A talk given on Sunday, July 24, 2011:
As most of you know, I have been a member of the church for about 2 1/2 years. If you’re out of diapers, you’ve likely been here longer than I have. You know it hasn’t been very long when you still count in partial years. Ask a child, “How old are you now? 3?” and she’ll say, “No. I’m 3 1/2”. That changes though. When people ask me how old I am now, I round down to the nearest decade. Still, chances are you know far more about this church than I do. Even so, at its heart, living this gospel is fairly simple. It isn’t easy, necessarily, but it isn’t complicated.
I haven’t been in this church for a very long time, but I have been on this earth for a pretty long time, so I’m hoping that I will say something today that helps you, or at least interests you, especially if it’s also correct.
When I first began to read about this church, I started with the Articles of Faith. Number one: We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. Check. Number two: We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. Ding, ding, ding!
In my Catholic upbringing, I learned that God created Adam and Eve in his own image and likeness. They lived in intimate unity with God, with a promise of immortality if they obeyed the one simple commandment not to eat the fruit of one tree. God also gave them their agency. They were tempted by the devil, and they chose to partake of the forbidden fruit, and by doing so, they broke the one rule they had. From that point, all mankind was born into what is called original sin. We were not punished for Adam’s sin, but because of Adam’s sin, we all became capable of committing actual sin, those times when we chose our own wills over God’s.
The Catholic church believes that we are not responsible for the consequences of our actions until we have reached the age of reason, usually that is at seven years of age. But from the time of birth, we all carry original sin. This is why Catholics baptize infants: they haven’t committed any actual sins, but they are baptized to wash them clean of original sin. That always bothered me. I’m not saying I’m better than Adam, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done the same thing Adam did (or worse), but I don’t like carrying his sin simply because I am human. That all mankind is in a fallen state I accept, but to say that I had already sinned just irritated me. So it was wonderful to me to learn that Latter-day Saints don’t carry that burden. I’m not entirely sure I even read the rest of the Articles of Faith.
Anyway, here we all are, and our goal is to return to that intimate unity with God that we enjoyed in premortality and that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall. We know it must have been wonderful because we chose to take advantage of the opportunity to enter mortality and do whatever needs to be done to return to Heavenly Father’s presence. We really don’t know exactly what heaven will be like, but we did when we made that decision (or at least we had a good idea since we were in his presence when we made the decision). As the young women of this ward know very well, it won’t be heaven for me unless there’s chocolate. So how do we get ourselves there? Of course we have Jesus Christ as the perfect example of what needs to be done. Our goal is to become Christ-like.
In the days when Alma and Ammon and their people kept falling into bondage, they were repeatedly reminded to turn to the Lord, to trust in the Lord, and to serve the Lord. Using these three tools, we come as close to being Christ-like as possible under our own power.
Turn to the Lord
We have these dramatic stories of people who turn to the Lord: Alma the Younger gets smacked to the ground by an angel with the voice of thunder. King Lamoni goes into a dead faint for three days. Luckily, his wife said that at least to her he didn’t stink. On the road to Damascus, Paul is blinded by the light and gets chewed out directly by Jesus. Don’t you sometimes feel a little cheated? Where’s my burning bush? Why didn’t I get an angel? These stories, of course, have been told for thousands of years because they are extreme. These are the stories that would be told on the evening news, or whatever today’s equivalent is (trending topics on Twitter). But if we examine the principles in those stories, we will probably find that we have experienced some or all of them in our own quiet way, with just a bit less fanfare.
To turn to the Lord, we begin with the first principle of the Gospel, and that is faith. Alma says we can begin with even just a desire to believe. His next step is to plant the seed; the seed refers to the words of God, the scriptures, and the words of our prophets. Faith is sometimes defined as belief that is strong enough to cause us to act. That is what we are doing when we plant the seed: taking action. We nourish it by continuing to study and learn. We participate in the ordinances and then are obedient to those covenants we find there. But this takes time. This seed we are cultivating is not a Chia pet.
Ezra Taft Benson said, “Becoming Christ-like is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible.” Imperceptible. That means change happens so slowly that most of the time we can barely perceive it. Okay, so we turn to the Lord by continuing to place one foot in front of the other. As time passes, we can look back and see how far we have come. One of the cool things about getting older, especially if you keep a journal, is that you can look back and see how much you have grown over time. The other cool thing about getting older is leaving middle school in your past.\
Trust in the Lord
We’re alive, and because we’re alive, we know bad stuff is going to happen. Injuries, storms, sickness, heartaches, worries, teenagers (j/k, teenagers). We understand the plan of salvation. it includes a premortal life, a life here on earth, and a new life after death. Knowing that this mortal life is just one short phase gives us eternal perspective. We know that this life is a time of testing, and we must prove ourselves worthy to get where we want to be in the next life. We trust that going through bad times here on earth is important for our spiritual development. Opposition and disappointment are necessary to protect our agency. We must learn that our actions have consequences, and we must trust that all that happens to us here, whether it’s of our own doing or not, will be for our own good.
The Nehors of today would have us believe that there is no life other than this one, and therefore we can do what we like while we’re here because there will be no consequences. We know that isn’t true, and we know that Satan is the one who wanted to skip all the testing and adversity. he didn’t care about our agency; he simply wanted glory for himself.
The plan of salvation includes a Savior who understands our trials. He took on himself all of our troubles so that he could learn how to help us when we’re weak. When we listen to the Spirit, we are listening to Christ. When we receive promptings of the Spirit, we trust those promptings, and we learn to be Christ-like.
Serve the Lord
When we are baptized, we promise to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. It isn’t always our first choice to do those things. As natural men and women, we tend to focus on ourselves an don those close to us. But once that seed we planted begins to grow into faith, we let go of concerns about ourselves and turn our attention toward others and begin to serve. We do so because we know it is right, and as a reward for that obedience, the Lord pours out his Spirit more abundantly on us.
I have seen the faces and attitudes of our youth as we have engaged in service projects. They feel good knowing that they have helped someone. But what they may not realize is that their reward is not just the gift of the Holy Ghost, but also special gifts of the Spirit: joy, peace, gentleness, and goodness. We are blessed with Christ-like qualities as we serve each other.
Thus we see (I plagiarized that, please don’t tell my English teacher) that as we turn to the Lord, trust in the Lord, and serve the Lord, we are obedient to the gospel. We use Christ as our example, and as we try to act the way he did, over time we are blessed to become more like him. As we carry Christ in our minds, in our hearts, and in our hands, we come closer to achieving heaven right here on earth. We recognize that our faith continues to grow; we focus on what we learn from our trials rather than on the difficulties themselves; and we rejoice in the spirit of the Lord that comes with service.
I leave these thoughts with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.