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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homecoming Talk

Perfected by Charity
I served in the Hermosillo Mexico Mission, which is located in the state of Sonora, just below Arizona. And for those of you that don't know, Sonora is a desert. Four of my five areas were especially hot (with temperatures reaching up to 130ยบ F in the summer), and I was sunburned in each and every one of them. Fortunately, however, after being home for about a month, all the burns have faded away, although the tan lines are taking a bit longer. I know that with time, all of the physical evidences of the fact that I served a mission shall be gone. But I also know that what I did in my mission, and more importantly what the Lord did to me, shall forever affect me spiritually. I know that a mission, faithfully served with all the might, mind, and strength that a youth can muster, shall also bless his or her life forever.
Two years ago, in the MTC, I heard Jeffrey R. Holland say that he hopes that every returned missionary can say what he has said on numerous occasions, that “[His] mission meant everything to [him].” I can gladly stand before you all today and say the same. My mission meant everything to me, and I would also desire for each and every person that is preparing to serve, that is serving, or that has already served as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to one day be able to say that their mission meant everything to them. I was not a perfect missionary, and was by no means the best, but I do know that serving a mission can help anyone progress farther on their path to become what the Lord would have them be, which is to be “. . . holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:33).
This, the admonition to become perfect, is nothing new. In 3 Nephi 12:48, Jesus Christ extends to each of us an invitation—“Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. ” This has been described by many as the most difficult commandment, and is surely one of the most challenging. But it should not be much of a surprise for any of us. Our Heavenly Father is surely a God of high expectations, and requires nothing but our best efforts in order to receive all the blessings that He has and to become what He desires us to become. It is because of this that He has given us the mandate to do all that we possibly can in order to become perfect.
Unfortunately, the seemingly impossible nature of this commandment causes some of us to falter, to lose hope in our own abilities and potential, and to even give up completely on ever fully obtaining this goal, becoming a hindrance rather than a help. But despite its difficulty, each and every one of us must strive to obey it—for there is no imperfect person that dwells in the presence of God, and mediocrity does not exist in the celestial kingdom (3 Nephi 27:19). Fortunately, however, we are not alone. The path has been walked before by our Elder Brother Jesus, and He is willing to teach us how to walk it as He once did, and to be there to help every step of the way. And so that we too may be able to enjoy all the blessings that He enjoys and “be perfect with the Lord [our] God” (Deut. 18:13), the Messiah performed the Atonement in order for us to be pure and holy, even as He and our Father in Heaven are pure and holy. Because of this great and eternal sacrifice, we may know that once we have done all that is in our power to meet the Lord's perfect requirements, He shall fill in the rest.
But before we try to perfect ourselves, we must have a clear vision of what we must become, and to know what the end result of all of this is. As Alfred Adler once said, “God, who is eternally complete, who directs the stars, who is the master of fates, who elevates man from his lowliness to Himself, who speaks from the cosmos to every single human soul, is the most brilliant manifestation of the goal of perfection.” Heavenly Father Himself and His Son Jesus Christ have always been our examples. They are one in mind, purpose, and character, although not in personage. We know that They, like all glorified persons, have perfect and incorruptible bodies of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22,) are all-knowing (2 Nephi 9:20), all-powerful (1 Nephi 7:12), all-just (Deut. 32:4), all-merciful (Mosiah 28:4), and all-loving (Romans 8:38-39).
That's quite an intimidating list. It is understandable to think that shall never arrive to that point in this life, and I doubt that any of us have perfected even one of those attributes. But that should never stop us from trying.
Unfortunately, though, we cannot attain complete physical perfection like the Father and His Son, and never will until after the Resurrection (Alma 40:22-23), no matter how much we exercise and how well we eat. But we can, in our desire to reach the finish line, drive ourselves to become excellent in our physical and technical efforts. Olympic athletes continue to set and break world records every four years, some even receiving perfect scores in the process. In a similar manner, those who enjoy activities such as art, poetry, music, and other pursuits are driven to greater and newer heights as they strive to perfect what they do and who they are.
But physical completeness and technical excellence should not be our primary goal in this life. They are important, to be sure, but unless they help us achieve our goal of spiritual perfection, they are not of great significance, for as Paul once taught Timothy, “. . . bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). The true perfection of which Christ spoke is that of perfection in spiritual matters, to be “complete, whole, and fully developed; totally righteous [and] without sin or evil” (see The Guide to the Scriptures: Perfection). This divine ambition can include striving to learn and apply all we can of the Gospel of Christ, magnifying our Church callings, loving and serving our neighbor, along with practicing and fostering a Spirit of righteousness within our own homes and families.
As with our physical goals, the desire to be perfect in spiritual matters can serve as a great motivation to do all that we can to become all that the Father would have us be. And of all the divine attributes that we should acquire and perfect in this life is that of charity, the pure love of Christ. The reason for this is simple. As Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Therefore, as much as knowledge, faith, sacrifice, and covenants prepare us to be with God after this life, so is charity an essential element in helping us to return to live with the Lord and becoming perfected in Him, and without it, we “. . . cannot inherit that place which [Christ] hast prepared in the mansions of [His] Father” (Ether 12:34). Without charity, we can do nothing (D&C 18:19).
So for whom should we have charity? We learn from the Scriptures that we should “. . . love the Lord the [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind” (Matthew 22:37, 39), and as 2 Nephi 31:20 states, we should also have a love of ALL men. This means that put simply, we should love absolutely EVERYone—our Father in Heaven being the most important of them all, and that we should always manifest that love by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).
But charity, for the Lord and for others, is not just a requisite to live in the celestial kingdom, but is one of the greatest blessings that we can have in order to live the Gospel. When we have charity, a few interesting things happen. If you truly love the Lord as the Scripture states, you will not have desires to disobey the commandments. You shall stop questioning His counsel and that of His servants, becoming submissive, meek, humble, patient, and willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon you (Mosiah 3:19). And if you truly love others, as PMG states, “You will come to feel a sincere concern for the eternal welfare and happiness of other people. You will see them as children of God with the potential of becoming like our Heavenly Father, and you will labor in their behalf. You will avoid negative feelings such as anger, envy, lust, or covetousness. You will avoid judging others, criticizing them, or saying negative things about them. You will try to understand them and their points of view. You will be patient with them and try to help them when they are struggling or discouraged” (p. 118).
If you have charity, living the commandments will not be a hardship, but a privilege. Doing your home or visiting teaching will no longer be a chore, but a joy. You will not have to fight with yourself to fulfill your responsibilities in the Church or in your own home. If you and your family have perfect charity one for another, there will be no bickering, no fighting, and no contention. Charity, in a sense, makes the entire Gospel “easier,” not because it is something that we do, but because it is something that we are.
But how can we cultivate this type of charity? First, we must understand our need of it, not just in our minds, but also in our hearts, and for that need to be confirmed by the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 33:1). This spiritual confirmation of the heart, which is felt rather than thought or heard, is key in our efforts to be charitable, for as M. Russell Ballard said in the past General Conference, “Only when our testimony transcends what is in our mind and burrows deep into our heart will our motivation to love and to serve become like unto the Savior's. It is then, and only then, that we become deeply converted disciples of Christ empowered by the Spirit to reach the hearts of our fellowmen” (Anxiously Engaged, p. 30 Ensign Nov. 2012). Second, we may “. . . pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love . . .” (Moroni 7:48), asking for divine help through prayer. Third, we must try all we can to see the good in others. If we focus on the negative, there will always be some fault or defect in the character of other people. But if we focus on that which is good, we will have a sincere and natural admiration for that person, which fosters an attitude of charity. And fourth, after having done all we can to have this perfect charity, we can let the Lord fill in the rest, and let ourselves feel His love for the people we also want to love.
I had many experiences with this on my mission. It is easy to get along with fun and hard-working companions, and to feel affection for investigators and members that always do what they can to help the work continue to move forward. But then again, there are the companions that aren't so easy to love, and investigators that are very hard to even like. But missionaries, more than anyone else, need to have this love for others, and for others to feel charity radiate through them. Obviously we do not want others to be converted to us, but to Christ, but as I just stated, when the Spirit of the pure love of Christ is present, it is much easier to live the Gospel.
When I was in my fourth area, I arrived in the place of an incredible missionary. He had worked miracles there, and replacing him was no small task. He and my new companion had been teaching a family, who were preparing to be baptized. When we first arrived to their home, they told us, “Honestly, we don't want to become attached to or love either of you. It hurt too much when the other elder left, and we don't want to go through that again.” I sat there, brand new in the area, thinking, “Great. This is going to be awesome. Even the investigators that want to be baptized don't want anything to do with us.” I tried my hardest to see the good in the situation, and to see the good in them, even though it was obvious that they would have preferred that I be the other elder. They still wanted to learn, however, so we continued to teach and prepare them for baptism. In the process, I understood and felt the need to love them, and I prayed for the Lord's help to do so as often as I could. I also tried to see the good in their family, despite their obvious disappointment of who we were. And even after all of this, I came up short. I still did not feel perfect love towards them. That is when I tried the fourth step. I could not bring myself to do it on my own, so I brought in the Lord's help, not just through prayer, but through an active effort. Perhaps I could not love them completely, but I knew that the Lord already did. I tried to think of what He felt for them, and His desire for them to be a happy and complete family.
As a quick side note, I only speak for myself. My companion loved that family, and my personal struggle in doing so is in no way a statement of his love for them.
That is when the true miracle occurred. I had done all I could. And after that, the Lord filled in the rest. We felt love for them, and they felt it. Not only was the family baptized, but they were truly converted. The whole house changed. The small and insignificant problems that they had had no longer mattered as much. There was less contention and more love. They are more unified. They still love the Church, and the two youngest daughters even sang in the Primary program of their ward a few weeks ago. They are still far from perfect, as we all are, but as they continue to do all that they can to have that love for the Lord and for one another, they will become more and more perfected in Christ.
I know that it was not because of me, my love, or my companion and his love, that they were converted, but I know that the Lord had a hand in them feeling His love through us. And with that, they were more prepared to descend into the waters of baptism and to begin a new life in Christ.
I love that family, almost as much as I love my own. I would do anything for them. I love all of my converts. I love the people I taught. I love my companions. I love Mexico, and I love its people, despite all their imperfections. I love my mission. I love the Lord, for what He has done for me and for what He has done for those that I love. But above all, I love Him because He helped me learn what it is to truly love others.
But don't get me wrong. I am not all-loving. I don't have the most charity in the world, and I would be very wrong to say such a thing. I have met people like that, and so far, I am not one of them. But I also know another thing. If I continue this pattern, I can, through that charity, become perfect in it. I know that all the principles of the Gospel are true, and that all Christ-like attributes are important, but in my own personal opinion, charity is the one that purifies us the most. For as Paul once exhorted the Colossians, “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:14).
If any of you feel you can improve in your desires and efforts to be spiritually perfect, I would invite to try a little harder, and I promise you that charity will help you do so. And if you feel that you are already doing all that you can, I promise that if you ask for God's help, and actively strive to deserve it, He will fill in the rest, for “. . . it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
In closing, I would like to remind all of you of an invitation similar to that which Jesus Christ extended to us in 3 Nephi 12:48. This was given by Moroni, and these words are some of the last that he wrote in the Book of Mormon. It is found in Moroni 10:32-33, and states, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.