Saturday, December 6, 2008

Witnesses For Christ - Sunday

The following is a talk I've written for church, I've been able to recycle it already, and it's been a year since I've given a talk in church. I don't know exactly what I've done to get this, as some in our ward have given multiple talks in the short three years we've been here. I'm not complaining, and hopefully did not just jinx myself for 2009. Here it is:

Witnesses For Christ

“Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.” Thomas Carlyle.
Similarly James the apostle told us “Be Ye doers of the word, not hearers only deceiving your own selves.”

As latter-day saints, members of the church of Jesus Christ, we have taken it upon ourselves to be witnesses, disciples of Him. Students of the master teacher, we are to put into practice the lessons that he taught. It is a daunting task, no doubt, when one realizes the enormity and scale of our responsibility. However, the Lord does not expect us to know and even practice all that will be required at once. The Lord councils us; that we will be taught precept upon precept, line upon line; do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means. He will not abandon us in time of need, the Lord will be there gently shepherding us according to His will, if we are but compliant to follow.

In the 117th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord did not expect Oliver Granger to be perfect, perhaps not even to succeed. "When he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord" (D&C 117:13). We cannot always expect to succeed, but we should try the best we can. "For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts" (D&C 137:9).

While in the throes of depression, I sank into the mists of darkness. Much like that mentioned by Lehi and Nephi in the vision of the Tree of Life. The mist is not far from the iron rod; in fact many lost their way. Only those who clung to the iron rod were able to make it safely to the tree. For a moment, then and at the beginning of the illness I was quite unable to attend or perform all the duties that I had been called to do.

Depression began to creep and fill every aspect of my life, snuffing out that which was good and pleasant. It got to the point where even the things which I held dearest and cherished had no appeal to me. Then I started to suffer spiritually, where once I had desire and intent to follow through with my duties, I resented and shirked my responsibilities. My loving wife thankfully clung to the rod. She would stand by my side, reach out for me. It was because of the love that she has, that she had the strength and fortitude to go through those dark mists.

For over a year that lasted, I’m not sure when the mist began to dissipate, but I had started reading the scriptures again and praying; I came to Jacob 1:19 that said that Jacob and Joseph would take upon themselves the responsibility of discipleship otherwise the blood of the people would be upon them. My thought was, I need to be released, and the Lord surely wouldn’t expect me to take upon this responsibility with my condition. So I spoke with my branch president. During all that time he was patient, kind, and loving. During this meeting he was bold, but not overbearing in the declaration that the Lord did want me in the calling, and though I would have trials I would need to rely upon the Lord to fulfill my duties. It was then, after some more reflection and study that I had a spiritual reawakening. I knew who I was; I am a child of God. I knew my purpose and what I had to do. I planted my faith fully in the Lord, turning over to him everything. I am a child of God, I came here to earth so that I may learn and grow spiritually so that I may be able to return to Him. I am a witness that His Son, Jesus Christ is the savior, the Son of God. I am to share that with those whom I can. All of us are disciples, students, witnesses of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

We are here to help one another. As disciples of the One whom we follow, we must learn of Him. President Howard W. Hunter challenged us to “Know Him more than we know him, to love him more than we love him, and to serve Him more than we serve Him.” When we are in the service of our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God. Even if we have to kneel, embrace, and lift another.

I wish now to slightly change the angle of the message. We now know that each of us has some bit of responsibility once we’re members of the church. However, there are those who have gotten lost in the darkness, in the mists. Some have gone in open rebellion, and all we can do is love them and wait for a change of heart. However, there are some who may have just lost the path.

As one who drifted, I can say it’s embarrassing to have done that. Self depreciating thoughts arise disqualifying any intimation that the spirit may whisper into the mind. It is now, as loving Disciples of Christ that we are to help Shepard them back in. President Faust counseled: “Our love of God must be pure, without selfish intent. The pure love of Christ must be the motive in our devotion.” This charity and love of our fellow men is what will help Shepard in the lost sheep. To befriend and love those within our flock as we love ourselves. As I mentioned previous, when I was inactive I was already dealing with embarrassment to not being where I knew I should be, but also ashamed about the depression I was feeling. When I did attend various functions, I felt like an outsider trying to come back in. It was this that manipulated my perception and enhanced my embarrassment when I would be welcomed with “Boy, I haven’t seen you in awhile.” Or receiving a phone call for Amber, and being told “I’ve missed seeing you.” Please don’t misunderstand me; I know that everyone was genuinely concerned. However, there was a change in how I was treated, naturally because instead of being active, I was now less active. The point that I am trying to make is that there should be no difference in the way in which one is treated. How do we do that? It’s hard. The answer, I believe lies in friendship; to build an intimate relationship with another so that we feel that we belong and to have developed mutual feelings of trust and emotional closeness.

The Prophet Joseph Smith, while incarcerated in Liberty jail, received revelation, which we can find in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants. He was told by the Lord: Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands. As peaceful and miraculous as the message is, to have heard the voice of the Lord, Joseph still marveled and was grateful after receiving letters from his wife Emma, Don C. Smith, and Bishop Partridge: Joseph says “Those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause or provocation, can have little idea how sweet the sound of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling; it brings up in an instant everything that is passed; it seized the present with the avidity of lightning; it grasps after the future with the fierceness of a tiger; it moves the mind backward and forward, from one thing to another, until finally all enmity, malice, and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings and mismanagements are slain victorious at the feet of hope; and when the heart is sufficiently contrite, then the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers-”

“Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism””. Joseph Smith

Elder Marlin K. Jensen said: “Years ago when I was serving as a bishop, a recently converted family moved into our rural Utah community. These good people had joined the Church in the eastern United States and had been warmly fellowshipped and put to work in a small branch there. When they came to our larger, more-established ward, they somehow slipped through the cracks. Some of the family members, particularly the father, became disenchanted with the Church and its members.

One Sunday morning when I noticed the father was missing from priesthood meeting; I left the meetinghouse and drove to his home. He invited me in, and we had a very honest conversation about the struggle he was having with his new faith and neighbors. After exploring various possibilities for responding to his concerns, none of which seemed to appeal to him very much, I asked him with a tone of frustration in my voice just what we could do to help him. I've never forgotten his reply:
"Well, bishop," he said (and I will need to paraphrase here slightly), "for heaven's sake, whatever you do, please don't assign me a friend."
I learned a great lesson that day. No one wants to become a "project"; we all want spontaneously to be loved. And, if we are to have friends, we want them to be genuine and sincere, not "assigned."

You are Disciples of Christ, when you are called upon to help your fellow man let your testimony shine through the mists of darkness. You will be as a light upon a hill that cannot be hid. When you share your testimony you will not need to use specialized words, or eloquent speech, nor will you have to be a scriptorian spouting doctrine. Rather your testimony will be shared with a visit, a telephone call, the comforting assurance that you will help your friend no matter the terrain. Our savior, shortly before his crucifixion, said to His disciples: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends.” We as latter-day saints could offer the support needed for one of our own. Hope is to be found in Christ Jesus, we as friends can offer encouragement. Encouragement is the fuel for hope.

President Faust said: “So, where should we make our stand? As we demonstrate our devotion to God by our daily acts of righteousness, He can know where we stand.”

There may be some out there who feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities that we have. If the only good we could do is to say our prayers or read the scriptures, let us do it! The Lord will guide us. Desire will lead to faith, faith leads to repentance, repentance leads to covenants, covenants lead to blessings, even that of the application of the Atonement and Eternal life.

In April it will have been 17 years since I was baptized. I was acquainted with the Church through my best friend. Most of my closest friends were members of the church. It was because of the intimacy of our friendship that I saw what drove their faith. In due time, I sought for truth, and desired to be closer to God. I was led to the church. Prepared by friendship, nurtured by friendship, and I developed a relationship with Deity. If we could extend ourselves to someone, just one person and befriend them, either less-active or not a member, with no other motive than friendship; a natural consequence will be the growth of church, and the spreading of the Gospel. I’ve been blessed to see associates from my youth join the church, and their children join the church. I know that the church is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the Book of Mormon is true. God lives. Afar we see the golden rest, to which the rod will guide, where, with the angels bright and blest, forever we’ll abide. I say these things, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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