Sunday, December 11, 2011

Today is Sunday.  After church and a nice dinner, we put up the Christmas tree.  Christmas music was playing and it was very festive.  It is now beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the living room.

Allison graduates from college this week.  Wow!  Just as we have been very proud of Logan, Griffin, Haley, Matt, and Rachel on their graduations, we are very proud of Allison.  Like the others, she has worked hard and long.  Her commencement is Friday at 5:30 in the BYU-Idaho Center, and her convocation is Saturday at 9:00 in the morning.  We are looking forward to attending and celebrating.

Today, I gave another talk in a neighboring ward.  I've posted it here for any who might be interested.  It is titled "The Birth and The Atonement".   In it I talk about Donnie and my climb of Royal Arches in Yosemite.  That was a fun day.

John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

During this Christmas season, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and everything that means.  His birth made possible the incredible gift of the atonement.  The atonement is one of the most beautiful doctrines of the gospel.

C.S. Lewis said:  “If the thing (the atonement) happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth.”

And, President James E. Faust said: “It (the atonement) was the most transcendent act that has ever taken place, yet it is the most difficult to understand.”

I’d like to direct my thoughts about the atonement to the youth by telling them an imperfect parable.

Yosemite Valley is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. 

 It is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  It is also one of the most formidable and challenging places for rock climbers who have the need to climb and conquer the many granite cliffs surrounding the valley. 

I spent many of my younger years trying to meet that need.  It was exhilarating, cleansing, and addicting to focus my attention on moving carefully, smoothly, and safely up the rock from the bottom of the Valley to the top of the cliffs.

Early one morning, in the 1980’s, I left Merced California where Nancy, my wife, and I were living, for the one hour drive to Yosemite Valley. My brother and I had planned to climb “Royal Arches” which is a beautiful wall on the north side of Yosemite Valley just across from the “iconic” Half Dome.  The day was fresh and clear, and we were excited to get out of town and on the rock.  

Here’s how the system works.  In climbing, one pitch is about 150 feet, or the length of the rope. The lead climber begins from the bottom of a pitch and puts in protection using things like this (show protection) and threads the rope through a carabineer so the person belaying at the bottom can stop a fall by putting friction on the rope.  When the leader reaches the top, he secures himself.  Then the second person, or follower, climbs from the bottom of the pitch while the leader belays him from the top of the pitch.  The follower takes out the protection as he climbs. When he gets to the top of the pitch, he continues on and becomes the leader for the next pitch.

We started the 16 pitch climb just as the sun was beginning to rise.  I lead the first pitch putting in protection as I went so my brother could belay me from below.  When I reached the top of the pitch, I secured myself to the rock so I could belay him as he climbed.

When he reached me, he continued up the next pitch, placing protection as he went.  We would alternate in this fashion until we reached the top. 

About a thousand feet up, it was my turn to follow.  Because of the way the wall was gently overhanging, we could not see each other and depended on verbal communication.  He also belayed by the feel of the tension on the rope. . . kind of like fishing.

As I started, I was supposed to follow the rope in a straight line. This way, he could take in the rope as I climbed, and if I fell, I would only fall a few inches before he caught me.  As I looked at the rock however, I decided it looked easier and faster to move out and around rather than following the line of the rope straight up.  I told my brother what I was thinking, and he said, emphatically, “Don’t do it!”  I was confident in my abilities, so, I did it anyway.  I went “off route”.  This was a mistake. 

Because I had gone off route, I had polluted the system and put myself in an awful position for a terrible fall. 

When I fell, instead of falling straight down, which is an easy save, I swung across the face of the wall in what is called an uncontrolled pendulum.  As I picked up speed, I knew it wasn’t going to be good.  I wanted to repent. I wanted to go back and change my mind.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell explains:  “The Greek word of which repentance is the English translation “denotes a change of mind, . . . This change of mind means that we are actually progressing toward what Paul called “the mind of Christ” in
1 Corinthians 2:16. 

This has to do with submitting our will to our Heavenly Father’s will.  Like Christ did three times in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said “Thy will be done.”

Because of the atonement, no matter how far off route, we go in life, we can repent, be forgiven, and be enabled to continue upward and onward.  Repentance, however, is sometimes painful. 

I braced myself for the encounter I would soon have with an oncoming wall that was perpendicular to the wall I was climbing.  I slammed into the wall and instantly saw the world turn red as blood filled my eyes from a gash on my forehead. 

Even though I hadn’t had the time to yell “falling” to my brother, he had felt the tension and secured the rope to save me.  I did hit the wall, which was bad, but I didn’t hit the ground which was good.

I hung suspended in air for a few long seconds while I tried to figure out where I was and what had happened.  Then, I was jolted back to reality by my brother’s yelling - asking “what happened and if I was okay? When I said I was okay, his next question was “why are you so stupid”?  I told you not to go off route.  For this question, I had no good answer.  I was just glad he had stopped my fall and caught (snatched) me. 

My fall and injury were the consequence of a bad decision plus the natural law of gravity.  It was justice in action.  Being caught by my brother, even though I couldn’t see him and didn’t ask him, was symbolic of mercy.

In Alma 26:28,  Ammon, one of the Sons of Mosiah says:

“Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched (caught) us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?”

Now, I realized I was hanging in an area where the snowmelt from above had run down the rock.  Because the rock was wet, I couldn’t get any holds or traction to climb.  I was stuck.  I asked my brother to pull me up to dry rock. 

Because I asked, he did it.

This enabled me to dress my wound and climb again.  This time, I had a change of heart, repented, and followed the line of rope straight above me.  We stayed on route, had a few more falls, but finished the climb together and had, mostly, a great day, and a joyous view from the top.

3rd Nephi 9:21-22:  The Savior says “Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God.  Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved

Symbolically in my imperfect parable, I had experienced the justice of a fall, the mercy of being caught, the enabling power of being pulled to dry rock, and the work and joy of enduring to the end to reach the top.
In a devotional on January 10th of 2002, then BYU-Idaho President Bednar said:  
". . . the journey of a lifetime is to progress from bad to good to better and to experience the mighty change of heart – and to have our fallen natures changed.
He continued, "It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through his atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost . . .  – not only to direct us but to empower us."
He added, "I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. . . . I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. . . . (The enabling power) strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own.                   (End Quote)
For example, I bet your bishop, who is a good man, is blessed every day by the enabling power of the atonement as he strives to serve you.
When Adam and Eve fell from the presence of God, they had to be saved, and they had to be enabled so they could start and continue their journey back to our Heavenly Father.  

There are lots of great movie sequels like Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Rocky for those of my generation.  But, the greatest sequel ever is the Atonement of our savior Jesus Christ after the Fall of Adam and Eve. 

James E. Talmage says “The atonement wrought by Jesus Christ is a necessary sequel of the transgression of Adam.”  (Articles of Faith pg. 37)  . . . Whereby justice could be fully satisfied, and mercy be left free to exercise her influence over the souls of mankind” (pg. 76). 

End quote.

The birth of Christ was necessary in order for Him to carry out the work of the atonement. So we could all be saved from the fall and be “enabled” to continue our journey back to Heavenly Father.

Some have said to me, “the atonement is great, but it’s not for me because I’ve fallen too far and too hard.  It’s for other people who still have a chance.  I’m just not that important.”

Alma 34:9:  “For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; . . . yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement.”

None of us have done anything so bad that we can’t repent and let the atonement take effect in our lives. And, in fact, we all need to be repenting constantly since we all sin and can improve.  Because of God’s love for us, we all have access to the enabling power of the atonement to help us through challenges, sadness, and hard opportunities.

When I was a young bishop, there was a member of our ward named Stanley.  Stanley was in his late thirties, but had the mental capacity of a five year old.  He did not need baptism, but came to church every week with his mom. 

I don’t know where Stanley is now, but I smile when I think of him.  He always had a sheriff’s badge pinned to his shirt, and a pair of handcuffs.  His calling was to help the deacons be reverent.   I found more than one deacon handcuffed to a chair or door jamb for bad behavior.  Stanley would always give me the keys to unlock them. 

Stanley could only say a few complete sentences.  One of them was, “I’m the one.”  He would say this whenever he saw me. and I would say back to Stanley, “you’re the one” or if I wanted a longer conversation “no Stanley, I’m the one” to which he would reply “no, I’m the one”.  The whole ward loved Stanley.  He knew who he was.  He was “the one”. 

I submit to you, that we are also “the one”.  You are “the one”, and “I am the one”.  Our Heavenly Father knows us and loves us.  His work and glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of each of us. 
There are abundant scriptures in the Bible and the Book of Mormon that make clear the fact that our Savior died for ALL of us. 
One example is in 1st Timothy 2:5-6 where it says:  For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all . . .
Elder M. Russell Ballard said: 

“Sadly, in today’s world, a person’s importance is often judged by the size of the audience before which he or she performs. That is how media and sports programs are rated, how corporate prominence is sometimes determined, and often how governmental rank is obtained. That may be why roles such as father, mother, and missionary seldom receive standing ovations. Fathers, mothers, and missionaries “play” before very small audiences. Yet, in the eyes of the Lord, there may be only one size of audience that is of lasting importance—and that is just one, each one, you and me, and each one of the children of God. The irony of the Atonement is that it is infinite and eternal, yet it is applied individually, one person at a time.”  (End Quote)

When I was preparing this talk I read a lot of material about the atonement.  In almost everything I read the point was made that it is impossible for us to understand how the savior felt.  Although, I want to understand, I know I don’t.  I have, however, come to this conclusion:

It’s not important if we can’t understand how Jesus felt.  It is important that we understand that He understands how we feel.

Alma 7:11 says, “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people . . .

Now think of anything you are struggling with.  Sin, loneliness, sickness, sadness, broken heart, anger, betrayal, loss of a loved one, etc.,  and put that thing in the place of “death” and put our own names in the place of “his people”.

For example,

“And he will take upon him - sin, loneliness, sickness, sadness, a broken heart, anger, betrayal, loss of a loved one, etc -   that he may loose the bands of those things which bind - your name –“.

So, just like my little climbing story.  When we fall, through sin, or sadness, or life experiences, . . .the Savior will save us.  Then, as we recognize and accept that we are the one and receive the enabling power of the Atonement, we will be enabled to move upward and forward. 

I testify that D&C 76:41-41:  Jesus Christ “came into the world . . . to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved.

As Christmas approaches, I hope we think about the gifts of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Atonement.  I am deeply grateful for these glorious and great gifts.  They give me, as Elder Maxwell puts it, “ultimate hope” that because God and His Son love me, I can receive the blessings of the atonement which include immortality and eternal life.  I am grateful for the sacrifice that was made and the price that was paid, for me, by the perfect son of God.

As the hymn says,

There is a green hill far away, Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified, Who died to save us all

We may not know, we can not tell, What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us He hung and suffered there.

There was no other good enough To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate Of Heaven and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved! And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood, And try his works to do

(Hymn 194 There Is A Green Hill Far Away).

In the name of Jesus Christ,

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