Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jesus my Savior

I have really loved getting to know Jesus better this semester by reading about Him in the New Testament. It's interesting to consider the different methods there are of getting to know people. I thought I knew my dad's parents pretty well- I've been at multiple family reunions with the them, visited more times than I can count, heard great puns from my grandpa, ate my grandma's homemade roles until my stomach wanted to burst, and so I thought I knew them pretty well. Then I started typing up their World War II letters that they wrote to each other, and I learned even more than I knew before-- my appreciation for them deepened and I felt closer to them the next time I talked to them.
So it has been with reading my New Testament. I pray to Heavenly Father through my Savior, I sing praises to Him, and I have felt His Holy Spirit numerous times. But as I've read more about Him, about the things He said, and about other's experiences with Him, I have gotten to know Him even better. I especially love reading Isaiah's words about my Savior: Christ was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). When I read these words, I feel like I can identify with Jesus, with the Son of God! How often do we hear people say, "I just don't feel like I can access a god." But we have all, at one point, been like Jesus-- despised, rejected of men, esteemed as not. Jesus wants us to feel like we can come to Him, like we are like Him, through our sufferings. But in what other ways can we identify with Jesus? Do I feel like Jesus when I pray to the Father and say, "Thy will be done"? Do I feel like Jesus in my associations with others because I always let charity govern my actions? Jesus wants me to relate to Him not only because we've both suffered, but because we've both found strength by living the Father's plan for us.
Jesus was also mocked for not saving himself, for not being more grand. People sneered, "If you were really the Son of God, you'd be more impressive, you'd save yourself." But what makes Christ the Son of God is that "he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows," is that He didn't save himself-- He saved us (Isa. 53:4). He saved all of us. I love my Savior and I know He loves all of us individually. God be praised!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How Christ Gives

As I was reading in John 14:27, I found the phrase,"not as the world giveth, give I unto you" very interesting. How does the way Christ gives us things differ from the way the world gives things? And how do the very things themselves differ?
For the first question, I found at least part of the answer in 2 Nephi 9:50-51. Here, Jacob exhorts the people, "Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price." Christ gives without taking--all He really wants us to give to Him in return for His gifts is our obedience. It doesn't matter how much money we have (which is good news for us college students!). The world will give us respect and say we're worth something when we can show how many material things we possess--the world gives us stuff when it thinks we deserve it by paying up. Christ's love is a gift we don't have to do anything to deserve, and other gifts He has to give us can be ours through faithful living, which will make us happy anyway. What do we need to have to receive blessings from God? A lifestyle that does the things that bring joy. What do we need to have to receive things from the world? Money, which can't bring joy no matter how much of it you have. Isn't it neat that our lives get better from already living the good life? God has given us the gift of the commandments because He knows that those are the things that will bring us true joy--He doesn't ask us to follow the commandments so that He can punish us but so that He can bless us. God gives us gifts that last and He gives them to us freely, if we simply live life in the way He has prescribed.
So the next time you buy some bottled water from the vending machine, feeling ripped off that you have to pay a buck fifty and knowing that you'll be back again tomorrow, remember that Christ offers us living water at no cost, and water that will last forever. Isn't God good? I certainly think so!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Repetition in the Book of John

I have really enjoyed studying the book of John, especially for its literary merit. As an English major, I find John's use of repetition of phrases and symbols especially interesting. I'd like to show, in outline form, some of the connections that I've made:
John 1:37-38–Jesus tells Andrew and John to "come and see" where He dwells, after He asks them the question, "What seek ye?"
John 11:34–Here, the disciples repeat the phrase, "Come and see," to Jesus when He asks where they have laid Lazarus. I wonder if this is almost mocking in tone; they might be insinuating, "Lazarus now dwells in the tomb because you were not here to save him." This could explain why Jesus weeps in the next verse: he is weeping because his followers do not yet understand his power, that he brings life and hope, and not death and despair.
John 20:15–Here is an implicit repetition of dwelling in the tomb. Jesus comes to Mary and asks, "Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" Mary, like the disciples in John 1, is seeking for the dwelling place of the Savior, which just three days ago was the tomb. But, He is not there.
John 11:44–When Lazarus comes forth, he is "bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin." Jesus tells the people to "loose him, and let him go." Lazarus's returning from the dead was not truly resurrection because he was still mortal–like the clothes binding his body, he was still bound by mortality.
John 20:5 & 7–But, when Jesus resurrects himself, He is resurrected as an immortal being, no more to die. The linen cothes are lying, "and the napkin, that was about his head, [is] not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself."
Christ broke the bands of mortality, shook off the figurative gravclothes that bind us all. Where is man's dwelling place? Not in the tomb! Where lies victory? Not in the grave! Christ's call to all of us is to "come and see" his love and power, to seek him who will give us everlasting life. Our dwelling place, if we seek it, will be with Him and with Father, with our families forever. How grateful I am for this marvelous blessing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Watchful unto Prayer

I've been thinking more about symoblism and in conjunction with it, the power of prayer. What is it about my words and my thoughts that conveys strength to myself and others? Words themselves symbolize the greater realities of thought and actions. What we say is a reflection of what we have been thinking or will think or what we have done or will do. And, according to the scriptures, our thoughts, words, and actions are all vital parts of who we are and so must be monitored. Mosiah 4: 30 tells us, "if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds . . . even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish." Pretty strong words, and a lot for us imperfect humans to keep track of! Our thoughts, words, and deeds?
I started to wonder how I could better police myself. Through some cross-referencing, I came upon a scripture in Moroni 6:4, where those newly numbered among the church have "their names taken . . . to keep them continually watchful unto prayer." This phrase caught my eye- prayer is a tool for being watchful, a way to "watch myself." How so? Prayer is powerful because it can set the pattern for our thoughts and actions. In our prayers, we can pray for what we want to be thinking about, and pray for what we want to be doing. Prayer gives us a chance to look at who we are, decide with the Lord how we are going to purify ourselves, and then pray that new person into being: "I did this, I thought this, I said this . . . but tomorrow, I'm going to do this, think this, and say this," and by saying those things in our prayers, we are laying the foundation for creating the new us. It is only through the power of the Spirit that we can then take our projections and turn them into realities.
So what does prayer symbolize, at least on one level? Prayer symbolizes the eventual reality of who we will become if we let the words of our prayers be enacted in our lives. I think I might try this: if there is an attribute I want to try to develop, I will ask God to not only bless me with it but for him to send me opportunities to develop it. Hmm . . . that could feel a little risky, especially if I wanted to develop something like patience! But I think it might be worth it. What do you all think? How can our prayers help turn us into the people that we want to be?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Learning through Symbols

This week, my New Testament class visited the Museum of Art on Brigham Young University campus for one of our class periods. I really enjoyed the visit and loved learning from the art. I like this method of learning because it is different from what I am used to and it requires me to stretch my brain. I'm not a particularly visual person, but I do think there is great value to be gained from learning from symbols. Tomorrow, I will be taking out my endowments in the Twin Falls temple and I am very excited for the chance to learn more about the power of symbols.
In preparing to go to the temple, I read a quote by Elder Widstoe that said, "No man or woman can come out of the temple endowed as he should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand." The Bible Dictionary further elucidates that "Ceremonies and ordinances are symbolic in their performance, and all bear record of Jesus Christ." So I decided that I wanted to start looking for Christ in the symbols around me. As we looked at the picture of Jesus's birth where He is depicted as just a small baby and the focus is rather the swarm of angels above Him, it made me think of all how of us are symbols of Jesus. Every person I see everyday is a symbol of the Savior's love. I could look into the eyes of everyone and say, without reservation, "Jesus died for you." Could it be that one of the best portraits of Jesus would be a picture of the people that He saved? What represents Him best? This is kind of a double-edged question; we represent His love, and then, how well do we represent Him? Do people think of the Savior when they think of us? These are some of the questions I've had on my mind lately, and I'd love to hear what anyone else thinks about it. What do you think best represents Jesus?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Christ Sees the Life in Us

In my New Testament class at BYU, our professor talked about how, in Jewish culture, touching a dead body had come to represent the ultimate in uncleanliness. When Jairus asked Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead, Jesus did not hesitate to enter right into the house where her body lay. In fact, he even called into question the very fact that she was dead. He said, "She is not dead but sleepeth." Christ could still see the life in her, even though to the others she was an unclean corpse.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, the man beaten by theives was left "half dead." I can only imagine that this was probably the main reason the priest and the Levite passed him by. From their point of view, he must have looked dead and they didn't want to risk dirtying themselves with a corpse. But then the Samaritan came; he, like Jesus, saw not the man's bedraggled state, didn't think about the possible personal consequences of helping him, but rather saw the life in him.
To Jesus, none of us are ever dead. None of us are ever past hope, or too dirty to touch. It doesn't matter what we've done, how much grime of life we have dragged ourselves through. Christ sees the life in us, even when we don't. And since He does that for each of us, I want to do that for all of my brothers and sisters. I want to see the hope in them; I want to see what Jesus sees.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Ten Virgins-Extra Oil of the Atonement

In the parable of the ten virgins, I have often wondered if the master's respone, "I know ye not" was a little bit harsh. As I read it this time, I looked up a cross-reference in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 26:24-28. It describes the Second Coming and says that, at the second trump, "then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me." Already I started to see the situation in a different light. These people never knew him; this new perspective was different that they idea that He just didn't know them. Verse 26 of Mosiah continues: "Then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed." The master didn't know the foolish virgins not because he didn't put forth the effort, but because they weren't ready to accept him as the master when he came.
Within the parable, we can implicitly infer that the foolish virgins didn't bring any oil at all. They had some, but only what was in their lamps (if their lamps had gone out, it must have meant that there was originally oil there). But the wise virgins "took oil in their vessels with their lamps." By having this extra oil, they were ready when the bridegroom came and he knew them.
What can this extra oil in the vessels represent? I believe it is the Atonement of Christ, the blessings of which we must be willing to receive. In 2 Nephi 25:23 it tells us "that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." How often do we stop at the step of doing all that we can and forget to apply the grace of God? We forget to receive the gift. We have some preparation, the oil in our lamps, but we forget to use the power of the Atonement, the oil in our vessels. Think of the best we've ever done- now think how much better it could be with the power of Christ's Atonement augmenting it! We can't just have the oil of our own efforts- we need the Atonement to help us.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Contrasting Zacharias and Mary

As I read in the first chapter of Luke, I noticed some interesting parallels in the two angelic visits made by Gabriel in that chapter. First, he visits Zacharias, telling him that his wife, Elisabeth, shall conceive. Zacharias responds by asking "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." And because he "believes not" the words of Gabriel, he is struck with dumbness until the miraculous birth of his son.
Gabriel then makes a visit to Mary, telling her that she, like her cousin Elisabeth, shall also conceive. Both children have special missions to fulfill. After Gabriel's declaration, Mary also has questions. She asks, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Then, rather than losing one of her five senses, she actually gets an answer, as Gabriel explains that she will be with child of the Holy Ghost; he ends the explanation by teaching that, "with God nothing shall be impossible."
Why does Gabriel respond so differently to each of their queries? Why wasn't Mary struck dumb? I would love to be able to go back to the Greek translation of the Bible to see what syntactical similarities the two questions have. From looking at the English version, there do seem to be subtle differences in what Zacharias and Mary are asking. Zacharias seems to be saying, "How can I believe this when the evidence before me (my wife's and my age) so strongly opposes it?" He focuses on satisfying his own mental insecurities. Mary, however, seems to be asking, "In what way will this miracle be brought to pass? for I know it must be a miracle, since I've not known a man." She has already accepted that the miracle will take place; now she's just interested in how, and so Gabriel gladly teaches her. Zacharias' heart, however, needed to overcome its disbelief before he could hope to learn about the workings of God. We must have faith before we can learn.
This was just one reason I thought of for the different reactions to what, on the surface, appear to be the same questions. I'm interested to hear what other people think about this and would love to hear anyone else's insights!

"Wise as Serpents and Harmless as Doves"

This past weekend, I hiked Mt. Timpanogas with a bunch of my college friends. As we trudged up the trail, one of my friends and I started having a discussion about the history of rhetoric and how rhetoric is viewed today (yes, we are both English majors, and yes, we are both nerds about it). We thought it was interesting that the term "rhetoric" often comes attached with a negative stigma: if anyone is using rhetorical skills, it must be because they are trying to persuade you to do something wrong. We realized, however, that there are many situations when you can use skills of persuasion to help someone make right decisions. Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet, uses the phrase, "and that I might more fully persuade" and Ammon, another prophet, uses strategem to direct his conversion conversation with King Lamoni.
I was thinking about the proper use of rhetoric in sharing the gospel when I read Matthew 10:16 where Jesus commands his disciples to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." I thought it correlated really well with what my friend and I had been discussing on our hike. We can purposely tailor our gospel sharing for specific people and ponder on what methods of sharing might be the most effective for them- this would be where we are "wise as serpents." But even as we formulate plans, we remember that we are doing so out of love and that we are only persuading because we believe that what we are sharing is the truth and can help our friends- this is how we are "harmless as doves."
I was feeling pretty smug as I thought about this connection- then I read verse 19 where Christ says, "take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." So much for planning ahead, right? But then I looked at the context more carefully. Christ was speaking specifically of moments when his disciples would be brought before governors and kings, "for a testimony against them" (vs. 18). I realized that there is a difference between gently persuading people who are genuinely seeking for the truth and boldly testifying against those who are challenging the truth. On my mission, when I encounter people who are are simply looking for a chance to argue, rather than trying to fruitlessly persuade them, it is better for me to simply bear my testimony as directed by the Spirit. No one can legitimately challenge my words of "I know this is true." On the other hand, when I am working with investigators who are earnestly searching, the Spirit can direct me in my preparation before I teach them, as well as during the actual teaching, and I can pick methods of teaching specific to my investigators. Knowing the difference between the two situations will be something where, again, the Holy Spirit will direct me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"A Labourer into his Harvest"

Just two days ago, I received my mission call to serve in the Norway Oslo mission. I report to the Missionary Training Center early in December and then after about 2 months of training in the Norwegian language and gospel study, I will travel to Norway where I will stay for 16 more months sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In Matthew 9:36-38, Jesus feels compassion for a multitude of people "because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." He then speaks to the disciples, in what I read as a not-so-subtle suggestion: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest." The next chapter continues with Jesus giving his disciples a list of missionary dos and don'ts. One of my favorites comes in verse 8: "freely ye have received, freely give."
Whenever my family gets ready to leave the house, my mother often looks despairingly at my youngest sister who, no matter what care or time my mother expends in making her look presentable, always seems to be able to undo my mother's efforts. "She looks like an orphan child," Mom will sigh. "But she's really not! I take such good care of her, and no one can even tell." I wonder if my mother's sentiments echo something of what Christ felt as he looked at the multitudes of his time, "scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." Because the truth is, they do have a shepherd, one who loves them very much. They do have a Father, just as all of us do now; however, there are many people who don't know about the shepherd because they don't know where to find Him, or even worse, they don't even know that they can be looking! My calling as a missionary is to introduce people to the Good Shepherd, to help them find what they've had all along. I have received so much of the Lord, and by giving of what I've received, not only will my own faith in Jesus increase but others will have the resources to begin their own quest of faith.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Here's my first blog ever. I decided to name it Steph's Steps because it seems like that is what I am continually doing-- stepping from one thing to another (even creating this blog is a big step for me into the technological world!). I'm trying to focus more on the process that is life so that I can better enjoy each step as it comes to me, instead of wishing that I could just bound ahead.
I'm especially excited to be sharing ideas about Jesus Christ, my Savior, and how accepting Him as such means that I try to take steps everyday to come closer to Him and to be closer to what He is.