Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Pathway to Faith

I had a friend come by my office the other day to say good-bye. He had finished his PHD and was leaving to go to Stanford for a post doctorate position. During the years that he was at Utah State University, we had many discussions and sometimes we ventured into religion. My friend does not believe in God or that there is anything after death but an end to everything.

I have often thought about what it would be like to not believe that there is life after death or that we do not have a loving Father in Heaven that wants us to return to him after this life is over. The Apostle Paul told us what it would be like if there was nothing after this life:

"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (Acts 15:19 )

As I have pondered this, it has caused me to reflect on why I have a belief in and hope for more than this life. When did I KNOW that God lives and Jesus is the Christ and what was the path that led me to this knowledge?

To help us better understand my journey, I would like to go to the scriptures and follow the path of the Peter, the fisherman as he becomes Peter the Apostle. In doing so, I am in no way comparing myself to Peter, but laying out the path that he took as an example of what we each need to be willing to follow which will lead us to faith. The first principle we need is faith. Not just faith, but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  What does it mean to have faith ? The Apostle Paul says that faith is:

 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

The Prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon describes faith when he says:

And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Alma 32:21)

Remember when Peter first met Jesus? In Luke Chapter 5 we find Peter and his brother were involved in their daily labors as a fisherman. Jesus came to them and told them to cast out their nets into the water. Peter told Jesus that they had toiled all night and had caught nothing, but being obedient he did as Jesus asked and their nets were so full their nets broke. It was then that Jesus told Peter and Andrew to follow him and become fishers of men. The scriptures said that they straightway left their nets and followed Jesus.

On another occasion, Peter and the other disciples were again in a ship. This time there was a storm raging, when Jesus comes towards them walking on the water? Peter recognizes the Master and asks Jesus if he can come to him on the water.  Jesus simply says, “come”. Peter, not doubting his human abilities leaves the boat and walks on the water. As long as Peter’s focus was on Jesus he was able to walk on the water, but then he loses his focus and sees the waves and begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus for help and the scriptures say:

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 11:31 )

Peter had faith in Christ or he would not have asked to come to him on the water. So why did he fail. Maybe it was because his faith was the kind of faith that I talked about last week, the faith of a child – young and untested. Later Jesus asked the disciples as question:

13….Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (“Matthew 16:13-17)

Through revelation from God, our Heavenly Father, Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter now had a testimony of who Jesus was. But his faith was going to be tested even more. The night before Jesus was to give his life as a sacrifice for all mankind, he gathered his Apostles into a room to celebrate the Passover and spend some last hours teaching them what was going to happen.  After the supper Jesus took a basin of water and started washing the feet of the Apostles. Peter thinking this was the task of a servant tells Jesus he should not wash his feet. When the Savior tells Peter if he cannot wash his feet, Peter will have no part with him, Peter still not understanding what Jesus was trying to do says that he should not only wash his feet, but his hands and head. The Savior being patient tries to explain that he only needed to wash his feet.

Later that same evening Jesus tells Peter that before the night was over he will have denied knowing Jesus three times and Peter tells the Lord: “Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. (Matthew 26:35). But later that night it’s deny, deny, deny.

After the death of Christ, we find Peter with a few of the Apostles out fishing again. Why after all they had been through did Peter go back to his worldly labors? Did he think that the last three years were done and that was it? As they are coming in from a long night with empty nets they see a man on the shore. He asks them to cast their nets into the water. Peter responds by telling the person on the shore that they had toiled all night and caught nothing, but being obedient they cast off their nets and it is so full the nets brake. This begins to be familiar to Peter and he takes a closer look at the person on the shore and recognized it is Jesus. He jumps in the water and swims to meet him where there is some fish cooking and Peter and Jesus have an important conversation about his love for the Savior or the fish (which represented worldly things). Elder Jeffry R. Holland, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, puts the conversation between the risen Savior and Peter in perspective when he says:

“The Savior … continues to look into the eyes of His disciple and says again, “Peter, do you love me?” Undoubtedly confused a bit by the repetition of the question, the great fisherman answers a second time, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.

The Savior again gives a brief response, but with relentless scrutiny He asks for the third time, “Peter, do you love me?” By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically—but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, “Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”

To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.” (“The First and Great Commandment”, Elder Jeffry R. Holland, General Conference Address, October 2012)
Did Peter finally get the message of what faith in the Lord Jesus Christ meant? Sometime after the Savior had taught the people after his resurrection and the Day of Pentecost had finally come, we find Peter and John going into the temple. As they enter the temple, they see a man there begging for alms. The man asked Peter and John for an alms, but Peter simply said to the man: “Look on us”. The man was expecting to receive something, but instead Peter said:

Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. (Acts 3:6-8)

Peter did not just tell him to rise up, he took him by the hand and lifted him onto his feet. Peter was fully converted. The transition of Peter the fisherman to Peter the Apostle was complete. He finally understood what the Savior was trying to tell him on the shore by the sea. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something we just feel. It is manifest in the way we live our lives. It is active not passive. The first principle of faith is that we must act on our hope that Jesus Christ is our Savior and do the things that he did. We must be willing to follow the example that Christ set in his ministry and be active in helping all of Heavenly Father’s children, our brothers and sister come to know the same things that we are seeking. Only then will our hope in Christ bear the fruit of true faith.

Next week, I will discuss my experiences in The Path to Faith – Part 2,

Your comments and questions are welcome.

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