Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Farewell Talk

Here's the transcript (more or less!) of my Farewell talk! I'm so grateful for all of you who came to listen to it, it turned out to be a wonderful experience for me :)           


          Wow, this is overwhelming! I actually don’t have a fear of public speaking, I’ve talked and sung before thousands of people before, but I don’t really like speaking in church because I get emotional about everything. And it’s hard to have coherent thoughts when your throat closes up in front of hundreds of people. This is also difficult because it’s my first real grown-up talk in Sacrament meeting; I have to speak for longer than 8 minutes. So I’d appreciate if you would pray in your heart that this goes well.

            It’s so good to see all your faces! I especially appreciate the friends and family who have traveled to come and hear me speak. I appreciate your support because I need it. Preparing for a mission has been one of the most difficult and challenging experiences, and I can testify that the adversary can always find ways to make you doubt if you are pursing good. I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, and plenty of those lessons I would have rather not learned. But I am grateful to be where I am. The big picture is becoming clearer and I couldn’t be more excited to share the gospel in Nicaragua.

            Today I was asked to speak on being a disciple of Christ and what it means to take his name upon us. I’d like to start with a quote from James E Faust. He said:

The word for disciple and the word for discipline both come from the same Latin root—discipulus, which means pupil. It emphasizes practice or exercise. Self-discipline and self-control are consistent and permanent characteristics of the followers of Jesus, as exemplified by Peter, James, and John, who indeed ‘forsook all, and followed him.’”

            Like many principles in our doctrine denote, being a disciple requires action. Discipleship requires doing something. It requires self-mastery. It requires doing all the Lord has asked. I’d like to turn to the words of Christ in the scriptures. In Luke 14:25-33 we read:

25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Now this parable isn’t the most straightforward, so I’ll quote Talmage to add insight. In Jesus the Christ he said:

“To the eager multitude Jesus applied a test of sincerity. He would have only genuine disciples, not enthusiasts of a day, ready to desert His cause when effort and sacrifice were most needed. Thus did He sift the people: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother and wife, and children, and brethren and sister, whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Literal hatred towards one’s family was not specified as a condition of discipleship; indeed a man who indulges hatred or any other evil passion is a subject for repentance and reformation. The preeminence of duty toward God over personal or family demands on the part of one who had assumed the obligations of a disciple was the precept… All who entered His service would be expected to maintain their self-sacrificing devotion.”

We have all committed to be Disciples of Christ by taking his name upon us when we entered the covenant of baptism. We all fall short of our covenant to consistently give our all to His cause, but the key is to keep trying. Are we are really asked is to be a little more like him and to strive to be better each day. That is all is really required. It was Gordon B. Hinckley who said, “Try a little harder to be a little better.”

Elder Faust said:

[Discipleship] is primarily obedience to the Savior. Discipleship includes many things. It is chastity. It is tithing. It is family home evening. It is keeping all the commandments. It is forsaking anything that is not good for us. Everything in life has a price. Considering the Savior’s great promise for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come, discipleship is a price worth paying. It is a price we cannot afford not to pay. By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings.

            I have seen the effects in my life of being obedient and not being obedient. I remember once in seminary listening to a lesson and thinking to myself, “They tell us to do this and this and this and this. How can I learn anything with all these constraints?” Then I walked back to the building and began noticing the other teenagers who did not have (or let) the gospel guide them. Many of them were making decisions that were extremely detrimental to their growth and many of them were unhappy with their lives. I  quickly realized that the commandments were keeping me safe from making bad decisions, and I became very grateful for them.

            What I would really like to address today is more specific to our day. I’ll draw a lot of my thoughts from a talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland titled “The Cost—and Blessings –- of Discipleship”. (It’s the one where he tells the story of the Sister Missionaries who had mashed potatoes thrown at them, if that helps trigger the memory). Elder Holland said:

“In addition to teaching, encouraging, and cheering people on (that is the pleasant part of discipleship), from time to time these same messengers are called upon to worry, to warn, and sometimes just to weep (that is the painful part of discipleship). They know full well that the road leading to the promised land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ of necessity runs by way of Mount Sinai, flowing with ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots.’”

As I mentioned before, preparing for a mission has been a humbling process. I was expecting a whole lot of milk and honey in preparing to leave, and though I’m now receiving some of it, the journey was made up of hardships. I have been tested and tried. As Elder Holland said, discipleship is hard. Doing what is right brings many blessings, but it is not always easy. You have to obey commandments you don’t understand, you will be compelled to do things you don’t want to, and people won’t always support what you’re doing. Sometimes you have to go it alone. It’s difficult in different ways for everyone, but Christ’s promise is that he will never forsake you. You never really have to go it alone. He understands. As Elder Faust said, Many think that the price of discipleship is too costly and too burdensome. For some, it involves giving up too much. But the cross is not as heavy as it appears to be. Through obedience we acquire much greater strength to carry it.” Christ’s promise is he will make you stronger.
To continue with Elder Holland,
“Sadly enough, my young friends, 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, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds… And what of those who just want to look at sin or touch it from a distance? Jesus said with a flash, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off. ‘I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword,’ He warned those who thought He spoke only soothing platitudes. No wonder that, sermon after sermon, the local communities ‘pray[ed] him to depart out of their coasts.’”
I am guilty of wanting a comfortable God. One who makes life simple, easy, and lets it run the way I want to. But we are little children in his eyes, and he knows that will do us no good. Because God loves us, he makes things difficult. We are here to learn, and I can attest that knowledge and growth are gained through experience.
Now here’s the really key lesson in Elder Holland’s talk, the part that is so applicable to us:
“Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once). Friends, especially my young friends, take heart. Pure Christlike love flowing from true righteousness can change the world. Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them.”
            Christ is asking us to spiritually defend ourselves in battle, a battle that isn’t as simple as it seems. This church is not only being attacked from the outside, but also the inside. We cannot, as Elder Nelson pointed out, “compartmentalize” our religious life. When we were baptized, we took upon ourselves Christ’s name, and we renew the promise to bear his name each week by taking the sacrament.  Taking upon ourselves Christ’s name includes defending him as we would defend ourselves.

But do not dismay. Though discipleship requires much, the blessings far outweigh the cost. Elder Faust said:

The blessings of discipleship are readily available to all who are willing to pay the price. Discipleship brings purpose to our lives so that rather than wandering aimlessly, we walk steadily on that strait and narrow way that leads us back to our Heavenly Father. Discipleship brings us comfort in times of sorrow, peace of conscience, and joy in service—all of which help us to be more like Jesus.
            I’d like to share a story Elder Faust shared in which is portrayed the story of two men who gave their life for the cause of Christ:

In the early days of the Church in Mexico, two faithful leaders who were disciples of Christ became martyrs because of their belief. The two whose lives were taken were Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales.
During the Mexican Revolution, Rafael Monroy was the president of the small San Marcos Mexico Branch, and Vicente Morales was his first counselor. On July 17, 1915, they were apprehended by the Zapatistas. They were told they would be spared if they would give up their weapons and renounce their strange religion. Brother Monroy told his captors that he did not have any weapons and simply drew from his pocket his Bible and Book of Mormon. He said, “Gentlemen, these are the only arms I ever carry; they are the arms of truth against error.”
When no arms were found, the brethren were cruelly tortured to make them divulge where arms were hidden. But there were no arms. They were then taken under guard to the outskirts of the little town, where their captors stood them up by a large ash tree in front of a firing squad. The officer in charge offered them freedom if they would forsake their religion and join the Zapatistas, but Brother Monroy replied, “My religion is dearer to me than my life, and I cannot forsake it.”
They were then told that they were to be shot and asked if they had any request to make. Brother Rafael requested that he be permitted to pray before he was executed. There, in the presence of his executioners, he kneeled down and, in a voice that all could hear, prayed that God would bless and protect his loved ones and care for the little struggling branch that would be left without a leader. As he finished his prayer, he used the words of the Savior when He hung upon the cross and prayed for his executioners: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” With that the firing squad shot both Brother Monroy and Brother Morales.
For most of us, however, what is required is not to die for the Church but to live for it. For many, living a Christlike life every day may be even more difficult than laying down one’s life. I learned during a time of war that many men were capable of great acts of selflessness, heroism, and nobility without regard to life. But when the war was over and they came home, they could not bear up under the ordinary daily burdens of living and became enslaved by tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and debauchery, which in the end caused them to forfeit their lives.
            I remember in Seminary our teacher asking the boys to raise their hands if they were willing to die for Christ. Most of them did. He then proceeded to ask “Now how many of you are willing to read you scriptures every single day? How many of you will always be kind to your siblings? How many of you will never forget to pray?” And the hands slowly went down. It’s interesting to see how quickly we are willing to die for Christ, but how unwilling we are to do the smaller things. The small things can sometimes be the hardest things. But, weak things can become strong through Him.

I’d like to finish with the thought that we sometimes forget in all the little details-- the two great commandments are, “Love thy God with all they heart might, mind, and strength,” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Above all, those are the most important. To be like Christ we must love God and we must love those around us. That is the most important thing to strive for.

            I know that God is real and that he loves us. More than anything else, I know God loves his children. Like Nephi, I don’t know the meaning of all things, but I know God loves us. The teachings of this gospel have brought me more joy and happiness than anything else. Through it I was taught that Jesus Christ is my Savior and advocate, that families are eternal, and faith works miracles. It has given me commandments that have kept me safe and have brought me closer to the Lord. It has provided scripture that I know to be the words of God. It has taught me how to pray and find peace in a world of turmoil. I have learned countless lessons about faith, patience, love, and happiness that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. I have felt the peace that the Lord offers through this church.

            I’m going to Nicaragua because God asked me to share what has made me so happy. And even though I’m nervous to be in a country where I won’t understand anyone, and even though I’ve already had nightmares about the spiders, moths, and mosquitos, and even though I’ve never gone hiking day after day in 100 degree weather, and even though it’s unlikely I’ll take a warm shower in the next year and a half, and even though Air conditioning is about to become a foreign thing, I am thrilled that the Lord has the faith that I can do this. He had enough faith to send me to one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, which is something I don’t think I can handle. But He does, and that’s enough for me.

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