Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sweet Prayer

In Deborah's night prayer tonight, she prayed that Ryan would never get sick again ... "even right before he goes to Heaven."  Isn't that sweet?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Atonement

I think anyone who knows me, knows that I am a Mormon, right?  I hope that doesn't surprise anyone.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the lingo of our Church, each congregation is called a ward and there are several wards within a Stake.  The wards are divided geographically as are the Stakes.  Every 6 months, each Stake has a Stake Conference where they meet all together.  There's an Adult session on Saturday night and then a session for everyone on Sunday. (If you'd like to learn more about our beliefs in general, you can click here.)

Anyway ... about two weeks ago, our Stake President called and asked if I would be willing to give a talk.  (In case you don't know, we also don't have a paid ministry.)  I was thankful for the opportunity, not become I couldn't wait to speak in front of a room full of people, but because I knew that the study time and the preparation would be a blessing to me.

So, I thought my Dad, and maybe some of you too might enjoy reading the talk.  This is the full version of what I prepared.  Because I was asked to keep the talk to 10 minutes not everything here was actually said on Saturday, but I'm including it anyway.

A couple of things you should know before you read the talk... 6 months ago, we were challenged to completely read the Book of Mormon before this Stake Conference.   So, this talk assumes that most of the audience has just completed that challenge.

Now, I recognize and appreciate that some of my dearest friends have different beliefs that I do.  I know that not all of you will be familiar with the Book of Mormon.  Some of you may have never read any of the Book of Mormon, or perhaps it's been a long time. I have included links for you, if you'd like to read the rest of the stories.  There are some amazing stories.

As I mentioned in my talk, I recognize that the Book of Mormon is not the only place where we find examples of the enabling power of the Atonement.   I too believe in the Holy Bible and especially love the writings of Paul on the subject of Grace. 

If you're not familiar with the stories, I invite you to read the talk and with an open heart to read the links.  I love the stories of the Book of Mormon.  I know that in my life it has helped me to draw closer to my Savior and I'd invite you to experience it in your life as well.

Now for my talk ...

When I was in my late 20’s, I attended a Relief Society with the sister of an Apostle.  One Sunday we were having a lesson on the Atonement.  This sweet sister was in her early 90’s.  I don’t remember much about the lesson that day, but I have never forgotten her comment.  She said, “I have recently learned that the Atonement isn’t something that applies at the end of my life, but it’s something that applies on a moment by moment basis.” 

I don’t know if it was because she was almost 70 years my senior, or if it was because she was the sister of an Apostle that I spent a lot of time contemplating her statement, but for more than two decades I have pondered the significance of applying the Atonement on a daily basis.

Many of you were here when Elder Bednar spoke at a recent Stake Conference.  You will remember that he spoke on the Enabling Power of the Atonement.   This has been a theme of his ministry.  It is obvious from reading many of his talks that he has a great testimony of the Atonement, and a sense of urgency at sharing His witness that through the Atonement of Christ we can indeed become Saints. 

I’ve been asked to use an address he gave at BYU in October of 2001 as the basis for my talk today.  At that time, he was the President of what is now BYU-Idaho and you will recall that our nation had recently been deeply wounded and many in the country were hurting. 

Elder Bednar shared this quote from President David O McKay as the framework for his talk.  He said, “The purpose of the gospel is to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.”   

Let me repeat that “The purpose of the gospel is to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.”

He then suggested that the Book of Mormon is our handbook of instructions as we travel the pathway from bad to good to better and to have our hearts changed. 

In Mosiah 3:19 it says: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever, UNLESS he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a Saint through the Atonement of Christ the Lord.”

Through the redeeming powers of the Atonement, bad men become good.  I do not mean bad as in horrible, wicked, or evil.  I mean bad as in:   we do bad things; the tendency to be a natural man.   Through the redeeming powers of the Atonement, we are able to be cleansed and to be good.   

It is also through the Atonement of Christ, that we are able to increase our capacity to put off the natural man and to overcome the desires of the flesh and temptations.

When I was young, I struggled for years with an eating disorder.  As part of the eating disorder, I not only severely restricted my calories, often going for long periods with nothing more than just a wedge of lettuce but I also became addicted to daily dosages of large quantities of diuretics and laxatives.  After some time I eventually realized that it was ruining my life and even observed that it was affecting my spirituality and my ability to serve my Heavenly Father.  I first tried to quit on my own, but could not.  I eventually went through years of counseling, and even hospitalizations.  And, although they helped, I was still struggling to give up my self destructive behaviors.  Eventually, I pleaded with the Lord to help me.  This was the turning point.  It was not easy to overcome, but I felt the strengthening powers of the Lord and was healed completely from the eating disorder and all of its control.

Through the Atonement of Christ He can increase our capacity to overcome the desires of the flesh and temptations.  We can put off the natural man.

If we go back to Mosiah 3:19, you will remember it says: “…and putteth off the natural man and becometh a Saint through the Atonement of Christ the Lord.”

The purpose of the gospel is to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.

Elder Bednar said, “I believe this 2nd part of the journey – this process of going from good to better – is a topic about which we do not study or teach frequently enough nor understand adequately.”

He then said:

“Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints--for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. “

The Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad  AND to do and become good.    The Savior can help us through the entire journey of life AND wants to help us through the entire journey – from bad to good to better and to change our very nature.

We learn in the Bible Dictionary that the word Grace is frequently used to connote enabling power.  In fact, it is used over 200 times in the scriptures.  It frequently occurs in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul, and the main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ. 

There are many examples both in the scriptures and throughout history of men and women who have understood the enabling power of the Atonement.  Elder Bednar shared the example of Daniel W. Jones who was born in 1830 in Missouri and joined the Church in California in 1851.  Five years later, in 1856 he participated in the rescue of handcart companies that were stranded in Wyoming by severe storms.

After the rescue party found the suffering Saints, provided what immediate comfort they could, and made arrangements for the sick and the feeble to be transported to Salt Lake City, Daniel and several other young men volunteered to remain with and safeguard the company's possessions. The food and supplies left with Daniel and his colleagues were, to say the least, meager and were rapidly expended. I will now quote from Daniel Jones' personal journal and his description of the events that followed:

"Game soon became so scarce that we could kill nothing. We ate all the poor meat; one would get hungry eating it. Finally that was all gone, nothing now but hides were left. We made a trial of them. A lot was cooked and eaten without any seasoning and it made the whole company sick. Many were so turned against the stuff that it made them sick to think of it. . . .

"Things looked dark, for nothing remained but the poor raw hides taken from starved cattle. We asked the Lord to direct us what to do. The brethren did not murmur, but felt to trust in God. We had cooked the hide, after soaking and scraping the hair off until it was soft and then ate it, glue and all. This made it rather inclined to stay with us longer than we desired.

"Finally I was impressed how to fix the stuff and gave the company advice, telling them how to cook it; for them to scorch and scrape the hair off; this had a tendency to kill and purify the bad taste that scalding gave it. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of water, throwing the water away which had extracted all the glue, then wash and scrape the hide thoroughly, washing in cold water, then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat with a little sugar sprinkled on it. This was considerable trouble, but we had little else to do and it was better than starving.

"We asked the Lord to bless our stomachs and adapt them to this food.

"We hadn't the faith to ask him to bless the raw-hide, for it was 'hard stock.' On eating now all seemed to relish the feast. We were three days without eating before this second attempt was made. We enjoyed this sumptuous fare for about six weeks".

I wonder if I had been Bro Jones if I might have asked not even just for some good food, but for a quick and easy shuttle back home.  However, Bro Jones and the other young men knew something of the strengthening power of the Atonement, and instead asked the Lord to bless their stomachs and adapt them to the food that they had available.

You will recall many examples from The Book of Mormon of disciples and prophets who knew and were transformed by the enabling power of the Atonement.   Hopefully, as we liken the scriptures unto us, we too can see the enabling power in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Nephi when his brothers bound him, pleaded with the Lord to give him strength to burst the bands.  In the strength of the Lord, which is the enabling power of the Atonement, Nephi was enabled to break the bands. In what ways, have you pleaded with the Lord and with the strength of the Lord, what bands have you been able to break?

You remember the Lord’s promise to Alma in Mosiah 24 that He would ease the burdens which were being put upon the shoulders of Alma and his people, that even they would not feel them upon their backs. And of course, if you remember that story, then you’ll remember, the best part:  You’ll remember how the Lord did  strengthen them “that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”   That last part is the evidence of the Atonement in their lives. 

We learn in Mosiah 3:19 that as we go through this mortal journey, yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man, and becometh as a Saint, through the Atonement, our human nature is changed.  We become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. 

I have a testimony of the Lord’s willingness to do this for us.  I know that the through the Atonement He will strengthen us so that we can bear the burdens that He gives us so that they are truly made light.

A few years ago we were blessed with a child who has multiple disabilities.  For the first two years of his life, I could count on one hand the number of nights when I had more than 2 or 3  hours of consecutive sleep at any time.  Shortly after he turned 1, I was diagnosed with Cancer. 

I remember at one point lying on a table when the cancer had started to grow back having yet another biopsy taken and thinking this should probably feel more overwhelming than it does.  I knew that it was the Lord who was making the burdens seem so light.  After 2 years of not sleeping through the night and months of weekly treatments, I testify to you that the Lord through the Atonement, and with many angels both seen and unseen,  my burdens and my family’s burdens were truly made light such that I was able to easily and cheerfully carry them.  I would not have been able to do so without His strengthening power.

One of my favorite scripture stories is in the book of Ether … the happy part … not really the ending.   I believe there are multiple examples of the enabling power of the Atonement in this book.  How do we liken these scriptures to ourselves?

At the tower of Babel, the brother of Jared prayed and the language was not confounded.  Jared asked his brother to inquire of the Lord where they should go.  The Lord leads them into the valley and to the seashore.

After the brother of Jared talks with the Lord, they build barges that were tight like unto a dish, small and light upon the water with the ends peaked, and the length of a tree. 

Do you think he knew then that it would mean spending 344 days in boats built tight like unto a dish?

Early in our marriage Dwight and I with our then only child Jessica moved to Honolulu Hawaii.  Dwight wanted to learn to surf and I was the supportive wife who figured I’d get a good tan.  Shortly after arriving I was called to teach Gospel Doctrine. As I stood before a room full of Polynesians, within walking distance from the Pacific ocean, this story took on all new meaning to me than it had ever had in land-locked Indiana where I grew up.  A 60-year old Polynesian explained to me how the ocean’s mountainous waves would hold a boat like that down under water. 

Brothers and sisters, I’m not sure I would want to step on to a boat with all the modern luxuries for 344 days and I’m confident that it would take the enabling power of the Atonement to give me the strength to step on to one of these barges.

After they were built, the Brother of Jared went to the Lord and said, I’ve done what you’ve asked, but “O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”

Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever wonder if the Lord will suffer you to be left in the darkness?

When the brother of Jared had asked how they would breathe, the Lord had given him directions and told him how to get air, but this time, the Lord said, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?”  

Of course, you know the rest of the story, the brother of Jared prepared stones and they had light.

I believe the next verse is especially significant to each of us as we face our own opportunities to seek the Lord’s enabling powers:  We could just write our names in front of it …

“… for the mountain waves shall dash upon you.”  {{ And, here’s the promise … }} “Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.”

If we then skip over to Ether 6:4, they have made their preparations and they set forth into the sea, {{and I love this next line … }} “COMMENDING THEMSELVES UNTO THE LORD THEIR GOD.”

“And, the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters towards the promised land and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind and many times they were buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.”

How did they survive?  How did they access the enabling powers of the Atonement?

When they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.

In Ether 6:8 it says, “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.”

Brothers and sisters, they did make it to the promised land. 

I have a testimony that there is nothing in any life that is too big for the Atonement.  I know that while the winds may seem fierce and the mountain waves may bury us in the depths of the sea, we are not alone.  We need not travel in darkness.  If we will be faithful and cry out to Him, his winds will continually blow us towards the promised land. 

I know that through the Atonement bad men are made good and good men are made better and our natures are changed.