As I traveled to this assignment this morning in Del Bonita, I followed a light colored van for most of the way. Then, just 5 minutes or so from the chapel, I found it had pulled over to the side of the highway. As I passed it I tried to see who might be in the vehicle – a man in a shirt and tie. I must admit that my first thought was to continue on – I was just on schedule to get to the church on time for this speaking assignment - but decided I better stop and at least ask if I could help. It turned out to be Brother Cook, my nephew and speaking companion, also on his way to this assignment. Fortunately the car trouble was minor and temporary. I followed him as we drove on in caravan style the rest of the way to the church. Imagine what my embarrassment would have been had I not stopped. “So, Brother Davies, where is your speaking companion today?” (Interestingly: It was not far from this spot I helped reenact the 'Good Samaritan' story as part of two treks ago – I played a 'robber' back then, but have since repented ..).
What manner of men?
“Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am ..” (3 Ne 27:27) and a companion verse: “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed. And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation” (3 Ne 18:24-25)
This past week I was blessed to be able to attend a stake meeting where 5 newly returned missionaries reported their missions. Brother Cook (my speaking companion today) was one of those 5. Each was asked to take a few minutes to summarize their last two years. Those that had served in Australia now speak with an Australian accent. Those who had served speaking a foreign language had to concentrate to find the correct words in English. Brother Cook, for instance, noted the influence of and his increased love for his family back here and for the Savior. Near the end of that meeting, President McMahon pointed out to us that each of the 5 missionaries had chose to bear their testimony of Christ and of His influence on them and their investigators during their mission experience. These missionaries are not just two years older, they are two years more experienced with following the Spirit of the Lord and in doing what He would have done ..
In the Book of Mormon in Alma chapter 26 a returning missionary summarized his mission in a similar fashion: “And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus: My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings? And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell? Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.” (Alma 26:1-3)
“And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting. But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.” (Alma 26:10-12)
I believe each of these returning missionaries to be sincere men, with great stories and testimonies to share. But, to outside eyes and ears, our excitement in these men and their work could be construed to be crossing a line into boasting. I trust you will not think the same of me today. On the other hand, lately I have been pondering on the words of Christ to us, both in Jerusalem and in the Americas, after giving us the teaching known as the 'Sermon on the Mount' .. where he taught saying:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house; Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (3 Ne 12:13-16)
The restored gospel enables us to become like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Our Savior has shown us the way. He has set us the perfect example, and he commands us each to strive to to become as He is. Through His Atonement, and only through the Atonement, we can achieve this goal and lead others around us to achieve it as well. If we hide our works and heroes under a bushel, so to speak, how are we letting our light so shine, without bordering on boasting of ourselves?
I heard the verse quoted above the other day but understood it a bit differently than I had in the past. It reads: “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.” [and then it expands to:] “Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up – that which ye have seen me do.” (3 Ne 18:24). I noted that the second sentence clarifies that the light we are to hold up is not our own great works, but His great works. The things He would have done is our light. When we truly 'do that which [we] have seen [Christ] do' we are glorifying Him and fulfilling His command to 'let our light' – His light of Christ in us – so shine. I realized then that Christ is the light we are to hold up to the world.
Changes Required in our Hearts
The scriptures are clear that we must have as our goal to be “pure in heart”. The following scriptures help us understand ways we can learn and live the gospel in our own homes.
The Lord has wrought mighty change in Benjamin’s people: “And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)
Alma asked; “have ye experienced this mighty change?” (Alma 5:14) and followed up with; “if ye have [once] experienced a change of heart, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26)
It is instructive to note that our 'change of heart' is not always a permanent change. It is something we need to continually work on! The strong feelings we have felt in the past sometimes fade. Why? If you pay attention to what the brethren teach us in conference and take note from your own experience with those around you and perhaps even with yourself – you will learn that your spirit needs daily nourishment. We need daily prayer and daily scripture study. We need to feel the spirit often and attend our meetings and assignments. We need to be temple worthy all the time. If these things are let slip, our spirit can 'dwindle in unbelief'. I like the word 'dwindle'. It means to get weaker and weaker or smaller and smaller. Similar words are 'wax and wane'. Wane has the same meaning as dwindle. Wax is it's opposite.
In the Book of Mormon, the story of Helaman’s people teaches how they were able to yield their heart to God even while being cruelly persecuted. “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.” (Helaman 3:35)
Is our testimony waxing or waning?
As I pondered what I would say in this talk, these stories, from my own family history, came to mind. In the spirit of Ammon and in the command to 'let our light so shine', I trust they will show more of the light of Christ than be seen as bragging on my part.
Examples of Missionary Service
My grandparents were among the first to move up to Magrath, as very young children with their families. Grandpa Spencer married a little later in life. Grandma had served a two year mission in the Northwestern States in 1928-1930. They courted after her return and got married in 1931. Grandpa did not have the opportunity of serving a full time mission before his marriage. However, he served as a Seventy in Magrath and on 12 Nov 1934 when my mother was only 18 months old, he was called to serve a 6 month mission to Eastern Canada in Montreal. “The bishop discussed the calling with [my grandma] and she gave her support. That was a real sacrifice as they were struggling to make a living. [At the time, Grandma] was [a young mother] and was pregnant and sadly the baby boy was born dead while [Grandpa] was away [on this mission].” Although saddened by this situation, they were comforted in knowing that they had been out doing what was right. I recall my Mom Elizabeth recounting the story to me and saying that, had he not accepted the call to go and serve, and had their second son still passed away, they would have always wondered if it was the Lords will. He was thankful he was off doing the Lords work. They later had two more sons – Cam and Lloyd. When the church grew in Magrath to a point where they decided they needed a second ward, my Grandpa was called to be the Bishop of the new ward. He served there for 9 years. “After [Grandpa] was released as Bishop he cheerfully served as an usher and also worked for 18 years with the 'Senior Aaronic Priesthood (those we would call Prospective Elders today) and in his later years (for 12 years to age 75) as a Temple Worker in the Alberta Temple. A year after that, my family arrived back in Magrath and he took over as a teen age babysitter to us newly arrived here in Magrath.
My mother also served a mission or two .. or three. My parents first met in 1951 and shortly after that my dad served a mission for the church in France. While he was over there serving, my mom was called as a stake missionary back home and served her own first mission in Victoria, BC for 18 months (June 1954 to Dec 1955). My mom was widowed at an early age (after 11 years in 1968, when I was 10 and my 4 other siblings age 2 and up). A few years later (18 years later in 1986, once we were all grown up) she remarried. A few years later, after her second husbands lengthy fight with Parkinson's, (15 years in 2001) she was widowed again and decided to submit her papers that year to serve another mission. She was called to the Salt Lake Family History Mission in Oct 2001 originally for '18 months' but extended several times and continued there as a missionary until March of 2004. She returned home for a while, and then was called back to Salt Lake for another 2 years (in 2006-2008) and most recently submitted her papers again, being called to serve for 18 months in Nauvoo, IL for the Nauvoo Pageant and area where she is currently serving at age 82. Her philosophy is that even if she ends up dead, she might as well be out on a mission at the time than sitting around at home.
I [and Brother Cook, my nephew] have been blessed with many righteous examples of service right within my own family, but what if that is not the case for you? If you are the pioneer member of the church in your family, just adopt your own heroes – from the scriptures or church leadership or you can borrow a few of mine. It may be that you will be the hero for your own future posterity in their family stories.
Chapter 5 of Preach My Gospel (the current missionary manual) outlines several Christlike attributes we need to develop. They include: Faith in Jesus Christ, Hope, Charity and Love, Virtue, Knowledge, Patience, Humility, Diligence and Obedience. I believe these attributes have been modeled for me by my own family as they strive to follow Him. These are the attributes we each need to seek to acquire. Earlier in this meeting we sang Hymn 270 “I will go where you want me to go”. The words in these verses are a sermon in themselves, but I like to point out the recipe for success it recommends; we must first go, then say, and finally be or become what the Lord wants us to be. The being part will not happen if we do not first go where and say what He would have us go and say. Imperfect as we each are, we can and are perfected in Him and through His Atonement as we continue forward, repenting and doing His work to the best of our abilities.
“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold [the works which ye have seen Christ do - the things we each should be doing to be like Him - our 'light' is] the light which ye shall hold up [to the world ..]” (3 Ne 18:24 modified).
I have a testimony of this church. I know that the church is true, that Christ is the head of the church even today. That our current prophet Thomas S Monson is guided by Him and holds His keys for us in the entire church today. I know our local leaders at the stake and ward and branch levels are in their current callings by inspiration and act on our behalf for His wise purposes. I know that through Him and His Atonement all men can be saved, even you and even I, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.