Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Worshiping with the Saints in India

Note: Originally posted on the Deseret News and Mormon Times 

Business travel has been a significant part of my life for the past three years. This has allowed me the opportunity to visit nearly every state in the continental United States and a few foreign countries. It has also afforded me the opportunity to visit several temples. Many great personal spiritual experiences have ensued when attending temples in places such as Manhattan, Toronto, Orlando and Detroit. However, what has perhaps been the most rewarding experience I have had while traveling occurred recently when I was in New Delhi, India.

There are four branches in the city. I chose to attend the New Delhi 1st Branch because its meetings had the earliest start time. When I arranged the driver with the hotel, I told the concierge I would be going to church. He asked if the place where I was going to say my prayers was close, and I told him it was only about 18 kilometers (11 miles) away. Then he seemed surprised when I told him the four-hour minimum charge for the driver was no problem, likely thinking I would “say my prayers” for a few minutes and then return.

I knew four hours was actually about the right amount of time. But just to be safe, I left the hotel 45 minutes before sacrament meeting began because I already had ample experience in New Delhi traffic.

The drive was a breeze. No one was out at 8:45 a.m. on a gorgeous Sunday morning in this culture that starts its day an hour or two later than we do in the U.S. Fortunately for my blood pressure, my driver did not drive on the shoulder or the wrong side of the road to pass another car even one time that morning!

After my driver got out of the car to ask directions from a local resident in Lajpat Nagar Part 1, I thought we were well on our way to the branch, located at 23 A, Lajpat Nagar, Part 4. Not long after, while waiting at one of the few traffic lights in the city, I looked over at the car next to us. In the back sat a man dressed just as I was — white shirt and a tie. A smile crossed my face. I thought, “At this hour, dressed like that, he has to be going the same place as me.”

Our drivers proceeded to each stop at the same places to ask locals for directions. By the third stop, they realized they were going to the same place, which my driver had not believed when I told him upon first spotting the other passenger.

Eventually the driver of the other car spoke with the right person on the street who knew the way. We finally made the 11 miles to the branch in just under an hour. I told my driver I would either be one hour or three, depending on whether the services were in Hindi or English.

Once inside, I had one of the sweetest experiences of my life. The large branch of about 70 to 80 filled the room. Most of the women wore the traditional 5 meters of unstitched fabric known as a sari. The men were dressed more like Americans. A tall white gentleman sitting on the stand appeared to be the branch president. The first talk was given in Hindi, so I thought I would only be staying for sacrament meeting. Then the next talk was given in a combination of English and Hindi.

I think the speaker was speaking in English and then translating the same words to Hindi, but a couple of times, the English broken by the Hindi did not connect, so he might have been filling in parts of his talk in Hindi. I will never know. The third talk was given by the tall white gentleman, who turned out to be New Delhi India Mission President William Jackson, a doctor by trade from the U.S. and a fantastic teacher of the gospel.

The talks were on the most basic of topics, but never before have I felt such a spirit of strength, true testimony and utter conviction. Although I did not learn any new doctrine from the speakers, my soul felt the true faith of pioneers. I was uplifted in a way I have never before felt. It was a temple-type of experience.

Once sacrament meeting concluded, I think just about every member of the branch came to me and shook my hand, including a kind young brother, Vinjay, who had whispered to me the scriptures being quoted during the talk in Hindi. He excitedly came to speak with me about, of all things, American politics, one of my passions. He was shocked to learn that my positions were the polar opposite of his perception of the majority of Americans.

I spoke with Sylva, a student from Kinshasa, Congo, who came to India to study and is my newest Facebook friend. I also met President Massey, the actual branch president, who is a humble servant of the Lord.

President Jackson taught a combined Sunday School, with at least six investigators visiting, again displaying his heaven-sent teaching ability as he drew an analogy for the plan of salvation. The third hour consisted of a combined meeting, with a discussion based upon Elder L. Tom Perry’s last conference talk led by President Massey.

At the conclusion of the meetings, there was a baptism. Feeling so uplifted, I decided to stay. A sweet baptismal talk preceded the ordinance performed in an outdoor font in the courtyard behind the chapel.

Enjoying Sunday meetings with these pioneers — I was told the New Delhi 1st Branch was the first in India, commissioned only 15 years ago — was such an uplifting experience. To see these faithful members with powerful testimonies of the true gospel of Jesus Christ was an experience that will forever touch my life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Easter Talk

On Sunday, I was given the opportunity to speak to my church congregation. The following are my remarks.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Central to our Father in Heaven’s Plan of Salvation, also known as his Plan of Happiness, he provided for us the Atonement, performed of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The Atonement was necessary because our Father in Heaven knew we all would sin. Being in a sinful state creates a separation between us and him. As sinners we cannot be with him, we cannot endure his presence. However, our Father’s greatest desire, his purpose, the reason he is, his “work and [his] glory [is to] bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

In other words, God the Father wants nothing more than for each of us to succeed in this life and be with him again, as beings resurrected just as the Savior was on that original Easter morning.

This is why he has provided the Plan of Salvation for all who ever lived, and an opportunity for every person who has ever lived on this Earth to partake in his plan and be made whole through his atoning sacrifice.

For as we know, physical death did not bring the end of the Savior’s work. Rather, when as a post-moral spirit, he rose to heaven he organized the teaching of those who had not yet known or accepted his gospel in spirit prison so all of Heavenly Father’s children could participate in the Plan of Happiness using the Atonement to fulfill the Law of Justice.

Jesus Christ is indeed our keystone for returning to live with our Father and to become like him. The Savior sees his faithful servants as friends. For the Apostle John (15:14-15) recorded that Christ said:

“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” 

We are told in Exodus 33:11 that “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face as a man speaketh unto his friend.”

In Isaiah 41:8 the Lord called Abraham “my friend”. Even today, Abraham is commonly known in the Middle East as “The Friend of God”.

To the leaders of his restored church, in Doctrine and Covenants section 84, the Savior said: “Ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends” (D&C 84:63).

Later in Section 84, the Lord reiterated: “And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends” (D&C 84:77).

Finally, despite rebuking the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Ridgon for their sins, the Savior pauses from his rebuke in Doctrine and Covenants 93:45 saying: “I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me."
As the Savior Jesus Christ is the truest of friends any of us could have, he suffered all possible sufferings so that that he could overcome all and become our advocate to the Father. He understands every sin, pain, heartache, and agony we will ever feel. He knows the depths of depression, loneliness, sickness, and marital strife.

He is there for us. Jesus Christ is always our friend. Take for example the case of Judas Iscariot, the man who pathetically betrayed the Savior of all mankind for the exact price of a slave, as outlined by the Savior himself in the Mosaic law, the amount of 30 pieces of silver, and what did Jesus, the Prince of Peace do?

"[He] said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?" [Matthew 26:50)

Then, as the greatest exemplar of all, he did as he had taught his Apostles, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And Jesus the Christ did exactly that—for us.

But he did not just simply die. He suffered far worse. In his last days his friends turned on him. Others abused him. In the New Testament is it recorded that he was:

Betrayed (Matthew 26:14–16)

Denied (Luke 22:54–62)

Accused (Mark 15:3)

Rejected (Luke 9:22)

Bound (Mark 15:1)

Scourged (John 19:1)

Mocked (Matthew 27:29)

Reviled (Matthew 27:39)

Spit on (Mark 15:19)

Crucified (John 19:17–19)


Forsaken (Matt 27:46)

However, despite it all, the Savior:

Was obedient to His Father’s will (Mark 14:36)

He Atoned (Luke 22:41–44)

Healed (Luke 22:50–51)

Held His peace (Mark 14:61)

Forgave (Luke 23:34)

Voluntarily gave His life (John 19:30)

And now he is risen! (Matt 28:6)

Our living prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson has said:
“In our hour of deepest sorrow, we can receive profound peace from the words of the angel that first Easter morning: ‘He is not here: for he is risen.’”
This is the beauty of the Atonement of Christ, that nothing ended in his death. Rather, and more precisely, everything began as it set in motion the gaining of his body in eternal life and activated the eternal plan for us.
With the bounds of death broken, we will all live again. If we live worthily, living to our potential, the potential that our Father in Heaven has passed on to us as his literal sons and daughters, we will again be reunited with our families. We will live again in love and happiness with our fathers, mothers, children, grandparents, and our brother and friend, Jesus Christ.
In Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final general conference talk in April 1985, given only days before his death he described the Atonement of Christ quite vividly saying:
“The most important doctrine I can declare, and the most powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
His atonement is the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity.
It is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform. Through it, all of the terms and conditions of the Father’s eternal plan of salvation became operative.
Through it are brought to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Through it, all men are saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment.
And through it, all who believe and obey the glorious gospel of God, all who are true and faithful and overcome the world, all who suffer for Christ and his word, all who are chastened and scourged in the Cause of him whose we are—all shall become as their Maker and sit with him on his throne and reign with him forever in everlasting glory. . . .
Two thousand years ago, outside Jerusalem’s walls, there was a pleasant garden spot, Gethsemane by name, where Jesus and his intimate friends were wont to retire for pondering and prayer.
There Jesus taught his disciples the doctrines of the kingdom, and all of them communed with Him who is the Father of us all, in whose ministry they were engaged, and on whose errand they served.
This sacred spot, like Eden where Adam dwelt, like Sinai from whence Jehovah gave his laws, like Calvary where the Son of God gave his life a ransom for many, this holy ground is where the Sinless Son of the Everlasting Father took upon himself the sins of all men on condition of repentance.
We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane.
We know he sweat great drops of blood from every pore as he drained the dregs of that bitter cup his Father had given him.
We know he suffered, both body and spirit, more than it is possible for man to suffer, except it be unto death.
We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name.
We know that he lay prostrate upon the ground as the pains and agonies of an infinite burden caused him to tremble and would that he might not drink the bitter cup.
We know that an angel came from the courts of glory to strengthen him in his ordeal.
As near as we can judge, these infinite agonies—this suffering beyond compare—continued for some three or four hours.
After this—his body then wrenched and drained of strength—he confronted Judas and the other incarnate devils, some from the very Sanhedrin itself; and he was led away with a rope around his neck, as a common criminal, to be judged by the arch-criminals who as Jews sat in Aaron’s seat and who as Romans wielded Caesar’s power.
They took him to Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, and back to Pilate. He was accused, cursed, and smitten. Their foul saliva ran down his face as vicious blows further weakened his pain-engulfed body.
With reeds of wrath they rained blows upon his back. Blood ran down his face as a crown of thorns pierced his trembling brow.
But above it all he was scourged, scourged with forty stripes save one (as was the Jewish custom), scourged with a multithonged whip into whose leather strands sharp bones and cutting metals were woven.

Many died from scourging alone, but he rose from the sufferings of the scourge that he might die an ignominious death upon the cruel cross of Calvary.
Then he carried his own cross until he collapsed from the weight and pain and mounting agony of it all.
Finally, on a hill called Calvary—again, it was outside Jerusalem’s walls—while helpless disciples looked on and felt the agonies of near death in their own bodies, the Roman soldiers laid him upon the cross.

With great mallets they drove spikes of iron through his feet and hands and wrists. Truly he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.

Then the cross was raised that all might see and gape and curse and deride. This they did, with evil venom, for three hours from 9:00 A.M. to noon.

Then the heavens grew black. Darkness covered the land for the space of three hours, as it did among the Nephites. There was a mighty storm, as though the very God of Nature was in agony.

And truly he was, for while he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 P.M., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred.

And, finally, when the atoning agonies had taken their toll—when the victory had been won, when the Son of God had fulfilled the will of his Father in all things—then he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and he voluntarily gave up the ghost.

After some thirty-eight or forty hours—three days as the Jews measured time—our Blessed Lord came to the Arimathaean’s tomb, where his partially embalmed body had been placed by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea.

Then, in a way incomprehensible to us, he took up that body which had not yet seen corruption and arose in that glorious immortality which made him like his resurrected Father.

He then received all power in heaven and on earth, obtained eternal exaltation, appeared unto Mary Magdalene and many others, and ascended into heaven, there to sit down on the right hand of God the Father Almighty and to reign forever in eternal glory.

His rising from death on the third day crowned the Atonement. Again, in some way incomprehensible to us, the effects of his resurrection pass upon all men so that all shall rise from the grave.

As Adam brought death, so Christ brought life; as Adam is the father of mortality, so Christ is the father of immortality.

And without both, mortality and immortality, man cannot work out his salvation and ascend to those heights beyond the skies where gods and angels dwell forever in eternal glory.

Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.

Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life.

But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.

May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.

We must cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.
We must search the scriptures, accepting them as the mind and will and voice of the Lord and the very power of God unto salvation."
I know the words I have spoken today are true because the Holy Ghost has spoken it in my heart. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.