Talk - February 29, 2009
In what has become perhaps the most beloved of Primary songs, we are reminded of fundamental truths of the gospel.
“I am a child of God, and he has sent me here
Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear (my kids might take exception to the “kind and dear” part)
The earthly homes of some children are, of course, not equal to this ideal, nevertheless, we are all children of God, and He has indeed sent us here.
“Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do,
To live with Him some day”.
These memorable words remind us of who we are, and why we are here on earth. They also remind us that there are things we must learn and things we must do, to return to our Heavenly Father.
When I was a young primary person, I learned to sing this song a bit differently. I learned the words “Teach me all that I must know, to live with Him some day”.
Sister Noami Randall wrote those words in 1957. She said:
“I got down on my knees and prayed aloud, pleading that our Heavenly Father would let me know the right words. Around 2:00 a.m., I awakened and began to think again about the song.
Words came to my mind. … I immediately got up and began to write the words down as they had come to me. Three verses and a chorus were soon formed.
I gratefully surveyed the work, drank of the message of the words, and returned to my bedroom where I knelt before my Father in Heaven to say "Thank you!”
Later, Elder Spencer W. Kimball asked Sister Randall if the word “know” could be changed to “do” – and she agreed.
He was probably concerned that young minds might not understand that there are different levels of knowledge, and that just knowing about something, does not mean we know it fully. On the other hand, if we do it, our understanding is raised to a higher level.
Many of you could tell me what it is like to harvest wheat. You might describe how a combine works, what kinds of problems might be encountered.
You might describe long hours, dusty conditions and summer heat (when the air conditioning fails). I might know and understand what you tell me, but I would still not really know the experience of the harvest, unless I actually did it.
Doing is really an integral part of knowing, hence the Saviors’ words “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:17
What is it we need to do to return to Heavenly Father?
What do we need to know, by doing, to live with Him some day?
The “Big Picture” answer is simple. Have faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. But this answer begs the question, “How do we know, by doing, faith in the Atonement.
Let’s look at faith, because in LDS doctrine, true faith is necessarily “knowing by doing” faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement.
As a young man I frequently spent school vacations on my father’s 100-foot commercial fishing boat. The crow’s nest was my favorite place on the boat.
From this protected platform atop a high mast, I could look out over the vast undulating sea with vision unobstructed. I watched the bow of the boat, plow through armadas of floating sail-backed jellyfish, the dolphins as they jumped and raced playfully around the boat, and searched vast rafts of seaweed for sleeping seals and otters.
I could reach out and touch the wings of gliding gulls and soaring albatross. At night I was enchanted by the glowing green carpet of bioluminescent algae, disturbed by the boats passage.
The rewards of the crow’s nest were well worth the climb. A ladder ran from the port and starboard bulwarks to the mast just below the crow’s nest. The ladders were wooden rungs - clamped to steel cables - that became progressively smaller toward the top.
While the bottom rung was four feet wide, the top rung was only eight inches. Above, a short steel ladder led to an opening in the silver crow’s nest.
I didn’t mind the climb up the wobbly cable ladder, although there wasn’t much to hold at the top where the pitch and roll of the boat are amplified. But I was too small to reach the bottom rung of the crow’s nest ladder without letting go of the cable ladder.
I knew the steel ladder above was solid. It didn’t bounce and move, like the cable ladder to which I clung so tenaciously. I knew that once I was in the crow’s nest I would be protected.
No longer would it be necessary to tightly hold a small and uncertain stand. Yet, for anxious minutes I would measure the distance and fear the leap of faith required.
Faith is letting go of the world and reaching up. It is taking the solid iron rod and entering the spiritual safety of the Savior. There the view is unobstructed. There the reward of the climb is realized.
Faith is the foundation of the gospel. It is the first principal - and the underpinning - of our progress toward the exaltation available through Christ. The inspired translation of The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Such an assurance can only come from the Holy Ghost – that member of the Godhead whose mission it is to teach and testify of truth.
Faith is formed of belief when the belief is true and the Spirit acknowledges its verity. For this reason, one cannot have true faith in false doctrine. “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge”, said the prophet Alma, “therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen which are true” (Alma 32:21).
“Even if ye can no more than desire to believe,” Alma goes on to say “ let this desire work in you, even until you believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32: 27).
“Feast upon the words of Christ” was the injunction given by Nephi, “if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not” (2 New 32:3). At a time when so many millions embrace entertainment, indulge appetite and patronize charlatans to somehow satiate the gnawing pains of spiritual hunger, it is sad to find many saints in full view of a spiritual feast, engage in a self-inflicted fast.
So many falter in faith because they fail to feast upon the words of Christ – or not understanding they “ask not”.
Just as doubt is not denial, faith is not perfect knowledge. Yet, faith has patience – not needing to know the end from the beginning. Like most of us, Moses had questions unanswered. The Lord told him “Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me” (Moses 1:31).
Each question offers a quest. A world without wonder offers little opportunity for faith to flourish. Learning is line upon line, precept upon precept - but without faith we remain in ignorance no matter how many facts we accumulate
We know faith in the atonement by doing with faith.
In the gospel, we look to an ideal we call “perfection” as a standard for celestial acceptance. Each time we fail, we are reminded of and sometimes discouraged by, the large gulf between our present condition and the celestial ideal.
Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ is understanding that our personal failure is part of our Father’s plan. All of us will fall short.
When I was 9 or 10 years old, I wanted to make a present for my mother. I wanted her to have something very beautiful. In my mind’s eye was a carving of a seal. It was snowy white with brown spots on its back and had shiny black eyes and a small black nose.
I knew nothing about carving animals, but I knew the love I had for my mom. I took a knife from the kitchen drawer, unwrapped a new bar of soap, and began sculpting my seal.
Soon I had a pile of soap shavings and a bar of soap that looked nothing like the animal I had envisioned.
Some people seem perfect almost. They have the correct tools for carving. They work in ivory instead of ivory soap. They possess the skill necessary to bring their visions and plans into reality.
Most people are like myself - trying to carve a beautiful life from soap with a kitchen knife. Most of us, despite our desire, despite our love for Heavenly Father, fall considerably short of perfection.
Too often we compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves harshly. But the beauty of a life cannot be seen from the surface - it cannot be judged by shape or by the number of nicks and cracks.
Only our Heavenly Father knows the tools and materials we (and others) have to work with. Only Heavenly Father understands the true value of our efforts. We lack the knowledge and wisdom to judge even ourselves.
Perhaps we should measure our motive rather than our mistakes, whether we are serving --or selfish, whether our life offering is for God or for something else.
Our Father asks us to sculpt our lives in His image. To do the best we can with what we have. He knows we make mistakes. If our motive in life is love, how can it be anything but beautiful in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.
He will see past the gouges and misshapen areas and know how we suffered for our lack of skill.
Our lives may not be works of art, but if they are works of love they are beautiful.
I think that some members of the church become very discouraged by their perceived lack of ability to qualify for the Celestial Kingdom.
I once saw a poll of church members, in which only about 25% of the respondents believed that they were Celestial material. I thought at the time, that these were the prideful that were probably not going to make it.
It reminded me of a meeting of the Melchizedek Priesthood in Arizona, back in the 30’s. Elder J. Golden Kimball was addressing the topic of “The Word of Wisdom”. He had all the brethren stand.
He then said “ I want all of you who have tasted whisky to sit down”. A few of men sat, but most of them were still standing. Then the said “if any of you have ever used tobacco – sit down”. A few more sat, but still, a surprising number remained. “All of you who have drunk coffee sit down”.
Still, a large number of beaming brethren still stood. Elder Kimball looked at them sternly, raised his finger and said “you brethren who are still standing. Repent --- of your pride.
We all have something to repent of, and perhaps our time is better spent in repentance than worrying about how many kingdoms there are and how many levels in each kingdom, or what Paul meant by 7 heavens. If we don’t repent, it wont matter.
We know faith in the atonement by doing repentance.
The Savior, who has done so much, asks of us so little.
“This is my gospel” He said, “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”.
Baptism, and other ordinances of the gospel, including those performed in the temple, represent covenants with God which provide access to the full power and promise of the atonement.
In baptism, we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Christ – to always remember Him and to keep His commandments. He in turn promises that all our past sins will be forgiven and we will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost to help us prevent future mistakes.
We are permitted to know and walk the narrow way only after passing through this gate of agreement.
Making and keeping covenants is how we know, by doing, faith in the atonement.
Knowing by doing, is a course of growth in the gospel. We are guided in this process by the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost is a teacher , a testifier and an sanctifier. He will teach us right from wrong if we learn to listen to and follow His gentle promptings. The Holy Ghost will testify of the reality and divinity of the Savior.
He will bear witness that Jesus lives and stands at the head of this church.
As we are obedient and prove ourselves in the teaching and testimony we receive, the Holy Ghost will sanctify us that we may live in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
This process of sanctification is using the power of the atonement to move our mind and motive beyond offending actions and attitudes.
We cannot be sanctified if we consistently sin and with equal consistency run through a repentance routine. We must move forward.
Using the Gift of the Holy Ghost to teach us sanctification is how we know by doing, faith in the atonement.
Luke records that two disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus when the resurrected Savior joined them in their journey -
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread and blessed it, and brake and gave to them.
And their eyes were opened and they knew him and he vanished out of their sight.
In the higher spiritual awareness of a sincere sacrament, the presence of the Lord is more easily discerned.
The disciples took the bread and they knew Him.
The Atonement accomplished two redemptions: It enabled the physical resurrection, or redemption from death, of everyone. And, it enabled the effectiveness of repentance or the redemption from sin.
The sacramental bread symbolizes the body of Christ that died and was resurrected. This event guaranteed the immortality of everyone. This work is finished.
The wine, or water, symbolizes the blood of Christ that was shed for sin. It makes possible Eternal Life, which is, to dwell in the presence of the Father.
The sacrament is an ordinance – a physical reminder of the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When we remember the atonement, we will have the spirit with us. The blood of Christ is a curative for the past; the Spirit is a preventative for the future.
The Savior fulfilled His awful obligation to pay for our redemption, but requires a humble acknowledgment and acceptance of his gift through repentance. That is our part, and it is not finished.
Just prior to His going into Gethsemane, when the Savior taught His disciples the ordinance of the Sacrament, He told them:
"But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
While the Savior took bread with the disciples at Emmaus, there is no record in the New Testament, or in the Book of Mormon, of the resurrected Lord partaking of the wine.
In 1880, the prophet Joseph Smith was told:
“Behold, this is wisdom in me, wherefore marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on earth, and with Moroni…” The Lord went on to name many other attendees at this gathering, including those resurrected beings prominent in the restoration of the gospel.
Perhaps, when the kingdom of God is established on the earth, and all who would partake of the full measure of the Savior’s atonement have had the opportunity to do so, this earthy council will convene and He will partake with us.
Perhaps, at that time, our perfect knowledge and partaking of His Atonement will preclude the need for this beautiful ordinance of remembrance.
Until then, we remember the atonement of Jesus Christ by knowing, by doing, the sacrament. Do you feel his presence today. He is here.
The process of atonement began in the garden and culminated on the cross. What great love he manifest. Innocent and perfect, he bore the sins of the world.
As he carried his cross to the place of crucifixion, it was not the weight of the wood that was the heaviness he bore, nor was it the tearing of spikes through his hands and feet that seared his soul with pain. He suffered for our sin. He suffered for our mortality, that our eternal spirits could emerge from earth life unharmed.
Surrendering His spirit, His moment in mortality conferred upon all mankind the right of resurrection. His physical nature as the only begotten of the Father, and His spiritual nature as the singular sinless soul, enabled a sacrifice which satisfied all judgments of justice.
The effects of Adam's fall were rendered temporary, and the penalty for individual transgression was rendered removable through repentance.
The nature of the sacrifice; the physical suffering, the spiritual abandonment, the horrors of humanity heaped upon one innocent teacher, may be impossible for us to fully appreciate, but we can understand it's effect. Understanding the atonement is not a philosophical comprehension of justice and grace, of law and mercy. It is not academic at all.
Understanding the atonement is feeling the forgiveness that comes after a faithful and effective repentance.
It is understood only by the spirit, and that experience is the only explanation necessary to know that the atonement is true and real.
It is appropriate to feel a twinge of inadequacy as we teach and testify of principles of perfection when we ourselves are imperfect. Some would say that all who embrace the gospel, but fall short of perfection are hypocrites; therefore all who embrace the gospel are hypocrites.
But there is a significant difference between hypocrisy and imperfection, and that difference is found in our motive. Do we take pride in a pretense of piety, or do we humbly beg forgiveness for our failures? Do we cover our sins, or cleanse them though repentance?
Most of us are not trying to impress anyone – we don’t think we are better than anyone, we are just trying to live with Him someday.
Many years ago while docked in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, my father called me to the wheelhouse and announced that he would be leaving the boat - and that I was now the captain.
For some time I struggled with self-doubt. But, I tried to act like a captain and do the things I saw my father do. I began to know by doing.
Later, I acquired legal recognition as a captain in the US Merchant Marine. I acquired social recognition as well.
Late one night, after walking some distance to a Dutch Harbor payphone to call my wife, I was surrounded by five inebriated men who demanded my money and threatened bodily harm if I did not comply. I said nothing and waited for the first one to come within reach.
Only a moment passed when one of the men said. “Wait a minute, this guy is a captain. Let’s get outta here.” They apologized and left.
We know by doing. As we practice righteousness, we become righteous. If we behave as a Celestial being, we will be celestial beings, because celestial beings have faith in the atonement. They know it because they have done it.
If we have faith - despite our frailty, hope - despite our hardship, and charity circumscribing all our actions, the sanctification we so erratically seek will be our reward.
When the love we have for Heavenly Father is proportionate to the His love for us, we cannot be kept from His presence, because we will do all within our ability to be with Him, just as he did all within his power to allow us to be with Him.
If our love is perfect, though our lives may be flawed, and scarred, and frustrating, the power of the Atonement will take us from wherever we are and carry us home.
There is no greater power. It is the power to lift, to heal, to make all things right. It is the keystone in our Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness – a very heavy and awesome keystone that only one could lift into place.
I am thankful for the Savior Jesus Christ, for his love and life, his atonement and resurrection, for the path he prepared to the father. His plan of redemption is simple, and it is available to all. It requires love not literacy - action, not academics. Exaltation is available to all irrespective of intellectual accomplishment or earthly aptitude.
Don’t worry excessively if you don’t feel very Celestial at times.
You are a child of God, and he has sent you here.
Learn by doing, know by doing, faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and you will live with him someday.
I testify that Jesus Christ lives, and stands at the head of this church. I know and promise that His atonement is real, and has the power to transform any and all of us who will, into those who live with Him eternally.
* apologies to Dr. Ryan Parr, an LDS geneticist
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