The Plan of Salvation – Journal Art (and Study Program)

Just a quick little post with a few fun things…We recently finished up a scripture study series on The Plan of Salvation. I feel like I really learned a lot.

The idea to study this more in-depth came as I was creating a book for my daughter who will be twelve next year. (More on this in a few months). I did some fun Plan of Salvation journaling/art.

This is the beginning of the Plan of Salvation – including Pre-Mortality, Satan, The Veil, The Creation, and the Fall.

Here is the second portion: The Need for an Atonement, Mortality, The Atonement, and the Doctrine of Christ.

Next, we covered Death, Spirit World, Resurrection, and Judgment

And Finally, the Three Degrees of Glory: the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial…Oh …there is also a little bit about Outer Darkness.

So…this is the somewhat artistic rendering of what we’ve been studying. (The pictures aren’t great quality…sorry…my regular camera broke!)

If you would like to study the entire Scripture Study Series, you can download it here. Let me know how it goes. I hope you like it!

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The Three Degrees of Heaven

It is our final installment of the Plan of Salvation scripture study series. I realize I was supposed to post this yesterday, but things got crazy. However, I didn’t to forget about it all together, so here goes!

For today’s assignment, click here.

The last part of the Plan of Salvation – after everything is said and done – is our final, eternal destination. It is what we’re working toward. Some people call it Heaven or Hell. In the Mormon faith, we are a little bit more specific than that. In Doctrine and Covenants 76, you can read about the striations of both heaven and hell. There truly are many mansions. I will go over each grouping and point out a few attributes of each.

Outer Darkness

  • These souls were overcome by Satan.
  • They knew God – knew His power and partook of it, yet chose to follow the devil – openly rebelling.
  • Hand themselves over to Satan. – This is interesting to me. It suggests a very willing choice. I can only think of what we know about the Pre-mortal realm and the war against heaven…those souls knew and understood God and His plan, yet openly rebelled – hoping to destroy our agency and usurp His power. They were thrust out. When I think of perdition, I wonder if a similar pattern would follow. Instead of being tricked, addicted, or unbelieving, the souls who become sons of perdition seem to choose it.
  • These souls will receive no forgiveness – sounds harsh? This was their choice…wow!
  • They deny the Holy Ghost after having received it.
  • Deny Christ – and put Him to an open shame.
  • These souls will live eternally with the Devil and his angels
  • These are the ONLY ONES who will experience the second death – forever cut off from God – this is the only hell (in the traditional sense of hell). It doesn’t sound fun in outer darkness.

The Celestial Glory

  • Come forth in the first resurrection – the resurrection of the just.
  • Received a testimony of Christ, and followed the doctrine of Christ.
  • Overcome the world by faith in Christ.
  • Sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise – this is a conditional blessing that God gives to those who are just, true, and have faith in Christ.
  • Members of Christ’s church
  • Have become heirs through Christ
  • These are just men (and women) made perfect through Jesus Christ – the mediator. – this was the entire purpose of the atonement!
  • Receive a celestial glory, or the fullness of glory, that can be compared to the glory of the sun.
  • Heaven!

The Terrestrial Glory

  • Died without the law.
  • Didn’t receive a testimony of Christ while in the flesh, but did receive it in the Spirit World
  • They are the honorable people of the earth who were maybe a little blinded by the craftiness of the world.
  • They receive glory – but not the fullness of Glory – that can be compared to the brightness of the moon.
  • Heaven! – This destination is still glorious. It is better than what our lives are like on earth. Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, has still extended mercy to so many people. And they will be happy.

The Telestial Glory

  • These souls did not receive a testimony of Christ.
  • They DO NOT deny the Holy Ghost.
  • These souls were not righteous, nor just. – They were liars, sorcerers, adulterers, whoremongers, etc.
  • They experience Hell – but not in the same sense as “outer darkness”. Instead, they suffer for their sins while the other souls (who inherit the celestial and terrestrial kingdom) come forth in their resurrections. From what I understand, these souls do not accept the testimony of Christ, so they must suffer for their own sins. In this way they experience hell. Yet, they don’t deny the Holy Ghost, and at some point, they will be blessed with a degree of glory – a small piece of Heaven. They will eventually be redeemed, but not until Christ has finished all of His other work.
  • They will be heirs of salvation, receiving glory that is comparable to the brightness of a star in the sky.
  • Heaven! – This is a tough road, but in the end, they still work through their sins and are redeemed.

I find the Three Degrees of Heaven one of the biggest proofs that God is just and He loves us. He offers so many different types of Heaven. And each destination will be tailored to us, personally. The glory we inherit will be both comfortable and make us happy.

When I think about the three degrees of glory, I’m curious to know what they could possibly be like. We have been taught that the world we currently live in is like the Telestial world. And you know what, I love the earth that we inhabit. It is beautiful and interesting. I can’t imagine what could be better, yet I know I want it.

The Telestial World will be like the earth we live in now.

I feel comforted to know that there are places designated for us, and really, there is a lot more Heaven than Hell. Of course, I want to do everything I can to receive a fullness of God’s glory. I want to dwell with Him. I want to be happy. I want to receive all that He is willing to give me.

I know that I can’t do it on my own. I can work hard, but nothing I do will ever qualify me to overcome the weakness of the flesh. I know that it is through Christ I will receive the grace I need to be saved. I’m grateful for Jesus and His role in my salvation.

What have you learned about the Three Degrees of Glory? What does it teach you about God and His Plan of Salvation? What does it mean to you, personally?

The Judgment: Required with God’s Justice

Click here for today’s assignment.

Well…it’s the second to last day…and I’m posting pretty late, but I wanted to write something really quick about today’s study assignment and the judgment.

Alma teaches a powerful concept about the judgment:

“I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.

And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.

And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—

The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.

And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.

These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.” – Alma 41:2-7

What I’m struck by is the fact that it is requisite with the justice of God that we are judged according to our works.

I think that sometimes the current trend in society is to focus so much on the mercy and grace of God, that we forget His justice. Maybe we use His loving-kindness to rationalize away our sins. But the fact remains: Because of God’s Justice, there will be a judgment.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we can work our way into heaven. We still need the mercy of Christ. However, our works qualify us for Christ’s Grace. (See 2 Nephi 25:23.) One of the greatest works we can do is to repent.

Of course, there is so much we don’t know about the judgment. We really don’t know what it will be like. But thankfully, we know it will be personal. And we also know that standard by which God will judge: Christ. So – depending on how we conduct ourselves, the judgment will either be pretty exciting or scary.

I am both a little excited and a little nervous about the time when I can report to the Savior on what I’ve done in my life. I hope to give a good report. I hope to be able to say that I had done all that He wanted me to do. I hope to be able to admit that though I made mistakes, I always strove to be better. I hope that I will be able to say that I’ve become clean through the power of His atonement. I hope to be able to stand before Christ, with a good report, and full of humility and gratitude knowing that His atonement can help complete my weakness.

What are your thoughts on the judgment? What did you learn as you studied?

Click here for tomorrow’s assignment

Resurrection

Click here for today’s assignment.

I happen to find the resurrection to be both mind-boggling and insanely hopeful. Because of Jesus Christ, we will all have the capability of being raised from the dead – and not just in a continued mortal state (like Lazarus), but as a perfected, immortal being. Alma taught Zeezrom about the resurrection. You can read the block here – Alma 11:42-45. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The Death and resurrection of Christ will loose the bands of temporal death.
  • The Spirit and body will be reunited in perfect form – limb and joint – similar to how we are now.
  • The resurrection comes to all: young, old, bond, free, male, female, wicked, righteous.
  • Everything will be restored to its perfect frame.
  • We will be raised from death to an immortal body. We will no longer experience corruption or death.

It is pretty mind-boggling to think about. I have never known someone to be brought back to life. It is hard to imagine, even though I know that it is true.

The resurrection is also very hopeful. For me, hope is manifest in a few ways:
One – I will be able to be reunited with those who have passed on. That is a pretty exciting point to consider.

Two – My own body will be perfected. I know that this can sound selfish, but I cannot imagine a life without pain! Or disease! Or some kind of deficiency.

The idea of the resurrection is especially intriguing to me – as I just had a hysterectomy. My body isn’t that horribly out of health, but I am a normal person: aging with body parts that have a tendency to malfunction. When I think about the resurrection, I feel pretty excited about the idea of my body functioning properly – or even better. 🙂

Three – I will be able to experience eternal life. One of my favorite scriptures is when Jesus comforts Martha after Lazarus has died.

The Raising of Lazarus, by Lippo Memmi (Click image for source).

“Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:

And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.

Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.

Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” – John 11:18-27

Martha had lost her beloved brother. She knew and trusted in the power of the Savior to help him overcome sickness, but Jesus wasn’t around to save Lazarus before he had died. Four days had past. He was officially dead. Christ finally made an appearance.

Martha ran out to meet the Savior, crying, and telling the Lord that if he had been there earlier, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.

(A side note…don’t we do this? Experience a difficulty, forgetting that Jesus Christ is the master? Then, when we finally “see” him, we first say that if he had “been there” the problem wouldn’t have happened at all. I think that I have a bad habit to underestimate the power of the Lord and to trust in His timing.)

Jesus speaks to Martha in a way that she understands. He brings up the truth of the resurrection – assuring her that Lazarus will rise again. She understood, saying that she knew Lazarus would be raised again at the resurrection.

Then comes Christ’s powerful testimony:

I am the resurrection and the Life.

We can trust in Christ’s power! He defeated death.

I wonder if, while mourning the loss of her brother, Martha was caught up in contemplating her own life. I think it’s a safe assumption to make. It seems like death always helps us to be more grateful for life. This message would have been so great to hear – not only out of the love for Lazarus, but because Martha could also be at peace concerning her own life.

I am grateful to know the doctrine of the resurrection. It helps comfort me during trials – especially physically demanding trials. I am grateful to know that I will be reunited, physically, with my family. I am grateful for my body – even though I don’t always act like it. Interestingly enough Satan seems to attack us regarding our physical bodies (drugs, self-image, etc….this is a topic for another blog post, I suspect.) Although there are times when I have pain and difficulty, I have also experienced a great deal of physical joy. I have had children. I have felt the endorphin rush after a run. I like the euphoria of a back-rub. I am grateful for a tender kiss on my forehead. I love to be able to see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. So many blessings I experience are felt, physically. And I’m glad that after I die, I will not be separated from my body for long but will be restored to our bodies in a perfect form.

Pretty exciting.

What brings you hope and joy when considering the resurrection? What can you do now, during your mortal life to prepare for the time of resurrection, and to show gratitude that your physical nature will be enjoyed eternally?

Click here for tomorrow’s assignment.

Death and The Spirit World

In the past, I’ve always had a matter-of-fact feeling about death. I knew and understood that it came to all of us. No matter how rich, poor, humble, powerful, beautiful, or ugly – we will die. Often, death is stated in the scriptures as “going the way of all the earth.” No one who is born will escape the occasion of death.

Two of my grandparents died while I was young. I wasn’t particularly close to them, so it was just another passing. For some reason, when my grandparents died, they didn’t bring us (kids) to the funeral. I think that may have added to my unemotional response to death.

When I was in my twenties, my maternal grandfather died. We didn’t really know him growing up. In fact, I probably saw him once in a twenty-plus year span. When he passed, I felt a good deal of sorrow for those who would be missing him, but I didn’t feel much of a loss. My life hadn’t really been impacted.

The rather robotic feelings I had about death doesn’t mean I lacked sympathy for those who experienced the death of someone close. I could understand why they were sad, even though I hadn’t experienced it myself.

Then, last year, my little brother passed away. He was only 18 years old. He fell from the bumper of a car (it was going slowly down the drive-way. In a sick twist of irony, my brother had never been a risk-taker). He was a big boy – 6’4″ and broad. I’m not sure how much he weighed, but he was very athletic. He fell down hit his head, and in an instant, he was gone.

My Little Brother – forever 18.

In a recent General Conference talk, President Thomas S. Monson stated:

“Among all the facts of mortality, none is so certain as its end. Death comes to all; it is our ‘universal heritage; it may claim its victim[s] in infancy or youth, [it may visit] in the period of life’s prime, or its summons may be deferred until the snows of age have gathered upon the … head; it may befall as the result of accident or disease, … or … through natural causes; but come it must,’1. It inevitably represents a painful loss of association and, particularly in the young, a crushing blow to dreams unrealized, ambitions unfulfilled, and hopes vanquished.

What mortal being, faced with the loss of a loved one or, indeed, standing himself or herself on the threshold of infinity, has not pondered what lies beyond the veil which separates the seen from the unseen? – Thomas S. Monson

When my brother passed, my first thoughts went out to my father who is not LDS and who experienced a very tough year last year. I wondered how, without the comfort of the gospel, he would cope. I thought of my step-mom, my sisters, my brothers. We were all living in different parts of the country. I was worried about them, and I wanted to see them.

I said a prayer, and I realized that, though the death of my brother was sad in many ways, I didn’t need to fear. Sean was okay.

I understood concepts of the Spirit world: that though he had passed from this mortal realm, his Spirit was still alive. Though Sean was not LDS and had never really learned the gospel, I also felt comforted by the revelation given to Joseph F. Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.

Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.

These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,

And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” – Doctrine and Covenants”>Doctrine and Covenants 138:30-34

I knew that there were people, members of my family who had preceded Sean to the Spirit World. I knew that many of them had the gospel, and that they would be able to welcome Sean into the next phase of his life. I also knew that he would be taught the principles of the gospel. I knew that his death was not the end, but just the next step in his progression.

This knowledge brought much comfort.

The day after hearing about the passing of my brother, I embarked on a journey (with my family) to Massachusetts. We celebrated the life and mourned the death of my brother. It was a strange event, fraught with many emotions. I felt sadness and regret. I also was comforted and hopeful. I recognized the reality: that our mortal lives are not going to last forever. We grow, we age, we die. Sometimes, we die before we even grow or age. We need to spend our lives wisely – strengthening our relationships: with God, our families, and good friends. We will all eventually pass on to the next part of our eternal lives.

From this event (and a few others that have happened in the past year), I have become keenly aware that once a soul passes to the Spirit world, we aren’t separated from them. Though we can’t physically communicate with them, we are connected. Of course, we have the potential to become eternal families, but I learned that our connection is more immediate than the far-off implication of an “eternal family.”

Elder Scott teaches:

“Another example of revelation is this guidance given to President Joseph F. Smith: ‘I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. … We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors … who have preceded us into the spirit world. We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties that we can not break. … If this is the case with us in our finite condition, surrounded by our mortal weaknesses, … how much more certain it is … to believe that those who have been faithful, who have gone beyond … can see us better than we can see them; that they know us better than we know them. … We live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; … their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.’2

Relationships can be strengthened through the veil with people we know and love. That is done by our determined effort to continually do what is right. We can strengthen our relationship with the departed individual we love by recognizing that the separation is temporary and that covenants made in the temple are eternal. When consistently obeyed, such covenants assure the eternal realization of the promises inherent in them.” – Richard G. Scott

The families and friends that have passed on before us, though dead in a mortal sense, are still alive in a spiritual sense. They continue to love us – and perhaps in a better way, as they are not troubled with the temptations of the world. They pray for us, they root for us, they think about us. In the Spirit World, they continue to progress, and this progression blesses us, too. Even though we are physically separated from our families, our relationships can grow as we remember them and live worthy of the companionship of the Spirit – who strengthens these bonds.

Knowing the Plan of Salvation – and that even death and the Spirit World are part of it – brings me so much comfort. I’m thankful for a wise God who created such a merciful plan.

What have you – either through study or personal experiences – learned about death and the Spirit World? How is knowledge of God’s Plan of Salvation comforting when you think on these topics?

Click the links for the following study-series assignments:
Yesterday’s Assignment on Death
Today’s assignment on The Spirit World
Tomorrow’s Assignment on The Resurrection

__________
1. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. (1916), 20.
2. Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1916, 2–3; see also Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 430–31.

The Doctrine of Christ

Click here for today’s assignment.

First of all, I have to say – I love the doctrine of Christ. I find it super exciting. This is where things really start to come together. We have studied our pre-mortal existence, the fall, and mortality. We have studied the need for the atonement, and the atonement. With the Doctrine of Christ, we learn how to apply the power of atonement to our lives. This is where everything comes together.

The Example

At the meridian of time, Christ came to the earth, and gave us an example. When he began his mortal ministry, he went to John the Baptist, and was baptized.

Nephi points out that Christ was holy, yet was baptized. He then asks:

“And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!” – 2 Nephi 31:5

Christ was holy, yet was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. Of course we need to do the same.

Christ, himself, taught Nicodemus:

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5

Jesus taught us, through His example, that baptism is necessary in order to enter into the kingdom of God.

Baptism – an essential part of the Doctrine of Christ. (click picture for source)

The Doctrine

Foundation

  • We have to understand that we are fallen people. Christ wasn’t fallen, so He could covenant with God directly. We covenant with God in Christ’s name, and he enables us to overcome with fall.
  • If we want to be able to dwell with God again, then we need to be purified and Holy. Following the steps in the doctrine of Christ will help us, through Christ’s atonement, to be made pure and Holy.

The Steps

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” – 2 Nephi 31:13

  1. Have Faith in Christ – follow Him, genuinely. In following Christ, we recognize that he knows where he’s going, and we want to go there, too. When we follow Christ, we believe Him. Another aspect of following Christ is doing what He has taught us to do – keep the commandments and covenant with God.
  2. Repent – Repentance seems to be a natural result of genuine faith in Christ. When we exercise our faith in Christ, when we keep His commandments, and experience His love, we are also made aware of our imperfections. It isn’t because God is some kind of guilt-tripper. It is because as we increase in our faith in Christ, we realize that we can be even closer to Him and feel more of His love when we repent and change our lives.
  3. Take upon the name of Christ – through baptism – I love this! We are able to become united with Christ when we are baptized. Can you really understand the scope of this blessing?

    I was talking with my sister today – about worthiness, the temple, prayer, etc. And I realized, none of us are worthy. None of us are worthy to go to the temple, take the sacrament, or even pray – ON OUR OWN. We pray – in the name of Christ. We bless and partake of the sacrament in the name of Christ. When we take on His name, then everything we do – as we approach the Lord – can be with the intercessory power that the Savior offers. So – am I worthy to go to the temple? When it comes to Catania, I’d have to say no. But, I’m faithful, I’m repentant, I have taken on Christ’s name, and I know that His grace makes up for my lack of worthiness. We aren’t in this alone. We can have Christ as a partner when we take on His name and live worthy of His atoning power in our lives.

  4. Receive the Holy Ghost – When we are baptized, we are purified. Then, when we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we are sanctified. This is how the doctrine of Christ makes us Holy.

    I’m totally flabbergasted by the gift of the Holy Ghost. That hasn’t always been the case. When I was a little kid, I remember that we would learn about the Gift of the Holy Ghost in primary. Often, the teacher would bring in a little present – wrapped up and empty. How I longed to open that present – and find a toy or candy. Yet it was always empty: symbolizing the gift of the Holy Ghost. I understand the object lesson, but I always kind of wished it had a toy in there instead. I didn’t understand the Gift that was being offered.

    Yet, as I have gotten older, and have felt the power and blessing it is to have the Gift of the Holy Ghost in my life, I am so grateful that God chose this way to bless us (rather than toys or candy bars!).

    Think of the love God has for us. 1) We are His children, and are blessed with a divine nature. (See Romans 8:16). 2. We can take on the name of Christ – and be connected to the Godhead in this way. 3. We are literally blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost – who is a constant companion to those who live worthy of the blessing. Heavenly Father doesn’t intend for us to be alone on our mortal journey. Even though we are cut off from Heavenly father, the atonement and doctrine of Christ enables us to endure our mortal probation with divine help.

  5. Endure to the End – Nephi teaches:

    “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

    Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” – 2 Nephi 31:19-20

    After we have completed the previous four steps, we don’t have it made. We still have to endure the tests of this life. The key is given here in 2 Nephi 31:20 –

    • Faith – steadfastness in Christ
    • Hope – perfect brightness of hope
    • Charity – love of God and of all men

    Through these efforts, we will be able to make it back to our Heavenly Father. His purposes (See Moses 1:39.) will be fulfilled, and we will rejoice forever with God.

The plan of salvation is pretty awesome.

What did you learn as you studied the Doctrine of Christ? What do you find particularly comforting about this doctrine?

Click here for tomorrow’s assignment.

The Atonement and The Plan of Salvation

Click here for today’s assignment

“Christ in Gethsemane” by Giovanni di Paolo. Click image for source.

I honestly feel overwhelmed at the idea of discussing the atonement in a single blog post. There is always something new to learn about the atonement, and I think that we’ll die before we adequately understand it.

What it boils down to is the atonement heals us. It heals us from the effects of the fall. Without the atonement we have no plan of salvation – as we have no salvation. The atonement was necessary, and it needed to be infinite and eternal in order to fulfill God’s purposes. (See Moses 1:39.)

There are three major ways that I’ve felt the power of the atonement in my life that I will share here.

Healing from Our Own Sins

Of course, I’m most acquainted with the atonement in this context. I have sinned, repented, and sinned again. It feels like the closer I get to God, the more I realize I’m far from him. (Does that make sense?) Yet, the power of the atonement has played a part in my life when I have repented.

Repentance itself can be a bit of a process, but when I have repented, I have felt like Alma – who, when he was harrowed up in His sins felt grief, but as soon as he had the mind to repent, he could no longer feel his pains. (See Alma 36:17-19.)

Several years ago, I was a single mother living in Chester County, PA. It was a struggle for me, and if you read my blog regularly, I’m sure that you’ve read about this time in my life before. I prayed for help, strength, and a husband. Throughout the time that I was single, the Lord blessed me with everything I needed. Yet, I ached to be married and enjoy the blessings of a family.

After a few years, because of the wise advice I received from my bishop, I finally had the chance to meet Homey. It was amazing. Quickly, we fell in love.

I remember driving to drop the girls off at daycare one morning. As I drove up the final hill to my destination, I was thinking about the phone conversation I had with Homey the night before. I felt high with the love I had for him and he had for me. And I realized that this was a miracle. The Lord had worked the miracle of my life by allowing me to meet homey. The years of prayers were pointing to that moment.

I was also acutely aware of the sins I had committed, the weakness I had, yet the Lord’s willingness to bless me. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and humility. I knew that the power of the atonement had enabled me to realize the blessing of meeting and marrying Pete. I knew that, in and of myself, I wasn’t worthy of the blessing I desired. I also knew that I wasn’t going to the Lord in and of myself, but that I had the help and intercession of the Savior. I knew that the Savior made it possible for me not only to repent, but also to experience desired blessings.

As I was dropping off my girls that cloudy, chili February morning, not only did I realize that the Lord worked a miracle in my life to meet Homey, but that He had already worked the biggest miracle of all: forgiving and healing me from my own past sins.

The Sins of Others

Unfortunately, we don’t sin in a vacuum. Often, the choices of others can have an impact on many more people than only themselves. There are times when we must experience the consequences of the sins of another.

Though we may still have a “peace of conscience” (as do not have to overcome our own sin). Our “peace of mind” may be unsettled (the effects of the sins of another). The atonement can heal us of this, too.

I know that when we are hurting – even if it is of through fault of our own – the Savior understands, and he can heal the broken-hearted. Jesus pleads:

ҦCome 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

The Lord doesn’t only ask sinners to come to Him. He beckons for anyone who labors and are heavy laden. Sometimes, the burdens we bear come as a result of the selfish decisions of another. Thankfully, the power of Christ’s atonement can lighten any burden.

Physical Pain – Limitations of Mortality

A third way that I have experienced the power of the atonement in my life is while enduring physical pain. Sometimes, it seems like enduring a physical trial would be easier than a divorce or death. I know that I have thought that before. And in some ways, that is true. But, I have learned not to underestimate the harrowing effect of physical pain!

My life has been blessed. Generally, I have had good physical health. However, there have been a few times in my life when I have endured physical trials – kidney stones, child-birth, rupturing cysts, and chronic pain from endometriosis (to name a few). It is amazing how these physical trials can be just as burdensome as the pain that comes from sin.

Thankfully, we do not have to suffer alone.

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” – Alma 7:11-12

When you are in a hospital room, alone, trembling in pain – it really is comforting to know that Christ understands. While the pain may not go away, we can pray. We can pray for strength, comfort, and relief. It is also comforting to know that, thanks to Christ, we will not be bound by our mortal bodies forever. Because of Christ’s atonement and resurrection, we will one day enjoy perfected blessings. The perspective and comfort that comes through the atonement can turn even the most physically harrowing experiences into hallowed memories.

How have you felt the power of the atonement in your life? How does understanding the atonement help you to better understand the plan of salvation, in general?

Click here for tomorrow’s assignment.

Probation: Penitence and Preparation (Our Mortal Lives)

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Well…we are more than half-way through the study series! So far we have studied everything leading up to the point of mortality: our pre-mortal estate, Satan and his influence in the plan of salvation, the creation, the fall, and the need for an atonement. We can see how we got here. Today, we’re going to study mortality (birth, lives, and death) – why we are here.

Here is Baby T-Rex and Homey…one of the highlights of our mortal lives. 🙂

In 2 Nephi, Lehi teaches:

” And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents.” – 2 Nephi 2:21

Our mortal lives aren’t meant to be some kind of cakewalk. Of course, we should enjoy life, but mortality is probation—it is a test. And here’s a fun alliteration to help you remember the purpose of it all: Probation: Penitence and Preparation

Probation
First of all, we should understand what probation is. In general: probation means a time of testing. In the context of the Plan of Salvation, the duration of our probation is our mortal lives, and in Abraham we learn exactly what the Lord will test us on:

”And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” – Abraham 3:25

During this probation, we are tested on our faith, on our thoughts, words, and deeds. We are tested on our willingness to obey. We have been given everything we can to ace the test (the gospel). We simply need to be willing to repent and prepare to meet God.

Penitence
Technically, penitence, or the willingness to repent, is part of preparing to meet God, but I thought that it would be fun to have three “p”-words. Additionally, repentance is important enough to be treated as its own subject.

Repentance is essential in passing our probation. When we repent, we enable the atonement to take effect in our lives. Without repentance, the atonement is pretty much worthless. We will talk more about the atonement and repentance in the coming days. It is important to recognize, however, that mortality is a time to recognize the atonement and allow it to cover our sins and weakness.

If we don’t repent, then meeting God will be a highly uncomfortable thing. Concerning the unrepentant, Alma teaches,

”For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.” – Alma 12:14

We need to repent during our mortal lives.

Preparation
Of course, repentance is the most important step in preparation, but there are other things that we can and should do to prepare to meet God again. Here is a list of ways we can prepare to meet God. (This list is not all inclusive!)

  • Prayer – Communicate with God. What better way to prepare to meet God than by opening a dialogue with Him while on earth.
  • Study Scriptures – In the scriptures, we will learn more about the Savior. We learn more about God. Not only that, but often the Lord speaks to us, personally, in the scriptures. Through these experiences we build a relationship with Him, and He can help guide us on how we ought to prepare for the eventual meeting we will have with Him.
  • Make Covenants (and keep them) – In order to prepare to meet God, there are certain covenants we need to make. This will be discussed more when we study the Doctrine of Christ.
  • Have a family – The Family is central to God’s plan for us. (See The Family: A Proclamation.) Not only is it central to our salvation, but I think that we really learn more about God when we participate in a family. We learn to love others. As parents, especially, we understand the love that we have for our children, and what it means about how God feels about us. A family is great training for meeting God.
  • Serve others – In order to be prepared to meet God, we need to serve others. (See Mosiah 2:17). We learn from King Benjamin that when we serve others, we’re also serving God. Additonally, King Benajamin teaches:

    “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” – Mosiah 5:13

    If we want to be prepared to meet God, then we must know Him. And serving others will help us to know and love our God.

  • Live with a grateful heart – I say this because as we come to know God, we will begin to see the way that He blesses our lives. Having a grateful heart will help us to take advantage of the world around us. We can express our gratitude – not only through prayer, but also as we seek to improve our talents, when we go on walks, when we write in our journals, when we go to work, and even in our trials. We can express our gratitude in so many ways.

Preparing to meet God not only will help us pass our probation, but it will make life richer. We will be blessed for our obedience now, and we also learn to live a deliberate life. We also know that the nature of God is the nature of happiness. As we prepare to meet Him, we come to know Him. We begin to see Him in everything. Not only can the Lord and His love be felt as we pray and read the scriptures, but as we come to know the Lord, we will see that His love is expressed in the world around us: each flower, a monsoon, the smile on a child’s face – begin to be small testimonies of God’s love for us. We will see that our lives are abundant with His blessings. And, though we go through trials – though our mortal lives are frought with sickness and sin, preparing to meet God will not only help us in the future, but will bless us with an abundant life now.

There will be a time when we meet God. We can use our mortal lives to repent and ready ourselves for that moment. As we do, we will come to know the Lord, we will know His love for us, and we will qualify for His best blessings. As Jesus states:

”And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” – John 17:3

What are you doing to prepare to meet God as you navigate this mortal life? How does it make you feel to know that God has a purpose and plan for life on earth? How has repentance and preparation blessed your life?

Click here for tomorrow’s assignment.

The Need for an Atonement – Scripture Chain

Click here for today’s assignment.

Yesterday, we learned about what happened at the Fall of Adam and Eve. Today we will look at a scripture chain that is an extension of the theme of the Fall – especially how it resulted in our need for an atonement.

Romans 5:12

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” – Romans 5:12

  • By Adam, sin entered into the world. It is important to note that this doesn’t mean that he committed a sin we must all pay for. “We believe that men will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression,” (See Articles of Faith 1:2). Instead, Paul teaches us that because of Adam, we are born into mortality – and are people who are capable of sinning. When Adam was in the garden, he was innocent. Now, we aren’t. This is how, by one man sin entered into the world.
  • Sin results in spiritual death.

Alma 42:9-10

“Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.

Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature,…” – Alma 42:9-10

  • The soul is eternal. (See Doctrine and Covenants 93:29, 33.)
  • Even though the soul can never die, we keep hearing about how the fall brought on death. Alma clarifies that spiritual death means that we are cut off from the presence of the Lord.
  • Temporal death, physical death, is also a result of the fall.
  • Our natures became carnal, sensual, and devilish. In the scriptures, fallen man is often referred to as “natural man.”

Alma 41:11

“And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. – Alma 41:11

  • I love this scripture!
  • When we are in our “natural” (fallen) state, we cannot be truly happy. This may not seem/sound true. In some ways, I think that our notion of happiness (or at least the world’s notion of happiness) may often be too connected with pleasure or chasing the appetite of the natural man. Of course, seeking to satiate our sensual appetites seems to be impossible. Often, this kind of unchecked passion leads us to bitterness and captivity (ie: addiction, disease, etc.)
  • The nature of God = the nature of Happiness.
  • As we learned earlier, the natural man is cut off from God. If we persist in our natural/fallen tendencies, then we cannot be happy because we are cut off from the nature of happiness.

2 Nephi 9:8-10

“O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.

And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.

O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.” – 2 Nephi 9:8-10

  • We can praise God: His mercy and grace. He prepared a way for us to overcome the effects of the fall. Remember: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” (Moses 1:39). God’s purpose – His work – His glory is our immortality and eternal life. A way needed to be prepared for us to escape from the effects of the Fall.
  • If our bodies couldn’t rise again, then our Spirits would have been subject to Satan. – This would frustrate God’s purposes.
  • If our Spirits became subject to Satan, we would have become like Satan – remaining forever in misery. – Again, this foils God’s plan.
  • Heavenly Father, understanding the calamitous effects of the fall, yet the necessity for us to experience mortality and a spiritual separation from him (in order for our progression), made a way possible for us to overcome spiritual and physical death: the atonement.
  • When we consider the terror and bitterness of death, the concept of the atonement becomes a source of hope.

***
I am a woman who has been affected by the Fall. First of all, my body is imperfect, and I don’t just say that because I don’t have flat abs. I’m sitting here, on my couch, and I have been for 3 1/2 weeks straight – healing from a hysterectomy. I needed to have the hysterectomy because of problems caused by endometriosis. My body gets sick. I’m getting older, and I feel it in my bones. It isn’t something I like to think about: but I know that one day, my body will be laid to rest…I will die.

Additionally, I sin. I’m not as charitable as I should be. I make rash judgments. I get short-tempered with my kids. I think bad thoughts, say things I shouldn’t say, and then even do things that I regret. Obviously, I sin, and these sins, one by one, push me further away from God. I don’t really like thinking about this, either.

The thing is: we have hope in the atonement of Christ. God knew we would need it, and, to perform His purpose, he has provided a Savior that we so desperately need.

***
As you studied these scriptures, what were some of the things you noticed in a need for an atonement?

Click here for tomorrow’s assignment.

The Patterns of the Creation: the Plan of Salvation and Personal Application

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The Creation of the Earth, by Wenzel Hollar (click image for source).

The next part of our study on The Plan of Salvation is the creation. Before we could be sent to this earth, it needed to be created!

The creation story is amazing. You can study it for a lifetime and still learn something new. Many people are also pretty familiar with the basics of the creation, so I will not go into them here. Instead, I will just share a few things that stuck out to me – especially when thinking about the Creation in conjunction with the Plan of Salvation.

Patterns taught in the Creation Story
Planning and Execution
The Pattern: When it came to the creation, Heavenly Father didn’t create the Earth on a whim. He took time to carefully plan. In Moses, we learn:

“…For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth…” – Moses 3:5

The Plan of Salvation: I think that we can learn that how the Lord handled the Creation is also how the Lord handled the Plan of Salvation. It was carefully considered before it was put into action. We can trust in the Lord and in His plan.

Personal Application: We can learn from the pattern of the Lord’s in planning our lives spiritually before physical execution. We can take time to counsel (in our callings or with our families) and discuss what will happen in the future. We can prepare our lives in such a way that we live deliberately. Obviously, we can’t plan every single event or situation in our lives – as there is much that happens that is out of our control. But I think that the point here, that I learn with the creation, is that I can live more deliberately and plan before I create.

Additionally, I think that we can apply this pattern to other things that we learn in the gospel. For example, in this very context – of the creation the earth. After creating the Earth and man, God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. In Moses 3:15, it explains a reason why:

“And I, the Lord God, took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it.” – Moses 3:15

When pondering this point – why did Heavenly Father put Adam in the Garden of Eden, it is helpful to approach it, and any question, knowing that everything that Heavenly Father does is carefully planned. Everything He does has a purpose. Knowing that the Lord works in this way helps us to trust Him.

Evaluation
The Pattern: Not only did God plan and then physically create the world, but he also evaluated what he did. And he evaluated fairly. After each creative period, the lord looked over what he had done, and after each creative period he saw that what he had done was good.

The Plan of Salvation: As far as this pattern applies to the Plan of Salvation, I think that, again, knowing that Heavenly Father operates this way will help us to trust in His plan. Good comes from God. If we want to experience good in our lives, then we can look to the source of all good: Heavenly Father.

Personal Application: Again, this is a pattern that can be followed. It helps to evaluate what we do, and it is also okay to recognize that the work we do is good. Heavenly Father did not gloat. He also didn’t put on an air of false humility. He simply recognized His creation for what it was: good.

This reminds me of a scripture in Proverbs:

“She perceiveth that her merchandise is good:…” – Proverbs 31:18

This scripture is about the virtuous woman. I love that she perceives that her merchandise is good. God does the same thing! Often, I find that I berate and belittle my best efforts. Sometimes it is because I don’t understand my worth or offering. Other times, I wonder if I do it under the pretense of humility. Either way, I’m not following the god-like pattern of evaluating fairly.

Marriage
The Pattern: Adam and Eve were married. Marriage, family is not a social construct.

“And Adam said: This I know now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Moses 3:23-25

The Plan of Salvation: Though salvation is a personal and individual experience, a crucial part of our eternal happiness will be experienced in our family relationships. We cannot ignore the importance of marriage and family.

Personal Application: I feel like this has a few applications. One – Marriage is divinely instituted, and worth every effort. We need to cleave unto one another. Two – as a woman, this is especially interesting to me. Some people feel like women are treated as “second-class” beings in the Mormon church. I do not believe this is true. I haven’t felt this in the church. While I may not hold the priesthood, I know that I am still of great worth.

Woman wasn’t created to be man’s slave. She was created as an equal. She was created of Adam’s own flesh. They are supposed to be one. This implies love, interdependence, and equality. It doesn’t necessarily mean each person has the same duties/roles, but it does mean that we, both men and woman, are important. The pattern set forth in the Creation – how God created woman, and placed both Adam and Eve in a marriage – can teach us our true worth and role as women.

*

There are so many more things that the Creation teaches us. Through the creation, we can feel more of God’s love and recognize His infinite power. What are some of the things that you learn – about your life, about the Plan of Salvation, or about God as you study the Creation?

***
Click here for tomorrow’s assignment.

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