Aloha! My dear brothers and sisters, it is wonderful to be with you today. I'm grateful for the preparations that each of you has made to attend this devotional, and for the Spirit you bring to a setting such as this. It is such a great blessing and honor for my wife Margaret and me to be called to serve at this great institution at this time. We already have a great love for BYU-Hawaii and the students, faculty and staff that make this such a special place. Thank you for your goodness and righteousness.
I also want to express my thanks to my wonderful wife for her love and support and her obedience to the Lord at all times and in all things. I love her dearly and thank my Heavenly Father daily for the blessing she is to me and my family. I also want to express my thanks to President and Sister Shumway – for their example, their inspired work over so many decades, and for their faithfulness to the Lord. We are indeed humbled and honored to be called to follow them. And I'm very grateful to Elder Kerr for his ongoing support and that of so many who work so tirelessly to support and strengthen the Church Education System.
I pray that throughout this meeting the Holy Ghost will confirm for each of us the truths we will discuss, and that you will be inspired and motivated to act on what you feel and learn. One of the most exciting aspects of our new assignment is the opportunity to work in an outstanding educational institution where spiritual and secular instruction take place in a gospel- centered environment.
I would like to focus my devotional remarks today on the promised blessings of the Savior's Atonement, and more particularly, on how we can receive those blessings each day. Whether we are a student or an employee, single or married, a lifetime member of the Church or a recent convert – the blessings of the Atonement can be ours. It is my hope and prayer that by the time we leave this devotional, each of us will have a greater understanding, conviction and desire to obtain those blessings on a daily basis.
The Importance of the Atonement
The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, 1938, page 121).
Knowing that the atonement is the essence of the gospel, and that the gospel is the "good news", it follows that the blessings of the atonement must be grand indeed. And that they are. We often think of the blessings associated with the atonement as falling into one of two categories - those that are unconditional and those that are conditional. Those that are in the first category – the unconditional – require no action on our part to be received. They are independent of how we act.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has summarized these unconditional blessings as consisting of three types.
First, the Savior's atonement paid for Adam's original transgression so that none of us is held responsible for that sin.
Second, as a result of the atonement, every son or daughter of God who lives on this earth will be resurrected. And
Third, the atonement ensures "…the salvation of little children, the mentally impaired, [and] those who lived without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ…these are redeemed by the universal power of the atonement … and will have the opportunity to receive the fullness of the gospel in the spirit world" ("The Atonement of Jesus Christ", by Jeffrey R. Holland, included in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
The Conditional Blessings of the Atonement
As grand and wonderful as these unconditional blessings are, the Savior's Atonement also offers a host of conditional blessings that are equally grand and glorious. I'd like to focus the remainder of my time on some of these conditional blessings that depend on our actions; on what we do to avail ourselves of them.
I hope that this morning, we can better understand these conditional blessings – and that this understanding will motivate and inspire each of us to actively work for and seek after these blessings on a daily basis.
When I think about the conditional blessings of the atonement, I think of the invitations that the Savior repeatedly extends to us through His prophets and the scriptures. His is an invitation to act! And with that action comes a promised blessing. Let me review a few of the many scriptures where the Savior's invitation is extended:
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8).
"Come unto me and your souls shall live" (D&C 45:46).
"Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree" (Alma 5:34).
The Savior extends the invitation, and if we will act, the promised blessings will be ours – the blessings of peace, of His companionship, of Eternal life, and of receiving the love of God.
The Lord Himself summarizes these blessings of the atonement as "peace in this world and Eternal Life in the world to come" (D&C 59:23). That is, when we accept and act on the Savior's invitation, He promises blessings now – in this life – and blessing later – in the eternities.
While we often focus on the blessings of Eternal Life in the world to come – I'd like to focus on the nearer term promise – the promise of "peace" in this world. Let me illustrate the challenge of attaining that peace with a simple example.
When our daughter Mindy's son was eight years old, he posed one of those unique and insightful questions that those his age often come up with. On the way to church one day, he asked his parents, "If doctors could invent a pill to do anything in the world, what do you think the best pill would be?" After a moment's thought, Mindy answered, "How about a pill to make everyone be kind?" To which her husband Doug responded, "Good plan, Satan." While they all laughed, it highlighted the importance and challenge of this earthly experience and the overarching significance of the Atonement in the Plan of our Loving Father and His Son.
In these next few minutes I want to explore how "coming to Christ" and accepting His invitation to act diligently and according to the guidance of His Spirit, brings the promised blessings of Peace in this life.
I am grateful for the Savior's love for me and my family, and the many times His peace has blessed our lives. In reflecting on these numerous occasions I've been struck by four quite different conditions where by accepting His invitation, pain and sadness have been replaced with peace and joy. Please consider with me each of these four conditions in turn and the atonement's promised path to peace for each of them.
The Atonement's Blessings of Peace
The first source of sadness or roadblock to peace is that of our own sins and their consequences.
The scriptures make it clear that sin leads to misery and pain, not joy and peace (Alma 42:1; 2 Nephi 2:27). Alma recounts the intensity of his personal suffering for sin, by describing how "he was racked with torment" by the "memory of [his] many sins". But then as he accepted the Savior's invitation and cried out to Him, that pain and even the memory of his sins was replaced by the peace and joy promised by the Savior. Alma concludes with this wonderful verse:
"And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!" (Alma 36:20).
Such peace is one of the great and wonderful blessings of the atonement. As we avail ourselves of the Savior's invitation and fully repent of our own sins, pain and guilt are replaced by joy and peace.
Of course one of the best ways to sustain this type of promised peace is to strive to avoid sin and to adopt standards for ourselves that will guide us to activities that are uplifting and enriching and will help us avoid activities that are demeaning and debasing. Even in Laie you will face such challenges. When John Wesley went off to School in England in the early 1700s, he found himself suddenly beset by all sorts of temptations. He wrote to his mother and asked her for advice. This loving, concerned mother wrote back as follows:
"Would you judge the lawfulness of pleasure, take this rule….
Whatever weakens your reason,
Whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind,
Whatever impairs the tenderness of your conscience,
Whatever takes away your relish for things spiritual,
Whatever obscures your sense of God,
THAT IS SIN TO YOU, no matter how innocent it may seem in itself."
Please don't let your life be filled with sadness and pain as a consequence of sin. Accept the Savior's invitation by exercising faith in Him unto repentance. By doing this on a daily basis we can obtain the promised peace that comes from knowing that our life conforms to His will and that we are acceptable before Him.
A second source of sadness or roadblock to peace is the consequence of the sins and shortcomings of others.
The sins of others invariably affect those around them. We often feel wronged, slighted or offended – because of the sins of others. Sometimes it may be something quite insignificant – our roommate failed to do their portion of the weekly cleaning, another driver failed to signal when turning, or someone forgot our birthday – but other times the offense and its consequences can be very significant – such as a child who suffers years of abuse, a young mother who suddenly finds herself a single parent because of the choices of an unfaithful husband, or those who lose loved ones in a tragedy like that which occurred recently on the campus of Virginia Tech.
But the Atonement offers a solution that can bring true peace in all such situations. The Atonement's solution is Forgiveness – leaving judgment and punishment to the Lord – and in exchange receiving His peace.
The Lord Himself declared through the prophet Joseph Smith, "Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:9-10).
When we follow this counsel, we can have a great burden lifted from us, and in its place we can have the "peace" promised by the Savior. Life is too short to not avail ourselves of this blessing on a daily basis.
Such forgiveness not only brings the promised blessings of peace, but it strengthens our faith in the Savior. And as we feel His healing power in our own lives, we naturally draw closer to Him. In my own case, I have had the blessings of forgiveness again brought into sharp focus just recently. For several years I had a business partner, in what I thought was a successful business with a fixed limit on the financial risk involved. Unbeknown to me, the business was not succeeding and my partner was hiding the losses by inappropriately circumventing the loan limits set by the bank. This all came to light after we returned from our mission, and we found ourselves suddenly having a loan called by the bank that was five times what we understood to be the loan limit.
You can imagine the lack of peace Margaret and I suddenly felt! For a few weeks, we were extremely distraught. It was hard to think about anything else. But through a series of invitations from the Lord, that experience became a wonderful blessing as sadness and frustration were replaced by faith and peace.
At the time, I was not thinking of forgiveness. I was thinking of survival. But I'm grateful that the Lord knew and loved us and was willing to guide us. First He inspired faithful friends to offer special Priesthood blessings. Second, He helped me find a lawyer, an accountant, and an operating manager who could represent us until we could sell the business. Third, He made it possible for us to quickly sell a long term investment and pay the partnership debt without losing our home or retirement. Fourth and finally, at the meeting where we settled our debt to the bank, the Lord revealed to me what would happen to my partner and his family if I did not take full responsibility for the debt and allow my former partner to continue fulfilling his duties as a husband and father.
With so many blessings from the Lord, I felt my heart softening and could see myself offering to fully forgive my former partner without delay, and experience even greater peace. That all happened three years ago. Since then we have periodically heard from the wonderful wife of this former partner, and each time have felt that special peace of knowing we have done what the Savior would have us do. In a recent letter from this dear mother, devoted wife, and daughter of God, we were again reminded of how grateful we were for the promptings of the Lord in that situation and that we acted on those. And it was indeed acting on them that brought such a sense of peace.
In this life each of us will inevitably find ourselves offended or injured, often repeatedly, because of the shortcomings or sins of others. The atonement's answer is freely forgiving and in turn receiving the promised blessings of peace and the quiet assurance that we have done as the Lord would have us do. I am grateful that the Lord taught me this lesson early on in life, and has periodically reminded me of it's importance.
A third source of sadness or roadblock to peace is that of circumstance which so often accompanies this mortal existence.
Such circumstances of mortality include those afflictions "common to man[kind]" (1 Corinthians 10:13) such as challenges of health, finances, loneliness, and all the other vicissitudes that attend life on this earth.
The Atonement gives us a solution. That solution is agency – we are free to act or be acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:13.) We can decide how we will respond to circumstance and the Savior will assist us in enduring and overcoming whatever that circumstance may be.
The daily choices we make – as to how we will act or react to our circumstances – have a profound impact on our whole outlook on life. Charles Swindoll, a noted Christian writer and educator, has summarized the impact of such choices in this way:
"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude is more than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. We cannot change the past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes" ("Attitude", by Charles R. Swindoll).
In addition to having a good attitude, we also need to trust the Lord and His purposes. Sometimes the circumstances we each encounter may be to show forth the power of God and His Priesthood. At other times the circumstances may be for our individual tutoring and growth. Or perhaps such circumstance may be to help us be more humble and to build our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever the purpose, as Alma and his people learned, often the Lord gives us the strength to bear our burdens rather than lifting them from us (Mosiah 24:14).
As we recognize the Lord's hand in our circumstances, we better understand the nature of the peace the Savior promises. I recall a few years ago when one of our sons was on his mission, a close friend of mine had his missionary son killed in a tragic auto accident. As I sought to share my condolences and sympathy with him, I found that he and his wife had already received the Savior's promised peace. And while they missed their son very much, they were grateful for the atonement and the blessing it had been in their hour of need.
Whatever our circumstances in this life – be they sickness, financial misfortune, or any of the other challenges that accompany mortality – through the exercise of our agency, the atonement's promised blessings of peace can be ours.
The fourth source of sadness or roadblock to peace is, "the myth of mortal perfection."
The world tells us, "you can do anything you put your mind to, you can have it all". That is simply not true! You cannot do everything. That is not why the Lord sent us to this earth. This myth of perfectionism results in part from the prideful notion of self-sufficiency.
The Atonement's answer to this hindrance to peace is "Grace" – the Grace of Christ. In the scriptures, grace refers primarily to the enabling power and spiritual healing offered through the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. The Lord promises us that if we humble ourselves before Him and have faith in Him, His grace will help us overcome all of our personal weaknesses (Ether 12:27).
President Stephen L. Richards (of the First Presidency) counseled that coming to Christ requires coming out of the world to a higher place. To do so, he said we must "forsake the philosophy of self-sufficiency, which is the philosophy of the world, and adopt the philosophy of faith, which is the philosophy of Christ. [We] must substitute Faith [in Christ] for self-sufficiency" (Improvement Era, April, 1935).
We don't need to be perfect before the Savior steps in, we just need to be striving and He'll make up the difference – however great that might be.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught that neither the unconditional nor the conditional blessings of the atonement would be available to mankind except through the grace and goodness of Christ. "Obviously the unconditional blessings of the atonement are unearned, but the conditional ones are also not fully merited. They are always and ever a product of God's grace" ("The Atonement of Jesus Christ", by Jeffrey R. Holland, and included in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
As we put our trust in the Lord and rely on Him, we turn from the world's presumption of self sufficiency and mortal perfection, and receive the blessings of Grace – the blessing of knowing that when we do our best and follow Him, He will make up the inevitable shortfalls.
Conversion is "Coming" to the Savior
In the Gospel there is a word for accepting the Savior's invitation to come unto Him, no matter what the circumstance - that word is conversion.
The atonement is not only the events in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary; it is a way of viewing the world and everything in it. And coming to see and embrace our life on earth in this way is what we call conversion.
I've learned much about conversion from an assignment I received from Elder Richard G. Scott. During a visit to London while we were serving there, he did not have time to cover with our missionaries all that he had hoped. So before departing, he gave me a copy of his notes on the topic of conversion and asked that I make it the focus of our next zone conference, which of course I did. In Elder Scott's notes was included the following: "Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and His teachings but also a motivating faith in Him and His gospel – a faith which works a transformation, and an actual change in one's understanding of life's meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct" (Elder Richard G. Scott, England London Mission Conference, 2003).
As we accept the Savior's invitation and align ourselves with Him in interest, in thought and in conduct we become converted. And with that comes the promised blessing of Jehovah, "Whoso hearkeneth unto me, shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (Proverbs 1:33).
I would invite each of us to evaluate our own lives and ask, do we view the potential roadblocks and hindrances to peace as the world views them? Or do we approach those situations through the power of the atonement?
First, do we daily feel and recognize,
The peace that comes from overcoming our own sins and weaknesses through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and true repentance
Second, do we daily experience,
The peace that comes from freely forgiving others
Third, do we daily feel and recognize,
The peace that comes from turning to the Lord as we face challenges and burdens related to circumstances beyond our control
And, fourth, do we daily experience,
The peace that comes from knowing we don't have to be perfect. That through the Grace of Christ, He will make up the inevitable shortfall.
This is indeed the "good news" of the Gospel. This is the "perfect brightness of hope" the Savior promises to those who accept His invitation to "come" (2 Nephi 31:20).
Let me close with my testimony of the power of the atonement and the truthfulness of His promises. I know that the Savior died so that we might live, and have life more abundantly. I know that the atonement has all power – to sanctify us, to lift our burdens and to replace sadness and despair with joy and peace. It has done so repeatedly for me and for my family. I cannot imagine life without these daily blessings.
I also know that our Father in Heaven and His Son are pleased when we more fully accept and avail ourselves of the infinite and priceless blessings of the atonement.
And because the Lord Himself has promised it, I know with complete assurance that these are only the beginning of the blessings that He has in store for each of us – for you and me – and for all of His children who accept His invitation. It is my hope and prayer that on a daily basis we will all diligently seek to obtain the blessings of the atonement – the promised blessings of peace. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.