Saturday, March 7, 2015

My final talk in Chapin Branch

Brother Jacobs asked Jack and me to speak in Sacrament Meeting on February 22 - two days after our "farewell party."  Who knew we wouldn't be leaving until the 15th of April?  :o)  Anyway, here it is, recorded for posterity...

     A few months ago, two Sister Missionaries were teaching a couple who seemed interested in the Gospel and were progressing very well, or so the Sisters thought.  One day they announced that they were no longer interested in learning about the Church or being baptized.  They told the Sisters, “We just don’t want to jump through your hoops.”
     I have thought a lot about that statement.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I don’t feel like I am compelled to jump through hoops.  I assume that the couple was talking about the commandments members are asked to keep before and after they are baptized.  I wondered how many commandments are required for membership in this church.  According to Preach My Gospel, there are about a dozen commandments the Lord requires us to keep for membership in His church.  Some of them are specific and some are very general and may be many faceted.  Here’s the list..

We are asked to be obedient,
to pray often,
to study the scriptures,
to keep the Sabbath Day holy,
to be baptized and confirmed.
to follow the prophet,
to keep the 10 Commandments,
to live the Law of Chastity,
to obey the Word of Wisdom,
to keep the Law of Tithing,
to observe the Law of the Fast,
to obey and honor the laws of the land.

     Obedience is the first law of heaven.  We are given commandments because our Heavenly Father loves us.  He knows what we need and what we need to do to be happy.  He gives us commandments so we can choose to obey.  If we obey, He will bless us.  He has told us, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.  (D&C 82:10)
I was intrigued by the Visiting Teaching message for the month of January.  Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “As we walk in obedience to the principles and commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we enjoy a continual flow of blessings promised by God in His covenant with us.  Those blessings provide the resources we need to act rather than simply be acted upon as we go through life…Obedience gives us greater control over our lives…”  If we keep the commandments, the Lord is bound to bless us.  It is amazing to me that He has given us the power to control our lives.
     Prayer doesn’t seem like a requirement to me.  Prayer is a great privilege!  Because of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we can pray to Almighty God and He will hear and answer our prayers!  As it says in the Primary theme, we can pray to Heavenly Father, anytime and anywhere!  It is comforting to know that He is always there for us.  He will comfort us, help us, strengthen us and guide us.  He will forgive us and teach us.  He is our Father.  He loves it when we pray to him, and hopefully we don’t only pray to Him when we are in need.  We have so much to be grateful for.  We should be thanking Him every day – many times every day!
     We’ve been asked to study the scriptures!  How blessed we are to have the Word of God at our fingertips! We’ve not only got the Bible, but we have a second witness of Jesus Christ, The Book of Mormon - also the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants.   These scriptures are written records of God’s dealings with His children as recorded by prophets under the influence of the Holy Ghost.  We are also blessed to have the words of latter-day apostles and prophets who teach us over the pulpit every 6 months during General Conference.  As we study the scriptures, the door is opened to personal revelation that will guide us in our lives and strengthen our testimonies and knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I loved Sister Smith telling us that when she read the Book of Mormon in French, she saw things that she had never seen before.  Every time we read the Book of Mormon, we learn something new that is pertinent to our lives at that moment!

     Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a commandment that, when kept, sets us apart from most of the world.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The matter of Sabbath observance remains…as one of the great tests which divides the righteous from the worldly and wicked.” Great blessings are promised when we keep the Sabbath Day holy!  In Leviticus we are told, “Ye shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.  If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments and do them, then I will give you rain in due season and the land shall yield her increase.  And ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.  And I will give you peace in the land…For I will have respect unto you and make you fruitful and establish my covenant with you.  And I will set my tabernacle (that is my temple) among you and I will walk among you and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.”  On the Sabbath Day we enjoy a rest from our labors.  We strengthen one another when we attend church services.  We partake of the sacrament to remember the sacrifice and atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We renew our covenants and show that we are willing to repent of our sins.  As we keep the Sabbath Day holy our lives will be filled with joy and peace.

     Most of us, if we are over the age of eight, have been baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  By doing so, we entered into a covenant with the Lord that we will always remember Him and keep His commandments.  We have also promised to stand as witnesses of God at all times and promised to help bear one another’s burdens.  In return, God promises us that we are forgiven of our sins and blesses us with the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.  I am so grateful for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  I testify that He comforts us, He warns us of impending dangers, He testifies to us of the truth, He teaches us and He guides and directs us in everything we do IF we keep the commandments and are worthy of His influence.

     We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asked to follow the prophet.  The Lord has told us, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”   D&C 1:38 God has always sent prophets to reveal His truths to His children.  He raised up Joseph Smith to restore His gospel to the earth in this final dispensation.  President Thomas S. Monson guides and directs the Church today.  He is God’s spokesperson.  He will not lead us astray!  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke to a group of Seminary and Institute teachers this month at the Tabernacle in SLC.  He said, “We know for certain that if or when everything else in the latter days is down or dying: if governments, economics, industries and institutions crumble; if societies and cultures become a quagmire of chaos and insecurity, nevertheless through it all the gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that bears the gospel to the world will stand undefiled in God’s hand until the very Son of God Himself comes to rule and reign as Lord of lords and King of kings.  Nothing is more certain in this world.  Nothing is more sure.  Nothing could be more of an antidote to anxiety.  I testify that we are safe in following the Lord’s chosen prophet!

     We are asked to keep the Ten Commandments so that we will know what to do and what to avoid in order to receive the blessings God wants to give us.  If we keep the Ten Commandments, He will give us joy, peace of conscience, and lasting happiness.  1 – Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  2 – Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.  3 – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain.  4 – Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.  5 – Honour thy father and thy mother.  6 – Thou shalt not kill.  7 – Thou shalt not commit adultery.  8 – Thou shalt not steal.  9 – Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.  10 – Thou shalt not covet.  These commandments are still valid today.  They teach us how to worship, show reverence for God and how to treat one another.

     Living the law of chastity requires faithfulness in thought and action.  We must keep our thoughts clean and be modest in our dress, speech and actions.  We must avoid pornography in any form.  We should treat the God-given procreative power and our bodies as sacred. Those who keep the law of chastity enjoy the strength that comes from self-control.  They enjoy confidence and trust in their family relationships.  They can enjoy more fully the influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives. 

     Another requirement of membership in the Lord’s Church is the Word of Wisdom.  Living the Word of Wisdom makes us free!  While some may consider this law of health as restrictive, those who live it realize the great blessing of being free from addictive substances such as alcohol, drugs, coffee, tea and tobacco.  The Lord promises blessings of health, strength, and protection against evil when we live the Word of Wisdom.  People who obey this law are also more receptive to spiritual truths.

     Tithing is an ancient, divine law.  The prophet Abraham paid tithes of all he possessed.  It is our privilege, as members of the Lord’s church, to contribute to the growth of the Kingdom of God.  I love paying tithing!  I think it is one of the easiest commandments to keep.  When we pay our tithing, the Lord promises to " the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it!  (Malachi 3:10)  At only one other time in the scriptures did the Lord open the windows of heaven – and that was during the great flood when Noah was prophet.  The blessings the Lord pours out may be temporal or spiritual, but they will come, and come in great abundance to those who pay an honest tithing.  We can feel confident that our tithing contribution is wisely put to use.  It builds and maintains temples and meeting houses, provides resources for teaching in churches, institutes and seminaries, pays the expenses of spreading the gospel throughout the world.  Elder Arrington pays the bills for the mission here in SC and we have seen, first hand, how much it costs to run a mission.   A friend once said to me, “I wish I had the luxury of paying tithing.  I just can’t afford it.”  Personally, I don’t understand how one could afford NOT to pay tithing!  It may take some faith to get started, but I know from experience that God keeps His promises! 

     Great blessings are available to those who obey God’s commandment to fast.  We have the opportunity to observe this law on the first Sunday of each month when we go without food and drink for two consecutive meals and contribute what we would pay for those meals to our bishop or branch president.  That money is then used for the care of the poor and the needy.  This contribution really costs us nothing, although we are encouraged to be as generous as our means allow.  As we care for the poor, we help fulfill our baptismal covenants to bear one another’s burdens. 

     The final requirement of church membership is that we obey and honor the laws of the country in which we live.  We are counseled to be good citizens, to participate in government and the political process and to give community service.

     Keeping the commandments brings an overflowing measure of joy into our lives.  Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to become like Him.  He wants us to return to live with Him someday, when our time on this earth is finished.  He wants us to be happy now, and has given us these commandments to insure our happiness in this life and in the world to come.  In D&C 130:20-21 it says, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”  I know that the Lord has given us commandments because He loves us.  If we keep His commandments, he is bound to bless us.  If we don’t keep His commandments, we have no promise. 

When people say they don’t want to jump through our hoops, I wonder what they do want.  I’m reminded of Elder Holland’s conference talk of April 2014.  He said, “It is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it…”

Like earthly parents who love and care about their children, Heavenly Father sets boundaries and rules for His children – for their protection and for their happiness.  If we want His blessings in our lives, we will keep His commandments.  In Mosiah 2:22, 24, King Benjamin tells us, “And Behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments, he doth bless you and prosper you.  He doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you, for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you.  And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be forever and ever.” It is our choice.  We can, in many ways, control our destiny.  The Lord has said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  I pray that we might all choose to do this, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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