Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Three-Fold Mission of the Chruch

Some thoughts:

In a General Conference talk some years ago, Elder F. Melvin Hammond of the First Quorum of the Seventy related an experience he had had while camping with his young son. After a full day, Elder Hammond lay down with his son to sleep and was just drifting off when he heard his son ask, “Dad, are you awake?” That simple question prompted Elder Hammond to reevaluate his performance as a priesthood leader in the home, as a husband, and as a father. He in turn asks each of us to review our own lives; are we “asleep when it comes to the things that are most important”?

The scriptures are full of warnings against spiritual slumber and physical sloth alike. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord commands that we “cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.” We are taught in the New Testament by the example of the Savior who, “in the morning, rising up a great while before day … went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” Paul explains just why it is so important to use our limited time according to the pattern that the Lord has set; he reminds us that “now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”

The command to physically and spiritually awaken ourselves is not a condemnation of our past behavior but an invitation to improve our lives; even the prophet Nephi, whose faith and righteousness are exemplary, felt the need to cry out in prayer, “Awake my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.” As we imitate Nephi’s example, we will discover with the psalmist that “joy cometh in the morning.” In General conference, the prophets have invited us to find peace in consistent temple service, and the early morning endowment sessions offered at most temples are truly an opportunity to find joy in the morning. As the Lord’s authorized messenger, the modern prophets and apostles are, like Isaiah, pleading with us to “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem,” and if we make the temple a focal point in our lives, we will find the joy and protection he has promised in return.

In the temple we receive the ordinances of exaltation, and we are “endowed with power from on high.” The temple is a source of spiritual strength on which to draw in times of trouble and doubt, and those who frequent the house of the Lord have been promised spiritual and temporal protections unavailable in any other place or in any other way. As Elder David A. Bednar explained in the last General Conference of the Church, “[t]here is a difference between church-attending, tithe-paying members who occasionally rush into the temple to go through a session and those members who faithfully and consistently worship in the temple.” As we make the temple a permanent and consistent part of our lives, we “come to understand better the protection available through our temple covenants and what it means to make an acceptable offering of temple worship.”

Our collective obligation to attend the temple regularly was explained by the prophet Malachi, who promised to “send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Joseph Smith explained that this welding link which must be established between ourselves and the generations who came before “is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.’ The eternal progression of our ancestors is only made possible when we serve as proxies for them in the temple, as they receive saving and exalting ordinances unavailable to the vast majority of the men and women who have ever inhabited this earth. Our own eternal progression is predicated on our willingness to follow the example of Jesus Christ and become “saviors of men” in the temple—to enable all of our Heavenly Father’s children to accept and be cleansed by the Atonement of the Savior.

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, our service to those who came before us is easier to perform than it has ever been before. Elder Richard G. Scott, describing his experience at recent temple dedications, stated that “more than once, in my mind, I have seen an inverted cone of individuals beginning at the temple and rising upward. I have felt that they represent many spirits waiting for the vicarious work to be done for them in that sanctuary, rejoicing because finally there is a place that can free them from the chains that hold them back in their eternal progress. In order to achieve this end, you will need to do the vicarious work. You will need to identify your ancestors. The new FamilySearch program makes the effort easier than before.”

Not only is the Church’s family history software constantly improving, but new vital records are constantly being added to the online pool of genealogical information at our fingertips. We have been invited to further speed that process by indexing—transcribing names and other information available in census records—from digital images. Any worker in one of the Church's Family History Centers, can help you get started; it only takes thirty minutes or so to expand the pool of potential temple beneficiaries by fifty names. Please do not be intimidated by the technology. If you can type, even if it is only with one finger, you can index. This is a wonderful Sabbath activity that makes a form of temple worship available from the comfort of our own homes even when the temple itself is closed.

When we serve as temple patrons or engage in indexing and family history work, we become living extensions of our Savior’s love for all humanity, agents of His mercy. The Lord’s mercy is the means by which we are forgiven of our mortal faults and failures; His “arm of mercy hath atoned for [our] sins.” The act of extending mercy is a central part of our Father’s work “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” and when we became the Lord’s “agents” by taking his name upon ourselves at baptism, we agreed to be “on the Lord’s errand.” God has promised to send “an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them,” and we are responsible to be that invitation, to be a tangible representation of His eternal love and mercy towards all with whom we come in contact. This is the errand on which He has sent us. The mercy of Jesus Christ is that “light which shineth, which giveth [us] light,” and we are called to share His light with others, to “let [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works, and glorify” God. How well do we reflect His light? Have we extended His merciful invitation to all those around us?

An invitation to attend church or to listen to the missionary discussions can be a lifeline for those struggling to stay spiritually afloat among the swamping breakers of sin. Jesus Christ urges us to “Remember [that] the worth of souls is great in the sight of God … Wherefore you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” We can and we must fulfill our obligation to act as spiritual lifeguards, to provide life-saving spiritual nourishment to our neighbors.

Of course, we already know that it is a privilege to assist the full-time missionaries in bringing others into the waters of baptism; that is why we routinely pray for the missionaries to find the pure in heart. But, as Elder Bednar notes, “it is my responsibility and your responsibility to find people for the missionaries to teach. Missionaries are full-time teachers; you and I are full-time finders. And you and I as lifelong missionaries should not be praying for the full-time missionaries to do our work!” We may have invited many of our friends and neighbors to hear the missionary discussions or to read the Book of Mormon, and the Lord is surely pleased with those efforts. But we have not invited everyone we could invite, and if we answer honestly when the missionaries ask us whether we know someone who we have not yet invited to hear about the gospel, our answer should always be “Yes!”

We extend invitations to hear the good news of the restored gospel because we love those whom we invite and want them to share our knowledge of the plan of happiness, and our concern for their well-being does not end once they have been confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We have a responsibility for both the spiritual and the physical well-being of our brothers and sisters and ought to follow the example of the people of Ammon. When the Zoramite converts were expelled from their homes and forced to take refuge in Jershon, the people of Ammon “did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants.” The people of Ammon welcomed and cared for the poor because they understood the Savior’s teaching that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

At baptism we covenant to become disciples of Jesus Christ and “to be called his people.” Part of this spiritual transformation involves making a commitment “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and … to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” But because you and I have limited capacities to know whose physical burdens need lifting and whose lives lack basic physical comforts, divinely inspired leaders have established programs that provide temporal assistance to members of the Church and to nonmembers in need throughout the world. These programs are funded by the generous donations of disciples: fast offerings provide church members without means the necessities of life; the Perpetual Education Fund allows uneducated church members to qualify themselves for well-compensated careers; and the Church’s Humanitarian Services division provides basic services to non-members throughout the world.

In order to qualify for a temple recommend, we must pay a full tithing, but we have also been instructed to offer generously to these other programs. Consider this counsel from President Spencer W. Kimball regarding the payment of fast offerings: “Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord. I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous. … I think we should … give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more where we are in a position to do it.” My own stake president, President Harding, has echoed this counsel and noted in the last general stake priesthood meeting that only 25% of the households in our stake currently contribute to the fast offering funds. If these numbers are representative--and they very well may be--This means that 75% of us are not receiving the blessings that a loving Father in Heaven wishes to bestow.

Malachi asks, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Brothers and sisters, we need those blessings. When we “deal [our] bread to the hungry,” the Lord has promised that “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.”

As we give of our time, talents and other resources with which the Lord has blessed us “to succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees,” we will in turn receive spiritual strength and physical protection from the Lord. It is only as we lose ourselves in the service of others that we find “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” As we follow the counsel of our late prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley and put forth “a little more effort, a little more self-discipline, a little more consecrated effort in the direction of excellence,” we will be enabled “to stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better.” Then shall our “confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and [His peace] shall distill upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven.”


Jenny said...

Thanks, Zach, for the "Wake-up" call...

Jo Jo said...

Did you have to speak in church again, or teach? Nice job. I especially liked the reminder about getting up early. It is a time when I get the most done, and receive the most inspiration/revelation. Have a great day !