Tuesday, January 28, 2014

So Long, Farewell!

Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am so excited to speak to you today. Last time I was up here giving a talk it was when Megan Betillyon spoke who is currently serving in the Philippines. Little did I know that only 6 months later, I would be standing in front of you today, called as well to serve in the Philippines. I have been called to serve in the Philippines Quezon City mission and I could not be more excited. I will be entering the Provo MTC on January 29th and will be learning the crazy language of Tagalog.
Just a few fun facts about the Philippines: as of last week there were 675,166 members of the church, 1,134 congregations, 17 missions, and 2 temples. The gospel is truly booming over there and the people are ready to hear the word. The climate is quite tropical with temperatures ranging from a low of 65* to 95*, plus humidity. From about June to November is considered “Typhoon” season and it rains quite a bit, and it is not uncommon to be walking with water up past your ankles. For this reason, I get to wear these cute things called “Crocs” with my skirts and dresses.. Yay!
The food consists of rice, fish, rice, tropical fruits, rice, noodles, roasted pig, and rice. There are also some lovely delicacies, one of which is called “Balut”, a fertilized, steamed duck egg. Just as I did when I was in India, I hope to try every single food placed in front of me, although it may come at a cost.
Deciding what I would speak on today was extremely difficult for me, and I prayed much to know what I was to say. After much contemplation, and writing 4 different talks, the message I am going to share with you all today is one of love, but not just any love- God’s unconditional love for all of his children.
            As direct children of God, we have the ability to experience the most pure form of love that anyone could ever begin to fathom. As we look to Christ and build a relationship with him, we begin to realize that we are the greatest of all of God’s creation; we were created in His image.

            How much exactly does God love us? President Bednar stated, “Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you. 7
God does not look on the outward appearance. 8 I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.

He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”

Heavenly Father loves us so much, whether or not we think we deserve it. At times we may feel that he has forgotten us, or that we are unimportant to Him. Trials and adversities prevail and we begin to wonder if there is anyone out there who really does care for us. We may think to ourselves, “If God really does love me, wouldn’t he take away my burdens?” I stand here before you today and bear you my testimony that because our Heavenly Father loves us so much, he allows us to go through difficult things. This may sound contradictory to our earthly minds, but we must remember that without adversity and afflictions, we would in nowise be able to return to our Father in Heaven. Isn’t that our ultimate goal, to return and live with him? Through hardship we have the opportunity to build our faith in Christ and develop the relationship we need to be able to live again in God’s presence.
President Monson stated, “At times there appears to be no light at the tunnel’s end—no dawn to break the night’s darkness. … We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone. If you find yourself in such a situation, I plead with you to turn to our Heavenly Father in faith. He will lift you and guide you. He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face.”
At times we may feel unworthy of God’s love due to transgressions, improper use of our free agency, or a distance we have created between us and the Lord. No matter the reason that our relationship with the Lord is not where we would desire it to be, His arms are always open. It is never too late for us to come unto the Lord and partake of his blessings. He loves us more than we can even begin to comprehend, and because of this he gives us opportunity after opportunity to feel His love and follow Him.

President Holland stated, “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or distance from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement.

Whether you are not yet of our faith or were once with us and have not remained, there is nothing in either case you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come to the throne of grace, and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord. . . .”

To those of you who have been blessed by the gospel for many years because you were fortunate enough to find it early, and to those of you who have come to the gospel by stages and phases later, and finally to those of you—member or not yet member—who may still be hanging back, to each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.

So if you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven’t made them, make them. If you have made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the Master of the vineyard says there is time.”
In D&C 18 we read, “The worth of souls in great in the sight of God.” We have all read this scripture over and over again, but do we really understand what this simple phrase means? At times we may feel unimportant and insignificant in the big scheme of things, wondering if our tiny contributions even matter, and how God’s love for each of his children is even possible. When these thoughts begin to enter our minds, we must remember that because Heavenly Father loves us so much, he gave us the most amazing gift we could ever comprehend. He provided a Savior, even Jesus Christ, as the only means to return to live in God’s presence. There is no greater manifestation of God’s love for his children than allowing his Only Begotten in the flesh to suffer all the pains and sorrows of the world, so that we may have the opportunity to live again with Him, and live as He lives.
In D&C 18:10-11 we read “For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.”

The impact of this statement that Christ suffered “the pain of all men,” here given by the Lord to emphasize his high appraisal of the worth of human souls, is sharpened by the realization of the intensity of that suffering. If we all were not of worth, it would have been much easier to forgo the suffering of the atonement and simply have no way back to live with God. But Christ performed the atonement because he loves you, he loves me, and he loves our Father in Heaven.
President Monson shared a short story entitled, “Sugar Beets and the Worth of a Soul” that I would like to relay on today. He explained, “Many years ago, Bishop Marvin O. Ashton, who served as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, gave an illustration I’d like to share with you. Picture with me, if you will, a farmer driving a large open-bed truck filled with sugar beets en route to the sugar refinery. As the farmer drives along a bumpy dirt road, some of the sugar beets bounce from the truck and are strewn along the roadside. When he realizes he has lost some of the beets, he instructs his helpers, “There’s just as much sugar in those which have slipped off. Let’s go back and get them!”

In my application of this illustration, the sugar beets represent the members of this Church for whom we are called as leaders and have responsibility; and those that have fallen out of the truck represent men and women, youth and children who, for whatever reason, have fallen from the path of activity. Paraphrasing the farmer’s comments concerning the sugar beets, I say of these souls, precious to our Father and our Master: “There’s just as much value in those who have slipped off. Let’s go back and get them!”

Right now, today, some of them are caught in the current of popular opinion. Others are torn by the tide of turbulent times. Yet others are drawn down and drowned in the whirlpool of sin.

This need not be. We have the doctrines of truth. We have the programs. We have the people. We have the power. Our mission is more than meetings. Our service is to save souls.”

        Now that we understand the worth of souls and the love God has for every single one of us, what must we do to carry out this principle? The answer is simple: love others, serve them, and lead them to Christ’s open arms. What better way to do this than by missionary work!

            President Monson, in a Priesthood Session of conference, related this example:
Back in the year 1961, a worldwide conference was held for mission presidents, and every mission president in the Church was brought to Salt Lake City for those meetings. I came to Salt Lake City from my mission in Toronto, Canada.
In one particular meeting, N. Eldon Tanner, who was then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, had just returned from his initial experience of presiding over the missions in Great Britain and Western Europe. He told of a missionary who had been the most successful missionary whom he had met in all of the interviews he had conducted. He said that as he interviewed that missionary, he said to him, “I suppose that all of the people whom you baptized came into the Church by way of referrals.”
The young man answered, “No, we found them all by tracting.”

Brother Tanner asked him what was different about his approach—why he had such phenomenal success when others didn’t. The young man said that he attempted to baptize every person whom he met. He said that if he knocked on the door and saw a man smoking a cigar and dressed in old clothes and seemingly uninterested in anything—particularly religion—the missionary would picture in his own mind what that man would look like under a different set of circumstances. In his mind he would look at him as clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and white trousers. And the missionary could see himself leading that man into the waters of baptism. He said, “When I look at someone that way, I have the capacity to bear my testimony to him in a way that can touch his heart.
We have the responsibility to look at our friends, our associates, our neighbors this way. When we view them from the eyes of God and try to imagine the love He has for them, no matter their circumstances or their lifestyle, and truly feel of each individual’s worth, this is when changes of hearts occur. We must develop the capacity to see others not as they are at present, but as they may become.”
            I invite each and everyone one of you, to develop the capacity to see others not as they are at present but as they may become when they receive a testimony of the truth. View others from the perspective of the Lord and share your testimony with them. We know that we don’t need a name tag to be a missionary, and I invite you share God’s love with everyone around you, in word and deed.
       “Remember that ‘the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,’ and if we should labor all our days and bring save it be one soul unto Him, how great shall be our joy with Him in the kingdom of our Father. And if we should labor more diligently and bring many souls unto Him, how much greater will be our joy.”
We may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good.
Do not underestimate your worth, power, ability and responsibility to bring others unto Christ. You have been chosen to come forth at this time to go forth and serve in the Lord’s harvest field. God knows you can do it, and without your help, God’s children will not have the opportunity to come unto him and feel of his love.
Brothers and sisters, the reason why I want to serve a mission is a simple one- I want to share with my brothers and sisters in the Philippines that they have a wonderful Father in heaven to cares for them, blesses them, and loves them unconditionally. No matter their different walks of life, He loves them and stands with his arms open, desiring for them to come unto Him.
I love my Heavenly Father with all my heart, and I pray that as I embark on this worthwhile journey, I will be able to share this love I feel from the Savior with all I come in contact with. I know God lives, I know he loves me, and I know he loves each and every one of you. I thank you for all of your loving support and guidance, and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all of your amazing examples. I’m excited to serve a mission, and I’m excited to grow closer to the Lord. I love all of you so very much, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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