Sunday, March 24, 2013

Farewell Talk

Good afternoon brothers and sisters. Today I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on a talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in April 2012 called Sacrifice. I’m not sure if there is a more fitting topic for a future missionary than sacrifice.
In his talk, Elder Oaks gives examples of different ways that church members sacrifice. Some examples are: we sacrifice to serve in the temple, to serve missions, to fulfill callings, and to serve in our families. Elder Oaks also focuses on why we sacrifice, and explains that when we sacrifice we are brought closer to our Savior Jesus Christ. Elder Oaks shared the scripture Matthew 16:24-25 which reads, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself. …For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” To me, it is comforting to remember that a sacrifice is simply giving up something good for something greater. When we remember the great plan that our Father has for us, it is much easier to make sacrifices of worldly things.
Sacrifice is a law, which has been followed in every dispensation on the earth. The first story that comes to mind when I think of sacrifice is always Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis chapter 22 we learn that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son in order to remain obedient to the Lord. During this story there is a phrase which Abraham repeats three times. When the Lord calls out to Abraham in verse one, he responds, “Here am I.” Abraham didn’t know what the Lord was about to ask of him, but he ready and willing to obey. When Isaac calls out in verse 7, looking for his father, Abraham again says “Here am I.” Then, right as he is about to sacrifice his son, the angel calls out to him, and he responds again, “Here am I.” This is an incredible attitude for someone who was just asked to give up his own son. Abraham was not only present when the Lord called out to him, but he was willing to do that which the Lord required of him. Think how much more we could accomplish if we responded in the same way whenever asked to do something difficult or that we don’t understand.
Another example of the law of sacrifice is found in the New Testament. In Matthew Chapter 19 we read the account of a man who knew the gospel and kept the commandments, but wanted to know what else he needed to do in order to gain eternal life. In verse 19, the Savior taught, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” This story teaches us that the Lord requires us to put Him first. When we put the Lord first we demonstrate our love for Him and our faith the He will provide for us better than we could for ourselves.
Elder M. Russell Ballard explained the purposes of sacrifice in his talk entitled “The Law of Sacrifice.” He says, “Its two major purposes are to test and prove us and to assist us in coming unto Christ.” The word sacrifice means literally “to make sacred,” or “to render sacred.” Spencer W. Kimball has said, “Through sacrifice and service one comes to know the Lord.” When we make a sacrifice, small or large, it gives us a glimpse into what the Savior has done for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice by suffering for our sins and eventually dying on the cross so that we might live again. If we truly understand the power of the atonement and how desperately we need that power in our lives, then we should be willing to do anything to repay the Savior for what he has done for us. Boyd K. Packer explains the necessity of the atonement when he says, “I seldom use the word absolutely. It seldom fits. I use it now—twice: Because of the Fall, the Atonement was absolutely essential for resurrection to proceed and overcome mortal death. The Atonement was absolutely essential for men to cleanse themselves from sin and overcome the second death, spiritual death, which is separation from our Father in Heaven, for the scriptures tell us…that no unclean thing may enter the presence of God.”
My first year of college, I took a New Testament class that truly changed my entire perspective on the atonement. Even though our focus of study was the second half of the New Testament, almost every chapter related back to the atonement, and the class was essentially a 3-month study of the atonement and its impact on our lives. I have always known that the atonement is important and even vital to our salvation, but after taking this class, I know how I should live my life differently because of this knowledge. Because I know that my Savior suffered and died for me, I want to do all that I can to help Him. I can do this through obedience, and submitting my will to His. Even when we do not understand what we are asked to do, we must have faith that the Lord has a plan, and it will all work out in the end.
Elder Oaks explains in his talk that the Atonement was the ultimate sacrifice. He says, “Jesus Christ endured incomprehensible suffering to make Himself a sacrifice for the sins of all. That sacrifice offered the ultimate good—the pure Lamb without blemish—for the ultimate measure of evil—the sins of the entire world. In the memorable words of Eliza R. Snow:

His precious blood he freely spilt;
His life he freely gave,
A sinless sacrifice for guilt,
A dying world to save.

That sacrifice—the Atonement of Jesus Christ—is at the center of the plan of salvation.” (close quote)

After Jesus Christ performed the atonement, the Law of Sacrifice changed. M. Russell Ballard explains, “First, the ordinance of the sacrament replaced the ordinance of sacrifice; and second, this change moved the focus of the sacrifice from a person’s animal to the person himself. In a sense, the sacrifice changed from the offering to the offerer.” Each week as we partake of the sacrament, we should remember Christ’s atoning sacrifice as well as consider what sacrifices we should be making in our own lives. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”
            Russell M. Nelson teaches, “We are still commanded to sacrifice, but not by shedding blood of animals. Our highest sense of sacrifice is achieved as we make ourselves more sacred or holy…This we do by our obedience to the commandments of God. …As we comply with these… commandments, something wonderful happens to us. … We become more sacred and holy—[more] like our Lord!”
Elder Oaks explains, “The sacrifices He now commands are that we “offer for a sacrifice unto [Him] a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” He also commands each of us to love and serve one another—in effect, to offer a small imitation of His own sacrifice by making sacrifices of our own time and selfish priorities. In an inspired hymn, we sing, “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”(close quote) True to the Faith states that, “To have a broken heart and a contrite spirit is to be humble and receptive to the will of God and to the counsel of those He has called to lead His Church. It also means to feel deep sorrow for sin and a sincere desire to repent.” Our will is the only thing that we can truly give to the Lord, and when we do so, we fulfill the Law of Sacrifice.
            Just like any other principle of the gospel, we must obey the Law of Sacrifice with the right attitude. When we are asked to sacrifice something, for example 10% of our income, or time on a Saturday morning to give service, just doing it is not enough. Elder Oaks gives three stories of people who sacrifice because they love the Lord rather than simply because they are asked to.
1.    Sarah Rich an early member of the church describes her husband Charles being called away on a mission. She says, “This truly was a trying time for me as well as for my husband; but duty called us to part for a season and knowing that we [were] obeying the will of the Lord, we felt to sacrifice our own feelings in order to help establish the work … of helping to build up the Kingdom of God on earth.”
2.    Elder Oaks gives a response that he hears from many missionaries when asked why they are willing to serve the Lord. They say, “Knowing what my Savior did for me—His grace in suffering for my sins and in overcoming death so I can live again—I feel privileged to make the small sacrifice I am asked to make in His service. I want to share the understanding He has given me.”
3.    A young convert to the church was asked by President Hinckley what would happen when he returned home from America a Christian. “My family will be disappointed,” the young man answered. “They may cast me out and regard me as dead. As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.”

“Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?” President Hinckley asked.

Tearfully the young man answered, “It’s true, isn’t it?” When that was affirmed, he replied, “Then what else matters?”

            These three stories demonstrate the simple faith necessary to remain positive during times of trial and sacrifice, and also to have the desire to serve the Lord out of love rather than duty.           
I can testify of the power of a good attitude. As a graduate of early morning seminary I can attest that attitude is everything. I actually always enjoyed seminary, but it was definitely a sacrifice of time and sleep to attend. There was an obvious difference between the kids who were there because they wanted to be and those who were there because their parents wanted them to be. Just as we can only be taught when we are teachable and want to learn, we can only truly fulfill the law of sacrifice when we want to serve the Lord out of love. Seminary was a great example to me of giving up something good for something better. Sleep is definitely a good thing, but being filled with the spirit and learning about my Savior every morning was a better thing.  I know that when we put our trust in the Lord and take a wisely optimistic outlook on life, we can be so much happier, even if we are asked to make great sacrifices.
            Even though we will be asked to make sacrifices throughout our lives, we know that in the long run we will receive blessings that far outweigh the suffering. Gordon B. Hinckley taught that, “It is not a sacrifice to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is never a sacrifice when you get back more than you give. It is an investment… a greater investment than any. …Its dividends are eternal and everlasting.” When we realize all that the Lord has in store for us, anything we are asked to give up on this earth seems inconsequential.
Gordon B. Hinckley said that, “Without sacrifice there is no true worship of God…The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave his life, and we do not worship unless we give—give of our substance, our time, strength, talent, faith, and testimonies.”
            Elder Stephen B. Oveson of the Seventy told a story in the September 2005 Ensign about devoting our lives to the Lord. He says, “A story has been told about a chicken and a pig who found themselves discussing their contributions to the farmer’s breakfast table. The hen bemoaned having to donate her eggs for the breakfast. The pig replied, “Yes, but for you, it’s just a small sacrifice. For me, it’s a total commitment! We might ask ourselves whether we are the kind of people who feel that giving an occasional egg or two toward the building of the kingdom is sufficient or whether we want to be categorized among those who consecrate their all in this endeavor.” I can empathize with the pig from this story right now. For the past 20 years I have been like the chicken, giving a few eggs here and there toward the building of the kingdom, but tonight I will be set apart as a full-time representative of Jesus Christ. It is a little scary to give your entire self for a single cause, but I know that what I am doing is the Lord’s work and that He will help me and bless me for my efforts.
 In Doctrine and Covenants section 88, verse 22, we learn that “He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.” Elder Oaks explains how the law of sacrifice prepares us for eternal life. He says, “I believe that Latter-day Saints who give unselfish service and sacrifice in worshipful imitation of our Savior adhere to eternal values to a greater extent than any other group of people. Latter-day Saints look on their sacrifices of time and means as a part of their schooling and qualifying for eternity. This is a truth revealed in the Lectures on Faith, which teach that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. … It [is] through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.”(close quote)
In preparing to serve a mission I have been asked many times why I want to serve. On the very last page of Preach My Gospel there is a list of bullet points of important things missionaries need to remember. The very last bullet points says, “Love the Lord and serve Him the very best you can.” That simple phrase sums up exactly what I am trying to do. I have been so blessed to grow up in this gospel with a loving, supportive family and I’ve never had to wonder if I am loved or important. I have been so so blessed and I actually got nervous in high school because I wondered why my life wasn’t harder. I wondered when my life was going to get hard. I had a sort of epiphany the other day and realized….this is it. Life is about to get hard. And I am so excited. I am so humbled and grateful for the opportunity to share that knowledge of this gospel with people who are searching for it. Yes, I will be sacrificing movies, and tv, and seeing my family for a year and half, but I know that I will be giving up something good for something far greater. As the scripture mastery in Doctrine and Covenants 18 says, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God… And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”
I’d like to close with my own personal testimony on the power of sacrifice. I know that in my own life, as I have submitted my will to the Lord and done what He requires of me, I have come to know and love my Savior. I know that if we have a positive attitude and remain wisely optimistic, we will be able to do all that the Lord requires of us, and one day return to live with him again. I know that this church is the Lord’s true church and that it was restored on the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that it has the power to change lives. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, and that He knows my pains and afflictions, and that through Him I can be made whole again. I know that I have a Father in Heaven who loves me, and that I want to Love Him and serve Him the very best that I can. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.