Changed for good

There is a line in my favourite musical that says:

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you. I have been changed for good.

Every time I hear this line, it makes me reflect on those people who I have known who have had a lasting impact on my life. Those people who because I have known them, I have been changed forever. If I use a couple of examples from my own life to illustrate this.

When I first met my wife, Ruth, I was about to turn 20, and having just returned home from my mission I had the fashion sense of a 17 year old. I had Garfield t-shirts, Bermuda shorts, and other disturbing items in my wardrobe. Over a few months, and with certain gifts from Ruth, my wardrobe changed. I no longer wore, and still don’t today wear comic book t-shirts. But Ruth has changed me in so many other ways, her kind heart and compassion has made me much more aware of how I treat other people, and the impact that my words can have on others. As I look around this room I can see many others who have touched my life for good, and made me a better person. Examples include…

However, some of these influences can also be negative. I had a fantastic childhood, I was full of life, confident and enjoyed many different things. However, when I started secondary school I had a ‘friend’ who told me I was rubbish; that I was worthless; that what I had to say was not worth listening to; and I would never amount to anything. This continued for a period of about 4 years, and for some reason despite others who said differently this person had a huge impact on my life. Some of these words still echo in my mind as I encounter new situations, and to be honest some of the reasons why I push myself to do new things is to prove to myself that this person was not right.

I have never shared that experience publicly before, and I do so not to garner any sympathy from you, I’m old and big enough to deal with those issues for myself. But I share it to help us think about the influence we have through the way we are in the various relationships we develop in our lives. As a contributor to many different relationships we have a responsibility to build up those people around us.

The greatest relationship of which we are part, is the relationship we develop with the Godhead; with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. This relationship will mould us into, what the scriptures describe as, “new creatures”. As we develop these relationships we become sanctified and developed into Christlike beings. Bruce R. McConkie describes it thus;

The spiritual birth comes after the natural birth. It is to die as pertaining to worldliness and carnality and to become a new creature by the power of the Spirit. It is to begin a new life, a life in which we bridle our passions and control our appetites, a life of righteousness, a spiritual life. Whereas we were in a deep abyss of darkness, now we are alive in Christ and bask in the shining rays of his everlasting light. Such is the new birth the second birth, the birth into the household of Christ.

This process of becoming a new creature is best illustrated in The Book of Mormon following King Benjamin’s discourse.  The people who heard this last sermon went through the sanctification process; they humbled themselves and prayed the atoning blood of Christ would take effect in their lives. The Holy Ghost came upon them and filled them with joy; they experienced a change of heart and had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). The application of the atonement takes place initially when a person is baptized, when they are born again, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Through reception of the Holy Ghost a person can begin this mighty change of heart: “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceeding great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 13:11-12). As with the sanctification process, the creation of a new person is a continual event: “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26). This continual renewal reflects the importance of developing the lifelong relationships with Christ and the Holy Ghost. Only through their influence can a person hope to become a new creature.

What kind of characteristics would we have as we are drawn into this relationship? There are many scriptures that describe a “Christian” or a disciple of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom I will mention again later, wrote a book which has had a profound influence on me, it was called The Cost of Discipleship. This helps us know, that this relationship that will mould us and make us new creatures, people who are so much more than we could be on our own actually costs something. We need to sacrifice some of the things that we are attached to to allow the Saviour’s influence to come into our lives. This making of the new creature takes place through sanctification; this is also known as the baptism of fire which is an ongoing process throughout our lives. I feel fire is used as the metaphor for two reasons; firstly, there is no greater purifying agent than the Holy Ghost. Sin and carnality are taken away through the atonement of Christ with the active involvement of the Holy Ghost: “It is ‘by the blood’ (Moses 6:60) − meaning the blood of the Saviour− that we are sanctified. But it is through the cleansing medium of the Holy Ghost that the regenerating powers of that infinite atonement are extended to mortal man” (McConkie and Millet).  By the power of the Holy Ghost, Latter-day Saints believe that, iniquity, carnality, sensuality, and every evil thing is burned out of the soul as if by fire; the cleansed person is literally born again of the water and the Spirit. The second reason fire might be used as a metaphor is because of the pain that this process might involve. We may have to give up some things, including aspects of our personality that we have become rather attached to, to become sanctified.

However, we err if we suppose that sanctification is merely the process of removing bad things. The developing of a relationship with the Godhead, involves the removal of sin and iniquity, but also its replacement with things of greater worth. This process of sanctification entails the removal of sin and its replacement with Christ-like qualities. The Holy Ghost is not just a passive channel for the atonement. Rather, the Holy Ghost actively

quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigour, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being (Parley P. Pratt).

Our relationships with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost will make us more patient, more kind, more loving, and overall more Christlike. The Saviour seeks to build us up, and make us who we have the potential to be. The scriptures tell us, however, that just as the Saviour is determined to build us up, there are others who are determined to pull us down.

The first of those is Satan; the Book of Mormon tells us:

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2:27).

Satan tries to bring us down, and to replace the characteristics that we are developing with other nasty ones, including self-doubt, lack of self-esteem, and feelings of inability. It is no surprise that the scripture we’ve just read tells us that we are free to choose for ourselves, because it is ultimately us who decides whether we listen to the transformative and positive message of the Saviour or the destructive and negative message of Satan.

In the Book of Moses we read of an example of just such a battle. In Moses’ conversation with the Lord he is described three times as a son of God, and in one of those verses this description is extended further:

And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Saviour, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (Moses 1: 6).

Whereas, in his encounter with Satan he is described as a “son of man”- a deliberate attempt to bring Moses down, and to debase him. However, Moses is so secure in a knowledge of who he is and the relationship he has with his Father that he is able to rebuke Satan:

And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? (Moses 1: 13).

There are numerous lessons that we can learn from Moses, and also from the preceding sections of my talk. Not least, is that when faced with listening to people who build us up and strengthen us, as opposed to those who bring us down, we should always focus on those that strengthen us. Sometimes that includes us ourselves, because we can be our won worst critics. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a poem that describes this perfectly:

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house. Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command. Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win. Am I then really all that which others tell me, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all. Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is it something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.

We are transformed, not through our own strength, but by belonging to God, by placing our will, our personalities, and everything we are into his hands.

Another lesson we can learn, is that as we are trying to become Christlike then we must be the kind of people who build others up. To, as the scriptures tell us, “strengthen [everyone] in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” (D&C 108:7). In some ways we come full circle to the beginning of my remarks; as we interact with people (including ourselves) do we leave them feeling better about themselves, or do we pull them down. Oftentimes that pulling can be a result of jealousy or revenge, but it can also be a result of a desire to not let a wound close or because it’s a part of our character to focus on the negative. Whatever, the reasons behind our negativity, we must turn to Christ and ask him to help us purge that from us and replace it with a more Christlike love and positivity.

These interactions happen in every aspect of our lives. I recently wrote an article which outlined my responsibility to live the Gospel better everywhere. Indeed, I suggest that every aspect of my life — church, work and family — are actually all acts of worship that could draw me closer to the Saviour. How does this work? As a father, the way that I treat or speak with my children can exemplify my efforts to develop Christlike characteristics, or not as the case may be. The way that I exert my efforts in the workplace can similarly exemplify my promises “to stand as (a witness) of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that (I) may be in” (Mosiah 18:9). I am reminded of a passage from the book “The Shack”: “It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now — just doing this — and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships.” Sharing life and engaging in relationships wherever they are found are the acts of worship I am striving to develop.

One of those places, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions is in the virtual world of the Internet. For some reason, logging onto Facebook, Twitter, our Hotmail accounts, can suddenly transform a person from Christlike in the way we build others up, to negative in the way we seek to pull others down, or even pull ourselves down by the things we say. How do we portray the character we have, and the person we are as we speak with people. Is everything we write designed to build up, or tear down, or get a dig in. I have been shocked by some of the language people used in things they share, or messages they send. But much more disturbing is the way some people use online tools as a forum to hurt other people. Again stealing from an article of mine that some of you may have read: As a person of faith I try to follow the golden rule, variously articulated in different faiths of the world, but by Jesus in this way: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). On Facebook, it is easy to NOT treat other people how we would want to be treated. Sometimes it happens directly; at other times, pointed statements are used that only people “in the know” would understand. In some ways we try to score verbal body blows without directly dealing with an issue. We users of the virtual world need to strengthen each other in our conversations and statuses. Do not write a status to vent anger or upset others, and do not respond to others’ statements sarcastically or in a way that will exacerbate a situation. Let us not neglect the opportunity to deal with our issues in a “real” way rather than through a very public point-scoring online exercise. Although the admonition “What Would Jesus Do?” can seem overused, it still applies to our lives in the virtual world. In either world we need to consider the commitments we have made to be disciples of Christ. Are the pointed comments we make, games we play and language we use evidence of an everyday disciple or just a weekend warrior?

Are we the type of person who evidences our relationship with the Godhead in every aspect of our lives? Are we the type of person who builds other people up in all of our conversations? Are we the type of person who build ourselves up as we listen to those around us, including the Saviour? Returning to the lyric I used at the beginning, are we the type of person who affect other people for better, and for good? The type of blessing we can be, is shown in the words of Hymn 293:

Each life that touches ours for good

Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord.

Thou sendest blessings from above

Through words and deeds of those who love.

 

What greater gift dost thou bestow,

What greater goodness can we know

Than Christ-like friends, whose gentle ways

Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

 

When such a friend from us departs

We hold forever in our hearts

A sweet and hallowed memory,

Bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.

 

For worthy friends whose lives proclaim

Devotion to the Saviour’s name,

Who bless our days with peace and love,

We praise thy goodness Lord above.

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