Friday, January 24, 2014

Service Opportunities in the Vineyard


What Would You Preach for Your Last Sermon?

If you knew that you didn't have long to live, and had to preach your last sermon, what would you say?  Remember that your family would probably be in attendance, as well as many fellow citizens and church members.  What would you want them to remember? 

In the Book of Mormon we have just such an account.  King Benjamin was a great man who was getting up in years and knew he didn't have long to live.  He asked that his people be gathered together so that he could give them his final sermon, and final words of wisdom.  As I read this account recently, I was struck by how many key factors he included in his sermon.  This was long ago when there were no such things as microphones, so he asked that his words be written down and shared with those who were unable to hear him.  He preached from a tower, and many people pitched their tents with the opening facing the tower so that they could hear him.  But because of his advancing age, he could not speak loud enough for everyone to hear.  I'm thankful that his words were recorded for those not in hearing range, because we can have access to them today. 

Most of this talk comprises chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Mosiah.  But after he gave the speech, many people were very moved, so he went on to speak in response to their reaction to his words.  That part is continued on in chapter 4.  I am sharing it here, and putting in subtitles to give a framework for what he taught.  I'm posting the entire speech, but you can read his reply in chapter 4 on your own.  I think he hit all of the most important points!
9  And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.
10 I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man.  11 But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.  12 I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you;  13 Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you— 14 And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day. 
15 Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day. 
16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.
 17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.  18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another? 
19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!  20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—  21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.  22 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.  23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.  24 And secondly, 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; therefore, of what have ye to boast? 
25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.  26 And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth.  27 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.  28 I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.  29 And moreover, I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king;  30 For even at this time, my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you; but the Lord God doth support me, and hath suffered me that I should speak unto you, and hath commanded me that I should declare unto you this day, that my son Mosiah is a king and a ruler over you. 
 31 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should do as ye have hitherto done. As ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospered, and have been kept from falling into the hands of your enemies, even so if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you.  32 But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah.
 33 For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge.  34 I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught concerning the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem;  35 And also, all that has been spoken by our fathers until now. And behold, also, they spake that which was commanded them of the Lord; therefore, they are just and true.  36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—  37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.  38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.  39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.  40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.  41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
1 And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.  2 And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me.  3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.  4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.  5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.  6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.  7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.  8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.  9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.  10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.  11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. 
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.  13 And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them.  14 Yet the Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses.  15 And many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he unto them, concerning his coming; and also holy prophets spake unto them concerning his coming; and yet they hardened their hearts, and understood not that the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood.  16 And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.  17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.  18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.  19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.  20 And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.  21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.  22 And even at this time, when thou shalt have taught thy people the things which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God, only according to the words which I have spoken unto thee.  23 And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.  24 And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.  25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.  26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.  27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen.
I hope that I kind leave behind this kind of legacy for my own children.  I hope that I can pass these teachings on to them while I'm alive so that they never doubt my testimony of the Savior.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Personal Apostasy

This is a topic for members of the church.  People who are nonbelievers can't apostasize.  Apostasy only occurs when a person believes, but then turns away from those beliefs, or from the church as an organization.

I think there are many ways that apostasy happens.  Sometimes it happens because a person is offended.  Sometimes it happens because they lose their faith in what is taught.  I'm sure there are other reasons, perhaps even a conflict of political ideals. 

It's interesting that just this week I was teaching a lesson about apostasy, while at the same time having conversations with people who appeared to be walking in the direction of personal apostasy.  While teaching the lesson, I came across this quote in "Preach My Gospel":  "Whenever people choose to disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance, whenever they reject the Lord’s prophets, or whenever they fail to endure in faith, they distance themselves from God and begin to live in spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy."  I think that this quote makes some good points about how to avoid personal apostasy.  It mentions three different ways that we begin on that road to apostasy.

 1.  "Disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance."

The scriptures, give us God's doctrine.  When we distort that doctrine, or refuse to obey it, we are walking away from what God intended for us.  I recently ran across this quote by Augustine that I thought was very good.  "If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself." Augustine of Hippo In his talk, "Avoiding Personal Apostasy" Elder Claudio D. Zivic said, "Apostasy frequently results when a person commits serious sin but does not repent. To silence his conscience or justify his sinful actions, the individual moves away from the truth, looking for imperfections in others or questioning Church doctrine with which he no longer agrees." Pres. Brigham Young said, "Let a man or woman who has received much of the power of God, visions and revelations, turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord, and it seems that their senses are taken from them, their understanding and judgment in righteousness are taken away, they go into darkness, and become like a blind person who gropes by the wall [see Isaiah 59:9–10; Deuteronomy 28:29] (DBY, 82–83)."  He also taught, "When a man begins to find fault, inquiring in regard to this, that, and the other, saying, “Does this or that look as though the Lord dictated it?” you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy. "

2.  Reject the Lord's prophets

I don't think we can pick and choose prophets.  When God calls them, they then are the one who is given to us to lead us.  If we find ourselves finding fault with the prophet because his teachings don't fit our own views, then we are starting on that road of apostasy.  It's not always easy to follow the prophet when his direction veers from our own ideas, but I'm sure the children of Israel weren't happy about wandering for 40 years in the wilderness either.  But those who continued on in faith were blessed for their faithfulness.  Elder Zivic had this say, "We enter a state of apostasy when we assume authority we do not possess or when we seek revelation for a stewardship outside of our sphere of responsibility. Our duty, as revealed to Oliver Cowdery, is to “be obedient unto the things” (D&C 28:3) the Lord reveals to His prophet and to our other leaders called through priesthood authority."

3.  Whenever they fail to endure in faith.

Perhaps the two causes listed above are part of this one.  Enduring in faith means obeying and accepting doctrine, even if we don't understand why it was given.  Enduring in faith means following the prophet, even if we may not understand why he has asked us to do something.  Enduring in faith means staying true even if we don't understand everything about the gospel. 

In addition, I think another reason for apostasy is that people think that the things of God should be administered in a more democratic way.  They would like to be able to vote for or against certain doctrine.  Brigham Young warned against this kind of mentality:  "People do, however, leave this Church, but they leave it because they get into darkness, and the very day they conclude that there should be a democratic vote, or in other words, that we should have two candidates for the presiding Priesthood in the midst of the Latter-day Saints, they conclude to be apostates. There is no such thing as confusion, division, strife, animosity, hatred, malice, or two sides to the question in the house of God; there is but one side to the question there (DBY, 85)."

In this world today, there are many voices clammering for change in religion.  They paint religious people as being intolerant, unloving, and unintelligent. These "ad hominem" attacks take the focus away from the real issue and focus on the character of the religious people instead.  The real topic to discuss is whether or not there is a God.  And if there is a God, what has He asked us to do.   When we find this information, the social discussions can be ignored. 

I posted recently two talks about "intellectual slavery".  In my opinion, this is a very big threat, and another reason for individual apostasy.  When we think, because of our worldly education, that we have superior understanding of the world than what is found in the teachings of God, we are running the risk of becoming apostate.  As we read in the scriptures, "O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God."  2 Nephi 9: 28,29

I pray that I can keep my ideals, knowledge, and goals in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ so that I can avoid personal apostasy.  The adversary is becoming more sophisticated in his attacks on members of the church. His subtle methods involve leading us away by converting us to worldly views.  May we all fortify ourselves against his attacks by being obedient to the commandments, sustaining and following the prophets, and doing all we can to strengthen our faith.