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.

Advertisements

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

CU060711-001hr

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.

How To Make Your “Sundae” A Delight

“Today, class, we’re going to talk about Sundaes!”  I pulled out some ice cream and put three big scoops in a bowl.  “Who wants some ice cream?”  I always had some VERY eager students raise their hands!  “Oh good,” I continued, “but plain vanilla ice cream isn’t very good.  Let’s put some toppings on it!”  I pulled out some ketchup and, ignoring the protests of my students, squirted a generous amount on top.  “Hmmm, this isn’t very healthy.  Let’s add some green beans!” The class moaned as I continued to put black pepper, beans, and other “disgusting” things on top.  “You’ve ruined it!” some of them groaned.  “What are you talking about?” I argued, “Green beans are delicious.  Black pepper spices things up!”  Amazingly, I always had a few students who still wanted to eat it!

The class contended that all of the ingredients I had put on top were good, but NOT on a sundae.  “Exactly my point!” I exclaimed, “there are many things that are good things to do, but not on a S.U.N.D.A.Y!  So many of us start out our Sundays on the right foot.  We go to church and get 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, but then we come home, and through our Sabbath Day activities, proceed to dump ketchup, green beans, and pepper all over it!”  I announced the theme of my lesson: Don’t ruin your Sunday!

Let’s turn to the Book of Mormon for an example of a people who were ruining their Sundays!  The Zoramites had built a synagogue to worship in.  Inside, they had built a high stand called the Rameumptom that would only admit one person at a time.  Every person climbed up the stand, said the exact same prayer, and then they “returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again” until the next Sunday! (see Alma 31:23).  Satan must have whispered, “See, you built a church.  You go every Sunday.  You’re a good person.”  There is a big difference between going to church each week and being changed by what you learn at church.  One of the main purposes of church is to teach you the tools, motivate, and help you to live better DURING the week.

The tower gave the Zoramites the illusion that they were close to God.  Now, the goal of every Sabbath is to come closer to God, but you can’t do that merely by constructing a tower (a one time event).  We must actively choose to do things, throughout our life, that bring us closer to Him.  If God feels far away, He is NOT the one who has moved!

The tower only admitted one person at a time.  Contrast this with Moroni 6:5 which reads “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”

Now, the Zoramites were correct in going to church – that is a crucial step in keeping the Sabbath Day holy:

A man of my acquaintance remained home each Sabbath and justified himself by saying that he could benefit more by reading a good book at home than by attending the sacrament meeting and listening to a poor sermon. But the home, sacred as it should be, is not the house of prayer. In it no sacrament is administered; in it is not found the fellowship with members, nor the confession of sins to the brethren…: ‘It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus’ (D&C 20:75) (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [1982], 220).

However, as important as it is to go to church, the Zoramites were NOT keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  The Sabbath doesn’t end after church!  It lasts the ENTIRE day!

Today is the Sabbath. It does not end when we leave this session; it does not end if someone calls on the phone or knocks at our door inviting us to come out and play, go for a ride, to a ball game, or shopping; it does not end because we are on vacation or someone is visiting us, whether member or nonmember….The Sabbath lasts all day! (H. Aldridge Gillespie, “The Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 79–80)

But didn’t God rest on the Sabbath?  Isn’t it a day when we can relax, hang out, and have some fun?

The Sabbath is not a day for indolent lounging about the house….The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. [Failure] to do these proper things is a transgression on the omission side.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 96–97)

I think the problem lays in the fact that, in the English language, rest means to relax, but let’s look at how the word “rest” is used in the scriptures!  Do we really think God created the Universe in six days and then went and took a nap on the seventh?  What does the term “rest” really mean?  Let’s take a look at the following scripture chain (D&C 77:12, 3 Nephi 27:19, D&C 84:20-24, and Alma 13:12-13)

 We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it (D&C 77:12)

This scripture does not even mention the Lord resting on the seventh day.  It says he was sanctifying his work.  God did work on the Sabbath, but it was a different kind of work – a spiritual, purifying, sanctifying work.  We’ll come back to that later.

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. (3 Nephi 27:19)

Those who enter into his rest are those who are sanctified (have become clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ).  What does it mean to enter into his rest?

24 But they [the children of Israel during the time of Moses] hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:20-24)

God’s definition of rest is to receive the fulness of his glory.  It is to receive your salvation (as members of my church would say – it is to receive your exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 76:6)).

That is how Alma uses the word “rest” as well:

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.  And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest. (Alma 13:12-13)

When we think of the word “rest,” we think of being lazy, relaxing, and doing nothing.  But that is NOT God’s definition of rest.  Entering into the Lord’s rest means entering into his Kingdom.  Therefore, the Sabbath is a day to prepare yourself to enter into the Lord’s rest – to prepare yourself and sanctify yourself so you are more worthy to enter his presence (get to the Celestial Kingdom).  The Sabbath is a day to REST FROM worldly activities and ENTER INTO THE WORK of the Lord which is, actually, restful work because the more you become like God, the more at rest you are and the easier life becomes. God is in a restful state.  It is easy for him to keep the commandments.

Once each week man is commanded to cease his own labors and allow God to perform His work of sanctification on him. Resting on the Sabbath, then, implies far more than taking a nap or stopping normal activities. Mankind must enter into the Lord’s work on that day. This work involves making themselves and others more godlike, another way to speak of sanctification. Doing the work of the Lord (sanctification) often involves great activity on the Sabbath day, and the day may not be restful in the usual sense. One can assume that if doing good to an animal on the Sabbath is approved by the Lord (see Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15), then doing good to men is an even higher good. The two commandments for the Sabbath are rest and worship (see D&C 59:10).  The Hebrew verb la-avodh, “to worship,” means also “to work” and “to serve.” This holy work then creates a new and holy man… (In “The Fourth Commandment,”  Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 55, 57–58.) (See also Exodus 20:8-11, D&C 77:12, 3 Nephi 27:19, D&C 84:22-24)

You know you’ve kept the Sabbath Holy if, at the end of the day, you can honestly say you feel closer to Heavenly Father than you did at the beginning of the day.

When my mom was teaching a class of children, she asked them if they knew what the 10 commandments were.  With her help, they listed 9 out of the 10 on the board, but she purposefully left #4 blank.  She announced, “Great job!  Let’s move on with the lesson…”  The class, of course, wouldn’t let her.  They wanted to know what #4 was!  My mom simply responded, “Oh, that one isn’t very important.  No one keeps it.”  They protested, “It’s one of the 10 commandments!  It has to be important!”  My mom insisted that it wasn’t and started moving on with the lesson, but a little boy, more curious than the rest, demanded to know.  My mom looked him in the eyes and said, “If I tell you, will you keep it?”  He didn’t even hesitate, “No!” Apparently, he didn’t want that kind of responsibility!  I love how honest children are!  My mom (probably trying to hold back a smile), wisely said, “If you won’t keep it, then why should I tell you?”  She taught her lesson for a while until the little boy promised he would keep the 4th commandment if she would just tell them him what it was.  So she read him these verses:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God:in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.(Exodus 20:8-11)

She talked about how everyone must not think it’s important since the mall parking lots are full and the churches seem to be more  and more empty.

But just showing up for church is not enough.  The Zoramites showed up for church, but it didn’t do them much good!  We need to be actively engaged at church.

Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father.  He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a dull talk,…I watched my father, and to my amazement his face was beaming as the speaker droned on.  I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.

… [As] we walked home I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road,….I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting.  He said it was wonderful.

Now I really had a problem…I was puzzled.  I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.

Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind, because he started to laugh.  He said:  “Hal, let me tell you something.  Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting.  When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say.  Then, once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.”  He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along.  Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, “Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.”  (Henry B. Eyring, to Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses, p. 22-23)

Spencer W. Kimball further explained our individual responsibility on the Sabbath:

But we do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even simply to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [1982], 271).

He also gave a powerful suggestion for the purpose of the Sabbath:

The Sabbath is a day on which to take inventory—to analyze our weaknesses…(Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [1982], 216).

Isaiah was trying to teach the same thing – that the Sabbath isn’t a time to do what we want, but to do what the Lord wants, improve ourselves, and draw closer to Him.

13 ¶If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, fromdoing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of delight!  It is not one of drudgery.  It is not a day of bemoaning the fact we can’t do some of our favorite activities.  Look at the amazing blessings we get if we will just give ONE day to the Lord!

BLESSINGS FOR KEEPING THE SABBATH DAY HOLY

The prophet Jeremiah had the serious responsibility of warning the Jews that, if they didn’t repent, Jerusalem would be taken captive by their enemies.  He pleaded, prophesied, and cried repentance, but no one listened.  In Jeremiah chapter 17, the Lord tells Jeremiah that if the people will just keep ONE commandment, the entire city will be spared.  Jeremiah goes to each gate of the city and proclaims this commandment.  What is it?  Searching the scriptures?  Praying?  Going to church?  Serving your fellowman?  No, it was keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  God wasn’t even asking them to be righteous every day.  They just had to give him ONE day and they couldn’t do it.

Sadly, Jeremiah watched as Babylon destroyed the city and took many, many captive.  I have often pondered about this chapter.  Why, out of all the commandments, did the Lord pick the Sabbath Day?  I finally came to the realization that if you keep the Sabbath day holy, you will automatically begin keeping all of the other commandments!  If you would just stop sinning on one day, give it to the Lord, and allow Him to start speaking with you, you will automatically want to start praying, reading your scriptures, serving others, etc.  One of the greatest blessings of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, is that YOU are made holy.  It transforms your heart to the point that you no longer desire sin.  You WANT to live righteously.

“…we will be amazed at how much we were blessed in important—though often unperceived—ways through keeping the Sabbath holy; and to our sorrow we may sense how many blessings we kept from ourselves by not consistently keeping the Sabbath day holy. Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, there is power in keeping the Sabbath day holy….If we would have God’s blessings and protection as individuals, as families, as communities, and as nations, we must keep His Sabbath day holy. (John H. Groberg, “The Power of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 1984, 79)

I love the Sabbath day! It has blessed my family in countless ways. I bear a testimony born of personal experience that the commandments of the Lord are “true and faithful.”  I know you will be happier, enjoy greater peace, and find your lives made glad as you witness the miracles that come to each person and family who make the sacrifice of keeping this eternal covenant. (H. Aldridge Gillespie, “The Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 79–80)

When I was in college there was an engineering class I was sure to fail. I didn’t understand a thing the teacher was saying.  He’d put up crazy equations and mention things from biology, chemistry, physiology, and physics and somehow expected his freshmen to put it all together!  Everyone in the class was confused, frustrated, and feeling pretty helpless.  This professor was used to teaching graduate students and had no idea how to teach freshmen.

I prayed and prayed about this class.  I couldn’t understand anything in the book and the homework was ridiculously impossible.  My friends finally got together and announced they were going to do a study group once a week where they could do the homework together and prepare for the upcoming test.  I was so relieved.  I was sure this was the answer to my prayers.  Unfortunately, the only time all of my friends could meet together was on Sunday.  My heart sank.  I had never done homework on Sunday before.  In high school I had decided I would never do homework on Sunday.  I would keep that day reserved for Heavenly Father and spiritual things.  Even though I had some really challenging classes in high school, I kept my promise even if it meant staying up until midnight on Saturday and waking up at 3 AM on Monday morning to finish.

I didn’t know what to do.  All week I stressed about it.  I had to go to these meetings or I would fail.  I was sure of that.  But how could I do that to Heavenly Father?  I did some more praying.  One night as I said my prayers, I knew I shouldn’t go.  Not because I’d feel like an evil, terrible person, but because I didn’t want to go.  I wanted to have a day where I could relax and work on my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I told Heavenly Father that if I was going to fail then I was okay with that.  My relationship with Him was more important to me than passing the class.  I promised I wouldn’t go to the study sessions on Sundays.

I worked and prayed hard over the material during the week.  I was envious of my friends and how much less time it took them to do the homework.  The big day of the test came and I was scared.  I filled it out as best as I could, but it was very difficult.  I was sure I’d missed a lot.  As it turned out, I had, but to the amazement of myself and all of my friends, I scored higher on that test than ALL of them!  I don’t know how (and they sure didn’t either!), but I had.  And it was like that every test!  I out-scored them EVERY time.

I learned a lot about priorities from this experience.  I learned that if you put God first everything else will fall into place.  God may not give you more time (he won’t give you 26 hours instead of 24), but my testimony is that He enables you to do more in less time.

You will notice that I have purposefully NOT given a list of what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath.  I have not listed what things are good toppings – chocolate syrup, sprinkles, bananas, and whip cream – or what the “bad” toppings are – ketchup, black pepper, and beans.  Russell M. Nelson discussed how to determine which activities are appropriate on the Sabbath.

…I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father.  With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.

How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing? In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve, what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you? What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him?

Not pursuing your “own pleasure” on the Sabbath requires self-discipline. You may have to deny yourself of something you might like. If you choose to delight yourself in the Lord, you will not permit yourself to treat it as any other day. Routine and recreational activities can be done some other time. (Elder Nelson, “The Sabbath is a Delight,” April 2015 General Conference).

What things has your family done to make the Sabbath more of a delight?  Comment below!

 

Can I Chew Gum While I’m Fasting?

One day as I was teaching a class full of teenagers about fasting, they were bombarding me with questions like, “Can I chew gum while I’m fasting?  Can I suck on a hard piece of candy?  Can I just fast for 2 meals or does it have to be for 24 hours?”

While these were sincere questions, they were completely missing the point!  They wanted to know exactly how little they could do and still count it as a full fast!  I was reminded of Isaiah’s words:

Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? (Isaiah 58:4-5)

Apparently, the Jews were fasting, but not for the right reasons.  They were going through the motions and “afflicting” their bodies with hunger, but they were not reaping the spiritual benefits.

In our church, we set aside the first Sunday of every month as a Fast Sunday.  We go 24 hours without food or water.  We also give the money we would have spent on our meals that day as a Fast Offering to help the poor.  Now, the definition of our fast is to go without food or water for 24 hours, but if that is ALL we are doing, we are NOT fasting.  We are just starving and that is a miserable experience!

Fasting is NOT about food.  It’s not about being hungry and miserable.  It’s not about showing everyone how righteous you are because you’re fasting.  It’s about connecting with heaven and having a deep, soul satisfying spiritual experience.  Fasting is about your spirit, not your body.

Paul described the natural man as someone who “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  We all have “natural man” tendencies – it is quite natural to be lazy, selfish, angry, and dishonest.  It is exactly those tendencies that we have to fight off in order to develop Christlike character traits and make our spirits strong.  When we are fasting, our body wants food and the battle between spirit and body begins.

Some of the greatest battles we will face will be fought within the silent chambers of our own souls. (Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” Ensign, September 1988).

When I was a little girl growing up, I woke up to the smell of pancakes on Sunday!   We had cold cereal every other day for breakfast, but my sweet dad would wake up early on Sundays and make sure a delicious breakfast was waiting for us.  It helped me look forward to Sundays and taught me that they are special.  I remember one Sunday running (and I mean running!) into the kitchen for breakfast.  Dad served all of us his delicious pancakes, but I noticed that he hadn’t eaten anything.  “Dad,” I said, “Aren’t you going to have some pancakes?”  My dad just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m fasting.”  I wondered what kind of a man could make pancakes and not eat them!  I was sure I would NEVER have that kind of willpower! I was also pretty sure that fasting could definitely NOT be worth it if you had to skip pancakes for breakfast!

As I got a little older, the dreaded Sunday came when there was no smell of hot pancakes on the griddle.  At first, my parents just had us skip breakfast and then we gradually worked up to the point we could fast for 24 hours (which I think I first did as a teenager).  It was tough.  It was probably even tougher for my parents (I’m sure we complained more than once that we were hungry!), but they knew the power behind fasting and they wanted us to discover it for ourselves as well.

Do not think that there is not a spiritual significance in the little principle of fasting.  Do not think, parents, that you are favoring your child when, out of compassion, you say, “Oh, give him his breakfast; oh, let us have breakfast; let us have dinner; I have a headache; the little boy is too young to go without his meal, and so on.  You do not know what you are doing by such teaching as that.  I want to tell you that the children of our Church can be so taught this principle of self-denial that they will set worthy examples to their parents in the observance of it (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 105-106).

Physical hunger is hard to fight off!  It gnaws at you!  Your body knows it needs food to survive and it will fight for it!  It takes a lot of self discipline to resist.  And that is one of the greatest blessings of fasting – it develops our self mastery.  We become a master over our bodies instead of our bodies being the master over us.  We develop some serious willpower!  In my humble opinion, there are few things on earth that can develop our willpower quicker than fasting!

Fasting increases your power to resist temptation.  And not just the temptation to eat, but EVERY temptation the devil will throw at you!  Wanting to eat while we’re fasting is one of the strongest temptations there is, and if you can control that, you can control anything!

Developing our self discipline is crucial in fighting against Satan.  Just think about it – EVERY time we’ve sinned it’s because we lost self control.  We weren’t disciplined enough.  We didn’t have enough willpower.  We caved to the temptation.  Through fasting, we gain more power over Satan.  It’s not that sin is not as tempting as before, but we are stronger than before and are less likely to give in!  Every time we do give in to sin, it weakens our willpower.  If you feel like you’ve been losing a lot of battles with Satan lately, maybe it’s time to fast and gain that power back.

When I was 21, I decided to do a service mission for my church.  I was assigned to serve in Germany and Austria for 18 months.  At the beginning of my mission, I was pretty discouraged.  I was struggling to learn a new language and the lessons I was trying to teach people weren’t coming across very well.  I knew I needed some extra help.  I decided to fast, but I also realized that I couldn’t become a master teacher in 24 hours.

That’s when I came up with a plan that transformed the way I fasted and I truly reaped the POWERFUL blessings from fasting.  I decided to have a monthly theme for each fast.  I started each month (on that first Sunday) with a fast.  I went without food or water and begged Heavenly Father to help me learn how to be a better teacher.  At the end of the 24 hours I knelt down and said, “I am going to end the food part of my fast, but I am NOT going to end my fast.  I’m dedicating this whole month to Thee and learning how to teach Thy word better.  Please help me and teach me the things I need to learn.”

That entire month I focused, read, prayed, pondered, and studied how the Savior taught.  I woke up early, studied during lunch, and pondered during the day and miraculous things began to happen!  They probably wouldn’t have been considered miraculous to other people, but they were to me.  I was amazed at how many experiences, stories, poems, scriptures, and analogies came to my mind.  I was amazed at how easily lesson outlines came together and how many different kinds of teaching methods I came up with.  God was so very merciful to me that month.  The heavens were opened and a constant stream of brilliant ideas flowed down to me.

The next month I chose a different theme and marveled at the fabulous results.  To this day, I still choose a monthly theme each month.

The monthly themes also work when you are fasting to help someone else in need.  It’s great to fast for them for 24 hours, but even more powerful if you dedicate an entire month to helping that individual!

I have also fasted to strengthen relationships.  I’ve fasted to strengthen my marriage, help a child who was struggling with a certain issue, etc.  Every time I’ve come away with a far greater understanding of that individual, how much God loves them, and received a ton of new ideas on how to help that individual (or how to help me deal with them).  It’s been during these months where I’ve come up with some of my most brilliant parenting strategies!

Sometimes we feel like we’re being pulled in a million different directions.  We have a millions different responsibilities, and it seems we’re not making much progress in ANY direction.  We are stretched too thin.

The trick is to pick ONE direction – ONE thing you really want to improve, and focus on it for a month.  It’s amazing how much progress you can make in becoming more patient if you dedicate an entire month to fasting about patience (believe me, I know!  I’ve done it!).

Isaiah was lamenting the fact that the Israelites did not understand the powerful blessings that came from fasting.

Look at these beautiful promises in the book of Isaiah to those who fast:

FASTING WILL:

  • Loose the bands of wickedness
  • Undo the heavy burdens
  • Let the oppressed go free
  • Take care of the poor (Isaiah counseled them to “deal thy bread to the hungry and “bring the poor that are cast out to thy house”) (Isaiah 58:6-12)

BLESSINGS FROM FASTING

  • Then shall thy light break forth as the morning
  • Thine health shall spring forth speedily
  • Thy righteousness shall go before thee
  • The glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward
  • Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer.
  • Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
  • And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not (Isaiah 58:6-12)

Can we chew gum while we’re fasting?  It depends.  It’s all about our inner desires and motivations.  If we’re chewing gum to freshen our breath, maybe.  If we’re chewing gum to take the edge off our hunger, maybe we should think twice before popping our favorite spearmint gum in our mouths.  Feeling hungry during our fast is actually a blessing.  Each time we feel hungry, we are reminded of the reason we are fasting and can focus our attention on that.  In addition, the harder it is to go without food, the more willpower we develop!  If it were easy to go without food for that long, maybe our spirits wouldn’t grow quite as much.  Although, there have been times when it was easier to fast than others and it was precisely because I wanted the thing so badly that I was fasting for that the sacrifice was easy to make and the temptation to eat didn’t phase me at all.

Fasting without a purpose is torture, but fasting with a monthly theme in mind is powerful and rewarding.  I used to dread fasting each month (especially when I was younger), but now I look forward to having a month of one on one time with the Lord where He can personally teach me how to overcome my next challenge.

And yes, I get up early Sunday mornings and make my kids pancakes.  None of them are old enough to fast yet and, as I pour syrup over hot pancakes, I think back to my four-year-old self who never would have believed that she’d be able to resist pancakes on Fast Sunday!

Peter Walked On Water, But Why Didn’t The Other 11 Apostles As Well?

Peter often gets a bad rap.  Often, the one part of the story that we remember about Peter is that he sunk.  He failed.  But did he fail?  Peter remains the only mortal man to have ever walked on water, but there were 11 other people on the boat.  Why didn’t they get out?  They missed the opportunity of a lifetime because they gave in to fear.  Reason and logic overcame faith.  But Peter, a fisherman, a man who knew more than anyone that a man doesn’t float on water (he sinks!), was eager to jump out and DO what he saw the Savior doing.

Was this experience a great failure?  No!  It was a great success!  Peter learned many priceless lessons. Peter learned that he could walk on water!  When we follow the Savior and do what He asks of us, we can do things we never even dreamed were possible.  Christ was showing Peter the miraculous things he could do through faith!  What a confidence booster!  Peter must have thought, “Wow!  If I can walk on water, is there anything, with Christ’s help, that I can’t do?”  I wonder how many times Peter thought of that experience as he was symbolically asked to walk on water during his ministry – to do things that must have seemed impossible.

While [Peter’s] eyes were fixed upon the Lord, the wind might toss his hair and the spray might drench his robes, but all was well. Only when with wavering faith he removed his glance from the Master to look at the furious waves and the black gulf beneath him, only then did he begin to sink….

It is my firm belief that if as individual people, as families, communities, and nations, we could, like Peter, fix our eyes on Jesus, we too might walk triumphantly over “the swelling waves of disbelief” and remain “unterrified amid the rising winds of doubt.” But if we turn away our eyes from him in whom we must believe, as it is so easy to do and the world is so much tempted to do, if we look to the power and fury of those terrible and destructive elements around us rather than to him who can help and save us, then we shall inevitably sink in a sea of conflict and sorrow and despair.

At such times when we feel the floods are threatening to drown us and the deep is going to swallow up the tossed vessel of our faith, I pray we may always hear amid the storm and the darkness that sweet utterance of the Savior of the world: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. (Howard W. Hunter, “The Beacon in the Harbor of Peace,” Ensign, November 1992, p. 19)

As soon as Peter began to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matt 14:30) “And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (Matt 14:31).

Jesus reached out his hand immediately.  He didn’t put His hands on His hips and say, “Peter, it’s your own fault you’re sinking.  Go swim a few laps and think about what you’ve done. Then, just maybe, I’ll think about forgiving and helping you…”

Peter learned that even when it was his own dumb fault that he was sinking, the Savior stood ready to save him as soon as He asked.

The other 11 apostles avoided “failure,” but, as Denis Waitley once said, “ Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”  Henry Ford put it beautifully: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

How often has the Lord called us to do something, great or small, and we were too scared to leave our comfort zones and do it?  What great opportunities have we missed when we have given in to fears or doubts?  It is time to be like the great Apostle Peter and jump in with all our might and, despite the storms raging around us, put one foot in front of the other, keep our eyes on the Savior, and discover the amazing things we are capable of!