Author Archives: Matthew Leach

The First Miracle of Christmas

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 6.23.36 PM

Recorded in Latter-day Saint scripture is a rather dramatic account of the Nativity which, for obvious reasons, is not commonly reenacted on a church stage in front of small children.

Let me explain.

In the familiar Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we sing the words,

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.”

“The hopes of the long millennia before Christ came was that God could provide a Savior to lift us from the world of sin and death. The fears were that the Savior might not come, or that somehow he might fail in his mission. Of course, God keeps all his promises, and in the baby Jesus the long-promised Messiah finally arrived on the earth.” (1)

The hopes and fears of Christ’s miraculous birth were perhaps never so much pronounced as they were halfway around the world in the Americas. Around 6 B.C. a western prophet by the name of Samuel proclaimed to a group of predominately rowdy nonbelievers that Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, would soon be born.

This Samuel predicted “a new star shall arise, such an one as ye never have beheld.” (Helaman 14:5) In fact, this new star was predicted to be so stunning that the prophet assured the people they would “fall to the earth” with amazement.

But wait! There’s more. Not only would this glorious star appear, but bright light would stay in the sky for “two days and a night,” the “bright night” being “the night before [Christ] is born.” (Helaman 14:4)

THE FIRST CHRISTMAS EVE: A TERRIFYING TEST OF FAITH

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 7.12.27 PM

Five years came and went, then some began to question. What happened to the prophecy of Samuel? The people started “to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel.” (3 Nephi 1:5)

Had the time truly come? Was Samuel wrong? Imagine the doubt that must have begun to cloud the minds and hearts of some of the believers as they reflected on the past five years. In fact, we read that “the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.” (3 Nephi 1:7)

The unbelievers consequently became so restless that they set apart a certain day “that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass.” (3 Nephi 1:9). Imagine the terror of wishing in your heart for the sign of the star to appear, yet the terrible possibility that everything you’ve ever believed could lead to your most certain death if left unfulfilled.

I now quote master storyteller Ted Gibbons in what he believes was a most terrifying Christmas Eve:

“I can imagine a sophisticated [unbeliever] slipping through the fence to talk to his neighbor on the front porch in the gathering darkness. ‘Ralph, give it up! There are only seven days left. Think of your children and your beautiful wife . . . Come with us. You can’t really believe that one of these nights the sun will go down and you will still be able to weed your garden. It gets dark every night. It always has. It always will.’

How hard it must have been to be faithful to the words of Samuel when it kept getting dark! No one had seen him for five years (Helaman 16:8). For that matter, the great prophet Nephi, the son of Helaman, had disappeared as well (3 Nephi 1:2).  What a test to believe in the absent prophets and ancient scriptures when the lives of loved ones were on the line!

Those who remained faithful and continued to watch were not motivated by social conscience or some economic order that had blessed their lives. These were people who believed in the star and the Son and the manger and the miracle. They were not people who thought it all might be true. They were people who knew.

How many minutes passed after the sun went down, on the night it happened, before people began to raise their heads in wonder? How long before they were sure?  And what must those with murder in their hearts have been thinking? Among the most believable words in all of scripture are those describing the unbelievers on that night.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 7.13.30 PM

And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets,
who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew
that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who
believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign
which had been given was already at hand (3 Nephi 1:16)

Every time those infidels regained their senses and opened their eyes, it was light. That brightness was an inescapable physical witness of a brilliant spiritual reality. The sun had set, but another Son had risen, in a stable, in a manger, in an obscure village in Judea.  And that Son would never go down. In fact, because of the light of that night, it will never be absolutely dark again.” (2)

Therefore, the first miracle of Christmas, or the very first miracle Christ performed in mortality, was that of saving many lives from imminent destruction. Today that miracle continues. Spiritual darkness sweeps throughout the world like a paralyzing plague, yet a cure can be found through the master healer of our souls, who promises never to cease providing His life-giving light to all those who will have Him to be their King.

REFERENCES

(1) From Symbols & Shadows, by Jay and Donald Parry

(2) From Ted L. Gibbons, 2008 Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson, http://www.ldsgospeldoctrine.net

What the Shepherds and Wise Men Teach Us About Christ

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.06.24 AM

There’s something special about those Christmas shepherds and “prophets from the east.” It turns out, they were not only real people, but also symbols for the greatest of all people.

I was taught throughout my childhood to find Jesus Christ in every worthy story I heard, in every experience I had, and every person I met. This advice has served me well, especially as I contemplate what Christmas really means amid the hustle, bustle, and commotion that unfortunately comes with the season.

It is said that because the word “mas” means “more” in Spanish, Christmas should really be interpreted as “more Christ.” Is it possible, then, that we can see more of Christ through the familiar characters in the story of the Nativity?

THE SHEPHERDS: A TYPE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 4.59.16 PM

Imagine what an honor it must have been to be among the first to witness those special preliminary moments of our Savior’s mortal existence on that tranquil, holy night. 

After a rather startling revelation from an angel (1), the shepherds came to the manger “with haste” and observed the Son of God lying in a humble manger, fit for a servant yet made for a King.

But the story doesn’t end there! The shepherds, “when they had seen it…made known abroad…concerning this child” (Luke 2:17). These shepherds could not contain their joy and became the first missionaries of the dispensation of Christ.

David O. McKay, ninth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said,

“The shepherds did not say, ‘I wonder if this be true.’ They did not say, ‘Let us go and see if this thing be true’; they said, ‘Let us go and see this thing which is come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us’…What would you give-you who may not have that assurance-to have in your hearts that same confidence that Christ is born, that Christ lives, that God had heralded his birth by angels in heaven? All doubt would be banished, all worry concerning our purpose here in life would cease. That is what such a testimony means.” (2)

What can these lowly shepherds teach us about Christ?

  • Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and the “Shepherd…of your souls” (1 Peter 2:15). He knows his flock and leads all of His sheep (us) with perfect grace, compassion, humility, and integrity.
  • The sacrificial rites of the Law of Moses were never about animals. They represented “that great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14), our Savior, the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29).
  • Like Christ, the shepherds were “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16) and were valiant missionaries

Therefore, it is only fitting the shepherds would be in attendance at the Great Shepherd’s sacred birth.

THE WISE MEN: BRINGING JEWS AND GENTILES TOGETHER

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 5.00.07 PM

We don’t know much about the wise men. In fact, we don’t even know if there were exactly three. But we do know they came “from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1). This little tidbit informs us they were clearly Gentiles, if not Gentile prophets.

If this is to be believed, having both Jew and Gentile receive the invitation to join in the celebration of Jesus’ early years was a sign of not only social and political inclusion, but also religious inclusion. The message is clear: All are invited to partake of the goodness of Christ (2 Nephi 26:28).

The wise men presented to the Savior three precious gifts, each possessing Christlike symbolism:

  1. Gold: a symbol of royalty. Gold was most commonly presented to kings, so why not the King of Kings?
  2. Frankincense: a symbol of God’s name (Malachi 1:11). This resin was also used to prepare sacrifices.
  3. Myrrh: oil used to anoint princes or kings

If we were to go with the tradition of the “three” wise men for the sake of drawing more parallels, we could say that each wise man represents each member of the Godhead: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost (Spirit), who, together, provide us daily gifts.

WHAT DO THE SHEPHERDS AND WISE MEN TEACH US ABOUT CHRIST?

Christmas Time in Namibia

Christmas 2011 in Oshakati, Namibia

I have fallen victim to the commercialism of Christmas too many times. I miss the days when I was serving a mission for the Lord in the beautiful country of Namibia, located in southwestern Africa.

Two years ago, my mom sent us missionaries a big box of small toys and candy to pass out to the children of Oshakati, Namibia, on Christmas Eve. The smiles on each child’s face instantly proved that the joy of Christmas is found in serving and observing the joy in others. Just as sacrifices in Moses’ day were never about animals, worldly gifts in our day are never about the gifts themselves.

Christmas in Namibia 2

So what, then, are the shepherds and wise men teaching us about the true meaning of Christmas? There are, of course, many ways to answer this question. In my life, the shepherds are telling me to always be ready and willing to come when Christ beckons me, and to be diligent in sharing His tidings of great joy to all I meet, whether through words, music, or service.

The wise men remind me to give my own “gifts” to the Savior this year as a token of my personal sacrifice to become more like Him.

There are many things we can learn from the Nativity story and the characters that so humbly represent where the focus should be this season and always: on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who condescended into mortality out of love for us and devotion to His Father.

May we always remember the reason for the season!

~Matt

*********************************************************************************************************

REFERENCES

(1) Luke 2:8-14

(2) Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, compiled by Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1967], 466.

Pure Religion, Undefiled

So what is “pure religion”? That question has been on my mind ever since I left the mission field in South Africa. In the New Testament, James tells us, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself spotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

I absolutely loved my mission. I would be hard-pressed to name anything, outside of my family, I have ever loved more. I served among some of the most humble, strong-spirited, hardworking, and God-fearing individuals that I have ever had the privilege of being associated with. After working my hardest around these saints–who I felt possessed the true spirit of Christ–I realized I hadn’t understood my religion at all! After this eye-opening experience, I was forced to acknowledge my life had been all letter and not enough spirit (which leads me to a blog post about the letter of the law vs. spirit of the law soon!).

I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thoroughly disappointed to come back from my mission and experience an alarmingly potent dullness to religion I had never felt before. Church started to feel slow, contrived, and procedural. It was stale in comparison to the culture of saints I had left behind. What went wrong? Why didn’t religion feel…pure to me?

First of all, I had to identify what really changed when I stepped back on American soil: The Church or the people? It was definitely the people.

Second, I had to identify what it was about the African people I loved so much: Their love and zeal for Christ, boundless service, and enthusiastic spirit for the work of God.

Third, I had to identify how to make where I am, right now, a place that practices pure religion. Why can’t I take what I learned from my African friends and implement them here? Wasn’t that one of the key points of my mission? Not too surprisingly I learned that if I wanted to experience pure religion, it had to start with me.

LDS Apostle Marvin J. Ashton said:

Certainly one of our God-given privileges is the right to choose what our attitude will be in any given set of circumstances. We can let the events that surround us determine our actions—or we can personally take charge and rule our lives, using as guidelines the principles of pure religion. Pure religion is learning the gospel of Jesus Christ and then putting it into action. Nothing will ever be of real benefit to us until it is incorporated into our own lives.

Elder Ashton continued by saying:

This religion is not to retaliate, or to exchange in evil actions or unkind statements. Pure religion encompasses the ability to cherish, to build up, and to turn the other cheek in place of destroying and tearing down. (1)

Although the transition between a mission and normal life was (and still continues to be) a difficult procedure, I’ve come to find that faith alone is not pure. James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20). Indeed, service and love are the two major purifiers of religion (Matthew 22:37-40).

Has Church suddenly become mindbogglingly exciting after recognizing how to practice pure religion? No. In fact, I find my eyes still get heavier than they ought to during Sunday School. But it’s OK to have weaknesses. Jesus spent the entirety of His mortal life with people who had weaknesses. So whether or not you’ve ever nodded off in Church is not a measure of pure religion. Like Elder Ashton said, pure religion is learning+action. It is building up, not tearing down. It is cherishing, not crushing. It is turning the other cheek, not slapping it.

I’m not the best at practicing pure religion, but I suppose no one is. Pure religion is different than true religion. True religion is a personal, individual quest. Pure religion is not a denomination so much as it is a lifestyle. I have some evangelical Christian friends that have practiced pure religion better than some of my LDS friends. I have seen Christ-like love and service from individuals who don’t even believe in Christ. I have witnessed people from many faiths express pure religion, and I have come to find out that we all essentially desire the same thing, whether consciously or subconsciously: To serve God by serving His children.

This is a natural desire. We all want to be happy and see happiness in others. This is James 1:27 in a nutshell: If we practice charity and obedience in all things, we will come to find pure religion, which will naturally lead us to find true religion.

~Matt

**********************************************************************

REFERENCES

(1) Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s talk, Pure Religion, can be found by clicking here.

web statistics

The Law of the Fast: More than just disfigured faces

On this fast Sunday, I began to think about my own experiences fasting, which, to be honest, weren’t too meaningful in my younger days. I can honestly say 90% of the fasts that preceded my mission were my own “hunger games” that I would endure until 4:00 came around. I would even be so candid as to admit that when I was much younger I would sneak downstairs, steal some snacks while the rest of the family was taking their Sunday naps after church, and munch until dinner.

Now, I can confidently say I didn’t pull any of these shenanigans on my mission, but looking back even then I don’t feel like I completely understood the Law of the Fast. Because of our busy schedules, I was so used to only  having one meal a day that Fast Sunday sometimes felt like any other day. So let’s first take a moment to  understand what NOT to do on Fast Sunday.

Jesus is known for rich detail whenever illustrating a point, and fasting was no exception. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.” (Matthew 6:16) Can you imagine what that looked like? Such drama! Such fanfare! The true meaning of the law was all too often lost in the pitiful countenances of the poor individuals who had to undertake such a difficult task. (Yes, that was sarcasm ;))

THE LAW OF THE FAST–ISAIAH 58

Who would’ve thought Isaiah could come to the rescue and actually help explain what is meant by obeying the law of the fast? I think we too often run away from his words in fear and confusion that we forget there are some pretty fascinating subjects discussed in the Book of Isaiah!

Before we get there, though, here’s what President Marion G. Romney said of the Law of the Fast in relation to Isaiah 58:

You remember that Isaiah speaks of the people who came to the Lord and said: “Wherefore have we fasted…and thou seest not?” Because, came the answer, you do not keep the fast which I commanded. True, you bow down your heads as a bulrush and spread sackcloth and ashes under your feet, but you do not deal your bread to the hungry, nor provide housing for the poor, nor do you cover the naked.

When you do these things, “then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” (see Isaiah 58:3-9) (1)

The Law of the Fast is really all about the greatest of all commandments: to love. From our fasting comes generous donations called fast offerings, which is usually the approximate sum of what you would’ve spent on the two meals you went without. No  commandment given of the Lord is for our benefit only!

Once the Law of the Fast is observed, notice all the blessings that flow from keeping this commandment. They can be found in Isaiah 58:8-11–

  1. Thy light shall break forth as the morning
  2. Thine health shall spring forth speedily
  3. Thy righteousness shall go before thee
  4. The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward (rearguard).
  5. The Lord shall guide thee continually
  6. He shall satisfy thy soul in drought and make fat thy bones
  7. Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not

And to think all we are required to do is go without food and water for two consecutive meals once a month and donate a little bit of money to the poor. But aren’t all the commandments this way? They can be, for a small instant, difficult to endure, such as paying tithing when the budget is tight or living the Law of Chastity when passion seems to overwhelm the natural senses.

If I have ever struggled to live a law or commandment from God, it really helps to make a pro/con list, even though I know God will win out every time anyway 😉 Truly, heavenly blessings outweigh worldly blessings in a tremendous way.

We live in a world where instant gratification is sought for almost hourly, if not minutely, but the Law of the Fast helps reinforce the principle of self control and the multitude of blessings that come as a result.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, of the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained there are even more blessings to fasting than mentioned above. He said:

We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation.

Fasting and prayer can help develop within us courage and confidence. It can strengthen our character and build self-restraint and discipline. Testimonies grow. We mature spiritually and emotionally and sanctify our souls. Each time we fast, we gain a little more control over our worldly appetites and passions.

Fasting and prayer can help us in our families and in our daily work. They can help us magnify our callings in the Church.” (2)

I’m personally grateful for the Law of the Fast! It becomes easier the more I think about others and the imperfections in my own life, which are many. I hope you will continue to cherish this wonderful law as well!

~Matt

***************************************************************

REFERENCES

(1) Marion G. Romney, The Royal Law of Love, April 1978 Ensign

(2) Joseph B. Wirthlin, The Law of the Fast, April 2001 Ensign

web statistics

“I am a God of Miracles”: How Miracles Worked Then and How They Work Today

Painting by: Greg K. Olson

What a great time of year to study miracles! We’ll discuss angels soon 🙂 I’d also like to add, you’ll find this discussion is mostly about how miracles work, not so much on why they were used. That will be for another time!

It seems like the new tradition when I come home, whether it’s from a mission or college, is to be drafted into teaching a day or two of seminary for my mom’s class. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but wow…I forgot how hard it is to wake up at 5:30 in the morning!

Anyway, not that what I’m going to talk about is entirely new to everyone, but I feel I gained some valuable insight from my preparation to teach Luke chapters 7 and 8. I first wanted to establish how miracles were wrought in the scriptures because that’s often glossed over. In 2 Nephi 27:23, we read:

23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.

Many of the miracles Christ preformed in the New Testament had to do with healing others. I asked the question: “What is required to be healed of some disease or sickness?” Their answers included:

  1. God’s will
  2. Faith from the person providing the prayer or blessing
  3. Faith from the person receiving the prayer or blessing
  4. Faith from all those who keep God’s suffering children in their prayers
  5. The priesthood

Of course, in response to number 5, I asked, “Is the priesthood necessary to heal someone of a certain ailment?” We determined it isn’t exactly the only way, or even the most common way, someone has been or can be healed. Here’s what President Brigham Young said on the matter:

When a person requested a priesthood blessing, Brigham Young would ask, “Have you used any remedies?” To those who said no because “we wish the Elders to lay hands upon us, and we have faith that we shall be healed,” President Young replied: “That is very inconsistent according to my faith. If we are sick, and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done, according to my understanding of the Gospel of salvation, I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow, without my plowing the ground and casting in the seed. It appears consistent to me to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and [then] to ask my Father in Heaven … to sanctify that application to the healing of my body.” (1)

That of course brings up the question of those from different faiths who seem to get this impression that only our Church has the capacity to heal. What is it that ultimately heals? The Bible Dictionary states:

Miracles were and are a response to faith, and its best encouragement. They were never wrought without prayer, felt need, and faith.

Of course, I don’t wish to undermine the importance of the priesthood or priesthood blessings. Such things like casting out devils, curing diseases and even raising one from the dead at times required more than the typical prayer and faith formula (see Luke 9:1-2). However, it seems inconsistent to think our Lord walked around healing people or preforming other miracles, great and small, simply because He had all the power and authority man could posses. Did he not expect a greater lesson or application of the miracle to settle into the heart of the healed? The New Testament seems to weigh such miracles a lot heavier on faith than authority.

These healed persons we read about in the scriptures– every one–had faith sufficient to be healed. And frankly, that was all that was required. It should be no surprise that the same simple formula works today, especially for those not of our faith. I think too often we are like the apostles of old in our concern for those of other faiths preforming miracles that we seem to want to reserve for ourselves only (see Luke 9:49+50)

I then asked the class, “Did Jesus have power to heal those who did not have faith?”

The class responded correctly, “Of course!”

I then rephrased the question, “Would Jesus heal someone who did not have a willing desire to exercise faith?”

After a bit of thought, the class once again responded correctly, “No…”

Remember, in 2 Nephi 27 God clearly stated He would not work “among the children of men save it be according to their faith.” Mormon also emphasized this fact in Mormon 9, and seems to be answering a question, perhaps something like, “Why would God not work miracles in someone’s life even if they didn’t have faith?” In verse 20 he responds:

20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust

Miracles are real! They happen today! And although they are sometimes hard to believe, they serve a valuable purpose.

I am still in awe at director Ang Lee’s masterpiece “Life of Pi”, which easily made it to #1 on my favorite movies list, and wouldn’t you know it, in an interview about the strong messages of faith in the movie, he said, “How do we take imaginations and illusions into our heart? It’s not just something you can prove, because if you can prove it, you don’t need to take a leap, and that’s not faith. Imagination is not nothing; it’s the deepest, highest order. That’s how we relate to God.” (2)

None of us would argue that Jesus, throughout His many parables and teachings, required His disciples to not only exercise faith but also to use their imagination. Those who refused to think any deeper than the simplest application never did progress in their path towards true Christianity (see John 6:24-48).

To sum it all up, it is clear miracles are still preformed today because the people of this world still possess prayerful hearts, faith, and imagination. Miracles can cease, however, due to man’s unwillingness to acknowledge their Creator. The priesthood of God is a vital key to preforming His work here on earth, but just as often faith alone has preformed some of the mightiest miracles known to man.

Any thoughts?

~Matt

***************************************************************************************************

REFERENCES

(1) Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1954), 163.

(2) LIFE OF PI Interviews with Suraj Sharma and Ang Lee http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yY2yv2W4ZLk

web statistics

In the Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving in Windhoek, Nambia at the Ladle’s home (November 24th, 2011). Clockwise from left: Elder Kevin Critchfield, Elder Siyanda Khanyile, Elder Sam Zarbock, Elder Dan Houston, Elder Matt Leach, and Elder Kaden McDonald

Well, this marks my first Thanksgiving back from Africa. I spent my first Thanksgiving in the sweltering heat of Paarl, South Africa, which was about an hour outside of Cape Town. I had some pretty bad stomach problems that day and I think we probably went to McDonald’s for dinner. How festive!

My second Thanksgiving was spent in Windhoek, Namibia among some of the greatest missionaries I have ever known. That was a particularly special Thanksgiving, and it’s hard to believe a year has passed since then. I certainly became a lot more grateful for the things I had while being at one time only one of four missionaries in the country, but it took a while for me to see the blessings for what they really were.

Ah, but isn’t that how life is? Sometimes it takes us, God’s own children, a little while to understand the purpose for adversity, trials, and hardship. But time and time again people come out stronger and better because of it.

In describing the attitude of some Holocaust victims, one survivor wrote:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of…human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, [and] to choose one’s own way [of life].” (1)

And at the end of the day, it is our attitudes that define us. These are difficult times, a time when many find it hard to be grateful. It is perfectly “natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” (2) We should be grateful that God considers us worth the time to correct and refine! (3)

In fact, it is a great sin to be ungrateful! In D&C 88:33 we read: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” And of course the ultimate Giver of gifts is our loving Father in heaven.

I have been immensely blessed my whole life, but this past year has been a particularly big blessing. As 2012 commenced, I battled a rigorous illness that landed me in the hospital for several days. The prayers and faith of others helped me completely heal. Towards the middle of the year I finished what was the best two years of and for my life. I was reunited with my family and started school, all of which have been an immense blessing to me. I won’t go on and on about what I am thankful for, but perhaps the words of President Thomas S. Monson will suffice! In speaking of Jesus Christ, he said:

He taught us how to pray. He taught us how to live. He taught us how to die. His life is a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. Only He stood alone. Some Apostles doubted; one betrayed Him. The Roman soldiers pierced His side. The angry mob took His life. There yet rings from Golgotha’s hill His compassionate words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Who was this Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief? Who is this King of glory, this Lord of hosts? He is our Master. He is our Savior. He is the Son of God. He is the author of our salvation. He beckons, “Follow me.” (Matt. 4:19.) He instructs, “Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37.) He pleads, “Keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.)

Let us follow Him. Let us emulate His example. Let us obey His word. By so doing, we give to Him the divine gift of gratitude. (4)

I hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving! Remember to be grateful EVERY day of the year 🙂

~Matt

***************************

REFERENCES

(1) Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 104

(2) Lewis, Problem of Pain, 35-36, 38

(3) Christofferson, As Many as I Love I Rebuke and Chasten, Ensign April 2011

(4) Monson, An Attitude of Gratitude, Ensign April 1992

web statistics

Becoming Living Souls

Photo credit: Unknown

We’ll revisit the question I posed on Saturday soon, but for now let’s talk about an interesting phrase used in the scriptures.

For a long time I have found verse 7 of Moses chapter 3 intriguing:

7 And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also…

Doesn’t that sound a bit…redundant? “A living soul”? Aren’t souls already living? In D&C 88:15 we learn the definition of the word “soul”

 15 And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.

So, first of all it’s not just our spirits that make up our soul. The body is also an integral part of that, hence why the doctrine of the resurrection is so intensely emphasized, particularly in the New Testament and Book of Mormon. So again we must ask: what is a living soul? Let’s read a little further in Moses 3 and look at verse 9:

 9 And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul.

What else became a living soul? The trees! That’s strange. Let’s keep reading:

verse 9 cont: For it was spiritual in the day that I created it; for it remaineth in the sphere in which I, God, created it, yea, even all things which I prepared for the use of man…

Did you catch it? Taking this verse in the literal context in which it was presented, plants and trees were also created spiritually but are particularly special because they remained, and continue to remain, in God’s sphere. Remember that sphere spoken of in the first blog post about moral agency vs. free agency? Those who remain in “the sphere” are pure in the presence of God and are immortal and incorruptible, thus becoming “living souls”. (see 2 Nephi 2:13+14) To further illustrate this point, we can also refer to D&C 138:43.

Now, I hope this doesn’t sound all tree-huggerish, but trees stay in the “sphere” because they are the only creations that do what they are designed to do, which is to give life. Yes, humans and animals give life too, but they are also dangerous and destructive. Man literally stepped out of the sphere at the commencement of the fall and has in some way or another tried to come back into that once peaceful state.

So how do we ultimately become living souls? Incorruptible, immortal, pure, and eternal? We must, as Alma counsels, not harden our hearts, and “he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.” (Alma 12:9-11) The sphere of agency expands dependent on the knowledge we attain and shrinks the less we seek after it.

Going even further, to be given the greater portion of “the word” can also be interpreted as being given the greater portion of Christ and His attributes, because as the scriptures clearly indicate, Christ is the word. The more we come to know Him, the more pure and incorruptible we can become.

Any thoughts?

~Matt

web statistics

Question: How does someone receive Christ’s image in their countenance?

Photo credit: Unknown (lds.org)

About once a week on this blog, I’d like to do a Q&A session, primarily to motivate discussion and deeper thought. For those who know me best, I love to ruffle feathers. As a child it grew from a hobby to an art form because I was raised in a home with three sisters 🙂 On this blog, however, my intention is not to clutter it with insignificant or otherwise futile discussion points that will leave the reader more frustrated than before they came. That intention has actually never once crossed my mind, especially in relation to the gospel.

With that being said, I have a question for all of you, and it’s a serious one. I have posed it because this was asked many times on my mission and in my own life before, during, and after my mission. This question needs an introduction, and it comes from the mission field:

There was a certain missionary in my mission [South Africa Cape Town Mission] that had an enormously profound influence on me. I saw more of Christ’s image in his countenance than any other person I had ever met. Although he was not a companion of mine (love all 16 of you!), I was always eager to see him and serve around him because of the light he possessed. Very few times in my life has an individual made that much of an impact on me. I wanted to do better, be better, and work harder after every interaction I had with him.

I reflect on what made him that way. He was a seemingly average person with average abilities. So how did he get to that point? Why, when he would walk into a room, did everyone simply love him? And all the while, he seemed oblivious to the fact he was so well loved. After quite a lengthy session of beating around the bush, I have broken the question down in two parts:

  • How does someone truly receive Christ’s image in their countenance?
  • How do they maintain this image?

And I’m not talking about “Read your scriptures”, “Pray”, or “Go to church”. Those answers are obvious, and I know ALL of the missionaries in my mission (and surely all over the world) do all three almost daily, if not more, yet not all missionaries possess this gift. But let’s think a little deeper here as to what makes a person, even a 20-something young man the world’s glitz and glamor would likely never notice, so fortunate to almost literally personify Christ in their every day life?

I’m interested in what you come up with, because if we can crack the code and motivate ourselves to apply it, just THINK of how incredible mankind would become 🙂

~Matt

web statistics

The 7 Voices of the Lord

Photo credit: Unknown

This will be a relatively short blog post, especially in comparison to Friday’s 🙂 My Book of Mormon teacher usually just talks about whatever is on his mind, and because he knows A LOT, whatever he shares is usually very, very interesting.

A couple weeks ago he discussed something called the “7 Voices of the Lord” and how the Lord has spoken to His children from ancient days to modern.

1. THE FATHER

The first voice is the Father, or Heavenly Father. He is the primary voice, the director of this great Plan of Salvation. His voice is only heard a few times in the scriptures, however: Matthew 3:17 and 2 Nephi 31:11 to name a couple. He has called other mouthpieces to direct His work, and those will be highlighted in a moment.

2. THE SON

Of course Jesus Christ is more often than not God’s voice. Christ’s voice echoes throughout the scriptures from Genesis to the Doctrine and Covenants.

3. THE HOLY GHOST

Perhaps among the most subtle of voices, the Holy Ghost was called and commissioned to be our guide and comforter from the foundations of the world (John 14:26; D&C 130:20-23). As a gift, people may speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, therefore assisting in the carrying forth of truth into the heart of the hearer (Bible Dictionary: “Holy Ghost”; 2 Nephi 33:1)

  • 1 Nephi 22:2 is another great reference!

4. THE SCRIPTURES

D&C 68:4, Romans 9:17. The voice of the scriptures is essentially the Lord’s voice, but it is so valuable because it is recorded! None of the above mentioned voices would mean anything to us if it wasn’t properly documented. One scripture in particular that describes the sacred power of scripture comes from D&C 18:34-36

5. THE PROPHETS

The Lord’s mouthpieces from the beginning of time to the present day, there will never be a moment in history (except for periods of general apostasy) where the God does not speak through his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). They are the literal voice of the Lord today. How cool is that?! (see also D&C 138, the whole section)

6. ANGELS

I already have a study on angels all set up, so I won’t spend too much time discussing this sixth voice of the Lord. But angels are of course among the most special of voices, and perhaps the least recorded. Nephi talks a great deal about angels’ voices in 2 Nephi 32.

7. ALL CREATION

And, to sum it all up, all creation bears the voice of God. Alma was pretty fluent in that idea as he used this argument to completely dumbfound the anti-Christ Korihor! (Alma 30:44) Also, it is interesting to note that the seventh voice of creation is the loudest. Take 3 Nephi 8 and D&C 1:4 for example!

The Lord speaks in many ways, but at times it is necessary to speak rather bluntly and in a way that all will listen. Of course, we won’t have to suffer through the voice of a flood as in Noah’s day ever again, but it is interesting how He uses all the other approaches He knows how before resorting to the “loud voice.”

So what are your thoughts? Any other scriptures you’d like to add to these lists? Please share!!

~Matt

web statistics

“Be Not…Ashamed of the Testimony of our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8)

Fast Sunday is upon us! Here’s a topic from my study journal I wrote almost two years ago:

Taken from my mission journals, December 26th, 2010–Paarl, South Africa

My testimony is something I’ve always struggled to express adequately. I suppose that’s the reason why I did special musical numbers in church all the time back home. I always seemed to express my thoughts and feelings best through song. I don’t know if I’m proud or ashamed to admit that is still the case. I believe that when we were born, we all had planted in our minds and hearts the seed of a testimony of God and His merciful plan for all of us. Surely not everything was lost and forgotten when we passed through the veil. Surely our Father in Heaven would grant us a starter…a small seed as a reminder of His love with the intent that the seed will grow to become a fruitful witness of His tender mercies.

I’ve been reflecting on the nature of testimonies in a lot of different ways, the first being through adversity. During a severe trial, the last thing I’d be in the mood to do is bear a solemn testimony of Gospel truths. Job provides inspiration to this subject. Amidst death of family, rejection of friends, and devastation of any and every material possession he ever owned, he humbly proclaimed, “All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me…[yet] I know my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the Earth.” (Job 19:19, 25; emphasis added)

Such powerful words: I know! Job’s testimony was both emotionally and doctrinally significant as it was pure and simple.

The church is the same in South Africa and America, so naturally testimony meetings are also the same in that some people bear simple, solemn testimonies and others deliver long discourses and travelogues that tune out even the most intent listeners. The psalmist said it best in Psalm 19:7- “…the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” The most beautiful of all declarations is one’s heartfelt, simple testimony.

Testimonies have a unique power to touch and change hearts for the better. Even a stubborn heart can be moved by a stirring proclamation of one’s personal relationship with their Father in Heaven. But such testimonies, and such power, comes only by and through the Spirit of the Lord. Paul testifies “that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) These pure declarations only come as prompted by the Holy Ghost, since He is the one who testifies of truth and ultimately assists us in watering our seeds planted at birth.

We learn from modern and ancient prophets that before Christ comes again to reign in glory, every person on this Earth will have had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. Tragically, still not everyone will accept it fully and completely. But the prophet Nephi warns against taking a servant of the Lord’s testimony lightly. He counsels, “And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.” (2 Nephi 25:28) Testimonies indeed have the power to hold the listener responsible, especially if it’s coming out of the mouth of the prophet.

For testimonies to take the full effect we intend them to, we must not only proclaim a witness, but live it as well. If a testimony is a witness, especially such a sacred one as it is, wouldn’t the deliverer live up to the things he or she has seen or felt? The prophet Alma, while at the waters of Mormon, introduces this principle to a large group of soon-to-be recent converts in the Gospel. He counsels they must be “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death…” (Mosiah 18:9)

Of course, where there is any honest seeker of truth who has watered his or her testimony seed, there lies in wait one of Satan’s angels, ready to trample any sign of spiritual life that may be growing in its tender soil. The Lord Himself revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the summer of 1828 these very intentions which can be found in D&C 10:33, which reads: “Thus Satan thinketh to overpower your testimony in this generation, that the work may not come forth in this generation.” If Satan can destroy one testimony, he may destroy a whole forest of future testimonies. But when the Holy Spirit upholds and nurtures one testimony, He has built up nations of future testimonies.

Satan certainly does have a limited amount of power, even if he has shown it in marvelous ways. Commenting on the recent death of Joseph Smith by a mob of restless anti’s, President Brigham Young stated, “Many have marveled because of his death; but it was needful that he should seal his testimony with his blood, that  he might be honored and the wicked might be condemned.” (D&C 136:39) Many prophets have done the same thing: lived as a witness of truth and light, only to seal that witness with a brutal death.

I am personally grateful for the testimonies of prophets both ancient and modern, who help guide this Church today. Serving a mission has only emphasized the fact that my Father in Heaven is aware of all of us collectively and individually. Jesus Christ is His Son, whose blood made an atonement for our souls. I am also grateful for the guiding and peaceful influence of the Holy Ghost, who is my eternal friend.

I’d like to hear your testimonies if you so choose to share them 🙂

~Matt

web statistics