Sunday, July 22, 2007


(This is the transcript of a talk I gave to the Everett 2nd Ward on July 22, 2007.)

I love looking at the sky, and living in the Northwest has been a delight to me because of the frequent occurrence of Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights.   If you’ve seen them in person, you know that Auroras don’t look like they do in the pictures.   They are very dim, and can easily be mistaken for low hanging clouds, the kind you see in the winter lit from below by city lights. 

Back in November of 2004, I saw a spectacular Aurora, the most amazing I had ever seen.  It literally filled the entire sky.  My dad lives nearby, so I called him up to tell him about it.  He went out and looked, but he thought the aurora was just some low-hanging clouds.  Though I tried to convince him otherwise, he didn’t believe me and went bed thinking that I was a little too excited.  I was flabbergasted.  Here was this amazing show right in front of him and he completely missed it!  

Can the gospel be something like this?  Has the Lord put something out in plain sight for us to see, but it is invisible to us because we don’t believe it?  In Deuteronomy, Moses has something to say about plainness:

Deut. 30: 11-14  For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not ahidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, … Neither is it beyond the sea, … But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy aheart, that thou mayest do it.

The Lord, speaking through Isaiah says

1 Ne. 20: 16. Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in asecret; …

Joseph Smith taught that prophets of the past sought to reveal the mysteries of the gospel in plainness (D&C 84: 23).  It is basically a prophet’s job to reveal the gospel in this way.  But this is only half of the equation.  For learning to happen, you and I need to receive it. In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read:

D&C 93: 31.Behold, here is the aagency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is bplainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

Nephi, the son of Lehi, gloried in plainness, yet he grieved that people would not understand what he taught.  In one of his sermons, he said:

2 Ne. 32: 7.  … I, … cannot say more; … and I am left to mourn because of the aunbelief … of men; for they will cnot search dknowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in eplainness, even as plain as word can be.

Enos and Amulek provide concrete examples of men who had much revealed unto them in plainness, but they lacked something in their understanding.   Enos was the son of Jacob, a prophet of the Lord.  Jacob taught Enos as clearly as he could about Eternal life, yet Enos says that he had to wrestle with god to understand it.

Enos 1:3-4 And I will tell you of the awrestle which I had before God, before I received a bremission of my sins.  Behold, … the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the ajoy of the saints, bsunk deep into my heart.  And my soul ahungered;

Amulek was a rich and popular member of the Nephite community and a prominent member of the church with an impressive pedigree.  Yet he says

Alma 10: 5-6 … I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, … I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; … Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, … and I would not bhear;

There is a saying from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas which applies here.   In this account, Jesus says “The Kingdom of Heaven is spread out across the Earth, but people don't see it.”  That’s an interesting thought:  There is something wonderful going on all around us, but somehow people are missing it.  In the bible, Jesus talked about spiritual blindness as a malady of people who "will not see".   These people heard his parables, but did not understand them.  Jesus said of those people:

Matt. 13: 10  … their ears are dull of hearing, and their beyes they have cclosed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should dheal them.

Let us observe and believe, then, that the gospel is presented to us in plainness, but there is a real danger that we are asleep to it.  We may be missing something simple, yet profound that is essential for Eternal Life.   If ever we hope to discover what this is, we have to become serious students of the gospel.  This serious study of the gospel that I am talking about is called “Discipleship”.

We hear the word “disciple” in the scriptures given as a title of honor to the faithful followers of Jesus.   The requirements of discipleship are great and challenging; however, it is important to remember that anyone can be a disciple- It is not a question of ability, it is a question of commitment. If you are willing to pay the cost, you can be a disciple.

The Savior explained the cost of discipleship very clearly as recorded in Luke 14.   At the end of this chapter, he gives the parable of the tower, which I will paraphrase here:  Anyone who decides to build something big is first going to sit down and figure out how much it will cost, because you know that if you run out of money, you’ll have a partial building, which is worthless, and people will laugh at you.   Similarly, if you are king, and you are deciding whether or not to go to war, you are first going to talk to your generals and make absolutely sure you can beat the other king, because anything short of a complete victory is losing.    These two ideas are easy to understand, the key now is to apply them to discipleship.  Now I will quote the Savior:

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that aforsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my bdisciple.  

Stop and think about that for a minute.  The cost of discipleship is everything.  Everyone is able pay that cost, therefore anyone can be disciple.  On the other hand, if we decide to hold anything back from the Lord, we cannot be his disciple.   So, we are left with an important question: What does it mean to hold something back from the Lord?  

Some instruction on this is found in the Doctrine and covenants:

D&C 41: 5 He that areceiveth my blaw and cdoeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and ddoeth it not, the same is not my disciple …

There are temporal and spiritual aspects to discipleship.  This scripture is speaking to the spiritual aspect- we must willingly receive and obey all of God’s laws.  Choosing to disregard these laws is one way we can hold something back from God and prevent our discipleship.   

Speaking of the temporal part, the Lord says:

D&C 52: 40 And remember in all things the apoor and the bneedy, the csick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.

All we possess is on loan to us; we haven’t earned a penny of it. (Mosiah 2: 21)   We might be able to work hard and make a buck, but we cannot justly claim it because God gave us our ability to work.  He gave us the air to breath, the food to eat, and even the very gold of the earth that we seek so jealously to collect.  God gives us all of it.    Ironically, while God has been very generous with us, we have been busy learning to withhold God’s gifts from each other. We cling to a thing and say, “It’s mine”, but it’s not. To hold back our substance, time, and talents from others is another way that we hold something back from God. 

To be clear, a disciple must be willing to lay down all that he is and all that he has as a sacrifice to God.   This is a tall order for many and some say that it just doesn’t seem possible.  The good news is that God has given us comforting guidance that brings hope and reveals what is possible.  A would-be disciple can use these principles to find the strength to try.

First principle: The grace of Christ fills in where we are lacking.   Often, members of the church receive a calling and they stress and fret about it because they are afraid that they can’t do it.  Well, of course they can’t do it!    The Lord doesn’t call people because he thinks that they have natural ability, He calls them because He wants to work a miracle!  The scriptures are brimming with examples of this.  The miracle happens when we realize we can’t do it without the Lord’s help and we allow the grace of Christ to support us.  

Second principle:  The gospel comes to us a little bit at a time.  The prophet Isaiah wrote:

2 Ne. 28: 30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon aprecept, here a little and there a little; …

Abraham was 75 years old before he began his prophetic ministry (Gen 12) and he was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born (Gen 21).  In the mean time, he was repenting and getting better a little at a time.  You, and those around you, are not going to become what the Lord wants you to be overnight.   So if you feel upset because the guy in the bench in front of you drinks Coke and kicks the dog, I say give him a break!   Be patient with him. He’s trying.   Similarly, if you have a hard time overcoming a certain habit, give yourself a break!   You are trying.  The very fact that you are here, listening to me speak means that you are trying.   So don’t feel discouraged, be patient and just keep trying. 

Third principle: fear does not come from the Lord.  Often we feel afraid of failure or fear what we don’t know.  Those fears do not come from God.  What does come from God is courage, hope, and faith so that we may proceed in spite of our fears.   What I’ve learned in my life is to use my fears as a sort of compass.    If I am not just a little bit afraid, I am probably not doing what I should be doing.   And the corollary:  if I am not doing something because I feel afraid to do it, then I should probably do it!  The Lord always comes through for me in those circumstances and peace always follows when I decide to face my fears.

I wish to pause now to ask:  How do you feel at this moment?  Do you feel a desire in your heart to be a disciple?  Do you feel the spirit moving you at this very moment to do something?  If you feel this way, may I suggest just a few things we might try as an experiment?   I encourage you now to listen with your heart and choose one of these things as a way to forget yourself and become a better disciple.

1)      Repent.  If there are sins cluttering your life, confess them to the Lord and resolve to do them no more.  Confess to those you have wronged.  And if they are serious, confess your sins to the Bishop.  There is great spiritual power in this.

2)      Make your prayers more meaningful and more frequent. 

Personal, sincere prayer and meditation is essential to discipleship.  Jesus says, “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret”.  (3 Ne. 13: 6)  

Our prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “We are all so busy with our mundane pursuits which pull us this way and that. We all need, the whole world needs, the opportunity to meditate and reflect on the things of God and to listen to words that inspire and help.”. 

David O. McKay said, “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord”

Try this experiment:  Every morning this week, find a time and a place where you can be alone with the Lord for 20 minutes.  Use this as a time to really talk with God.  Pour out your heart to him and ask him what He thinks about you and what He wants you to do that day.  He is happy to answer petitions of this kind.   (And if He tells you to do something, make sure you do it!)

3)      The next time you receive a calling or invitation to participate, accept it cheerfully.  A disciple will never turn down a calling for God.   If you feel overwhelmed, the proper response is not to turn down the calling, but rather it is to seek from the Lord a way to accomplish what he has asked of you.  This is how we exercise faith.

4)      If you are not doing so now, begin paying a full tithe.   This is one of the most basic tests of discipleship- it tells the Lord whether you have faith in Him or faith in your possessions.   If you are already paying tithing, then give a generous fast offering.   If you are already giving a generous fast offering, then look for ways to give more.   If the Lord has blessed you with wealth, you will be required to give much more than others in order to receive the same blessings.  (Where much is given, much is required Luke 12: 48, D&C 82: 3)  Perhaps your family is planning a large purchase of some sort-  A vacation at an amusement park , a Big-Screen TV, a remodeled kitchen, or some other luxury.   Before you make this purchase, gather your family around you and counsel together about it.  Talk about how much you are going to spend.  Talk about why you want to spend it and what you hope to gain.  Then talk about people you know who are in need.  Would your family be willing to forgo the purchase in favor of giving the money to someone who needs it more than you?   I promise that this kind of sacrifice will unite and strengthen your family better than any product, or vacation, or indulgence you could buy.

5)      Prepare a talk even when are not asked to speak.   Next Sunday’s topic is __________.  Pretend that the bishop has asked you to speak on this topic.  Each day this week, study as if you were actually going to give a talk.  You may be surprised at how much more interesting and beneficial that sacrament meeting will be to you.  (You may also be surprised at how much more beneficial the meeting will be to the speaker!)  Then, on the Monday following, use your talk as a family home evening lesson.   Disciples are hungry for knowledge and this is the kind of thing they do to get it.

These are just a few of many good things we could try.  Will you try an experiment on these words?   Alma says that you need only have the desire to believe and the Lord will bless you so long as you just give it a try (Alma 32:27).  Will you give it try?


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