Sunday, October 11, 2015

Choices of the Chosen (Another Farewell Talk)

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who came to hear me give my farewell talk and came to my open house last night! I feel so blessed to have such wonderful friends and ward families in the Vanderbilt Beach Ward, as well as in the Estero YSA branch. Thank you all for your kind words of love and encouragement.

For those of you who couldn't make it, here is a copy of my farewell talk! Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The topic I have been given to speak on is the phrase “many are called, but few are chosen,” which comes from a scripture in D&C 121:34, which is actually part of a scripture mastery from the seminary program, which is an early morning class LDS high school students have the opportunity to participate in.
My freshman year of high school, the standard work we studied in seminary was Doctrine and Covenants, which is book of scripture that contains revelations from the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith and to a few other latter-day prophets. When I got to memorizing this scripture mastery and I read the words “many are called, but few are chosen,” my 14-year-old mind immediately related this scripture to Harry Potter and how he is referred to as the “chosen one” in the last couple books of the series. I deem Harry Potter as one of my childhood literary heroes and despite the fictional nature of this book series, I viewed, and still view, Harry Potter as the kind of character worth having aspirations to be like.
While Harry Potter’s mother saving his life from the dark lord as an infant and a prophecy from one of his professors contributed to Harry Potter’s status as “The Chosen One,” I would claim the biggest factor in Harry Potter’s status as “The Chosen One” was in the choices he made leading up to his final batter with the dark lord. He was by no means perfect, but Harry Potter was kind, he was humble (most of the time), he knew the right sources to turn to when he had questions, from a young age he showed a pattern of picking good friends, he had a good sense of what was right and what was wrong, he was courageous, and he was a noble servant of a righteous cause.

While I could go on and on picking apart symbolisms, analyzing the great qualities of the characters in this series, and making parallels between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Harry Potter series, I’ll keep my comparison short. Just like Harry Potter, we all have dark forces we battle against on a daily basis and we fight these forces through the choices we make.

Elder David A. Bednar said: “When the scriptures say that “many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:40), I believe that obedience and faithfulness are what cause those who are “called” to become “chosen.” Many are called, but few are faithful and obedient. God says to Abraham that he was one of the great and noble ones because of his obedience before he was born (see Alma 13:3).
To be or to become chosen is not an exclusive status conferred upon us. Rather, you and I ultimately determine if we are chosen. Please now note the use of the word chosen in the following verses from the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
“Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men” (D&C 121:34–35; emphasis added).
I believe the implication of these verses is quite straightforward. God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit “the chosen” to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determine whether we are counted as one of God’s chosen.”

Establishing that our personal “chosen” status is determined based on our actions, I want to propose the crowning choices we have made and can make that will count us as one of God’s chosen.
1. Our choice to follow the Savior’s plan, gain a body, and experience mortality.

In the pre-mortal existence, Christ presented a plan that would allow us to choose exaltation while experiencing mortality. We know we accepted Christ’s plan in the pre-existence because we are experiencing mortality right now. Part of the plan was gaining a body, having our own agency and being accountable for our actions. When we make good choices, God blesses us. When we make bad choices, the Holy Ghost cannot dwell within us and we miss out on blessings. When we see mortality through the lens of the plan of salvation, it makes sense that while there were many noble spirits in the pre-existence that have the potential to be noble in mortality, many people have lost touch with the divine worth they have in the sight of God.

Someone once told me, “there is great power in knowing who you are and where you came from.” This rings true in our own lives. When we understand that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (including our own), that we come from a divine heritage stemming from a literal Father in Heaven who has power to do all things on Earth and in Heaven, this will help us understand the potential we have to become like our Heavenly Father and one day dwell with Him.
2. Our choice to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ
Decades after Christ’s Resurrection, the people grew wicked and killed Christ’s apostles and corrupted the teachings of Christ, which led to the priesthood being taken off the Earth. However, Ephesians 1:10 says “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in Earth, even in him:” As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we believe that the dispensation of the fulness of times began when the priesthood was restored to the Earth through the prophet Joseph Smith in the 1800s.
The restoration of Christ’s church is one way that our Heavenly Father shows us that he loves us, and he wants everyone to have the opportunity to hear the restored gospel, but more importantly he wants us to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once we have prayed to our Heavenly Father with a sincere heart and with real intent if the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is restored to the Earth, the most basic way we make the choice to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is through demonstrating faith in Jesus Christ by being baptized by one holding that proper priesthood authority found in Christ’s true church by immersion in water for a remission of our sins and by receiving the gift of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

3. Our choice to work towards strengthening our relationship and our testimony of Jesus Christ
Whether we were born in the church or we are a convert, there comes a time in everyone’s life where we make the choice to follow Christ and accept the gospel or to follow a different path. This choice is made through whatever we are doing to strengthen our testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, or the lack thereof. The things we do to strengthen our testimony of the Savior are pretty small, basic things that we’ve been told to do over and over again, like saying our prayers day and night, reading our scriptures daily, attending church each Sunday, paying tithing, etc. However, it’s amazing just how much of a difference these small things make in our daily lives. When we stop doing these things, we can gradually lose that very important connection we need to have with the Holy Ghost to make good and important decisions.
Some of you may have a testimony that isn’t very strong and some of you may have a testimony that can withstand most any storm that the philosophies of the world throw your way that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. No matter where your testimony is, I would invite all of you to evaluate where your testimony is right now and where your relationship with the Savior is and decide what you need to do to continue to strengthen it. Gaining a testimony isn’t a one-time deal. We need to consistently nourish the testimony we’ve gained so it can continue to grow. Satan doesn’t necessarily need to get us to do bad things to weaken our testimony. He just needs to get us to change our priorities so something, anything really, becomes more important than the things that will help us strengthen our relationship with the Savior. That is why it is so important to do those little simple things in the gospel that will allow our testimonies to take strong root and grow.

4. The choice to utilize the atonement of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world to suffer, bleed and die in behalf of the sins of the world. It was the greatest act of love recorded in history. He died so we could have a way to return home to our Heavenly Father. Making the choice to utilize the atonement is so crucial to our salvation. We cannot return to our Heavenly Father any other way than through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
We can utilize the atonement in three different ways. We can use the atonement to heal us when we sin, when others hurt us, or when trials come upon us that weren’t necessarily directly anyone’s fault. It is necessary for us to use the atonement to heal ourselves in all three situations because it helps us draw closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ. He loves us so much that he died for everyone, not just a list of his favorites, and in turn wants us to use the atonement to draw closer to Him because that is what will bring us exaltation in the next life to come.

5. The choice to make and keep sacred covenants with the Lord
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have many opportunities to make covenants with the Lord that allow us to show our devotion to Him and stay on track on our path through eternal progression. It also allows the Lord to bless our lives more richly than he could before. These covenants include baptism, priesthood ordinations, receiving an endowment in the temple, and being sealed to your spouse and children in the temple for time and eternity. Making the choice to make these crucial covenants with the Lord allow us to work towards being marked as one of God’s chosen. But we cannot simply just make covenants and expect the Lord to bless us if we do not continue to keep these covenants.
D&C 82:10 reads, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” The Lord will bless us when we make choices that allow us to fulfill the end of the covenant that we’ve made. As we do so, the power from on high that comes from keeping these sacred covenants we’ve made with the Lord will bless our lives in more ways that we realize.
6. The choice to accept the Lord’s will and His timing
The Lord has a great reward in store for those willing to keep His commandments and endure to the end. However, keeping His commandments and enduring to the end can sometimes seem like an impossible task, and sometimes it feels like this reward is an eternity away. When we are willing to trust in the Lord’s will and His timing, He will always bless us.
I feel like I have best learned this principle as I have prepared to serve a mission. Once I received the answer that the Lord wanted me to prepare to serve a full-time mission, making the decision to serve was actually a very easy decision to make for me. However, as I began working on my mission papers, it took me a lot longer to get my papers turned in than I anticipated due to a few setbacks, and that alone left me frustrated and wondering if the Lord still wanted me to serve a mission. That frustration soon passed when I got my papers turned in and waited as patiently as a prospective missionary could possibly wait for a mission call. When I got my mission call, I was beyond excited about my call to serve in Hong Kong, but I was actually pretty disappointed my report date was two months after my availability date. I didn’t want to have to wait longer that I felt like I had to, and I felt like I was so ready to leave sooner! However, in the last three months I have had my mission call, I have had so many valuable experiences that have been absolutely crucial to my spiritual preparation as a missionary that I would not have been able to have had I left earlier. The Lord allowed those setbacks while I was working on my mission papers to happen so I could report to the MTC later so that He could prepare my heart for the challenges that lie ahead for me as a missionary. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord’s hand has been in every aspect of my mission call, and while it was hard for me to accept the Lord’s timing for me in the beginning and I have faced some of my hardest trials since receiving my mission call, the plan that the Lord had in store for me was way better than any plan I had for myself, even if it required me to go through the refiner’s fire that comes with trials.
I know that as make the choice to lean on our Heavenly Father and counsel with the Lord on important decisions we are making in our lives and seek to do HIS will instead of our own, the Lord will richly bless our lives in ways we don't always expect. Blessings always come to those who wait on the Lord.

7. The choice to trust in the Lord
I want to use an analogy from a BYU Speech by James A. Rasband to illustrate this point for me:
Suppose I find myself in a home built for me by a very generous landlord. It is a nice home. He encourages me to maintain and improve the home and gives me a number of instructions for making the home a nice place to live.
Over the years I sometimes improve the home, but other times, through my negligence, I make it worse. One time I flood the home when I fail to set the faucets to drip during a freeze. Another time my kitchen catches fire because I fail to turn off a burner on the stove. A couple of times I lose my temper and put my fist through a wall.
In each instance the landlord forgives me and encourages me to pay a little closer attention to my home and to his instructions for making the home a joyful place to live. He does not charge me for the damage caused by my mistakes. Instead, sometimes he is patient while I figure out how to fix things on my own; sometimes he sends someone over to fix the problem; and sometimes I wake up and things are fixed in ways I don’t quite understand.
This same landlord happens to have a son who is quite wayward. The son is always up to no good, and I don’t particularly like or respect him. One night the landlord’s son, as a prank, sets fire to the shed attached to the back of my house. The fire gets out of control, and the entire house burns down. I lose the home. I lose all of my possessions, including some particularly valuable possessions that I can’t replace, such as photos and heirlooms.
I’m angry and distraught. I want the no-good son to pay. I want him to fix things and to make me whole. A part of me knows he can’t really make it better. He may not have the resources to rebuild the house, and, even if he could rebuild the house, he can’t retrieve the photos and heirlooms. And that makes me even angrier.
As I sit in anger, the landlord comes to visit me. He reminds me that he has promised to take care of me. He promises me that he is willing to rebuild my house. In fact, he says that he will do more than that: he will replace my house with a castle and then give me all that he himself has. He says that this might take a while, but he promises it will happen.
“What’s the catch?” I say.
“Here are the conditions,” he says. “First, you need to put your faith in me and trust that I really will build you that castle and restore all that you have lost. Second, you need to continue to work on implementing the instructions I gave you about keeping up your house. Finally, you need to forgive my arsonist son, just as I have forgiven you all these many years.”
The Lord will ask us to do many difficult things in our life. He will ask us to follow commandments that we don’t understand the whys of following them. He will ask us to forgive or even help someone that has hurt us in the past. He will ask us to go in a different direction than we had ever planned for ourselves. The Lord absolutely will ask us to do hard things. But we do not have to do these hard things alone. Just as the tenant didn’t have to make all of the home repairs himself, we do not have to repair the broken parts of our lives. Utilizing the atonement of Jesus Christ is what will make us whole. All the Lord asks us to do is to trust Him. When we have a firm testimony in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not just in the church of Jesus Christ, it will be a lot easier for us to trust that the Lord will not only deliver us from the pains that we face in this life, but the Lord will give us a reward greater than anything we could possibly imagine.

I know that these seven choices we make are so important. They will help us to become more like Christ and will help us get on and stay on the road to eternal life. Our Heavenly Father has so much love for us that he provided a way for us to return home to Him. As we make the choice to choose Jesus Christ's plan and His gospel, our lives will be blessed in ways we cannot imagine.