Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My Homecoming Talk; Eternal Life Through Jesus Christ

Today I'd like to speak to you about eternal life through Jesus Christ, and of course,   my mission. When I was first given the topic, I had no idea how I was going to relate the two. I was nervous and coming home was still very raw, I was almost hoping there would be a random opening for surgery yesterday and I wouldn't have to speak. Luckily, surgery is still in a couple weeks, and after going to the temple about a month ago, I gained many  ideas of what to speak about.
With such a demanding schedule of icing, elevating, taking Tylenol, and not getting out of the house, my knees could only handle the temple long enough to do initiatories or even just sit in the waiting room a few minutes. One day I was getting ready for a doctor's appointment that I needed my knees to be really aggravated for, so I decided to go all out and do a session. It was my first session since I went to the Chicago temple on my mission, and reflecting on the months between made me think of the plan God had for me in those short months. It also made me think of His long term plan for me and each of His children. The most important part of that plan is our Savior, Jesus Christ, described in John 3:16-17; "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him they might be saved." Because He took upon Himself our sins and shortcomings, we can repent and be able to live with our Heavenly Father, again!
Moses 1:39 teaches us that God allowed this because His work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. What a beautiful and hopeful plan I am so grateful to have been able to share on as many doorsteps of Indiana as I could! Although tracting was intimidating at first, it came to be one of my favorite things. I got so excited to see who we might meet and to share with them my testimony of the gospel that means everything to me, and how it could bless them. I loved when people would answer and listen, but I loved even more seeing the spirit touch them. The spirit would help them become more accepting of the fact that two strange young girls in dresses and name tags were on their porch, discussing the reality of God and Jesus Christ, and the blessings of having a relationship with them. Often, you could see their eyes get brighter, and they might even open the door wider or hold their dogs inside while they shut the door to come chat on the porch. I loved helping them realize what the spirit was and what it meant. I usually awkwardly went about this by asking how they felt, after sharing a doctrine or principle. Sometimes they'd be confused, sometimes they'd express thoughts instead of feelings, and sometimes they'd say they felt "good", or something similar. We'd then read Galations 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law", and explain that the spirit is how we come to know truth.
By winter, my companion and I were tracting the cities of Beech Grove and Indianapolis during windows when members weren't inviting us to bake and carol with them, or teaching the recent converts who'd been baptized just before I was transferred there. My companion, Sister Peel, lived in Alabama for years before her mission, and hated the cold. She was in denial and wore her coat as little as possible, and used to smile with my persistence of continuing to talk to people even as they were shutting the door. I just had to be sure they didn't want to say a quick prayer with us, watch a quick Christmas video about the reason for the season, or if they knew anyone who'd could use an uplifting message about Jesus Christ. She had to remind me often that my knees needed breaks from the cold.
Something that was super effective in tracting was what we called “5 minute lessons”. These “5 minute lessons” were short, simple lesson plans that we would practice for sharing on doorsteps or on the street. We role played these tirelessly and at a zone conference even videoed and analyzed them. Afterward, Sister Clegg and I began videoing them on our cameras at home as we practiced. The more simply we were able to teach the restoration, the more excited we were to share it with others! Teaching the Plan of Salvation in five minutes was tricky. We would start by teaching that God has a plan for us called the Plan of Happiness. This started before we were born, where we lived with God, who knows and loves us. We would tell them that God gave us the gift of agency and sent us here to earth, before explaining how central Jesus Christ is in the plan. The Atonement made up most of the 5 minute Plan of Salvation lesson. We would explain that Jesus Christ is our savior, and came to earth to pay for our sins. His loving sacrifice for us is called the Atonement, which a allows us to overcome sin and death, and makes right everything in life that seems unfair. This is also explained in Ether 3:14, which reads, "Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters."
One experience that taught me a lot about eternal life through Jesus Christ was a lesson in Mishawaka with an investigator named Rob. Rob is a member's boyfriend and he'd had a rough life, growing up in the hood of Chicago. He didn't have very much religious background, and Sister Clegg and I were lucky he liked us enough to let us teach him. We were teaching him about repentance, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ pamphlet, and turned to the page with the steps of the repentance process and a painting of the savior. Looking at the painting, I asked Rob how he thought the Savior felt about him. He laughed and said "Sista Evans, why you gotta ask all the hard questions?" I had to laugh before continuing to testify how much Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ loved him, despite the sorrows and mistakes of his past. It suddenly reminded me of the story of the prodigal son, which was so fitting I can’t believe we hadn’t planned on sharing it, and began sharing the parable of the father, two brothers and their inheritance. We described to Rob how the prodigal son asked for his inheritance early, but used it up quickly in riotous living, and came back to see if his father would take him as a slave. As we next described the unconditional love and sweet excitement of the father, welcoming his son with open arms, the spirit and feelings in the room didn’t allow for any dry eyes. Through tears, Rob said, "I am that son". He was so excited to have the opportunity and blessing to repent and felt the spirit so much! Soon after we extended Rob a baptismal date, and he his reaction was to ask, "of this year??" And made us laugh again. Talking to him recently, I found that he has not been baptized yet, and hasn't been taking lessons from the new sisters, but is still reading the Book of Mormon and seeing the difference it makes in his life. I hope he continues on that path and know that eternal life is available to him. I know eternal life is possible for all through Jesus Christ. How the atonement of Jesus Christ allows ALL to attain eternal life is described in many scriptures, but one of the most simple is the third Article of faith. That is, "we believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel". I am incredibly grateful for the hope that that brings.
This hope is described in Moroni 7:41, "And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise." Learning about the Atonement was one thing I loved most about my mission. I started my mission in Mishawaka, which was super north and super close to Michigan. With humidity and lake effect from the Great Lakes, it could get pretty chilly, and pretty hard on my knees. I started my mission with imperfect knees and physical therapy exercises, but promises from doctors that I would get better in a few months, or, if not, would not have a problem. This was not the case, however, and as things started getting worse, President Cleveland let me know I would not stay there through the winter, but transferred close enough to see a doctor, in what he called the “tropics” of Indiana. My last Sunday in Mishawaka, we were excited about the investigators and less actives at church, and I knew I had to bear my testimony, but my heart was so full I could hardly do it. I finally got up, and spoke about how exciting General Conference was, the week before. I talked about how grateful I was for latter day prophets and apostles, and then talked especially about my favorite talk from Elder Bednar. In Elder Bednar's talk, he talked about a little boy and band aids. The band aids were like the Atonement, and after the boy felt its healing and comfort, he wanted to give out bandaids like candy. This reminded me of our ward mission leader, who loves to say that the gospel is like a good movie or song, when you get really excited about it, you want to share it with all your friends! The same feelings were shared many times in the scriptures.
One great example is Enos. Enos was the son of a prophet, and begins telling about the beginnings of his testimony in Enos 1:3-4, “Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens”. Pondering his father’s teachings of eternal life, Enos was inspired to act; he was inspired to change. After he received forgiveness, he could hardly believe it. After God explained to Enos that his faith in Christ had made him whole, Enos describes the growth of his testimony of the Atonement, in Enos 1:9,“Now, it came to pass that when I heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them”.
Another great example of the power of the Atonement is the story of Alma the younger. With the sons of Helaman, Alma the younger caused quite a bit of trouble and led away many. After being stopped by an angel, and realizing much guilt, Alma described in Alma 36:17-19 "And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more." What amazing hope the Atonement offers that allowed Alma to go from great sorrow and despair for his mistakes, to "joy as exceeding as his pain"!
After he gained strength and was able to stand, he was too excited to keep such a marvelous experience and testimony builder to himself! In Alma 36:24-25 he said "Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors". I absolutely love these verses! These verses so beautifully describe my joy in teaching about the Atonement on my mission.
Preparing for my mission I gained a great love for the Atonement, as it helped me to prepare, and gave me the strength I needed to do things I couldn't have on my own. During my mission, those experiences gave me motivation to share my testimony and give my all even when I wasn't sure how it was going to work out for me. The exact hope, strength, and peace I needed, I found in the Atonement. As I, and each of us, continue on our earthly missions, the Atonement allows us to repent and become worthy of eternal life. Alma says later in verses 27-28, "I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me. And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever".
Eternal life through Jesus Christ is taught all throughout the Book of Mormon, as it is another testament of Jesus Christ, and an incredible teacher of the Atonement. This is shown In 2 Nephi 25:23, where Nephi explains, "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do". As we give our all, our Savior makes up for what we cannot do on our own. I learned a lot about this my last couple of transfers in Mishawaka, after my trainer left. I felt like I didn't know the area, the people, or what I was doing, but with work, my new companion and I saw miracles. One miracle was named Orlando. One day we were looking at our map, planning how to make the most of the miles we'd be using to go to the member dinner we had, and found sticky notes for a few less actives, so we wrote their names down and went for it. Knocking on one of those doors, a young man probably only a few years older than us answered. His name was Orlando, and he told us that the brother whose name was on the ward roster hadn’t lived there for years, but was in the military and stationed in Hawaii. We learned more about Orlando, and that he was not baptized, but went to the Mormon church with his grandma, growing up. Although Orlando didn’t remember a lot of the things that he’d learned, as soon as we started teaching him we knew he was amazingly elect! On exchanges when Sister Clegg and one of our sister training leaders went to teach him, friends of his started showing up and asking questions, and participating in the lesson! It was amazing to see how by small and simple things, great things were brought to pass.
Nephi continues explaining in 2 Nephi 31:19-21, the way to Eternal Life, “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen”. After faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, we must endure to the end. Enduring to the end is the longest and probably most difficult part. Nephi explains that to do so, we must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men”. Our power to press forward and have hope increases as we live the gospel and grow in our faith. Nephi also instructs us to feast on the words of Christ, which is similar to John 5:39, which says “search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me”. As we continually feast on the words of Christ, and hold to the rod, they keep us on the straight and narrow, and give us power over temptation and distraction and mists of darkness.

I’d like to close with the scripture, 2 Nephi 9:18 “but, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever”. To this I add my testimony of the reality of the Plan of Salvation, and our potential for eternal happiness because of it. In his last conference talk, Elder Christofferson said “no one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for His children”. I know that this is true, and I love this gospel that helps me to know we can have eternal life with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and teaches and helps us on our way.