Sunday, March 05, 2017

A cycle of making and keeping sacred covenants - Sacrament talk - 23 Aug 2015

Towards the middle of my missionary service in California, I was transferred to the Mohave Desert.  During my first Sunday in the new ward I was serving in, someone, I don’t remember who, told us about a family they had heard about that wanted to visit with us.  A missionary loves to hear that kind of thing, we headed over there as soon as we could.  We met Jake and Lori, Jake had been a member of the church, but had been inactive for a number of years.  Lori was not a member of the church, but had grown up in Ogden Utah, and had the influence of good church members around her.  They had recently had a baby, and were ready to make changes in their lives to come closer to the Lord.
Teaching Jake and Lori, and seeing them commit and recommit to the Gospel was a wonderful experience.  I spent seven months in that area, and became very close to them.  One year later, at the end of my mission, I got a call from Jake and Lori, they were going to the temple to be sealed as a family, and invited me to attend.  A missionary loves to hear that kind of thing, and we made the arraignments to go to their sealing.  We arrived a little late to the temple, I was worried I would miss it, but on entering the temple, I turned to my right, and Jake and Lori’s little baby was running towards me.  She had escaped the children’s waiting room, and ran right up to me.  Jake and Lori’s sealing to each other and to their family was a very special experience.  I am very glad I was able to participate.

Lori was in Utah when Tara and I got married.  When I walked into the sealing room, my family was there, my old roommates were there, and surprise, there was Lori.  Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I had lost touch with Jake and Lori.  They had moved several times, and it was before facebook really took off, so making connections with people you lost touch with was a little harder.  Eventually, we reconnected on Facebook, and I was happy to see that Jake and Lori were still active in the church, still happy, and still striving to keep their covenants.   A year and a half ago, that little girl whose birth prompted in Jake a desire to return to the Gospel, and in Lori a desire to be baptized, the one I remember racing down a hall of the LA temple, with an elderly temple worker trying to catch her, left on a mission and has been serving in Chile.  She returns home soon.  More importantly, she too has made, and is striving keep, sacred temple covenants.

I have thought about this quite a bit in the last year and a half.  There is certainly nothing about that story that really is about me.  I am a happy observer in the life of someone I know.  Any other set of missionaries could have taught them, come to know them very well, and rejoiced in those moments with them, I just happen to be someone that was.  What I think about quite often is this cycle where decisions Jake and Lori made twenty years ago, the decisions they made since, continues to bless their family.  They have started in their family a cycle of making and keeping sacred covenants that I am sure will span generations.  Seeing this has been a blessing and an inspiration in my life.

Isn’t that what every parent in the Gospel wants for their family?  They want their children to be baptized.  They want to see them grow and progress in their testimony, to one day enter the temple and make sacred covenants with our Father in Heaven?  Couples want that in their marriage.  Parents want that for their children.  Children want that for their parents.  Grandparents and Great-grandparents want that for their descendants.  I certainly want that for my family.  I see my children making right choices.  Most of them have been baptized, Adam looks forward to his baptism next year.  I hope they continue on the path, I want to see them in the temple someday, and get a glimpse of Eternity.  I want them to be happy, and see the cycle of making and keeping sacred covenants continue through the generations.  Mary went and got her patriarchal blessing last Sunday.  It was a wonderful experience. 

We see cycles of family discipleship in the Book of Mormon  Lehi & Nephi, Jacob & Enos, King Benjamin & Mosiah, Helaman, his son Helaman, grandsons Lehi & Nephi, great-grandson Nephi,  Mormon and Moroni.  These are all examples of people who lived in multi-generational cycles of discipleship.  We are blessed by their teachings and example.   

Now, I know that doesn’t always happen.  My parents have been active in the church all their lives.  I can’t say the same thing for most of their siblings.  I have four brothers and two sisters, they are not all active in the church.  Decisions in their lives took them away from staying close to the Gospel.  The cycle is a bit broken in my family.  My sisters and a couple of brothers are seemingly disinterested at the moment.  I don’t know what to do for them.  I do know that someday, if that spark rekindles, I certainly will be available to them, my parents will be available to them, we will be happy to help repair that cycle of discipleship in their lives.

For those in a situation like that, where decisions are made that take family members away from the Gospel, that can be very painful.  Sadly, it is not a unique thing.  Everyone has agency, and makes their own choices, and it can be heartbreaking to see it happen to someone you love.  I am not sure that anyone is exempt from seeing that happen.  It is possible that we all know someone we love that has fallen away from the Gospel, who is not doing things to keep themselves close to our Father in Heaven by keeping the covenants they have made.  What can be done? 

We see this as well in the Book of Mormon.  One example is Lehi.  Lehi, as a visionary man, saw in a dream several of his sons not partaking of the fruits of the Gospel.  This grieved his soul, Lehi taught his children over and over in the hopes that the light of the Gospel would spark inside them.  On his deathbed, he taught his wayward sons, in addition to his faithful sons, and his grandchildren, to keep the commandments and the blessings of holding fast to the iron rod.    

Another example was Alma the Elder.  Alma was one of wicked King Noah’s priests, who fled from his life of sin to turn to the Lord.  He taught and brought a people to the Lord.  Later, his son, also named Alma, struggled.  We read about his efforts to tear down the church.  We also read about his conversion.  As Alma the younger had his experience, and was struck dumb, in the process of conversion, Alma the Elder rejoiced.  He knew what was happening to his son.  He fasted and prayed for him.  Surely this was not the first time Alma the Elder fasted and prayed for his son to have a mighty change of heart.  I do not see a man like him waiting for something extraordinary to happen before fasting and praying for his son.  Rather, I see him as someone who prayed for him daily, and fasted often, that his son would return to righteousness.

Continuing to bear testimony, to pray, and to fast for those you love.  There is a real power there that will help bless their lives.  It is true that they will still make their own decisions, to choose their own time to turn back to the Lord, but you can be a strength in their lives.  For those struggling to help those they love, keep praying, keep fasting, keep sharing your testimony, in word or in deed.  You will bless their lives.

What are some ways we can help strengthen our families, to grow testimonies in ourselves and in our families that strengthen us, and build, or continue, a multi-generational cycle of making and keeping sacred covenants with our Father in Heaven?  That multi-generational chain of families that will last through Eternity?  

One way we can do this is through improving our Sabbath day worship.  The Bishop will talk about this in a few minutes.  What are some other ways?  In a recent training session with Bishoprics, I heard the Brethren say that weak Gospel teaching and modeling in the home causes the biggest disruption of the cycle.

Is that meant as an indictment of those that can see a broken cycle right now?  Well, maybe.  There are certainly some that simply are not living the Gospel standards.  They may be caught in a cycle of sin, and it is effecting those they love.  If that is the case, now is the time to repent.  Begin patching up your broken cycle of discipleship.  It is not too late to change, and now is the time.
Weak Gospel teaching and modeling in the home causes the biggest disruption of the cycle.  For those with a broken cycle, whether because of their actions or decisions others have made, improving Gospel teaching and modeling in the home one of the answers.

The Stake President has been outlining a number of goals, with associated blessings, for the members of the Stake.  These goals help us improve the modeling of the Gospel in our own lives.  Let me read some of them, with the promised blessings:

·         Home Teach and Visit teach at 90-95% consistently from home to month.  Pray daily for your home teaching families and visiting teaching sisters.
      And the associated blessings:  Miracles will occur in our lives and the lives of those whom we home and visit teach.  We will become an example Stake in the church.

I am constantly inspired to be a better home teacher by my seven year old son.  He somehow understands the importance of this work.  Brother Carlile can tell you that Adam often asks him when he is coming to home teach us. Our family, especially Adam, loves to have our home teachers over.  Now, Brother Carlile is a faithful home teacher.  We try very hard to make the third Sunday of every month work for him and his companion Trey to come visit us.  I am not sure Adam has caught onto this particular schedule, so he asks a lot.  Adam also occasionally goes with me home teaching.  He will run to get his Sunday clothes on if I tell him I want him to go Home Teaching with me.  He will grab a Friend magazine to be ready to possibly share something, even if he chickens out in the end.  I can see Home Teaching blessing the life of my family, and my son in particular.

·         Pray every day for a missionary opportunity or experience and be willing to act when those opportunities arise.  Pray every day that all nations of the world will be opened to missionary work.  Pray for the missionaries in our Stake, by name, every day and in most, if not all, of your church meetings.
·         And the associated promises:  Fear of doing missionary work will be replaced with faith and confidence.  Names and faces will come into your mind as you pray to know with whom to speak.  We will see missionary miracles.
Brothers and Sisters, those missionary experiences will not always be limited to being with those who are not members of the church.  There are those who have drifted, possibly in your own families, that you will be inspired to reach out to.  I fully expect to have missionary experiences with members of my family someday.

·         Pray night and morning, every day, and then quickly follow the prompting that you receive.  Read and study the scriptures every day.  Attend your three hour block of meetings every Sunday in your own ward.  “Bloom where you are planted.”
      The associated blessings:  We will be the ‘very elect’ who will not be deceived, but rather we will remain dedicated and consecrated with “an eye single to the glory of God”

In short, we will remain inside the cycle of discipleship.  Very simple, fairly easy things that we talk about often in the church.  Prayer, Scriptures, Church attendance, with “Bloom where you are planted” sprinkled in.  Tara and I moved into this ward over 17 years ago.  We had no plans.  We could have been there a year and moved on.  I have said this from this pulpit before, our lives were blessed by engaging in the ward early on, whether we stayed here or not.  We have many that pass through our ward, both they and those of us that are here for a longer time are blessed when we all engage together, grow together, and truly bloom where we are planted, even if for some of us it means leaving someday, and for others of us it means saying goodbye to friends we made as they leave.

·         Hold a temple recommend and NEVER let it lapse.  Use your recommend by attending the temple regularly and performing ordinances for those who are waiting, or performing indexing at the rate of at least 200 names a month.  Find a family name that has not yet had temple work done for them and perform that work in the next twelve months.
       The associated blessings:  The Lord will strengthen the bonds of unity, faith and love in your families, especially those bonds that exist between husband and wife, parent and child, and grandparent and grandchild.  He will help remove selfishness from your soul.  He will reveal clearly to you answers to questions and decisions that you must make that are of a concern to you and that are important in your journey back to him.  Many of those answers will be revealed in the temple.

Brothers and Sisters, can you hear the cycle of discipleship in those particular promises?  The Lord will strengthen the bonds of unity, faith and love in your families, especially those bonds that exist between husband and wife, parent and child, and grandparent and grandchild.  He will reveal clearly to you answers to questions and decisions that you must make that are of a concern to you and that are important in your journey back to him.

Hold a temple recommend and never let it lapse.  If you do not now hold a current temple recommend, let’s fix that.  We as a Bishopric are always available to do a temple recommend interview.  Some just need to come in for an interview.  They are already living their lives in a way to qualify for a temple recommend, they just need to come in for an interview.  Others may have things in their life to fix, and maybe are silently committing right now to hurry and take care of their issues to get that recommend.  Others are unsure, or maybe are too hard on themselves, and need to come in for an interview to talk about it.  Questions about tithing, the word of wisdom, honesty, chastity, and testimony will be asked.  There will be some who walk out of that interview surprised to be carrying a temple recommend with them, and it will be fantastic.

Another blessing from the promises about the temple that the Stake President made.  For all of us, we have ancestors that were not able to make the sacred covenants of baptism and those found in the temple.  There are so many that lived when the Priesthood and the fullness of the Gospel was not on the Earth.  Others did not have the opportunity.  Brothers and Sisters, those people are also working to establish a multi-generational cycle of making and keeping sacred covenants.  The Gospel is being taught to those who have passed on.  We read about it in Doctrine and Covenants section 138.  Speaking of the Savior after his death: 
“From among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the Gospel preached to the dead… These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit.”
I have been working on the temple work for a set of six brothers on my Mom’s side of the family, that lived in the 1800’s.  There is only one of them left to finish, and a couple of sisters, then the family can be sealed together.  Brothers and Sisters, this generational chain of making and keeping sacred covenants, this chain of discipleship is not meant to extend down just through our children and their children.  It is also being extended up through our ancestors, who look to us to help them make these covenants for them in the temple.  We may not see ourselves in a long running chain today, but one day, after our time on earth is over, we may be surprised to see just how far that chain extends, and our role in helping make that chain happen.

Brothers and Sisters, it is possible for us to start, or continue a multi-generational cycle of discipleship, building families strong in the Gospel.  The family is Eternal.  The family is central to God’s plan for His children.  Because of that, we have the promise of His help in our lives as we strive to improve Gospel teaching in our homes, as we strive to improve Gospel modeling, or living, in our homes.  We will have the Spirit with us to help us.  We will struggle at times, we will have great joy and rejoicing at times.  The way is being laid before us, and we all have the capacity to change and improve.  It is not too late for any of us or those we love. 

The Savior is always standing ready to help, either in our own lives or as we strive to bless the lives of those around us.  As he said: “Be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and I will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.”

May we all be blessed as we try to continue to build an Eternal cycle of discipleship, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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