Monday, June 22, 2015

June 8, 2015--A talk in church

June 8, 2015

Hi family!

I'm speaking in church this week, so I thought I would send my talk home and get feedback from you.  I've been assigned to speak on "Dealing with trials by using the Atonement."  

"It Is I; Be Not Afraid"

There are two specific incidents mentioned in the Gospels involving storms on the Sea of Galilee.  The first, perhaps better known instance, shows us the Lord in the role of the Master, exhibiting his dominion over the forces of nature.  We all know the story: Christ and his apostles are caught in a storm at sea, and in an act of fearful desperation, they awake their leader and plead with him to do something, anything, to save them from what appears to be their imminent doom.  The Lord Jesus, rising from his slumber, calms the tempest with a simple command, shocking the Apostles who, at this point in their ministry, may not have fully understood exactly who it was that they were following.  

The second incident takes place some time afterwards.  The Apostles are more spiritually mature, having had a multitude of remarkable faith-building experiences. They have served missions. They have seen the Lord heal the sick and cast out devils.  They have seen him raise the daughter of Jarius from the dead.  They have seen him feed the five thousand.  At this point, surely, they know of his divinity, his identity.  The Lord, desiring time alone to commune with his father, sent his faithful disciples by boat to the other side of the sea of Galilee, and retired to a secluded spot to pray.  

While the Apostles were traveling, a storm quickly arose and they again found themselves being tossed to and fro on the waves of the sea. This time, however, they were alone.  They toiled heavily to keep themselves afloat, but a strong headwind rendered their sails useless, leaving only the oars as an option. As they struggled, the storm became fiercer, and their situation grew dire.  They had exhausted their strength, they had made no progress, and to top it all off, the Lord was nowhere in sight. 

Or so they thought.  The Lord Jesus, while alone in prayer, was acutely aware of his disciples perilous situation. And so, between 3 and 6 in the morning, he approached the vessel, walking on the water as if it were solid ground, reassuring the frightened apostles with these words of comfort: "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." (Matthew 14:27)

Here we see another display of the Lord's miraculous power over nature, and yet, the Apostles have a much different reaction.  Rather than shocked at what they are seeing, they are relieved.  Why? Because they have had enough experiences by this point to have a testimony of another one of Christ's roles, that of the Deliverer.  Their fear left them as, hearing those words from across the waves, they realized that they were saved. Their Master has come. 

It is a matter of fact that all will face trials and adversity in this life. Indeed, that was one of the purposes for which we came to earth. Each of us knew that we would be tried and tested, and that things would not always be easy. But we also knew that we wouldn't need to do it alone.  All of us knew that the great plan of happiness would be centered on a Savior, our elder brother, who would perform the Atonement and provide a way for our redemption. 

Most people are no doubt aware and familiar with the cleansing power of the Lord's Atonement.  But I wonder, perhaps, if we often overlook another aspect of his sacrifice, namely the enabling power of the Atonement.  It is this power that Alma spoke of to the people of Gideon: "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

"And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:11-12)

While the Atonement can cleanse us from our sins, something we cannot ever do ourselves, it also performs another function, taught here by Alma.  I would like to highlight one part from those scriptures: "And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." To "succor" is to "assist and support in times of hardship and distress" (New Oxford American Dictionary). This is the enabling power of the Atonement, namely, the ability of the Lord to use the power granted to him by his sacrifice to assist us in enduring and accomplishing things that we would not be capable of on our own.  It is this power that Nephi showed such great faith in when he made his oft-quoted statement in verse seven of the third chapter of first Nephi: "I will go and do the things that the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them to accomplish the thing which he commanded them" (1 Nephi 3:7).  It is this enabling power of the Atonement that will ultimately deliver those who are faithful from their trials. 

Many of us have experienced a trial so difficult that it looked like there was no end in sight.  Indeed, for some trials, such as chronic illness or severe handicap, there is no end in sight, at least, in mortal eyes. The message of the Gospel, however, is that for all who have faith in Jesus Christ and apply his atonement, deliverance will come. It may not come in this life, but it will come. 

So how do we apply the atonement to our trials? Most members understand the repentance process involved in applying the cleansing power of the atonement. People who join the Church learn how to apply the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ and become cleansed and sanctified through the blood of the lamb.  However, I feel that the key to accessing the enabling power of the atonement lies in the final principle: Enduring to the End, and all that entails. Nephi teaches us the way we do this in second Nephi chapter thirty one, verse twenty: "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." (2 Nephi 31:20). Here, Nephi gives us the formula for enduring to the end, which, again, I believe is the key to accessing the enabling power of the Atonement. 

First, we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope." We are not to just suffer through our trials, white-knuckling it until they pass. Rather, we are to press forward, exercising faith in Christ. When trials come our way, we do not lose faith in Christ and cease to keep his commandments. Instead, we continue to follow him, living according to the standards that he has given us. We push forward, with a hope that, through Christ, everything will be made right. It is not enough to simply "stick it out." Instead, we must move forward and learn from our trials that which they were ordained to teach us. 

Satan knows perfectly well the sanctifying ability that trials and what they drive us to do have on us, and therefore attempts to discourage us and cause us to quit moving forward. He would convince us that, since we don't fully understand what is happening to us, we can't be expected to continue living the commandments. He does this because, while he can hedge up the way we must go, when it comes down to it, he has only the power that we give him. Thus he tempts us to give up living the commandments, thereby binding us with his chains and preventing any sort of real progression. However, if we exercise our agency and if press forward with faith in Christ, choosing to obey his commandments, there is nothing the adversary can do to stop us. 

Second, we are to have a love of God and of all men. Trials are opportunities for us to grow closer to God and to our brothers and sisters. I am sure that, if called upon, many of you could share experiences where a trial brought you closer to someone. This is one of the purposes of trials, and in learning to fulfill this purpose, we will be granted aid from the Almighty.

Satan will go to any length to stop this and, as a fitting counterfeit to the Lord's option, tempts us to turn inward and blame god or man for our struggles. This is a lie intended to bring damnation to our souls. Just like walking inland won't get you any closer to the sea, turning inward won't bring us any closer to God or our fellow man. When we turn outward, asking for help and leaning on the Lord and our loved ones for support, our relationships with others grow stronger, and we are better equipped to deal with our troubles 

Third, we must feast upon the words of Christ. By continuing to learn and grow in the gospel, both by studying the words of the prophets and attending our Sunday meetings, we open ourselves to revelation from the Lord on how to deal with our present struggles.  Like Nephi was taught to build a boat, a seemingly insurmountable task, we too can be taught how to cope with our trials. 

Satan's counterargument to this is pride. He would convince us that there is no point in seeking guidance from the Lord or his servants, for who could possibly understand what we are going through? Surely we can handle this on our own. We don't need their help.  This is a lie, and we can protect ourselves from it by always remembering that, no matter what happens to us, there is someone who knows exactly what we are going through, for he experienced it himself.

Finally, we must endure to the end. This means continuing onward, even if we fall.  it means that we do not give up, even when it looks like there is no hope. Enduring to the end is a demonstration of our faith in Christ. It says "I may not see the end of this path yet, but I know who I've put my trust in, and I know that he will not let me down." 

Satan would have us give up. He would have us quit. He tells us "It's impossible. Might as well give up now and save yourself the trouble." He preys on our shortsightedness and appeals to the natural man who would have every claim tested and every doctrine proved. He lies to us, telling us there is no end to our suffering, and that such faith is foolish. But there is an end. There is a finish line. It is the Celestial Kingdom, where those who are faithful will, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, overcome all their trials.  We cannot forget this, for the moment we take our eyes off of eternity is the moment we turn from our Heavenly Father who is waiting there for us. 

I know that if we follow Nephi's counsel and endure to the end, we will be able to apply the enabling power of the Atonement to our lives. While we may not be delivered from our trials immediately, we will be delivered. We can be freed from our trials, either in this life or the next.  Satan would have us believe that this isn't true, that our trials are here to stay.  We need to understand that, while his power seems great, it is nothing compared to the glory of God. Where God is, satan flees. Darkness cannot be where light is.  In closing, I would like to share an example of this in our modern time. I can think of no better demonstration of this principle in action than the following account:

"After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction."

        "But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction--not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being--just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me."

"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

Brothers and sisters, I pray that when trials and hardships come our way, we will not give up. I pray that we will be able to exercise our faith in Christ and apply the enabling power of his atonement until, through the cloud and darkness of our own personal tempest, we see the approach of the Master and hear those words of deliverance: "It is I; be not afraid." In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

Please point out any typos and anything I could do better.  

Everything is going great!  We have a baptism on the 20th, and another one coming soon after that.  It's going to be great!  I love you all!


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