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The Atonement and Resurrection

My heart has been tender all this Easter Week as I pondered the love my Savior has for me. I see reminders of His condescension all around me in nature and in the messages I hear from the prophets and apostles, the special witnesses. We have a Heavenly Father. Jesus is his literal son. Jesus Christ is the creator of heaven and earth, the Savior of all mankind, and the God of every nation on the earth. This is their testimony to us, and through the power of the Holy Ghost, this is my witness to you.

I am also humbled as I am reminded of my limitations and my need to be rescued constantly by the help of others, including this week when the tongue of my trailer broke in half while I was driving 70 miles per hour down I-40. Several people had to help me this week do things I could not do for myself. I needed the intervention of those willing to be of service.

I know my Savior, who rose from the dead, can restore my body after I die. We are happier when we accept our dependence upon God. “The Holy Messiah, layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.” 2 Nephi 2:8.

We are nourished by the good word of God, our bodies rest, then we are restored in the resurrection. We need not doubt the reality of this resurrection, as there have been many witnesses. Jesus said to the people in Zarahemla, “arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the the prints of the nails in the hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.” 3 Nephi 11:14. The cycle of life seen in nature teaches me that life is renewed. That which withers is buried in the frozen ground, comes back more glorious than ever.

My mother’s sister, Varena Lambert, lived a life of self sufficiency, resourcefulness, and service to others. Yet she, like my mother and my father’s sister, became dependent upon those she had served. It is true for all of us. If we live long enough, we don’t just become older and wiser, we become older and more dependent. If we are humble, we give others the chance to be of service and we learn to accept the interventions of others; we learn to be dependent as part of our preparation to meet our God.

Throughout history the Lord has relied upon the power of humility to bring His people back to Him. When Father Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden into the lone and dreary world, it quickly became apparent to him that he needed to rely upon God for his survival. Likewise, Noah learned to be humble and rely upon the Lord to be saved at the time of the Flood. The people of Jared humbled themselves at the Tower of Babel and were sustained and guided by the Lord. King Benjamin worked for his own sustenance and reminded his people, “when you are in the service of your fellow being you are in the service of your God”. We sympathize with Mary, who had the terrible burden of burying her son; but we are encouraged that she accepted the support of others, as Jesus on the cross commended her care to his beloved disciples.

All through the Book of Mormon we read of the cycle of pride and humility: pride causing sin, and the inevitable suffering bringing about the humility that puts the people back in touch with the Spirit and in the service of others. Then the Spirit of God leads them on the straight and narrow path that leads to the Plan of Happiness, Hozh≠≠zhª Hoot’al¶g¶¶. The greatest blessing of the Atonement of Christ we celebrate this Easter, is forgiveness. Christ has the power to cleanse us from our sins as we accept His intervention for us through faith, repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end.
It is my testimony that God lives and that Jesus Christ, whose Atonement and Resurrection we celebrate each Easter and each time we partake of the Sacrament, is our living Savior. I have received this powerful witness of the Spirit as I studied the Gospel and tried to live my covenants. I have learned by the Spirit that this is His church, led by living prophets, and endowed with power in the priesthood.

Jesus said, “the wages of sin is death” I have a modern parable that represents the consequence of sin to me.

Suppose I buy about $100 of gasoline every month. In January I am short cash, so I buy $100 of gasoline with my credit card, thinking I will pay it back in February. Of course, in February I need another $100 worth of gas, plus $100 for January. I don't have $200, so I buy gas with the credit card and make a payment on the card. They only ask for the minimum, so I pay $20. In March I get a bill for January and February gas plus interest, and since I don't have $100 cash I buy March's gas with the credit card. By December I have charged $1,200 to the card, paid only interest (the minimum) and still need $100 in gas for the next month. I now cannot get out of debt on my own. If I stop driving the car, my income stops and I can't pay anything. My lack of judgement has brought upon me a burden too heavy to bear. I need help. Regarding the weight of sin, Jesus offered to carry our burdens. In fact, he is willing to pay the debt. Come unto me all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I will give you peace. Come unto me.

Lately I have been transplanting tree seedlings, filling in the bare spots with trees for beauty, soil conservation, shelter, nuts, and berries. Sometimes I discover the hard truth about why no trees have grown - hidden beneath the surface soil is the sandstone formation of the mesa. I have seen large trees fall in the wind, exposing the nature of their shallow roots. They grow on shallow soil, sending roots into cracks in the rock, embracing the rock just as we embrace false hopes, and great is the fall thereof when the winds of adversity rage about. A fallen tree, or one who has succumbed to the ravages of the bark beetle, is cut down and cast into the fire. The “bark beetles” of life are those little thoughts that get under our skin, mature, and are released as misdeeds that destroy us and those around us. Don't let bad thoughts in; they are like the bark beetles that kill the trees; but they kill our souls.

When I first moved to Vanderwagen, we called our place “Sagebrush Hill” for all the sagebrush growing there. In fact, it is so thick it seemed to be crowding out the young piñón, causing the branches to be distorted. I imagined the potential value of those piñón as Christmas tree sales; but I would have to root out the pesky sagebrush so the trees could grow straight. Fortunately, I gave it a second thought. I realized that all of the piñón seedlings were associated with sagebrush. There never were any seedlings surviving in the open. I don't know the details of this symbiotic relationship; but I can now see the sagebrush as a protector, a nurturer, a nursery for the precious, slow-growing trees. I think that accepting the atonement is that simple. We want to be on our own, growing beautiful, full branched, and well proportioned, but we survive to the degree we accept the comfort and protection of the Savior's embrace. He said, “how oft I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings…” He wants to protect and comfort us. He can, because of the atonement. We can accept it through repentance, obedience, and baptism.

We recognize and renew that acceptance each time we take the sacrament. We thus declare ourselves as disciples, willing to accept the atonement through obedience and service. “By their fruits ye shall know them” Those few piñón that survive and endure the harsh winters year after year are the ones that produce in abundance. The survivors are those who accept the saving grace of the sagebrush's embrace.

We all need a savior in so many aspects of our life. Brother Hansen saved my garden with his machines by doing things I had no power to do myself. Yet there is a greater power. We have all learned, who live in the desert, that we need rain to save our gardens; and the right temperatures at the right time; a very complex system upon which we are totally dependent. So it is in our spiritual life; we can learn the principles and follow the commandments, but we are totally dependent upon the grace of Christ and His intervention on our behalf.

I have been astonished lately at the power innate in the human body for regeneration. In 1971 I suffered a severe back injury causing daily pain for over 20 years. During those years I tried every treatment I could buy and every therapy I could apply. I degenerated into an old man, crippled, unable to sit or walk. This week I planted, dug, hauled, and heaved, and even loaded and delivered an 800 pound piano without pain or injury. This medical miracle began in 1993 with a simple surgery to remove a herniated disk. I could not do this myself; I needed an intervention. That intervention changed one tiny spot on my body that allowed me to begin healing. If Dr. Martínez in Albuquerque can do that much for me, I know my Savior, who rose from the dead, can restore my body after I die.

This cycle of regeneration repeats itself daily. When I get home late at night, tired and hungry, my wife applies remedies like food and sleep that stimulate my body to regenerate, so that by morning I am strong enough to do it all again. I cannot keep going without that intervention of nourishment and rest. I see this pattern repeated in eternal life; we are nourished by the good word of God, our bodies rest, then we are restored in the resurrection.

In mainstream culture, Easter is springtime, the beginning of the growing season, the time of flowers on Temple Square, of cherry blossoms in the Capital, of early morning gatherings on the park to look for chicken eggs left by a rabbit. At my house it was 20 degrees this morning. Any eggs left out last night would be hard frozen, not hard boiled! Yet, spring has really come to the high mesa. My chickens and ducks seem to believe that the winter of darkness has ended. Every one is laying eggs almost every day. The extra hours of sunlight have brightened their spirits and given them hope. The pastures are green, the desert flowers are blooming. I am finding tree seedlings all over my lot. Last winter my corn and everything else died. The cycle of life seen in nature teaches me that life is renewed. That which withers is buried in the frozen ground, comes back more glorious than ever.

Council in Heaven
Plan of Salvation
We prayed for Christ to have strength as he suffered for our sins
Now he prays for us that we might have strength to accept the atonement

James 5:16-20 Save by sharing

Hymn 195 How Great the Wisdom and the Love
1. Preexistence Council in Heaven
2. Blood sacrifice for sin
3. His example was obedience
4. His example leads to light and life and living with God
5. The sacrament is witnessing to God that we have faith
6. The Plan of Redemption: harmony (Hozh≠–go Iin¡), a balance of Mercy, Justice, and Love

God So Loved the World

On Good Friday I came home late. My dog met me at the gate, very excited to see me. Over the past few months he has learned to love me and appreciate our relationship and any time I might give him. I gave him the extra attention that he craved, then closed the gate and drove down the lane. In his excitement to greet me at the house, he ran under the tires of the truck. As I held him in my arms for the last half hour of his life, it seemed that he had no strength to recognize me, but I knew that my presence was a comfort in his time of suffering. I wondered how this could happen: he died because of his love for me; his last comfort on earth was my touch and my voice. While I talked to him I thought of Jesus, “who so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God...” (D&C 34: 3). To accept the love of Christ we must reach out to Him so that He may touch and comfort us. The Atonement and Resurrection we celebrate at Easter is all about love and service: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 Jn. 4: 9).

The greatest blessing of the Atonement of Christ is forgiveness. Christ has the power to cleanse us from our sins as we accept His intervention for us through faith, repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end. “Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me. And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses... (Mosiah 26:31,32). We have all offended God and man. The only way to peace is to do as Christ did, and forgive one another, and comfort one another. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5: 16, 19, 20).

At Easter time and every Sunday when we take the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we renew our covenants of discipleship. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16). Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another as He loved them (John 15:12). We gather on Sunday to extend the hand of fellowship to one another, which strengthens the giver and the receiver of this friendship. May we also reach out to one another in all times and all places. That is why we want our families to associate with the Church and our church friends.

It is my testimony that God lives and that Jesus Christ, whose Atonement and Resurrection we celebrate each time we partake of the Sacrament, is our living Savior. I have received this powerful witness of the Spirit as I studied the Gospel and tried to live my covenants. I have learned by the Spirit that this is His church, led by living prophets, and endowed with power in the priesthood. I know that Christ lives and loves us all, I know that our Heavenly Father loves all of His children. I know that he has given us a way to be happy. We must love one another (John 13:35).

Repentance is the great gift of the Atonement of Christ. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord...” (Acts 3:19). This Easter may you choose to be cleansed by the mercy of Christ, so that your burdens may be lifted and you may be free to serve other. Amen.

Taking Time

Easter is not a day, like Christmas it is a season. This Easter season, let’s take time, like we do at Christmas time. At General Conference there were examples of this principle. Apostle Richard Scott admonished us to take time for prayer. President Hinckley encouraged us to take time to visit the families as a priesthood duty. President Faust gave examples of the Amish finding peace and forgiveness by taking time for each other when a tragedy struck their community. Elder Oakes pled with us to take time for our families and marriages. Elder Anderson and Elder Pace explained how to take time to study the witness of the scriptures and prophets to build a testimony that can drive our daily decisions.

During his time of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus took time to be with his friends and even to teach them the eternal principles associated with taking time. “My soul is exxceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with and pray that ye enter not into temptation...” (Matthew 26:38,41). In preparation for this, Jesus spent time with the disciples. They sat at a meal together, prayed together, participated in ordinances, talked of important principles, and sang together (26:17-30).

Jesus took time to explain the importance of reaching out to those in need (Matthew 25:31-46). He admonished His followers to take time to avoid deception now (24:4,5), as the day will come when there is no time for indecision (24:14-22). Jesus took time with those who were trying to make him stumble, and he taught them by precept and example that “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (23:39). The mother of two apostles had a testimony, but not an understanding, as she asked the Lord for favors for her sons. He took time to explain to her the sacrifice they would have to make. When the other disciples became jealous at the attention He was giving, he took time to understand and address their misunderstandings (20:17-29).

Jesus took time for the children, and when that seemed to surprise others, he took time to explain that of such is the Kingdom of Heaven; and that forgiving others like children do is our duty (Matthew 18). He took time to bring his close friends “up into a high mountain apart”. We don’t know how many days they traveled and talked, but we know that they became prepared for a vision of eternity (17:1-13). He taught them that it takes time to become prepared to perform ordinances of the priesthood. “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (17:21).

Jesus cautioned his followers that their devotion would require time, disappointing those who were unwilling to make that sacrifice (Matthew 8:18-22; 16:24-26; 19:23-26). He reinforced this principle with parables that compare our efforts in living a gospel life to long processes like planting seeds and nurturing the tender plants, or planting and growing a tree, or mixing and baking bread, or buying and selling hard goods (chapter 13).

When I attend educational conferences I witness many people taking time for entertainment and travel, and not taking full advantage of the conference sessions. The same happens during the church conferences. The conferences are full of messages and songs that could touch your heart and prepare you to hear the whisperings of the Spirit. Take time to listen to the Spirit that will help you in all the challenges of your life. In this Easter season, take time to read again the witnesses of the Atonement and Resurrection. Take time to share your testimony with others.