Saturday, April 4, 2015

Deeply Understanding the Atonement

Note: I wrote and gave this talk a year ago on Sunday, April 20, 2014. A sister in my ward asked me for a copy, and I kept putting off typing up the edits I made to it on the stand (as I am wont to do when giving a talk). But now here it is, in the form I delivered it. I hope you enjoy it this Easter season!

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi quoted Isaiah extensively. Afterwards, he recorded his own prophecies of Christ. He gave this explanation for such a record:

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God, for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do… and we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”

The source for the remission of our sins is our Savior, Jesus Christ, and my purpose in this talk is to “persuade [my] children, and also [you, my] brethren [and sisters], to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God”, and perhaps together we can come to better remember that source, Jesus Christ.

At a literacy conference I attended last month I learned something about how we come to remember things. One of the presenters was discussing techniques to teach reading comprehension to students. She said, “Children remember what they deeply understand.” I would say this applies to all of us as well. I wasn’t looking for a gospel connection at the time, but unexpectedly found one the following Sunday during a Relief Society lesson on the sacrament.

In that week’s lesson, Joseph Fielding Smith said, “To eat in remembrance of him. Does that mean that I would just remember that nearly 2,000 years ago wicked men took him, hung him on the cross, drove nails in his hands and feet and left him there to die? To me it has a far deeper meaning than that. To remember him—why was he on the cross? What benefit comes to [me] because he was on the cross? What suffering did he go through on the cross that I might be redeemed or relieved of my sins?” To remember the Savior means more than just to remember what happened. Remembering the Savior involves striving to more deeply understand this monumental gift we have been given.

For the past few months I have been studying the atonement with a greater purpose than I have in several years. In the years since I last made a meaningful study of the atonement, I have studied various principles of the gospel, and with great fervor. However, none of that studying as changed my heart and my life as much as the past few months have. Elder Tad R. Callister explained this change in his book, The Infinite Atonement, “Every attempt to reflect upon the Atonement, to study it, to embrace it, to express appreciation for it, however small or feeble it may be, will kindle the fires of faith and work its miracle towards a more Christlike life. It is an inescapable consequence of so doing.”

I would like to share a few of the things with you that I have learned about the atonement in the past few months - probably nothing new to many of you, but maybe, like me, you put your study of the atonement on the back burner for a while as you studied other gospel topics, and so a refresher might be nice. If these concepts seem new to you, and even if they aren’t new, I challenge you to immerse yourself in a study of the atonement of Jesus Christ and see if it doesn’t change your life for the better.

One of the most life-changing principles of the atonement is that it is infinite. The word infinite probably conjures up images of eternity, or the number of grains of sand on the beach. But when we talk about the atonement being infinite, what we mean is that the atonement covers everything. The atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ is so much more far-reaching than any one of us has probably ever experienced. But I am sure that if you look in your own life you can see the atonement touching you in many different ways.

If you have repented of a serious sin, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have lost a loved one and found peace after their death, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have been given what seemed like an insurmountable task and found motivation and strength to achieve it, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have suffered at the hands of another and been able to find healing and forgiveness, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have struggled through physical ailments or infirmities and received healing, or simply the fortitude to endure, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have ached because of the injustices of this life but been given the gifts of patience and compassion, you have experienced the atonement.

If you have struggled with the idea of being perfect, feeling like you can never do enough, and felt that burden of perfection lifted as you took upon you the Savior’s yoke, you have experienced the atonement.

I hope you can see the connection between all of these situations, even though they may not seem to have much in common. Committing a sin may seem different than suffering at the hands of an abuser, but the underlying theme is the healing, peace, and perfection that can come through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament is recorded a story about a young ruler who came to the Savior asking what he could do. The young man asked the Savior, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The Savior proceeded to list the ten commandments, to which the young man, apparently free of any major sins, responded, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” Of course, when the Savior responded with the higher laws of consecration and discipleship, the young man either decided that he didn’t have what it takes or he didn’t have the desire to make that kind of commitment, and so he left, sorrowful.

This young man had kept all of the commandments from his youth until the day he questioned the Savior. To me it appears that he had not committed any grievous sins, and had lived a reasonably good life. This young man had probably never needed to confess a sin to his bishop and work through the painful process of repentance for a serious transgression. But the atonement is so much more than just a tool for the abandonment of serious sin.

General Relief Society President Linda K. Burton taught, “Like the rich young man in Jesus’ day, sometimes we are tempted to give up or turn back because maybe we think we can’t do it alone. And we are right! We cannot do the difficult things we have been asked to do without help. Help comes through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the guidance of the holy Ghost, and the helping hands of others.”

The atonement is the source of power that allows us to “do all things”, as the apostle Paul wrote, “through Christ who strengtheneth [us].” The atonement of Jesus Christ can give us strength to do those things that seem impossible to do. Former Relief Society president Sheri Dew said, “Our responsibility is to learn to draw upon the power of the Atonement. Otherwise we walk through mortality relying solely on our own strength. And to do that is to invite the frustration of failure and to refuse the most resplendent gift in time or eternity. “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed … and he receive not the gift?””
We must learn to access the atonement if we want to receive power to “do all things” and “be perfect.”
But what about if we aren’t quite where the young ruler was yet? What if we aren’t ready to say, “What lack I yet?” because we are caught up in sin? What if we were once like the young ruler, able to say that we have kept the commandments from our youth, but today we have stumbled and fallen and now feel as if our perfect record has been tarnished?

Former General Relief Society president Julie B. Beck said, “Everyone makes mistakes… I often hear about the chosen, royal generation of this dispensation, but I have never heard it called the perfect generation. Teenagers are especially vulnerable because the power of Satan is real, and they are making their first big, independent choices. Consequently, they are also making their first big mistakes.”

First, do not despair. Isaiah wrote, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” If you have ever spilled red punch on a white blouse, you know how hard it is to get those red stains out of that white cloth. More often than not, the white clothing is tarnished forever and good for nothing but a rag. Our lives are much more precious to God than a piece of clothing, and He has given us the ultimate stain remover. The atonement of Jesus Christ can surely erase those sins and cleanse our souls so that not only are we white again, but we can be even better than before. The only barrier between our crimson present and our pure white future is true repentance.

President Beck taught, “We are commanded to repent. The Savior taught that unless we repent and “become as a little child, … [we] can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” We must not let one little cup of coffee, one bad habit, one bad choice, one wrong decision derail us for a lifetime.” When we take a step off the path, we must not let despair or feelings of failure keep us from continuing to step forward and allowing the atonement of Jesus Christ to change our very nature.

The repentance process can change us in a very real way, but true repentance requires us to really gain a deeper understanding of the atonement. True repentance cannot be reduced to a process with steps that we simply check off as we proceed through them. Teaching a five step process to children is useful, but later insufficient for us to develop the understanding of the atonement that we will need in order to truly change. Elder Callister describes repentance as “a melting, softening, refining process that brings about a mighty change of heart… It is a burning resolve to make amends with God at any cost.”

But even with that burning resolve, President Beck explained that, “It is not possible to make real change all by ourselves. Our own willpower and our own good intentions are not enough. When we make mistakes or choose poorly, we must have the help of our Savior to get back on track. We partake of the sacrament week after week to show our faith in His power to change us. We confess our sins and promise to forsake them.” We cannot change on our own. All the burning resolve in the world will not change us if we do not allow the atonement to change us. Elder Callister taught that the power of the atonement is key to that change, (quote) “If there were no atonement, there would be no opportunity to repent. Men might feel sorrow; they might change their behavior within certain parameters; but no divine rehabilitation process would be in operation. Simply stated, without the atonement, there would be no cleansing of the sinner’s soul regardless of any actions on his part.” (close quote)

We need the atonement in order to truly change and become more than we are, better than we were yesterday.

So how do we allow the atonement to change us, to change our lives? Whether we are seeking purification from a transgression, or healing for a wounded heart, or strength to become perfect through Christ, the power of the atonement can help us, if we can only figure out how to access that power.

I suggest that the key to accessing the power of the atonement is through studying the atonement. It seems like such a simple thing, to study the atonement of Jesus Christ - but the doctrine of the atonement is more complicated than one family home evening lesson, one Sunday school lesson, one Conference talk, or one read through of the Book of Mormon can unravel. There is a depth and breadth to the atonement of Jesus Christ that we will only come to understand as we make the atonement a focus of our regular gospel study. The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” Because the atonement of Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of His gospel, a study of that atonement can change our lives more than a study of any other gospel doctrine will change our lives. Elder Callister wrote, “As our vision of the atonement is enhanced, our motivation to embrace its full effects is proportionally increased.” An understanding of the atonement inspires us to live the gospel more fully. President Howard W. Hunter gave this promise, “As we come to understand [Christ’s] mission and the atonement which He wrought, we will desire to be more like him.” and Elder Neal A. Maxwell testified, “The more we know of Jesus’ Atonement, the more we will humbly and gladly glorify Him, His Atonement, and His character.”

If you aren’t convinced that a deep understanding of the atonement can change our hearts and our lives, let me leave you with an example of such a change. In Mosiah chapters 3 and 4 we find one of the most beautiful discourses on the atonement. King Benjamin taught his people about the atonement of Jesus Christ, about his life, suffering, death, and resurrection. After hearing King Benjamin’s teachings and testimony, his people shouted, “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

King Benjamin’s discourse brought the spirit into the lives of the people, and their hearts were changed by the power of his words and testimony. The evidence of their change of heart was that they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” We will find this evidence in our own lives as we study the atonement of Jesus Christ and come to more deeply understand that central doctrine of the gospel, is my testimony.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Want To Understand

In conversations about the temple, particularly first temple experiences, at least one person mentions how awkward or strange they found their first temple experience to be.

I have been thinking about this as I have been studying the temple covenants and rituals in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. As I read the words of the scriptures my mind turned back to my first temple experience. I didn't understand everything - I still don't - but I remember having a fierce testimony of the importance of the temple before I even went for the first time. I knew that whatever was going to happen in the temple was going to be what needed to happen, and that I would certainly learn things - which is what I always expected I would do in the temple - learn new things.

So I think that there are two keys to a good first temple experience:

1.) A strong foundational testimony of the importance of the temple


2.) A strong desire to learn something new every day, an open mind, an attitude that if something seems strange it's probably because you don't understand it completely.

What do you think are the important aspects of preparing for a good first experience in the temple?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heard It All Before

I have posted before about inoculation - the idea of exposing members of the church to all of the possibly critical positions people might hold toward the church, and all of the less - appealing aspects of church history. There has been much discussion about whether or not it should be the church's responsibility to inoculate it's members again such question - raising topics.

On a slightly related note, I was reading in Alma 30 tonight about Korihor and as I read his arguments against God and Christ and the gospel I couldn't help thinking, "These are all of the same anti-religon arguments you hear today!"

And then the thought struck me. This isn't the only place in scripture where debates between believers and doubters is recorded. If we have studied the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, we will be so familiar with this line of doubt and questioning that we will simply be able to wave our hands at those who would tear down our faith and simply say, "Pooh,  pooh - been there, done that, got the tshirt."

The best inoculation we can give our children is probably a love of the gospel and of the Book of Mormon and a deep understanding of those two things rather than a superficial familiarity with them. If we can help our children develop a deep love for and understanding of the Book of Mormon, all the naysayers in the world won't be able to sway our children from their testimony of the true and living gospel.

What real-life events has the Book of Mormon prepared you for? How do you feel the Book of Mormon has strengthened your testimony such that it cannot be shaken and you are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I Didn't Have Time to Get Anything Done

When teacher in-service started a few weeks ago I felt a sudden panic. I had so much to do, and so little time. Between six kids and a husband working grave shift, I felt like there weren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. I started teaching school and every day I felt like I was just barely keeping my head above water.

One day, maybe during the second week of school, I was driving home from work, exhausted. I was feeling as if I didn't have enough prep time to get ready for each day, plus grade papers and get my classroom put together (which I hadn't finished doing before school started). I caught myself thinking, "I spend so much time teaching, I just don't have any time to get anything done!"

I couldn't help myself, I started laughing. All alone in my car on the way home from work I dissolved into side-splitting laughter.

I don't have time to get anything done because I am teaching all day... 

That got me thinking about all the things that we put on a "to do" list. What truly important things can we put on a to do list?

You might think that you can put important things on a to do list, like "read scriptures" and "pray". Maybe you could put those on a to do list and check them off.

But what about things like, "Love your children." "Teach your children." Can you ever check those off of a to do list?

At the end of a day full of teaching, what could I put on my "done" list? To me it feels like I did the same thing over and over again all day - I have six classes of seventh graders. But when I really ponder what I am doing each day, and I think back to the interactions I have had with individual students that day, I realize the impact that I am having on each of my students and suddenly it feels less repetitive. Sure, I might feel like a broken record, but to each of my students, sitting in my class is a brand new experience every day - I am creating a learning experience for each student, each day.

No longer am I going to feel like I couldn't get anything done because I was teaching. Teaching is the most important thing that I got "done" that day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Intentional About Everything

You would probably never peg me as an "overprotective" mom. I don't keep my kids in a bubble, and I don't keep them out of trees or off the roofs of chicken coops.

But when it comes to my home, I am like a lioness at the gate. I am very particular about what does and does not come in my home. Don't get me wrong, my kids know about drugs, alcohol, child abuse, sex, and all sorts of other "worldly" things. I'm not raising them to be prudes, but believe you me I am protecting those innocent souls as much as I possibly can. Those things they know about because I intentionally taught my children about those things (in most situations before they learned about them elsewhere, but occasionally because they had learned about them somewhere else).

I have been thinking a lot lately about my tendency to be fiercely protective of the sanctity of my home. It might seem overboard to some people, but when you know Satan as intimately as I do, you know that he cannot be trusted. Not even a fraction of an inch. When the purity of my family is at stake, I take no chances.

President Julie B. Beck said it best:
We know that we are involved in God’s work every day, and that changes everything. It changes the way we think. It changes our decisions. It changes the way we dress. It changes the way we talk. It changes the way we live. We have the responsibility and the challenge from the prophet to believe deeply and actively in the family. We will need to do that in order to preserve our families. That means we have to be intentional about everything we do. Our life is not just happenstance. We know where we are going and what we have to do. 
It is my goal to be intentional about everything I do, especially motherhood. I leave nothing to chance.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Where Two or Three are Gathered

A few weeks ago my 12 year old step daughter said to my husband and me, "What if I like my mom's church more than our church?"

I tried not to freak out too much. This was coming from a wonderful young woman who, I thought, had a rock solid testimony of the gospel.

So rather than freak out, I asked questions. I asked what she liked about her mom's church, what she felt like there, and some other questions to help me figure out just what she was saying.

We ended up talking for several hours about the gospel, about what it means to be Christian, and about what makes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Jesus Christ's restored church on the earth.

At some point in the conversation a scripture popped into my mind where the Savior had said (this is the paraphrased version that popped into my head), "Where two or three are gathered in my name, the Spirit will be there." (the actual text is in Matthew 18:20 and says, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.") I shared this scripture with my step daughter, hoping that it would help her see that you can feel the spirit in a lot of different places, not just on Sundays in sacrament meeting, or not just when you are reading the Book of Mormon or listening to General Conference.

This conversation with my daughter got me really thinking about what makes the Church true. I believe that there are many many good Christians and some fantastic churches that do a lot of good in the world. So what does the LDS Church have that is different?

My answer? The priesthood authority of Jesus Christ to act in His name and do what He would do if He were on the earth (and everything that comes through that authority - prophets, apostles, temples, etc).

I am glad my children are asking these kinds of questions and I hope and pray that I can guide them through their soul searching. I worry every day that I will say or do something wrong or miss an opportunity to guide them or influence them.

But then I remember that the atonement is infinite, and I try to remember that no matter what I do, Christ is more powerful than I and His atonement will cover everything I can't do.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Change Your Life

There are a lot of things I don't know yet. And it seems the more I study, the more I realize I don't know. But I am trying to learn and study and grow. For the past several years I have done a lot of gospel studying. Mostly I have been studying about womanhood and what it means to be a woman and what my place and my responsibilities are as a mother.

But then a few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk on Easter Sunday (today) on the atonement. I put a lot of my other studies on hold to do an in depth study of the atonement and what I found was remarkable. My life changed. My attitudes, actions, my ability to receive revelation, everything changed. I was given more strength to do the impossible (and with a full time job, a husband, and six kids twelve and under it seems like every day is impossible!). It took me a while to figure out what had changed, but then I was writing my talk and I realized that studying the atonement of Jesus Christ is the single most important thing that changed my life.

From now on in my study of gospel topics I am looking for the connections to the atonement. What does the atonement teach me about my purpose as a woman?

There is a power that comes from studying the atonement, and I hope that putting the atonement at the center of my other studies will help me better understand those other studies.

(by the way, Elder Callister's book is a fantastic place to start your study of the atonement!)

Do you notice a change in your life when you study the atonement? How does the atonement help you understand other gospel topics that you study?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...