Alma, he did more than just remain a kind of faithful guy. He served missions, was hated and persecuted, was put in jail. He was tested – and probably in more ways than we can understand. It had to be more than feeling the joy of redeeming love that motivated him to stay faithful. I think that the joy of redemption coupled with his faithful goal: he longed to be in the presence of the Lord. He could see what he wanted.

I don’t think that Alma said, “Gee, I hope that one day I’ll be able to experience Heaven…Gee, I wonder if this will happen to me…I sure hope so.” This is, obviously, speculation. But I’m inclined to believe that Alma said to himself, “I will be with the Lord one day…It will happen to me…I will remain faithful.”

***
There are other examples, too. Imagine Nephi or Lehi after witnessing the vision of the fruit of the tree of life. Do you think that after this vision, they woke up and said, “Gee, I sure hope that I really do partake of the fruit of the tree of life one day? or did they say, “I will partake of that fruit. I will remain faithful to the end.”

Making A Declaration or A Choice

While I’ve been supposing that these prophets made declarations of faith and commitment to themselves, there is an instance of a prophet declaring his intentions of sustained faith and endurance.

“…till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.” – Job 27:5

Often, I’ve thought about this scripture as being about integrity or the strength of Job. But perhaps it was more than that, and I think it is the answer to my aforementioned question. Job’s declaration is an expression of his eye of faith.

Job refused to remove his integrity. Job refused to give up his faith. Job would receive the blessings of salvation. This isn’t a brazen or proud statement. Job is confident in his own ability and in the Lord’s mercy. Job refuses to see anything else happen. He will not deviate.

Conclusion

I know that this seems simplified, but I really think that is the key. If I make the decision right now to always remain faithful, then I will. If I choose right now to refuse to remove my integrity, then I will do exactly that.

I have a testimony of the gospel. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. I know that He loves me. I know that I’m a daughter of God, and that He loves me, too. I know that God wants us to be happy, and that He has given us a way to accomplish this–through the Savior. I don’t want to forget what I know. I don’t want to let doubt or fear creep into my heart and dash my testimony to pieces. I want these first 35 years of my life to be relevant and worthwhile, not a waste of time. I want to experience the blessings and happiness that the Lord has in store for me. I also want to please Him through my own actions and choices. I want, like Alma, to be in the presence of the Lord, one day.

And so, I’m committing not to remove my integrity from me. I will not lose faith. I will stay true to the gospel and to the covenants that I’ve made. I know that there will be more trials that I face in my life–until the day that I die. But I will not let them get in the way of my ultimate goal.

***
Have you developed an eye of faith? What is it that you “see” for yourself? Have you made any declarations concerning your intentions for this life? What is it? If you have made covenants with the Lord, how will you remain faithful to them–even when they are severely tried?

Joy and Thanksgiving: Scripture Chain – Happiness

So…we’re halfway through the Joy and Thanksgiving scripture study series. I hope people like it – if you are doing it. If not, no big deal – I like it. 🙂

Today, we are doing a scripture chain. I really like scripture chains. They are a cool way to study and mark the scriptures. I like having a series of related scriptures referenced to one another – in my scriptures. If you want more information on finding/marking scripture chains, click here.

“Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:” – Job 5:17

Have you ever been corrected by the Lord? I have. In fact, I’m corrected by the Lord a lot. I’ve been corrected while I read my scriptures, when I’m praying, I’ve been corrected in priesthood blessings that I’ve received. I’m corrected in so many situations.

It is a little hard at first, but I have found that if you are living your life worthy of the spirit, then the correction isn’t always too bad. The Spirit manages to comfort while correcting.

That is where happiness comes in. Any time I’ve received correction, as soon as I commit to making the change, my perspective is filled with hope, and I know that I’m on the right track. I am filled with the Love of the Lord, and that is a happy place to be.

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.

Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” – Psalms 127:3-5

So much happiness!

I truly have a “quiver” full of these little ones. And it is exciting. True to everything we’ve learned about happiness, there are times when I experience a lot of pain and frustration as a mother. Childbearing, in and of itself, is extremely painful. And teaching children can be difficult. They are discovering the world around them, they have many needs, and there is little time leftover for yourself. Yet, this sacrifice brings so much happiness. I’m amazed at how my children have grown over the years. Every time they experience something difficult, my heart aches for them. And when they accomplish something good, I feel great.

And, we can fill our quivers with children that we haven’t birthed ourselves. There are children all around us in our lives – grandchildren, step-children, nieces, nephews, children we teach and serve. They can all bring us joy!

“Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.” – Psalms 144:15

We are happy when the Lord is our God. In some ways, that seems obvious, but I know that there are times I have to ask myself, who is my God? Is there something I spend time doing that competes with my ability to worship? Is there something that I prioritize over my covenants and relationship with God?

Sometimes it seems like we’ll be happier when we give in to our natural desires, but according to the Psalmist, If our god is the Lord, then we’ll be happy.

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.” – Proverbs 3:13

This reminds me of the need for opposition. We are happy when we obtain knowledge. Part of the “knowledge” experience includes misery, pain, and affliction. Despite the difficulty of such opposition, if we go to the Lord, we can gain knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Understanding and applying knowledge will bring us happiness.

“He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.” – Proverbs 14:21

This scripture reminds me of what we learned about the good fruit: it is the love of God and of all men.

When we have mercy on others, and love others, then we can be happy. Happiness is very closely related to charity. Judgment, contention, hatred, are not fruits of the Spirit. They are not Christ-like attributes. And they will not bring happiness.

***

I have really liked studying various scriptures that have had to do with happiness. I think that it has helped me to shape my understanding of what happiness is. I feel like we are happiest when we are most like Christ. This is achieved both through our good choices in keeping the commandments and through taking on His name in the waters of baptism (and renewing that covenant).

Christ makes our happiness possible. We have so much to be thankful for…

What have you learned about happiness? Is there any idea that has helped to you be happier or understand more of what happiness, as the Lord defines it, is?

***
For tomorrow’s assignment, please click here.

Burnt Offerings, Priests, and Receiving forgiveness (Leviticus 4)

I will spare you from reading the entire chapter here, but I encourage you to check out Leviticus 4. The scripture heading summarizes:“Sinners are forgiven through sin offerings of animals without blemish—Priests thereby make an atonement for the sins of the people.”

The process of offering a burnt-offering, or sacrifice, was done to point to the ultimate Sacrifice that would be given by Christ. There are two parts to understand, and they are relevant for our receiving forgiveness.

1. “Sinners are forgiven through sin offerings of animals without blemish-…”
Obviously, sinners are not actually forgiven because of the sacrifice of the animal. Instead, sinners are forgiven through the sacrifice that is represented here – The blood sacrifice of our Savior – who was without blemish.
Christ was the firstborn, male son. He was perfect. He alone could be the sacrifice that would pay for the sins we commit. Through His sacrifice we can be forgiven.

Sometimes it is hard for me to wrap my brain around this concept. I mean, I can sit and type it up, and even discuss it at some level. But when I really think about it – his sacrifice – my mind starts to hurt a little bit.

Regardless of my ability to relate to this sacrifice or understand it, I know that Christ’s sacrifice enables me to repent. Without it, all hope for any kind of happiness or return to Heavenly Father is lost. Without Christ’s sacrifice, our lives have no meaning.

The sacrifices offered by the ancient Israelites did not save them, instead it pointed them to the coming of a Savior who would also bleed and die for their sins.

2. “…Priests thereby make an atonement for the people.”
Just as the animals sacrificed do not save the people, the priests do not actually atone for the Israelites.

During ancient times, the Israelites could not perform the ordinance of burnt offerings or atonement on their own. They needed a priest – who held authority from God – to act as mediators.

**
Although the ancient act of burnt offerings seems a little cruel, or at least barbaric, it is nice to glean understanding and wisdom from it. The Lord gave His people a very concrete object lesson through such an exercise. Our need for our Savior: through His blood, and His Mediation is as real for us as it was in ancient times.
This exercise is was only symbolic as the Priest really had nothing to do with the atonement or forgiveness. It was Christ – His power – vested in the priest that forgave the sinner.

I love this object lesson because we learn that we, too, must go to the Priest of priests – who gave his own blood for a sacrifice. Only then can we be atoned and receive forgiveness from our sins.

  • "But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:42.
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