Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Weightier Matters of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

A week and a half ago I received a phone call asking if I would speak in the Sunday session of our Stake Conference tomorrow. I was hesitant for personal reasons, but accepted the assignment anyway. One early morning shortly after the call, I woke to words running through my head. I knew the Lord was giving me the words to my talk. I was taught day after day as I read and studied and wrote. I had several personal hardships along the way which usually stunt inspiration, yet it continued to flow. I am so grateful for that experience. Having finished my talk early, I decided to go to the temple yesterday to calm my nerves. I came home feeling peaceful and ready. Then I received a phone call from my Stake President informing me that the agenda for the weekend had been changed and my talk was no longer necessary. Truthfully, I felt completely deflated and hurt. I had given this talk my all for the last week and a half. Hours and hours of study and work and practicing as I geared myself up to actually stand at the pulpit and say the words. I share this not for sympathy, there are far worse things that can happen to a person(ok, a little sympathy would be nice though) I share this because I don't know what else to do with all of my hard work. I recognize that some things in life are just for our learning alone, but I was kinda hoping this one what would help someone else as well.
Here is the talk I was going to give:

The Weightier Matters of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

One early Spring morning many years ago I took a walk down the shady dirt lane near our home in Perry. Fields of cows slowly grazed along side of the dusty road, separated now and again by a fence indicating the property line of neighboring farmers. After several minutes of walking I came upon a cow that had gotten her head stuck between two pieces of a wooden structure. In her distress she had given birth to her calf which still lay in its sack of waters at her feet. This poor mother unable to attend to her baby let out a bellowing cry for help. Being nearly 9 months pregnant myself at that time, I felt an immediate kinship with this poor mother cow and waddled as fast as my belly would allow to go find help. I saw a neighboring farmer out working around his house.
I thought to myself "surely he knows what to do".
I quickly related the distressing scenario to him with something like this:
"Mr. Farmer, there is this cow down the road and she is stuck and she has had her baby and she can't get to it!"
Thinking he would heroically and immediately jump to the rescue of this poor creature and her newborn baby, I was quite fairly shocked when his response came
"Not my cow."
Stunned and in somewhat of a stupor, I asked him who's cow it was so that I could call and alert the proper owner. He gave me the name and I left him to continue his own work, on his own property, with his own fields and his own cows.
Through the years Craig and I have, in good humor, often repeated the farmer's response "not my cow" when referring to something that in our minds is not our problem. There are times when keeping our noses out of other people's business is the proper response, but in regards to living Christ's gospel and following counsel from our Prophets and Apostles, having this attitude of disregard will surely hinder our progress along this mortal walk of life.

Recently in our Stake the three hour time block on Sundays has been rearranged to have the Sacrament portion of our meetings first. This change of schedule is in response to counsel given from Apostles and leaders to place a greater emphasis on the sacred nature of the Sabbath day.
Why is the commandment to keep the sabbath day holy of such importance to us that it would render the given attention from those who we sustain to guide us?

From Adam down to our day, those that follow Christ have been taught to obey God’s commandments. Out of the ten commandments revealed to Moses by the Lord in ancient times, there are only two that specify to do something rather than “shalt not” do. In Exodus it reads “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) This commandment along with the other nine, pave the way for obedience to other gospel principles. President Uchtdorf once said "In striving for obedience to God’s commandments there are many good ideas. However, one person’s good idea-that may work for him or her-can take root and become somewhat of an expectation [for all]. Gradually eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of “good ideas”."

This was one of the Savior’s criticisms of the religious “experts” of His day, whom He chastised for attending to the hundreds of minor details of the law while neglecting the weightier matters.

What are the weightier matters in regards to “remembering the sabbath day, to keep it holy”?

At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives record of the vision his Father had of the tree of life. Having a hope and desire to know the things his father had seen, Nephi sat and pondered in his heart until he was “caught away in the Spirit of the Lord”.
And the Spirit said unto Nephi: “what desirest thou?”

And Nephi answered:  “to behold the things which my father saw.”

Further questioning the testimony of Nephi, the Spirit asked him if he believed that his father Lehi had seen the tree of life. Answering in the affirmative, Nephi was then granted a vision of his own.

“And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.

“And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.”

Nephi then wanted to know the meaning of the tree. The Spirit proceeded to show him the time of Christ’s birth and said to him

“Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.”

And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.”

Nephi recognized the simile between God’s only begotten Son and the precious tree of life. When we prepare to partake of the sacrament each Sunday, it is as if we are approaching the tree of life itself. It is as if we are approaching the Savior himself.
With this image in mind, it is of little wonder that the sacrament portion of our meetings is the most important part of every Sabbath day. The Sacrament is the most repeated ordinance in Christ’s church, the only one that we repeat for ourselves. It is a sacred moment in a holy place.

If you had an appointment on your calendar tomorrow to personally visit with the Savior, would you want to be prepared for that meeting? After such a meeting would you rush to the next item on your busy schedule or would you enjoy some time to think about your experience? Would you choose activities that helped you remember your time with the Savior or ones that took your mind elsewhere, causing you to momentarily forget?

The commandment to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy is not a commandment that is meant to benefit God. He does not need us to worship Him.
“His power and glory are not diminished should we disregard, deny, or even defile His name. His influence and dominion extend through time and space independent of our acceptance, approval, or admiration.”(President Uchtdorf)

No, God does not need us to worship him one day out of seven for His benefit. (Mark 2:27)

It is for our benefit that God has given us this small portion of our week to rest from our daily toils and labors, to be healed and cleansed of our sins through the partaking of the sacrament, to learn and grow with a clean and pure heart in our gospel classes, and to love God and feel loved by Him in return.
God's love is infinite and pure. God's love gives us a divine sense of security as it binds us to Him, replenishes us, and brings unspeakable joy to the soul. God's love is the motivating source of life that lends us courage to make the changes that are necessary to our salvation. God's love is the enabling power that turns ordinary daily acts of devotion into extraordinary mortal experiences that will perpetuate beyond the grave. God's love is the key to happiness in this life and in the life to come.

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." (1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6) If we choose to regard the Sabbath day and keep it holy, leaving our "fields" and our "cows" for one day, we show our love to God and we will feel His love more abundantly in our lives.

I bear witness that God lives. He knows how to love us perfectly though we be imperfect. Because of that love we have the gift of His son Jesus Christ as our mediator with the Father and it is through Him that we can return to live with them once more. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One Who Moves Forward

I was asked to speak in sacrament last week. Posting the results here so that I may return and learn from it again at some future date.

Having just celebrated Pioneer Day and with the upcoming Pioneer Trek for our youth, we turn our thoughts back in time to those that made it possible for us to be sitting here today, the ones that have gone before us in life. Webster's Dictionary defines the word pioneer as "To go before, to prepare or open a way for others to follow". Being the oldest of eight children in my family, I naturally had several 'pioneer' moments growing up. The earliest one when I left my siblings at home to play while I went off to start school. Then the day I was Baptized comes to mind, after that learning to drive, requesting my patriarchal blessing, getting married, and to even the most recent distinct pioneer moment when we had to let my Dad go and it was time to leave the hospital. After living for 5 days in the waiting room of the thoracic intensive care unit in Salt Lake City, Craig and I were the first to leave. I distinctly remember the strange peace that settled over me as we picked up our things and walked out into the daylight. Moving forward that day definitely felt like a huge Pioneer moment.

In the recent April General Conference Elder L. Whitney Clayton spoke of a young 7 year old girl who survived a plane crash that took the lives of the rest of her family. After calling out and realizing she was the only one left, she courageously set off barefoot across the hills of Kentucky in search of help. Stumbling through the darkness she spotted a light in the distance. With cuts and scrapes and a broken wrist she fought her way through the rough countryside toward that light where a man took her into his care and helped her to the hospital for further care and healing. Having a little orange haired 7 year old myself, I am in awe of the strength of this young girl and her innate desire to move forward despite all that she had been through. She took courage in the fact that no matter how bad things were, her rescue would be found in the light. At some time or another, all of us will have to traverse our own spiritual wilderness and undertake our own rugged emotional journey. However dark and seemingly hopeless these moments might feel, if we choose to look for it, a light beckons us giving us the hope of rescue and relief. That light has forever been and will continue to shine from Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

In Doctrine and Covenants it states "O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day."
Being the theme for this year, our youth are coming to know the words of this scripture well. What their leaders, and parents, hope is that these words will fuse within them and become part of who they are as they learn and grow in testimony and in life. I have witnessed many of them reaching out in kindness and in service on their own which tells me this is taking place.
Like the word pioneer, embark suggests to the mind a new journey. A way of leaving something behind and moving forward. Naturally when our paths ahead are unwanted or unknown it is easy to allow our fears, worries and doubts overtake our ability to see any light ahead. Corrie Ten Boom once said "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."

There is a scriptural account in Mark chapter 9 of a father who, in desperation for his afflicted son, sought for a miraculous healing from Jesus. With anguish the father pleads to Jesus:

"If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.

"Jesus said unto him, if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

"And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

What we can learn from this account is eloquently described by Elder Holland:
"Without hesitation the father asserts his strength first, [with his declaration of "Lord I believe]" and only then acknowledges his limitation [with "help thou mine unbelief"]. In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is very limited."
There will always come moments in life when the resolution of a question, problem or troubling time will not immediately be given. Elder Holland encourages us, almost pleading with us to "hold fast to what you already know and [stay] strong until additional knowledge comes. Do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your "unbelief." I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have."

In a clever movie released by DreamWorks, there is a story of a prehistoric family and their adventures as they are forced to embark on a journey when their cave, that has always shielded them from danger, is destroyed. In attempt to influence the family for what he thought was best, the father tells the bedtime story of a bear who listened to her father and lived her life in a cave of routine and darkness and fear. In regard to life in a cave, the daughter's response is accurate to the folly of this plan, she emphatically states "That wasn't living-it was just not dying".
Keeping our faith merely alive is very important, but tends to leave our feet planted in a spot that stunts our growth. If the little 7 year old girl had remained at the sight of the plane crash, she would have perished eventually, along with her family. Instead she gave everything she had, all her heart, might, mind, and strength to her desire and belief that moving forward would bring her what she needed. She had her own 'pioneer' moment.

In preparing this talk I asked myself these questions: What is a pioneer in my day, here and now? Am I a pioneer? Have I embarked in the service of God? Do I serve God with all of my heart, might, mind and strength?
The answer that came to me is that a pioneer is one that embarks on their journey with whatever amount of faith they do have, giving it all in the process despite the heartaches, cuts and scrapes, fears and worries. A pioneer is one who moves forward. In doing so we are paving the way for others. In our daily devotion to God and following His Son we mark the way for future generations through our children, or in service to our co-workers, neighbors and friends. As we traverse our own rough countryside trail we gain experience that is beneficial to our salvation and may even prove to be of help and use for another. As we live life in the light of Christ's gospel, we are being a pioneer.

"Whether we are young in years of age or young in years of membership or young in years of faith" may we all focus on the saving light of our Savior and press forward in our own pioneer trek, leading with whatever amount of faith we have. 
Choose to embark. Choose to move forward. Don't stay in the cave. Jesus Christ will help you on your way. He will heal your tired heart and broken spirit. I have felt this in my own life. I know that He lives. I close in that sacred name, even Jesus Christ, amen.