Sunday, January 20, 2019

Believe Christ

Serving here in Indiana as a senior missionary I enjoy listening to the younger missionaries relate the experiences they are having as they teach families about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it changes their lives, both the missionaries and the families they teach. I love hearing their testimony of how the individuals they are teaching learn to apply the atonement of Jesus Christ in their lives, enter the waters of baptism and then receive the Holy Ghost.

I am reminded of a young man that I taught when I was a young missionary in the Alaska British Columbia Mission. It was so long ago that Parley P. Pratt was my companion, LOL! It seems a long time ago, but it was only 44 years ago. This young man had no problem believing in the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. He loved reading the Book of Mormon and had a testimony that it was true, but he would not be baptized.

After many visits and questions on why he did not want to be baptized he finally said that he could not be baptized because his sins were so bad that he would never be forgiven. It was too late for him and there was no way back. We had a discussion about the atonement of Jesus Christ and he said that he believed in Jesus Christ but just felt that he was past redemption and beyond Christ’s reach.

In an Ensign article titled “Believing Christ”, Stephen E. Robinson said:

To have faith in Jesus Christ is not merely to believe that he is who he says he is. Both as a bishop and as a teacher, I have heard several variations on a theme of doubt. Some have said, “Bishop, I’ve sinned too horribly. I’ll be active in the Church, and I hope for some reward. But I couldn’t ever hope to be exalted after what I’ve done.” Others have said, “I’m weak and imperfect. I don’t have all the talents that Brother Jones (or Sister Smith) does. I’ll never be the bishop (or the Relief Society president). I’m just average. I expect my reward in eternity will be a little lower than theirs.”

“All of these are variations on the same theme: “I do not believe Christ can do what he claims. I have no faith in his ability to exalt me.”

“The great truth of the gospel is that we have a Savior who can and will save us from ourselves, from what we lack, from our imperfections, from the carnality within us, if we seek his help.”

Brother Robinson then told of an experience he had with his daughter. She wanted a bike and so he told her: “if she saved all her pennies, she would eventually have enough to buy a bike”. Then he forgot about it until she came to him with a jar of pennies and asked if they could go buy the bike. They went and looked at bikes and she finally found the bike she wanted. When she saw the price of the bike, she burst into tears saying she would never have enough money.

Brother Robinson asked how much money she had and she said: “sixty-one cents”. He told that if she would give him the money and a hug he would pay the rest. She rode the bike home as he drove slowly. He then said:

“As I drove beside her, I thought of the atonement of Christ. We all desperately want the celestial kingdom. We want to be with our Father in Heaven. But no matter how hard we try, we come up short. At some point all of us must realize, “I can’t do this by myself. I need help.” Then it is that the Savior says, in effect, All right, you’re not perfect. But what can you do? Give me all you have, and I’ll do the rest.”

How many of us, like brother Robinson’s daughter think we will never have enough to buy our bike or get into the celestial kingdom? Or like the young man that would not be baptized, think that we are too far gone for the Lord to forgive us?

I testify that we must not only have faith in Jesus Christ, but we must believe him when he says: 

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) If we have the faith to cry as one father asked of Christ: “help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24), then we can all be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.

I welcome your comments and questions.

Where Justice, Mercy, and Love Meet

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Having Eyes and Seeing Not

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe in living prophets, just like Moses, Elijah and other Old Testament prophets. Today that prophet is Russell M. Nelson. We believe that he receives revelation in the same manner that all the Old Testament prophets did, directly from God. In the past year that President Nelson has been the president of The Church since January 14, 2018. Members of The Church have witnessed the blessings of having a living prophet to guide us.

We have witnessed the change in home and visiting teaching to “ministering”, a change in Melchizedek priesthood quorums, the change in Sunday meeting times, a change to family centered gospel study, 19 new temples announced in one year, and a change in how young men and women advance in the priesthood and the young women’s program. These changes are just a few examples, there are others that this type of forum does not allow me to discuss due to the sacredness of the topics. I understand that this is just the beginning. President Nelson just this past October said:

“We’re witnesses to a process of restoration,” said the prophet. “If you think the Church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come. … Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.” (Mormon Newsroom)

I can’t wait to see what is next, we live in an exciting time of growth for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But all members have not accepted these changes with the faith that they should. As members of The Church we are taught that we need to have our own testimonies of the restoration of The Gospel of Jesus Christ and living prophets, we do not live by blind faith alone. If we don’t have personal testimonies that President Nelson is the Lord’s living prophet, when changes in policies and programs happen those member’s faith can be challenged.

I know a bishop (not here in Indiana) whose members are angry with him because he wants to have the 11-year-old be ordained deacons, or their 11-year-old daughters leave primary and join the young women’s program. They are also upset their older children are being encouraged to be ordained to other priesthood offices in January instead of on their birthday, the way it used to be before the changes. When they asked this bishop what he thought, he said that they should follow the prophet’s counsel. They were upset when he did not agree with their desire to not follow Lord’s prophet.

It reminded me of something I read in a book called “Boxing The Lord In: And Other Ways We Hinder Revelation” by Stephen K. Hunsaker and Michelle K. Hunsaker. In his book, brother and sister Hunsaker share several habits that we have that limit The Lord in giving us answers to our prayers through revelation. One chapter is titled: “Casting Our Eyes About”. They reminded us of Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 8) where there were two distinct groups that made it to The Tree of Life and were able to partake of the fruit. One group once they had partaken of the fruit took their eyes off the tree and looked to those who were mocking and making fun of them. This group felt ashamed and fell away. The other group after partaking of the fruit kept their focus on The Tree (which represents the Savior Jesus Christ) and did not pay attention to those mocking and making fun of them. Because their focus was on the Savior, they were able to stay strong and not fall away. I highly recommend this book for anyone that would like to improve their relationship with the Savior and their prayers. You can go here to find more information.

I think it is interesting that the members of this ward, instead of questioning the change in the programs, were angry with the bishop for following the counsel of The Lord’s prophet. They were taking their eyes off “the tree” and giving in to the mocking of the world and in their own way letting go of the iron rod and falling away.

I must be careful in stating this that I do not criticize the lack of faith of someone to the point that I think that I am somehow better than them or more faithful. There is no place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for anyone to judge why someone, in our limited opinion, is not following the prophet or other church leaders, including their local leaders. We simply cannot expect to understand what causes a member to think or believe the way they do. We can only love and encourage them to gain a greater testimony of the inspiration that comes to those whom the Lord calls to preside over us. We must accept everyone where they are and hope that we can all progress on the Gospel path to the tree of life together and without letting go of the iron rod as we go.

I am excited for the changes that have come and for those that we anticipate coming. For those that have yet to gain a testimony of the changes I challenge them to put it to the test. Go to the Lord in prayer and find out for yourself “if these things are not true” and I promise that you will know “by the power of the Holy Ghost that they are true” (Moroni 10:4)

The prophet Jeremiah described the people that do not accept the Lord’s counsel as “foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21). I hope that as members of the Lord’s Church we will follow his prophet and have eyes that see and that we will keep our focus on the Savior and not give heed to those who would distract us or cause us to fall away.

Your questions and comments are welcome, and thank you for sharing this message with your social media friends. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Come Follow Me

Today members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started the new Sunday schedule of worship and a new curriculum of study. The three-hour block that began in 1980 was shortened to two hours; one hour for sacrament meeting and fifty minutes for Sunday School and other priesthood and auxiliary lessons. The new curriculum titled “Come Follow Me” will be used for all Sunday School, Primary, Young Men and Women classes, as well as priesthood and relief society instruction.
Elder Cook in his October General Conference address that explained the changes were more than shortening the Sunday meeting times, but included four purposes for the changes:

1.     Deepening conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthening faith in Them.

2.     Strengthening individuals and families through home-centered, Church-supported curriculum that contributes to joyful gospel living.

3.     Honoring the Sabbath day, with a focus on the ordinance of the sacrament.

4.     Helping all of Heavenly Father’s children on both sides of the veil through missionary work and receiving ordinances and covenants and blessings of the temple.

As member of The Church we can come closer to the Savior Jesus Christ by improving our individual and family gospel study program and improving our Sabbath worship. The Church’s role in the salvation of its members is more of a supportive role and places the major responsibility on families and individuals.

This week my wife and I continued to have scripture study together by reading the Book of Mormon. For our individual scripture study program, we are now reading the “Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families” lessons. Today when we came home from our Sunday meetings, we discussed what we had learned from our individual study. It was a fun experience to be able to discuss the scriptures we read during the week on our own and the impressions we had received, and I know if we continue to do this each week our testimony and understanding of the scriptures will deepen and our love for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will increase.

When the rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life, Jesus to him that he should keep the commandments and then the young man said he had done that all his life. The young man then asked, “what lack I yet?” Jesus told him to sell all he had and then “come, follow me” (Luke 8:22). We have all been given the same invitation to come follow Jesus Christ. We may not have to sell all we have, but we each have something that we consider as precious as the young man’s wealth that we must be willing to “sell”. Are we willing to sell whatever it is that is keeping us from coming closer to the Savior or will we go a way sorrowing because we are not willing to sacrifice our ‘wealth”?

My wife and I are excited about these changes and the opportunity to accept the invitation to come follow our Savior. As we increase our personal and family gospel study it will bring us closer to the Savior and at the same time, we will grow closer as a couple.
Your comments and questions are welcome.