Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Witness

For those who are unaware, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons). I spend a lot of time explaining all the details of what we believe, but that really isn't the point of this post. If you are interested in learning more, click here. We don't have preachers who give sermons, but, instead, members of the congregation are asked to deliver talks/messages. So, I recently had the opportunity (yes, I think of it as an opportunity) to speak in church and I thought I would take a few moments to share my thoughts again here.

During General Conference in April of this year, President Boyd K. Packer gave a talk titled “The Witness.” He begins by sharing a story about leaving home to serve in the military during WWII. He says:  “I had left my home in Brigham City, Utah, with only embers of a testimony, and I felt the need for something more…I wanted a personal testimony of the gospel. I wanted to know!”  He continues by talking about a time when he left his bunk late at night and knelt to pray

“Almost mid-sentence it happened. I could not describe to you what happened if I were determined to do so. It is beyond my power of expression, but it is as clear today as it was that night more than 65 years ago. I knew it to be a very private, very individual manifestation. At last I knew for myself. I knew for a certainty, for it had been given to me. After some time, I crawled from that bunker and walked, or floated, back to my bed. I spent the rest of the night in a feeling of joy and awe.
“Far from thinking I was someone special, I thought that if such a thing came to me, that it could come to anyone. I still believe that.”

I echo that sentiment. If I was able to receive the answers I sought, anyone can. And it’s not just anyone, we can receive personal revelation about anything. It requires some effort on our part, but it is absolutely worth it. As President Packer puts it:

“Like most things of great worth, knowledge which is of eternal value comes only through personal prayer and pondering. These, joined with fasting and scripture study, will invite impressions and revelations and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. This provides us with instruction from on high as we learn precept upon precept.”

We are all unique individuals living unique lives under unique circumstances. No two of us are in the same situation or at the same point in our lives. Which means no two of us are at the same point in our testimonies or eternal progression, but ALL of us have some room for improvement. As far as I know, no one in this room has yet achieved perfection. Some of us may fancy ourselves close, but we’re not there yet. So we all have some room to learn and grow and we all need the continued presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives and the promise of “instruction from on high as we learn precept upon precept.”

Many moons ago when I was a recent high school grad, I was getting ready to leave for college in Rexburg and I wasn't totally pumped about it. Aside from the fact that BYU-Idaho wasn't my first choice of schools, I just wasn't really feeling like I was ready to be there. As the summer wore on, it just got worse. I wasn't nervous about starting college per say, I wasn't nervous about classes or professors, or living on my own, I was nervous because I had somehow convinced myself that I would get there and find out that everybody on campus had more gospel knowledge and a stronger testimony than me. I grew up in the church, I had always been active, I was really good at scripture mastery, and looking back, I think I probably did have a testimony, but I think I was kind of waiting for a big a-ha moment. Like, something big would happen and then suddenly—TA-DA! Testimony! So I spent an inordinate amount feeling really inadequate until I realized that gaining a testimony is not an event, but a process.

As we proceed along those unique paths through this life, we will have the opportunity to learn and grow and build our testimonies as we seek to be more like our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our Father in Heaven. In order to become more like them, we must come to know them.

I think it’s pretty amazing that of all the other titles He could have used, God chose to be called Father. And we aren't told just once, but multiple times. I was thinking about a story found in Moses chapter 1. Moses is “caught up in an exceedingly high mountain (Moses 1:1-8)” where he is transfigured and is then able to see God face to face.  God calls Moses by name and repeatedly refers to him as “my son.” So Moses has this incredible experience where he sees and is told many things, but at pretty regular intervals in the conversation he is reminded that he is a son of God.

We too are reminded over and over again. I mean, we don’t have the same experience (we’re not often transfigured) but we are reminded that we are children of God. It is in the scriptures we read, it’s in the hymns we sing, it’s in lessons we’re taught, and it’s in every prayer we utter. We are constantly reminded that He is our Father and that He loves us. He has clearly defined our relationship to Him, but it is up to each of us individually to come to an understanding of that relationship. As we seek to do so, the Holy Ghost will testify of that truth. We will feel peace, reassurance and comfort in confirmation of the understanding we seek.

The Holy Ghost is real. His mission is to testify of truth and righteousness. Our Father in Heaven loves us and so He has provided a way by which we may know for ourselves the truths which are contained in the Gospel. The companionship of the Holy Ghost is just one of the many blessings which we might receive and is a direct result of our own righteous living. President Packer put it like this:

“The gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred through an ordinance of the gospel. One with authority lays his hands on the head of a new member of the Church and says words such as these: “Receive the Holy Ghost.

“This ordinance alone does not change us in a noticeable way, but if we listen and follow the promptings, we will receive the blessing of the Holy Ghost.”

It is through this blessing that the promise found in Moroni 10:5 is fulfilled

Through the Holy Ghost, we may know the truth of all things. So it is through the Holy Ghost that we may come to know and understand our relationship to our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, the Only Begotten of the Father, our Advocate. He too has many titles, all of which tell us something about Him, but perhaps more important than those titles, we know His name—Jesus Christ. It is that name which we promise to take upon ourselves each week when we partake of the sacrament, and it is that name we use each time we close our prayers or bear our testimony, it that name that is the only name given under heaven by which we may be saved. In President Packer’s words:

“Foremost and underpinning all that we do, anchored throughout the revelations, is the Lord’s name, which is the authority by which we act in the Church. Every prayer offered, even by little children, ends in the name of Jesus Christ. Every blessing, every ordinance, every ordination, every official act is done in the name of Jesus Christ. It is His Church, and it is named for Him—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 115:4).

“For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

“Each of us must come to our own personal testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. We then share that testimony with our family and others.”

As we seek a personal testimony of these things, we will be met by the adversary. It is his intent to disrupt the work of the Lord and that means he will seek to disrupt us. If look back on our Moses story…

So, Moses has all of this revelation and then he is left alone to recover from the experience. He comes to some conclusions (Moses 1:10-11) and then Satan shows up. “Moses, son of man, worship me (Moses 1:12). Satan wants to negate everything Moses has just learned so he tells him the exact opposite.

Does that seem familiar to anybody else? Satan does not want us to understand or develop our relationship with our Father in Heaven. He doesn't want us to know our Savior, Jesus Christ. He doesn't want us to build our testimonies, so when we have experiences or gain knowledge that would serve that purpose, he swoops in and tries to cut us off at the knees. I mean, I've never had a face to face conversation with Satan (and I’m totally okay with that), but I have felt the Spirit and then, almost immediately thereafter, felt as if Satan was attacking those feelings. Moses has the perfect response to that situation

He basically looks Satan in the face and says “Who are you? I am a son of God. I know who He is and I know who I am and I want nothing to do with you. Get thee hence.”

Again, I’ve never seen Satan face to face, so I’m not literally going to look him in the eye and say “get thee hence,” but as we face various temptations (and we will face them), or feelings of doubt begin to creep in, we must remember who we really are and who we have chosen to follow. In those situations we can absolutely respond with a “get thee hence, I know who I am and I want nothing to do with you.”

President Packer closes his talk with his testimony:
“I believe and I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24).
I bear my witness that the Savior lives. I know the Lord. I am His witness. I know of His great sacrifice and eternal love for all of Heavenly Father’s children. I bear my special witness in all humility but with absolute certainty”

I would like to add my own testimony that I know that I am a daughter of God. I know that He loves me. I know that He sent His Only Begotten Son to take upon himself the sins and afflictions of the world. I know that my Savior willingly did so. I know that He willingly suffered and died for me, that I might return to live with them again and I know that He did the same for each and every one of God’s children. I know that our Father has sent the Holy Ghost to comfort and guide us as we learn and grow and try to make our way back to Him. of these things I am certain and I bear my witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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