Monday, August 22, 2011

A more detailed description of the last field trip

A more detailed description of the last field trip (no pictures, I posted pictures for this day already): The next morning we started again. We went through the Orson Hyde Garden (on this part of the walk Jacob kept us all entertained because he was hunting dinosaurs and monsters all along the way). We made our way to the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane. We first went to the church where I explained some of the symbolism. Then we went inside and had some time for thinking about what was commemorated there. My children seemed to really get into the moment. We also sang there. Then we went to a private garden area among the olive trees and I spoke a little bit about what happened there, and then gave them some time to think and read their scriptures and write in their journals and pray. Then we gathered and shared our testimonies and thoughts with each other. Speaking about the atonement of Jesus Christ and how he suffered for us there and what he did for us was powerful. I am so very grateful for Jesus Christ. I know he suffered for all of our sins, sorrows, grief, sicknesses, shortcomings, and everything else there. I am so grateful that he loved us enough and God loved us enough for that to happen. It is real. It is transformingly powerful.
From there we walked to the Church of the Flagellation and Church of the Condemnation (two churches in the same compound). We spoke of Pilate’s condemnation and Christ’s suffering there. Then we went to St. Anne’s. There we had a lunch, and Father Lavoie welcomed all the students in to the chapel. We sang for over half an hour. It was beautiful. The acoustics in this crusader church are amazing. Joan sang a solo that was hauntingly, movingly, amazingly beautiful. I do not know if I have ever thought a song was so beautiful. After this we went down to the Pool of Bethesda and talked about everything that happened there. We particularly talked about how the Savior will heal us when there is no one else to help us. We also talked about how we should be willing to help those who cannot help themselves.
From there we started the walk to the Garden Tomb. We stopped at a few more stations of the cross to speak of the events that happened as the Savior was on his way to be crucified. Then we got to the Garden Tomb, where they welcomed us warmly and had someone there to give us a nice little speech. We sang, and bore testimony of the Savior. I was able to talk about how grateful I am that Jesus Christ was willing to die for us. Though he had told the Apostles at the Last Supper that he was not alone because his Father was with him, on the cross he ended up surprisingly alone. Yet he chose to continue the suffering until it was done, and then he allowed himself to ascend up on high. Because of that we can live again. My father will one day stand again free of the effects of Parkinsons. Those students of mine who have lost parents and other loved ones will be with them again. My family will stand together for eternity. All because of what happened at Calvary. This is real. This is the most important and pivotal thing in the universe. This is what life, now and later, is all about. Jesus Christ lives.
And so ended our last field trip. Not just with these students, but for the foreseeable future. Just like that it is over. Hard to imagine. We went home and continued to pack and clean up. That night everyone met together in the Auditorium. Jill and Frank Judd spoke. We had some musical numbers. Then Julianne and I spoke. It was my last time to address these students, and I felt strongly about some things they needed to hear. This is roughly what I said to them.
You will always be my students. In my heart I will always remember the wonderful class discussions, the lobby and hallway conversations, the bus rides, the kitchen, Oasis, front room, patio and beach talks, and most of all, the time shared in sacred places. If I had my way, we would never stop doing these things together. In my heart and memory, we always will.

I am a better man for having been with you. Thank you for that.

I believe we can all be exalted, and I hope we all will be, because who wants to end up spending eternity in a place where my wife is not? The truth of the matter is that God loves you more than you can ever understand. His son loves you more than you can fathom. He lives, and will love us to the end! The love of these two individuals ended up bringing about the atonement. God wants so much for us to be with him again that he was willing to send his son, and his son was willing to come because he loves us and God. What we need to know is that what Christ did in Gethsemane and Calvary really does give him the power to exalt us. The power of the atonement is greater than we have realized. It can change us, change our natures more than we can understand. No matter how ding-dongy we are, we are never beyond the power of the atonement. No matter what you think of yourself, God both wants to exalt you and has the power to do so. Your ability to sin is not more powerful than his ability to forgive and change you. If you are willing, he is able. Never doubt that he can change any and all of us, he can make us into Celestial material, no matter how unlikely this may seem to our silly minds at the moment.

While we went on so many wonderful field trips, none of the others would mean much without the last one, the one that ended up in Gethsemane and Calvary. But what he did there makes all the other stories, all the other miracles, all the other events meaningful. They all coalesce into a story of our exaltation, but only because of what happened in the places we visited the last day.

So too, what makes all your experiences here meaningful is what has happened in your heart. What makes everything else that has happened to you meaningful is what has happened within you, what kind of change you have experienced, what the atonement has done to you, how you have been born again.

He can do this, he has the power. He has felt after you, he has touched you, somewhere, somehow. I was not touched when I was in the Garden tomb on our last field trip as a student, but I was at other times. You also may not have been touched at various places, but undoubtedly sometime while you have been here God has felt after you, and you have responded. His hand has been over you some time, and surely he has changed your heart. You may not even be aware of it right now. That is often the case. You may not be aware of the great change that the Lord has wrought in you, like the Lamanites who were baptized by fire and knew it not. But you can be sure of one thing. He will continue to feel after you. He will continue to work with you throughout your life. He will do this because he loves you and will never stop trying to bring you back to him.

I hope that somewhere, somehow, you have been born again. I also hope that you have further dedicated your life. Remember what President Kimball said when he dedicated the Orson Hyde Garden: “As we dedicate this garden to Thee and to Thy glory, so also we dedicate our lives individually and in group to Thee and Thy servants.”

I hope you have dedicated your life more thoroughly to him. It is not enough to have been touched here. Remember what the Savior told Peter in this very land. “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” And he asked him “Lovest thou me more than these?” He was asking about fish, because Peter had gone back to what he knew, he went back fishing. Will you also just go back to live life normally? Will you just return to how you were as you slip comfortably back into your old familiar routines, friends and activities? Or will you, like the Savior asked of Peter, feed his sheep. You may have been feeding them already, but now you must feed them more.

I have heard President Faust tell people on the program that by coming here they had accepted an obligation. The great effort and expense of so many that goes into making the center run is only worth it if you go home and do something different. You must go back and dedicate your life to building up the Kingdom of God and to feeding his sheep. You cannot be like everyone else. You have to do more. You have to teach more. You have to stand where you are and lift, but lift with a bit more strength than you had before you came. I believe God brought each of you here for a reason, and I believe he now expects something of you.

But the question is, how can you remain a changed person? After hours of visiting with many of you about these concerns and about what has happened to you here I know there is a great desire among you to keep this change of heart. I also know some of the things you have been thinking about.
Some of you have had feelings about a different way to keep the Sabbath holy. Will you return home and go a fishing or maintain the change that has come into your heart? Many of you have felt that you should study the scriptures differently. Will you return home and go a fishing or maintain this change and even advance? Many of you have felt that maintaining your new, more sanctified self is not compatible with keeping the same company, or dating the same people that you used to. How you work that out will require direction from the spirit, but you absolutely must ask yourself if you will go home and go a fishing or if you will keep the change. Many of you have had promptings about ways in which you have believed both the things of God and the things the world teaches, and you have determined that you do not want to keep worshipping both Jehovah and Ba’al, you want to no longer limp between two opinions, you have lost the desire to serve both God and Mammon. But when you return it will be easy to lose sight of this new way of looking at things. How will you keep your thoughts and perspectives from going a fishing? Many of you have had new thoughts about the place of motherhood in your life, or of how to use your talents, or of how you can align your will with God’s. Satan would have you believe that you cannot maintain these changes. Do not believe him. But ask yourself how you will keep your new heart. Will you turn to the OT to see how much God loves you? Will you search the NT to see what kind of a relationship you can have with your Father?
You must make a plan. I urge you to spend some time thinking, to make a place and time sometime between now and when your plan touches down at its final destination to create a list of how you will apply the principles you have learned here to your new life. Decide now, before you re-enter the normal world, what things you will do to keep this change a part of your life. The principles that have made this such a different place will work at home too. You must seek help from the Lord to know how to do this.
So, we must all ask ourselves, how will we keep the change of heart that we have all felt to one degree or another?

I do not fully know the answer, but I have a few suggestions. Keep learning. Some of you were impressed with what my wife taught about how a household worked while in the Whol museum. My wife does not have an advanced degree in this kind of thing, but she knows more about it than I do because she has dedicated herself to a lifelong learning process. She has chosen to continue to learn about those things that really interested her when she was here as a student. Her example is one for you to follow.
Next, commit that you will do all you can to build up the Kingdom. Don’t turn down callings, give them your all, throw your whole effort into building up the Kingdom of God, starting with and most especially in your family. Never forget to read and teach the scriptures. In fact, the most important thing you can do is to regularly, unrelentingly do those things that invite the spirit into your life. Do all you can to make yourself available to the promptings of the Spirit, and resolve to follow them when they come. The spirit will let you know what you should do, what God expects of you. If you keep the Spirit, the Comforter with you, you will always know what to do. The scriptures teach that this is the way to endure to the end. If the Spirit is with you, you will both know what to do, and will constantly be in the process of sanctification, so that you will be the kind of person who can do what God asks of you.
Sometimes it may seem small. Let me contrast two callings Dr. Chadwick has had this semester. You have seen him in his Gospel Doctrine calling. He is both impressive and powerful in that calling (even if we do read Deut. 21 differently). He has made a difference in that calling and most of you have had the chance to see that. However, I do not believe it is the calling where he has made the biggest difference. His other calling is to spend hours driving on Sabbath morning and afternoon. He makes several runs to bring people to and from church who do not have transportation of their own and who would not be able to attend elsewise. Driving does not seem very glamorous. Yet these people need to feel the spirit and be at church. I believe that Brother Chadwick has made a greater impact on the lives of members of the Branch than I have, though I have been more visible. His quiet, unsung service is true religion, undefiled, and I believe it will have eternal consequences for those he has helped, and thus for him as well. Follow his example and serve however you are asked. You will never fully understand the difference you make.
The great key is to seek direction from your Father regarding this matter, and then follow the promptings that come to you. Brother Judd taught you so well about that the other night. Commit to yourself now that when the promptings of the Spirit come you will follow them. They will often lead you away from the direction you were thinking of. They will often tear at you a little bit. This is because the Lord is trying to rip you away from the things of this world. They will sometimes seem to draw you away from good or even better things because he is trying to bring you to that which is best. Just determine right now that you will follow those promptings because you want, more than anything else, to do what God wants you to do.

I want you to know that you will always be my students, and that years from now I hope to keep meeting with you and that you will still claim me as your teacher. I will always claim you as my student. I am so proud of you now, and I am convinced that I will only be more proud of you in the future. I am anxious to see what God makes of you.

When we were getting ready to come here and people asked what I was most looking forward to, I quickly told everyone that I was most looking forward to the view I would have as I partook of the sacrament. I love looking out at the holy places as I try to remember what I am covenanting to remember. I enjoyed that for a Sabbath. Then I moved up to sit on the stand and I lost that view I had so looked forward to. But over time I came to realize that I had been given an equally wonderful view. The view I no longer saw, that of Gethsemane and Calvary, gave new meaning to my new view, the view I had of you. I often sat there and saw a greater purity, a deeper soul, a larger potential than I am sure you saw in yourselves. Because of the view behind me, the view in front of me was of beings that will one day be exalted. That is how I will always remember you, and I hope that is how you will always think of yourselves, and the others you meet.

So, really, I want to thank you so much for all of the wonderful things I learned from you as you made your comments, as we had our conversations, as you asked questions. I hope you have a wonderful day, and a wonderful life (which I hope you will let me keep sharing in some small way), and that you will go and sin no more. But when you do, repent quickly, that is why the Holy Land is holy, because of the ability to be forgiven that was developed here. Use it, repent, and lets meet with my wife in the Celestial Kingdom together, where these friendships and bonds we have built together can last through the eternities.

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