An Easter Note, 2023

(Below is the flood of thoughts that came into my head an hour or two before Easter dinner with the family. I had hoped to share some of them at dinner, but the mood at the table was not one to allow me to express these thoughts freely. What follows is an attempt to capture the essence of these thoughts.)

As an older teenager, I remember contemplating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and it was, for me, a subject of great excitement and anticipation. I loved the anthems, the declarations of: He is risen! He is risen! It was all very real to me. Though off in some distant future for me, I believed the promise of a Resurrection was true with all my heart.

This year, in a small degree, those feelings have returned. I appreciate the extra emphasis that our church leaders have placed on Easter and the meaning of it this year.

And what does it mean to me, and to my family? The hope of the Resurrection and the capstone that it is in a three part series of the Atonement of Christ: his suffering, his unfair condemnation and death by crucifixion, and then his Resurrection; there is nothing that Christ cannot fix, nothing that he cannot heal!

Why is it hard to accept such a blanket statement as this? Why is it so hard to believe that He can literally be the answer to every problem, challenge, difficulty, suffering, and obstacle that stands in the way of our happiness? I don’t have an answer to the skepticism of our day. Yet my faith is that wickedness is undone through Christ, and because if it, there is much effort by the wicked one to dissuade anyone from believing it.

Yet, why wouldn’t this be a compelling puzzle to solve? If Christ is the solution to every challenge, that doesn’t mean that that answer is easy or obvious. Because faith in Jesus Christ is the ultimate fix to every problem, this makes life all the more intriguing. Like any good mystery, the “how” is never immediately apparent. It must be worked for to be realized.

What is my hope for you, my children? First, it is that you will find joy in being the truest version of yourselves. What does that look like? I couldn’t tell you, because I feel like who I am today is a much better version of who I thought I was suppose to be. I am yet changing and evolving, and I don’t know where I will be or even who I am yet to become. But it will be a better version, a happier version of me. I believe that Jesus Christ is the key my realization of this better me. This is what I would hope for you.

Second hope, that you would look ahead to the next generation, to your children. Please consider that you can take steps now to prepare a space for them to land safely, to prepare a space for them to have the guarantee of loving parents. You control that fate more than anyone else. Your choices in relationships can bring significant and lasting joy, or prolonged suffering and pain. I didn’t realize the degree of power I had in choosing to marry your mother. I’ve had to revisit that choice periodically and recommit myself to our marriage as I’ve come to recognize the power in the choosing. Be picky in your choosing a partner; don’t settle for the lowest common denominator. Look for someone who will grow with you, someone who is willing to grow with you. You and your companion have the potential of creating something amazing! You want to pick rightly that creative partner. Children who live in homes with parents that love each other, have very little to worry about in the stability of their family life. That is the source of great power for personal growth. (Where that stability is lacking, Christ can make up the difference.)

My ultimate hope is that Christ will become the source of your personal strength and motivation. My hope is that some day each of you will have cultivated a relationship with Jesus, both intimate and personal, that will be a compelling source for good in your lives. Then you will know peace; then you will have joy like nothing else in this world. Then you will have the power to unlock the mysteries behind the challenges that are unique to your life experience. This is my personal reality: that I have Jesus Christ as my source of strength, peace, and Joy!

Among the People of the Church of Christ

Moroni 6 (Moroni 6)

This chapter deals with basic church governance and organization. I think the thing that I love most about it is that even now, this counsel is still relevant. The preparation for church membership, the principles of ministering, church discipline, and meeting organization are all spelled out in just 9 verses!

Preparation for Baptism

Now curiously here, Moroni states that it was elders, priests, and teachers who were baptized. The qualifications for baptism are laid out here as follows:

  • they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it. (vs. 1)
  • they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, (vs. 2)
  • [they] witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins. (vs. 2)
  • they took upon them the name of Christ, (vs. 3)
  • [they had] a determination to serve him to the end. (vs. 3)

I think I forget sometimes that baptism, especially that of converts, requires something of oneself: fruits worthy of it, if one will. I also find it fascinating that an expectation is that one will witness that they have repented of all their sins. That change of heart that causes one to abandon it all is real.

After Baptism

It is an important distinction to understand that one will continue to have need of repentance after baptism, and that new and sometimes returning sins will attempt to discourage us from the path that we have covenanted to following, testing our very determination to serve him to the end. This is why verse 4 strikes me as so significant. In this very brief overview, Moroni take more space to explain the efforts to strengthen new converts, than any other subject. It takes time to learn the patterns of discipleship: “to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.”

The Church

Succinct instructions for the Church were also laid out in these verses, as follows.

The church did meet together oft to:

  • Fast and pray
  • Speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls
  • Partake of the bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus

How simple these statements are! How profoundly descriptive such short phrases can be. In reality this is my lived experience with the Church of Christ at present. This is why I go to Church.

On Church Discipline

Now Verse 7 presents me with a bit of a wrestle this morning: “See that there is no iniquity in the church.” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:54) This verse explains that in the Nephite church, leadership took pains to see that there was no iniquity among the membership of the church. Those that were found to commit iniquity, and not repent of said offense, “their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.”(vs. 7)

This is hard doctrine in this verse for me to internalize. It is difficult to understand the challenge of responsibility placed upon the elders of the church to have to condemn anyone of unrepentant sin. I can understand the importance of protecting the membership of the church and verse 8 truly leaves the door wide open for repentance: “But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” (emphasis added)

I think that thing that is hardest for me to sit with in all of this is a personal reality of the decisions of my own children. And then knowing that their actions would be considered iniquity. But this isn’t a witch hunt. Even though these scriptures use words like “condemn”. I think it is that I have no experience in these matters. I’ve never seen a membership council or been a part of one before. Hence I do not understand the love that can prevail in such a situation. Further, I have near family members that have been impacted by membership councils in the past.

I am also wrestling with the reality that we have a larger percentage of our church membership who do not actively participate in Church services probably because of iniquity in their lives. The default action of most is to step away from the church, but I suppose if there are those who do still come to church these are they that should be disciplined. I need to sort these matters out with the Lord.

The difference between the judge and the judged is the speed at which one is willing to condemn the other. Well did Christ observe of the chief priests and pharisees: “miserable, wicked men.” (see JST, Matthew 21:55) The wicked will hastily condemn others, which leads to their miserable state of being. Meanwhile the righteous, and into whose hands the burden of judgment is placed, are much less likely to condemn the actions of others, giving the benefit of the doubt and hoping for the best, though it may be otherwise.

Oh how helpful this is for me to see this tendency to be a miserable, wicked man because of how hastily I jump to conclusions. What a gift from God this is!

Church Meetings

This final verse gives instruction on how church meetings were to be conducted: “after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost;” This point was powerfully illustrated in General Conference this past weekend in the talk by Elder Carl B. Cook in describing a series of interactions he had with President Boyd K. Packer at a Stake Conference. A key take away from his message and why the Lord works (seemingly unpredictably) by the power of the Spirit is that it allows for men to act by faith. These meetings then become part of the growth process in our discipleship. It also keeps the Lord in control of the meeting, instead of the tendency to think that we lead by the wisdom of our own understanding.

“This Wine… In Remembrance of the Blood of Thy Son”

Moroni 5 (Moroni 5)

Here is a second Sacramental prayer (though again, it was not referenced as such by Moroni nor anyone in antiquity as such). This prayer is different from the first. It is more solemn, and more focused on the martyrdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the shedding of His blood, which symbolically represents both the spiritual anguish that he suffered in Gethsemane and the physical death that he suffered at Golgotha.

(Curiously, in my mind, I have always thought of Gethsemane and His spiritual suffering that caused him to bleed, as it were, great drops of blood. I’ve seldom considered the latter in connection with the Sacrament.)

Another thought that impresses me is that this is a varied repetition of the first ordinance / prayer. There is a significance in the duplication or the repetition of the ordinance. But as of yet, I don’t know what it is. Why is it presented in two parts? What is the significance of the order? The only covenant that is repeated is to “always remember him”.

Then there is the duality of the symbolism of the bread and the water. Bread one can in theory do without for a longer period of time than water, hence water becoming more important than bread to survival. The reality is that both bread and water are necessary elements of survival, almost constant necessities.

I haven’t discussed the word “communion” yet in relationship to the sacramental prayers. Especially in the wine there is a sense of communion, or sharing the same cup with one another. Christ says as much that a part of this ordinance is to remember that I “drank with you of this cup, even the last time in my ministry.” (JST – Mark 14:24)

At several points in the scriptures, Christ states that the wine, or his blood, was symbolic of “the new testament” which he gave to his disciples, and the injunction that his disciples should bear witness of Him to all the world.

A footnote on Luke 22:20 suggests that “testament” can be replaced with “covenant”, and that would make sense in the context that Christ came with a higher law and new covenants as a part of that law. However, in other passages, Christ introduces this “new testament” and shortly thereafter charges his disciples to be a witness of him and this thing, (also in JST – Mark 14).

I have come across an account in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul is instructing the saints on the Sacrament. His comments afterwards about judging ourselves, along with the other points that I have presently and recently considered, cause me to both recognize and reflect upon the significance of what we have here. In the Sacramental prayers and ordinances are the tools of covenant progression. Or stated differently, the tools of spiritual progress through a covenant relationship with Christ.

Partaking of the Sacrament unworthily is not about being perfect or not perfect, but it’s about being penitent verse impenitent. Christ wants us to use his Atonement so that we might progress onward. This requires us to judge ourselves so that we can honestly look at ourselves and make changes.

The only person that I can change at this early hour of the morning with this doctrine is myself. Father wants me to remember Jesus, and if I can just do that, then comes the influence and companionship and blessing of the Holy Spirit.

“This Bread… In Remembrance of the Body of Thy Son”

Moroni 4 (Moroni 4)

The first thought that is with me as I enter in to a study of this chapter is not directly related to the content of this specific chapter,onetheless very pertinent. It is the reality that these are instructions given from God to man. These priesthood ordinances are revelations from heaven. It is not man’s attempt to understand God with his finite abilities. It is not man saying, I will replicate what Christ did in antiquity and these are the words that I think best would accomplish this task. Rather it is God’s word to man which man accepts and incorporates into his life patterns.

These sacramental prayers (sacred and elemental, this is my thinking alone and is not historical) are invitations to commune intimately with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in his Atonement. The prayer on the bread featured in this chapter is rich in meaning and purpose.

The origins of the word “Sacrament” suggest a solemn oath, sacred.

“an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace”

…from Old French sacrament “consecration; mystery”

…directly from Latin sacramentum, “a solemn oath”

…A Church Latin loan-translation of Greek mysterion

… The Latin word sacramentum in its secular aspect was used of any engagement or ceremony that binds or imposes obligation

By 3c. it was used in Church Latin for “a mystery, a sacrament, something to be kept sacred; the gospel revelation; a Church sacrament.” In theology, particularly, “a solemn religious ceremony enjoined by Christ, or by the church, for the spiritual benefit of the church or of individual Christians, by which their special relation to him is created or recognized or their obligations to him are renewed and ratified.”

The meaning “arcane knowledge; a secret; a mystery; a divine mystery” in English is from late 14c. (Wyclif); from mid-14c. as “a solemn oath, pledge, covenant; a ceremony accompanying the taking of an oath or the making of a pledge.”, “Sacrament” (emphasis added)

I’ve perhaps never looked at as intensely the Sacrament as “solemn oath” or “a binding covenant.” And curiously, Moroni does not use the word “sacrament” anywhere in his record. He explains this as the “administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church.” (vs. 1)

I want to go in two directions with my study presently:

  • Understanding the teachings from John where he talks about his flesh and blood, in which many rejected him. (what chapter?)
  • Beginning to break apart the actual prayer into parts and pieces. (Let’s start here.)

The first petition brought forward in the prayer on the bread is this: “We ask thee… to bless and sanctify this bread.” Now with my use of the elipsis, I just skipped over the phrase “in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ.”

In other word, Father who art in heaven, we are addressing thee. Via the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, we are asking thee to consecrate, set apart, make sacred, or transform into something holy, this common slice of bread for purposes that will be momentarily articulated, for the benefit of the souls (body and spirit, which exist in whole as a spiritual experience) of everyone present who is willing to participate in eating it.

Purpose Number One: Remember the Body of Christ

The first stated purpose of participating in the breaking of bread is “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son…” What is there to remember about the body of Christ, the son of God? I think the first thing to remember is that for Christ, this was an “in-body” experience: his life, his example, his suffering, his death. But especially that the Atonement was an experience that he had to have in a physical body. It was not metaphorical, or of spiritual substance only. The tangibleness of the suffering experienced in his body was literal. It really happened in the flesh. Christ suffered, and this is what we are remembering.

This is a distinct doctrine of our faith, the embodiment of the Spirit as the primary purpose of mortality. Christ did it. We are doing it too.

Purpose Number Two: Witness to God a Willingness to Take Upon Us the Name of His Son (Jesus Christ)

I am sitting squarely with the question: Am I willing to take upon me the name of Christ? Fully, whole-heartedly, completely? I don’t know that I have really internalized the impact of such a commitment.

Paying attention the exact wording, the prayer says “to take upon them the name of thy Son.” That Jesus Christ is the Son of God is defined at the beginning of the prayer. His relationship to the Father, who is also our Father, is emphasized repeatedly throughout the rest of the prayer by referencing him as “thy Son.” Here is Jesus Christ, thy Son, and here are these who are witnessing that they are willing to take his name upon them.

This theme or this idea of taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ is documented better in the Book of Mormon than anywhere else in scripture.

Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.

Mosiah 26:18

I find the intimacy of ownership here that Christ makes upon his people, upon me, compelling.

Mosiah 5, King Benjamin talks exhaustively about what it means to take upon us the name of Christ. It was his desire to leave his people under this new name. It was the final invitation given to them after they had already entered into a covenant to do the will of God.

(I am feeling like I should have a broader and more exhaustive understanding of the covenants that I have already made, that I might remember these covenants and that I might better understand the purpose and significance of such covenants.)

Yet, I find it fascinating that the covenant that the people of King Benjamin made was a precursor to the invitation to take upon them the name of Christ.

One other side note from Mosiah 5, when talking about the covenant that the people had made, King Benjamin uses phrases interchangeably:

  • a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, (vs. 5)
  • the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. (vs. 6)
  • the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. (vs. 8)

To me, doing the will of God, and being obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command, are one in the same.

Purpose Number Three: Witness to God the Father that We May Always Remember Him (His Son, Jesus)

I was about to use the phrase “that we do always remember him,” but that would be a covenant that is setting us up for failure, rather than a covenant that honors both our agency and our mortal weakness. And yet, that wording if found in the Sacramental prayer on the water.

What does it mean to always remember Him? How it is it different than taking His name upon me? To take his name upon me suggests representation or doing what Christ would do. However, to remember Him, that is an act of reflection and honor of the life He lived and who He is.

Following a string of footnotes, I’ve found this little treasure in the Joseph Smith Translation:

20 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them, and said, Take it, and eat.

21 Behold, this is for you to do in remembrance of my body; for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.

JST, Mark 14:20-21

This phrase helps me to think of what we are to remember. He told his disciples that the breaking of bread would remind them, every time they did it, of that last supper before his Atonement (suffering, death, and resurrection) that he was with them. There is something more transcendent in this statement though that feels as if He is talking to me: to remember where Christ has gone with me. It is as if when I look back at those hard, defining spiritual moments in my life, Christ is saying to me: remember I was there with you.

Purpose Number Four: Witness Unto God that We Are Willing to Keep His Commandments Which He Has Given Us.

I’ve been contemplating this thought: false traditions create in our minds commandments or expectations that are not from God or Jesus Christ. Stress is often an indicator of such erroneous actions. I find it therefore instructive that we are to witness a willingness to keep the commandments of Christ, and then the clarifying statement (which has always been here) “which he hath given them.” False traditions cause me to look beyond the mark for things that are not really required of me. I really appreciate this clarifying point at the end of the sacrament prayer then that gives me a reason to search deeper for truth, calling all my personal, preconceived assumptions (which have caused so much harm in the past) into question.

What are “His Commandments” and which are the commandments of my own making? The Sacramental prayers do not define the answer for this question. So I go in two directions with this: First, it is the law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (which I will define momentarily), and second, it is all those commands dictated to man personally by revelation through the means of the Holy Ghost (see recent quote from President Nelson).

First, the law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These commandments may be summarized as such:

  • Love God and Love your neighbor.
  • Faith, Repentance, Baptism, and Receipt of the Holy Ghost.
  • Receive all ordinances in the house of the Lord, and endure to the end.

(These are not checklists items, but rather processes by which we enter into and never stop developing, or laboring to improve upon.)

Second, commandments from Christ come via revelations:

Let Him know through your prayers and your actions that you are serious about overcoming the world. Ask Him to enlighten your mind and send the help you need. Each day, record the thoughts that come to you as you pray; then follow through diligently.

President Russell M. Nelson, October 2022, Sunday Morning Session

There is no one perfect way to understand this prayer and ordinance. For I could continue to study all that has been said and expounded upon the Sacrament for a very long time, so rich, so profound, so intimate are the covenants and blessings found herein.

Purpose Number Five: That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us

Is this the promise of the companionship of the Holy Ghost to be with us continually? God intends for us to always have His Spirit to be with us. And why not? If a thousand millennial years is the eventual destination of the righteous, those that are willing to progress, be educated, and learn the lessons of mortality, then it stands to reason that we can arrive at that state sooner if we will but follow Him. And what is that state? To live constantly in the Light of His love. It is to have the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God, with us always.

A footnote from the topical guide entry on “Spirit of God” stands out to me: Alma 61:15. Moroni gives instruction to conduct the war according to the Spirit of God. So even in matters of war, the Spirit of God could guide them. And I think this is the point. Life goes on; life is to be lived, and so it is to be lived with the Spirit of God.

According to the Gifts and Callings of God

Moroni 3 (Moroni 3)

(Lo primero que me llama la atención en este registro es que todo está escrito en tiempo pasado. Y en esto, es un poco triste me supongo para Moroni a hacer este registro de algo que en sus tiempo ya no había más.)

Otra vez, cuando Moroni explica la forma en que efectuaba una ordenanza, dice que antes de hacer la ordenanza, primero ofrecieron una oración al Padre en el nombre del Señor Jesucristo.

El propósito en la ordenación de los presbíteros y maestros fue para apartarles para enseñar arrepentimiento y remisión de pecados, por medio del Señor Jesucristo. Y la manera por lo cual ellos fueron para enseñar estas cosas fue para fortalecer la fe en sus nombre (el nombre de Cristo) hasta lo fin. Estas instrucciones son tan simples, sino eficaz en expresar su propósito.

Me hace reflexionar en el propósito en la ordenación a los hombres jóvenes a estos oficios en la iglesia hoy en día. Sí, tienen ellos lo mismo propósito de enseñar a las personas la importancia del arrepentimiento y la remisión de pecados.

Hay una frase aquí que me hace recordar que es Dios quien nos llaman a compartir en su poder. Cuando Moroni dice, “de este modo ordenaban presbíteros y maestros, según los dones y llamamientos de Dios a los hombres;” (vs. 4)

No me elegisteis vosotros a mí, sino que yo os elegí a vosotros, y os he puesto para que vayáis y llevéis fruto, y vuestro fruto permanezca; para que todo lo que pidiereis al Padre en mi nombre, él os lo dé.

Juan 15:16

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

John 15:16

Me encanta el cambio que esta escritura me hace considerar. Nosotros, aunque el albedrío esté siempre presente, no somos los que elegimos ocupar y magnificar cualquier oficio dentro del sacerdocio y la Iglesia. Es Cristo quien me llama.

I have only a few brief and precious moments this morning to review this. Re-reading this in English after the former considerations about how Christ is the one who calls us to his work, causes me to see all this differently. The disciples (who were called to be elders) acted in such a way as to represent Christ in the ordaining of other priests and teachers. The wording of the ordinances is such that they could be the words of Christ.

Power… [to] Give the Holy Ghost

Moroni 2 (Moroni 2)

This chapter contains instructions given to Christ’s disciples when he visited the Nephites after his death and resurrection. I am struck by step one of these instructions: “Ye shall call upon the Father in my name, in mighty prayer;” (vs. 2). The effect of such mighty prayer will be that one will have power to confer the Holy Ghost on others.

A footnote takes me to Ether 4:15. This is also reflective of a conversation that I had with my oldest daughter last evening, who asserted that everyone is just having the experience of life and to each their own. (I’m failing to capture the essence of her thoughts.) The feeling though was that there was no absolute truth, and while my faith teaches me to respect the beliefs of others, my experience demonstrates to my mind the reality that there is an absolute truth, and that God is the author of such. Some things are revealed to us that we are utterly incapable of “imagining up” even on our best days. There have been thoughts and realities impressed upon me that I know are not my thoughts, but come directly from God. My ways are not yours ways, saith the Lord of Hosts. And when I have those kinds of revelation, I know its not coming from me, but from God.

I use to think that revelation wasn’t necessarily something that everyone had to receive. Yet the longer I live, and the more I see friends and family step away from my faith, the more convinced I am becoming that without constant and continual personal revelation, nobody will be able to continue in the Church of Christ. That is a shift in my thinking that changes everything for me.

Another reason why this instruction impresses me so much is because I know what mighty prayer feels like and looks like. I have had recent seasons of such prayers and am now encouraged to continue in such exercises.

Morning prayers are not rote recitations. When I recognize each day as a moment in time to personally connect with God the Father, for me to express in that moment my gratitude for whatever is before me in my mind, my heart, and maybe even in my physical surroundings, this is what connects me to God and heightens my awareness of the blessings and realities that are presently before me. This is a refining, purifying experience.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

Doctrine and Covenants 84:20-21

Back in Moroni 2, we read:

…and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost;

Verse 2

This suggests to my mind that sometimes I may go through the motions of an ordinance without the power to perform the ordinance. This is also instructions on how to ensure that I do have power with me when I am called upon to perform an ordinance.

Now this causes me to ask questions, and I don’t know if these are the right questions to ask, but they are the natural questions that first arise when I contemplate these things:

  • What happens if an ordinance is performed without power? We can ensure that an ordinance is performed by one who is authorized to do so. But how can we guarantee one has power?
  • Are ordinances not effective, if they are not performed with power?

These types of questions are ones that I feel like I could not answer. More importantly, the responsibility for their execution are outside of my prerogative or jurisdiction unless I am the officiating priesthood leader. So what really matters is my personal preparation to perform an ordinance when I am being called upon to perform such.

The instructions really are quite simple. Power comes through mighty prayer. The Holy Ghost is conferred through the laying on of hands, in the name of Jesus Christ. (See also Acts 19:6).

I… Will Not Deny the Christ

Moroni 1

Moroni presents just a matter of fact account of his situation where for the safety of his own life, and the integrity of his personal witness of the Christ, he must keep himself hidden. The reason for all this: Lamanites will kill any Nephite who will not deny the Christ, Moroni will not deny the Christ.

Again, it seems like a matter of fact statement: He doesn’t want to die, but he won’t deny the Christ. The footnotes suggest to me that there is much more depth to this statement, and how I, in less perilous circumstances, can act in relationship to my testimony of the Christ.

Matthew 10:32-33 give us the setup. To confess or deny the Christ before men; this has eternal ramifications. But then 3 Nephi 29:5 reveals the meat of issue: “Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea, wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works!” This reminds me that financial systems, the philosophies of Babylon, and social agendas of the day are not the works of the Lord. Or rather that the works of the Lord are different from all this. There is much more for me to unpack here on a different day.

New Day, in the halls of my memory is a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley which I’ve gone searching for this morning:

The Church has been moving out across the world in a remarkable and wonderful way, and the story of its growth and expansion is the story of God moving in His majesty and power.

“An Ensign to the Nations”, Church News, October 1997

I need not remind you that this cause in which we are engaged is not an ordinary cause. It is the cause of Christ. It is the kingdom of God our Eternal Father. It is the building of Zion on the earth, the fulfillment of prophecy given of old and of a vision revealed in this dispensation.

“An Ensign to the Nations”, General Conference, October 1989

This latter quote offers great perspectives on service in the church. Am I denying the Christ and his works by withholding my labors in the Church?

Moroni then sets the stage for a few final instructions. He had assumed the book was complete, but the will of the Lord was that there was more to be had. And these final chapters are what in my mind cement the Book of Mormon into being the most correct of any book on earth. It is amazing what is added at the end, when previously, even Moroni assumed the work was completed.

As I re-read Moroni’s speculations in verse 4, “contrary to that which I had supposed” and “that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day,” I can’t help but feel that Moroni was truly wrestling with the Lord in these matters. These final chapters then are the “further in, and further up” described by C. S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia. This is the will of the Lord being dictated to a prophet, after he thought his work was done. The more I contemplate the position of this book, the more excited I get about it, even though I feel I know it all very well.

This is also the second chapter in a row that ends with an acknowledgement of the will of the Lord being realized. Ether ended his book with that declaration. Moroni now stands a second witness that the will of the Lord will be done.

The Will of the Lord

Ether 13 (Éter 13)

I find it very interesting the idea that Ether would have had no written history of the Abrahamic Covenant, the House of Israel, or the seed of Joseph.

At the end of this chapter reading it in Spanish, I’ve made a few notes in the digital scriptures. This is a documentation of how a man lost his soul when he refused to repent. I feel like this is the whole point. It wasn’t just that he “lost his soul”, no the real loss was the control or self-mastery of himself. This is what he rejected when he chose not to repent. Instead he tried to with the sword enforce some other way, a way in which he had no control, but he was purely acting on animalistic instinct.

Ether 14 (Éter 14) & Ether 15 (Éter 15)

I am struggling to have to wade through this passage of scripture with the blood and carnage described herein. In reading this in Spanish, I’ve highlighted in gray, every time a reference is made to a leader’s lack of self-control, or compulsion because of anger. This theme, as mentioned above, has resonated deeply with me this time around.

We destroy ourselves; no one else is responsible for our anger.

There is another thought that impresses me as I contemplate the why of these chapters, and the details that were included in these verses. At the end of chapter 15, after having waded through all these gory details, Moroni makes this statement: “and the hundredth part I have not written” (vs. 33). And then I realize that we were just reading a readers’ digest version of this terrible scene that was captured in Ether’s record.

As I ask myself then why? How do these verses point me to the Christ? Then it occurs to me that He is present and aware of all of this. This is a very small sampling of the Father’s omniscience.

I’ve jumped back to Chapter 13, and I found myself asking why the prophet Ether was blessed to understand everything that he did. As I have contemplated this thought in prayer, it seems significant that a prophet who stood at the end of a civilization (and what is true of Ether, is even more true of Moroni) understood enough of the timetables of God to save a people had they believed. Or rather, I see it both as a point of mercy, but perhaps also justice. The Lord kept nothing hidden from these prophets who stood at the literal end of their civilizations. Though their souls alone were the only ones that were saved, the Lord had provided opportunities for the people’s repentance up until the very end, when the Spirit of the Lord would no longer strive with the depravity of men.

The point of mercy and sense of mission that was given to each of these prophets left them with work to do. They are shown of God the future events of this world, even the establishment of a New Jerusalem and much that pertained unto it. Their work is to prepare a record that will aid in the gathering of a people to inhabit this Holy Place.

I’m struggling this morning with a minor incident in loss of self control. Ether 13:27 is helping me to see why these chapters are included in this book. In great anger, two warring factions come out in battle against each other. What do they hope to accomplish? Surely not a peaceful resolution, surely not increased love and harmony; these things will not be the fruits of their war and violence.

What do you hope to accomplish by your own violent actions? Surely not peace, nor increased love and harmony. Blessed are the peacemakers…

Echos of the great question “What desirest thou?” are ringing through my head this morning.

I am midway through Ether 14, making notes on the actual scriptures as I go. Verse 24 & 25 are particularly insightful, and I am realizing that part of the reason why this particular group of chapters are included in the Book of Mormon has to do with the word of the Lord that had been declared against the people and to illustrate the fulfillment of the Lord’s words.

I have made more notes and highlights in the actual scriptures with these verses of study than I have for other passages of scripture. Parenthetically, I am studying “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering,” by Francine R. Bennion, which gives these last chapters of Ether a much deeper significance.

Questions for pondering:

  • If God is not playing puppet master with these people who will not repent (and I don’t believe he is), how and why is Coriantumr’s life spared when every other soul is destroyed?
  • I believe in divine intervention to a point, but then what of the agency of man?
  • And isn’t that the primary purpose of it all: to learn the laws that govern life and death, sin and repentance, pain and joy?

Agency seems to be the chief discussion point of all this account. I also wonder if we have a tendency to give God too much credit for the actions of men. Trying to understand this, it feels like I assuming that the Father controls more than He does. It’s not that he doesn’t have all power to control and govern, intervene and act on our behalf, but in some or even many ways, does He not prohibit the sun from rising on both the just and the unjust. The test of agency is profound.

I’ve choosen the name for this particular entry, and it comes from the final verse of chapter 15. “Whether the Lord will that I be translated, or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God.” The title seems to be completely at odds with the rest of the reading. Was it the will of the Lord that the people of Coriantumr being completely destroyed? I don’t think that a God who wepts and desires our eternal welfare and happiness could also desire that a civilization be completely wiped off the face of the earth. Would he and did he allow it to happen? Yes. But is this the just will of God being enacted upon a wicked people? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. Rather, it seems to me that the will of the Lord is that man retain his agency, no matter the dire consequences.

What is certain is that no one was interested in what the Lord desired for the people, with the exception of Ether the prophet. So it is a prophet who seeks to do the Lord’s will, and in this instance (not always), it is a prophet that is preserved. And now at the end of his harrowing record, he expresses his simple conviction and desire to continue to do the Lord’s will, whatever that may be in the end.

The Trial of Their Faith

Ether 11 (Éter 11)

In times of wickedness or righteousness, the answers are the same: faith in God and repentance. However, in times of wickedness, the Lord calls on prophets to go remind the people of the way home, a token of mercy. During times of righteousness, the inherent mindset is one of repentance and change. This is what constitutes righteousness.

Ether 12 (Éter 12)

At the end of chapter 11, we have the birth of Ether the prophet. Throughout the whole Book of Ether, I have been asking myself why we were following this particular line of rulers, and why was it that this line of rulers seems to be the preferred line of authority, even in their wickedness. However, at the end of this book, what we have now is an ancestral lineage of the prophet Ether. Ether stands at the end of this long line of kings, except that he is not a king; he is a prophet.

Ether had every right in the patriarchal sense to be heir to the throne, but God put in his heart a much more important mission.

(It is so hard for me to articulate what I am feeling in my now multiple readings of this chapter. Yet every time I read, I feel my soul being nurtured. Faith is grown or increasing.)

The thing with prophets (going back to the end of Chapter 11) is that they have the testimony of experience, personal experience, to back their words. When they cry repentance, they have repented themselves.

(for tomorrow, start to dissect this chapter 12, line by line, for there is just too much packed into it to ignore otherwise. This also comes on the cusp of a personal miracle where God is literally providing money for us, almost out of thin air. Thus is the nature and our experience with entrepreneurship. )

So at the start of chapter 12, the stage has been set: Coriantumr is king of the land. Ether is a prophet of the Lord. Ether’s narrative starts with this statement:

Ether came forth… and began to prophesy unto the people, for he could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him.

Verse 2 (emphasis added)

Truman G. Madsen once quoted Joseph Smith as stating:

…You can always tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits: for it will take malice and envy and enmity from the heart and all evil and whisper peace and joy and your whole desire will be to do good and build up the kingdom of God…

If the people will seek for the Spirit of God, they will eventually find themselves organized as they were before the foundation of this world. Our Father organized the human family in the pre-mortal councils… but they are now disorganized and in great confusion.

Joseph Smith, from talk by Truman G. Madson, “Elijah’s Mission” 5 Jun 1977

The Spirit of the Lord was such upon Ether that he went forth from the morning until the evening, “exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed…” (vs. 3, emphasis added) This is the classic call of a prophet, but in my current situation, I see the ultimatum not being with the people but with Ether as a prophet. God had sent him to warn and save the people, if it were possible. What could Ether tell them that would keep them from destruction: the only thing that would actually work — the truth. That truth was that they needed to change course and exercise enough faith that it was a compelling force for repentance in their life. The catalyst for change, or the change agent that really was the focus of Ether’s remarks is faith.

Moroni emphasizes this point at the end of the verse with the one quote he chose to summarize Ether’s prophetic mission: “By faith all things are fulfilled.”

I am in verse 4 today. This explanation of faith and hope and good works, causes me to look at the end (good works) exactly opposite of how skeptics of our faith view our interpretation of faith. We’re not motivated or compelled by good works. No, it is just the opposite. We are lead to good works by our faith! This is the fruit of our faith.
Again, fear of the consequences, fear of punishment would produce works (that may have the appearance of being “good”). However, good works are, and can only be, born of faith.

This faith, or rather a belief in God, should have the effect of creating a sure hope within us of existing in a better world. What world? The one where God dwells. And not just existing in this divine sphere, but of being there “at the right hand of God”. A position of favor, importance, significance. If we believe in God, then we must believe all that he has promised us, which is all that He has. “and if children, then heirs” (Romans 8:17) This is exactly what the prophets are saying. Belief in God is a belief in a Being who holds us in the highest regard owing to our greatest potential of becoming even like Himself.

Again, coming back to verse 4 again, in reading just the first line “Who so believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world.” There is so much packed into this statement. How? Why? This says to me that it is through our faith in God that we will absolutely, or with assurance, arrive at the place where God is. Belief in God is belief in God and in His Holy Way of Being. Christ and the Father are just waiting for us to arrive at a place of faith and hope strong enough for Christ to be able to return into our presence and for us to be able to endure it.

“Hope for a better world.” My faith in God should be the grounds for a hope that the world will get better, or that I am destined for a better world. The translation between English and Spanish on this phrase is different. Spanish presents it as a noun: “Those that believe in God can have a firm hope in a better world.” The English translation changes “hope” from a noun to a verb: “whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world.”

I know I’ve already gone over this verse 4, previously, but as I am sitting with it again this morning, and just slowly contemplating the significance of each phrase, it is overwhelmingly significant what my faith has the power to accomplish. If I understand what it really means to have faith, then it has the power to restore my identity of who I am, from whence I have come, and to impact my ultimate destination.

The hope, which comes from faith, (the verse makes this reminding reference) becomes as a rivet, or an anchor, to the soul of man. Suddenly there is no more back and forth, nor vacillating obscurity, grayness, and confusion about one’s identity. Maybe one does evolve into the space, but maybe one can just come to understand what faith means, what powers are associated with faith in Christ, and henceforth be led to glorify God, abounding in good works. (How can so much be packed into so few words? Yeah, both hidden and revealed in so few words! )

Once we figure out the core tenant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ works, namely repentance, then are our souls riveted to Christ and His Gospel. Can hope really be an anchor to the soul in such a way that we would always abound in good works? (Remember that it’s hope that is referred to as the anchor, not faith.)


I completed a brief self-evaluation last evening on Hope and I feel that I scored low as I contemplated the role of Hope in my life. Moroni later in the Book of Mormon publishes remarks made in his day to “the peaceable followers of Christ” and then defines them as those “that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.” (Moroni 7:3)

There is an earlier passage, where the missionary Aaron is discussing hope with the Lamanite King, and connects hope with repentance and humility before God:

…If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.

Alma 22:16

The end of verse four reads as such: “[hope] would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” This is another scriptural oxymoron (which thing I find to be a semi-common occurance), to let our light shine before men so that they may glorify God. Yet, I’ve had that very experience over the phone with women as they have gone searching for doula training programs, and for them to discover ours and literally give praise to God for having found us. I know this is only an example of the many ways in which one may bring forth good works to glorify our Father in Heaven.

One other thought, it is in the record keeping that we are able to make our light shine before men.

Studying further the topic of “Good Works”, two passages stand out to me as I contemplate how to perform works that bring glory to God:

Alma 37:34 – “Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.”

Alma 26:22 – “Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.”

Moving on, Moroni interjects at this point in the narrative to offer commentary on the principle of faith. Verses 6-8 offer the foundational premise of the need for men to have faith in Christ, stating that Christ could do nothing save it were that men first had faith in Him.

One of the observations that is most striking to me about Moroni’s commentary is that it has been the faith of men that has been the catalyst for Christ to come, and without the faith of some men to have first experienced Christ (because of their faith), the way has been paved for many more to experience faith in Christ, because he showed himself not to everyone at first.

Another curious insight is that a visual witness is given only after the trial of faith.

Wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world… that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.

Verses 7 & 8

The part of verse 8 that I intentionally skipped over makes reference to those who “might be partakers of the heavenly gift”. I don’t know exactly what that “heavenly gift” has reference to, except it be having faith in Christ and the salvation that comes through Him. Moroni makes reference to “the gift” again in verse 9, with a promise that we might be made “partakers of the gift, if [we] will but have faith.”

Sometimes in the scriptures we don’t have direct instruction, but rather inference to ideas or principles that in the minds of the prophets are eternal absolutes or given statements of fact. This concept of a heavenly gift that is or can be obtained in the present moment. What seemed to be hidden to me was a great deal more richly documented then I had realized: TG – Gifts of God. Subsequent verses in Ether 12 also make reference to the gift of God.

Two immediate takeaways:

  1. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
  2. God intends for us to live an elevated life in the here and now.

I am also sitting with the profound reality of gifts, things given us that we can in no way or in no wise ever repay. We are simply asked to receive them with grateful hearts.

Studying scriptures this morning while watching kids, I am reflecting on the many ways in which I have already walked by faith, and how the biggest life decisions that I have made have all had their foundations based on faith:

  • Exercising faith unto repentance as a teenager.
  • Dating
  • Temple Endowment
  • Serving a Mission
  • Temple Marriage to Rachel
    • Which includes not waiting to have children and start a family. (This one has been particularly hard.)

I am hence left to contemplate my position presently. I, on one side, find myself in a season of reflection, fortified with a witness of the path that I have chosen. On the other side I am looking forward, contemplating my next moves and reflecting upon the current position that we now occupy. How do I continue to walk in faith, centered in Christ, and the hope of eternal life?

The words “gift” and “miracle” are used interchangeably in these verses. Both describe things that are extended to us, given to us, that are desirable and yet not of our making; things that we receive that are beyond our control. The miracle that is forgiveness is one such example. “God can do… miracles among them.” (Verse 12)

Verse 13 – 15 document three unique events and the leaders who were associated with these events and how it was the faith of these leaders that caused the miracles realized to be accomplished. Each of the three events were of divine origin:

  • Walls of a prison falling to the ground.
  • A change of heart among the Lamanites, resulting in their baptism with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
  • The conversion of thousands of the Lamanites during the time of Ammon and his brethren.

It is being strongly impressed upon me of the absolute connection between miracles and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot realize miracles without faith, “wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.” (vs. 18)


Moroni shifts focus in verse 23 and goes from the discussion on faith to a commentary on the weakness of his writing style, that which was common among his people. He juxtaposes it to their power in spoken word, which from Moroni’s perspective was a very effective means of conveying spiritually important information.

…for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith… for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

Verse 23

Then in verse 24, the footnotes lead me to consider this passage differently than what I feel Moroni is trying to illustrate. Moroni is expressing his frustration with the written limitations of his language to communicate spiritual truth. The footnote suggests that that limitation was not so much a weakness of the language as much as it was the limitations of the medium (metal plates) that their language was being engraved upon. I tend to think that Moroni really meant what he said, that his language was limited it what he could express. The weakness or restriction of written language was real and that is the point that Moroni is trying to express.

The second footnote in this verse points to the fact that the writings of the Brother of Jared were restricted from being revealed publicly until after Christ should reveal himself. And for some reason, I feel like this is also diminishing the point that the records that the Brother of Jared made were powerful. Moroni feels weak because of the restrictions of his language. The Brother of Jared had a written language given him from God that allowed him to make a record which was powerful, mighty even like unto God!

This point is emphasized by a personal experience that I recently had in which I had discovered an impression given me from some 4 years ago. The words that I recorded (and which I have kept private to myself) were a powerful connection back to that revelation. For some reason, Moroni didn’t feel like his record wasn’t able to carry that same spiritual power.

In verses 26 and 27, a strong correlation between human weakness and the grace of Christ is established: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;”

Moroni is able to bring us back full circle in this discussion on faith. Weakness accepted in humility, gives us access to his grace. And if we are humble enough to accept that grace, and to have faith in Christ, then can Christ make weak things become strong unto us!

Verses 26-28 are a quote directly from Christ to Moroni. Verse 28 ends with a capstone on this discussion of faith and weakness:

Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.

The “fountain of all righteousness” is Jesus Christ. I had to read this in Spanish to see that. Men have weakness. Faith, hope and charity bring us to Christ who is the fountain of all righteousness.

After establishing that faith, hope, and charity lead to the fountain of all righteousness, Moroni goes on to offer some very significant examples of each principle in action.

Faith – The Brother of Jared moved mountains by faith. The Lord also revealed himself unto his disciples after they had faith and spoken in his name. (See vs. 29-31)

Hope – Christ has said that he goes to prepare a house for man among the mansion of His Father. (He’s not mincing words here.) Man must hope or he cannot receive this inheritance. (See vs. 32)

Charity – Christ was motivated by love for all the world. It was his preparations in lying down his life, taking it up again, and move on to prepare an eternal dwelling place for man that was motivated by love. Our capacity to receive this inheritance is also informed by our ability to feel love. Without charity, we cannot dwell where God dwells, for God dwells in love.(See vs. 33-34)

Moving on, verses 36 & 37 were quoted by Hyrum Smith just before his and the prophet Joseph’s martyrdom. Reading this this morning causes me to consider that it is the very doctrines that I love straight from the Book of Mormon that these men also lived for and died for. This rivets me just a little stronger to the prophet Joseph this morning as well.

It also helps me to internalize these verses by thinking of the Lord’s voice as I read His words in verse 37. For these are His words.

The wording of the Lord suggests that being made clean and being made strong, both were future events and prerequisites for inheritance in the kingdom of God, or as Christ says, “even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.” Both are actions that are preformed by Christ. Ours is the task of having faith in Christ, hope in His promises, and charity like He did. We much be humble, penitent, and teachable. This is what we must do.

Moroni bids farewell to two groups at the end of this chapter, he supposing that this was near the end of his record: first the Gentiles and then “my brethren whom I love.” I am contemplating who these two groups are. Moroni is talking about the two intended audiences of this book, because a contemporary audience there was none. No one in his day was going to read what had been written.

Who are the Gentiles? Those who exist outside of the faith, the unbelieving. Not members of the House of Israel, those who do not make or keep covenants with God. Not the followers of Christ.

Who are his brethren? We are, if we believe in Christ! I want to believe that he is talking to me. And I am moved when he says that he loves us. Earlier, Moroni spoke to his audience saying:

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

Mormon 8:35

Before the Judgment-Seat of Christ

In no uncertain terms, Moroni states here at the end of this chapter that he expects to meet us “before the judgment-seat of Christ.” The scriptures are quite verbose on the topic of Jesus Christ as Judge. So it would seem the world thinks to ignore the Judge, but there will be no ignoring Him when at the end of times we are brought before Him to Judgment.

TG – Jesus Christ, Judge

Is there salvation in the judgments of the Lord? See 1 Chronicles 16:31-34

The Lord shall judge His people. Psalms 7:8 Why would I want to be judged of the Lord? Is this something to be feared or deeply desired? What happens when I get judged of the Christ? Would he condemn me, or knowing who I really am, offer correction so that I might continue to progress?

But there is a final judgment, isn’t there? A cut off point? He will be my friend when I show up for that day, because I have taken the time to know Him. I have sought after Him.

Why am I so afraid of Judgment? Many people are afraid of being condemned. But Christ isn’t the condemner or the accuser. The adversary of my soul possesses that title, so judgment that comes from Christ looks much different, much, much different than the condemnation that we our minds race to be default. If we have taken the time to know Him, we would understand this clearly. Christ does occupy the position of being a stop-point on our journey, a measuring stick to gauge our progress.

Still studying judgment, and Christ as the Judge and there are within me many questions about how this works, and why it works. I read in 2 Nephi 29:11 today about how the world will be judged out of the books which the Lord shall inspire to be written.

What are my questions: when I think of the judgments of Christ the best example that I have to call up on or to reference are the experiences of my mission with my mission president. He would often act as a judge on my behalf when I needed critical counsel, he could offer the decisive direction that I needed.

How could he do that?

I have spent many days now, at least a week or more studying Jesus Christ as Judge as a part of this study. I am very curious based off of what I’ve already learned to pursue this particular study (especially entries found in Isaiah), but I will continue elsewhere and conclude this study of Ether 12 by making a few additional comments about Moroni’s parting comments, his second of three farewells.

In verse 39, Moroni talks about how Jesus had spoken directly with him “in plain humility” concerning the things which he had accounted for in this record. This is the Christ that I am coming to understand better.

And then the stirring invitation found at the end of this chapter:

And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.

Verse 41 (emphasis added)

There is a reminder here to seek for Christ in the words of the prophets. I also find it interesting that Moroni promises the grace that is in all three members of the Godhead, not just in Christ alone.

In conclusion, I am a different man at the end of this study than I was before I began. I understand better the power that is available to me, not only through faith, but through hope and charity: all this centered in Christ. I understand my weaknesses are mine and that they are given to me for a purpose. I have written and recorded a powerful, Christmas-time discourse on Christ, repentance, family, and our eternal identities as children of Heavenly Parents, which was heavily influenced by ideas in this chapter as well.

Now I must pray.

Christ and Christmas

A disclaimer: I am aware that this season can be anything but a time of joy. For a multitude of reasons, mostly related to family dynamics or the lack there of, there is pain where it seems there ought not to be. I pray that the Spirit of the Lord can convey in my remarks even the smallest amount of hope and healing that is available through Jesus Christ and His power — power to heal you, and your family, no matter how shattered or battered it may currently be.

Shall we begin?

Some how, trains have become associated with Christmas time. We have little model trains, there are old-time Christmas train rides. We tell stories about trains, watch movies with Christmas trains in them. Sometimes, Santa is depicted as getting around on a train. Union Station, that historic train terminal in Kansas City has a model train exhibit that has become a Christmas-time tradition for many.

Brother and Sisters, today I invite you to board an imaginary train with me as we travel a few miles together, at Christmas Time, to talk of the Christ. There will be four stops along our imaginary train ride. Are you ready? All aboard the Christmas Time Express!

And where does our first stop take us? Why, back to the beginning of course.

Stop Number One: We are the Children of Our Heavenly Parents

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.”1 Furthermore, he added, “I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him.”2 We must have “a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes” and an admiration for “the excellency of [His] character.”3

In 1909, the First Presidency stated “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”

We will discuss at a latter stop, a few key events from the very beginning, but let us first consider the nature of the Character of God, of whom we are children.

Christ taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father. This is the beginning of all power.

My Heavenly Father is being of light, all truth, and all knowledge. I can trust in God. I believe in a God who wants me to be with Him, because He is my Father, and I am His son. I believe in heavenly parents, who hold dominion over the earth, the heavens, the stars and all that is known or that can be known about the universe.

The more that I understand my Heavenly Parents, the more I understand myself.

Our Heavenly Parents have so perfectly organized our mortal existence in such a way as to pay attention to the smallest details, imperfections and weakness that are mine and mine alone. This divine orchestration takes into consideration no only the quirks about how my body is built, but I also have mental infirmities, social anomalies, and even spiritual handicaps, most of which are not visible to those around me. This makes up me, who I am, unique in all the world, and perhaps in all the universe. I am handcrafted by heavenly parents to be exactly who I am.

I also have personal strengths, gifts selected to give me joy and confidence in my abilities to become something far more than I am capable of imagining. This collection of weaknesses and strengths are perfectly calibrated to provide my being with the building blocks necessary for me to eventually become like Them.

We contain within us the seeds of eternal Glory.

God lives, and we are the most immediate evidence of His Reality! Paul taught in Athens of old, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being… For …we are the offspring of God.” (see Acts 17)

So here we are at the end of stop One. And what have we learned? God is our Father, and we are His Children. We still have much ground to cover so let’s move on.

Stop Number Two: Repentance

Stop two brings us to consider the one of the most central teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our prophet, President Nelson recently asked the question: “How important is Repentance?”

Then he answered, “Repentance is required of every accountable person who desires eternal glory. There are no exceptions… Repenting is the key to progress.”

There is not a more important decision that we can make today, and everyday, than to repent and change from who we are right now, into whom God knows we can become.

We don’t have any idea of who we are to become, unless we’ve done the hard work of asking God in all humility to be shown what we do actually lack yet. The Lord has said:

I bgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them.

Ether 12:27

Repentance is a gift. It is the ability to change from doing things the way that we see is best, which unfortunately is severely limited. Unaided, human perception is hardly better than animal instinct.

Indeed, in addition to being multi-faceted beings with unique strengths and weaknesses, we are also the only creatures on earth that can make mistakes and also learn from our mistakes. We have the ability to analyze outcomes and change behavior to realized a different outcome. We are capable of deliberately delay impulses of fear, appetite, instinct, or even passion, and we are able to make sacrifices: to postpone instant gratification in favor of a delayed or improved result later on. So when we turn to God, our vision becomes greatly enhanced and we see things differently about ourselves.

A Quick Example: Imagine being gifted a sports car, but then imagine not being given the keys. No, you have been gifted your dream sport car, but it is only to be used as lawn ornament in your front yard. Sure, it might be fun to look at for a while. But what good would it be, unless you could actually experience its power?

Each of us has been given a sports car in the form of a mortal body. And repentance is the key to experiencing the power of a “sports car” life! Otherwise, we may be considered little more than lawn ornaments on God’s front yard: Pretty to look at, but not going anywhere!

Very few of us are afraid of hard work. Let us not be afraid of the internal, personal, quiet, hard work required for us to consistently drawing closer to God! So at Christmas time and at every time of the year, one of the best gifts that we can give back to God, is our finest and most heart-felt energies and efforts to repent.

I hope we never grow weary of talking about repentance, but its time to board the train again as we move along to stop number three.

Stop Number Three: Christ the Son

In a time before we were born, we lived with our Heavenly Parents. A plan was present to for us to become like them, which when we heard it, we shouted for joy. In that joyous occasion, we learned that the plan would enable us to become free agents, capable of making choice. In making choices, we would fall away from God. One came forward as a Mediator, making it possible for us to return. In this council, He was known as Jehovah. Jehovah was chosen to become our Savior, even Jesus the Christ.

What is Christmas without Christ?

“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.”

This is the reason why we celebrate Christmas.

Jesus Christ was the only perfect being to come to earth: He lovingly taught all manner of imperfect people: sinners, beggars, tax collectors, military captains, fathers, mothers, children, and the list goes one. He taught us to love God, and to love our neighbor.

Then to make the matter personal, Jesus suffered unimaginable pain in Gethsemene, taking upon him our all that was lacking in our own characters, and making up the difference. This three part event that included the suffering, the death, and the Resurrection of our Lord we call the Atonement. The Atonement is the supreme expression of the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

What good is a gift not received? Remember our sports car analogy? Repentance may be the key that we have to use, but Jesus Christ is the gas in our engine. Without the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, there simply is no power in our lives to make change and progress.

Stop Number Four: The Family, Your Family

We’ve now made three stops along our imaginary Christmas-time train ride. We’ve considered our position as Children of God, we’ve learned better how to live a more meanigful life through repentance, and we’ve considered only briefly the Reason for the season: Jesus Christ the Son of God. But there is one more important stop to make today before our time together comes to a close.

Many years ago, I was extremely privileged to serve as a full-time missionary in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. At the very end of my missionary service, I found myself in an exit interview sitting across the desk from my mission president, Jose L. Gonzalez of Columbia. He asked me: “What are your thoughts about marriage?” If I am being honest, I had very few thoughts about marriage up to that point in my life. It was not on my radar, nor in my immediately post-mission plans. The interview happened just two weeks before Thanksgiving, and so my response back to my mission president, and this was true, was “My mother says I have to wait until after Thanksgiving to get married.” He whipped right back at me, “Elder Leavitt, your mother doesn’t make that decision, now does she!” Suddenly marriage was on my radar.

Three days later, still a week and half before Thanksgiving, a young lady swept me off my feet, and though I waited until Valentine’s Day to propose marriage, I spent many hours in the temple praying about marriage and family. One such visit to the Mesa Arizona temple, I saw in my mind’s eye me wrestling with four small boys.

When I came home from my mission, I had my goals and dream and ambitions. But the Lord was very clear to me in illustrating the point, my family should not wait before I realize my then-youthful dreams and ambitions.

Why did family take such a priority in the Lord’s plans for me?

We started off this journey today by talking about our origin from a heaven family and home. It is now my purpose to show you how through your human family, God has created a design for you to return home. How could such a thing be when our homes and we ourselves are anything but perfect, totally incapable of saving ourselves?

There is a work that we do in this church both inside holy temples and in our homes that is not of this world. It the work of creating family connections and family bonds. You can start that work today by looking at your family story different, with all its flaws and painful imperfections. You and I as imperfect human beings are connected, because of our family, to other imperfect human beings. We can understand that God has given us this mortality to build our immortality. You and all those beautifully imperfect people that you call your family are the very substance of your salvation through Christ Jesus. In fact, when we talk about families, we don’t call it salvation: we call it exaltation. Because God’s purpose is to elevate, or exalt the human family, your human family. When I think about this: that Christ came to save my imperfect family, I want to sing even louder: Joy to the World, the Lord is Come, Let Earth Receive her king! (In otherwords: what are we waiting for? God has given us everything we need to be saved. We just need to act! )

So what are we to do with all this joyful knowledge? What can we change about our approach to Christmas and family right now? Consider the work of Family History. We must take an interest in the stories of our parents, grandparents and so on. Perhaps we are to take an interest in the stories of our children, if there be any children. And let’s not forget Aunts and Uncles, cousins, our siblings, neices and nephews, and so. We are to listen to and learn from one another. But there is more.

As we learn from our families, and heal and grow closer together, we can go to the temples of our God and receive binding covenants and ordinances where in the power of Jesus Christ seals us to each other, in a bond that no-one can break except for us as individuals. And not even an unfaithful parent, spouse or wayward child can severe our covenants with God. If we choose to be faithful, God will honor those covenants to the utmost degree. This is not just wishful thinking, we have biblical promises that God will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Therefore, let every heart prepare Him room. Room for what? For the healing and forgiveness that can and will come to our families through Jesus Christ.

At Journey’s End…

Well, unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of our ride today. I have just one small parting gift for each of you today: It is my witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and his work.

You and I can know our standing before God today through personal prayer and repentance. (Bishops and Branch Presidents can help to clarify that standing when help is needed.) Jesus Christ is our great example of a happy life. He paid the price for us to also live an abundant life. Families can be healed and made whole through the power of Jesus Christ and His ordinances found in the Holy Temple. This is all true. Merry Christmas! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.