Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

In my Church, it's traditional for missionaries that are about to report to the Missionary Training Center to speak in front of the congregation as a sort of "farewell" address. Today, I had the opportunity of speaking on the Atonement of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. This was my talk. 

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite and eternal. It is the culminating event in the life of our Savior, and the single most important thing He ever did. And it was done for us, as the greatest and purest expression of love. Can you imagine? The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the only begotten Son of God knows you personally. He loves you. He sees you perfectly for who you can become, and He gave His life in order to offer you a way back to live with the Father. In my life, the one thing I know with every fiber in my being and the one thing I’ll never doubt is the love that my Savior has for me. My purpose today is to testify that because He died for us, we now must strive to live for Him “at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.” (Mosiah 18:9)

My brothers and sisters, the atonement was an act of mercy. We know that “no unclean thing can enter the presence of God”, and yet we all fall short of perfection. Justice requires that a payment must be made. Amulek explained,

“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” (Alma 34:9).

Do we really understand what this means? What would become of us if this sacrifice had not been made? The scriptures tell us that we would become a lost and fallen people, and that we must perish. We would be in a state forever separated from those we love, forever consigned to misery and loneliness. We would live in our sins forever, unable to fully become clean. This life would be the end. Yet, as Amulek further explains,

“That great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety”  (Alma 34:14-16)

But again, do we really understand what this means? The depth of all the atonement covers, and of all the suffering the Savior endured for me—for each of us—is unfathomable. As Elder Holland points out so poignantly in his talk “None Were With Him”, the Savior endured every pain and sorrow and felt the greatest degree of loneliness, all so we will never have to. He said, “One of the great consolations of this Easters season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so.”  Because of the great love Christ has for all of mankind, we have the promise that He will not be leave us comfortless. (John 14:18)

Isaiah remarks on the solitary journey of our Savior, saying,

“He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)

And then, in the Lord’s own words, He speaks of His suffering,

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:16-19)

It means everything to me that there is someone that loves me that much. Again, it is just incomprehensible. We cannot take this gift for granted! This plan of mercy, this plan of love, is the plan of our salvation. We can be saved because Christ has broken the bands of death, and has become our Mediator with the Father. He took upon the sins of His people, and allowed a way for us to repent. One of the most beautiful promises the Lord has given us is that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

In deepest gratitude, we have the obligation to love and to serve our Master. We are so indebted to Him, and in return He only asks that we follow Him. And if we do keep His commandments, he again blesses us! Blessings of strength and peace, love and unity. He blesses us in our labors, and in our relationships with others.  And ultimately, He blesses us with the gift of eternal life, and we are able to enter His kingdom. The Bible dictionary tells us that through grace, we are given the “enabling power that allows [us] to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after [we] have expended [our] own best efforts” (BD: grace).  We can access the atonement every day in our lives, both to cleanse us from our sins and to receive strength in doing the Lord’s will. 

This Easter Sunday, let us remember the atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us remember our Father in Heaven—He who loved us all so greatly that He allowed His only begotten Son to die for us. And let it change your life. We will have the opportunity this coming weekend to hear from our beloved Church leaders, and from the living Prophet of God. I am so excited. Let us all listen to their words, searching to know what changes we can make to draw nearer to our Savior. I know that however hard it may seem, it will always be worth it.

As followers of Christ, we must strive to do all we can to keep His commandments. Each day of our lives will be an ongoing battle and we will face temptations and trials. Sometimes, we will fall short. But because of the atonement, we can repent! President Monson once stated that “one of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need to be final.”

I know that I fall short in many areas of my life. I’m not a perfect daughter, or sister, or friend. But I do love my Savior, and I will continue to repent and do my best to follow the path he lays out for me. Last October, Elder Holland shared a beautiful message about becoming converted to the Lord. At one point in his talk he stated,

“My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.” ("The First Great Commandment")

Let us prove our love to the Lord with our loyalty. Again quoting Elder Holland, “May we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in the flush of comfortable times but in deed and in courage and in faith, including when the path is lonely and when our cross is difficult to bear.”

I bear my testimony that I know that this is God’s true Church. I know that it holds the fullness of the Gospel and the key to obtaining eternal life.

So now it is my turn to hand my life over to the Lord, trusting in Him to guide me and to use me as an instrument in sharing this sweet message with His children.  And when it is asked of me, with all my heart I will firmly declare, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee!” 

I want each of you to know that I know with all my heart that God lives, and that He loves each and every one of us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Talks on the Atonement:
None Were With Him (Jeffrey R. Holland)
The Atonement Can Clean and Reclaim our Lives (Shayne M. Bowen)
His Grace is Sufficient (Brad Wilcox)
The Atonement (Boyd K. Packer)
The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality (David A. Bednar)
The Miracle of the Atonement (C. Scott Grow)
The Atonement Covers All Pain (Kent F. Richards)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Opening My Call


When President Monson announced that the age sisters could qualify for missionary service had been lowered, I was overcome with emotions. I felt as though I knew more certainly than ever that Thomas S. Monson was a Prophet of God, and knew with all my heart that the Lord is intricately involved in the details of my life. I remember thinking of a quote I had found earlier that week while researching for a Church History paper. It was Parley P. Pratt's description of how he had felt after learning of the temple sealing ordinances. He said: 

"I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved with a pureness -- an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling...I felt that God was my Heavenly Father indeed; that Jesus was my brother, and that the wife of my bosom was an immortal, eternal companion...My dearly beloved brother, Joseph Smith...had given me a single glance into eternity" (Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, 1938. 259-60).

I love the way he explains this sacred experience in his life, and found that it many ways paralleled my response to President Monson's announcement. The age change verified that I had been led by the Lord to make certain changes in my life, and it seemed to light my mind with a clarity; in Parley's words, "an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling." I wish I could explain how clear it was in that moment that my Heavenly Father had wanted me to prepare for this purpose! I knew the path I was meant to take, and I knew He had directed my life to lead me to this point. The Spirit rushed into my heart, filling me with the purest joy and love. It whispered to me that the all I believed was true -- that I have a Father in Heaven who loves me, that He sent His son to atone for my sins and to die for me, that President Monson is the Lord's voice on earth. That the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's true church, restored to the earth again.  

Maybe someday I'll write the full story of how I ended up deciding to serve a mission. (Another story for another time!) For now I'll try to quickly summarize the rest...

From the time I heard President Monson's prolific announcement, I knew that I would serve. The question I found myself petitioning to the Lord with time and time again in those following weeks was whether He wanted me to go immediately, or to wait another semester. I can't begin to put to words what an immensely spiritual process it was to learn God's will for me. I know that Heaven's hand led me to the decision I reached, and that I was being watched over. 

Skip forward almost four weeks, and I met with the Bishop for the first time. The process of submitting my mission papers took another couple of weeks, and then everything was finished! My Stake President sent in all of my papers to Church Headquarters just before Thanksgiving, and all I could do was anxiously wait for my mission call to arrive. I'm not sure I did so great at the whole "patiently waiting" thing, but like clockwork, it (finally) showed up in my mailbox the Wednesday of the two week mark...and here we are now.

I made this video to help me to always remember the way I felt when I first received my call to be a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It means everything to me, and I know that this is what God wants me to do at this point in my life. And what a blessing it is! Less than a year ago, I never would have guessed that I would be leaving to serve a mission in such a short period of time. I am so immensely grateful for the blessing it is to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, and for a living Prophet who seeks to know God's will for His people.

This is an incredible time to be alive! The Lord is hastening His work. What a blessing it is to be able to witness it!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Happy are We!

A couple of days ago, my little brother was sitting at the computer, looking at the blog template I was working on. Amidst the random critique he (very sweetly) offered, one statement stuck with me.

"Calling the blog 'Enlisted' makes it sound like you're in the army or something!"

At the time I just smiled, with a soft chuckle under my breath. "Yeah," I thought, "Enlisted in God's army."

I didn't really give it much more thought that night. But if there's one thing a job as an intern gives you, it's lots of filing, which allows for a lot of time to think.  The thought bounced around in my head all day, and I mused it over. Why did I chose to give my blog that name? What does it mean to me? Well, the first part was easy. The name came from the hymn titled "We Are All Enlisted", number 250 from the LDS hymnbook. The word "Enlisted" carries with it some of the sense of my commitment to following my Savior, and my willingness to serve God's children. But the real power in the word comes from the memories I hold of joyfully singing the song, feeling the sense of empowerment that the Spirit brought into my heart. Because for me, music is so much more than words on a page.

Music has always been a part of how I communicate. I had a song that taught me my first phone number, a song about brushing my teeth, and thanks to the the school house rock songs I still know what happens to a bill sitting there on capitol hill! One of my greatest blessings was to be raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where each week I was taught the children's Primary songs. These taught me that "I am a Child of God", that "Families Can Be Together Forever", that with a prayer Heaven is never far away, and that God loved me so "He Sent His Son." Learning these simple truths from the time I was young helped me to feel love for my Heavenly Father, building a relationship that I now treasure above everything else. And as my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has grown, so has my love for the sacred hymns that we sing. Hymns continue to teach me, inviting the Spirit into my heart and testifying that the words I sing hold truth. 

As I think about serving my mission, there are several hymns that come to mind, each offering a way for me to express the emotions that can't quite seem to be captured by words alone. All are wonderful, but I keep going back to "We Are All Enlisted". The overall message of the song is enthusiastically joining the fight for truth, and following the Apostle Paul's exhortation to "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). Moreover, it describes the happy state of these righteous followers of Christ with exclamations of, "joyfully, joyfully marching", "happy are we!", and "Glad to join the army, we will sing as we go". 

I have felt this joy! What words can describe it better than the spirit that accompanies this sweet hymn? It is the motivating force behind my decision to serve a mission, as well as the small choices I make each day. I know that enlisted in God's army, I will find joy in serving Him. I eagerly follow the path He sets for me, because I know that it is the way to return to live with Him.  I am a beloved daughter in His kingdom, and there is a "bright crown in store". I will joyfully march on, inviting all to "come join the ranks!" Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, "To think of enduring to the end as 'hanging in there,' doing one's duty relentlessly, is not inaccurate. Yet enduring to the end is more than outlasting and surviving, though it includes those qualities. We are called upon, as was the Prophet Joseph, to 'endure it well', gracefully not grudgingly" (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977], 109).  

That is the call. To fight for truth and trust in God. Doing more than tiredly putting one foot in front of the other, but finding joy in the journey! And so I am enlisted in this great cause. I hope that each of you know that I sincerely know that God lives, and that He loves each of us. I am thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to serve the people in São Paulo, and share this sweet message with them!

1. We are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er;
Happy are we! Happy are we!
Soldiers in the army, there’s a bright crown in store;
We shall win and wear it by and by.
Haste to the battle, quick to the field;
Truth is our helmet, buckler, and shield.
Stand by our colors; proudly they wave!
We’re joyfully, joyfully marching to our home.

We are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er;
Happy are we! Happy are we!
Soldiers in the army, there’s a bright crown in store;
We shall win and wear it by and by.

2. Hark! the sound of battle sounding loudly and clear;
Come join the ranks! Come join the ranks!
We are waiting now for soldiers; who’ll volunteer?
Rally round the standard of the cross.
Hark! ’tis our Captain calls you today;
Lose not a moment, make no delay!
Fight for our Savior; come, come away!
We’re joyfully, joyfully marching to our home.

3. Fighting for a kingdom, and the world is our foe;
Happy are we! Happy are we!
Glad to join the army, we will sing as we go;
We shall gain the vict’ry by and by.
Dangers may gather—why should we fear?
Jesus, our Leader, ever is near.
He will protect us, comfort, and cheer.
We’re joyfully, joyfully marching to our home.