4 Purposes Of The Atonement – Part 2

cameroon-104485_640“Some years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley told something of a parable about a one room school house in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough no teacher had been able to handle them.

Then one day an inexperienced young teacher applied. He was told that every teacher had received an awful beating, but the teacher accepted the risk. The first day of school the teacher asked the boys to establish their own rules and the penalty for breaking the rules. The class came up with 10 rules, which were written on the blackboard. Then the teacher asked, ‘What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’

‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response.

A day or so later, … the lunch of a big student, named Tom, was stolen. The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old.

As Little Jim came up to take his licking, he pleaded to keep his coat on. ‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’

The boy took off the coat. He had no shirt and revealed a bony little crippled body. As the teacher hesitated with the rod, Big Tom jumped to his feet and volunteered to take the boy’s licking.

‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’ the teacher asked.

After five strokes across Tom’s back, the rod broke. The class was sobbing. ‘Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. ‘Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!’”
–James E. Faust, “The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope, General Conference, October 2001

Jesus Christ took our beating for us. We deserved the beating. We are the ones who sinned, but he volunteered to take the punishment. How I love my Savior, Jesus Christ!  Isaiah explains Christ’s gift beautifully. I like to substitute the words “my” and “I” in place of “our” and “we” in these verses:

 “Surely he hath borne my griefs, and carried my sorrows…
…He was wounded for my transgressions, he was bruised for my iniquities: the chastisement of my peace was upon him; and with his stripes I am healed.”
(Isaiah 53:3-5)

Why do we need to cleansed from sin?

 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
(Romans 3:23)

No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. All of us have sinned and, therefore, none of us could live with God again if it weren’t for the Atonement. Christ can make us clean from sin.

Quicksand

Sin is like quicksand. It’s as if we are walking along, trying to get back to God, but along the way, we make a few wrong turns, and end up in quicksand! No matter how hard we struggle, we can’t get out. We are trapped. We look around and notice there are a lot of other people in the quicksand, but no matter how hard we try to work together, we realize it is no use. We are stuck deep with no power to free ourselves. Along walks Jesus Christ, the only person who has ever lived who has never ended up in quicksand. Because He is outside the quicksand, He can get us out.

Satan wants us to believe that we can’t get out. That there’s a point of no return – a point where you have sunk too far to be forgiven by the Savior. That is simply not true.

“For a number of years I found relaxation in carving and painting songbirds, at times spending a full year on a single carving….Once, I had a newly finished carving on the back seat of a car driven by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle. He hit the brakes suddenly and the carving was thrown to the floor and damaged.

Elder Tuttle felt terrible, supposing he had ruined a year’s work. When I waved aside his apologies, he said, ‘You sure don’t seem to be upset about it.’

To reassure him I said, “Don’t worry. I made it; I can fix it.” Actually, it had been broken and fixed many times while I was working on it.

Later, Brother Tuttle likened that experience to people with lives broken or badly damaged – supposedly ruined with no hope of repair – who do not know that there is a Maker, a Creator, who can fix any of his creations no matter how hopelessly broken they seem to be.”
–Pres. Boyd K. Packer, The Plan and the Plan, 6-7

Soap

pool-778207_640The Atonement is like the ultimate soap. It can clean any sort of grime or dirt, but soap is useless unless you USE it! The Savior reaches out His hand to us, holding the soap, but we have to stretch out our hand and take it. He won’t start scrubbing us against our will! He simply offers us His gift. Although the soap is a free gift, we must do our part and scrub ourselves clean. Repentance is work! Repentance is CHANGE! But repentance leaves us sparkling clean and feeling like we can conquer the world!

Returning to our cliff analogy from 4 Purposes of the Atonement – Part 1, there are 2 cliffs (obstacles) we must overcome to return to live with God. The first obstacle is physical death. The second obstacle is spiritual death or sin. Christ overcame sin through the Atonement, but it is up to build the bridge. He built the first bridge for us (the Resurrection), but we must build, repair, and fortify the second bridge throughout our lives. Again, Christ conquered sin (brought us soap), but we must use it (build the second bridge).

Gospel of Jesus Christ complete

How Do We Build The Second Bridge?

“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end [enduring to the end].

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.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church…”
(3 Nephi 27:19-21, emphasis added)

Faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end in keeping the commandments are the five key components in building the bridge. These five things make up the gospel of Jesus Christ (see also Preach My Gospel, lesson 3). It is a continual process. We must constantly build our faith, practice repentance, keep our baptismal covenants, follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and stand “steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God.” (Alma 1:25)

Cliff Hanger

mountains-718420_640We can’t be fully grateful for the Atonement unless we realize the absolutely desperate situation we would be in without it. Going along with our cliff analogy, Jeffrey R. Holland relates a sobering, touching story illustrating just how desperately we need our Savior. He tells the story of two brothers, Jimmy (age 14) and John (age 19) who went rock climbing without any safety equipment – no ropes, harnesses, or climbing gear of any kind. As they reached the top, they came to a protruding ledge that was impossible to climb over. They were stuck – they couldn’t climb up and they couldn’t get back down. Fortunately, John was able to find enough of a foothold to hoist his younger brother up to safety.

John desperately tried to find enough finger and toe holds to be able to climb up and over, but the more he moved around, the more his muscles began to cramp. He realized he couldn’t hold on much longer and that his only option would be to jump and try to grab the top of the overhanging ledge.

In his own words, he said:

“Prior to my jump I told Jimmy to go search for a tree branch strong enough to extend down to me, although I knew there was nothing of the kind on this rocky summit. It was only a desperate ruse. If my jump failed, the least I could do was make certain my little brother did not see me falling to my death.

“Giving him enough time to be out of sight, I said my last prayer—that I wanted my family to know I loved them and that Jimmy could make it home safely on his own—then I leapt. There was enough adrenaline in my spring that the jump extended my arms above the ledge almost to my elbows. But as I slapped my hands down on the surface, I felt nothing but loose sand on flat stone. I can still remember the gritty sensation of hanging there with nothing to hold on to—no lip, no ridge, nothing to grab or grasp. I felt my fingers begin to recede slowly over the sandy surface. I knew my life was over.

“But then suddenly, like a lightning strike in a summer storm, two hands shot out from somewhere above the edge of the cliff, grabbing my wrists with a strength and determination that belied their size. My faithful little brother had not gone looking for any fictitious tree branch. Guessing exactly what I was planning to do, he had never moved an inch. He had simply waited—silently, almost breathlessly—knowing full well I would be foolish enough to try to make that jump. When I did, he grabbed me, held me, and refused to let me fall. Those strong brotherly arms saved my life that day as I dangled helplessly above what would surely have been certain death.”
–Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” General Conference April 2015

Just as physical death is a separation (a separation of our spirits from our bodies), spiritual death is also a separation (sin separates us from God). Without the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the ability to repent and become clean of all of our sins, we would be cut off from the presence of God forever. Our brother, Jesus Christ, saved us from certain death and made eternal life with God possible. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Elder Holland then compared our plight to that of John’s:

“What a plight! The entire human race in free fall—every man, woman, and child in it physically tumbling toward permanent death, spiritually plunging toward eternal anguish. Is that what life was meant to be? Is this the grand finale of the human experience? Are we all just hanging in a cold canyon somewhere in an indifferent universe, each of us searching for a toehold, each of us seeking for something to grip—with nothing but the feeling of sand sliding under our fingers, nothing to save us, nothing to hold on to, much less anything to hold on to us? Is our only purpose in life an empty existential exercise—simply to leap as high as we can, hang on for our prescribed three score years and ten, then fail and fall, and keep falling forever?”
–Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” General Conference April 2015

How grateful I am for a Savior who loved me enough to die for me! He saved me from an awful death and suffered so that I won’t have to if I will simply repent. He wipes away my tears when I am sad. He finds me when I feel lost. He gives me courage when I’m afraid. He gives me strength when I’m at the end of my rope. Truly, he is called the Savior because he SAVES.

4 Purposes Of The Atonement – Part 1

We are down on earth and our goal is to get back to live with our Heavenly Father, but there are two cliffs in our way!  They are too wide to jump and too steep to climb down. We realize we cannot, by ourselves, get back! Only when we realize how desperately helpless we are on our own, can we truly start to appreciate the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, has the ability to save us and oh, how we need to be saved!

2 cliffs gospel of Jesus Christ third lesson

What are these two cliffs (obstacles) that prevent us from getting back?

“The Fall of Adam brought two kinds of death into the world: physical death and spiritual death. Physical death is separation of the body and spirit. Spiritual death is separation from God. If these two kinds of death had not been overcome by Jesus Christ’s Atonement, two consequences would have resulted: our bodies and our spirits would have been separated forever, and we could not have lived again with our Heavenly Father (see 2 Nephi 9:7–9, 11-12).”
–Gospel Principles, Chapter 12, “The Atonement”

OVERCOMING PHYSICAL DEATH (Purpose #1)

The first obstacle is physical death – which is the separation of our spirits from our bodies. I hate to break it to you, but none of us are getting out of this world alive =) The good news, however, is that Jesus Christ has power over death. The grave could not hold him. After three days, He was resurrected and because He was resurrected, all of us will be resurrected too.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
(1 Corinthians, 15:29)

Who will be resurrected and what will our bodies be like when we are resurrected?

43 The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
44 Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.
(Alma 11:43-44)

Every person who has ever lived on the earth will be resurrected – even the wicked people. The resurrection is a free gift to us from our Savior. We don’t have to do a thing to earn it. He builds this first bridge for us and we cross freely.

Resurrection bridge with RIP

Our bodies will be perfect. Our bodies will not get hungry, hurt, tired, or sick. No more disease, no more wheelchairs, and no more physical limitations. I can’t wait for that!

A SAD WAY TO DIE…

When I was younger, my mom told me about how her friend, who had not been going to church for a long time, started coming regularly. Her friend, whom we will call Betty, had a father-in-law who was dying. He was in the hospital and knew he didn’t have long to live. He did not believe in God and he was terrified to die. It was so bad that every time he started to fall asleep, he would start screaming – he was afraid he wouldn’t wake up again! He truly thought that death was the end – that you simply stopped existing. It was the saddest thing Betty had ever seen. She tried to comfort him, “Dad, it will be okay. There’s a life after death. There’s a resurrection. We will see each other again.” But it was no use. Nothing seemed to comfort him. Her heart ached for him. She watched him die in a miserable, panicked state and she swore she was not going to die like that! She grabbed her husband and told him, in no uncertain terms, that they were going back to church!

Death truly would be petrifying if it weren’t for the gift of the resurrection. We don’t know when we will be called home, but if we have kept the commandments to the best of our abilities and loved God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, then we need have no fear – it will be a glorious event (although, admittedly, at first it doesn’t always seem so glorious to those of us who are left behind to mourn). The only tragedy in death is for those who have lived contrary to the Lord’s commandments.

The prophet Abinadi testified, “But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.”
(Mosiah 16:8)

3 Ways To Ruin Your Self-esteem

bank-1238320_1280I held up a fresh-from-the-bank, clean, crisp $20 bill and asked my students, “Who wants this?” Every hand shot up into the air. Then I crumpled it in my hands and asked, “Who still wants it?” Every hand was still up. I threw it on the floor, stomped on it, ground it into the carpet for a bit and said, “I hope I didn’t step in any doggy doo doo on the way here….Who still wants this?” A few hands went down, but most of them were still up. I spit on the $20 bill and most of the hands were still up in the air. Gross! These youth must really want to see the new movie this weekend! “What if I threw up on it?” I asked, “Would you still want it?” There was some hesitation, but there were still hands in the air! One of my students told me, “I’ll just wash it off! It’s still worth $20!”

Then I pulled out a second $20 bill. It was crisp, clean, and looked freshly pressed! “Which $20 bill is worth more?” I inquired. The students immediately responded, “They’re worth the same!”

“No, no,” I protested, “look at this dirty, crumpled up $20 bill. It can’t be worth nearly as much. It’s no good any more.” My students objected, “They are worth the same!”

“They can’t be,” I said in disbelief, “This $20 bill is totally ruined. A worthless piece of junk!” We argued back and forth for a bit and then I finally gave in. “Of course you are right. We can’t buy more candy with the crisp, clean $20 bill. The dirty $20 bill is worth just as much as the clean one. I want you to remember that: they are worth the same!”

Self Worth vs. Self-esteem

Then we had a powerful discussion. We are all $20 bills. We were born $20 bills and we will NEVER be worth less. Our worth is our potential to become like our Heavenly Father. We are His children and we are worth the full 20 bucks.  Satan knows we are worth $20. He can’t ever change that so what does he do?  He tries to make us feel like we are worth less.  He has that dirty $20 bill look at the clean one and whispers, “You’re not worth 20 anymore – you’re dirty – you’re only worth 19.” If they keep listening, pretty soon they feel they are only worth $10, then $5, then $1 and then, sadly, $0. The poor $20 has been told so many times that he’s worth $0 that he actually begins to believe it.

“We cannot get more worth.  A larger house, a better salary, and an impressive investment portfolio may give us more net worth, but our self-worth remains constant.  Getting a new job or not getting a new job, driving an expensive car or driving a used car, wearing new clothes or putting on old clothes will not affect our self-worth, either positively or negatively.  While our self-esteem fluctuates, our self-worth never changes.  Our feelings of self-worth (or the degree to which an understanding of our self-worth is deeply internalized) will vary; but unlike self-esteem, our self-worth is unaffected by the ups and downs of life.  It is a constant power and comfort in our lives.  We change as we recognize – and act upon – this inherent gift, this endowment from God.  But our self-worth is always the same.  The more we realize our intrinsic worth, the less our self-esteem fluctuates, the more we are empowered to change our lives and build our self-esteem.”

–Lloyd D. Newell, The Divine Connection: Understanding Your Inherent Worth [1992], 11

Self worth and self esteem are two very different things.  Self worth never changes – it was set when we were born (it was set to our POTENTIAL, not our starting point).  Our goal in life is to get our self-esteem (how we personally feel about our self worth) to be up as high as our self worth.  It’s not enough to be a $20 bill. We need to feel  like we’re worth $20.

So, how does Satan get us to feel like we are less than we are? Let’s examine three of his methods.

3 Ways to Ruin Your Self Esteem

The Comparison Epidemic

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
–Theodore Roosevelt

By comparing yourself to others and dwelling too much on what they think of you, you are giving away your happiness to other people and letting them control YOUR happiness.  Your self-esteem will go up and down like a bumpy roller-coaster.  One day you’ll be on the top of the world because everyone thinks you’re great – you scored the most goals, you got the highest grade on the test, or you looked the cutest, but the next day you’ll be on the bottom because you said something dumb.  You will never be truly happy if you compare yourself to others.  You will always find someone better which will make you feel worse.

“Have you ever thought: ‘I’m not very important so what I say or do will never really be noticed? What can I offer that will make any difference? What can I do that will truly help others, cause their lives to be different, to be better? Do I actually have any worthwhile talents? Is there anything I can do to reach another in need? I’m not that special. If I don’t help, someone else will come along and do a better job than I can do.’

One of the greatest challenges is to overcome the feeling that we are unimportant, that we are not special and unique. Do you think for a moment that Heavenly Father would have sent one of His children to this earth by accident, without the possibility of a significant work to perform?

My dear friends, you are a royal generation. You were preserved to come to the earth in this time for a special purpose. Not just a few of you, but all of you. There are things for each of you to do that no one else can do as well as you. If you do not prepare to do them, they will not be done. Your mission is unique and distinctive for you. Please don’t make another have to take your place. He or she can’t do it as well as you can. If you will let Him, I testify that our Father in Heaven will walk with you through the journey of life and inspire you to know your special purpose here.”
–H. Burke Peterson, “Your Life Has a Purpose,” New Era, May 1979, 4

God made all of us different on purpose. Each of us has unique talents, abilities, and personal missions He needs us to fulfill. We are not here by accident! God has a great work for each of us to perform. We have things to say, share, do, and people to help that no one else can help as well as we can. Instead of looking around at all the wonderful things people around us are doing, it’s time to look inside of us and figure out what God-given gifts we have that we should be sharing!

“By comparing yourself to others, you limit yourself to being only as excellent as they may be and in so doing, prevent yourself from achieving a higher level of accomplishment that you never knew possible. Let others be guides, not goals!”
–Stephanie Trevino

tree-402953_1280

Wouldn’t it be tragic if God made an oak tree, and instead of the oak tree rising to the great heights apple-693971_1280it was meant to attain and sheltering the animals it was meant to protect, it spent its whole life trying to become like an apple tree? The oak tree would die hunched over and feeling like a failure its whole life!

Albert Einstein taught this same principle only he used a fish instead of a tree.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Developing Higher Self-esteem

An incredible book that we treasure at my house is You Are Special by Max Lucado. It’s a story about a village of wooden people called Wemmicks. Every day they go around and give each other gray dots or golden stars. You get a golden star if you can do amazing things and you get gray dots if you mess up, look funny, or don’t measure up. The main character, Punchinello, gets a lot of gray dots. One day he meets a Wemmick who has no dots or stars. He wants to be like her. Luckily, she shares her secret with him. Every day, she goes to see the Woodcarver (their creator).

Punchinello musters up the courage to go and see him too and it is a touching, beautiful story of God’s love and the power of realizing our self worth. Punchinello is worried that the Woodcarver will be disappointed with all the gray dots he has accumulated, but the woodcarver tenderly explains that he doesn’t care what the other Wemmicks think and that Punchinello shouldn’t either. “Who are they to give dots or stars? They are Wemmicks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.”

Punchinello goes on to ask him why the gray dots or stars won’t stick to Lucia. The woodcarver explains, “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them….The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”

Now, I was super impressed that the gray dots wouldn’t stick to Lucia. It wasn’t that the Wemmicks didn’t try to give her gray dots; they just wouldn’t stick to her! That proves that we have control over our reactions. We can choose not to be offended.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

But why didn’t the golden stars stick to her? Aren’t stars a good thing? Shouldn’t we give stars to people? I finally realized that the stars didn’t stick to her because she didn’t NEED them to feel good about herself. It’s not that we should reject every compliment and thank you card we get – those are very much appreciated, but we shouldn’t need them to feel of worth.

Great danger awaits those whose self esteem is so low that they rely on outside sources to feel good about themselves. These people will do anything to get a star. I taught high school and I loved my teenagers, but my heart ached for those who started drinking or smoking or doing other things they knew to be wrong in order to get a star.

The secret to our self-esteem matching the level of our self worth (feeling like 20 bucks =) is coming to know for ourselves that God loves us and that He thinks we are awesome. If someone comes along and tells us we are stupid, we can respond, “I am a child of God and He thinks I’m smart. Which voices are we going to believe? Other people who have lived 10-100 years or an all-powerful, eternal being?

Nephi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, was not a carpenter, but he was commanded to build a ship. His brothers mocked him and said he couldn’t do it, but God had told him he could. Who was Nephi going to believe – God or his brothers? He chose God. Nephi performed miracles because he knew who he was.

Romans chapter 8 is basically Paul trying to prove to the Romans how much God loves them! Look at these incredible verses

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

We are God’s children. The Holy Ghost testifies of this powerful truth to us!

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God

God is always doing what’s best for us. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be God. Even “bad” things can turn into glorious things when we place our trust in Him and patiently wait. 

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

All things are possible with God’s help. He is more powerful than any of our enemies or trails.

32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

God delights in blessing us and granting the righteous desires of our hearts.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

Once we truly understand we are a child of God, we begin to see other people differently. They are also children of God and how hurt He must feel if we are mean to one of them! We were sent here to help each other up, not tear each other down.

We can’t control whether people like us or not or what they think about us. We can’t MAKE anyone like us. We can try to influence it by being kind, but ultimately, whether they like us or not is THEIR decision. It is foolish to base our happiness off of someone else’s choices.

We can’t control how much someone loves us, but we can control how much we love them. Forget about if other people love you or not. Focus on loving them – whether they deserve it or not. As you develop this gift of charity, to love as Christ loves, you will become more forgiving, understanding, patient, compassionate, sympathetic, and judge less. Life will be infinitely better because YOU have become a better person whether people around you have changed or not.

“Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them. If we could look in to each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently.”
–Marvin J. Ashton

We never know what trials and heartaches another person is facing, so it is so unfair to judge them. Assume that everyone is doing their absolute best and be ready to lend a helping hand, especially if someone is unkind. If they are unkind, it’s a sign that their cup of sadness is overflowing and they need, more than ever, someone to be kind to them. Be so worried about improving yourself that you don’t have time to criticize other people. And remember that the only person you should compare yourself to is yourself.

 “If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better.”

SIN

How does Satan want us to react when we have sinned? He whispers, “Give up. You know you’re just going to mess up again so why keep trying? There’s no way God can love you any more. You’ve messed up way too many times…” These negative, despairing thoughts never come from God.

“The discouraging idea that a mistake (or even a series of them) makes it everlastingly too late, does not come from the Lord. He has said that if we will repent, not only will He forgive us our transgressions, but He will forget them and remember our sins no more.” (See Isa. 43:25; Heb. 8:12; Heb. 10:17; D&C 58:42; Alma 36:19.)
–Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 1989

How does God want us to react after we’ve sinned? He wants us to feel godly sorrow – be sad that we’ve sinned, but be determined to do better. God wants us to repent, learn from our mistakes, and move on! We shouldn’t dwell on our mistakes and beat ourselves up for what a rotten, terrible person we are. That is what Satan wants us to do! God motivates us to feel,  “I can do better! I want to do better! I will do better!” It is a positive feeling. Don’t dwell on the sin – dwell on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and healing that will come to you as you fully repent, learn, and progress. Never give in to Satan’s lie that you have sinned too often and too much for God to love you.

…however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines… there is nothing that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace,” and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord.
–Elder Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012

Negative Self Talk

What if you got up every morning and told yourself, “I am stupid.” How would you feel after four weeks? I bet you would feel pretty stupid. What if you got up every morning and said, “I am gifted at coming up with solutions to problems.” I bet you would feel pretty smart after four weeks.

The Wemmicks were constantly giving gray dots to each other, but sometimes we don’t even need a gray dot from someone else to feel crappy because we give so many to ourselves! We would never go up to someone and say, “You are ugly” but we don’t even hesitate to say that to ourselves.

How do we stop the negative self talk? One powerful tool is affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements that help shape our beliefs of who we are or who we want to become. I had my teenage students fold a paper in half. On one side, I had them list 5 negative things they said to themselves. On the other side, I had them change these negative statements into positive statements. Here are a few examples:

I have no friendspositive-954797_1920 -> I am a friendly person who reaches out to others

I am ugly -> I am a beautiful daughter of God with a light that shines

I am worthless -> I am a child of God with infinite worth

I have a temper -> I am a patient person who listens and understands before speaking

Recipe for Self-esteem

Scripture Pancake #1: Ezra Taft Benson gave us the key ingredients we need to have a healthy, high self-esteem: “If we loveGod, do his will, and fear His judgment more than men’s, we will have self-esteem.”

Scripture Pancake #2: “The more we realize our intrinsic worth, the less our self-esteem fluctuates, the more we are empowered to change our lives and build our self-esteem.” (Lloyd D. Newell)

What are some things you’ve done (or some things you have taught to your children) that have built up your (or their) self-esteem? Comment below!

 

How To Get More Miracles In Your Life

I handed out a small piece of paper to everyone in my class and told them, “You’ve got 60 seconds to list as many miracles as you possibly can. Go!”  Some students had a hard time until I told them to think about all the miracles Jesus performed and then their pencils were writing furiously until I told them it was time to stop. The class came up with an impressive list (I’ll only mention a few):

  • Parting of the Red Sea
  • Walls of Jericho Falling down
  • Ten Plagues
  • Widow of Zarephath’s food (meal and oil) never failing
  • Jesus walking on water
  • Healing lepers
  • Healing the blind
  • Calming Storms
  • Feeding 5000

Defining the Word “Miracle”

I asked my students to work with someone in the class and come up with the definition of a miracle – to really ponder that word and what it meant. I was inspired by the beautiful definitions they came up with:

  • A blessing directed to you out of love to miraculously strengthen you and lift you up spiritually.
  • God’s help (something man can’t do)
  • A personal and individualized blessing
  • Anything that lifts you spiritually
  • A blessing that strengthens you

As we discussed each of these definitions, I emphasized the fact that a miracle doesn’t have to be a huge, spectacular event such as the walls of Jericho tumbling to the ground! Miracles can be a very “small” and personalized event. One of my all-time favorite definitions of a miracle is this:

“A miracle is the evidence of the hand of God in your lives.”
–Celeste Witt, Professor at Brigham Young University

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Now, when the children of Israel were trapped between a huge sea and an Egyptian army, the parting of the Red Sea was pretty big evidence that the hand of God was in their lives!

Just a quick side note: I’ve always wondered who could be dumb enough to follow the Israelites into the Red Sea! I mean, if you were charging full-speed ahead to kill some Israelites and were suddenly, and miraculously, stopped by a pillar of fire, don’t you think a light bulb would go off in your head saying, “Hmmm, maybe God is protecting these people?” Who on earth follows after unarmed people after watching a sea part in two? Not the brightest people I’ve read about…

Truly, this was a hand-made miracle for the children of Israel, but miracles aren’t necessarily always that dramatic.  There are so many other “ordinary” events in our lives that are just as miraculous.

Tender Mercies

David A. Bednar taught this concept beautifully. He basically described a miracle as a Tender Mercy. He told about his experience of being called into a new leadership position (one of 15 men who lead our entire church worldwide!). He felt the weight and responsibility keenly. Just before he was to address the entire church in a world-wide conference, a hymn was sung entitled “Redeemer of Israel.” Elder Bednar described this event as follows:

“Now, the music for the various conference sessions had been determined many weeks before—and obviously long before my new call to serve [as a leader over the entire church]. If, however, I had been invited to suggest an intermediate hymn for that particular session of the conference—a hymn that would have been both edifying and spiritually soothing for me and for the congregation before my first address in this Conference Center—I would have selected my favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” Tears filled my eyes as I stood with you to sing that stirring hymn of the Restoration.

Near the conclusion of the singing, to my mind came this verse from the Book of Mormon: ‘But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance’ (Book of Mormon, 1 Ne. 1:20).

My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase ‘the tender mercies of the Lord,’ and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.

I have reflected repeatedly upon the phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord.” Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
–David A. Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord,” April 2005 General Conference

Tender Mercies are NOT random events or coincidences. God knew that Elder Bednar would be asked to fill this leadership position and He knew that his favorite hymn was “Redeemer of Israel.” The Lord had arranged this Tender Mercy long before Elder Bednar was even asked to speak!

It was a tender moment when the Lord reached down from heaven to show His son that He was there, He understood, He would help, and that things would be okay. No one knew about this miracle except for Elder Bednar and God himself. And that’s how most of the miracles have been in my life. I knew they happened, and the Lord knew they happened, and that was enough. Most modern-day miracles are not broadcast to the world. They happen in quiet, ordinary places to very ordinary people.

Modern Day Tender Mercies

My brother related the following experience shortly after his wife delivered their fifth child:

baby-718146_1280“While delivering our latest bundle of joy, in the final minute before delivery, I could tell from the look on Deborah’s face that she was in extraordinary pain — she later said that it was much more painful than the delivery of any of our other five kids. She called out repeatedly for help, and I remember feeling so powerless and helpless. I said some silent prayers asking God to help her. Afterward she received the distinct impression that God had helped her through it. I was very grateful.

A short while later, after the placenta also came out, the doctor came to show it to us. She explained to us that our daughter’s placenta had a “velamentous cord insertion”, which apparently means that sometimes part of the blood vessels in the umbilical cord are attached to the placenta in an unusual place and don’t have the gelatinous protection layer that the rest of the umbilical cord does. The upshot is that those vessels can easily rupture without that extra protection. A normal delivery is apparently quite dangerous for such cases, because even the mom’s water breaking if not the rest of the process of birth can rupture those vessels and cause the death of the baby (and maybe even make the mom bleed a lot too). Even if they don’t rupture, they can get heavily compressed and send the baby into distress, and then they’ll need to do an immediate C-section. As the doctor was explaining this to us, she referred to our daughter as a “miracle baby” multiple times. She also said that in her 30 years of delivering babies, this was only the second case of a velamentous cord insertion that she had ever seen.

Later when I got home, I remember thinking that not only had God saved my wife from who-knows-what, He had also miraculously saved my baby daughter — but I never would have known of the second miracle had the doctor not noticed something highly unusual about the placenta and pointed it out to us. As I prayed that night, not only did I thank Him for helping, I remember even commenting to Him that I almost didn’t even notice the great miracle He had done for me in my life. After those comments, the thought was impressed upon my mind that if I had completely missed the second miracle that it wouldn’t be a unique event by any means.

I guess it goes to show that God is aware of us and helping us far more than we tend to realize.”

My brother and his sweet wife would have never known a miracle had occurred if the doctor hadn’t told them! They just would have thought it was another delivery, albeit a more difficult and painful one. After we pass into the next life, I think we will be astounded when we find out about all the behind-the-scenes work our Father in Heaven did just for us.

This miracle wasn’t recorded in scripture for millions of people to read about, but it was just as miraculous and humbling. Only a handful of people knew about it which just goes to show that God is not just a God of the entire Universe, but a God of individuals – His children, that He very personally cares for and deeply loves.

Christ didn’t go around to large crowds of people, wave his hand, and cure hundreds of people at the same time. He went to them individually, one on one, and healed them. Large crowds were waiting to hear His message, but he was never too busy to stop and help one individual (see 3 Nephi 11:15, Mark 5:21-24, Mark 5:25, 29-34, Mark 10:46-52)

A God of Miracles

Some may ask, “Do you really believe God plays such an individual role in our lives?” Absolutely! What good is a God that doesn’t – a God that just does a few, fantastic miracles once in a while for His children? What good of a mother would I be if I checked up on my kids every few weeks to see how they were doing?

God is a God of miracles. That is who He is and what He does for His children. The scriptures are filled with examples of the miracles He performed.

clouds sun lightBut if God performed so many miracles in the Bible, where are those miracles today? Has He stopped doing them now? My testimony to you is that he has NOT stopped performing miracles. They are happening all around us. We just have a problem RECOGNIZING them for what they are. I repeat: the problem is not a LACK of miracles. The problem is the lack of our ability to see and recognize them for what they truly are!

The prophet Mormon understood this principle and was frustrated that his people were no longer believing in a God who still performed miracles for His children.

15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.

17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought? (Mormon 9:15-17)

Mormon argued that if God performed miracles since the world was created, and if God is an unchangeable being (see Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and to day, and forever”), then why would God simply stop performing miracles? There must be a reason. Does He love us less today then He did back then? No! Has he lost His power? No! Then we must have simply grown too smart, solved all the world’s problems, and don’t need Him anymore. No! Of course that’s ridiculous! (See “Profile of a Prophet,” by Hugh B. Brown for further reading on this argument).

18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. (Mormon 9:18)

Christ performed miracles to show us what He can do for us in our lives if we will only let Him. If He could heal a leper by touching Him, what can He do for you in your life?  There is not any tragedy He can’t heal you of.  There is no wound He can’t heal, no heart He can’t mend, no life He can’t repair.

19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles. (Mormon 9:19)

Mormon does caution us that miracles can cease among the children of men, but it is NOT because God’s character has changed. It’s because ours has!

 20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust. (Mormon 9:20)

Whether or not we are receiving miracles is not so much dependent upon God as it is upon ourselves and the condition of our faith!

Did You Know God Just Saved Your Life?

road twilightWhen I was in college, I was driving home after hanging out with some friends and, having stayed too long, raced home to finish my insane amount of homework! I drove along the back roads which were very dark. All I could see was an occasional headlight of another car or a light on a house.

I came to an intersection where I needed to turn left and saw a car coming.  If I turned left quickly, I could beat it and get home sooner, but then the prompting came, “Wait, just wait.” As I hesitated, I had another very strong feeling to slow down and wait. I did. I slowed down and let the other car pass. As I turned left onto the next street, my headlights caught the shape of a man who had just finished jogging across the street. Had I turned any sooner, I could have hit him and seriously injured or even killed him! I was so shaken I could barely drive the rest of the way home. I wanted to get out of my car, chase him down, grab him by the shoulders and say, “Do you realize that God just saved your life?”

That man will never know that God saved his life that night. He will think that jog was just another ordinary run. He would have left his wife and kids, gone jogging and come back – a very uneventful evening – or so he thought.

He didn’t know that God saved his life, but I did. I am so grateful for this experience. I got to see the hand of God in action and I have never forgotten it. Since then, I have often wondered how many times God has literally saved my life and I’ve been totally oblivious! How much behind-the-scenes work does He do for me every day that I’m totally unaware of? I came away knowing that God watches over all of His children. I had experienced it first hand. I had this sacred experience of witnessing the love of God for a man that was out late jogging – a man I didn’t even know, but a man that God was actively protecting and watching over.

A Change in Perscpective – How To Recognize A Miracle

How do we recognize the miracles all around us? Henry B. Erying gives us the keys:

“When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.

He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”

I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: ‘Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?’ As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.

My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies. You may not keep a journal. You may not share whatever record you keep with those you love and serve. But you and they will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done. You remember that song we sometimes sing: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
–Henry B. Erying, ‘O Remember, Remember,’ General Conference October 2007

journal-1090599_640 I have kept a Tender Mercies journal and it has been life-changing. It was different from a regular journal or even a gratitude journal because I was purposefully looking for how God had blessed me THAT DAY. Some days were rough and a million things went wrong, but there was NEVER a day where I couldn’t think of at least one thing the Lord had done for me that day.

It started to open up my eyes to how much the Lord is in the little details of our lives. And I realized, that if I hadn’t taken time to actually ponder about my day, I would have missed many of the miracles He did for me because I didn’t see them for what they were as I was rushing about my day.

Scripture Pancake: So, the question really isn’t “How can I get more miracles?” but “How can I recognize the miracles that the Lord is already sending my way?” That is our great challenge, opportunity, and blessing.