Thursday, May 19, 2011

Come Unto Christ

As a young man preparing to go on my mission to England, our stake patriarch laid his hands upon my head and gave me a patriarchal blessing. Among other things he reminded me that at a very young age I had a strong testimony of the reality of my Savior. He said it would strengthen others throughout my life, if I would remain true and faithful to what I knew was true even as a young man. He reminded me that I lived in a world of doubters, that many would stand before me and declare to me there was no God. "Mankind everywhere is questioning and asking, 'Is there a God?' You are blessed dear brother at this early age with a testimony of Jesus Christ. This testimony will light your entire life if you constantly make use of all your abilities."

During those first few moments of his blessing I wondered how a man I barely knew and who barely knew me, could make such bold statements. Now, looking back on my life I have learned it was God, not him, who knew me better. I have seen the words of his blessing fulfilled again and again, but not in the ways I imagined when I was younger. The doubters in my blessing, to my surprise, have in many cases turned out to be my extended family members and friends, not random anti-Christs who would challenge me in some dramatic faith duel as I had supposed.

Family Secrets

I hasten to add these family members and friends are all good people, lifelong and faithful members of the Church. But they are doubters. They seem to lack the faith to really believe what Christ said, though most believe in Him. They believe Christ is the Savior, the Son of God, and that He established His church in the meridian of time, that He was perfect in every way and that the infinite atonement was accomplished through His instrumentality.

However, it appears many believe He does not really have enough power to cleanse them, to lift their burdens and to transform their lives. They keep secrets, deep, dark family secrets they won't reveal to anyone. Instead, they suffer in misery, they cover up their pain, they live lives of quiet desperation, thinking and believing they will someday work it all out on their terms in the spirit world rather than deal with the root causes of their pain and suffering today. They defer. They continue to live in shame and guilt. They are suffering needlessly. Private and secret acts, either ones they committed or ones which others inflicted upon them, are left untouched. They have tried repeatedly to move on but they remain in tortured desperation. Perhaps they are not so unlike many of you. Are you of the opinion that if you suffer enough on your own, you will not have to trouble the Savior with your burdens?

There is no doubt in my mind today that Heavenly Father knew everything about my extended families, both the ones from which my wife and I came, and the one we would create together. He knew all things, long before our collective choices and experiences played out in mortality. Because He knows, He can succor and help. But only if we exercise enough faith to ask for help. He can heal our spirits.

Reaching Higher

I see many who are close to me struggle with worthiness issues, feeling as though they want to do better, but knowing they are not worthy enough to ask for the help that would be theirs otherwise. It's ironic. It's as though, knowing they have been diagnosed with cancer, they feel they must first heal themselves before they seek medical intervention and surgery to remove the cancer cells that threaten their existence. How silly that seems!

President David O. McKay
I am reminded this morning of President David O. McKay, who wrote: "Man is a spiritual being, a soul, and at some period of one's life everyone is possessed with an irresistible desire to know his relationship to the Infinite. . . There is something within him which urges him to rise above himself, to control his environment, to master the body and all things physical and live in a higher and more beautiful world." (David O. McKay, True to the Faith, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 244).

Doesn't everyone feel that desire for self-improvement? It's discouraging, sometimes even overwhelmingly defeating, when we contemplate our own mortality and our obvious failures to measure up to the expectations of others and most importantly ourselves. How do you rise above the spiritual heights of a General Authority in your family tree, for instance? I can assure you of this -- you cannot do it alone, and it is not required that you do. You don't have the wisdom or the stamina or the strength to master the machinations of mortality on your own.

Come Unto Christ

Your Heavenly Father has offered this standing invitation: "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot." (Moroni 10:32-33).

Is the atonement at work in your life every day? Are you still responding to that invitation to lay your burdens at the foot of Christ's cross? Or have you given up, thinking all is lost, that you are beyond redemption? If you can find even a spark of faith to believe transformation and improvement are still available to you, then the atonement is still working in your life. After all you can do, after all your best efforts, after you have suffered enough on your own, you can find the needed assurance the atonement is working for you and on you.

We often believe the atonement is about overcoming sin, confessing sin, repenting, and being forgiven. Certainly, it is all those things. But it is more. Victims of abuse, widows and children who are left husbandless and fatherless, children and orphans of divorce, all these and more have claim upon the merits of Christ's atonement too. Sometimes their sins are sins of omission -- they fail to recognize everything and everybody can be fixed.

Repentance and Change

Thinking of that, the context is much broader for the word repentance than perhaps we have imagined. In Greek, it means "To have a new mind." To you who doubt the power and the majesty of the atonement's ability to reach "even this" in your life, I say to you, change your mind. Exercise your faith in your Redeemer. He is mighty to save. Repent of your old tired ways of thinking. Give up your flawed mental processes that have mired you in ruts of destructive thoughts. Come out from behind the cover up, unmask the demons that torment you, drag out the hellish thoughts into the naked sunlight of Christ's redeeming love. Give up your despair. Repent of it. Change your mind that you are not worth saving. Christ believes you are.

Let Christ love you. Exercise faith that He knew you and your suffering in Gethsemane's crushing weight. Listen to His words: "Therefore I command you to repent — repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore — how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I." (D&C 19:15-17).

Do you realize, I mean really BELIEVE, in the overwhelming suffering of the Savior so your pain -- whatever its source -- could be swallowed up in Him? Because if you cannot, if you procrastinate further in covering up in shame whatever you did to others or whatever happened to you as an innocent victim, then you are reminded that you must suffer alone. Many of you seem content to let the suffering continue rather than to accept the grace He so fully offers to you. How silly can you be? And here's the corollary truth -- you may not want to hear it now, but it is true: No matter how much suffering on your own you can possibly bear, it will still not be enough. You will still be forever shut out from the love and warmth of your immediate family and from the extended family of your Father in Heaven.

Let this thought take root in you today, and let it swell and begin to grow. Whatever pain repentance might bring to you in this life, it will never be greater than the pain you will someday face if do not repent here and now. Change your mind about whatever false ideas are holding you bound in your misery. No matter how much you have suffered here and now, even believing that suffering is somehow in your twisted thinking mentoring your progress toward eternity, unaided by Christ's atonement in which He descended beneath the magnitude of your suffering, you will still not receive enough mercy needed for your relief. Instead, you will just go on suffering needlessly. Yes, you may be tough, even stoic, you may think yourself a magnificent towering example of heroism, but you are deceived. There was only One true martyr who suffered sufficiently and universally for all.

Receive the Holy Ghost

Here is the measure of whether or not the atonement is at work in your life. Have you RECEIVED the Holy Ghost? It is the only cleansing agent available to purify both perpetrators and victims alike.

President Marion G. Romney
President Marion G. Romney taught: "Receiving the Holy Ghost is the therapy which effects forgiveness and heals the sin-sick soul." ("The Holy Ghost," Ensign, May 1974, 92). Those sin-sick souls are either sick of sins they have committed, good deeds they have omitted, or sins others have thrust on them. When we are finally sick enough of sin and its heavy burden, the Holy Ghost has the power to heal all of it.

The Savior taught, "Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day." (3 Nephi 27:20). Mormon, writing to his son Moroni, reminds us, "Behold, I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach -- repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children." (Moroni 8:10).

Begin today to change your mind about the false teachings you have harbored. Compare, challenge your faulty thinking against the scriptures. Do the things to invite the Holy Ghost's companionship into your life. You will know for a surety when he is there, and you will learn to discern when he withdraws. When he is your companion, you know the atonement is working in your life.

We all have roles to play in each others' lives. I'm the big brother, the father and now the grandfather many times over. I can make some choices today that will bring the Holy Ghost to me as my companion in filling those roles. Again, the patriarch reminded me, "You have a responsibility, a special responsibility, being the first born. Those who are younger than you in the family will look to you and will confide in you and I bless you as the older brother that you may inspire them to be as our Savior would have them be." No matter our birth order in our nuclear family, we are all one day promised, if faithful, we will become "firstborns" in the "church of the Firstborn." (See D&C 76:50-70).

No matter what our assignments, roles and birth order, the Holy Ghost is our ally. The Savior said, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." (John 15:26). We can comfort one another and be comforted by the spirit of the Holy Ghost abounding in each of us. It speaks peace to our hearts. It conquers fear and misjudgment, anxiety and doubt.

Think of those for whom you have responsibility. You will have impressions that come to you about them. Even something as fleeting as a thought, a glimpse into their souls through their eyes, a unresolved mystery that is cankering their soul might be revealed to you to help them. I cannot promise miracles, for such is beyond me, but I can promise you that when you feel those swelling motions stirring within you prompting you to reach out and offer help, you will be feeling the Holy Ghost who will help you deliver the water of God's salvation to the last furrow in your field. You will feel approval and joy. You will know that, for at least that fleeting moment, the power of the Holy Ghost was with you. You will hear truth spoken in your heart and mind. You will know the healing that came into your soul, and you will help clean the souls of others as you have been cleansed.

The Value of Chastening

"Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you." (D&C 95:1).

There is no doubt in my mind today that a way is being prepared even as I write for the deliverance of my loved ones in the extended family who are trapped in their misery. In that one verse the Lord was announcing a specific chastisement because His people had not built the temple. He called failing to heed His commandment "a grievous sin." But the redeeming hope follows quickly -- "I love you," He says, "and I will deliver you."

I want to make it clear, however, change hurts. Repentance hurts. But it hurts less than your current suffering without Him hurts. When Christ describes His suffering, he says, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit — and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink." (D&C 19:18). But we only have to suffer to a point. That's where our suffering needlessly, either for our sins or the sins of others, intersects with Christ's pain.

No one can afford the luxury of thinking there is no pain from sin. You can be forgiven. The atonement is real. But President Spencer W. Kimball taught, "If a person hasn't suffered, he hasn't repented." (TSWK, 99). True faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ leads us to stay as far away from sin as we can.

President George Albert Smith
The Lord's Side of the Line

Some people I know in my extended family have suffered from a delusional lie. They expect because the world is more wicked they must expect to be overcome by temptation and they have no power to resist it. President George Albert Smith taught that however dark and dreary the world becomes:

"There are two influences ever present in the world. One is constructive and elevating and comes from our Heavenly Father; the other is destructive and debasing and comes from Lucifer. We have our agency and make our own choice in life subject to these unseen powers. There is a division line well defined that separates the Lord's territory from Lucifer's. If we live on the Lord's side of the line Lucifer cannot come there to influence us, but if we cross the line into his territory we are in his power. By keeping the commandments of the Lord we are safe on His side of the line, but if we disobey His teachings we voluntarily cross into the zone of temptation and invite the destruction that is ever present there. Knowing this, how anxious we should always be to live on the Lord's side of the line." ("Our M.I.A.," Improvement Era, May 1935, 278).

Some were introduced at a very young age to wickedness by others. Think back on your own experiences. Often our best friends during our youthful years subjected us to perversions once unspeakable that now seem to be our common lot. Once innocently sexually abused as a young child, the abused grows into adolescence and adulthood as the abuser. Fear and shame cover the sins of the original abuser for many, many years, then erupt in future generations, and out of shame and guilt the sins remain hidden from view, suffering escalates, is perpetuated, and gains power over the original innocent victim. How tragic. How avoidable. How senseless. The cancer can be removed, it can be cut out, and it dies in the sunlight just as the fictional myth of the vampires dies in the morning sunlight. Wickedness never was righteousness, and has no power when we oppose it.

Born Again

President Ezra Taft Benson
If you read deeper in these pages, you will discover my love for the prophets. We have many dramatic examples of marvelous "quick" conversions in the scriptures. However, we were reminded by President Ezra Taft Benson in a memorable General Conference address, "For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said 'were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not' (3 Nephi 9:20)." ("A Mighty Change of Heart," Ensign, October 1989, 5).

There is a very real doctrine, one so bold and declarative it cannot be dismissed, and one our "born again" Christian friends claim does not exist in Mormonism. It is this -- we must all be born again. (See Alma 5:14, 15, 26-31).

"And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?" (Alma 5:14-15).

Do you want to be one in whose countenance the image of Christ's reality can be etched? "Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth." (Alma 5:16). Aren't those blessed words worth changing whatever it is your life that is causing so much misery, fear, shame, anger or resentment? Alma explains the relief remedy:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?
Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?
Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved! (Alma 5:26-31, emphasis mine).

Ah, the simple words, the change -- change in what? The mighty change of heart. How is it accomplished? Google searches rely upon keywords. Long before Google, Alma used keywords too: humble, stripped of pride, stripped of envy, not making a mock of my brother, garments cleansed. So where are you on changing your mind and your heart?

My guess is you will be humble enough that you may be reluctant to believe the mighty change of heart is going on right now. I have often likened the spiritual rebirth to being as perceptible as watching your fingernails growing. It may be happening and you are discounting it. But maybe you will trust enough to confide in those who love you most. Saying the words you need to say liberates you and frees you from the chains that bind you down. When you speak truth -- the truth of your misery -- they lose power instantly. Secrets held for years melt away like frost in the morning heat of the sun. Your loved ones will know when you begin to unearth your hidden "treasures" of sin without any attached dirt clods of shame still clinging to its roots. And the Savior and our Heavenly Father already know. And that is enough.

"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." (Mosiah 3:19). Scripture mastery scriptures are divinely selected for a reason -- that one will last throughout your life.

Choose to Change

I know we can choose to change. I know it will be painful initially, but possible. I know the Holy Ghost will provide the needed comfort. I know the cleansing influence of the Holy Ghost is priceless. I know the Holy Ghost can scatter evil spirits who are whispering lies in your ears. I know the confidence that knowing can bring. I know that coming unto Christ is the way, the only way, we are sanctified and will never hunger or thirst again.

To my friends and the members of my extended family who are still suffering, remember what President McKay said that at "some period" in your lives you will feel an irresistible desire to rise to a higher, more beautiful world. That may not be today, but don't let too many more days pass before you act on that desire. If you'll let these words penetrate into your hearts, the time will come for something better than what you are currently experiencing. Come unto Christ. He knows the way. I know the way. I've tried to lay it out in today's post.

Don't believe the lie, "Oh, that's just fantasy. That's not possible. I could never change that much."

You can. The Savior promised, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). Believe Him.

He can and He will deliver you from bondage. You don't have to wait for the spirit world. He means for you to be happy in this life. Here and now.

Your yearning for something better is a yearning to come unto Christ. This promise is not mine. It is the promise of the miracle you seek: "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23).

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