Olivia admiring the nativity

Witnesses of nativity: a godly pattern

Today as my daughter was opening the last of the nativity set, she got baby Jesus to add to the other figures.

As I thought about it, I was reminded from this year’s Christmas devotional where Elder Rasband made the statement about the role of the shepherd as witnesses and as such they were worthy and just.

It occurred to me that there are parallels between those witnesses and the witnesses who testified of the origins (nativity, if you will) of the restoration, represented by the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon had three original witnesses, furthered by 8 additional witnesses. Eleven total to stand with Joseph affirming that they saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon came from.

Christ’s birth was witnessed by three wise men, a number of shepherds, and the old man at the Temple. We don’t know the exact count this comes to and undoubtedly there were others, but there is a simple symmetry there.

In both cases it would be a few years before special witnesses, apostles, would be called–but our Heavenly Father called just men to testify of His divine work, to establish the seeds of faith in an otherwise time of confusion and difficulty, which led to the more formal organization of His work in each given time.

It affirmed for me both of the restoration and the divinity of the Savior. Both have such significant roles respectively in helping us understand the who and why we worship, that God prepared a way by which people could exercise faith in the origins of that dispensation.


The Gifts of the Three Wise Men

My daughter loves to watch a number of different PBS shows shortly after waking up. Something about breakfast and TV always seem to go together. On Sundays we try to avoid just watching anything, which led me searching out some of the recent Bible videos put out by the Church to see if they would hold her attention. I was impressed to what degree they did.

As we were watching a compilation of the different story-lines associated with the birth of Christ, we came to the segment with the three wise men coming to visit the Christ child presenting their gifts. The next piece in the story is naturally Joseph taking the family to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

It then occurred to me that the gold, frankincense and murr were probably how the family was able to completely uproot to Egypt for many years. You’ll recall that when Jesus was taken to be presented at the temple, his parents brought doves because they could not afford a ram. Joseph likely depended on his trade for their entire substance, moving to a foreign land would make that difficult. The gifts of the wise men were not idle pleasantries of celebration or even just worship by faithful men. They served to anticipate the needs of Joseph, Mary and the infant Messiah when they needed it most.

The Wise Men Seek Jesus

Ammaron and Mormon

In our family reading we came to the end of the fourth book of Nephi.

I find the last two verses interesting,

And it came to pass that when three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.

And he did hide them up unto the Lord, that they might comeagain unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord. And thus is the end of the record of Ammaron.

When Ammaron closed up his record and hid it, it appears that he was fully expecting to be the end of the line. Can you see this old man, run down by the wickedness of everyone around him? The Spirit had instructed him to hide it away. What a weight, to put the pen down on the record and to think your done.

Perhaps it was for the safety of the record. Seldom was the record keeper just the observer. He probably was vocal and perhaps to keep the record safe he had to hide it and walk away. I don’t think it hard to fathom that perhaps there were many who were seeking the life of Ammaron and the gold upon his plates were written.

But there’s one hope. A boy, a sober boy, one who the Spirit whispers to Ammaron is worthy as a keeper of the plates. He intrusts him with a holy secret and charge to carry on as recorder, as witness to the end.  This boy, who by his 17th birthday will be the commander of the Nephite armies, will have to watch it all unravel.

The events that surround the end of the Book of Mormon are some of the saddest and tragic in all scripture, but so many of the messages are so hopeful and so full of light looking forward to our day. Like what Ammaron saw in Mormon, Mormon saw in us–the potential for good. The potential to take care and cherish the record.

Like Mormon we stand outnumbered in a world of unrest with very few moral anchors. Mormon and Moroni represent to me what it means to have a perfect brightness of hope in Christ. What lessons can we learn from this father and son?


Temple and Family History Work Testifies of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke on the importance of temple an family history work and what it says about our testimony of the Savior. He said,

“The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian. In the baptism of a living person, the officiator acts, by proxy, in place of the Savior. And is it not the central tenet of our faith that Christ’s sacrifice atones for our sins by vicariously satisfying the demands of justice for us? As President Gordon B. Hinckley has expressed: “I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle.”8 [“Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 73.]”

Our anxiety to redeem the dead, and the time and resources we put behind that commitment, are, above all, an expression of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. It constitutes as powerful a statement as we can make concerning His divine character and mission. It testifies, first, of Christ’s Resurrection; second, of the infinite reach of His Atonement; third, that He is the sole source of salvation; fourth, that He has established the conditions for salvation; and, fifth, that He will come again.”

“By identifying our ancestors and performing for them the saving ordinances they could not themselves perform, we are testifying of the infinite reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ”

“The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus”
October 2000 General Conference


The Shores of Galilee

This is the essence of the talk I gave on December 30, 2012 in the Little Cottonwood 9th Ward.

In our preparations we were invited to consider the talks given at conference over the past year and Brother Sorensen we could even tie it back to the Savior. I tease, but I am glad for that little reminder that all we do is based on the Savior Jesus Christ.

In my personal study I just finished rereading the most recent conference and my thoughts have turned to the twin talks of Elder Holland and Hales, focused on John chapter 21 in their addresses. In our time together I would like to bring those together and share some things I learned by studying them side by side. Before we start I’d like to share something I heard in an address that I hope sets the stage for the rest of the discussion.

Pool Story

When I was at the MTC in Provo, the following story was related by a brother who spoke at a Sunday Devotional. He spoke of a business trip he took to Boston where he had the opportunity to bring some of his grandchildren along. Being from the Salt Lake area so this was quite the trip for them.

After his meetings had concluded, he brought the grandkids together and said, ‘Okay, we are here in Boston, we can do anything you want. We can go to a baseball game, we can go see the Atlantic Ocean, go see historical sites or whatever you guys want to do…’

Each day they were there when this question was posed, the response was the same.

‘Grandpa, we just want to play in the hotel pool’ So, for three days, 1,000 miles away from home, they went to the pool.’

In summarizing the experience and relating it to us, this brother remarked, “Sometimes we are content with the wonderful and pass up the truly remarkable.”

He made the comparison to how we sometimes approach all the Lord’s many blessings and promises. He tells us, ‘seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be open to you?’

But sometimes in our own way, we say, ‘Well thanks, but I’ll just go to church, read the scriptures and say my prayers.’ ‘I just want to play in the pool.’ As wonderful as these things are, they only scratch the surface of what the gospel of Jesus Christ can offer us when we truly take upon us His name (with all that that implies).

A Different Body of Water

So we come to Elder Holland and Elder Hales and John chapter 21: to the events surrounding a different body of water and the lessons we can learn there and, perhaps, how they can help us have truly remarkable experiences in our lives.

Come with me the shores of Galilee.

I’ll begin with Elder Holland’s commentary,

Their Lord and Master, their Counselor and King, was crucified. His mortal ministry was over, and the struggling little Church He had established seemed doomed to scorn and destined for extinction. His Apostles did witness Him in His resurrected state, but that only added to their bewilderment. As they surely must have wondered, “What do we do now?” they turned for an answer to Peter, the senior Apostle.

Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: “Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. . . But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’” And at least six of the ten other remaining Apostles said in agreement, “We also go with thee.” John, who was one of them, writes, “They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately.”

You will recall that three years previous that on these same shores was where Christ had first come to Peter and his brethren.

“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

“And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

Elder Hales taught,

As Christians today, we have the opportunity to act straightway, immediately, and decisively, just as Peter and Andrew did: “they forsook their nets, and followed him.” We too are called upon to leave our nets, to reject worldly habits, customs, and traditions. We are also called to forsake our sins.”

And so you and I, have started down this road of discipleship. Elder Hales continues,

This change, called conversion, is possible only through the Savior. Jesus promised: “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. … And my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.5 As we are made new in Christ, our very natures change and we no longer want to go back to our old ways.

Even so, faithful Christians will always be blessed to experience difficulties and disappointments. When these refining challenges come, we may be tempted to return to our old ways. After the Savior’s Crucifixion, He appeared to the women and told them that the brethren would find Him in Galilee. When Peter, the senior Apostle, returned to Galilee, he also went back to what he knew—to what he felt comfortable doing. “I go a fishing,”6 he explained, and took several disciples with him.

The Shores of Galilee

At the beginning fo a new year, as we consider fresh beginnings and resolutions, I have found so much personal application in this story. As I considered these experiences, from the pool to the shores of Galilee, I ask  myself these questions:

  • What are my personal shores of Galilee?
  • In what ways do we spiritually go fishing?
  • In what ways are we content with the wonderful and pass on the truly remarkable?

I think in many ways the shores of Galilee and the Pool from my first story represent where we are comfortable, what in the gospel comes easy for us. So when a challenge, uncomfortable task, or hard lesson lies before me, sometimes I find myself retreating to my personal shores of Galilee.

But as the case was with Peter and his brethren, often when we retreat back there, our toils in the night don’t yield much fruit.

Elder Holland continues the narrative,

Their first night back on the lake, they caught nothing—not a single fish. With the first rays of dawn, they disappointedly turned toward the shore, where they saw in the distance a figure who called out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Glumly these Apostles-turned-again-fishermen gave the answer no fisherman wants to give. “We have caught nothing,” they muttered, and to add insult to injury, they were being called “children.”4

“Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,” the stranger calls out—and with those simple words, recognition begins to flood over them. Just three years earlier these very men had been fishing on this very sea. On that occasion too they had “toiled all the night, and [had] taken nothing,” the scripture says. But a fellow Galilean on the shore had called out to them to let down their nets, and they drew “a great multitude of fishes,” enough that their nets broke, the catch filling two boats so heavily they had begun to sink.

Now it was happening again. These “children,” as they were rightly called, eagerly lowered their net, and “they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.”8 John said the obvious: “It is the Lord.”9 And over the edge of the boat, the irrepressible Peter leaped.”

In the Book of Haggai, in the Old Testament, I love these words inviting us to reflect,

Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.

Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wagesto put it into a bag with holes.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways,” (Haggai 1:5-7).

I return to Elder Holland,

“Peter had an exchange with the Savior that I consider the crucial turning point of the apostolic ministry generally and certainly for Peter personally, moving this great rock of a man to a majestic life of devoted service and leadership.”

You will recall the Savior’s words,

Peter do you love me? Feed my lambs.

Peter do you love me? Feed my lambs.

Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep. 

Elder Hales taught us,

This is the call of Christ to every Christian today: “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep” . . .

For many, the call to be a Christian can seem demanding, even overwhelming. But we need not be afraid or feel inadequate. The Savior has promised that He will make us equal to His work. “Follow me,” He said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”10 As we follow Him, He blesses us with gifts, talents, and the strength to do His will, allowing us to go beyond our comfort zones and do things we’ve never before thought possible. This may mean sharing the gospel with neighbors, rescuing those who are spiritually lost, serving a full-time mission, working in the temple, raising a child with special needs, loving the prodigal, serving an ailing companion, enduring misunderstandings, or suffering affliction. It means preparing ourselves to answer His call by saying, “I’ll go where you want me to go; I’ll say what you want me to say; I’ll do what you want me to do; I’ll be what you want me to be.”

Our Weekly Feast

As I have reflected on this experience of the apostles on the shores of Galilee, there’s a pattern that emerged, that I personally would like to take forward into the new year.

Every week I get to come to place where I am very comfortable. It’s a place where I can ‘go fishing’ for truth and insights into the gospel. I get to come to church and come to this sacrament meeting. Here we do not eat fishes, but bread and water. As we partake of the Sacrament, each of us get an opportunity to dine with the Savior.

In the quiet time when the bread and water is passed, I will let the Savior ask me,

‘James, lovest thou me?’ and as humbly as I can, I’ll respond, “Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.”

Then I’ll let the spirit guide in the invitation to follow him, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” I’ll consider my ways and let Spirit help me recognize opportunities to be a disciple of Christ in the coming week.

I trust that as I act on those impressions, the light to see where I can improve will grow. My capacity to serve will increase. Line upon line, I can become the type of disciple Christ needs me to be in my home, in my ward, in work and with all those I meet.



Featured image courtesy of James Emery via Flickr.

Knowing God

In preparation for the talks we will be giving in Church next week, Elizabeth and I had a discussion last night over dinner. She asked me about Elder Hallstrom’s remarks in April 2012 General Conference. On strengthening the role of the Gospel and the Church in our personal discipleship, Elder Hallstrom stated,

“A sustained knowledge of and love for the three members of the Godhead are indispensable. Mindfully pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and seek direction from the Holy Ghost,” (emphasis added; “Converted to His Gospel through His Church”, Donald L. Hallstrom).

Elizabeth and I discussed the use of the word indispensable. As Elizabeth and I discussed, we realized a couple of things.

First, we considered how hard it is to have a relationship when one person in that relationship has a completely erred concept of the other person’s identity and key attributes. Imagine a first date scenario where the boy mistakenly thinks that his date is seven months pregnant and continues to operate on that assumption even though she’s not. What hope is there for this potential relationship to go anywhere unless he corrects his perception? When we fundamentally get wrong key aspects of our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, we’re limited in our ability to interact and connect with them until that perception is corrected.  For example we might,

  • Misunderstand God’s intent and purpose, leading us to question him: ‘Why would God let this happen?’
  • Mistake the consequences of sin as God passing judgement on us and we assume we’re a hopeless case.
  • Fail to understand that God’s grace and mercy does not mean that we can sin now and repent later.

Without truly understanding who God is and what His key attributes are, there are many ways we might be deceived. Further, if we fundamentally misunderstand who he really is, how do we know how to please him? How can we properly understand what is important to him?

Second, and closely associated with above, to fail to understand God and Jesus Christ, we fail to understand ourselves and our potential as God’s sons and daughters. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught,

the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become,” (“The Challenge to Become”, October 2000 General Conference).

Without fully understanding our divine potential and God’s purposes in giving us commandments, ordinances and covenants, it’s possible to do and say those things that seem to be right in the sight of God by still have our hearts far from him.



What the Nephites taught me about the Sacrament

In our reading of the Book of Mormon, we have reached the the crowning event: the Savior’s visit to the people after his resurrection and ascension as recorded in the New Testament.

You’ll recall that many are gathered in the land of bountiful, discussing the various signs and destructions that occurred at the time of the Savior’s death. They hear a voice and see a man clothed in white descending from on high.

He speaks, “I am Jesus Christ.” The people feel the prints in his feet and hands. He calls disciples to minister to the people. He teaches them his doctrine, the same teachings we read of in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. He teaches them about baptism, and to lay down contention.

After so much teaching, we read,

Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.

Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again, (3 Nephi 17:1-3).”

They have just spent many hours with the Son of God and he mercifully recognizes they need some time to digest all that he has taught them. And yet,

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.

And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you, (3 Nephi 17:5-6).”

They could not even necessarily understand Him, but they just wanted Him to stay with them a little longer. Chapter 17 continues with a beautiful account of Christ healing all their sick, and inviting the children to come unto him. Angels descend and they are surrounded as by fire. Christ prays with them and for them. “No tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as [they] both saw and heard Jesus speak, (3 Nephi 17:17).”

Even more interesting is what happens next. Christ instructs His disciples to go get bread and wine. He institutes the sacrament with the Nephites and shares with them a few additional thoughts and then ascends into heaven.

The Sacrament

As we read this in our family reading, it occurred to me that the Sacrament occurred after the Savior realized the people were weak and could hardly understand. As I reflected on that, I think it illustrates an important principle of the sacrament.

Compare these words of the sacrament prayer with the desires of the Nephites:

…that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them…” (Moroni 4).

And the desires of the Nephites:

…when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”

They could not necessarily understand everything he had to say, but they were willing to understand. They were desirous to have His presence with him.

What I started to understand a little bit better here is how important the role of our desire and our heart is. Sometimes I let myself get bogged down in the mechanics of life. What I know or what I don’t know. But when it comes down to the sacrament, and that weekly opportunity to renew my covenants with the Savior, it all comes down to a simple question, ‘where is my heart?’

Can I imagine myself sitting in the presence of the Savior tapping foot, getting impatient for the meeting to end so I can get back to my life? Or would I be like the Nephites, and desire that He would tarry a little longer with me.

I think that is the beauty of the sacrament: despite everything else that goes on in life, and the struggles we have in our own way of comprehending the full import of trying to live the gospel in our lives, we can step back and ask that His spirit be with us a little longer. And if our hearts are right and we’re willing to repent, week after week that blessing is continually extended.


Featured image: “One by One‘ Walter Rane