Category Archives: God, the Nature of

What the Shepherds and Wise Men Teach Us About Christ

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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

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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

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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

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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

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REFERENCES

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

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Becoming Living Souls

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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

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

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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

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The 7 Voices of the Lord

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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

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