Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Inspirations April 25, 2010

I was given the opportunity to speak in our main church meeting today. This talk came to me in a different manner than I've ever had happen before. The stories that needed to be included, the main subjects I was to address, all of this I was directed to. This is what I'd like to share with you today.

Many years ago Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Quorum of the Seventy related an experience shared with him by another General Authority.

"A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of interviewing a young man to go on a mission. Because he had committed a major transgression, it was necessary for him under then-existing policy to be interviewed by a General Authority. When the young man came in, I said, 'Apparently there's been a major transgression in your life, and that has necessitated this interview. Would you mind telling me what the problem was? What did you do?'

"He laughed and said, 'Well, there isn't anything I haven't done.' I said, 'Well, let's be more specific then. Have you...?' and then this General Authority began to probe with some very specific questions. The young man laughed again and said, 'I told you, I've done everything.'

"I said, 'How many times have you...' He said very sarcastically, 'Do you think I numbered them?' I said, 'I would to God you could if you can't.' He said, again quite sarcastically, 'Well, I can't.'

"I said, 'How about...' And the General Authority probed in another direction. He said, 'I told you. I've done everything.' I said, 'Drugs?' He said, 'Yes,' in a very haughty attitude. I said, 'What makes you think you're going on a mission then?' He said, 'I know I'm going. My patriarchal blessing says I'll go on a mission, and I've repented. I haven't done any of those things for this past year. I have repented, and I know I'm going on a mission.'

"I said, 'My dear friend, I'm sorry but you are not going on a mission. Do you think we could send you out with those clean, wholesome young men who have never violated the code? Do you think we could have you go out and boast and brag about your past? You haven't repented; you have just stopped doing something.

" 'Sometimes in your life you need to visit Gethsemane; and when you have been there, you'll understand what repentance is. Only after you have suffered in some small degree as the Savior suffered in Gethsemane will you know what repentance is. The Savior has suffered in a way none of us understands for every transgression committed. How dare you laugh and jest and have a haughty attitude about your repentance? I'm sorry, you are not going on a mission.'

"He started to cry, and he cried for several minutes. I didn't say a word. Finally, he said, 'I guess that's the first time I have cried since I was five years old.' I said, 'If you had cried like that the first time you were tempted to violate the moral code, you possibly would be going on a mission.'

"He left the office, and I think he felt I was really cruel. I explained to the bishop and the stake president that the boy could not go on a mission."

I'm going to leave the story here but promise we'll come back to it. For now I want us to think about sin. Most of the time sin does not happen all at once. We don't go from innocent to committing horrible sins in a flash. Instead we are enticed, drawn in, slowly but surely.

Many years ago as a youth my father came into our living room with copies of the same book in hand. He handed one around to each of us kids and we began a series of Family Home Evenings reading through Spencer W. Kimball's book, "The Miracle of Forgiveness." There is a fable President Kimball gives us that has stuck with me all my life: The Fable of the Camel.

"The camel and his owner were traveling across the desert sand dunes when a wind storm came up. The traveler quickly set up his tent and moved in, closing the flaps to protect himself from the cutting, grinding sands of the raging storm. The camel was of of course left outside, and as the violent wind hurled the sand against his body and into his eyes and nostrils he found it unbearable and finally begged for entrance into the tent.

" 'There is room only for myself,' said the traveler.

" 'But may I just get my nose in so I can breathe air not filled with sand?' asked the camel.

" 'Well, perhaps you could do that,' replied the traveler, and he opened the flap ever so little and the long nose of the camel entered. How comfortable the camel was now! But soon the camel became weary of the smarting sand on his eyes and ears, and he was tempted to ask again.

" 'The wind-driven sand is like a rasp on my head. Could I put just my head in?'

"Again, the traveler rationalized that to acquiesce would do him no damage, for the camel's head could occupy this space at the top of the tent which he himself was not using. So the camel put his head inside and the beast was satisfied again - but for a short while only.

" 'Just the front quarters,' he begged, and again the traveler relented and soon the camel's front shoulders and legs were in the tent. Finally, by the same process of pleading and yielding, the camel's torso, his hind quarters and all were in the tent. But now it was too crowded for the two, and the camel kicked the traveler out into the wind and storm."

It is in this precise manner Satan works on us. He knows if he pushes too hard, like asking to in the entire camel at once, we will deny him access. So he starts small: a nose here, an ear there. Once we say yes, we have opened the door to greater requests.

During my years in seminary there was a video shown that really quite affected me. There was a family, each one dressed in the brightest white, all happy, smiling, and enjoying being around one another. They lived in a house also entirely white - gleaming and beautiful.

Someone knocked on the door. One of the family members answered, and on the porch stood a group of people dressed entirely in black. The family hesitated to allow the group entrance, but after much begging and pleading they were finally granted access. With just one dark and dirty hand print on the door frame came the staining of the first sin. The strangers came into the house and began poking around, sat on the lovely furniture, leaving a stain with every touch. The mess was invasive, covering the furniture, the painting on the wall, the carpet, even the clothes each family member wore.

It soon became clear to the family these intruders needed to go. They didn't go quietly. It took everybody working together to finally force them all out the door. As the family looked around their home they became dismayed. The mess left behind was horrific! They tried to clean up, but the marks would not completely go away.

Then the Savior appeared. Only with His presence, through His atoning grace was the family and their home restored to it's former estate. Only through the help of the Savior.

It is here, brothers and sisters, that we come to the heart of repentance. Picture in your mind a scene set almost 2000 years ago. The Savior and many of his best friends have just partaken of the Last Supper, and have gone on to one of their favorite places, even the Garden of Gethsemane. Many times have they gathered here to pray, to sing hymns, to teach and be taught. Christ asks three of His friends to accompany Him further into the garden, to stand as sentinels as He begins this last, most vital part of His journey here on the earth.

Yet no mortal may watch the unfolding events, so Christ continues on alone. He finds a large stone next to which He kneels. Could it be in this moment He already feels the weight of guilt, of wrongdoing pressing upon Him? Here is a man who has never sinned in all his years. Not once. Up to now He has been compassionate to the sinner who truly desires to repent, sympathetic to those who suffer in sickness and sorrow, but never has He carried the weight of sin and suffering on His own shoulders until this very moment.

Is it any wonder He asks of His father as recorded in the Book of Matthew, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

Is it any wonder the sins and transgressions, sorrows and guilt of countless brothers and sisters from worlds without number would cause this remarkable soul - who held a relationship with our Heavenly Father that we can barely hope to comprehend - to pray more earnestly? What could possibly cause Him to pray with an intensity He had never seen the need for before? It was, simply, sin. For He knew in that moment the only way for Him to make it through this horrible time was to rely more on His Heavenly Father, even if He didn't completely understand why.

Brothers and Sisters, every single person in this room has sinned, has known the weight of guilt, has had cause to mourn. Every single person in this room has made a choice that has brought about harsh consequences for ourselves as well as those around us. Every single person here has had the need to repent.

But repentance is more than just turning away from sin. As we heard in the story of the young man it takes more than stopping a sin to repent. There is something deep within us that must change for true repentance to take place. We must come to our own Gethsemane.

We have a brilliant example of this in the Book of Mormon. I am thinking of Alma the Younger. Listen carefully to the words he uses to describe all that was happening to him, and think to yourself if you've ever felt this way before:

"But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

"Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

"Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds. And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul."

Have you ever felt racked with eternal torment? Have you ever looked back on something you've done and felt a desire to make up for the wrong done, to go back and be clean again? Is there truly any hope that we might be able to lift the great weight of guilt and godly sorrow from our shoulders?

"And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

"Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death."

In other words, it's time for us to pray more earnestly. We must pray with a humble heart, with pure intent, with such sincerity we can feel it from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our feet. What will such a prayer do?

"Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

"And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!"

What might that feel like, the moment hatred for oneself is suddenly replaced by such joy! To feel clean, light, and full of love. Have we as mortals who find ourselves apt to sin, become so used to the weight of guilt and sorrow we cannot see there is so much more to life? A better way to live, a lightness of spirit and body that no one can take from us?

The choice is ours, and ours alone. Just as we can choose to make the first step toward sin, we have to be the ones to choose the first step toward happiness. We are surrounded by people who love us, and want to see us free again. Just as Christ was granted an angel for support, love and guidance during the most difficult time of His life, we are given angels as well. Family, friends, and ward members who want to see us whole. We have a bishop, who is especially called of God to be one of our greatest angels here on earth, who wants more than anything to help us turn from sin and embrace the gift of the atonement, who is a support for us when certain sins need more care and attention in getting them out of our lives.

Repentance does not end there, but there it certainly does begin. It is one of the hardest steps to take, the hardest choices to make, but it will never, NEVER be a choice you will regret so long as you stay true to the gospel of Christ.

I would now like to return to our story about the young man who wished to go on a mission. If you remember he's been turned away with some rather harsh words about his attitude regarding his past choices.

"About six months later the same General Authority returned to that city to speak in a lecture series held in the evening. When he finished, many young adults lined up to shake hands with him. As he shook hands, one by one, he looked up and saw the young man that he had previously interviewed standing in the line about four back. The General Authority relates the following:

" 'My mind quickly flashed back to our interview. I recalled his laughing and haughty attitude. I remembered how sarcastic he was. Pretty soon he was right in front of me. I was on the stand bending over, and as I reached down to shake his hand, I noticed a great change had taken place. He had tears in his eyes. He had almost a holy glow about his countenance. He took my hand in his and said, 'I've been there; I've been to Gethsemane and back.' I said, 'I know. It shows in your face.'

"We can be forgiven for our transgressions, but we must understand that just to stop doing something is not repentance. If it had not been for the Savior and the miracle of forgiveness, this young man would have carried his transgressions throughout all eternity."

As I knelt by my bed last night, pondering the words of this talk, I thought back to a transgression I had committed as a child. I was maybe 10, and for years and years I struggled over whether or not I had truly repented for what I'd done as a child. Certainly the thought of committing the sin again brought about horrific feelings, I never wanted to do it again, and I'd prayed about it before. Yet still there sat in my mind a lingering doubt: had I truly repented and been forgiven?

And so I asked my Heavenly Father last night to help me know in a way that no doubt could remain. He did. I felt happy. Just plain happy. There was no more reason to fret about that past sin, for I had been cleansed long ago. Now, I could just be happy.

I wish you bear you my testimony regarding repentance: it is not a punishment for bad deeds done. Neither is it something to be taken lightly. It is a precious gift, freely given by our Lord and Savior to help us live a happier life, to find peace even in our struggles, to give us hope when the world tells us things are hopeless. I can testify that it works, when done with the correct attitude. And I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

1 comment:

Team Jensen said...

Your talk was beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to you...since I actually COULD listen! Yeah me!