Friday, April 5, 2013

The Gifts of the Atonement

This morning, many of us might have woken up to little easter baskets with gifts of candy or clothes or other fun things. I’d like to add three very important gifts to your pile of Easter presents. All three of these gifts come to us courtesy of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Which, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said “is the greatest event in human history.”
The first gift is The Resurrection. 
1.The Resurrection: This is not a free gift. In the pre-mortal realm, we fought a war. We sided with our Heavenly Father and His plan, choosing Jesus Christ as our Savior. As a result, we were sent to earth and given a body. Because we chose to follow Him then, we will all be blessed to be resurrected receive an immortal, perfect body. On this Easter morning, how beautiful the words spoken to Mary, “He is Risen.”
The second gift is the gift of Redemption.
2. The Redemption: This is probably the most talked about aspect of the Atonement. God wants all of us to live with Him forever. However, He cannot look upon sin with any allowance. No unclean thing can dwell with God. This is a law of heaven that cannot be undone. This Justice must be fulfilled. Just as true, we have all sinned. And we are probably not done sinning yet. Therefore, none of us could return to live with God. We are unclean. At dinner one night, we were discussing this very idea. 
“Teya, have you ever made a mistake?”
“So, if you want to live with Heavenly Father, what do you have to do now?” 
She thought for just a second, and her face lit up, “Be baptized!” She is 7 1/2 and still has that redeeming event before her. 
“Yes!” I replied, “But, what if you make a mistake after you are baptized?”
“um’. I saw her face start to worry. She looked around the table and I could sense her sweet little mind wondering if she’d be able to live with her family and Heavenly Father after this life or if she were doomed. 
“Because No unclean thing can live with God.” I said. Her worries were deepening. Now, I normally don’t scare my kids about eternal damnation at dinner. Breakfast, maybe... but I really wanted them to understand the concepts of Justice and Mercy. Mercifully, Teya has older siblings who helped out.
“You can repent,” and “Jesus Christ paid for our sins.” Josh and Eden piped in. 
Exactly. There is another law of Heaven that allows for the sacrifice of one who willingly, and without sin of His own, pays the price for the sins and mistakes of others. The Atonement of Jesus Christ paid the price for our mistakes and if we repent and change, we can return to live with Heavenly Father, even if we make mistakes after we are baptized.  
3. Relying on Christ
Elder Bednar 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, worthy, and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. We may mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, with our obviously limited capacities.”
I LOVE THAT! I am guilty of trying to use sheer grit, willpower, and discipline to change my very nature all on my own. Elder Bednar goes on to say, “The gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good. And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. Help from the Savior is available for the entire journey of mortality—from bad to good to better and to change our very nature.”
The change from bad to good is the gift of the redeeming power of the Atonement. The transformation from good to better is the third gift: Relying on the Savior to change our very natures and become saints worthy of eternal life. 
In Ether 12:27 it says, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; 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.”
I used to think that this scripture simply meant that we were given weaknesses so that we would become humble and seek help from Heaven to turn those weaknesses into strengths. After pondering this scripture and applying it over and over again to the weaknesses and shortcomings in my life, I now understand that that is precisely what it means. 
We are given shortcomings and faults SO THAT WE WILL TURN TO THE LORD. Not so we can see how tough we can be. Not so we can compare our strengths to other’s weaknesses or the more commonly accepted mistake; to compare our weaknesses to other’s strengths. 
We have weak aspects in our nature. All of us do. They do not make us evil. They make us human. Eventually, however, if we want to live with our Heavenly Father, we will need to change those weak aspects. And we do not have the capacity to do it on our own. No matter the amount of sheer grit, willpower, or discipline we apply. Our efforts fall short. We need the power of the Atonement. 
There are days, when I have used up my best efforts even before breakfast! How am I to continue without divine help? My poor family has all too often been the recipient of my unwillingness to access the Atonement’s strengthening power on those days, when Impatience is their after school snack and grumpiness the main course for dinner. 
We all have struggles. I know there are people who we might think have never had so much as a bad hair day. But that is simply not true. Some of our struggles are widely known, plastered all over Facebook for the world to see and sympathize and share. But, the majority of our trials are personal. Private. The tears hidden. The burdens camouflaged with plastered smiles on Sunday morning, to accompany those perfect hair dos. 
Some of these burdens are self-inflicted, but most are simply unfair. 
In The Book of Mormon, we read about the people of Alma. They had left their complacent existence under the wicked King Noah, to follow Alma. They had accepted the gospel and been baptized, covenanting “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that {they} may be in, even until death,” and to “serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon {them}.
Their peaceful new life was short-lived. The Lamanites discovered them, and, with the spiteful vengeance of one of Alma’s former colleagues at the helm, they were brought into essential slavery. They were not allowed to pray to their newfound God. They were forced to labor and carry around actual burdens to add to the spiritual burdens of not being able to worship. 
“And Alma and his people did did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts. And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.”
The Lord came to them IN their afflictions, not after they were over. Likewise, He will come to us IN, DURING, WHILE we are struggling. And, we have made the same covenant the people of Alma made. The promise is the same. He will deliver us out of spiritual bondage. That is the future promise of the Atonement. We will all be resurrected and delivered from the bondage of our mortal bodies. If we repent we can eventually lay hold of eternal life and be delivered from spiritual bondage. But, in the next verse comes the here and now of the Atonement. For in the meantime, this is what the Lord promises:
“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage;”
Even WHILE we are suffering. Today. Now. 
“and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, 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.”
The Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease. That gift of increased strength is part of the Atonement. He has already fulfilled His part. We simply must ask for help and rely on Him for that strengthening power. 
Today, I can stand as a witness. I have come to the Lord, asking for strength beyond my own capabilities to deal with certain challenges. And He has answered. He has strengthened me. He has come to me IN my afflictions. And He will do the same for you. I’m still working on submitting cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. I’m a work-in-progress.
I love the story of Ammon in the Book of Mormon. He slays the wicked men with stones and swords, he helps convert an entire kingdom of people. Then, later on, when he and his brethren meet back up with their best friend Alma, Ammon starts recounting all the wonderful things that happened to them. His brother Aaron starts to chastise him, saying, “Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.” I have to say, I’ve always agreed with Aaron. Until the last time I read this verse. Because now I agree wholeheartedly with Ammon. 
“But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.”
Brothers and Sisters. As to my strength, I am weak. but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things. I will never slay wicked men or convert kingdoms, but I testify that many mighty miracles have been wrought in my life. Brothers and Sisters, WE ARE THE MIGHTIEST MIRACLES. In this life, through the help of our Savior’s Atonement, we can change our very natures and become not just good people, but verifiable saints, worthy to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ forever. And for that, I will praise His name, even unto apparent boasting, forever. 
Another favorite story of mine is about the brother of Jared. I have often felt that their journey was a parable of our mortal journey and their needed preparations a type or metaphor of the Atonement. They had three major dilemmas facing them for their journey across the ocean: they had no way to get fresh air, they had no light, and they had no way to steer their boats.
The gift of resurrection is like the air. The Lord gave them the solution with little to no effort on their part. Cut a hole in both the top and the bottom of the boats and open one when air is needed. Done.
The gift of redemption is like the light. The Lord didn’t just give them the solution. He required sincere effort on the part of the brother of Jared. Effort that can be likened unto repentance and turning away from sin. 
The Lord asked the Brother of Jared what he should do. He then climbed an exceedingly high mountain, carved out 16 stones and then returned to the Lord and said, “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.”
In my mind, it is like little Sarah from the story Eden read. “Here is my 61 cents, Lord. I know they are just rocks. But it is the best I could do. Please accept them, my efforts, and make me shine.”
 “And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness.”
Finally, they had no way to steer their boats across the entire ocean. They had to rely on the Lord. The Lord realized this and said, “For behold, the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea;  And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come.” 
Is there not a type in this? The Lord knows we will have many trials, shortcomings, and hard times during our mortal sojourn. But HE HAS PREPARED US and WANTS TO HELP US MAKE IT THROUGH. 
”And it came to pass that 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. And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them; and they did have light continually.”
When we are underwater, metaphorically speaking, we need to cry unto the Lord, and He will bring us forth, not allowing any monster to break us, and give us light continually.
Several months into my mission, I had an experience that I am still learning from today. We had left our apartment that morning with backpacks full of pamphlets and promise. We had several follow-up appointments and potential new investigators. Then, one by one, everything fell through. No one was home when they said they would be. Or, if they were, they said they were no longer interested in learning more. The fog that had settled in deeply over the night had never dissipated and the air was dense with our defeat. We returned to our tiny apartment and I dropped my backpack, still as heavy as when we had left, onto the floor and crawled onto my duvet-covered straw mattress. All I wanted to do was withdraw, retreat. I had a year left on my mission, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the week. 

I started listing the things that were wrong. Like kindling, my faults caught fire and spread quickly to every aspect of my life. I was a complete failure. The road before me was too steep and unknown. I started mumbling to myself over and over, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”

And then, a single word pressed upon my mind so quietly, I knew it came from the Holy Ghost. “Alone.”

“I can’t do it,” I said, again.


And then, an understanding sigh, as I put the two phrases together.

“I can’t do it alone.”

There are rare moments in life when learning takes place in an unearthly way. Where a principle taught is of such an eternal nature that it can only come directly from the Spirit. Such was this moment. 

What a difference a single word can make! “I can’t do it” implied despair and discouragement, failure and forfeit. As I spoke those words, I was giving in and giving up. However, “I can’t do it alone” represented humility and teachableness. “I can’t do it alone” implied that I could do it with help; that a solution was very possible. And that help, through the Savior and His atonement was there, waiting for me to simply ask for it. So, I did. And, not only did I make it through that week, I went on to enjoy my mission more than I ever thought possible. 

We were never meant to face our challenges alone. That is the third gift of the Atonement. He suffered so that He might be there with us, helping us. Strengthening us. The next time we hear the words, “I can’t do it,” whether from someone else, or from our own mouth or in our own minds, let’s be quick to add ALONE. And ask for the help that is waiting for us. 

This Easter, may we open up all the gifts of the Atonement. So that when we return to our heavenly home, we will recognize the Savior, because he was a part of our daily life. At that final judgment day, before our Heavenly Father, our Savior will be standing as advocate next to each of us. I hope to hear, “She opened the complete gift of my Atonement. She has been resurrected and now has a perfect body. She has repented, sorrowed for her wrongs and applied the redeeming power of my gift. And during her time on earth, she relied on me. She opened ALL of my gift. She let me help her become who she is today.”

And In the words of Enos,  “I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Unknown said...

Excellent talk, Jennie, thank you for sharing! May I place it on FB? Love you! Dora xxx

Katrina said...

What a fantastic talk! Thank you for sharing it. There were definitely things I needed to hear in it!

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