Receive the Gift
I’d like to thank the choir. I was a student here some years ago, and it’s incredible what Brother Allen has done with the choir.
In our new student orientation devotional, new students were invited to study and apply the Atonement in their daily lives. In the first devotional of the semester, the entire campus community was invited to study and apply the Atonement in their daily lives. We had our Institute faculty, every one of them, give a four-minute captioned address focused on the Atonement because we want to study and apply the Atonement in our lives.
Last week, about 40 students were asked the question, “How many of you know that the campus community has invited you to study and apply the Atonement in your lives?” There was some quiet, and then, very slowly, about six of them raised their hands. The purpose of today’s devotional is to make the announcement officially, to please join us in studying and applying the Atonement in our lives every day. That is our focus for the Winter 2015 semester.
Our running theme over the next few months is “Receive the Gift.” Many of you remember that during the Christmas season, the Church had a theme of “He is the Gift.” The purpose at this time is to “Receive the Gift.” You will see this statement all over campus during the upcoming months—“Receive the Gift.”
My primary responsibility at the College is to deepen discipleship. I have been asked to share a few insights today, and in conjunction with the devotional committee, to share a few thoughts. And then afterward, there are three students we have asked to prepare some insights to share with you. Each of these students have personal experiences and a testimony that, I believe, you will get far more in your notebooks than what is said, if you are interested. And the order in which we will hear from them is, first, Sister Boston Welch, then Mauricio Callama, and Emily Vogle.
While fasting and praying over this for the last week, I have asked our Heavenly Father that you would feel the Spirit today and walk away with at least one way that you can apply the Atonement. And so my invitation is this: before we are done today, please write down one thing you can do today to apply the Atonement in your life. I am certain that the answer to that will come, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, and not in the fire, but by the still, small voice.
A promise President George Q. Cannon gave years and years ago—he was speaking of going to a priesthood meeting in the same way that you and I have come to this meeting. He had said:
I should enter that assembly with my mind entirely free from all influence that would prevent the operation of the Spirit of God upon me. I should go in a prayerful spirit, asking God to write upon my heart His will; not with my own will already prepared, and determined to carry out my will . . . , regardless of everyone else’s views. If I were to go, and all the rest were to go, with this spirit, then the Spirit of God would be felt in our midst, and that which we would decide upon would be the mind and will of God, because God would reveal it to us. We would see light in the direction where we should go, and we would behold darkness in the direction we should not go (Deseret Semi-Weekly News,30 Sept. 1890, 2; quoted in Henry B. Eyring, “Write Upon My Heart,” Oct. 2000 General Conference).
So my goal for you today is that as you leave, you will have the desire for God to write upon your hearts His will and be determined then to go and do whatever He asks, which may be something hard. Please be courageous enough to do that.
Why are we doing this? President Uchtdorf has said that the what is informative, and the why is transformative (see “They Why of Priesthood Service,” Apr. 2012 General Conference). Bruce C. Hafen has said that “the Atonement is not just for sinners.” He said as we talk more of Christ, the gospel’s doctrinal fullness will come out of obscurity. He said that as we draw close to God He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser and stronger. For many of you, if you are seeing your weaknesses in your life, it just might mean you are moving nearer to God, not further away. (See “Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Liahona, Apr. 1997.)
Paul said, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Nearly every prophet in the Book of Mormon has asked us to come unto Christ (see 2 Nephi 26:33; Omni 1:26; Moroni 10:30). In my last study of the Book of Mormon, reading from cover to cover, I noticed some interesting things, particularly during the Savior’s ministry among the Nephites. Fourteen times, from 3 Nephi 11 to 29, He asks us to come unto Him. Eighteen times He asks us to repent. Twenty-two times He asks us to believe. Fifty-one times He asks us to pray. One hundred seventy-three times He provides little reminders that God is our Father, specifically in chapter 14, referring to Him as “your Father” (verse 11).
I think sometimes a mistake that we might make is to think of God more like an umpire, like “three strikes, you’re out,” when in reality He is more like a coach, a perfect coach trying to motivate, inspire, and help us become better.
Elder James E. Faust said, “I wonder how many drops of blood were shed for me” (“Opening the Windows of Heaven,” Oct. 1998 General Conference). Merrill J. Bateman taught that instead of some large mass of sin, the Atonement was something very, very individual, where Jesus came to know every single one of us, all of our heartaches and all of our joys (see “A Pattern for All,” Oct. 2005 General Conference).
Henry B. Eyring has said that when we pray, “we do not close in the name of a stranger” (“Write upon My Heart,” Oct. 2000 General Conference). I personally believe that at one time, you and I all thought of Him as our very, very best friend.
There are a lot of whys, but the last reason why we are doing this that I would like to identify is because we can use greater obedience on our campus, especially in the little things that are as easy as looking up to the serpent being raised and living (see Numbers 21; Helaman 8:14–15). The promises you have made to live honorably in all things and in all places, as Elder Maxwell said, bring a high yield with a low investment (“The Holy Ghost: Glorifying Christ,” Ensign, Jul. 2002).
President Benson said, “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power” (quoted in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,” Apr. 1998 General Conference). So how do we do this? This may be subjective for every single one of you. Elder Bednar talks about that there are doctrines, principles, and applications. If we focus on the doctrine of the Atonement, principles of the Atonement could be things like faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, forgiveness, a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Applications of those principles could be things like praying and asking the Lord to forgive you, forgiving somebody else, going to your bishop’s office—when Adam and Eve, as soon as they partook of the forbidden fruit, immediately Satan tells them to run and hide. Don’t run and hide if there is something in your life that needs correcting. The power of the Atonement is ever present in a bishop’s office.
So there are several reasons why we are discussing this and how we can apply this. First, Elder Tad R. Callister will be our devotional speaker on March 24th. He is known for writing The Infinite Atonement; he is our general Sunday School president. He was in the Presidency of the Seventy, and was a mission president in Canada. He has given us the following invitation—I encourage you to write this down: “I would suggest the students read King Benjamin’s discourse and outline the key points he was trying to make. This exercise alone will give great insight into the Atonement.”
To repeat, he says, “I would suggest the students read King Benjamin’s discourse”—this is Mosiah 2–5—“and outline the key points he was trying to make. This exercise alone will give great insight into the Atonement.”
Second, all of you will be given access to study material in BrainHoney today to deepen your understanding of the Atonement and how it applies in your life. This will consist of videos, talks, books, and quotes. This will be available to all students as soon as this devotional is over, and we will be making it available to all faculty and staff.
Third, you can share what you feel and what you know about the Savior with someone else every day. And this does not have to be anything big.
Fourth, I think Elder Hartman Rector, Jr. captured this best when he said that perhaps when this topic is considered, the best way that it boils down to is three things. This is in a talk that he gave called “Endure to the End in Charity” (Oct. 1994 General Conference). It was back in 1994, and was his last address before he was released as a Seventy. He said these three things are repent, forgive, and be nice.
Finally, we are surrounded by reminders to use the Atonement every day and every week. All of you have at least one reminder, but I’d like to focus on one for now, and then a second. The first is the sacrament. We partake of the bread of life and living water (see Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:6—15; 6:33–58; 7:37; Alma 5:34; 3 Nephi 18:5–7; D&C 10:66; 20:40, 77), just as the Savior partook of a bitter cup (see Alma 3 Nephi 11:11; D&C 19:18) two thousand years ago so that we might live. You and I partake of a cup of water poured especially for us individually, and it is offered to us, whether we partake of it or not, when it is passed to the four corners of the chapel, just as the Atonement was passed to the four corners of the earth.
The second reminder is the temple garment. Some have said that the garment is a way of taking the temple home with you. After Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit and discovered their nakedness, Jehovah was commanded to “make coats of skins” (Genesis 3:21; Moses 4:27). Where did these coats of skins come from? There must have been an animal willing to lay down its life and be an offering so that they could be covered.
In Hebrew, atonement means kafar, which means to cover. It is pronounced kafar, which sounds like to cover. Those of you who have been endowed, as you place your garment on you to cover you, it is probably perhaps the most profound reminder of the loving kindness and infinite Atonement for you individually. Perhaps another little thing to take note of as you leave the Assembly Hall today, there are specific symbols in the Salt Lake Temple. There is a circle and a square—how is a perfect circle made? What tool makes a perfect circle? What tool makes a perfect square? Some things to think of.
In conclusion, my brothers and sisters, we invite you to join with us in studying and applying the Atonement this semester. When the centurion cast a spear into the Savior’s side, out came blood and water (see John 19:34). The heart is surrounded by a wall filled with a watery serum. And the fact that blood and water came out, Elder Talmage suggests that there was a breakage in that wall, meaning that the physical cause of death of our Savior was a broken heart (see Jesus the Christ, chapter 35: “Death and Burial,” note 8, “The Physical Cause of Christ’s Death,” 668–9).
That is all that He asks of you, all that He asks of me. If you are not experiencing the gifts of the Spirit in your life, then you are not receiving the marginal benefit of what the Atonement really has to offer. The Atonement is not just for sinners and is available not only at the end of our lives, but every day of it, as Elder Hafen says (see “Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Liahona, Apr. 1997.). As Moroni said, “I would commend you to seek this Jesus” (Ether 12:41).
May we love Him more and love Him better, for He loved us first and loves us most. May we always have His Spirit to be with us as we study and apply the Atonement every day, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Excerpt from a song written by Kenneth Cope, (kennethcope.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/TellMe.pdf).
Tell me, tell of a God that won’t slow down
That will not rest till I am found
Tell of His heart that won’t let go
His arms that long to hold me.
Recently, I have been struggling to make the choice of which socks to wear. I’ll explain. This morning, I had this thought while I was looking for a pair of socks that would go with my shoes—we have the choice every morning to choose a fresh pair of socks or a pair of socks from the laundry pile that are dirty, yesterday’s socks that you’ve worn before. Well, the obvious choice is, every day we put on a fresh pair of socks. We just do that. Sometimes we choose to put on ones that we’ve worn before, and we know that they’re dirty. Sometimes we do choose to put on the dirty pair of socks, but throughout the day there is somebody who is willing to wash them for us.
One of my friends sent me a text this morning, and it was just what I needed to help me make the choice to figuratively and spiritually have a fresh pair of socks. This quote is by Elder Eyring: “The Lord taught us that when we are truly converted to His gospel, our hearts will be turned from selfish concerns and turned toward service to lift others as they move upward to eternal life. To obtain that conversion, we can pray and work in faith to become the new creature made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” (First Presidency Message, “Testimony and Conversion,” Ensign, Feb. 2015)
I served a mission in South Dakota Rapid City Mission. I got to serve in Fargo, North Dakota, and we taught a lot of Liberian refugees. And they are very, very humble people. Sometimes they struggle to be consistent, and that’s stereotypical, but this one man that we met—his name was Fey—was very consistent from the first time that we taught him. One thing that really struck me was something that he said about the way he chose to overcome temptation every day. He put one of the many copies of the Book of Mormon that he had in his house—thanks to us—in his car, and when he got tempted, he would pull over to the side of the road and open the Book of Mormon and read some scriptures until he felt safe enough to move on. This was a huge example to me to take the time to stop and connect with Heavenly Father, to become more like Him.
I want to testify about God’s love and the love that He shows each and every one of us. As we learn how to wear a fresh pair of socks every day, we can share that learning with other people, just as my friend did this morning in helping me make my choice. And just as my friend Fey, who got baptized last month, did as he shares with his family and his country. He is excited to teach them that there is a law that a prophet gave to us. He wants to teach his whole country. So I just want you to know that that is true, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Mauricio Callama: Hello everyone. Well, I need to tell you something. My family is absolutely crazy. But I love it, and I think that most of it is my mom’s fault. She is this little, short woman, four foot eleven, but she is powerful—trust me. She’s a very charismatic person. She loves to talk to people, to serve them, and she is just so amazing. A lot of people say also that she is very gorgeous, but we still haven’t figured out what went wrong with me. I love her so much. She is amazing to me. But if there was just one idea, thought, or principle that could exemplify her, I guess you could say that she is unstoppable. If she wants something and she believes it is the will of the Lord, there is nothing that can stop her from getting it. Anything that she wants, she fights for it. And it was so great for me to see that in her.
My mom, she had a childhood dream. Something that she always wanted to do was to play piano. She would just tell me how much she wanted that, how she would just wish she had the money or the means to be able to have classes. She would just dream of the day she could just sit at the piano and play some songs or play the hymns for church. But then over time she grew older, she had children, she married my dad—no, she married my dad, and then she had children. And then maybe would come the opportunity where she could pay for some classes. She could get a keyboard or something. But she decided to invest in me instead. I was the firstborn son. So she decided, as you know of her already, she would put every effort into me learning piano. She made sure I had the best teachers, the best education. I had the instrument, the means to play. She did everything she could to have her dream fulfilled in me.
It was such a sacrifice because I remember every Friday I had to wake up at four, and we would jumpstart our car, go to the terminal, get a bus, drive an hour and a half to go to the school so we could practice piano for a couple of hours and then come back. And then take care of the children. She really, really put effort into this sacrifice.
In my mission, there was a very special guest that came to talk to us. And I had the opportunity to play for him in the conference. And without even knowing, he told me something that really opened my eyes. He said that he was very thankful for the music and for the sacrifice of others that were put into that performance.
It opened my eyes to know that all that my Mama ever dreamed, her wish as a child, all that she always wanted, was right here in my hands. Her dream was right here. And I love her so much for that. And in a similar way, each one of us has been given a talent and a gift in our hands. As we accepted the covenant of baptism; we received the full access of the Atonement. Each of us has that gift already, but now the question and the application is how we receive the gift—how we use that powerful tool that we have in our lives.
As our school is now focusing on the Atonement, in a very personal way I invite you to consider, to think, to ponder, how can you receive the gift? How can you apply what the Atonement has been already paid off? How can you use that gift?
I testify to you that I know the Atonement is infinite. It was the infinite sacrifice of the Father giving His Son to us. And because of that sacrifice, we have this infinite power of healing, of enabling—a power that will give us hope, will show us love. I know that the Atonement is real, and I so love this gospel. I love Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. And I so love Heavenly Father and His unique way that He shows me every day how much He loves me. And I know He loves each of us, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Emily Vogle: Brothers and sisters, it is good to stand before you today, in some part because I am not so afraid, which is kind of a big deal for me. When I first came to the LDS Business College, I was too shy to ride the elevators. And my classes were on the sixth and seventh floor. I was also too shy to take Trax or to talk to anyone I knew about getting a ride, and so in my first semester I lost fifteen pounds. If you are looking for a way to live a fit and trim lifestyle, then crippling anxiety is one way to go—but it is not the one I would recommend because this anxiety also kept me from devotionals. The thought of entering a room with so many people was terrifying.
It took about a month and a half and every ounce of strength I had to walk through those doors for the first time, but eventually I did it. In the Old Testament, we read of a Levite child who was sentenced to death by his birth. Helpless, he was hidden in the mud and the tar and the bulrushes, and you might not think, looking at this child, that he would be raised to lead nations—first of Egyptians, then of Israelites—that he would reason with God face to face—but he was. It happened. (See Exodus 1–3)
We read of another child whose strength was heralded by angels. He was set apart before his birth. He could kill lions bare-handed. He could call upon the strength of God in his youth. And you might not think, looking at this Nazarite child, that he would fall to be shaven by harlots, to eat honey from corpses, and to die mutilated and enslaved, but he did. It happened. (See Judges 13–16.)
Moses and Sampson, respectively, are examples of the weak being made strong through obedience, the strong being made weak through broken covenants. When God sent His perfect child to the earth, covenants were set forth that we all might be made strong. This child was set apart before His birth. He was heralded by angels. He was hidden in Egypt when He was sentenced to death. He was raised to lead nations, and when He died, mutilated, in His weakness He saved us all.
I worried about standing before you today, because this assignment came to me in a time of particular spiritual weakness. I worried that I wouldn’t have the capacity to share anything meaningful with you. But if, in my weakness, I can stand before a room of people that I previously could not have entered with all my strength, it would be foolish of me not to take the chance to thank my Father in Heaven, to acknowledge the Atonement in my life.
Brothers and sisters, it is good. It is strong. It is real. I invite you to seek for the courage, the comfort, the strength—no matter how weak or how strong you may feel, because we all need Him. I would like to offer that invitation to you, and to thank you for being a room of people that welcomed me, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Keith Burkhart: Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. I wasn’t on the program, but I’m here to bear testimony of a few things to you. I’m a convert to the Church, and as a convert to the Church, I had a couple of experiences that, for me, set the stage for my ability to understand and apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ in my life better.
The first one was surprising. Probably about three months before the first time I ever walked into a Mormon chapel—I believe I was seventeen years old—my girlfriend at the time (who happened to become my wife) encouraged me strongly to come to Church. And so I figured I could spend at least 45 minutes there and go through a sacrament meeting and leave. But about three months prior to that, I had gone to a funeral of someone that was a pretty good friend of mine, and that was the first funeral I’d ever been to in my entire life. I’d never really seen a dead person before; I’d never gone to a place before where a body was in front of a room and people walked by. It was unusual for me, and it struck me in a way I wasn’t quite sure about.
So a couple of months after that, I walked into an LDS chapel. And as I looked forward to the side of the stand, I saw a white sheet covering a small area, and as I looked at that, I saw a body. And that body was Jesus Christ. And I was very surprised at how I felt. In fact, I wondered why everyone in the chapel was talking and laughing and socializing because when I had come before for the funeral, people were reverent and focused and contemplative. So there was this slight dichotomy and conflict in my mind. As I watched young men pull that sheet away, I saw bread that came to me. I was afraid to partake of it because I understood that it represented the body of Jesus Christ, and I felt unworthy to partake of such a thing. But as I looked at this twelve-year-old boy who handed me the body of Christ, I saw Christ in him and was stunned.
A few minutes later, the water came to me in a small cup which, for me, obviously was a representation of the Savior’s blood. And that, too, stunned me.
Later—a couple of years later—I was baptized into the Church, and that same sacrament meeting regularly bothered me. It didn’t bother me anymore because I couldn’t partake, because I had been baptized and had my sins washed away and felt much more comfortable being able to partake of the sacrament. But what bothered me deeply was the wording of the prayer, and a specific phrase that said that I would remember Him always. I was almost afraid to say amen to that, every time that phrase was spoken, because I wasn’t sure if I could do such a thing. And so I began to ask my priesthood leaders, “Does it really mean always?”
I had friends, and many would kind of blow me off and say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean always, it’s just as much as you can. Just do the best you can. Don’t worry about it.”
And I would ask, “Well, why does it have to be said word perfect then? And why didn’t the Savior say as best as I could or as often as I could? Why did He say always and I covenant to do so?”
Most people told me to stop asking questions like that as a new convert and just move on and focus on faith, repentance, and baptism. But I couldn’t. So years later, I thought of a wonderful way to always remember that worked for me, and it was my way of applying the Atonement.
I had a fancy watch at the time—it was a little calculator watch that was pretty high tech back then. Now it’s probably in a museum somewhere. But I realized I could set this watch to beep every hour, and so I decided that, regardless of where I was and what I was doing, when my watch beeped, I would remember Jesus Christ. And I wasn’t quite sure what I would remember or think about, but over time, it became a very powerful, private, personal experience—a way to apply the Atonement.
And over a period of months, as that beep would go off, again, regardless of what I was doing, I would remember Him. And after a while, I found myself waiting for the beeps or wishing the beep would go off now so I could think of Christ. And then I thought, “Well, duh. Why don’t you just do it now?”
Brothers and sisters, that transformed me. I testify to you that you can apply the Atonement in personal and private ways so that you can remember Him always. I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, it really means always. For me, it has become something that encompasses all that I am. I can’t look out into your faces and not think of the Savior’s Atonement. I can’t sit at a light and wait for the light to change and see the red, and not think of the blood of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of forgiveness and weakness and dependence and mercy, when I hear myself say or do things that I know drive the Spirit away, or when others challenge my beliefs, or when unreciprocated love is not given. The list is endless.
One Sunday in our ward, I felt inspired to stand and bear witness to our ward, as the bishop, that there were many people in that room that needed to speak to the bishop and experience the Atonement. I was a little uncomfortable saying that, but I said it because that’s what the Holy Ghost asked me to say. And I want you to know that after the meeting, I was sitting there talking to my counselors, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw four people standing, kind of loitering by the stand—two teenagers and two adults. And for the next three hours, we experienced the Atonement together in my office. Sins were confessed that should have been confessed a long time ago, and there was a spirit of love and acceptance, no shame.
The adversary wants you to keep your weaknesses and sins in the dark, and he will do everything in his power to assure that you will lie to keep those hidden. Applying the Atonement means to bring those sins to the light so they can be removed and cleansed and purified. Being at one with Christ is pure joy. I testify of that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.