Sacrament – “This Do in Remembrance of Me”

The sacrament is a most special ordinance in the fact that it allows the opportunity to remember Christ and renew our covenants made at baptism. Concerning the sacrament – Christ himself said “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:18). When we come to the sacrament meeting, we should be ready to ponder over our worthiness and be prepared for a spiritual experience. In 1 Corinthians 11:28 it says “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of that cup.” I have personally found that when one comes to take the sacrament, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and focus on what is taking place before them and the importance of that ordinance – it can be one of the most profound spiritual experiences in your life. You can feel the Spirit working within you.

The sacrament itself was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper – to usher in the new covenant. Now, instead of sacrificing a lamb to cleanse our sins, the atoning blood of the Lamb of God does that and we show our acceptance of that through the ordinance of the sacrament. Christ declared “Think not that that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am come not to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17). The doing away of sacrificing animals was not a sign of leaving God’s law – rather it is the shifting to a higher law, from which higher blessings and spirituality can be achieved.

Elder L Tom Perry said “Before the world was organised, God laid out a plan whereby He would offer blessings to His children based on their obedience to His commandments. He understood, however, that we would be distracted at times by the things of the world and would need to be reminded regularly of our covenants and His promises. The purpose of partaking of the sacrament is, of course, to renew the covenants we have made with the Lord…” – not only does this ordinance serve as an actual renewing of our covenants but also as a reminder of the covenants themselves, hence the particular wording of the prayer offered over the sacrament.

“Behold, I am the Alpha and Omega, even Jesus Christ. Wherefore let all men beware how they take my name in their lips,” (D&C 63:60-61) – a stark warning to take the name of the Lord not in vain. We are taking upon ourselves the name of Christ in being baptised and renewing those covenants weekly through the sacrament. If we do this lightly, we are breaking one of the Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…” (Exodus 20:7). We need to be reverent and ponder over the promises we are making and renewing.

On my mission I had a moving experience whilst teaching a Family Home Evening to a member family. We showed ‘To This End Was I Born’ – a deep film of the Saviour and His Atonement. A very solemn spirit came over the lesson – somehow the sacrament was discussed and every single person in the room committed to take the sacrament more worthily, remembering that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17). It is easy to often let our minds drift during the sacrament or be preoccupied – but as we all determine to focus on why we are taking this bread and water – what it can mean for us when we take it in the right spirit – then we will receive the profound, spiritual experiences during this sacred ordinance and then all be ‘filled’.

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That I Might Draw All Men Unto Me

 

Don’t we deserve it?

I want to share two examples – one from the scriptures and one from my personal life – where we find an attitude that, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves in which will limit our potential, spiritual growth.

Several months ago I began a renewed study into the Book of Mormon and I have made slow but steady progress. It is slow because I have wanted to look more closely at the messages contained in the verses for experiences I can learn from. In 1 Nephi we see a constant struggle from Nephi and Lehi to teach and touch the hearts of their brethren or sons, Laman and Lemuel. At times, we in the Church depict Laman and Lemuel and wicked, slothful individuals who were so stubborn that even though they had many experiences that we would be changed by, they never seemed to change.

Whilst this may in part be true, we have to be cautious. There are, at times, moments in 1 Nephi where I think my personal reactions (and maybe some of your own) would be closer in nature to Laman and Lenuel’s than Nephi’s.

Shortly after Lehi’s Vision, and after Nephi’s own vision interpreting and unveiling many things, we find Nephi returning to the tent of his father. He finds them discussing here the things that Lehi has just taught. Pause to consider this – Laman and Lemuel, the brethren who were so reluctant to follow their father’s guidance from the Lord to leave Jerusalem, to retrieve the brass plates and other things, are seen here discussing the word of the Lord from Lehi and trying to understand the meaning of these words! Surely this is a massive step forward. But then we learn why they are discussing…we read in 1 Nephi 15:2-3:

And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.”

Nephi then quizzes his brothers further as to why they haven’t received this guidance. Let’s remember here: Laman and Lemuel are actually seeming to want to learn. However, it seems that they haven’t even thought to ask the Lord for its meaning. In fact, in verses 8-9 we read:

“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Laman and Lemuel were expecting an answer, despite not being close enough to the Lord to feel able to ask Him their questions. They wanted an answer, but they did not take the time to build a relationship with their Saviour to then be close enough to sense revelation when they sought it.

The experience from my personal life is from my mission and, actually, it is not one specific experience but something which happened often. I served my mission in the England Leeds Mission and (whilst I didn’t keep count of this) I think, out of all the questions I was ever asked, there was one that came up the most in our discussions. It was not “How many wives do you have?”, it was not “Are you really Christian?” and it was not “Where in Utah are you from?” – although I loved it when I was asked that one and then seeing the look at utter confusion when I told them I was from Manchester – I was a very popular companion to have for that reason. The most often question asked was not even “Do you not think that the purpose of our lives is the procurement and consumption of bacon?” (yes, that was a real and honest question I once had on a doorstep in York…). The question was “If God really existed, why he has let all these bad things happen to such and such who is one of the best people I know?”

In both these experiences, the asker is expecting an answer without being willing to grow closer to the Lord spiritually, in order to receive an answer.

In the talk I have been invited to base my remarks from by Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve, he made this statement:

“Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate Givers. The more we distance ourselves from Them, the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings. We are more prone to look around, identify inequities, and feel aggrieved—even offended—by the unfairness we perceive.”

 Is Life Fair?

This brings us to a question which even many of us in the Church have struggles over, even if we have an inordinate amount of faith in the Saviour. “Is Life Fair?”

Can we really say that life is fair, when there are thousands, even millions suffering in the world when they themselves have done no wrong?

Can we really say that life is fair, when no matter how careful one person is with their finances and they work so hard to provide for their families, that person could in the very next month find themselves struggling with debt due to circumstances outside of their control?

Can we really say that life is fair, when a person we know and love has lived the most righteous life possible and yet they still come up against the most difficult trials?

Whilst all of the above I have said is happening all around us, there is a much more striking reason for why life is not fair.

Elder Renlund went on to say:

Because they were distant from the Savior, Laman and Lemuel murmured, became contentious, and were faithless. They felt that life was unfair and that they were entitled to God’s grace. In contrast, because he had drawn close to God, Nephi must have recognized that life would be the most unfair for Jesus Christ.”

The further we are from the Saviour, the more we believe we are entitled to help and blessings from Him. Why is this? Because if we truly were closer to the Saviour, the more we would recognise how unfair it is that this perfect, compassionate, merciful man would have to endure more than any other person on this earth would ever have to endure, so that we could be forgiven for the errors we all make, be supported through our trials and experience the tragic events we have done (and will) experience.

Not only does the infinite Atonement allow all of us to receive enabling grace through the Saviour’s Atonement, but He has overcome all things for each and every one of us, of you. This is not just an infinite Atonement, but also an intimate Atonement. We read in Mosiah 15:10-11:

“And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?

Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed…”

The Saviour saw each one of usHe knows perfectly how weeel. And that is why, if we truly were close to the Saviour, we would feel that we all don’t deserve what He has done for us.

But oh, how grateful are we for the fact He has done this. Elder Renlund commented:

“The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him.”

The truth is that we all need to repent. Every single one of us. But despite the fact we all make mistakes, our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ did provide a Saviour for us. Why? Because our Heavenly Father (and our Saviour) love us with a perfect love. We all are in need of accepting this love and enabling grace through the Saviour’s infinite and intimate Atonement.

How can we stay true?

Despite knowing that we are so blessed to have this opportunity to draw closer to the Saviour and become changed through His enabling grace, we sometimes just may not think it is possible. We will be hit by challenges – some sent specifically by Satan to tempt and try us and some will simply by an effect of living in a fallen world – which can bring us to our knees. Elder Renlund said:

“Jesus did not say “if rain descends, if floods come, and if winds blow” but “when.” No one is immune from life’s challenges; we all need the safety that comes from partaking of the sacrament.”

Through the ordinances of the Gospel, administered by priesthood authority, we can draw closer to the Saviour, which will eventually bring us through life’s most difficult challenges. That is why the holy sacrament and sacred temple ordinances are vital because, without these we would struggle. And that is why we have an Area Plan which focuses on these key, regular events we can have (bringing a friend – sacrament, finding an ancestor – temple, both of which help us to become spiritually self-reliant).

In D&C 84:20 we read – Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”

To bring this post to a close, I’ll share an experience related by Elder Renlund in his address. He was speaking about a friend he has in South Africa who, through a simple mistake, was missed out by the priesthood holders in the sacrament worship. Another member noticed this and informed the Bishop, who invited her to a room to the side after the service. Elder Renlund went on further:

“A priesthood holder came in. He knelt down, blessed some bread, and handed her a piece. She ate it. He knelt down again and blessed some water and handed her a small cup. She drank it. Thereafter, Diane had two thoughts in rapid succession: First, “Oh, he [the priesthood holder] did this just for me.” And then, “Oh, He [the Savior] did this just for me.” Diane felt Heavenly Father’s love.”

When the sacrament is next passed to you by one holding the priesthood authority of God remember that, even though for convenience it was passed to the rest of the congregation, this miraculous opportunity to renew your covenants is offered just for you.

Draw closer to the Saviour through the sacred ordinances of the Gospel. Remember to take the sacrament and worship in the Temple often. As you do this, you will begin to draw closer to the Saviour, even if currently you feel so very far away. We are not “entitled” to blessings, as Laman and Lemuel believed, but we are fortunate that our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered all for us.

Jesus Christ has done everything for us – all he asks is that you come unto Him, and He will make your burdens light. He has promised us this and this is available to all, no matter who you are, because you are a child of God and He wants you to draw closer and return.

 

 

Separation and Unification

Recently I was led to study the principle of unification and separation within the Gospel of Christ. This was something taught in recent Ward Conferences in my Stake but I have looked into this more and will try and explain my ramblings in some sort of sensible order!

What is Separation?

Separation is defined as “the action or state of moving or being moved apart” or, even better “the division of something into constituent or distinct elements”. Separation means that things, or objects that were previously together are broken into different, unique parts of the previous whole.
Separation takes a number of forms and happens in a variety of ways in the world we live in. Examples of separation include, but are not limited to:

  • National separations
  • Separation within countries of language
  • Race
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Generations

In most of these circumstances, separation can be seen as a hurdle or a barrier between quality relationships. For example, the people of Mosiah were taught by King Benjamin about Christ and they had all covenanted to live a Gospel life – however this standard was not upheld by all of the rising generation (another example of separation between generations). We read “And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 26:4) The people began to be separated in their faith. As such they had more contention and problems which led to Alma leaving his judgement seat he was voted to in Alma 1 to go out and preach the word of the Lord.

However, there is more to separation and it’s opposite, unification.

How does Separation Fit into the Plan of Salvation?

Separation plays a key role in Heavenly Father’s plan for his children. From the very beginning we were with Heavenly Father but we decided to become separated for a future goal, which will be brought forward later. This physical separation from our Heavenly Father was important. We now live on this Earth with a physical body which houses our spirit (unified together).

As we go through life, we will eventually experience the opposite, death. Death is defined in the Bible Dictionary as this:
Two kinds of death are spoken of in the scriptures. One is the death of the body, which is caused by the separation of the body from the spirit; “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The other is spiritual death, which is to die as pertaining to, or to be separated from, righteousness—to be alienated from the things of God (Alma 12:16, 32; 40:26).

We had to leave the presence of the Father in order to progress. In the same pattern, Adam and Eve had to fall (become separated) from the Garden of Eden in order for mankind to live and have joy. Also, once we reach the end of our mortal probation, it is true that we all will die physically, which involves a number of separations: body and spirit, family members and separation from the Earth are just some examples. Separation plays vital parts in Heavenly Father’s plan.

Is Separation Necessary?

The short answer – yes. There are a number of times, linked with the Plan of Happiness but also for other reason, when separation is needed.

In Alma 3:14 we read of the example of the Lamanites and Nephites. These two great nations were constantly at odds with one another. From the inception of the two separate groups, there was always a clear reason why this separation had to happen. This is what we read “Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.” In this case, this very literal and physical separation was to protect the Lord’s covenant people. There is some issue raised about ‘the mark’ that the Lord placed upon the Lamanites and what this means about race. Whilst others will have their view and continue to voice that, I take this as simply an example of pragmatic guidance from the Lord. Simply – see those people that look different to your people, avoid them because they hate your people and also their traditions would lead you away from the Gospel path. Here – the separation protected the Nephites physically but also spiritually.

In Alma 5:57 we read of a much more figurative, or spiritual, application to the necessity of some separation. Alma teaches “And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;” The people taught by Alma were not only encouraged to separate from the wicked but told to be separate and touch not their unclean things. Now of course, it would be difficult for the believers to physically gather away from all non-believers – perhaps this refers more to the state that we are expected to live in today, being in the world but not of the world. However this guidance was implied, it is another example of where separation is needed.

The above applied also when the Saviour came to visit the Americas. He said to them “But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.” (3 Nephi 15:19) This is similar to the other two examples but another example of when separation is used in the Lord’s ministering with His children of the covenant.

Perhaps the most drastic example of separating covenant people from the wicked is the people of Enoch who were literally taken from the Earth to dwell in the presence of the Lord. We read of this in D&C 45:12 “Who were separated from the earth, and were received unto myself—a city reserved until a day of righteousness shall come—a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations;” This and the other examples show that separation does not always mean a negative thing completely. However, in every example found in the scriptures, separation was only used to protect the righteous from the wicked. On a personal level, separation is not good news.  

How is Separation Overcome?

We need to avoid separation between nations. Separation can lead to weakening of the whole. We see an example of this in Alma 31:2 when Alma was sorrowful with the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites. We read “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.” Alma was sorrowful because of this separation. He knew that it would have a negative impact on the Nephites (probably due to the degenerating spirituality of the Zoramites and the danger of them joining the Lamanites) and the negative impact on the individual Zoramites themselves. Separation can be a danger to both sides.

We need to avoid separation between neighbourhoods. We need to avoid separation between families. However, more importantly, we have to avoid separation within ourselves. One important way we have to avoid separation is between our thoughts and where we are at now, where our body is if you will. For example, if we are at a sacrament meeting and renewing our covenants, our sacred promises with the Lord where we can receive great spiritual promptings, but our mind is elsewhere then we miss out on a great experience.

However, the most dangerous separation we have to overcome is that of the separation of body and spirit. We know from D&C 93:34 that “And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” Of course, fortunately we do not have to overcome this separation ourselves. Our merciful Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that we will have our spirit and body unite again.

However, what can we do to unite our mind and body, our families and those around us? We have to work at it. The interesting thing about separation and unification is that one of them happens naturally, and it is not unification. Unification takes effort, separation can happen naturally in a degenerative manner. So work at unifying your family, your friends – because unification brings power and strength. 

What is Unification?

The power of unification is potent. Mosiah 18:21 describes how people who take upon themselves sacred covenants can unify together. Alma taught “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” This is the template for congregations in the Church. We often debate how wards can be stronger in love and service. This is it. Of course, seeing it in practice is much more difficult but this is the target. The covenant of baptism is a call to unite “And it came to pass in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.” (Alma 4:5) We can keep the commandments, study the scriptures, worship at the temple all we can. However, if we do not unite, support and love one another in these activities we are missing out on great blessings.

As I was studying the Topical Guide for the word ‘Unification’, I came across this reference in Helaman 1:6 which says “And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.” This intrigued me. I wondered how this reference could shed any more light on unity. As I pondered over this I realised that this shows an example of how unity can bring peace. In the experience we find this reference, the Nephites are at a crossroads. The great war between the Nephites and Lamanites had passed and the chief judge that had led the way, Pahoran, had passed away. They needed a new chief judge and three of Pahoran’s sons vied for the position. When the victor, Pahoran (Jnr), was voted by the voice of the people, Pacumeni decided to unite with the voice of the people. He chose unity. Had his action been reciprocated by the other forerunner then the Nephites may have lived a very different lifestyle in the years to come. However, Paanchi did not, he chose separation. He called upon Kishkumen, an assassin presumably, and killed Pahoran. As the account continues, this Kishkumen becomes the original leader and initiator of – the Gadianton robbers. We will come back to this band at the end.

How does Unification fit into the Plan of Salvation?

As with separation however, I wanted to look at how unity or unification is used in the great plan of happiness. Recently in my studies and worshipping at the Temple I was thinking about this and the examples of unification are rife within the Plan of Salvation – more so than separation. In Genesis and the book of Moses we read the Creation account and the account of the Fall. I list just a few examples of unification here in these processes:

  • “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2) We also know the Earth itself was created out of matter, not just out of thin air, and this matter had to be organised, or united together
  • “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9-10) Unifying of waters and land
  • “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind…” (Genesis 1:21) Unifying of creatures on the Earth to gather together, each after their kind
  • “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now 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.” (Genesis 2:21-24) This was a very interesting one. Again, I do not fully understand how man and woman were formed. Was it literally a rib from the side of man? I don’t profess to understand yet. However, there is this we can gather – there was a separation and then unification. Separation of ‘rib’ from man and then unification of man and woman – this unification is important for us each individually for eternal marriage and families are part of God’s plan

I could go on with this example but I have picked out a few that stood out. The Creation and the Fall make up two pillars of this Plan of Salvation. The third and final intergral part is the great unification, the grand reconciliation. In fact, the Plan of Salvation itself is an example of “Unification -> Separation -> Unification” for after the adverse effects of the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes all things possible to be brought together in the end. In Alma 11:45 we read “Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” This is why we worship our Saviour, our Redeemer. He makes unification between us and God, us and our families and us and our bodies possible. Without His great sacrifice then separation would become permanent and whilst separation is sometimes necessary in God’s plan, it is ultimately a state we wish to avoid.

When is Unification Dangerous?

Of course, as unification is so powerful, it is something that the adversary, along with every other useful and good thing that he can, uses to try and shake us from our faith. In 3 Nephi 6:27-28 we read of an occasion (and this is not the only example in the history of the Earth and mankind) where a unification happened that caused danger for everyone else involved. We read “Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law. And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness. Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.” This unification caused monumental issues for the people of the Americas. In fact it caused the Nephite government and civilisation to crumble and separate into tribes rather than one united people.

If we are not careful, then we can allow the adversary and his followers to unite against us and separate us from our Saviour. However, we can use the principle of unification to combat against this foe. We find this just a couple of years later in the same people mentioned before who had Christ visit them. “And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.” (3 Nephi 27:1) As we unite as disciples of Christ and strive to live a life patterned after Him, then we can find the strength to resist the wiles of Satan and overcome the world – but unifying will be vital for this to happen, not becoming separate.

Perfect vs Unconditional Love

Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave an excellent talk in the last General Conference about our Heavenly Father’s perfect love. As we know the love of God reaches all. We find the scriptures full of references of his undying love for His children. For example, in Jeremiah 31:3 we read “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” We see evidence of His love in what He has done for mankind. In John 3:16 we read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

However, there is a very important distinction that must be made. It is something which I have occasionally said and it must be clarified. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained “One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture.” I have often used this phrase but it can provide some incorrect meaning. God’s love is indeed unconditional in the sense that He will always love us but if we desire the full blessings of His love, that is down to us. We know that God is not a respecter of persons but also that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson further clarifies by saying “Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,”3 “perfect love,”4 “redeeming love,”5 and “everlasting love.”” These scriptural expressions are much more appropriate. Because of the love of God, He has provided everything for us. Because of the Saviour, the cause of God’s love can redeem us.

As we make ourselves more open to this redeeming love, we can then be changed. We see an example of this in Mosiah 5:2 where the people of King Benjamin exclaim – “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Whilst this feeling is often linked to conversion and a mighty change of hear, we do have to ensure we have this event, or feeling, on a regular basis. As we do this, the redeeming love of God changes us. This is what helps us become better. Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

His love is perfect. His love is redeeming. His love is life-changing.

The Paupered Prince

This entry is based on a talk given by Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy in the December 2009 Ensign.

Christmas is a fantastic time to ponder the Saviour, His life and just exactly what He did for us in fulfilling the mission of His life. Elder Porter poses the question “Why did the Lord Jesus Christ leave that world of light, where he dwelt with the Father in everlasting glory?” Before He came to  Earth, our Redeemer was known as Jehovah and He lived in the presence of the Father as a foreordained prince.

The concept of why this had to be in illustrated beautifully by the story of ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ by Mark Twain. Prince Edward of Wales, heir to the throne of England, accidentally swapped places with Tom Canty, a young pauper. The two (who look practically the same) swap clothes as Prince Edward shows Tom around Westminster Palace. Edward (in Tom’s clothing) gets thrown out of the palace by the guards. Edward then goes through the trials of this pauper – he sees the injustice of the current law and the depressing poverty of his people. Eventually, as the story ends, Edward is restored to the throne (now as King Edward) and because of his experience among the people, he is a hugely compassionate king – because of the suffering he had through.

As it was with Christ, our King. “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Christ descended below all things for many reasons, but one reason is just like in the story of The Prince and the Pauper – so the He could experience what we experience in our mortal lives. In Alma’s sermon to the people of Gideon, he states “…he will take upon him their , 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 7:12) Now of course, in reality, before He came to Earth Christ (as Jehovah) already has perfect compassion, but this mortal experience and the infinite Atonement gave Jesus the Christ an all-encompassing knowledge of the trials of mortal life. He truly knows how each of us individually feels during our experiences.

However, that’s not all the Atonement was for – Christ to gain a perfect knowledge – but rather to give Christ an incredible power to allow God to forgive us of our sins. When we sin, we create a huge problem that we cannot live with God, as His standard (the only way we can live with Him) is in perfection. Once we have sinned – an infinite gulf separates us, to cross that gulf we need an infinite power. Christ’s Atonement provides that and He (and only He) can plead our case before the Father – “Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.” (D&C 45:4-5) We rely totally on the grace and mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The great comfort about the Atonement is that “He is there not only when we cry out from the burden of sin but also when we cry out for any other reason.” continued Elder Porter. The redeeming, healing power of Christ assists, not just with our sins on the day of Judgement – but it is an active, everyday influence in our lives on all our sorrows and griefs. It gives us the strength to overcome such things and to make us more Christ-like. “My prayer and hope is that we will discover the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, that we will understand that the Atonement is not something abstract. Christ literally overcame the world and stands as our friend, a Prince who has lived among us and knows how to make us strong…” continued Elder Porter. The Atonement was not simply a one-off event, effective to only save us from our sins, but also to carry us through life and the trials and experiences we receive.

The Paupered Prince was born, lived, persecuted and died on the cross. He was also exalted back, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to His Heavenly station as Creator and Ruler, “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace…” (Isaiah 9:6) – we are everlastingly indebted and he calls for all of God’s children to come unto Him for rest.

Truths and Deceptions

This entry is based on an entry in the Ensign (October 2009) by a sister called Jennifer Nucklos.

In this troublesome world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading to every corner of the globe. More and more are accepting the invitation to come unto Christ by receiving this Gospel through the principles and ordinances that he taught. We are really becoming the “stone…cut without hands,” (Daniel 2:34) in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Therefore, Satan is continuing his work with lies that he has crafted over millennia of deception and misery. In particular, he aims to lower our opinion of ourselves. As he achieves this – the afflicted person will lower their potential by these destructive thoughts and even find themselves lost, with the tragic view that they are not worth the trouble. These lies are mainly fuelled by our own thoughts and misinterpretation of scripture. Here are some examples:

Lie: Because of my weakness and failings, God is continually disappointed on, frustrated with, and even angry with me.
Truth: God loves me and rejoices in me because I am His child.
We all have weaknesses. Christ himself said “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble…” (Ether 12:27) so we actually have weaknesses and failings for a reason, and the Lord has allowed it. However, some misunderstand why we have these weaknesses and let these thoughts drag them down, which sometimes lead to further imperfections and therefore causing the person to lose the faith needed in Christ to overcome their trials. God’s love is perfect and “we are the children of God,” (Romans 8:16) so He will always deeply love us – even if we turn our back on Him. So, we can take comfort in the fact that He loves us and, through Christ’s Atonement, He can “make weak things become strong.” (Ether 12:27)

Lie: I’m not as righteous, spiritual, attractive, or kind as that other person; therefore God must love that person more than He loves me.
Truth: God knows my individual potential and progress intimately. He does not compare or rank me with His other children.
People may do this, because someone is ‘better’ than us they will like them better. However, God is not like us in this way. “God is no respector of persons,” (Acts 10:34) and so He loves one person just as much as the other. Elder Jeffrey R Holland said “He does not mercilessly measure [His children] against their neighbours. He doesn’t even compare them with each other. His gestures of compassion toward one do not require a withdrawal or denial of love for the other…” Just imagine your unconditional love for a parent, child or spouse, then multiply immeasurably – that is how much God loves each and every one of us.

Lie: I need to prove that I’m worth loving by being perfect. Only when I’m perfect will I be able to experience love from God and others.
Truth: Even though, I’m not perfect now, I can have constant access to divine love.
Whilst I do not think we consciously think that we need to be perfect to earn God’s love, I do think we place restrictions on ourselves because we are not good enough – thus really believing we do need to be perfect for God’s love and blessings. Sister Bonnie D Parkin said “Do we frequently reject the Lord’s love that He pours out upon us in much more abundance than we are willing to receive? Do we think we have to be perfect in order to deserve His love? When we allow ourselves to feel “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love,” (2 Nephi 1:15) … we realise that we don’t need to be immediately perfect.” If God only showed love to those who were perfect…there wouldn’t be a lot of love given, only to Christ! Those who strive to live God’s commandments do receive blessings as a result from keeping those eternal laws – but the love and desire that God has for us to return to Him is always there for every child of His.

Lie: I’m a terrible failure. I’ll never be good enough because I keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Truth: I’m not perfect, but the desires of my heart are good. I can feel inspired to progress.
Godly sorrow is something we need to repent, it is a good thing. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation…” (2 Corinthians 7:10) . However, there are some who unfortunately feel this sorrow to a detrimental level. They feel upset and unworthy because of their imperfections, leading them to think they’ll never be good enough. I’m sure many have felt this or feel this on a regular basis. However, as we partake in the sacrament, renew our commitment to the Lord on an even more regular basis then we can progress. It may take a lifetime (in fact, it will) but as we rely on Christ and do what we can to be better, then we will get there, no matter how many times we fall.

Lie: I have too many issues, hang-ups, and past mistakes to be blessed and happy.
Truth: No mistakes, no personal challenge, no past circumstance is outside of the healing and redemptive power of the Atonement.
If we believe in Christ, then we need to believe His words if we are to overcome this lie. President Boyd K Packer taught “…save for those few who defect to perdition…there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness…Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ.” Through Christ, all sin can be overcome – we can be mended and modified through the eternal, universal, redemptive power of the sacred Atonement. Alma the Younger felt it and said “there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36:21)

As we learn and understand these eternal truths, we can accept that we are imperfect – that even if we serve God “with all [our] whole souls…[we] would be unprofitable servants,” (Mosiah 2:21). Yet, we can still have God’s loving arms wrapped around us, for He loves His children, each and every one of us.

Liberty Jail/Temple Experience

This is based on a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R Holland at a CES Fireside in September 2007.

One of the most difficult and depressing times for the Prophet Joseph Smith was the winter of 1838-39. Persecution in Missouri had become so terrible that the Saints had to travel, through the cold of winter to Illinois, a treacherous trek. Not only that, but the Prophet and other brethren were falsely accused of crimes and unjustly incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Elder Holland describes the horrific ordeal as such – “Surrounded by stone walls four feet thick, the floor-to-ceiling height in the dungeon was barely six feet…When they lay down , it was mostly upon rough, bare stones of the prison floor covered here and there by a bit of loose, dirty straw or an occasional dirty straw mat…
The food given to the prisoners was coarse and sometimes contaminated, so filthy that one of them said they “could not eat it until they were driven to it by hunger.” On as many as four occasions poison was administered to them in their food, making them so violently ill that for days they alternated between vomiting and a kind a delirium, not really caring whether they lived or died.” Such were the conditions the Prophet of God and his brethren found themselves in that wretched place. Not only that but the guards were abusive and blasphemers – making every aspect of that prison terrible.

So why call Liberty Jail a prison-temple experience? This term was first used by Elder Brigham H Roberts in recording the history of the Church. Surely what those brethren endured there was the extreme opposite of a temple.

We are entitled to receiving sacred, revelatory experiences in any situation you’re in: at home, at Church, in the Temple – but also in the most miserable situations of your life. In fact, that’s probably when you’re most likely to receive the most profound experiences and learn the greatest lessons. We all will face our ‘Liberty Jail’ at some point in our lives – not physically but spiritually of course. From all different sources for all different reasons, adversity will come to everyone – God’s plan for us wasn’t for life to be perfect but to have opposition to learn and grow (see 2 Nephi 2:11). Through God though – as will be discussed – we can find warm, comforting arms in those times. Joseph Smith found such comfort from on high – the D&C sections 121-123 were all revelation received during the prison-temple experience and they are powerful words. There are three lessons learnt that Elder Holland highlighted.

The first, having already been mentioned, is that all face struggles in life – the rain falls “…on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) and when this does happen, we will feel like Joseph Smith, crying “O God, where art thou?…How long shall thy hand be stayed?” (D&C 121:1-2). We might feel God has abandoned us and that all is lost. We need to remember however that God is always with us, that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able…” (1 Corinthians 10:13) and I firmly believe that God works the same way with our trials – we will not be tested above that we’re able to endure with God’s help. Remember God’s answer to the Prophet “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment: And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7-8) – all these things we face will end, they are for a short season. The Lord has promised us “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn.” (Isaiah 54:17) and so we need not fear trials.

The second lesson is that, because you are in a trial – it doesn’t mean you have necessarily sinned – although some sins do lead to a greater amount of trials to face. In fact, often the most righteous suffer the most – just look toward our Redeemer! Joseph Smith himself had to be reminded “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8) – the most perfect person to walk the Earth was also the one to suffer the most. “However heavy our load might be, it would be a lot heavier if the Saviour had not gone that way before us and carried that burden with us and for us,” said Elder Holland. Through the Atonement, we can find relief from our burdens and comfort because Christ has suffered it all for us already – we just need to accept the gift. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) – as we come unto Christ by accepting His Gospel, we find rest. We are not greater than the Saviour, therefore we are not entitled to perfect lives with no suffering – and it would have been far worse without the Atonement of Christ, something we can truly be thankful for. This also doesn’t mean we should go looking for trials – for they will come anyway. Also do not pray for them – God does answer prayers – but do pray for guidance for the strength-building experiences when they do come.

The third lesson highlighted by Elder Holland from the Liberty Jail experience is remembering to act in harmony with the teachings of God. “…The powers of heaven cannot be controlled or handled only upon the principles of righteousness,” (D&C 121:36) – therefore, we should not act in anger or vengeance. It takes a true disciple of Christ to take on trials with humility, meekness and continual charity. The true test comes when we’re at our lowest. Christ, Himself, again showed this principle in action. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Christ in His most agonising moments had the charity towards those who lifted Him onto the cross to forgive them. Only then does the meaning of D&C 121:45 – received in the prison-temple – ring true; “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men…then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” Only once we endure our trials with the patience and love required by the words of the prophets, then may we feel we have won the fight.

These three principles are three gems excavated from the prison-temple, however the final counsel given from the Lord to the Prophet is powerful too. Joseph Smith was writing these words for the saints, and he said “…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (D&C 123:17). These are motivating words…however, when we remember what conditions he wrote these in, they can have a larger impact on us. He was still in the prison-temple, the time he’d be let free was still unknown – meanwhile the saints were also at their lowest, being driven from Missouri to Illinois. What a great attitude to have in troubling times, to cheerfully do all things in our power.

I know, with Elder Holland, that trials are a part of life. “The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.” (2 Nephi 22:2) – as long as I trust in Him, I will be cared for, as He is always there.