He Can Change Us

Sister Stevens’ talk was a profound witness of the power of the Savior and his atonement. I love that she urged members to gain a bedrock testimony of the doctrine of Christ and to come to know the healing touch of the master.

It was so valuable to have a conference talk focused on mental illness and how the atonement can help us overcome. That portion of the talk seemed the most significant. But the most meaningful part for me came earlier with her focus on using the atonement to overcome our weaknesses and imperfections. I loved her usage of the story of the woman at the well as an example of how Christ can transform us and then allow us to bless others:

“When we come to Him with humble and teachable hearts–even if our hearts are heavy with mistakes, sins, and transgressions–He can change us, ‘for he is mighty to save.’ And with hearts changed, we can, like the Samaritan woman, go into our own cities–our homes, schools, and workplaces–to witness of Him.”

I’m grateful for the power of the atonement which allows me to try to be better and become better. I hope that we can all access the infinite power of the atonement more and more in our day to day life.

Seeing with the Light of Charity

I’m excited to begin blogging the talks from General Conference. Rereading and writing about all of the talks from the April 2016 conference was an immense blessing. I got to reecounter favorite talks, and gain new appreciation for talks that had not stood out to me at the time.

Sister Jean B Bingham’s talk about charity and being kind and charitable towards others was absolutely inspiring. These were words that I really needed to hear.

It is remarkable that Christ who was the only perfect human being to walk in this world nevertheless had a great charity for those around him. He was perfect and yet did not judge others for their imperfections. How much more then do we being imperfect need to show kindness and charity towards the weaknesses of others.

“When we see our own imperfections more clearly, we are less inclined to view others ‘through a glass, darkly.’ We want to use the light of the gospel to see others as the Savior does—with compassion, hope, and charity. The day will come when we will have a complete understanding of others’ hearts and will be grateful to have mercy extended to us—just as we extend charitable thoughts and words to others during this life.”
The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of hope. It is the promise that we can change. It is the guarantee that we can be transformed.” The great beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the reality of eternal progression—we are not only allowed to change for the better but also encouraged, and even commanded, to continue in the pursuit of improvement and, ultimately, perfection.”

So whether we treat others with that same hope and optimism is a true mark of our conversion. Whether we are kind, forgiving, and long suffering is an indicator of how truly we understand Christ and his Atonement.

So let us choose kindness and cloak ourselves in the mantle of charity. Let us see the good in others and aspire to uplift rather than put down. Let us avoid harsh or unkind words. 

“Yes, we can bring the light of the gospel into our homes, schools, and workplaces if we look for and share positive things about others and let the less-than-perfect fade away. What gratitude fills my heart when I think of the repentance that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has made possible for all of us who have inevitably sinned in this imperfect and sometimes difficult world!”

Tomorrow will be Magnificent

We are all subject to the vicissitudes of life. We experience highs and lows. This is the normal course of humanity. Yet, in those low moments it is easy to feel low or forsaken. It is easy to get discouraged. Elder Holland’s concluding message of encouragement was a much needed balm for all who experienced such moments.
I especially loved how this talk reminded me of my all time favorite talk by Elder Holland entitled “Cast Not Therefore Away Your Confidence.” Both talks focus on how we can avoid being discouraged after spiritual highs. Both speak of the role that Satan plays in causing to doubt our experiences and forget the joy we once felt.

But this new talk has a slightly different emphasis. It speaks primarily to the fact that God will never grow weary or give up on us. He will always love and bless us to the maximum extent possible. And so we can have faith in him.

“If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow–and every other day–is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such.”

I love this promise. I need it as I encounter my own weakness and imperfections. Even as I feel inadequate, I am comforted by knowing that God’s grade is wholly and completely adequate. What a beautiful and empowering doctrine.

The Victory over Death

Elder Paul V. Johnson’s talk on the resurection really resonated with me. He spoke about losing his daughter after an eight year struggle with cancer. Having recently lost my father to cancer and having lost my mother over a decade ago to the same illness, I could feel his pain. I loved his daughters words of deep faith:

“Each of us has physical, mental, and emotional limitations and weaknesses. These challenges, some of which seem so intractable now, will eventually be resolved. None of these problems will plague us after we are resurrected. Alisa researched survival rates for persons with the type of cancer she had, and the numbers were not encouraging. She wrote: ‘But there is a cure, so I’m not scared. Jesus has already cured my cancer, and yours. … I will be better. I’m glad I know this.’”

Elder Johnson then emphasized that this principle applies to all possible trials that we face. “We can replace the word cancer with any of the other physical, mental, or emotional ailments we may face. Because of the Resurrection, they have already been cured too. The miracle of resurrection, the ultimate cure, is beyond the power of modern medicine. But it is not beyond the power of God. We know it can be done because the Savior is resurrected and will bring to pass the Resurrection of each of us too.”
Towards the end of his talk, Elder Johnson’s words echoed the deepest desires of my heart:

“I am grateful for the blessings that are ours because of the Atonement and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For all who have laid a child in a grave or wept over the casket of a spouse or grieved over the death of a parent or someone they loved, the Resurrection is a source of great hope. What a powerful experience it will be to see them again–not just as spirits but with resurrected bodies.

  I long to see my mother again and feel her gentle touch and look into her loving eyes. I want to see my father’s smile and hear his laugh and see him as a resurrected, perfect being. With an eye of faith, I picture Alisa completely beyond the reach of any earthly troubles or any sting of death–a resurrected, perfected Alisa, victorious and with a fulness of joy.”

There is nothing that I want in my life more than to be worthy to one day see my parents again – both earthly and heavenly. I long to embrace my mother again. I long to hear my father laugh. This desire is what first led me to come to know Christ. My longing helped me to humble my heart and seek to know God. It is this drive that has helped me overcome challenges and trials.

The central pillar of Christianity is a message of love and hope. It is the certain knowledge that Christ has conquered spiritual and temporal death and can ultimately help us to do the same. I know with every fiber of my being that Christ lives. I know that he died for me and for each of us.

Our Unwearying Savior

The Savior sets an incomparable example for all of us to follow. In particular, his perfect character sets the pattern for us. In the April 1974 conference, Elder Howard W. Hunter spoke about the last hours of the Savior’s life.

“To the very end of his mortal life Jesus was demonstrating the grandeur of his spirit and the magnitude of his strength. He was not, even at this late hour, selfishly engrossed with his own sorrows or contemplating the impending pain. He was anxiously attending to the present and future needs of his beloved followers. He knew their own safety, individually and as a church, lay only in their unconditional love one for another. His entire energies seem to have been directed toward their needs, thus teaching by example what he was teaching by precept. He gave them words of comfort and commandment and caution.”

It is hard to imagine the strain that the Savior was under. His atoning sacrifice was imminently approaching. His hours on the earth were drawing to an end. And yet, he focused fully on serving others.

It is really humbling to think about this example. When I am tired or hungry or cranky, I turn inward and draw selfish. I do not face anything like the kind of strain that the savior had. But with far fewer challenges, I nevertheless withdraw and focus on my own needs.

I know that I can do better at emulating the savior’s example of constant service. How much better would all of our relationships and our communities be if we did likewise?

Look Towards the Temple 

Elder Kent F. Richards spoke eloquently of the importance of temple work and the need to look towards the temple. Recently, in light of the Philadelphia temple dedication this theme has been on my mind. I recently taught my 12-13 year old Sunday School students a lesson about the importance of  temple covenants and the need to prepare to receive the sacred ordinances. 

As I reread Elder Richard’s talk, I was once again encouraged to focus on the temple. He noted that: “I had the privilege recently of being in a temple open house with President Russell M. Nelson and his family as he gathered them around the sealing altar and explained to them that everything we do in the Church–every meeting, activity, lesson, and service–is to prepare each of us to come to the temple and kneel at the altar to receive all the Father’s promised blessings for eternity.”

I testify from my experience that there is a power found only in the temple. I know that if we stay focused on the ordinances of the temple and see the temple as our ultimate destination, that we will better be able to avoid temptation. I know that as we look towards the temple our vision will be lifted and we will be transformed.

Satan the Great Facilitator

Elder Oak’s talk on the role of opposition in the plan of salvation has been noticed primarily for his controversial statement that there is no “loyal opposition” in the Church. In a way this focus is unfortunate, but it obscures the strength of the rest of the talk on the Plan of Salvation which I found to be exceptionally well done.

In particular, I loved Elder Oak’s focus on one of themes that most intrigues me, namely the fact that while Satan tried to oppose God’s plan his opposition ultimately furthered it.

“So it is that the evil one, who opposed and sought to destroy the Father’s plan, actually facilitated it, because it is opposition that enables choice and it is the opportunity of making the right choices that leads to the growth that is the purpose of the Father’s plan.”

I love knowing that Satan, while full of rage and thunder, is ultimately an impotent adversary in many ways. At best, he is relegated to achieving tactical victories at the expense of grand strategic loseses. Satan thinks he knows how the frustrate the plan of God, but his every move ultimately furthers God’s masterful strategy.

In the Book of Mormon, early in Helaman, the Lamanite armies make a similar mistake. They plunge deep into the center of the Nephite land. They have victories on the way, but are ultimately surrounded and utterly destroyed. Their zeal led to their undoing.

Satan ultimately suffers the same fate. His actions led to the unfolding of God’s plan. His actions led to the fulfillment of the atonement of Christ. And his actions will bring about the Millenial reign. We should take great comfort knowing that he will not and cannot win.