Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Inspirations February 15, 2009

It was a blank week for me in trying to think of something for today's post, which is why I'm so grateful to have been blessed in other ways. I'm my husband's official "talk writer" when he has to speak in our main Sunday meeting. He provides me with the topic, sources and an idea of what he'd like said, and I...well I just pray I'm in tune enough with his wants and the Lord's wants to create what is necessary.

Today is our Ward Conference, and the talk I was asked to put together simply feels beautifully put together, and so I want to share it with you today. Consider every word from here on out as coming from my husband:

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since I was first called as bishop. This past year has been quite a learning experience for me, and I consider myself very blessed by the Lord. Blessed to be able to serve such remarkable people. Blessed to see the hand of the Lord at work in your lives. Blessed to see what extraordinary people you are.

Several months ago I asked my wife to speak to you all about the tender mercies of the Lord. This is a message I have felt more than once is one we need to hear and live. It is a message that has come repeatedly to my mind especially in these recent months. My wife spoke to you about recognizing the tender mercies of the Lord even in the midst of trials, as encouraged to do by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his conference talk given a few years ago. The talk was based on one specific scripture verse given in 1 Nephi chapter 1. We read in verse 20:

“But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

For my talk today I want to focus on the latter part of the verse, particularly the section which says, “those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith.”

What does it mean to be chosen? The dictionary defines chosen as, “One who is the object of choice or divine favor: an elect person; selected or marked for favor or special privilege.” Does this mean the Lord has chosen a select few to give special favors to? I believe too many of us believe this. But when we consider all we know of the Father, all we know of the Lord, and all we have come to learn of the Plan of Salvation, can we honestly say they would purposely pick and choose who gets to have tender mercies while leaving others out? Does this sound like a loving Father and Brother, who have told us repeatedly we are loved equally?

Perhaps others of us in this room say deep within our hearts, “Oh, I know Brother so-and-so deserves such tender mercies, but me? What have I done? Who am I that I should receive such blessings? I am nothing compared to him.” We might easily believe such things are reserved for those who, as Elder Bednar describes, “appear to be more righteous or who serve in visible Church callings.” He immediately continues to say, “I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are available to all of us and that the Redeemer of Israel is eager to bestow such gifts upon us.”

So if the chosen people are not necessarily the most seemingly righteous and those who hold high callings in the Church, who are they? Can the chosen really include every single person in this room, no matter how they serve or how much they struggle to follow the commandments?

We are given a direct answer in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 121, verses 34 and 35:

“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.”

Elder Bednar stated, “I believe the implication of these verses is quite straightforward. God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit ‘the chosen’ to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determine whether we are counted as one of God’s chosen.”

The Lord instructed Enoch on this very point, saying in Moses 7:32-33, “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father.”

Did you note how the word “choose” was used? Let me repeat it. “They should choose me their Father.” The basic purposes behind the gift of agency in this life are to choose God’s plan and to love one another. One of my wife’s favorite things to say, and I’m sure the young women will recognize it, is that in everything we have a choice. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, there is always a choice, even if it has only to do with our attitudes.

This agency, the ability to choose, is powerful. It can mean the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation. Every choice we make influences the ability of the Holy Spirit to help us in our lives.

The more we choose to go against the Lord’s will, the more we turn our backs on His capacity to help us in times of need. Yet the more we choose to submit our will to the Father, to choose His path, the more the Lord can pour upon us His tender mercies.

The Father has said His purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men. Our purpose, as indicated in D&C 11:20, is to keep the commandments with all our “might, mind and strength.” As we do so, with willing hearts, we become the Lord’s chosen, and, through the Holy Ghost, will find an increased ability to recognize and receive the tender mercies of the Lord in our daily lives.

Elder Benjamin De Hoyos of the Quorum of the Seventy tells us that “happiness is the purpose of the gospel and the purpose of the redeeming Atonement for all men.” As we can read in Helaman:

“Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

“Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

“Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall … lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course …

“And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven.”

This gift of agency, the ability to choose, is the key to happiness. Even in the most desperate and dire of circumstances happiness can be found. Tender mercies will be given. But only if we make a conscious decision to choose the Lord’s way, and are obedient to the path He set before us, especially when times get tough.

Elder De Hoyos relates an experience of his when he served as a missionary in northern Mexico.

Quote: “When I was serving as a missionary in northern Mexico, a few days after the baptismal service of the Valdez family, we received a telephone call from Brother Valdez asking us to come to his house. He had an important question for us. Now that he knew the will of the Lord regarding the Word of Wisdom, and even though it would be difficult to find a new job, he wondered if he should continue to work for the cigarette company where he had worked for many years. Only a few days later Brother Valdez again asked us to come by and visit him. He had decided to quit his job because he was not willing to go against his convictions. Then with a smile and emotion in his voice, he told us that the very day he quit his old job, another company had called to offer him a much better position.” Unquote.

Will it happen this way for all of us? Will there be a better job, or more money, or a more loving family, or increased health, or easier paths to take as we choose the right? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have known individuals who have struggled their entire lives, even as they chose to obey the Lord in all things. There is one thing I cannot doubt as I have listened to their testimonies, and that is they have felt the hand of the Lord in their lives. They have found happiness even in sorrowful circumstances.

We can find mercy in the midst of trials. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”

Happiness is defined by King Benjamin as “the blessed and happy state of those [that] keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual” (Mosiah 2:41).

Life can be good if we choose to live the principles that offer happiness: believing, desiring, deciding and choosing correct actions will help us to achieve such a goal.

For some of us, this act of choosing to do the will of the Lord comes easily. It is, in many ways, a spiritual gift we have been blessed with. For other of us, the ability to submit our will to the Lord is not easy. We struggle so much in needing to understand every aspect behind following the commandments before we will agree to keep them.

Of this I can testify, that no matter how easy or how hard it might be to choose to follow the Lord, every little effort to do so will count. We will find ourselves better able to recognize the hand of the Lord in our lives. We will receive those blessings more and more readily as we seek to continue to choose the right, and our abilities to handle the difficult times will increase. We can find happiness, blessings, and comfort in the harshest times of our lives, if we will but choose.

“Each of us,” Elder Bednar states, “can have eyes to see clearly and ears to hear distinctly the tender mercies of the Lord as they strengthen and assist us in these latter days.”

Brothers and Sisters, we are now living in a time of uncertainty, of struggle. But it doesn’t mean we need despair. It does not indicate the Lord has turned His back on His people. Think of this as a refining time, for the Lord to see who will stand tall and strong even when times get tough.

To see who will continue to choose His ways even when the world tells us we’re wrong. To see who will become His chosen people.And when we choose His ways be certain he will pour out upon us His tender mercies, to help sustain, strengthen, uplift, and assist us even when we seem to be at our lowest. Just do not forget – the choice is ours.

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