Sunday, April 27, 2008

I now realize the blessings that come from...

giving a talk. You know, this is always some that I like to dodge. Since Ian and I are great friends with our Bishopric we are great target to be asked to give a talk. Yet, we also know the warning signs, like seeing Milo Thurber with his blue notecards in hand looking around the congregation with a little smirk on his face. One week and 1/2 ago he caught me off guard at scouts while I was trying to find some scouts that were MIA. He stopped me in the hall and with a smile, he asked me to give a talk on how the principles and ordinances of the gospel allow us to receive the blessings of the Atonement. I cannot believe he got me. He did not follow the usual pattern -- it was not Sunday and there was no blue note cards that day (I did get the blue notecard on Sunday though). Through much study and prayer, I am now thankful that I did not dodge this talk assignment, for I have had the opportunity to really study the Atonement of the Savior and become much closer to the Lord. I would like to share my talk.

April 27, 2008

The Blessings of the Atonement

The day was ominous. Despite the peaceful beauty of landscape with rolling hills dotted with dense trees and large luscious green meadows, there was great anxiety amongst the 2400 settlers in a little market town. With rain soaked land from the previous days precipitation, preparations were being made that would change the history of the world. Two forces, some 160,000 strong, would collide, changing the lives of millions and millions in this land and throughout the world.

In the early morning of July 1, 1863 (some 145 years ago) the battle of Gettysburg ensued. This three day battle would be known as one of the most devastating battles in United States history. The lives lost were tremendous with the combined casualties of over 50,000 men. Some may say, this was the turning point of the Civil War. A war that was fought, brother against brother, to save a nation and protect the freedom of man.

Sheri Dew shared some events that transpired just days before that great battle. In her book, God Wants a Powerful People, she states “In June… just prior to the battle of Gettysburg, [Abraham] Lincoln was asked if he felt his country would survive. ‘I do not doubt that our country will finally come through safe and undivided. But do not misunderstand me….I do not rely on the patriotism of our people…the bravery and devotion of the boys in blue…or the loyalty and skill of our generals…. But the God of our Fathers… will bring us through safe….’ He admitted later that ‘when everyone seemed panic-stricken…I went to my room…and got down on my knees before the Almighty God and prayed….Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into His own hands.’”

Many millenniums earlier, another battle was waged. Here too, brother fought against brother, to save a nation and protect the freedom of man. John the Revelator explains in Revelations 12:7-9:

7 And there was awar in heaven: bMichael and his cangels fought against the dragon; and the ddragon fought and his angels,
8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in aheaven.
9 And the great dragon was acast out, that old serpent, called the bDevil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

The results of this battle was again devastating, nearly 1/3 of the hosts of heaven was lost. Yet, with that devastation came the undeniable freedom of man -- the freedom to choose happiness or misery, good from evil, light from darkness… to choose whether to follow Jesus Christ or to yield to the enticings of the Devil.

I would like to talk about one last war that was fought as a result of our freedom, in order save each and everyone one of us. This battle was fought by one man, alone, in a silence of the night, at the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ took upon him the sins of the world to save us from death and sin. Elder M. Russell Ballard shared his testimony, “There is no greater expression of love than the heroic Atonement performed by the Son on God….Jesus Christ courageously fulfilled the [vicarious] sacrifice [for our sins] in ancient Jerusalem. There is the quite isolation of the Garden of Gethsemane, He knelt among the gnarled olive trees, and in some incredible way that none of us can fully comprehend, the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world. Even though His life was pure and free of sin, He paid the ultimate penalty for sin – yours, mine and everyone who has ever lived. His mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish were so great that they caused Him to bleed form every pore. And yet Jesus suffered willingly so that we might all have the opportunity to be washed clean --- through having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized by proper priesthood authority, receiving the purifying gift of the Holy Ghost by confirmation, and accepting all our essential ordinances. Without the Atonement of the Lord, none of these blessings would be available for us, and we would not become worthy and prepared to return to dwell in the presence of God” (Ensign May 2004).

I cannot fully comprehend what happened that night in the Garden and often ask myself “Why would the Savior do this for me?” In pains me to know that many wrong choices I have made added to his pain. But one thing is for certain, I want to live my life so that his suffering was not in vain.

What are some things I can do to show my love for the Savior and for His saving grace? The answer is simply stated in the 3rd Article of Faith:

“We believe that through that Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel”

I want to investigate the wording of this article of faith a little deeper by asking some questions. First…

What are the laws and ordinances of the gospel? The 4th Article of Faith tells us:

“We believe that the 1st principles and ordinances of the gospel are 1st Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2nd repentance, 3rd baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, 4th laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

First and foremost is the principle (meaning basic doctrine, truth or law – bible dictionary) of faith – Faith in the Lord, faith the he loves us, faith that with the Lord’s help we can make it through the day, faith that we may repent of all of our sins with humility and sincerity and we will receive forgiveness. With an increase in faith, we will want to be better people. We will be come much more patient and kind. We will accept our challenges and live each day to the fullest. We will love much. We will serve much. We will humbly dedicate our lives to be in the service of our Lord. We will not procrastinate to put off the natural man and all his selfishness.

In Mosiah 2 verse 19 we read:

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, and becometh 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.

The only way that we can put off the natural man is to have unwavering Faith and repentance.

What is an ordinance?
These are blessings established by our Savior which provides the means for us to return to live with our Father in Heaven someday. Such ordinances are:
Baptism by immersion for remission of sins
Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost
Priesthood blessings such as Administering to the sick, anointings
Blessing and partaking of the sacrament
Temple blessings such as sealing our families for Eternity and redeeming the dead.

Each one of these ordinances demonstrate the unfailing love that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ has for us.

I want to return again to the 3rd article of faith. It starts like this:

“We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved....”

All – meaning you, me, our whole congregation, our friends not of our faith, everyone can be saved.

Saved – meaning delivered, reclaimed, redeemed from death through the Atonement of Christ so that we may gain Eternal Life.

But do the blessings of the atonement have an effect on our lives while in this world? MOST DEFINTELY! Even though our ultimate goal is Eternal Life, the mercy and love of the Savior may be felt every moment of every day.

Do not get bogged down by all the little things in life that you want to do but do not have the time to do.

When I was 20 y/o I wrote a list of all the things that I wanted to accomplish in my life. I do not recall all the details of this multi-page letter to myself yet I would like to share with you some of what I remember. I had musical goals – I wanted to take voice lessons, learn how to play the piano well (not just plunk around like I do now), learn how to play the flute, violin, and guitar. I wanted to use music to create peace and joy not only in my home but also in my ward.

Then I wanted to travel around the world setting up medical clinics to areas of South America, Asia, and Africa. I wanted to go to school to be not only a Physical Therapist but also a Medical Doctor and then a Lawyer. This, I thought, would help me in my goals to “save the world from poverty and illness.” The list goes on and on and on. But to me, most importantly, I wanted to be a Mother (of approximately 12 children). I did not want to be any other ordinary mom – I wanted to be a great mom. A mom that would make homemade bread for the kids, would bake cookies for neighbors each week, would be involved in church and community service projects, would read the scriptures and have family home evening each week (while the kids remained reverent and actively engaged in each lesson). I would never raise her voice and would be the epitome of patience and calmness. While these goals are lofty, I did not realize the time and efforts it would take to fulfill even one of my goals. Schooling became financially, intellectually and physically overwhelming and I had little time to pursue anything else – no piano lessons, no world trips, and no children. I became frustrated and confused. Yet after 5 years of marriage and 8 years of schooling, I was blessed with my greatest blessing – to be a mother.

Over the next 9 years my blessings have quadrupled with my 4 children. Yet, sometimes I look back and ask “Have I done enough? Have I magnified the talents that I have been given? What about all my aspirations that I have not pursued? Will the Lord be pleased with me and where I am today?” At times I even ask, “Am I a good mother? Why is it so hard? I just can’t seem to do it all by myself.” On my knees I plead for help and ask for forgiveness, guidance and divine assistance. Just a President Lincoln described almost 145 years earlier I too have felt that “a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into His own hands.”

The scriptures tell us that We are saved by grace after all that we can do. Many of us get stuck on the last words of this glorious promise – after all that we can do. Yet, we also need to recognize that we are saved by GRACE. No one can earn his/her way into the presence of our Father in Heaven without the Atonement. We need to enjoy our lives and work hard at what matters most. Often we will fill that we have not done enough but the beauty of the atonement is that through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ He can lift our spirits and give us peace. The gifts of the atonement is not only available for us in the future it is also available for us NOW. It is right now when we need the forgiveness, love, peace and the blessings from above. I thank God for my older Brother Jesus Christ and the sacred atonement. I am thankful for the blessing of the principles and ordinances of the gospel enable me to gain eternal life where I may continue to rear my family in love. Let us all not only believe in Christ but BELIEVE him. Believe that we are loved, that we can make it, that we will have eternity to grow. Let’s make a resolve to use our freedom to fight the fight to help save our family through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


Vonda said...

Can I steal that talk??? That was awesome. I dont normally take alot of time to read long post, but you sucked me in with one of my favorite topics. Great TALK!

Jen said...

Vonda -- steal away. It would be an honor! Thanks for your kindness. I just love ya!

Holly said...

Sounds like a great talk and I bet you did a fabulous job! As much as I don't actually like giving a talk in church, I enjoy the preparation.

Hilary said...

Jen - I'm **so** glad that you posted your talk. It was really amazing and I'm glad that I was able to read through it today. Thanks. . . You know - that's probably why things have been a bit tougher this week - Satan knows he needs to work hard on you. . . It sounds trite, but I usually believe that to be true. . .