Sunday, August 22, 2010

MY TALK ABOUT FAITH

  This is the talk I gave in church today--my first one in a long, long time.  I kind of like preparing talks and lessons because it makes me think about a subject more than I probably would otherwise.  But I will never feel comfortable speaking in front of others.  I'll always be a quivering nervous mess.  Podiums were invented for people like me to hide behind and lean on.

    In the book of Hebrews Faith is defined very clearly and simply: “NOW faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That sounds easy: You don’t have to see something to believe or know that it’s true. On one level it’s so basic that a child can understand it. But I don’t think faith is simple at all; it’s a principle that has always been intertwined through every aspect of my life, so to me that makes faith very complicated. I can’t isolate and separate it from everything else. I was raised in the church, and the Gospel has always been a part of my life. I’ve always known that I am a child of God. I’ve always known where I came from. I’ve always known that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I’ve always known that heaven is real, and that someday I could return. I didn’t have to see to believe. I just knew. I knew it in my mind, my heart, and my soul. I can’t simplify faith, and I can’t talk about it without talking about some aspects of my life. My faith defines me; it’s a part of who I am just as your faith is a part of who you are.
     I believe that Faith should start with a capital “F” and be a verb—it’s an action word. It should govern everything we do. President Gordon B. Hinckley called faith “A living vital force”, and said:
     “Faith is not a theological platitude. It is a fact of life. Faith can become the very wellspring of purposeful living. There is no more compelling motivation to worthwhile endeavor than the knowledge that we are children of God, the Creator of the universe, our all-wise Heavenly Father! God expects us to do something with our lives, and he will give us help when help is sought.”
     I think it was N. Eldon Tanner in the early 80’s who first counseled us to “Remember Who You Are”. Referring to this, Bishop Richard C. Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric recently said:
     “And importantly implicit in [this] statement [Remember Who You Are], is the phrase “Remember what you can become.” This brings me to what I consider to be perhaps the most fundamental doctrine of the gospel. It is a doctrine so fundamental that even the Atonement of our beloved Savior is based upon it… It is the doctrine of faith…a doctrine of strength and fortification."
     "…those who believe they are sons and daughters of God, created in the image and likeness of the Only Begotten Son, will make many choices different from those who do not. And why is this so important to us? Because ultimately we become the product of the myriad choices we are constantly making: choices that may seem quite inconsequential today but that may have an enormous impact on what measure of being we become."

     Throughout my life there have been times when I have held fast to my faith, and dark times when I’ve tried to ignore what I know. My faith, whether I embraced or denied it, has been a part of every important event, every decision, and every consequence I’ve ever experienced.
     One of my favorite authors is Charles Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland. Embedded in his stories are truths that can probably apply to each of us. Here are a few of his quotes for you to think about. He could have been writing about me instead of Alice!
     "But I don't want to go among mad people," said Alice. "Oh, you can't help that.” said the cat. We're all mad here."
     “She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it)”
     “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
     “I can't go back to yesterday— because I was a different person then.”
     "If you drink too much from a bottle marked "poison," it's almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later."
     “Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.”
     “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don't know”, Alice answered. “Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”
     Another of my favorite writers, the poet Robert Frost, pondered the choices along life’s journey in “The Road Not Taken”, which reads in part:
     Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
     And sorry I could not travel both
     And be one traveler, long I stood
     And looked down one as far as I could
     To where it bent in the undergrowth;
     Then took the other, as just as fair,…
     Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
     I took the one less traveled by,
     And that has made all the difference.
     Life is often compared to a journey—sometimes difficult but always worth the trip. A familiar example in scripture is Lehi’s vision: And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood.  Many years later, Nephi taught: O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2Ne9:41)
     In his recent address to young adults, Bishop Edgely noted:
     "Because we have been blessed with a knowledge of God’s plan for His children’s eternal happiness, we Latter-day Saints know our ultimate destination, and we know which route to take in order to safely arrive."
     "[A] highway journey takes us through large cities, with a maze of roadways going in every direction… it is easy to take a wrong turn and become lost or even stopped at a dead end. Fear, even despair, can set in as we search for the safe haven or the desired safe road. So it is, with life: we can become lost souls, succumb to temptation, and over time lose sight of our original destination."
     "Along the road of life, a benevolent Father in Heaven in His wonderful plan made provisions for these detours. He sent His Only Begotten Son to be our Redeemer and our Savior… Like the insurance we purchase to protect our automobile in case of damage or liability that may occur as we travel along the highway, we can receive, with sincere and complete repentance, the blessings associated with the Atonement of Jesus the Christ. He also provided divinely appointed “rescuers,” whom we call bishops, to assist us to once again find the correct course…. In this dispensation the Lord pronounced: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. (D&C 58:42) …"
     "…Wherever you presently find yourself on life’s highway, it may be helpful and wise to objectively assess the health and vitality of your spiritual life, just as you would check the air pressure in your tires and the level of fuel in your tank before you commenced your journey. If your spiritual well-being is hampered by sin, procrastination, indifference… or any other malady, now is the time for resolution."
     Whether it’s maps and GPS guidance used for a summer road trip, or the scriptures, the counsel of living apostles and prophets, answers to sincere prayer, the promptings of the Holy Ghost, even the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to help us navigate safely through this life—all of the guidance in the world can do nothing for us if we ignore it. It’s not enough to have the right tools, it’s not enough to trust that they are accurate and true. We have to act upon what we know. Faith isn’t enough to lead us anywhere if we don’t use it. Using the Liahona, which the Lord prepared to lead Lehi and his family through the wilderness, as an example Alma taught his son, Helaman, this lesson about faith in Alma 37:
40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.
41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;
42 Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.
43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.
44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.
47 And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live.
     Some of the most meaningful passages of scripture to me tell the story from the Gospels about a woman of great faith. In Matthew 9 we read: 
     And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
     For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
     But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.
     Over the past months and year, I’ve thought a lot about my own faith and how I apply this first basic principle of the gospel to my own life. Do the things in which I place my faith strengthen me? Do I put my faith in the things of the world? Is my faith only in my own strength and knowledge? Or is mine a faith in the Savior and in God’s plan for happiness? Do I have the faith to reach out when I need to, believing that I can be made whole? What do I know, and how do I know it? What am I doing with my faith? Am I acting upon what I know is true and real and eternal?
     I ‘ll share some of my ponderings that I recently wrote in my journal:
     Sometimes I lie awake and I think about how easy most of my life has been, and how very, very lucky and loved I am. For the most part my journey has been a smooth, almost effortless, trail. But there have been some sharp turns, deep pits, and dead ends. I’ve successfully navigated around…or through… most of these roadblocks. Some of these obstacles tripped me, and I hurt myself because of them—sometimes badly! It’s still painful to think about some of those unseen hazards and barriers—especially the ones I placed there myself.
     Sometimes my mind and my heart ache with wondering. What if I’d raised my eyes more often, and looked up and ahead more? What if I’d been stronger, or more prepared, or braver? At each of those stumbling blocks in my life, when a different choice or more care would have made that stretch of the road so much less painful, what should I have done differently? If I could go back and choose again, could I and would I choose more carefully? Would I do better?
     I think I would. I hope I would! I realize that the only times in my life when I’ve ever stumbled or gotten lost or crashed into a self imposed roadblock were the times when I looked away and ignored what I knew. I lost sight of who I am, who my Father is, and where I am going. I put down my faith, which is the lamp that lights the way. I don’t have to stumble in the dark. I do have a choice. From now on I choose light. I choose goodness. I choose righteousness. I choose to honor myself and my family. And I especially choose God. And because I am so far from walking perfectly along my own road, when I make a mistake I choose to backtrack, to undo and redo.
     I’ve learned some important things as I’ve traveled my road. One of them is that I’d better be very careful, because I’m not as strong or as smart as I thought I was. I can’t do this life thing without help. I’ve learned that God has provided all that I need to make this journey safely—the right lessons and the right people are there at just the right times, to guide me—if I’m humble enough to let them. What a wonderful gift! I know that God has given me—and each of us—more blessings than we can possibly recognize or count. Our imperfect mortal minds are limited and we aren’t capable of understanding something so big and so beautiful. But I know that there are three greatest gifts we can begin to understand—three gifts that I know with absolute certainty are true and real. These three gifts are the basis of my faith—the foundation upon which I choose to build the rest of my life.
     The first gift is His love. I know that it’s everywhere along life’s road. It surrounds me every moment, every step of the way. In my darkest hours His love strengthens my faith and lights the way. It shines on me and rains on me. It is beside me, and if I choose to allow it, it is reflected in me and through me to others.
     Because he loves us so much, God gives us His second greatest gift: choice—not just the right to choose, but the power to choose. As a parent I’m happy that my grown children are able to make their own life choices. I revel in their right to do so, because from the moment they were born it was my calling to teach and lead them to live independently and righteously, to make their own, hopefully wise, choices. Their father and I have rejoiced in many of their decisions, but sometimes our hearts were broken. Those times of joy and sorrow give me a glimmer of understanding what a magnificent gift of love agency is. I can never call it “Free Agency” because I know that nothing, nothing at all, is free. Everything has a cost, and I’ve come to understand that Choice has the highest price of all. It cost a full third of the host of Heaven—my own sisters and brothers—their eternal souls. It cost the Savior physical, emotional, and spiritual agony beyond what any of us can imagine; and the willing sacrifice of His mortal life. When I remember both the happiness and the sorrow I’ve experienced with my own children, I am filled with joy for the times that I know I’ve pleased my Heavenly Father. And my heart can also be filled with anguish, knowing that sometimes I’ve used His gift of choice in ways that caused Him sorrow or pain. How can He still love me so much?   I don't understand how, I just know He does.
     His Love. The Right and Power of Choice.
     And His third greatest gift is Atonement. We need a way to repent because life is full of obstacles. With each one we face an opportunity to learn and grow, or to make a mistake and fall. Where would we be without chances to try again and do better? What hope would we have? As I said before, my life’s journey so far has been relatively easy. But there have been detours and pitfalls, and sometimes I was lost and afraid. Sometimes I took the wrong turn. Sometimes I stumbled. Sometimes I fell. Sometimes I was bruised and almost broken. Sometimes I didn't think I was strong enough to get up and get going in the right direction again. But our Father In Heaven, knowing that we are imperfect and will sometimes misuse his gift of choice but loving us anyway, sent His Son. All we need to do is raise our eyes and reach out to him. He's always there. He knows every pain and fear that we have--because he bore each of them first. When we fall he’ll lift us. When we’re lost he’ll help us find our way. He'll dry our tears, bind our wounds, ease our pain. I can’t see Him, but I feel His love and I know He is real, and He is there.
     I’ll conclude with the words of President Hinckley, who counsels us to walk with faith, saying:
     Believe in yourselves as sons and daughters of God—men and women with unlimited potential to do good in the world. Believe in personal virtue… Believe in your power to discipline yourselves against the evils that could destroy you
     Believe in God our Eternal Father, He who is greatest of all, who stands ever ready to help us and who has the power to do so. Believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior and the Redeemer of mankind, the worker of miracles, the greatest who ever walked the earth, the Intercessor with our Father. Believe in the power of the Holy Ghost to lead, to inspire, to comfort, to protect.
     Believe in the sacred word of God, the Holy Bible, with its treasury of inspiration and sacred truth; in the Book of Mormon as a testimony of the living Christ. Believe in the Church as the organization that the God of Heaven established for the blessing of His sons and daughters of all generations of time.










































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