Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Point of Safe Return

This is a talk I wrote last year for Sacrament Meeting in my singles ward. I hope you enjoy it!

Hello brothers and sisters,

It’s really nerve-wracking to see you all here this morning. This is only the second Sacrament talk that I’ve ever given in my life so I ask your forgiveness for my nervousness …I’ve been asked to speak on the talk given by Elder Uchtdorf , The Point of Safe Return. I’d like to share a story shared by a dear friend about an older brother who seemed lost forever:

Dave was in Junior High when it all began. He had always been close to his older brothers and would always go out of his way to help ‘em out when they needed it. Unfortunately for him, and without him even knowing, his older brother Will began abusing that relationship. About once or twice a week, Will would go and pick up his younger brother Dave from Junior High and take him out to lunch. Seems like a nice brotherly thing to do right? Well, at first Dave thought it was too. But after lunch, Will would take Dave to the bank and kindly ask if he could borrow some money. “Of course I’ll pay you back,” Will would always say. Dave, being as trusting as he was, would gladly lend him the money, thinking that his brother would pay him back. But soon, that borrowed money started adding up. David had no idea what Will was using it for but he still trusted his older brother. Dave was only doing what he thought was helping his older brother but little did he know that he was feeding a drug-addict. Soon, things started disappearing from their home and Dave’s own room. One night, Dave was woken up by rustling sounds coming from his room. It was Will, claiming that he couldn’t sleep and that he needed some headphones. Again, Dave shrugged it off and went back to his sleep. Sadly, Dave’s bank account was emptied that night by his brother. Will’s parents had some idea of what was going on but they didn’t want to worry Dave so they never really explained the situation to him. But eventually Dave found everything out. Have you ever been in a home where you fear for your safety? Where you fear for your belongings? Where you fear that something terrible will happen to your brother? This is exactly how Dave felt. Will continued to steal from Dave. Dave changed his PIN, moved to a different bank, hid his stuff, but Will would always manage to get into his money and other valuable items. He emptied Dave’s bank account twice, and stole countless items from him, and his entire family. The whole situation seemed to come to a standstill when Dave, while using the computer, leaned over to find a needle on the table. That’s when his parents told him that Will was addicted to Heroine and that he had been for a while. Dave suspected something like this was happening but it was almost impossible to believe. Their parents did everything they could to help their struggling son. They sent him to clinics, to re-habilitation centers, and countless other doctors, specialists, and therapists, in a desperate attempt to help cure him. They all thought Will was doing a lot better until one unforgettable day. Dave was quietly studying for a test on the downstairs couch when he heard his mom calling Will’s name. Will had always liked to take long baths to help him relax and today seemed no different. Will had been in there for a while and his mom was just going upstairs to give him his laundry. She knocked on the door and asked Will if he was getting out anytime soon. There was no answer. She knocked again, thinking maybe he had fallen asleep. Again, there was no answer. She knocked harder and harder until she was pounding on the door. She began getting desperate and grabbed a key to open the door. Then she started screaming. She screamed down at Dave to call 911. Dave ran to the phone and dialed 911. He had never called 911 in his life. While Dave was calling 911, his dad had called his uncle who rushed over to help. Dave ran upstairs when he got a hold of someone and started giving directions to his dad and uncle. The first thing Dave saw when he went upstairs was his brothers seemingly lifeless body. He had overdosed. The 911 operator gave directions, which Dave tried to repeat as best he could. An ambulance arrived soon after and took Will away. Dave’s parents went in the ambulance and Dave was left with a neighbor from across the road. It seemed like Dave’s life was coming to an end. His brother had almost died after everything he and his parents tried to do. The situation seemed hopeless. Will did recover and returned to live with his family. After some time of being sober, he moved out to live on his own. He still relied on his family for financial support but other than that, Dave thought the problem was over. And to a point, it was. Will didn’t use drugs anymore but he soon began to become incredibly depressed at his entire situation. Little to his family’s knowledge, he had made a plan to take his own life. Thankfully though, Will had been using the internet recently, in a forum group, and had posted his plan. One person had seen the post and immediately called the police who rushed to his apartment to find him barely alive. Had it not been for that one person, Will would have died. Dave’s entire family was pushed to the limit at hearing this news. There was nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and it seemed there was no hope in sight…

Will’s life is still a mess, because of his bad choices and the consequences of those. On the plus side, Will has been clean for some time and is living on his own and almost completely supporting himself. But there is still this problem of a hopeless situation. Now, this story might be small in comparison to your own problems, or it might even be bigger than your problems, but it still serves as an example of what people might call “a point of no return”.

Do any of you feel like you’ve reached this point in your lives? Is there something in your life that constantly haunts you and causes you so much pain, you can barely stand it? Do you feel like you’re some “special case” that no one can reach, and that not even the atonement can touch? I hope you’re all listening carefully. I want to give any of you who are feeling like this a message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is a message of hope, peace, and happiness through the Atonement.

Satan, "the father of all lies" (2 Nephi 2:18), "the father of contention" (3 Nephi 11:29), "the author of all sin" (Helaman 6:30), and the "enemy unto God" (Moroni 7:12), uses the forces of evil to convince us that this concept applies whenever we have sinned. The scriptures call him the "accuser" because he wants us to feel that we are beyond forgiveness (see Revelation 12:10). Satan wants us to think that when we have sinned we have gone past a "point of no return"—that it is too late to change our course. In our beautiful but also troubled world, it is a sad reality that this attitude is the source of great sorrow, grief, and distress to families, marriages, and individual lives.

Satan tries to counterfeit the work of God, and by doing this he may deceive many. To make us lose hope, feel miserable like himself, and believe that we are beyond forgiveness, Satan might even misuse words from the scriptures that emphasize the justice of God, in order to imply that there is no mercy.

I know it’s hard not to listen to him sometimes. We try and shut out that voice that tells us we’re beyond hope. We mustn’t give up hope in the power of the Atonement and we have to endure to the end. If you’re doing the best you can with what you have then just keep going! Protection against the influence of the devil comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the good news that Jesus Christ has made a perfect Atonement for mankind. It is the message of love, hope, and mercy that there is a reconciliation of man with God.

Sin is the willful transgression of divine law. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the gift of God to His children to correct and overcome the consequences of sin. God loves all of His children, and He will never cease to love and to hope for us. The plan of our Heavenly Father is clear, and His promises are great: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world . . . might be saved" (John 3:17).

Christ came to save us. If we have taken a wrong course, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can give us the assurance that sin is not a point of no return. A safe return is possible if we will follow God's plan for our salvation.

We have received this plan from the highest authority in the universe, even God, our Heavenly Father. This plan was prepared from before the foundation of the earth. It is a great plan of happiness, a plan of mercy, a plan of redemption, a plan of salvation. This plan enables us to experience a physical existence, including mortality, a time of probation, and to return to the presence of God and live in eternal happiness and glory. It is explained in the doctrines of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Following this plan has beautiful eternal consequences for us individually, for our families, for generations to come, and even for generations who went before. The plan includes divine reconciliation and forgiveness.

Divine Forgiveness is only possible when we claim the blessings of the Atonement. Don’t be stubborn in thinking that you can do this by yourself. Reach out to that Almighty hand that is reaching out to you and grab on to it! Hold to that with all your might. President David O. McKay said, "Every principle and ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ is significant and important . . . , but there is none more essential to the salvation of the human family than the divine and eternally operative principle [of] repentance".

We need a strong faith in Christ to be able to repent. Our faith has to include a "correct idea of [God's] character, perfections, and attributes" (Lectures on Faith [1985], 38). If we believe that God knows all things, is loving, and is merciful, we will be able to put our trust in Him for our salvation without wavering. Faith in Christ will change our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with God's will.

True repentance brings us back to doing what is right. To truly repent we must recognize our sins and feel remorse, or godly sorrow, and confess those sins to God. If our sins are serious, we must also confess them to our authorized priesthood leader. We need to ask God for forgiveness and do all we can to correct whatever harm our actions may have caused. Repentance means a change of mind and heart—we stop doing things that are wrong, and we start doing things that are right. It brings us a fresh attitude toward God, oneself, and life in general.
Take it one day at a time brothers and sisters. We all mess up. Take some comfort in knowing that there is a way provided for us to go back to our Heavenly Father. Even if your sins are serious in nature, keep working at it. God knows how hard you’re working and He will lift you up. Take comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ is fighting beside you and there is no way you can lose with Him at your side.

Have you ever walked out of a Bishop’s office or got up off your knees from a sincere prayer with your Heavenly Father and just felt lighter? What a wonderful gift of peace that is. President Spencer W. Kimball taught: "The essence of the miracle of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul. . . . God will wipe away . . . the tears of anguish, and remorse, . . . and fear, and guilt". But remember that although we do cause a lot of our grief, there are some things that are simply beyond our control. But the Atonement is powerful enough to take away any pain, and wipe away any tear.

President Harold B. Lee said, "When you have done all within your power to overcome your mistakes, and have determined in your heart that you will never repeat them again, then . . . peace of conscience [can come to you] by which you will know that your sins have been forgiven". There are times when we may remember past mistakes and yes, they do cause us some pain. It’s important for us to remember some of that pain so we don’t repeat our mistakes. But, God will lessen our pain once we have truly repented. We will remember the pain, but God will remember our sins no more.

Jesus taught us eternal truth when He taught us to pray: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. . . . For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not . . . neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (3 Nephi 13:11, 14–15).

Therefore, extending forgiveness is a precondition to receiving forgiveness.

For our own good, we need the moral courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Never is the soul nobler and more courageous than when we forgive. This includes forgiving ourselves.
Each of us is under a divinely spoken obligation to reach out with pardon and mercy and to forgive one another. There is a great need for this Christlike attribute in our families, in our marriages, in our wards and stakes, in our communities, and in our nations.

We will receive the joy of forgiveness in our own lives when we are willing to extend that joy freely to others. Lip service is not enough. We need to purge our hearts and minds of feelings and thoughts of bitterness and let the light and the love of Christ enter in. As a result, the Spirit of the Lord will fill our souls with the joy accompanying divine peace of conscience (see Mosiah 4:2–3).

I quote a poem used in Elder Packer’s talk entitled “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”:
’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone!” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game—and he travels on.
He’s “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand

As hard as it sounds brothers and sisters to attain forgiveness, it is worth it. Why deal with all this pain, guilt, and suffering by yourself? Be humble enough to get on your knees and plead with the Lord to help you. Talk with your Bishop and allow him to help lighten your load as well. We must do as the Lord simply asks of us and place the burden on His shoulders. I hope and pray my words, or the words of the Spirit have touched you in some way this morning. I know this wonderful message of the Atonement has greatly blessed my dear friend Dave and his family and I hope and pray that it will bring some peace to your soul. God bless all of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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