Sunday, June 19, 2016

I Talked in Church

I talked today.

It's Father's Day.

They asked me to talk about faith instead of about fathers.

I did it.

Here's the written talk. It's not the same talk I ended up giving, of course. I added stuff about Brentie, and I added stuff about the cynicism in the world and our love of being critical and how much humility it takes to be faithful.
19 June 2016 (Father’s Day)
Happy Father’s Day! I am beyond grateful to the men in my life for their hard work, for their senses of humor, for their service to me and others. I was totally fine with giving a Father’s Day talk today BUT, Brother Gardner told me that I didn’t get to talk about fathers today. I hope all of you fathers receive all the love and adoration you deserve, and I happen to know in a little while you’ll get a treat, so there’s that.
Instead, Kyle asked me to talk about faith. This made me laugh, because Heavenly Father and/or the bishop have a good sense of humor, as they both know that faith is a topic that has been heavy in my heart and mind for many, many months. And yet, somehow, they are trusting me to stand here and share my heart and my thoughts with you.
So. Faith. I have faith in lots of different things. I have faith that if I keep eating cookies and not running enough, I’m going to need to keep buying bigger clothes. I have faith that if I binge on Netflix shows, my house won’t be very clean and my kids won’t do their practicing. There are all kinds of things that I believe and have faith in. I have a feeling that Bishop Waite was thinking I should talk about a different kind of faith. The kind of faith I’m going to refer to when I say “faith” today is faith that there is a loving God who is aware of us and part of our lives, that this loving God gave us a savior in Jesus Christ, that if we accept Him as our Savior, we will be given grace, that Christ’s gospel was restored through Joseph Smith and that the gospel is led by a prophet today. This is the faith that I’m discussing today.
Brothers and sisters, we live in a complicated world. Faith is not always easy to obtain or maintain. Some of us have been given faith as the gift of the spirit and have never doubted. Some of us came to faith later in our lives. Others of us have had faith remain mostly constant throughout our lives with a few times of struggle to maintain it. Some of us have felt our previously strong faith yanked away through circumstances within our lives or through times of questioning. And some of us have never yet found a strong faith and are here because of expectations of our parents or because of culture or habit or because of a desire to believe that has not yet been fulfilled.
I want to start with a story. Once there were these young men who were raised by parents who were strong in their faith. These boys didn’t buy the faith of their parents. They not only didn’t buy it, but they didn’t want anyone else to buy it, either, so they made lots of efforts to persuade other people not to believe. These were young men from prominent families, so their efforts did a lot of damage to the faith of others.
And then their hearts were changed. They were changed so profoundly that their previous desire to do damage to the faith of their parents became a desire to bring people to the God they now believed in. Some of them were children of a king, and one would have become the next king. But instead, these sons of a king decided that they wanted to change the world. They wanted to go to their sworn enemies and try to teach them about God, his love for his children, and about his expectations of us. You know who I’m talking about: the sons of Mosiah.
So here they are, these young men and their friends. They have given up the rule of a kingdom. They have given up their former beliefs. They have humbled themselves. And they have decided to give up their comfortable lives and try to help their enemies to find the peace that they have found.
And this is what we hear about them:
“Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind…and also much labor in the spirit.” Alma 17:5
So pretty much these young men were righteous. And dedicated. And their desires were good. And yet, their journey was marked with MANY AFFLICTIONS and MUCH SUFFERINGS in body, mind, and spirit.
The Lord could have made it easy. He has all power, after all. But instead, this is what he did:
The sons of Mosiah did their part. They fasted much and prayed much for the Spirit so they could be instruments in his hands, and then the Lord did this: He visited them with the Spirit. He said “be comforted” and they were comforted.
Once they were comforted, he didn’t tell them that all would be easy now. Instead he said, Do the work you asked to do AND be patient in long suffering and afflictions that you can be good examples, and then I will make you instruments in my hands.
And what happened?
When the Lord said
they took courage and trusted in the Lord, and then they worked, expecting their work to be both hard great.
Let me tell you some of the highlights of what happened next:
Ammon worked and fought for the safety of King Lamoni’s servants and sheep, and when given an opportunity, taught King Lamoni, who was converted with all his household.
King Lamoni’s father was angry and tried to kill Ammon, but Ammon trusted God’s word, and said No way will you harm me or your son. His generosity softened King Lamoni’s father’s heart, and he stewed about what had happened.
So Ammon’s part of the story went along fairly well. Meanwhile, Aaron, Muloki, and Ammah didn’t have the same kind of success. They were imprisoned and treated terribly. They were naked, their skin was worn exceedingly because of being bound with cords, they were hungry, thirsty and had “all manner of afflictions.” But they were patient. After their release, they taught and finally had success. And then they were led to go to King Lamoni’s father and offered to be his servants.
He said no, but said that he was “troubled about your brother Ammon’s generosity and greatness of words” and wanted to know what was behind these actions. They taught him about God. And then this happened. He prayed for the first time:
“O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee.”
This prayer has always hit me as such a profound example of humility and desire to know God, a simple statement, a truly willing heart, and this in a man who had no experience with God previously.
As a result of his prayer, his life and the lives of his people were turned upside down. Most of his people were converted to a new way of life, a new faith in God. They gave up their culture of war. They buried their valuable, hand-crafted weapons deep in the earth so they wouldn’t be tempted to use them again and undo the changing of their hearts, because their new faith taught them that they should serve their brothers, not commit violence to them. They changed the name by which they were called to Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
And then their own brothers were so angry about this change that they killed thousands of these new believers. The converts knelt and prayed even while they were being slaughtered.
Faith asks much of us. Our personal faith may not end with death by sword, but it is certain that our peace in faith will be hard-earned.
Maybe there are events in church history that are hard for us to understand.
Maybe we or those we love are LGBTQ and we struggle to understand the church’s position.
Maybe we lived life like the gospel teaches and our children still made bad choices or our marriage still disintegrated.
Maybe we are struggling with physical or mental illness.
Maybe someone’s actions have hurt us so deeply that we can’t see our way clear of the results of another’s choices.
How do we keep going? Why do we keep going? Why work for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and faith that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His church? And are our doubts and questions a sign that all is not well in Zion, or all is not well in us?
Elder Uchtdorf said, “Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”
So questions are not only ok, they are good. We are supposed to question and Heavenly Father knows it’s likely we will have doubts. What are we supposed to do with them? And what does God promise us if we try to handle them faithfully?
Ezra Taft Benson said “…men and women of God who turn their lives over to God will find out that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life to God will find he has eternal life.”
And we are not left without instructions in how to increase our faith, how to hold on when our world is rocked by doubt and hardship.
After Ammon and his brothers and friends had saved the lives of these people they loved so dearly by bringing them to their own land, after their former enemies gave up lands for them and promised to risk their lives to protect them from the Lamanites that were not giving up on hurting them, Ammon reminded his brothers about how they chose to keep going:
Alma 26:27 Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.
So how do we bear with patience our afflictions? Again, we can learn from the sons of Mosiah. These are the steps they took to strengthen themselves:
Alma 17:2-4
1.      They searched the scriptures diligently
2.      They WANTED to know the word of God
3.      They prayed much.
4.      They fasted much.
And as a result, they received
1.      A sound understanding
2.      The spirit of prophecy and revelation
3.      An ability to teach with the power and authority of God
Not only that, but they received great joy. Ammon says “Behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God…I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever…Yea, we have reason to praise him forever.”
Christ said in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
So our promises are joy and peace and a relationship with a Father and his Son who love us perfectly, who want to guide our steps through the dark and dreary mess we find ourselves in periodically.
When I do the work necessary for my faith to grow, there is one theme that the Spirit reminds me of: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
The world is tumultuous. There are many voices screaming for our attention, asking us to follow them. When I take the time to BE STILL, when I study God’s word in the scriptures or our current leaders, when I cultivate my relationship with God through prayer, when I open up my heart to love those around me and serve where I can, I feel that restful, calm assurance that God is here, that he asks me to be still in this world, and that he wants me to live an abundant life.
My challenge to myself and to each of you is to ask Heavenly Father for faith in whatever it is you would like to improve in. Maybe you just need to know that God is there. Maybe you just need to know that He loves you. Maybe you need to know whether or not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is led by a prophet. In any of your places of doubt, God can meet you there. Read Alma 32 again and again and try the experiment. Remember the sons of Mosiah:
Alma 26:27 Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.

And remember, we can, even in the middle of so much that is hard and confusing and dark, find light and truth. Christ asks us to be of good cheer. And we can be, because He has overcome the world. I have faith in this promise, and that our Heavenly Father will lead us and guide us if we allow him to be part of our journey.