Cover image: “Our Advocate”, by Jay Bryant Ward.
Have you been guilty of looking at others your own age and thinking, “Surely, I can’t look that old?” Here’s a story from a good sister on the subject…
“I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with a new dentist. I noticed his DDS diploma, which bore his full name. Suddenly, I remembered a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name that had been in my high school class some 40-odd years ago. Could he be the same guy that I had a secret crush on, way back then?
“Upon seeing him, however, I quickly discarded any such thought. This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate. Hmmm, or could he? After he examined my teeth, I asked him if he had attended Morgan Park High School.
“‘Yes. Yes, I did.’ He gleamed with pride. ‘When did you graduate?’ I asked. He answered, ‘In 1959. Why do you ask?’ ‘You were in my class!’ I exclaimed.
“He looked at me closely. Then, that ugly, old, wrinkled man asked, ‘What did you teach?’”[i]
Sometimes our view in life becomes a bit warped. We don’t always see things as they really are. I expect if the Lord could show us things as they really are, we would be quite surprised at our narrow perspective and inadequate view. It’s not unusual as we live in the world to be blinded by the world and need to change. Change is necessary for all of us.
However, changing our view or life or behavior isn’t easy. It can sometimes seem impossible. But Alma teaches us that mighty change is possible. As he begins his sermon in Alma 5-7, he teaches that mighty change begins with sharing of the word. Words have power to change us.
In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, Lt. Clebe McClary and his unit of men were on assignment it the jungles of Vietnam. On hill 146, they were caught in a firefight and in the initial attack, a satchel charge severed his left arm. A hand grenade thrown by the enemy took his left eye and mutilated his right hand. Clebe knew he had to lead his men to safety, but in the attempt another grenade exploded critically injuring both of his legs.
Clebe was sent to Japan and rushed to the navy hospital for surgery. But there was little they could do for Clebe. He was so torn apart, that he did not want to live and the doctors expected he wouldn’t make it through the night.
Arriving at the hospital that day was pro golfer Billy Casper. As a golfer, Casper won 51 tournaments, three major championships and was PGA player of the year twice in 1966 and 1970. If you golf, it’s likely you’ve played at one of his 140 courses.
The most impressive thing about Casper was his mindset. Jim Huber called him the “Dalai Lama of Golf.” “No man I’ve ever known with his kind of credentials has ever been more eager to hug and be hugged,” said Huber. “To give until it runs out.”[ii] Casper was known as the good guy of golf and his reputation for hugging and encouragement was known well throughout the golfing world. With 11 children, Casper’s entourage often included his kids and kids from the neighborhood. But when he travelled alone, like he was during his golf tour in Japan in 1968, he wanted to do good. So, he went to the military hospital to volunteer his time.
As Casper arrived at the hospital and was looking where to serve, he saw Clebe. The doctor told him not to bother that Marine 1st Lt. Patrick Celburne McClary was ready to die. But something inside Casper made him approach McClary.
McClary said, “I will never forget that day.” “I had given up, I wanted to die and I would have died that very day if it hadn’t been for him.” McClary said, “He put his arms around me, leaned in, pulled me right up next to him, and held me. Then, he whispered, “God could use you today. Don’t give up.”[iii] Then Casper thanked him, not in a brief way that most would do, but really thanked McClary for what he had sacrificed and given for our country and ended with “God Bless You.”
McClary said that everything changed for him at that moment. He knew God needed him and he was going to live and fight for what was not yet, for what was going to happen in his future life. The funny thing is that McClary didn’t know golf from polo and didn’t know Casper. All he knew is that the man who helped him was a golfer and never learned his name.
Well, McClary returned home, became a speaker and minister, works tirelessly for wounded veterans, and acted every day like God needed him. He often shared the story of “a golfer—his guardian angel”, but he never knew who the golfer was, who had saved his life that day.
Last year before the masters, McClary was talking with professional golfer Jay Haas and told him the story of “a golfer that had changed his life.” He asked Haas if he had any idea who that golfer might be. Haas immediately knew who it was, the hugging Dalai Lama and the most encouraging man in golf. It had to be Billy Casper. Haas knew that Casper, the 1970 masters champion, would be making the pilgrimage to the masters and was determined to get the two men together.
So, on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 outside the clubhouse in the magical setting of August National, Jay Haas arranged for these two men to reunite.
The two men, fell together for a long hug. Casper’s daughter said, “They just embraced and stayed there close for 5 minutes, they started crying and then we started crying and before long all of Augusta National was crying.” McClary just held him tight and Casper said, “Don’t let go until you want to let go.”
There in a long overdue embrace, McClary told Casper about his life. That he was proud of the life he had led, not because of the medals of honor or best-selling books, but because he did exactly what Casper told him to do, to give his life to God and minister to others. “Make no mistake about it,” he said, “You’re the reason I am alive.”[iv]
Well soon, these men stepped back, wiped away the tears, and stood side by side throwing long satisfied looks over the green legendary landscape of the Masters.
This would be the last Masters Casper would ever see. In fact, that day was his last full day ever on the course. After the champion’s dinner that night, Casper collapsed on the clubhouse porch and was rushed to the hospital after a heart attack. He survived surgery but months later would die from related complications.
McClary, who was awarded three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star, had a mighty change of heart thanks to Casper. Once changed, Clebe’s heart led him to do more than he thought possible and led him to a life of service. He has since spoken at over 7,500 events and served in his ministry because of the change ignited by the words of Billy Casper.
The truth is that we are all in a battle of sorts. Scarred and injured from the things of this world and the workings of Satan. At times, our eye has offended and been plucked out as the savior admonished. Some of us may even feel beyond repair.
Perhaps this is why Alma asks, “Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” Alma knows for him and for many of us, it is a mighty, miraculous and painful change. There is a difference between change and “mighty change.” Mighty change is to change our very nature. To change us from proud to meek, from wayward to submissive, from full of enmity to full of love, and from natural to spiritual.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:7)
Our mighty change CAN begin with the word of God. Alma 5:13 says, “And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a might change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.”
Mighty change: Begins with the word of God, is wrought in your heart; and requires humility, putting your trust in the true and living God, and faithfulness until the end. While all of these principles of change are necessary and important, the key to mighty and lasting change is Jesus Christ. That is what makes the mighty and miraculous happen. Alma says,
“…for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him…who should come to redeem his people from their sins.” (Alma 5:21).
When we choose Christ, we choose change. The world would cause us to think we can’t change. As we compare ourselves to others in the world, satan would have us doubt our ability to change. To this Elder Holland said,
“I testify that [God] loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, ‘robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb.’”[v]
Let’s examine just three of the many principles taught by Alma in these chapters.
1. “I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (Alma 5:19)
Those who have undergone a change of heart also exhibit a change of lifestyle. In my experience, an immediate change in lifestyle may occur but a lasting lifestyle change requires a long-term consistent path of staying close to God, mighty prayer and intentional living. It may even include frequent failings. But it is in the repenting and renewing that real engraving takes place.
Alma did not say “written” upon your countenances. Writing is too quick. Engraving takes time. It is more painstaking and requires the chiseling necessary to refine our character. That’s where repenting and renewing begin to engrave into our very nature the word of God because we not only know but also do what we believe.
Keep in mind that failure is part of the journey. It is easy in the midst of failure to want to give up and give in. But your Savior “will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12). He did this so he could not only relate to us, but also change us to become more like him. When we come to him, and exercise even a little faith, we slowly take on his countenance, his resemblance.
The dictionary defines countenance as: an expression, mood, character, aspect, resemblance, demeanor, bearing and composure. Wouldn’t you like to have the mood, character and demeanor of Christ? This is what happens when we don’t give up or give in. It happens when we try again when we don’t feel like trying anymore. When we come to him repeatedly through repentance, he can and will change us.
“No matter what our spiritual condition, time spent alone with our Heavenly Father in prayer and meditation can lead to insight and personal growth. Through this process, which can be like looking at ourselves in a mirror, we may discover things about ourselves that need changing. At other times, we may find that the reflection we see does indeed mirror the Lord’s image. One sister recently described such a personal experience:
“‘One evening, during fervent prayer about some serious difficulties in my life, I felt the comforting warmth of Heavenly Father’s love radiating through my body. As I gratefully closed my prayer and arose to dry my tears, I glanced into the mirror. At that moment there was no doubt that the Spirit had, at least briefly, touched and refined my physical features, as well as my heart. Its visible effects faded within seconds, but the feeling of absolute love remained with me for a time. This experience has deepened my desire to be more worthy of the Spirit’s companionship.”[vi]
Speaking to a BYU audience, Brent W. Webb shared this story:
“While serving in a campus bishopric several years ago, I became acquainted with a young woman who had become mired in serious sin. When she first reported to us, her appearance was disheveled and grubby, and she was wearing tattered jeans and a flannel shirt. Her posture was poor, her shoulders were curved, and her head was bent in shame. Her face, which rarely wore a smile, was veiled by uncombed hair. But the impression she radiated even more vividly was that she felt “vile,” which was obviously manifest in her person and demeanor. As described in Isaiah and repeated in 2 Nephi, in the lives of the unrighteous, “the show of their countenance doth witness against them” (2 Nephi 13:90).
“This young woman was suffering from a severe form of the kind of heart disease I have discussed today. After nearly a year of her working closely with the bishop, I was struck by her transformation. Her repentance had borne fruit, and her heart had been purged of the painful sin she had carried at our first meeting. Wearing a beautiful, modest dress and with her shoulders and head erect and her hair drawn back from her smiling face, she spoke with humble confidence. Her purity showed in her eyes as she took on a brilliance she didn’t have before…. The changes in a person’s life who has undergone sincere repentance are often so dramatic that they are noticeable on the outside.”[vii]
Through a mighty effort, our mighty change may be manifest in the light of our countenance. In October 2005, President James E. Faust told the following story,
“I recently recalled a historic meeting in Jerusalem about 17 years ago. It was regarding the lease for the land on which the Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. You might wonder why we agreed not to proselyte. We were required to do so in order to get the building permit to build that magnificent building which stands in the historic city of Jerusalem. To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that non-proselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, one of our friends insightfully remarked [referring to the BYU students who were studying in Israel], ‘Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light that is in their eyes?’”
2. “Come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments….” (Alma 7:15).
To anyone reading this the words “which easily doth beset you” often stand out. At some point in our life, we all have sins that we too easily commit. And afterwards we wonder, “Why do I give into my weaknesses so easily?” Weaknesses have a purpose to tutor us, to help us learn to put the things of the spirit ahead of the things of the flesh. This is central to a celestial character. And once learned, these things lead us to new heights.
Borrowing an analogy from the sports world…
Ever wonder why a golf ball has dents or dimples? Wouldn’t a golf ball be better as a smooth, round ball? The truth is that a golf ball that has flaws flies further. The dimples on a golf ball create turbulence or more accurately turbulent flow. As a perfectly smooth sphere travels through the air, it pushes the air to either side. Because there is no drag on the surface of the ball, there is no “pull” to keep the airflow tucked in tightly around the ball. So, the air is pushed outward creating a larger wake on either side of the ball.
When a golf ball has dimples or flaws, it creates a slight drag or pull towards the surface of the ball and a turbulent wake behind the ball. This pulls the air closer in towards the surface of the golf ball pulling the air along the side and behind the ball. Because the wake is tucked in around the ball, the ball pushes less air as it travels and therefore flies further. Interestingly enough, the flaws or dimples on the ball also allow the ball to generate lift as it spins.
Ironically, when you look at a smooth or perfect sphere you would assume it would fly further. When you see a dimpled or imperfect golf ball you assume the dimples would limit the distance the ball could fly. The same thing is true in our life. When we first look at obstacles or mistakes, we see them as limiting. But what we soon learn is that the knowledge we gain from our flaws and mistakes actually allow us to steer our life more effectively and soar to new heights.
To those who struggle, I say this: God will bless you. The atonement of Jesus Christ can blot out your sins and also give you the strength to overcome sins which doth so easily beset you. Your spirit doesn’t overcome the flesh in some single dramatic event. Even Alma’s change of heart was not immediate.
Many may think that the mighty change wrought in Alma the younger was done in a matter of days, that his testimony and his change of heart was gained in one dramatic event. We know from his own words, this is not the case. It took years. Alma said:
“Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold I say unto you that they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” (Alma 5:45-46)
The way to a mighty change is to choose God daily. It is a daily choice. Habit can only carry us so far, we must choose and choose again. I know that when my mind is on the things of God, I choose God. So, prayer, fasting, reading the word of God, and removing my attention from the things of the world; I choose God more easily.
Choosing daily is not easy, but it is empowering. We will feel the power return to our lives as we choose again and again. So, choose today. You can change. Even the mighty change that may feel impossible, can and will happen. Elder Holland said,
“When we are lost, we can ‘come to ourselves,’ but we may not always be able to ‘find ourselves,’ and, worlds without end, we cannot ‘save ourselves.’ Only the Father and His Only Begotten Son can do that. Salvation is in Them only. So, we pray that They will help us, that They will ‘come out’ to meet and embrace us and bring us into the feast They have prepared.
“They will do this! The scriptures are replete with the promise that God’s grace is sufficient. This is one arena where no one has to claw or compete. Nephi declares that the Lord “loveth the [whole] world” and has given salvation freely.
“Hath [He] commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness?” Nephi asks. No! ‘All … are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden [at His hand].’
“Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, He pleads, and buy milk without money and honey without price. All are privileged, the one like unto the other. Walk peacefully. Walk confidently. Walk without fear and without envy. Be reassured of Heavenly Father’s abundance to you always.”[viii]
Change has always been a process. Change in people, change in thinking, and change in our way of life is done overtime on purpose and in faith.
Many of you know the story of John Woolman, an American Quaker, who lived through the middle years of the eighteenth century—before the church was restored to the earth. He is the man who almost single-handedly rid the Quakers of slavery. In the 18th century many American Quakers were affluent conservative slaveholders and John Woolman, as a young man, strongly believed it was his calling to rid his beloved Society of this terrible practice.
“His method was unique. He didn’t raise a big storm about it or start a protest movement. His method was one of gentle but clear and persistent persuasion…. He accomplished his mission by journeys up and down the East Coast by foot or horseback visiting slaveholders. The approach was not to censure the slaveholders, but to raise questions: What does the owning of slaves do to you as a moral person? What kind of an institution are you binding over to your children? Man by man, inch by inch, by persistently returning and revisiting and pressing his gentle argument over a period of thirty years, the scourge of slavery was eliminated from this Society, the first religious group in America to formally denounce and forbid slavery among its members. One wonders what could have been accomplished with fifty John Woolmans or even five, traveling the length and breadth of the Colonies gently persuading people.”[ix]
Sins which doth easily beset us can be turned into strengths by clear and persistent persuasion and choosing the spirit over the flesh day by day, inch by inch and consistently repenting, remembering and revisiting the word of God. I know this is true.
Alma described Christ as one, “…who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.” (Alma 7:14). He is mighty to save and to cleanse. He can bring a mighty change, if we will come unto him.
3. “Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ….” (Alma 5:38).
Why does he call us in his own name?
In teaching about the name of Christ, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that when we participate in the sacrament ordinance we witness we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ (D&C 20:77). He says, “The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.”[x]
Elder Oaks continues, “King Benjamin told his people, ‘There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent….’ (2 Nephi 31:2) In the words of King Benjamin, ‘Whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.’ (Mosiah 5:9).
“Thus, those who exercise faith in the sacred name of Jesus Christ and repent of their sins and enter into his covenant and keep his commandments can lay claim on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Those who do so will be called by his name at the last day.
“When the Savior taught the Nephites following his resurrection, he referred to the scriptural statement that “ye must take upon you the name of Christ. He explained, ‘For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.’” (3 Nephi 27:5-6).
Christ calls to us in his name because that is the call of authority by which we rise with him in the last days. It is the name by which we call ourselves. It is the name by which we choose to be known. “For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?” (Mosiah 15:12).
Elder Oaks continues “In these great scriptures from the Book of Mormon, we learn that those who are qualified by faith and repentance and compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel will have their sins borne by the Lord Jesus Christ. In spiritual and figurative terms, they will become the sons and daughters of Christ, heirs to his kingdom. These are they who will be called by his name in the last day.”
So, when Christ calls to us in his name, we respond because we are known by that name. It is ours, it is how we identify ourselves. By observing our covenants we have come to know him and we recognize that his name is the authority by which all covenants will be kept and all prophesies fulfilled, and in his name we have safety and peace.
When you hear the name of Jesus Christ, do you feel a part of that name? Is it yours? Do you feel a part of him? Alma said,
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy…that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now this is the testimony which is in me.” (Alma 7:12-13).
In the last days, will he call out, “Sons and daughters of Christ” or “children of Christ” or will he say his name alone and we will respond? Will we be so familiar and relate so closely to his name, for Man of Holiness is his name, that we will respond? Man of holiness “reinforces the observation that God the Father is an exalted man of flesh and bones, and that every aspect of his character is Holy.”[xi]
Will a call in his name be a call to bring us to an exalted station? Will we feel his holiness in us? Through him will we have become holy? To be called by his name may mean so much more than most of us realize.
I’ll close with Alma’s testimony and mine, “…I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotton of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yean, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.” (Alma 5:48)
[i] E. Gene Davis, Get ‘Em Laughing, p. 231.
[ii] Lee Benson, Billy Casper gave and gave, until it ran out, Feb. 8, 2015 Deseret News.
[iii] Jim McCabe, Veteran credits Casper for saving his life, April 8, 2014, Golfweek.
[v] Jeffrey R. Holland, The Other Prodigal, April 2002 General Conference address.
[vi] His Image in Our Countenances, The Visiting Teacher, June 1996.
[vii] Brent W. Webb, Repentence: A Mighty Change of Heart, BYU Speeches, May 18, 1999.
[viii] Jeffrey R. Holland, The Other Prodigal, April 2002 General Conference address.
[ix] Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, Paulist Press, NJ, 1977.
[x] Dallin H. Oaks, Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ, April, 1985 General Conference.
[xi] Gerald E. Jones, Man of Holiness, byu.edu/index.php/man_of_holiness.
DeeJune 3, 2020
Thank you so much Brother McKay Christensen ! This was one of the most heart touching, and significant articles I have read in quite a while. Every day I pray for a 'change'. A change to become a better person than I was the day before. I am indeed a 'dimpled golf ball' and my goal is to just fly straighter and further each day. Thank you for providing my mind with a spiritual meal that will take me through the day and many more.