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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trying a Little Harder to Be a Little Better

In the Book of Mormon, the pinnacle moments of the Nephite and Lamanite history is Jesus Christ's appearance to the people in the Americas. After His Resurrection, Jesus Christ not only returned to His people in Jerusalem, but He came to His beloved people in the Americas to proclaim His gospel, Atonement, and Plan of Salvation to them as well. This visit begins in 3 Nephi 11 in the Book of Mormon.

(For anyone reading who may not have a copy of the Book of Mormon, it can be found here: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm?lang=eng  so you can read along!)

Similar to in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a discourse about the "Beatitudes" to the people in the Americas in 3 Nephi 12. This sermon lays out the manner in which mankind are to repent and return to their Heavenly Father. Each beatitude is analogous to a step on a spiral staircase, bringing us closer and closer to heaven. Before we can enter this pathway to the process of perfection, we must enter the gate. As Jesus says, we must be baptized and confirmed with the gift of the Holy Ghost in order to most effectively progress on this path. The gift of the Holy Ghost is necessary because it allows us to have the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit of God with us to teach, guide, comfort, and inspire, as long as we live worthily of its holy presence. The Spirit helps us to recognize our sins and realize that we have done wrong, or in Christ's words, be "poor in spirit" (3 Nephi 12:3). Then, we must "mourn" and have remorse and true sorrow for the wrong that we have done, and not just that we may have gotten caught. This sorrow leads us to the realization that we do not know everything and will trip up sometimes. But, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can become meek and like Christ, submit ourselves to the will of our Father in Heaven, having an attitude of "Not my will, but thine be done". As we learn through the impressions of the Holy Spirit and pray for its help, we can better know what God wants us to do and we begin to "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (verse 6). This is more than just a strong desire, but it requires action. Think about it, when you are very hungry or thirsty, this strongly motivates you to action to obtain food or drink. You would not just recognize your state of hunger or thirst and accept it, not doing anything to change it. The same is true when we know what righteousness is and desire to seek it actively. The next step leads on to become "pure in heart", with honest and good intentions and motives (v. 8). Next, these good intentions help us to spread our happiness and joy to others by serving them and loving them. We can become "peacemakers" in the world, literally bringing peace to people's lives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally, those who live by this pathway to perfection inevitably will face persecution, be reviled, and have people "say all manner of evil against [them] falsely for [Christ's] sake" (v. 10-11). But, it is not important what the world thinks of us. The only opinions that truly matter in our lives are those of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. They know us and love us the best and have perfect intentions and plans for our lives. Although these beatitudes do create a sense of a staircase, one may simultaneously be working towards each step, and may inevitably struggle and go through temporary setbacks. This is normal. We are only human, but through the help of God and His Spirit, we can become better and more like Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Willfully Rebelling

The Nephites, again falling to the pride cycle (see earlier post about the pride cycle), become enveloped in their riches and prosperity. As they lose their humility, Satan constantly tempts them and does all in his power in the "stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity" and wickedness. Just as he does to people today, Satan worked to make the people think that power, authority, and wealth were what really mattered, or in other words, "the vain things of the world" (3 Nephi 6:15). As this pride and vanity consumed the people, they were led to follow the temptations of Satan more and more. But, these people did not "sin ignorantly", because they had been taught and knew what God wanted for them, but still turned away from it. The Nephites did "willfully rebel against God" (3 Nephi 6:18).

Every person is given the gift of discerning right from wrong, known as the Light of Christ. This is an influence for good and directs what many call our "conscience." Everyone knows that pressing and persistent feeling of going against what you feel to be right. But, through the influence of Satan, we often rationalize away this innate feeling and direction with our individual circumstances. We may think that we are an exception to a rule in a particular instance, or may justify that since everyone else seems to be doing something, it must be alright for you to as well. Satan would have us believe as we are faced with a sinful choice that it is a normal and acceptable, even good thing to do. We must fight these prideful rationalizations, and recognize the truth and light that comes from the Spirit of God to direct us towards righteousness, avoiding willful rebellion at all costs.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Salvation for All

Jesus Christ lived, suffered pain and anguish, and died for our sins. He suffered so that we would not have to, and through Christ every single person is saved from physical death in the Resurrection. Christ's "death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death -- that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord." (Helaman 14:16-17). So, even though all people are affected by the Fall of Adam, Christ covered it completely for us out of love. Not only this, but all people will be brought before God and Jesus Christ for a chance to be judged.

The Atonement was done for all people, and "if ye shall believe on His name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through His merits" (Helaman 14:13). We are saved completely by the grace of Jesus Christ, not by our own actions, good works, or efforts. But, it is still vital that we repent and serve God and Christ to show our love and obedience to them. As I've been told, grace is provided for all, but the "door" to grace is faith, good works, and repentance. Christ provides redemption for all, but He would never take away our free will to choose it or not. It is up to us to use our free agency and decide that we want it, and then to "open the door". Christ has faith in us and our capability to love and serve Him obediently; why shouldn't we reciprocate our faith and love back to Him?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Pride Cycle

Helaman chapters 6 through 12 chronicles the story of the Lamanites as they become more righteous and the Nephites as they become increasingly wicked. There is corruption and even murder because of the hardening of the hearts of the Nephites, as they become less sensitive to the Spirit and accustomed to sin and selfishness. As the story unfolds, the people go through what can be called a "pride cycle."

This cycle begins with prosperity and happiness. The people are blessed and successful, and tend to "forget the Lord their God" when they don't feel the need for His help (Helaman 11: 36). This complacency leads to pride, as people come to think that they are self-reliant and can provide all that they need for themselves, without the help of God. As humans, we often attribute all going well in our lives to our own merits and actions, forgetting that it is God who blesses us and watches over us. This rejection of God's power and influence makes us less obedient to His commandments, causing people to fall to temptation and sin. Wickedness leads to destruction, sorrow, and eventually, humility and meekness. When we get to the depths of true sorrow and heartache, people often turn back to God for help and guidance. They repent of their wrong-doings and work hard to make amends so that they can be happy again. This righteousness, humility, and obedience brings blessings, which bring prosperity, and the cycle starts all over again.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. Some people are continuously in a cycle of pride, sin, destruction, and sorrow, spiraling deeper and deeper and getting worse and worse. But, on the other end of the spectrum, we can recognize the power of God in our lives and become humble and meek before Him. Instead of pride in our prosperity and success, we can humbly thank God for our blessings and give all credit to Him instead of ourselves. This humility will incline us to repentance for our sins that we do commit, and we will be blessed for our faith and diligence. Instead of spiraling downward to despair, we can climb higher and higher, becoming more righteous and more like Jesus Christ. Of course, we are naturally inclined to pride, but how wonderful would it be if we could overcome that tendency! It is much better to submit our will to that of our Heavenly Father, who knows all and wants us to be happy forever, than to fall to the will of Satan, who only uses us to fulfill his own ends.