Tag Archives: Jesus Christ–Example

Hymn #240: Know This, That Every Soul Is Free

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.

2 Nephi 2:27

The Plan of Salvation is one of the most profound, most enlightening, and most comforting truths the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to offer. It helps us to understand our individual nature, our relationship to God, the point of mortality and its myriad challenges, the finite nature of death, and the infinite blessing of eternal life.

Everything in this plan is based on two great principles. The first, of course, is “the wondrous and glorious Atonement,” described by Elder Neal A. Maxwell as “the central act in all of human history….the hinge on which all else that finally matters turned.” He then takes the nature of the atonement one step further, introducing the second great principle: “But it turned upon Jesus’ spiritual submissiveness!”

Christ’s atonement was based on his eternal lifetime of choices. It was He who decided, of his own free will, to stand at the Grand Council and say, “Here am I, send me.” It was his mortal life filled with only correct decisions that made him the Perfect Lamb that alone was worthy of sacrifice to redeem us all. It was his perfect submission, even while begging the cup to be removed, to the entirety of the Father’s plan in his worst hours (the worst hours any person has ever or will ever endure) that allowed the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan. It was his decisive commendation of his eternal spirit into the hands of his Father (for no man took his life from him; he laid it down of himself) that allowed for the Easter Morn in which death forever lost its sting and the victory of the grave became eternally forfeit.

Christ made every choice right. He is our perfect example in all things, and use of agency is no exception. I think we sometimes lose track of that fact, thinking that perfection was no big deal for Christ. We’re quick to spout off that He was perfect, almost like it’s a factoid and not a profound, miraculous truth. He had the exact same capacity as you and I to make decisions. That agency is a universal gift from the Father to every single one of his children. That agency allowed for the fulfillment of the Atonement and the Messianic mission.

Interestingly enough, it is that same agency that allowed for the greatest of all downfalls, the birth, as it were, of evil and perdition. The rebellion of Lucifer, just as the Atonement of Christ, was not a forced matter. Satan and the spirits that followed him made their decisions with the same capacity with which Christ made his–and with which you and I make ours. And, just like Christ reigning forever over all His Father hath or Lucifer forever gnashing his teeth in misery and darkness, we will reach our final destination based on the paths we choose to get there.

Know this, brothers and sisters: Every soul is free. EVERY soul. Yours, mine, Christ’s, Lucifer’s. It is our agency, that immutable gift of God, that allows us to choose our lives and what we’ll be. God will never take that gift from us. He wants us all back with Him forever. He loves us each so very much and is deeply pained at the idea of losing any one of us. But He would rather allow that loss than force any of us to Heaven.

Let us all choose to use our agency for good. Let us choose to fulfill our covenants, to take upon us the name of Christ, and to be even as He is. When we fail to do these things, it is an abuse of the great agency our Father has trusted us with. Let us choose to repent of those failings and, with the grace of Christ, improve and draw nearer to God. He wants to bring us home, to share everything with us. His perfect love awaits us.  Let us seek it.

Hymn #131: More Holiness Give Me

Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am. (3 Nephi 27:27)

This is the commandment, and the goal each of us is striving for. We are to become perfect, even as our Savior is perfect. It’s impossible, of course, which is why the Savior sacrificed himself for us in order to pay for our misdeeds. We do our best to follow his law and keep his commandments, but when we stumble, His sacrifice makes it possible for us to return home.

That’s an incredible thing for Him to have taken upon Himself, and it’s something we feel acutely, I’m sure. We are to be like Him, One who loved His brothers and sisters so dearly that he was willing to sacrifice Himself for us all. No big deal, right? Just become like that and you’re set.

It’s a daunting task, and one that none of us is equal to. So we plead with the Father, begging Him to at least help us along that path. Even if we can’t be perfected all at once, at least let us take a single step toward that goal. Help me to overcome this one sin, we pray. Help me to make at least this aspect of my life perfect so I can move on to tackle another area. Help me to be more patient. Help me to be a little kinder. Help me to be more willing to serve.

We’ve all offered prayers like this, and they probably sound a little like today’s hymn. “More holiness give me,” we ask. We’re trying our best, honestly, but we’re just not quire there. We aren’t asking for everything right now, but at the moment, we need just a little more “patience in suff’ring,” or “joy in his service.”

There’s a lot to ask about, and there’s a lot we ask in this hymn. We plead for patience, for faith, prayerfulness, gratitude, hope, meekness, and strength, to name just a few. By the third verse, it starts to feel repetitive and even demanding. Every line starts with “more,” and it begins to feel like a child asking for more, more, more. Maybe we feel a little guilty asking for so much. Perhaps we could do without the patience today, Lord, if only we could feel “more longing for home.” Maybe today all that is needed is “more tears for his sorrows,” or “more sense of his care.” Just a little will do today. We don’t mean to ask for so much.

Then again, perhaps we’re right to ask so much of Him, and maybe it would do us well to ask for even more. He is so, so willing to give to us, if only we’ll ask. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you,” He once told us. “Seek me diligently and ye shall find me.” When we ask, He will answer. Even the least of us will give to each other when asked; how much more so will He, the Lord of all, be willing to give to us if we will but ask?

So we ask, even when it feels like too much. We ask for “hope in his word” and “meekness in trial.” We ask for so, so much, because we have been asked to do so, so much. We are tasked with becoming like Him in every aspect of our lives, and so we pray for improvement in every aspect as well. We pray, as the last two lines so simply state, to be “more blessed and holy– more, Savior, like thee.”

And He, He who asked us to be more like Him, is ready and waiting to grant that request, if we will be ask.

Hymn #116: Come, Follow Me

“Come, follow me,” the Savior said.
Then let us in his footsteps tread,
For thus alone can we be one
With God’s own loved, begotten Son.

This hymn is so familiar. Just having read those words, you’ll probably have the tune stuck in your head for a while.

And it is such a simple phrase: “Come, follow me.” A command, but a gentle one. Compelling enough for Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing nets straightaway (see Matthew 4). Not compelling enough for a rich young man to give up everything he had to obey it (see Matthew 19).

Maybe his unwillingness was due to the commitment involved. It’s not enough to follow Jesus Christ for a little while. It’s not even enough to follow him throughout mortality; “no,” we realize, “this extends to holier spheres.” If we are going to be true disciples of Christ, we must give him our life, our soul, our eternity.

Not only shall we emulate
His course while in this earthly state,
But when we’re freed from present cares,
If with our Lord we would be heirs.

Nor is enough to wait until we are “freed from present cares” to make this commitment. If we hear the Savior’s call in this life, we can’t say, “Sounds good, Lord. I’m gonna have some fun now, though, and I’ll see you in the hereafter. Save me a place in your kingdom, will ya?” Alma explains:

Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:34-35, emphasis added)

If we spend our lives cultivating a spirit that is stubborn and rebellious, or lazy and indifferent, or more concerned with exploring doubt than building faith, death is not going to change us. Why should it? The veil will be removed from our minds, yes, but it takes time to learn humility, dedication, and trust. Time that our Father has graciously given us here on earth to practice those attributes. Time that we should not waste.

We must the onward path pursue
As wider fields expand to view,
And follow him unceasingly,
Whate’er our lot or sphere may be.

We will be presented with opportunities to choose again and again in this life: will we continue in the path the Savior set for us, or will we explore other options? Will we follow him when he is not here personally to direct us, but delegates that responsibility to imperfect mortals like ourselves? Will we follow him when our lives are filled with trials, doubts, fears, and sorrows? Will we follow him when our lives are easy and filled with joy and success?

“Whate’er our lot or sphere may be,” will we follow him?

That is the one question that matters in this life. And he has already given us the answer that leads to “thrones, dominions, kingdoms, pow’rs, and glory great and bliss”.

“Come,” he bids us. “Follow me.”

Sunlight and Dogwoods

Hymn #89: The Lord Is My Light

Sunlight and Dogwoods

 

I used to think this was a song of joy. The tune is happy and lilting, we sing about light, and the chorus explicitly refers to the Lord as “[our] joy and [our] song.” So why, then, when we review the topics listed for this hymn, do we not find “joy”?

A quick look at the first verse can illuminate the situation for us. Listen:

The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?
By day and by night his presence is near.
He is my salvation from sorrow and sin;
This blessed assurance the Spirit doth bring.

The chorus is about joy and light, but the verses are all about faith and trust. We sing about assurance, and we sing about power. We are directed to sing not “joyfully,” not ” brightly,” but “resolutely.” We are filled with faith and knowledge that even when the Lord isn’t visibly near is, we can feel Him near and draw strength from that.

It’s one thing to believe in God when it’s easy to do so. On days where your life is easy, sunshine is streaming in, and you aren’t encountering any challenges to your faith, it’s a snap to remember to pray always and keep Him in your heart. But on days where you’re feeling tested, whether spiritually, emotionally, or physically, it’s much harder, and sometimes, singing or thinking about light and joy doesn’t cut it for you.

The second verse asks us what we do on those days when the sunlight seems blocked from our view:

The Lord is my light, tho clouds may arise,
Faith, stronger than sight, looks up thru the skies
Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign.
Then how can I ever in darkness remain?

We’ve all had days where, in despair, grief, or whatever else, we look to the heavens for comfort. And on some of those days, we look up expecting rays of sunshine, but see only dark clouds. What do we do when no comfort seems to be forthcoming? This hymn reminds us not to look with our eyes, but with our faith, “stronger than sight.” The eye of faith cuts through those clouds and lets us see the Lord where He is.

Faith is, as we know, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We can’t see the Savior standing next to us, especially not with life’s stormy clouds blocking our view. Faith provides substance to things things we hope for. When we exercise our faith, we can see the Lord as though He’s standing right there. His light, which fuels our faith, penetrates through those clouds and allows us to see. As real and crushing as our trials can feel, when we have faith to buoy us up, we too can ask how we could ever remain in darkness.

That’s not to say that exercising our faith is a walk in the park. The third verse gives us a sense of the timeframe we’re looking at:

The Lord is my light; the Lord is my strength.
I know in his might I’ll conquer at length.
My weakness in mercy he covers with pow’r,
And, walking by faith, I am blest ev’ry hour.

As he gives us the ability to overcome our trials through our faith in Him, we can come off conqueror–but notice the words “at length.” We are not always delivered immediately. We often aren’t delivered until we’ve had to endure those trials for some time. We’re given the chance to learn patience and longsuffering through our trials, and also to learn gratitude as those trials are removed from us after we’ve learned patience. But don’t think that the Lord simply allows us to suffer, only finally choosing to intervene after an arbitrary number of days, weeks, or years. His power can (and does) compensate for our weakness. When we rely on Him through our faith, we are, as we sing here, “blest ev’ry hour.” We don’t have occasional moments of deliverance sprinkled through the gloom. The rays of sunshine are always there. It’s only when we walk in faith that we can see them piercing the cloud cover.

The Lord is my light, my all and in all.
There is in his sight no darkness at all.
He is my Redeemer, my Savior, and King.
With Saints and with angels his praises I’ll sing.

“There is in his sight no darkness at all.” He is the rays of light that reach us through the clouds. He will unceasingly brighten our lives and give us hope. And when we walk in faith, we are always entitled to see those rays of light. The clouds are dark, and they may feel overwhelming at times, but faith helps us to see that there’s more to the world than those clouds.

Image credit: “Sunshine and Dogwoods,” Duane Tate, 2005, via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hymn #99: Nearer, Dear Savior, to Thee

Nearer, dear Savior, to thee,
Nearer, nearer to thee–
Ever I’m striving to be
Nearer, yet nearer to thee!

A few years ago, I sat next to a new father on a flight to California. He was feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility fatherhood brings. He worried he did not know how to raise a child to be a good, moral person. With so many perils and distractions in the world today, how could he teach his son to know what was right? How could he even know what was right himself?

We were flying out of Salt Lake City, so I wasn’t surprised when he asked if I was a Mormon. I replied that I was, indeed. He then asked me something I’ve considered numerous times since:

What are the principles that guide your religion? What tenets does your religion provide?

My initial inclination was to share the Articles of Faith; I’ve heard of similar situations since I was in Primary, and that always seemed to be the appropriate response. I started down that path, but quickly saw that these were not the answers he was looking for. He didn’t want to know how my religion was different from other religions, and he didn’t really want to know what I believed—he wanted to know how my religion guides my life.

I wasn’t sure how to give him a succinct answer at the time. There is so much we are counseled to do, so much that we believe. How should I shrink it down into one or two guiding principles? Is service the key? Charity? Scripture study? Prayer? Family Home Evening?

Honestly, I don’t think I gave him a very useful answer. I bounced between a few topics, hoping to find one that resonated with him, but I never really struck the right chord. It bothered me; I felt like I should have a solid answer to a question as fundamental as this one.

As I’ve considered this topic since, I would now give a different answer:

My religion teaches me to be like Jesus Christ. I study his life and his teachings, and I try to do what he would do. I try to live so that every day I am a little closer to Him.

When I read the words to this hymn, this conversation I had years ago kept coming to mind. Fully half the lines in each verse are some variation of the phrase “Nearer, dear Savior, to thee.” There is something important to this topic, one we should not pass over lightly.

What does it mean to be near to the Savior? Perhaps it means that we quickly and consistently turn to him, and rely on him in times of need. When temptations arise, when frustration, disappointment, or tragedy come upon us, do we turn away from the Savior and rely on our own strength? Or do we choose to draw nearer to him, seeking his peace and comfort?

Perhaps, nearness to the Savior refers to our emulation of him, however imperfect. Do we do what he would do? When others observe our actions and behavior, do they see an approximation of Christ to some degree? Do we try to do what he would do? Do we think what he would think? Are we, as the Primary song suggests, “following in his ways?”

Maybe nearness to the Savior is about our relationship with Christ. The scriptures refer to him as our Savior, our father, our teacher, our guide, our brother, our King, our friend, and numerous other titles. As you consider your own relationship with Jesus Christ, what words or titles come to mind? Are you comfortable calling him your friend? Do any of these titles seem out of reach?

The verses of this hymn suggest all of these interpretations. We can draw near to the Savior in a variety of ways, and they’re all important. This isn’t a buffet; it’s a wide-ranging invitation that covers every facet of our lives.

The chorus of each verse is a simple two-line refrain:

Take, oh, take, and cherish me,
Nearer, dear Savior, to thee.

When I read prophetic accounts of meetings with the Savior, I’m struck by how often they mention the power of his embrace. Jesus Christ loves us, powerfully and completely, and he invites us to come unto him—”Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” (D&C 88:63.) He wants to lift us and warm us and strengthen us and empower us. He wants to heal our wounds and take away our sorrows. He wants to give us everything he has, and wants us to become like he is.

He loves us. He loves you. Accept his invitation. Each day, nearer, yet nearer, to Him.

Hymn #65: Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth

Ah, enduring to the end. It’s a common theme in LDS doctrine and will undoubtedly be revisited time and time again as we examine the hymn book this year. It can feel tiresome after a while. “Again?” you roll your eyes. “Do we have to talk about enduring to the end again?”

Yes. And here’s why: because we haven’t done it yet.

How easy it would be to check off the right boxes and say the right words and then call it a day. How many more hours we’d have to do whatever we want! How much fun we could have on Sunday! Yet for all the necessity of saving ordinances and sacred covenants, they aren’t worth anything if we don’t live up to them.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 31: 19-21)

Sure, we made it this far, but there is so much farther to go. We can always be learning and improving, strengthening our faith and repenting.

His love is great; he died for us.
Shall we ungrateful be,
Since he has marked a road to bliss
And said, “Come, follow me”?

The words of the hymn are simple, but the implications are heavy. The Savior endured all our pain, fear, disappointment, guilt, grief, shame, and despair to provide us a way back to our Heavenly Father. Are we so selfish that we would reject this gift because “it’s just too hard” to keep trying? I certainly hope not.

“The straight and narrow way we’ve found!” And when we let go of the iron rod and wander off the path, he offers us a chance to come back and hold onto it again. Shall we ungrateful be? No. “Let us travel on” until we are “perfected by his love.”

Which will only happen if we endure to the end.

Hymn #134: I Believe in Christ

If ever there was a hymn written to confirm that Mormons are indeed Christians, it’s this one. Just as the Articles of Faith lay out the basics of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, this hymn explains in fairly simple terms what we believe about Jesus Christ.

It’s like a manifesto of our Christianity.

Eight times we sing, “I believe in Christ,” then follow each affirmation with what precisely we believe about him.

“He is God’s Son.” Literally. Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father. As such, he inherited traits from his Immortal Father that enabled him to perform miracles, to suffer the Atonement, and to be resurrected after his crucifixion.

“As Mary’s Son he came to reign.” He was born to a mortal mother in humble circumstances. The traits he inherited from her–the ability to experience pain, sickness, and ultimately death–were also necessary for him to fulfill his mission on earth.

“He healed the sick; the dead he raised.” He spent his ministry in service to others: relieving suffering, showing mercy, healing the broken-hearted, bringing hope to those who had none. He called upon the power of God and gave people a chance to exercise faith they didn’t know they had.

He “marked the path.” By his example–not just his teachings but also his actions– we know what we need to do to obtain eternal life: love God, love others, keep the commandments, and endure to the end.

“He is the source of truth and light.” The Savior himself said it better than I can: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Furthermore, he told the Brother of Jared, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. … I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.” (Ether 4:12)

“He ransoms me.”  By paying the price demanded by justice and offering mercy to the sinner, he defeated both death and hell. That Atonement makes it possible for us to gain eternal life and exaltation. Put in terms a Christian of any denomination would recognize: it is by his grace that we are saved.

“He is my King! … My Lord, My God … He stands supreme.” It isn’t called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nothing. He stands at its head and we acknowledge him as our divine King.

“He [will come] again to rule among the sons of men.” He lived, he died, he lived again, and he will return to earth in all his glory, might, and majesty. We look forward not with fear but with hope for the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is the Lord God. (see Philippians 2:10-11 and Mosiah 27:31)

Say what you will about any other point of LDS doctrine, we believe in Christ.

Hymn #60: Battle Hymn of the Republic

When Julia Ward Howe penned new words to the popular Union soldier song, “John Brown’s Body”, she drew an overt parallel between the Abolitionist movement and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It was a bold move. It paid off, though, as Battle Hymn of the Republic is now among the most beloved patriotic songs in the United States.

But this hymn is not about freeing slaves from bondage.  Or perhaps it is, just not only in the way the Union soldiers of 1861 were thinking.

Let’s look at the third verse, which speaks of Jesus’ birth “in the beauty of the lilies”. Lilies are Easter flowers, though, so when we sing of a Christ who was “born across the sea…with a glory in his bosom,” we probably aren’t referring to the Baby Jesus. Instead we are singing of the Resurrected Lord, reborn when He rose from the tomb on the third day. It is this rebirth that “transfigures you and me”.

That same resurrected Jesus appeared alongside God the Father to Joseph Smith nearly two thousand years later (but, interestingly enough, only a few decades before Sister Howe wrote these verses). It was then that the Lord, as the second verse says, “sounded forth the trumpet that will never call retreat”.  The fullness of the gospel would never again be taken from the earth. Restored light and truth freed mankind from the darkness of the Apostasy.

When the Book of Mormon was translated, we learned more about the connection between the Atonement and our freedom:

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2:26-27)

The Savior suffered so we could be free from the bonds of sin, and He rose again so we could be free from the bonds of death. Heavenly Father then gave us freedom to choose for ourselves whether to follow Him or not. We, as Latter-Day Saints, know these truths; not everyone does. Therein lies our obligation to “live to make men free.”

Let us bring men to an awareness of the source of their freedom to choose. Let us teach them the law, so they can know the consequences of their choices. Let us show them how to repent and come unto Christ that they may be free from sin. Let us invite them to take the necessary steps that lead to eternal freedom. Let us perform those same ordinances by proxy for the dead so that they too may be free. Let us live our lives in such a way that we lead others to Christ and help them become truly free.

The glory of the Second Coming of the Lord has been foretold. Until that day comes, “Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant my feet!” for His truth is marching on.