Good morning, it has been a long time since I’ve stood up here to speak to you all, it was just this week that I got home from my mission. I was serving in the Mississippi Jackson Mission for the first 11 months of my mission, and after that long wait, got my visa to Brazil and served the last 8 months of my mission in the Brazil Salvador South Mission. And on my mission it was a great blessing to see and learn how following Jesus Christ changes lives.
It was hard waiting just short of a year to get to the mission I was originally called to but as President Monson taught us during this last General Conference it’s not so much about where we walk, it’s about how we walk. All of us here today have a purpose in our lives, and this purpose is to follow Christ.
Knowing this purpose and hearing it so often leads us to also ask often… how? How do we follow Jesus Christ?
There is one obvious thing we can do- baptism, we must show that we are willing to follow Christ and take his name upon us until the end of our lives.
The initial reason that anyone is baptized is because they believe it can give them happiness in the life to come, and that it can change something in their lives today, and they are entitled to believe that, it is true, but how and why does this change in our lives take place? The scriptures teach us exactly what to do after baptism to receive what we hope for- Nephi said
I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved
17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do
So for a change in our life to take place, we must follow the example of the Savior. Not just on our baptism day, but continually in our lives. One of the most important events that took place in the life of the Savior was not when he healed the ten lepers, or turned water to wine, it was when he established the sacrament. Before his body was broken and blood spilled he broke bread for his disciples, and passed wine for them, and gave them a commandment that they should continue the practice often. When Christ commanded this he commanded that we always remember the example he showed us, and all the suffering he took upon himself in our behalf. Because if we remember his example, we are more likely to follow it, and if we remember his Atonement, we remember that we can only receive the blessings from it, if we are willing to repent, and to change. We must follow Christ in order to change our lives.
Every week as we take the sacrament we should think of this. We are so very privileged to have a chance to be cleansed and start over week by week, and ponder how we can follow Christ more closely in our lives. I have never been so thankful for this building and the opportunity we have to take the sacrament here inside of it because of several months of my mission, where Priesthood holders had to travel an hour by bus just to come and see that we could partake of the sacrament. In this area we generally met inside of a school, only that one week the director decided she had had enough with the Mormons and without telling us, changed the locks. So when we went to set up the school for church and found the locks change we entered into a bit of panic. We ran and ran and did everything we could but could not get in the school, when our Priesthood leader arrived we asked him what we were going to do and he said, “there’s a parking lot not far from the school, with a ledge under a tree that people can sit on, let’s redirect everyone there”. And so we did! It was the strangest church meeting any of us had ever attended. I was mad about it. How? How could the director just lock out people that only wanted to worship the Lord? How could there be no other better place to go? I was seated on a plastic chair we had borrowed from a bar down the road, and the neighbors were playing irreverent music. But when the bread of the sacrament touched my lips I smiled in victory. It might have looked like Satan won that day from the outside, but I know that he did not. Because despite the circumstances I took the sacrament that day, I did the most important thing I could have done. That day I wasn’t too grateful, but today I am. Because I will never underestimate the importance of taking the sacrament again, and the privilege we have of taking it every week. With it we have the help of the Lord to make the changes necessary in our lives, to become what we need to become, before meeting Him again.
After knowing how to follow Jesus Christ we must also answer the question why. This answer can be different for all of us. A recent convert in Louisiana answered this while having a heated discussion with her daughter. She said, “Do you know how easy it would be to go back to not following Christ? To go back to smoking, go back to drinking?” She said, “I think about going back to my sins everyday but I don’t, you know why? Because NOW I know what God expects of me. Before I didn’t, but now I know.” Wow, that is someone who truly loves God. What she learned during her conversion is that the more we know and learn about God, the less we want to leave him. The more she kept the commandments the less she wanted to break them. The love of God is greater than anything and she learned that and that’s what gave her the courage to follow Christ and continue to live a changed life.
Some people have more changes to make than others, but for these changes to take place a few things are always required.
Mosiah 3:19 teaches us that to Follow Christ we must “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
In Brazil many people would ask us, “why saints? Aren’t those Catholic?” and we would respond- no, we are Latter Day Saints because we believe that just as this scripture says we are working and striving to become saints. It is our duty to seek to become a saint through the atonement of Christ. I believe to do this we must do as the scripture says and-- become as a child, submissive, meek, humble… In Mississippi my companion and I met a woman named Alice, on the day we met Alice we were simply knocking doors, she said she saw us through the window and had intention to hide, but instead of hiding she yielded to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and opened the door, and listened. The problem was, all she did was listen, she rarely asked any questions, or gave a legitimate response to any of our questions, and one day in confusion we asked, “Alice, do you believe that the things we are taught you today are true?” and she responded, “well you’re telling them to me aren’t you!?” And in that moment we realized, Alice wasn’t slow, she wasn’t just lonely, or just interested, she was a perfect example of being as a little child, and being humble. She didn’t have to make many changes in her life to be baptized but the day she was baptized, while she was getting dressed in the stall she said to my companion and I, “Before I met y’all…” and that was it. The change in this woman was not drastic and to me not very visible, but the Spirit that flowed from her in those few short words testified of the true change that took place in her life as a result of following Jesus Christ more perfectly.
Following Christ perfectly can be hard. He was perfect in everything that he did, which is impossible for us. But I believe to follow him closely the most important ingredient is love. To follow Christ we must love as he did, and this love will surely change the lives of others. The scriptures tell us that “charity never faileth”, therefore if we can master love, our love can mask all our other imperfections. As a missionary, the work is only enjoyable, and we can only have success, when we truly love the people we serve. A mission is the hardest time of your life and the most rewarding. I thought a mission was easy because you are so blessed every day for your sacrifice, but learned that that isn’t true.
It is easy to think that just because we follow Jesus Christ, we are entitled to easy living, we are entitled to immediate answers to prayers, complete health, and everything we want. Something that helped me change my perspective on this was meeting a woman in Brazil named Francisca Helena. Her life was everything but easy. She spent her whole life truly striving to do what was right but ended up with a broken heart and family, and while she passed a time of extreme difficulty she had a dream, a dream that is very precious to her. She was in the sky and saw arches forming that made windows and walking across these arches, she saw the Savior. He was walking slowly passing arch by arch, and she felt impressed to count them, she counted 5 and when the Savior came to the fifth arch he finally stopped, and turned, and looked at her, and when they had made eye contact the dream ended. This was about 20 years ago. She was very deeply impressed by this dream, and for 20 years searched the meaning, and even though she could never interpret it, she felt comforted by it, she knew the Lord was with her. And year after year she held on to that, until this July when she was baptized a member of the Church. And one day a few months after being baptized when we went to her house, she sat us down and with tears told this story of this dream, and then with joy told us that she had finally found the meaning to this dream. Before coming in contact with the church she had been a member of 4 churches, Cathoic, Messianic, Spriritualist, and Cademble, but the fifth church she has been a member of is this church, and in the dream the Savior did not pass it, he stopped as if to say, your search is over, and this is where you will find me. And I can testify that she did. Her broken heart and family have not been fully healed, she faces challenges and struggles everyday just as she did before, but within these challenges she has something different, she has the Spirit, one of the greatest gifts of God, she has certainty that she is where she is supposed to be, and she has certainty that the Savior is with her, every step, and that he is watching over her.
It took 20 years, and some seemingly strange pathways, but Christ did change her, and her life. Through the Atonement Christ knows us perfectly; our thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Our doubts, fears, and pains. Therefore he not only knows how to comfort, and counsel us, he knows how to actually bring about a change in us. Francisca Helena is a different person than she was, she has many of the same burdens as she did before but changed in the way she handles and carries them.
As a missionary I experienced the same thing. A trial is a trial, the difference is whether or not you humble yourself sufficiently to trust the Lord, and rely on his divine aid. If there is anyone out there wondering whether or not to serve, my advice is to stop wondering, because when we follow in the footsteps of the Savior we learn to rely on the Lord and there is nothing that will help us more in our lives than that. To rely on him we must know him, Mosiah 5:13 describes how it is that we come to know him. For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
If we keep ourselves distant from the Lord and his work, if we choose not to follow him, we will never know him, we will never see a positive change in our lives, or have the opportunity to see the change in the lives of others. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father to all I learned the short time I spent serving Him.
From Alice that it doesn’t matter where or how long we follow Him it matters that we follow him with all our heart, mind, and strength, in complete humility before Him.
From Francisca Helena I learned that some change comes soon and some comes later, but for those who follow Jesus Christ, change does come, and so do the blessings.
And personally I learned that the more we follow him, the less we will want do anything less than that. When we follow him, we give him our hearts, and when he has our hearts he can mold and change them. And I know that, because it happened with me, I can assure you all that I am and will be different, and have no intentions to stop following Jesus Christ, because I know that any small change that happened in me happened because of him.