NOTE: A great portion of my talk was taken from a book called, "Walking on Water," by S. Michael Wilcox. Also, I managed to keep my emotions together until the last sentence. HURRAY!
“A New Testament day was divided into twelve hours, beginning at six in the morning. The third hour would be nine o’clock, the sixth hour would be noon, and the eleventh hour, though we visualize it as being just before midnight, actually was five o’clock in the evening. The night was divided into four watches: The first watch was from six in the evening to nine o’clock. The second watch was from nine until midnight, the third watch from midnight until three in the morning, and the fourth watch from three in the morning until six, about sunrise.”
“There is one area of our lives where the Lord is willing and anxious to come to us in the first watch. In fact, if the Lord said to us, I will let you choose one part of your life where I will come to you in the first watch, or, if you would like me to, I will choose the area for you, hopefully we would have the wisdom to say to him, I’ll trust your judgment. You choose the times in my life when you’ll be a first-watch God for me. That area would be forgiveness. The Savior is anxious and eager to come to us when we cry to him for forgiveness, even in the first watch. When the pain and the trial we are going through is repentance, when we struggle with the agonies of guilt, then He is a first-watch God. That truth is attested to countless times in the scriptures.
“One of my all time favorite scripture stories is that of the prodigal son. Contained in that parable is a powerful “first watch” example that shows the eagerness the Lord feels to forgive. “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I parish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”
“This parable was given to answer a question, which can be stated as follows: “When I ‘come to myself,’ when I return, when I seek forgiveness, do I return as a son or a servant?” The prodigal himself felt unworthy to return as a son; he was content to return as a servant. Should he be for the rest of his life a kind of second-class citizen of the kingdom? The parable answers: “There are no servants in the kingdom, only sons.” Here is our first-watch verse: “He arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
“Sometimes it is very important to get the tone of the scripture right. Should we read the Son’s next comment with a tone of confession or one of amazement? I prefer that of astonishment at the greeting he has just received from his father. “And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” We might add, “Why do you treat me as one?”
““But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it,; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
“As we progress through the Book of Mormon we see a theme begin to emerge as we read story after story. Everybody in the Book of Mormon who asks for forgiveness receives it. And they receive it immediately. The book of Mosiah speaks of “the immediate goodness of God,” and Amulek promises the humble Zoramites that “the great plan of redemption” will be brought unto them “immediately” if their hearts are soft. It’s as if the Lord says: Maybe you won’t receive that message if I only include it once or twice. Maybe you won’t realize how important the message is, so I’m going to put it in again and again, so you’ll realize when the wind that blows against you has to do with guilt and forgiveness and repentance and transgression, I will come to you in the first watch.
“We read in Enos: “There came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. …And I said: Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.” It’s as though the Lord ponders: I wonder if they understand clearly from Enos’s example? Let’s state it again with Benjamin’s people. And a few pages later, we read: “They all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and out hearts may be purified; …And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words with the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience.
“Perhaps the Lord reflects once more: I wonder if they got the message. We’d better remind them again. We turn a few more pages and come to Zeezrom, to whom Alma says: “If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.” To which Zeezrom answers, “Yea, I believe according to thy words. And then Alma cried, …O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ. And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk.”
“As if the conviction is not yet deep enough in our hearts the Lord imprints it deeper with the story of Alma and the sons of Mosiah. In agony of guilt, Alma cries out: “O Jesus, though Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memories of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold.”
“Are we convinced yet? In case we need more evidence, we next turn to the Lamanites. Include the prayers of Lamoni and his wife, the Lord whispers to Mormon as he collects from the many records those chosen few needed for the latter-day world. Lamoni prays: “O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.” When Lamoni revives from his little sleep, he testifies, “As sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name.” Then Lamoni’s wife, a short time later, adds her witness to the growing list: “O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!” Lamoni’s father receives forgiveness, and Lamoni’s servants also understand the “immediate goodness” of our Savior.
“Even the Lamanites who had come into the prison to kill Nephi and Lehi were “filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. …And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying: Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.” When we yearn for forgiveness, we worship a first-watch God.
“I have emphasized the Savior’s willingness to come to us in the first watch when it regards the forgiveness of our sins and transgressions. Of course this implies that we have done all we can do on our part to be worthy of that level of mercy. In Alma 24, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies refer to themselves as “the most lost of all mankind.” But the Savior’s mercy covered even them. It should be noted, however, that we read three times in that chapter that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did “all [they] could do to repent sufficiently.”
I would like to briefly touch on the topic of the process of repenting by sharing with you a story given in a talk by Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy. He says,
“As a seven year old boy, living in the Arabian Peninsula, I was consistently told by my parents to always wear my shoes; And I understood why. I knew that shoes would protect my feet against the many threats that were found in the desert, such as snakes, scorpions, and thorns. One morning, after a nights camping in the desert, I wanted to go exploring, but I did not want to bother putting on my shoes. I rationalized that I was only going for a little wander, and I would stay close by the camp. I told myself that flip-flops were shoes… of a sort, and anyway, what could possibly happen? As I walked along the cool sand in my flip-flops, I felt something like a thorn going into the arch of my foot. I looked down and saw, not a thorn, but a scorpion. The pain of the sting began to rise from my foot and up my leg. I grabbed the top of my leg to try and stop of searing pain from moving further as I cried out for help. My parents came running from the camp. I sobbed while my parents loaded me into a car and set off across the desert towards the nearest hospital, which was over two hours away. The pain through my leg was excruciating and for that entire journey, I assumed that I was dying. When I finally reached the hospital, the doctor was able to assure us that only small infants and the severely malnourished are threatened by the sting of that type of scorpion. He administered and anesthetic which numbed my leg and took away any sensation of pain. Within 24 hours I no longer felt any of the affects from the sting of the scorpion, but I had learned a powerful lesson. I had known that when my parents told me to wear shoes, they did not mean flip-flops. But that morning in the desert, I disregarded what I knew to be right, I ignored what my parents had repeatedly told me, I had been both lazy, and a little rebellious and I paid a price for it. Disregarding what we know to be right, whether through laziness or rebelliousness, always brings undesirable and spiritually damaging consequences. We find healing and relief only when we bring ourselves to the feet of the Great Physician, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We must cease fighting against God and instead give our whole hearts to him, holding nothing back, then, He can heal us. Then, He can cleanse us from the venomous sting of sin.”
I want to share with you, another story, related to the same topic, and was spoken by Elder Shayne M. Bowen of the Seventy. He says, “In Idaho Falls, there’s a beautiful airport. Near the airport is another very useful and beautiful part of the city, Freemont Park. Looking down the river from the park, the majestic, Idaho Falls Temple can be seen, white and clean, standing on high ground. Both of these beautiful, useful places, the regional airport and Freemont Park, used to be sanitary landfills. A sanitary landfill is where garbage is buried and the land is reclaimed. The definition of ‘reclaimed’ is ‘to recall from wrong or improper conduct,’ ‘to rescue from an undesirable state.’ I have lived in Idaho Falls nearly my whole life. I have contributed a lot of garbage to those landfills over the course of more than 50 years. What would the city fathers think if on a given day, I showed up on one of the grassy fields in Freemont Park with a backhoe and started digging large holes? When they asked what I was doing, I would respond, “I wanted to dig up the old garbage that I had made over the years.” I suspect that they would tell me that there was no way to identify my personal garbage. That is had been reclaimed and buried long ago. I suppose they would wonder why anyone would want to destroy something so beautiful and useful in an attempt to dig up old garbage. Is it possible to reclaim a life that, through reckless abandon, has been so strewn with garbage that is appears that the person is unforgiveable? What about the person who has changed their life, but just can’t forgive themselves? The prophet Alma taught the Son of God suffreth according to the flesh, that he might take upon Him the sins of His people. That He might blot out their transgressions according to the power of His deliverance. The atonement of Jesus Christ is available to each of us. It can clean, reclaim, and sanctify even you. There is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Jesus Christ. When we gratefully accept and use this precious gift, we can enjoy the beauty and usefulness of our lives that God has reclaimed through His infinite love and the atonement of His son and our brother, Jesus Christ.”
“If we are willing to do as much as we can do, even though we may consider ourselves the most lost of all mankind, the Savior will come to us in the first watch, and we will know by experience the meaning of the words, “the immediate goodness of God.”
“In every setting, the Savior was the example and mentor for His disciples. He taught them to pray by praying with them. He taught them to love and serve by loving and serving them. He taught them to forgive others by forgiving them. Jesus instructed his disciples to forgive their brothers when they repented and asked for their forgiveness. Then he added the following, “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times turn again unto thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” I do not believe that the Lord is going to expect of us a higher standard than he himself is willing to give.” Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s just dumb! “If, therefore, he anticipates we will forgive one another when repentance is offered, seven times in a day, surely that means he will abide by an equal if not greater standard. Let us do all that we can do, then with full assurance, with a confidence born of hope endangered by the Savior’s many examples, we may go to him seven times in a single day and know that every time we will hear the words, “I forgive you. Go in peace.””
“I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this [talk], but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you’ve missed, however many mistakes you feel you’ve made, or talents you think you don’t have, or distance from home and family and God you feel you have traveled… I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s atonement shines. Whether you are not yet of our faith, or were once with us and have not remained, there is nothing in either case you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. Come boldy to the Throne of Grace and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast without money and without price, at the table of the Lord. …to those of you who have been blessed by the Gospel for many years because you were fortunate enough to find it early and to those of you who have come to the gospel by stages and phases later and finally to those of you member or not yet member who may still be hanging back, to each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His Grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of day at which you got there. So if you’ve made covenants, keep them. If you haven’t made them, make them. If you’ve made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the Master of the vineyard says there is time. Please listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling you right now, this very moment, that you should accept the atoning gift of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and enjoy the fellowship of His labor. Don’t delay. It’s getting late.”
I know that this truly is the gospel of Christ. I know that God lives and that he loves me. He loves each one of us and knows about our trials, pains, successes and everything we do. He cares for us and wants us to make correct choices. I know that if we live righteously, we can be with our families for eternity. I know that the temple is the House of the Lord. I’m grateful for the many ways the gospel blesses my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to go on a mission in Brazil. I love you all and am grateful for all the advice, and the many ways you have helped me prepare to serve my mission! I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
|In front of the Cathlamet Branch building sign for the last time for two years.|