Monday, February 22, 2016

The Ultimate Sacrifice - The Ultimate Love

I've written a few posts pleading with the world to give more attention to making their lives centered on the Savior in the last year or so and I still feel even more strong/adamant about that subject as time goes on.  If you are interested in any of them, they are here, here and here.  They apply now more than they did even when I wrote them.  I wanted to do another one like that, but at this point, I will wait until those entries have more time to be shared, read and hopefully sink into the minds and hearts of the readers.  So this one is geared towards simply expressing the pivotal importance and transcendent beauty of the most sublime, eternal, binding and loving act and person in the history of the universe, the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps if more understand what Christ did for them they will have a greater desire to invite His love and influence into their lives.

Even approaching a subject like this that is, as Jack R. Christian said "so vast, so wonderful, so deep, so glorious, so far beyond me" is something to which I can only do partial justice, but I'll give my best.  To Atone means to make up for or a wrong or make payment for it.  Speaking of the Atonement of Christ refers to His payment for our sins, flaws, weaknesses, hurt, ignorance and, because of all that, our separation from God our Father.


To start I want to point out likely one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Atonement today.  One search on google or the blogosphere is all it will take to see how many people are fighting over "faith and works" and their purpose in this life.  On the on side we have those who swear by Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" and others who vehemently reject the 'saved by faith alone' premise with James 2:20 "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."  The happy middle ground?  Modern revelation helps us reach it by clarifying the purpose of good works, as follows.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: "Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God.... If grace is a gift of God, why then is obedience to God’s commandments so important? ... As we [obey Him], it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him, and it leads us back to His presence.”  Christ earned the power to bring back to God all those who convert their hearts to Him and prove it with their actions.  Those who prove it qualify for (not earn) redemption, the capacity to endure and enjoy the presence of God forever.

Simply put, the Atonement does not, as the Book of Mormon said, "save us in our sins, but from our sins."  The purpose of works is not to "convince" God to let us back into His presence.  He already wants that.  The reason obedience to the Lord is not optional is because it allows Him to change us into heavenly beings so that we will be able to handle living there.  As Brad Wilcox said "heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to become heavenly."  Christ earned our salvation and exaltation all by Himself, we qualify for that gift, so that we can inherit it, by doing things that celestial beings would do.


Next, how did He do it?  What do we mean specifically when we say He Atoned for us?  While we do not know every little minute detail of the sacrifice He made that night in Gethsemane and on the cross, we do know that Christ has absolute power, Godly power over Himself and all of creation.  He controls what He feels and doesn't feel.  What He did that night in the garden and on the cross, in some way incomprehensible to us mortals, was lovingly and willingly take upon Himself all of the effects of mortality that separate us from our Father in Heaven, including all the sins of the family of God, our weaknesses, our pains and afflictions, self induced or not, death and every other horror the devil and his followers could possibly unleash.

Some may ask "but if He lived a perfect life and had the power of God, how could He truly understand everything I, as an imperfect person, went through?"  The answer is, once again, in modern revelation. Tad R. Callister points out, "[Christ] took upon him infinite suffering, but chose to defend with only mortal faculties, with but one exception – his godhood was summoned to hold off unconsciousness and death (i.e., the twin relief mechanisms of man) that would otherwise overpower a mere mortal when he reached his threshold of pain.  For the Savior there would be no such relief.  His divinity would be called upon, not to immunize him from pain, but to enlarge the receptacle that would hold it.  He simply brought a larger cup to hold the bitter drink." (The Infinite Atonement pg. 119)

So yes, He understands your hurt from your mortal perspective!


Others may ask, but if He had the Father's presence with Him all the time and was all knowing, how can He know what it's like to exercise faith in something He wasn't sure about?

Tad. R Callister also clarifies this, "Never was more faith required of any man, at any hour, than when the Savior faced the terrifying aloneness of the hours surrounding the cross.  This was the moment when the Father withdrew His spirit and left Him comfortless."

He also said: "...when he was led to exclaim in his last agony upon the cross, My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me? the Father did not deign to answer; the time had not come yet to explain it and tell him.  But after a little, when he passed the ordeal, made the sacrifice, and by the power of God was raised from the dead, then all was clear, all was explained and comprehended fully." (page 114)

Yes, Christ could and did know from a celestially intellectual perspective what He was to do to redeem mankind.  His mind and heart perfectly comprehended, from an informative standpoint, what He was to carry out.  However, no amount of informative intelligence can ever act as a substitute for the understanding that comes with first hand experience.  I can study and take in every last detail there is to know about any human experience, but unless I actually go through it myself, I will never be able to accurately say to another going through it, "I understand."  There comes a time for everyone where we are all backed up to a wall of logic and reason, no matter how truthful and pure it is, and all we have left is to answer and prove our response to the question, "do I trust God enough to obey Him, even though I see no possible way how this will work out for the good of others and myself?"

That was Christ's task on the cross when He cried out at the total loss of the Spirit.  As manifested by the effects of His atoning sacrifice in the lives of repentant sinners everywhere today, He responded in pure faith and won the fight.  In that moment He became our Advocate with the Father, having overcome all; and He did it by faith, the same kind we have to have to obey.


Lastly I want to address the reason behind it all.  Why does all this matter?

Many have said "What if I choose not to believe it?" or "What if I choose not to believe in Him?"  The irony of those kinds of questions is that one of the reasons offered Himself as a sacrifice to suffer as He did was to protect their ability to make those kinds of choices.  The reason we are allowed to make our own choices instead of being forced to obey is because we chose His plan, which allows us to make destructive choices and, because of Him, still be able to make it back provided we realign our minds, hearts and actions with His.

So to answer "why does all this matter?", it matters because whether you choose to believe in Him (as well as believe Him) or not, He still suffered for you out of His pure, infinite love.  He paid the price for your salvation and perfection and understands you completely whether you accept it or not.  Nothing you could ever do would "unpay" the price for your redemption and nothing He does ever will.  The deed has been done.  Your ticket back to Heavenly Father has already been bought.  Whether you choose not believe in Him or even just don't live fully up to the faith you may already have, all that's really going to do is redirect the blessings that would have been granted for choosing His way to someone who actually did so and, by doing so, became someone who qualifies for that gift.  He has such blessings all ready for us to take piece by piece, every time we choose to act with faith in Him.  Clearly, the better option is to have faith in His plan, act in gratitude for His infinite and eternal sacrifice for us, qualify ourselves for the blessings of the Atonement through obedience and continually seek for and gain a better understanding of it all, line upon line, precept upon precept.


TO END, I'll pull out one more quote from Elder Callister which, to the best of my limited knowledge, acknowledges perhaps as much as possible the gravity of The Ultimate Sacrifice, and within, from and because of such, the Ultimate Love:

"One does not speak lightly of the Atonement or casually express appreciation.  It is the most sacred and sublime event in eternity.  It deserves our most intense thoughts, our most profound feelings, and our noblest deeds.  One speaks of it in reverential tones; one contemplates it in awe; one learns of it in solemnity.  This event stands alone, now and throughout eternity."

Please take Him more seriously no matter how seriously you think you take Him now, take it up to the next level and then the next and then the next.  No one else can give you or make of you what He can.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Worlds Lies vs. Words of the Wise

Phrases like "don't follow the worlds lies", "don't go with the popular crowd" or "don't worry about what anyone else says, just follow your heart" as well as memes like this:

...are so ubiquitous in today's world that, in all honesty, you'd think that there would be no "mindless lemmings" left in the world.  But of course, no matter how much you repeat truth there will always someone to oppose it.  The irony of how often those kinds of ideas are repeated is easily seen in how many likes, shares and comments are given to those ridiculous "share if you believe in Jesus, ignore if you're a devil worshipper" posts.  That's just one example of the insane number of social movements or fads that somehow convinces people to all of the sudden abandon any individual thought process or logical weighing of pros and cons before deciding that following the crowd is a good idea.

We are surrounded by so many campaigns, movements, fundraisers, hashtags, prayer requests, share requests, etc. that too often anyone who is not paying close enough attention to God's prophets instantly turns into a feather in the ever shifting winds of societal brainwashing the second someone says, in some way, "look at me!"

Don't get me wrong, the world is full of bad and good messages.  I am a huge proponent of anti-pornography groups, supporting victims of natural disasters, Christmas hashtag campaigns and such.  However, even when it comes to causes that I support, there are quite frequently large crowds that have faulty perspectives on the subject matter.  Many times people take a good thing and turn into something bad.  That's how the devil works.  He takes good information and uses it or portrays it in a harmful way.  God presents truth and encourages us with love and open invitation to follow Him.  He does use passive aggressive guilt trips or declare that not sharing or liking a post on social media automatically means we are some kind of antagonist.  Perpetuating those kinds of things, as innocent as the intention may be, is only good for giving immature people the kind of attention they don't deserve and doesn't do anyone any good.

Anyways, I'm not intending this post to just be about guilt trip meme's, so I'm sorry if I seemed a little superfluous there.

The point with this whole thing is to emphasize what Elder David A. Bednar so eloquently said: “Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong.  It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant and the necessary from that which is merely nice."

One of my personal weaknesses is sometimes latching on to things that energize me without enough regard to any risks of unhealthy dependency on it.  I'm not talking about issues like pornography, drugs, gambling or things like that, although those are definitely huge problems in society and in one of those cases I have first hand experience in the damage it causes.  What I'm talking about is stuff like movies, music, social media and similar habits that, of themselves, aren't bad.  They are actually really good when used right, and I'll go as far as to say they are indispensable tools in building the kingdom of God.  But with my personal weakness, I get so hyper focused on pursuits that are good - not just limited to what I have mentioned - that they turn into a problem when I get too intensely focused them, to the point of putting more important things off and momentarily loosing track of where my priorities should be.

I've had times where I'm engrossed in a new idea I have for a religious piece of music but I'll get so into it (composers understand that, when it's flowing it's flowing) that I forget about other even more important things, like family and home responsibilities, that I should be getting done first.

I need to work on that a lot.

I've heard some people say I talk about the Jesus Christ and His gospel too much.  Bringing this up is in no way meant to point them out.  I've been told that it's annoying how much I talk about or relate everything to Him and His Atonement.  I mourn for those people.  I'm not angry at them.  I feel nothing but concern and pray to my Father in Heaven that they will understand that mortality should not be a matter of "here's my religious life and then there's my regular life."  Our commitment to Christ should never just be something on our daily 'to-do' list.  It needs to be meshed and woven somehow into every waking moment of our lives.  This doesn't have to mean that we over do it by spending every minute studying scriptures, talking to people about the gospel, preparing or studying lessons, etc.  That's ridiculous.  What it does mean is that we live in a way that the reason for everything we do is to strengthen the relationships we have with Christ and, with Him, our families.  I once heard a wise man say he tries to consistently ask himself "would the Holy Ghost tell me to do this?"

I would add "Would the Holy Ghost encourage me to pursue this, want this, encourage this, etc?"  If the answer isn't an immediate, confident, joyous 'yes', then it's time to reconsider.

It is so easy to get swept up in the everything the media and industry giants throw at us, the newest neatest program, toy, fad, campaigns, movement or fundraiser.  I know how difficult it can be.  Whenever a new Marvel movie, new software title, or Tim Horton's doughnut comes out, I'm right on it.  I often annoy my wife and others talking about how much I am excited about it.  I have my personal weaknesses in this area, even to the point of turning a good thing into a bad thing by allowing it to temporarily take my focus off of things that are just as or more important.

It's far better to rely on the Lord's wisdom as given by His prophets over the world's pseudo-happiness.  There is no level of commitment to Him that is too high, no amount of focus on Him that is too intense, no such thing as admiring Him too much, no such thing as wanting to be too much like Him (different from being Him),

No monetary, academic, scientific, political, or democratic success (to name a few) can or will ever compensate for failure to center our homes and families on the Savior.  There is no shame in living words of the wise, His words, instead of being deluded by the worlds lies, no matter how "appealing" they seem.