February 24, 2013

"Farewell" Talk

I gave my "farewell" talk today. I report in 17 days and get set apart in 13! I am beyond excited. 

Good morning brothers and sisters. Like Brother Douglas said, I have been called to serve as a missionary in the California Riverside Mission. I report to the MTC in two weeks. I am not quite sure exactly what I am about to embark on, but I know that I am making the right decision by fully devoting 18 months to the Lord and His gospel.

As most of you are aware, going through the temple to receive one’s endowments is a very important step in preparing for a mission. Soon after I received by mission call in November, I was able to go through the temple with my parents and family. It was a wonderful experience and I felt like I was prepared and ready. Having gone through the temple many times since then for those that have died, I still do not fully understand the entire endowment process and what all of the symbols mean. However, I do know that the temple is the House of God and that it is a holy place.

The bishopric asked me to speak on the topic of temple work. Having just gone through the temple I thought I would start my talk by speaking to the youth, as I barely exited the teenage years just a couple of weeks ago. Believe it or not, receiving your endowments is in your near future. Because of that, my advice to you is to start preparing now, as in today. Start dressing modestly today. Start participating in wholesome activities today. Start paying attention in seminary today. Maybe, start showing up to seminary awake and ready to learn today. Start praying with more intent and purpose today. Start studying and reading the scriptures today. While I definitely was not perfect at all those things as I prepared to enter the temple, it is important to strive to do those things. As you do those things, you will look towards the temple with excitement, verses anxiety. In a CES Fireside last fall, Elder Holland instructed us to “never check our religion at the door.” Literal or figurative, those doors are not doors that we should ever be excused of checking our religion at as we walk through them. We are to live our religion always. Whether that be at a dance, while watching a movie, or hanging out with friends, or when we are alone. As we learn to live the gospel of Jesus Christ and truly embrace it, we will be much more prepared to enter the Lord’s Holy House to make and keep sacred covenants with him. Sister Elaine S. Dalton, the General Young Women’s President stated, “It is so vitally important that each of us determines now to make the necessary adjustments and changes in our lives to be worthy always of a temple recommend. As you take your own family names to the temple, the Lord will amplify your ability to learn and to focus on the things that matter most. You will come forth from the temple armed with power, and ‘His angels will be round about you to bear you up.’ Always with prophetic priorities come prophetic promises.” I hope that all of you will decide today to change something in your life to help you better prepare to enter the temple. I am beyond grateful that I was able to receive my endowments just a couple of months ago and I hope that all of you are excited for the day that you will be able to enter the temple as well.  

As I have studied the topic of temple work the past couple weeks in preparation for this talk, I have discovered a lot about our Savior and His atonement, and the obligation we have to do ordinance work for the dead. I wasn’t entirely sure what to talk to you all about, as I really wanted to do the topic of temple work justice, but I decided to talk about what really is at the core of temple work and our obligation to do work in the temple—as that really is what I have learned the most these past couple of months since I have received my endowments.

The fact that God’s plan invites ALL, living or beyond the veil in the Spirit World, to accept or decline the gospel shows so much about God’s love and mercy towards His children. Regardless of life’s circumstances, every child of God has the opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is not a respecter of persons, and he invites all to come unto Christ. This past Sunday, as I was teaching my class of little Sunbeams, I felt of the love that God has for His children immensely. This day, the children were definitely on a caffeine and sugar high. They were loud and disruptive in sharing time and took off their shoes an infinite number of times throughout the two hours of primary. When we went to the bathroom during class time, they all decided it would be a wonderful idea to scream at the top of their lungs. Although I realize that they are three years old, I was frustrated with them and with my inability to somehow make them be still and listen. Our lesson was about how Heavenly Father and Jesus love them. As they were eating their snacks, I read Max Lucado’s “God Thinks You’re Wonderful” to them. As I was reading, I started to choke up and tears began to flow as I read about how much God does love us…so much so that he would send his Son to sacrifice for us. It was then that I realized how great God does love these little three year olds, even though they can be a handful. And I realized also how much God loves me, for taking care of and (trying) to teach his sweet little children for a couple of hours each week.  Although those cute little sunbeams probably don’t fully understand how much God does love them, I hope one day they will be able to realize their worth in His sight. So I guess my purpose of relaying that experience to you is that God loves, loves, loves His children and wants them to return to live with Him. However, it is only through those that are living (also known as everyone sitting in this chapel right now) that can perform their own work and the work for those who have died.

Prior to writing this talk, I never realized the great obligation, or commandment we have, as baptized members of this church to do ordinance work for the dead in the temple. Joseph Smith said that proxy temple work for the dead is so important that “Those Saints who neglect it [temple work] in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation”.
In John Chapter 3 verses 16-18 and 23 it says, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowles of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he gave us commandment.”
I really like that scripture as it gives us a charge to be compassionate and loving towards all men. We cannot just be loved by God and consider it good. We need to extend that same love to all of God’s children. One huge way we can do that is by going to the temple.

As I have gone through the temple and performed proxy work for those who have died, I have often wondered whether or not they will accept the endowment and the gospel. This should not be a concern of ours. President Boyd K. Packer said, “As for those who have died, there seems to be no way we can find them all. We have no way of knowing whether they will accept the work we do for them. We are sure some will reject it. Nevertheless, we are not released from the assignment to try.” It is our duty to continue to seek out our ancestors and perform the ordinance work for them. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.

Elder John A. Widstoe stated concerning temple work, “The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation. That places us in a very responsible attitude toward the human race. By that doctrine, with the Lord at the head, we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold number of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor His highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.”

If we are to truly become like Heavenly Father and His Son, we need to assist in fulfilling their great purpose—to bring immortality and eternal life of man through doing proxy work at the temple. We also, need to take great heed to the importance of temple work. As Joseph Smith said, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.”

The temple is the only place on earth where we can become most like our elder brother, Jesus Christ. The defining characteristic and title of Jesus Christ is that He is our Savior, our redeemer. Only through His grace and atoning sacrifice can we become perfected and return to live with Him, our Father in Heaven, and our eternal families. Christ and only Christ could atone for our sins. Likewise, we are the only ones that can perform the work for the dead that qualify them for exaltation. They cannot do it without our help. President Woodruff stated concerning temple work: “These, brethren and sisters, are important works. They are work which we do for others that they cannot do for themselves. This is what Jesus Christ did when He laid down His life for our redemption, because we could not redeem ourselves.”

We, in a way, become their saviors. We, like Christ, are doing a work that they cannot do for themselves. President Boyd K. Packer said, “They are otherwise described as being in prison. We can assist in setting them free. We can be their saviors.” I never realized until now that I, by spending two hours in the temple doing baptisms or an endowment session, can be a means whereby those that have passed on can receive exaltation. That is such an awesome and important duty we have as latter-day saints.

Elder John A. Widstoe stated that “When we go through the temple for other people we taste the sweet joy of saviorhood and our stature becomes more like the Savior Jesus Christ who died to save us all.” I love how Elder Widstoe says that we can “taste the sweet joy of saviorhood.” The core of saviorhood and the atonement is pure love and selflessness. President Hinckley stated that “there is no better way than to go to the house of the Lord and there serve in a vicarious relationship in behalf of those who are beyond the veil of death” to overcome selfishness. We can be 100% selfless as we go to the temple with the right spirit of love and sacrifice for those who are on the other side of the veil. As we attend the temple in the right spirit, we really do become more like our Savior and Father in Heaven. We are able to experience that joy they have from extending love and mercy to all mankind.

One aspect of the gospel is that we should always strive to be our brothers’ keeper. That makes perfect sense as the Plan of Salvation revolves around the eternal family, and not just the eternal individual. Satan would have us focus solely on ourselves in this life—even if we are doing good things. However, God’s law is to turn our love outward and serve others. Elder John A. Widstoe powerfully stated: “There is no place for forgetting the other man, in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There stands my brother. It was for him that the whole plan was made, for him the Church was organized, for him all these blessings were given—not for me alone. Oh, I stand there too. The church was made for me…but my brother is entitled to them just as much as I am. He and I together and all of us must unitedly work together to fulfill the greater purposes of the Almighty Father.” Elder Widstoe continues to discuss how during the great council in the preexistence, we accepted the Lord’s plan and in so doing (quote) “We became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves, but measurably, saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work.” (end quote). We, as children of God cannot go through life focusing just on ourselves and our own eternal progression. We are also responsible to assist in the salvation of others. Elder Widstoe continues: “There is no chance for the narrow, selfish, introspective man in the kingdom of God.” We must strive to become more like our Elder Brother by demonstrating our love to Him and our Father in Heaven by attending the temple and doing family history work.

The work of the Lord will not and cannot go forth if we focus on ourselves. We have the power and ability to perform saving ordinances for those that have passed on. And the blessings do not stop short of the person we are performing the ordinances for. Like the quote by Sister Dalton I referenced earlier, with prophetic priorities come prophetic promises. The Lord blesses us for our sacrifice performed in the temple. President Boyd K. Packer stated, “The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in ALL of our affairs.”
The Savior taught, “Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” While sacrificing a day to attend the temple is not comparable to sacrificing one’s life for a friend, it is just as appreciated and noticed by the Savior and those on the other side of the veil. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that those who we do temple work for will “fall at the feet of those who have done their work, kiss their feet, embrace their knees, and manifest the most exquisite gratitude.”

I know that temple work is such an important work that we as Latter-day saints are responsible for. God is hastening this work and we too, need to hasten to the temple to perform ordinance work for the dead. I know that the Temple is the House of God and that he resides therein. I hope and pray that throughout my life, I might be able to do work for those who have passed on and that they and my Father in Heaven might be pleased with my service. When I do ordinance work in the temple, I constantly am thinking and praying for that individual who I am doing proxy work for. I often think of her anticipation and excitement and I am always hopeful that she will accept this work and this gospel. I love what President Joseph F. Smith states concerning the reaction of those in the spirit world, “Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.” What a blessing and privilege it is to be able to provide that joy to our deceased family members and others on the other side of the veil. We are providing them a means whereby they can receive eternal life. What a great gift we can give. President Smith continues, “My brothers and sisters, the work is ours to do.”

I know this gospel to be true. God lives. And he loves us more than we can comprehend. He is willing to extend mercy to us if we humbly go to him in prayer and ask for it. I know that Christ lives and I am forever grateful for his grace that he seems to extend to me every day as I am full of shortcomings and weaknesses. I know and believe that this gospel has been restored to the earth by the Prophet Joseph Smith. God the Father and His Son did appear to Joseph Smith in that Grove—a grove that I have had the opportunity to stand in—and gave him the keys to restore Christ’s gospel to His fullness. I am humbled that God is allowing me to serve and teach his beloved children in Southern California as a missionary. I hope that I might be an effective tool in His hands to bless and teach His children. I hope that I might be able to be a vehicle whereby the spirit can touch those people’s hearts and they too, might be able to taste of the sweetness of the gospel and fully embrace it. As Elder Holland stated during the press conference after President Monson’s historic announcement last October, “God is hastening His work and He needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an often dark and fearful world....this isn't about you.  It is about the sweet and pure message you are being asked to bear." My mission is not about me. It really is about the sweet and pure message that the Lord has asked me to bear. I am excited to hand the next eighteen months of my life over to the Lord to do with what he sees fit to do. I believe in Him and I trust Him and I know that this gospel that I am striving to live is true. I say these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

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