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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jesus Christ = Victory

One thing I have really loved about writing these articles about the Savior is what I have learned from the trials I have experienced in my efforts to find two things, which descriptive word to use in the titles and how to approach each topic.

For a while now I have been going through what has been, for me, more personally intense periods ups and downs, spiritually.  The down time has resulted in serious questioning of certain things, which I found out I needed to understand better first hand. The better periods have come from wonderful, beautiful revelation from God, where I came to not just find answers to my questions about the gospel, but a better understanding and comprehension of them and His plan.  I'm talking about the type of experience that changes your heart and your perspective about life, leaving you never to be the same in a fantastic, joyful, blissful way.

This time the revelation I got resulted in a huge increase in my understanding of how our trials and difficulties in life sanctify us, because, as certainly as I sit here typing this, they do - if we let them.

So here is the word for this entry.

Jesus Christ = Victory

I had several other words come to mind before settling on "victory", including (maybe not limited to) mercy, peace, safety and security.  The reason I settled on victory is because I think it is, in a way, inclusive of all the others.  With Christ being the embodiment of all of them, I think the hymn "He is Risen", illustrates this very well in the line "Christ hath won the victory!"

And win He did!  My wife and I were given a challenge this week (the end of January 2015) by two of our missionaries, Sister Courtney Howle and Sister Camille Jensen, to focus our studies on the Atonement of Christ, and I'm glad they did.  As Jacob said in the Book of Mormon, "...why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of Him...?" He encourages us to speak more of it.  The more we do, the better we can understand and benefit from the victory it is.  All aspects of the Atonement of Christ are just as beautiful and wonderful.  Our Savior's power, through the gift of that sacrifice, to cleanse and change the repentant sinner is no less significant than His power to strengthen the faithful saint or sooth and heal the undeserved suffering of the obedient; and there is likely even more to that that I'm missing at the moment.  No wonder we also have the line in Hymn 179 in the LDS hymn book that says "That sacred, holy off'ring, By man least understood."

To illustrated the victory of Jesus Christ, I want to go over some of the ways that our sufferings and trials can sanctify us and make us better.  To do this I'll refer to something I wrote in the side notes in the "Our Life on Earth" section of Lesson 2 in chapter 3 of my copy of Preach My Gospel.

"Our suffering & trials give us opportunities to
1) Learn & gain understanding
2) Have joy in being victorious over/in them through the power of Christ
3) Find comfort & peace in/from the Atonement of Christ"

My goal in mentioning these three is to illustrate how each of these different perspectives can constitute and result in peaceful, joyful, total, absolute, life changing victory because of our Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Some of my more difficult experiences recently have involved some intense, hard personal searching for answers about agency, opposition and divine help.  At one point I was seeking answers as to why Heavenly Father doesn't visit in person more or why we don't see or hear of more people seeing divine beings or spirits to give us help.  After all, wouldn't things be a bit easier if we did get to see more heavenly things throughout life?

Well, no.  At least that's the answer I got.  Why is it that way? Why doesn't God come down and just give us the solutions to our problems?  I was reminded of one key reason why He doesn't in a talk by Elder Christofferson about agency, where he illustrated the concept in 2 Nephi 2:14 very well: "...because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."  Our choices wouldn't truly be our own choices if we had too much influence from the Lord's side or from the side of the adversary.  God's engineering of our lives and circumstances is so loving and perfect that we will, as Elder Ronald E. Poelman said in April 1989 "...not be tested beyond our capacity to endure, that we will benefit from our adversities, and that the resources and circumstances necessary for us to do so will be provided."

But to illustrate my first item on the list above, I have found myself learning my most profound lessons in life just before, during or after huge personal, spiritual struggles. Whether it was an answer to a serious question that my burdens caused me to ask or gaining a clearer perspective of the contrast between the effects of bad choices vs. good choices, I have always gained increased learning and understanding from my difficulties through repentance.

My biggest sins and mistakes have resulted, through repentance, in my most joyful and life changing moments of understanding and clarity, because of my Savior!  

I make bad choices, suffer as much as the severity of the choice and its effects, and as I turn to the Lord, He helps me understand - more clearly every time - the benefits of obedience to His commandments and the reasons behind them.  In these moments of increased understanding, I reach such a higher plane of thought and comprehension that the victory of it nearly overwhelms me with happiness, because of Christ!

The second point of overcoming our difficulties, I think, is well evident in what the Lord teaches about our divine potential in the scriptures.  In 3 Nephi 27:27 He tells us "Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am."  Now, take into account what Nephi said as well, "the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." With this in mind, the counsel of the Lord to be as He is isn't something unattainable.  We CAN do it!  It is within our divine, inherent potential to become as He is and, like He did, overcome our sins, weaknesses and trials.

A friend once told me about a dream they had where they were sitting in a church counsel meeting and the Savior was there.  He was telling everyone something to the effect of "Look, everyone, this is doable.  The standard I have set is not out of reach!"

Now, according to Moses 1:39, the entire focus of God and His Holy Son is to help and guide us back to Them, to have eternal life, glory and joy with Them;  and according to John 17:3 "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."  So if God's plan is for us to have eternal life and eternal life means to come to know Them, how can we have either of those things if we don't achieve victory over our trials just like Jesus achieved victory over His (and ours)?  How can we come to know Him unless we live like and become as He is?  Jesus the Christ, the only perfect being ever to grace this world with His life, teachings and flawless example, wants us to be just like Him by really coming to know the joy and eternal glory He can grant us as we work with Him to achieve victory over evil and, in doing so, make ourselves holy and pure as He is.  That kind of victory is the kind, I believe, that Vince Lombardi spoke of when he said, "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

The Master Himself prayed for those who believe in Him in John 17:21-22 "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one."  We just have to grow into that glory by turning completely to Him.  That is SO POWERFUL!

Also, remember what the Savior did when confronted with the sins and weaknesses of all of humanity and the all the powers of darkness.  Jack R. Christianson put it very well, "He prayed how, when He was in agony? More earnestly.  He didn't shake His fist at His Father and He didn't quit praying.  What did He do? He prayed harder.  He prayed more sincerely. [emphasis added]"  That kind of perseverance and reliance on the power of God is what gets us to that point of victory.

For my third point, finding comfort & peace in and from the Atonement of Christ, I find that it always helps to remember that the Atonement overcame all negative effects of the fall.  Whether those effects come as a result of our weaknesses or sins or the weaknesses or sins of another, deserved or not, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can always bring us full peace and comfort as we consistently apply it in how we live.

I have personally experienced His peace whenever I really give my all to the changing process of repentance and discipleship.  I have had some inner demons that came closer than they should have, a number of times, to defeating me.  I found, however, from my own experience, that as much as I gave my best efforts to change and increase my level of obedience, keeping my covenants with Him, the greater peace and comfort I felt through Christ, regardless of my circumstances.  I mean the completely fulfilling, absolute, untainted, secure, totally satisfying, enriching, pure peace and joy that can only come from the source of all such things, Jesus our Lord.

On the other side of things, I have noticed that the more I turn to Him with problems that are not brought on by disobedience, the easier they are to handle, because of the strength and reminders He gives me in His infinite love and mercy for me.  His promise to bless us with the cleansing, changing power of the Holy Ghost and God's forgiveness, as well as His pure love and immeasurable peace in time of circumstantial trials, is an unchanging promise granted to all those who seek and follow Him.  Alma the Younger was an excellent example of both of these points.  He experienced relief of the guilt and torment of sin as well as divine comfort and strength during times of undeserved trial and persecution.

In conclusion, I want to point out the constancy of Jesus as our Savior, Redeemer and Friend.  He really is our eternal, loving judge and Advocate with the Father, our unfailing source of truth, peace and salvation.  As President Hinckley said,  "Like the polar star in the heavens, regardless of what the future holds, there stands the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, certain and sure as the anchor of our immortal lives."

His Atonement will always be there for us, to heal us, to change us, to comfort, strengthen and save us.  It will always be there to lead us, with Him, to victory.