Tag Archives: Plan of Salvation

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 #187: God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son

Jesus Christ teaching

Today’s hymn, “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son” is a commemoration of the great Atonement, when Jesus Christ offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. For all sin. It emphasizes the perfection of Christ, his role as our Savior and exemplar, and the covenant we make in partaking of the bread and water that we will always remember him.

This Atonement is the key part of God’s plan to save and exalt us, his children. It provides a way for us to learn from our mistakes instead of being condemned by them. It makes divine forgiveness possible. To the believing soul, it is easily identified as the most important event in the history of the world.

It’s critical, though, that while the Atonement itself is given to us freely, the greatest blessings it makes available to us are only available if we take action ourselves. Each of the following phrases reminds us of our own role in receiving this divine gift:

To show us by the path he trod
The one and only way to God. (verse 1)

That in his off’ring I have part (verse 3)

In word and deed he doth require
My will to his, like son to sire, (verse 4)

Learn conduct from the Holy One. (verse 4)

Partaking now is deed for word
That I remember him, my Lord. (verse 5)

To receive true forgiveness, we must enter into an agreement with Christ: He shows us the way and we follow him. We are trained by Christ—we enter into a sort of apprenticeship with him. Though we may be weak and imperfect, as we “learn conduct from the Holy One” we will find the “one and only way to God.”

This is a beautiful, contemplative hymn. If we ponder the lyrics as we sing, it will guide us toward a more sacred experience as we partake of the sacrament.

And yet, despite all this, the line that stands out to me the most is the very first one: “God loved us, so he sent his Son.” In October 2003, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a conference talk that I’ve never forgotten titled “The Grandeur of God.” He suggested that everything Christ did, up to and especially including the Atonement, was intended to demonstrate to us not just his own love, but the love of our Heavenly Father. Take a moment to read (slowly, please!) what Elder Holland said:

Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them. The plan of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, yes, even the anger and the judgment of God they had occasion to understand. But the love of God, the profound depth of His devotion to His children, they still did not fully know—until Christ came.

So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness.” In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, “This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.” In the perfect Son’s manifestation of the perfect Father’s care, in Their mutual suffering and shared sorrow for the sins and heartaches of the rest of us, we see ultimate meaning in the declaration: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Indeed, God loved us, so he sent his Son. I hope we’ll follow him.

Hymn #301: I Am a Child of God

This is one of the first hymns LDS children learn. The melody is simple, the words straightforward. It’s difficult to find anything to say about it because the message is so clear: I am a child of God and my goal in life is to learn and do all that is necessary to return to live with Him again. Every Latter-Day Saint believes this to some degree or another. This hymn is part of our core identity and explains why we do all the things we do.

However, this line has often troubled my mind: [He] has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

I grew up in a home with kind and dear parents. They are some of the best people I know. But not every family looks like mine did, with parents and children who respect each other and live together in love.

Many children have only one parent, or none at all. Many parents are neglectful or abusive. So many families are broken in one way or another. For these people, singing about “parents kind and dear” might feel hollow and false. It might trigger painful memories or feelings of bitterness, loneliness, or worthlessness.

Whatever your background, please know that you are not alone. You have worth.

Although our earthly parents might not always be what we wish they were, our Heavenly Parents are perfect. They love us. Always. Whether we are loveable or not. They want what is best for us, and even when our present circumstances are not ideal, they are constantly watching over us. Chastening us when we are rebellious. Blessing us when we obey. Gently encouraging us when all hope seems lost.

Because They love us, our Heavenly Mother and Father send people to lighten our loads and lead us by their examples. Neighbors, teachers, friends, coworkers…so many people can act as a “parent” when needed. I know I am grateful for the influence of non-traditional parent-figures in my own life.

No matter how broken your “real” family is, undoubtedly there is someone out there who will love you like family. If you don’t know who it might be, pray. Ask your loving Parents to help you find a person who can lead, guide, and walk beside you. Let them help you learn and do what you must in order to “live with Him someday.”

Because you, my friend, are a child of God. He has sent you here and you can live with Him once more. He loves you. I hope you know that.

Hymn #121: I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger

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I’m a pilgrim, I’m a stranger
Cast upon the rocky shore
Of a land where deathly danger
Surges with a sullen roar,
Oft despairing, oft despairing,
Lest I reach my home no more.

A pilgrimage is a journey, often a long one, to a sacred or holy place. Often the financial burden of a pilgrimage is great, or the journey itself is difficult, or the pilgrim chooses to abstain from food for a period of time…sacrifice is usually involved in one way or another. Generally speaking, the purpose of any pilgrimage is to demonstrate faith and religious devotion.

In the context of this hymn, mortal life is the pilgrimage that each of us must take. We left our premortal home with our Father in Heaven to come to earth where exist both temporally and spiritually “deathly danger”. Verse two is anxiety-ridden, for life is treacherous and too many of our brothers and sisters never find their way home.

Misty vapors rise before me.
Scarcely can I see the way.
Clouds of darkest hue hang o’er me,
And I’m apt to go astray
With the many, with the many
That are now the vulture’s prey.

But let us not forget that a pilgrimage is not just a miserable experience designed to frighten and discourage us. It is a journey to a holy place that results in spiritual growth and enlightenment. Is that not why we came to earth? To have our faith and obedience tested? To see if we would do all things whatsoever the Father commands? (see Abraham 3:25)

We journeyed here to mortality on an earth created specifically for us. It has its problems, yes, but God himself declared it to be good (see Genesis 1). Even when the world is at its worst, this “rocky shore” upon which we have been cast is full of sacred spaces. The Wikipedia entry on pilgrimages is (surprisingly) eloquent on this point:

“Such sites [i.e. those visited by pilgrims] may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit: to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit.”

There are places and experiences like this for us throughout mortality. The baptismal font is a sacred place, as is the chapel where baptismal covenants are renewed each week. Temples are being built all over the world to provide refuge, revelation, and a source of spiritual strength. A father giving a priesthood blessing to a sick child, a young woman searching the scriptures for answers to a troubling question, any time the miracle of birth occurs…each of these are “shrines” of a sort that mark the path of our pilgrimage.

Every time we have a sacred experience, the place or moment where it occurs is sanctified, and the Holy Ghost reminds us that we are headed toward our heavenly home. When we go through stretches of life with few of these holy milestones, we can still draw strength from those we have passed and look forward with hope for the next one. And always, always, our Father is there to help us find the way.

O my Father, I entreat thee,
Let me see thy beck’ning hand;
And when straying, may I meet thee
Ere I join the silent band.
Guide me, Father, guide me, Father,
Safely to the promised land.

Eventually, if we continue in the strait and narrow way, each of us will complete our personal pilgrimage here and return to live with our Father in Heaven. We will make many sacrifices along the way, and we will face many hardships, it is true. But if we watch for them along the way, we will find many sacred reminders of where we are headed, and each holy encounter brings us ever closer to the promised land.

Image source
kansas-city-temple-lds-912536-mobile

Hymn #46: Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken

kansas-city-temple-lds-912536-mobile

I suspect that most of our readers are not familiar with this hymn.  Let’s start by reading the lyrics. Please don’t just skim over them; take the time to really read them. There’s something to learn here.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He whose word cannot be broken
Chose thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake our sure repose?
With salvation’s wall surrounded,
Thou may’st smile on all thy foes.

The opening phrase of this hymn comes from Psalms 87:3, which reads simply “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” The city here mentioned is Zion, the city of God. During the millennium, Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be the seat of his government. Christ will literally “choose [Zion] for his abode.” With such power resident, who could question the stability and glory of Zion?

And yet, as with many messianic prophecies, the physical fulfillment of the prophecy is not the only one—nor perhaps even the most important one for us to consider. Most of us—in fact, the vast majority of God’s children—will never dwell in the New Jerusalem while in mortality. So while there is a physical reality that will fulfill this prophecy, that physical city is also a symbol for us, a metaphor for what our own relationship with God should be.

Just as Christ will come and abide within the city of Zion, we also invite the Holy Ghost to abide within us—and if we are faithful, that welcome may one day to Christ himself. (See John 14:23 and D&C 130:3.) Just as Christ brings stability and glory to the City of Zion, so too can his Gospel bring stability and eventual glory to our own lives.

As we continue reading the lyrics, consider the parallels between our own lives and the millennial city of Zion. “Like it unto yourself”, as Nephi would admonish.

See! the streams of living waters,
Springing from celestial love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters
And all fear of drought remove.
Round each habitation hov’ring,
See the cloud and fire appear
For a glory and a cov’ring,
Showing that the Lord is near.

The Revelation of John teaches that “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” A cloud by day and pillar of fire by night led the ancient Israelites, and is recognized as a sign of God’s presence. Zion will have God within it, and his presence will be apparent. To what extent is God’s presence apparent in your own life?

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Purchased by the Savior’s blood;
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
While in love his Saints he raises,
With himself to reign as King,
All, as priests, his solemn praises
For thank-off’rings freely bring.

The connection to our own lives becomes more apparent here in the third verse. We are all purchased by the Savior’s blood, not just those who will live in the physical city of Zion. We all can claim the promise of becoming joint-heirs with Christ. We are all invited to be his Saints, his children. Zion is for all of us, right now.

Of course, the millennial New Jerusalem will be unique and full of a Celestial glory that may seem far distant to us right now. It provides a metaphor for our bright future, a symbol of Hope. The contrast between our present imperfect state and the perfection represented therein is stark and bright. But God’s plan of Salvation and his work of Exaltation is powerful, even to the transforming of you and I, his fallen children. Consider this statement from Spencer W. Kimball:

“When Satan is bound in a single home—when Satan is bound in a single life—the Millennium has already begun in that home, in that life.”

(The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 172).

Pause for a moment. Read that again, and consider what it means.

God is real. We are his children. He wants to bless us, and will do so in abundance just as quickly as we will allow him to do so. We all have a long way to go, no doubt. But the journey is sweet and the burden is light, so let’s pick up and carry forward, going as far as we possibly can.

Image Source: https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/kansas-city-temple-lds-912536

Hymn #286: Oh, What Songs of the Heart

 

Death.

It’s a hard topic. Sooner or later, each of us must confront that unavoidable reality: we are all mortal. We will all die. We will all lose loved ones to the grave. In some cases, death is a relief—consider a terminally ill grandparent whose suffering finally comes to an end. In other cases, death is a bitter shock, taking from us those who had so much more to do and so much yet to give.

When death comes, we long for comfort. We crave for the assurance that somehow, we have not lost someone forever. That somehow, all the missed opportunities, and lost moments, and hopes and plans and memories and wisdom, have not disappeared into nothingness.

Eternal truth brings us a powerful message of hope—that death is not the end. Not only is there life after death, but that life is wonderful. That life is beautiful.

That wonderful life is the topic of this hymn.

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home

Right from the start, we acknowledge that precious truth: our life after death is not a sojourn into an unknown territory. Instead, it is a return to our home, to that place we lived in ages immemorial before our brief stay in this mortal realm. It is a place that will be instantly familiar to each of us when we return home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There’s no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o’er and o’er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;

Not only is death a return to our familiar home, it is also a moment of reunion. We know that family ties are meant to be eternal, not just fleeting social conveniences. When we arrive in that next stage of life, none of us will arrive alone. Family who have gone before us will be there to welcome us back. Not only that; we will have a reunion with our eternal father, God himself:

Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. (Alma 40:11)

The hope that fills this hymn is inspiring. It views death not as something we all must eventually succumb to—rather, it is a blessing we will all eventually receive. We need not hurry toward it, of course. There is so much to do here in this mortal life—so many hearts we can lift and so much joy we can spread. But whenever death comes, it need not be a tragedy. Our separation from our loved ones, though difficult, is only temporary, and some day we will have our own sweet reunion with those we have lost.

This is what I love about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It fills us with purpose and hope. It replaces the despair of loss with the hope of reunion. It reminds us of our divine heritage and our eternal destiny. Through the power of his Atonement and resurrection, our relationships can truly last forever. No sudden illness or senseless tragedy can take children or parents or loved ones from us forever. Christ has shown us the way to receive these blessings; he offers them to us freely. How could we not be filled with joy at all this? How could we not rejoice?

Paul said it best: “Oh grave, where is they victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?”


Oh, What Songs of the Heart“, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, October 2008

Hymn #304: Teach Me to Walk in the Light

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This is one of the few hymns included in both the LDS hymnal and the Children’s Songbook. Its melody is simple, its message sweet. Its words are straightforward enough for a small child to understand, and it is from a child’s perspective that we begin to sing.

Teach me to walk in the light of his love;
Teach me to pray to my Father above;
Teach me to know of the things that are right;
Teach me, teach me to walk in the light.

The second verse is a response to the first, as someone–we’ll talk about who in a moment–agrees to do what the child has asked. The perspective has shifted, though, so that we are no longer the child but the teacher. Together, we reply, we will study God’s word, learn what He would have us do, because we hope to eventually live with Him again.

Based on the fact the this song is listed under the topics of “Home” and “Motherhood” in the hymn book, I think we often assume that the dialogue is between a parent and child. The only parent named, however, is our Heavenly Father. This leaves the hymn open to include many “children” and their teachers. A young woman and her youth adviser. An investigator and a missionary. An aging patriarch and his home teacher. The possibilities really are endless.

Ours is a gospel of learning.  The Lord instructs:

“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 109:7)

And so we do. We attend Sabbath services to teach and be taught by one another. We read the same books of scripture over and over, seeking new insights and personal revelation. We strive constantly to gain a better understanding of the gospel and what is expected of us so that we can return “home to his presence to live in his sight.”

Frequently we find ourselves in a position where we can mentor others, but even the prophets seek regular instruction in the House of the Lord.

And so we pray to our Father and thank him “for loving guidance to show us the way.” We’re all learning together so we can walk gladly in the light.