Sunday, July 18, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Three)

Enduring well means doing more than walking around and looking like we’re sucking lemons. Now, I know that I’ve just gone on for pages about how hard life is. But, notwithstanding C-3PO’s lament in Star Wars, we were not made to suffer; it is not our lot in life. In fact, “[we] are, that [we] might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). So how can we have joy despite life’s trials?
When I say joy, I'm not talking about the proximate pleasures of the flesh. Rather, I'm talking about the abiding happiness that comes only through the power of God. (See John 15:11; Helaman 5:44).
God is happy. In fact, the nature of God is the nature of happiness. (Alma 41:11). And because He is happy, He knows how to make His children happy. After all, He's already given Jesus the "fullness of joy." (3 Nephi 28:10). The only true way to be happy, therefore, is to partake of the nature of God. But how can we though? The answer is simple: obey.
Jesus was perfectly obedient. And Jesus commands us to be like Him, (3 Nephi 27:27) even to be perfect. (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). Jesus wasn't taunting us. You see, He wants us to be happy, and the only true way for us to be happy is to be like Him. “Take my yoke upon you,” He pleaded, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). A yoke is a device people used to harness beasts of burden―horses, oxen, donkeys, and cattle―together. It forced the animals to work together. And by working together, they could pull more weight individually than they could if they were not yoked to other animals. So if two oxen each had an individual-maximum pulling strength of four tons, by yoking them together they could pull nine or ten tons. So when we are yoked with Christ, His yoke is easy and His burden is light because He is pulling so much more than we ever could! Remember that pioneer boy who, when he could go no further, his handcart began pushing him. But if we break the yoke that binds us to Christ, we will be left to pull the weight of life alone.
And we become yoked with Christ when we accept the fullness of His Gospel, are baptized, and commit to live all of the commandment. There are two kinds of commandments: preparatory commandments and what I'll call complete commandments. Complete commandments are harder to keep. Compare the Mosaic injunction against adultery, (Exodus 20:14), to Jesus' prohibition against lusting (Matthew 5:27-28). And to me, it would be much easier to provide the occasional sacrificial lamb instead of offering up my "whole soul" (Omni 1:26) with "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" to God. (See 3 Nephi 9:20). So because of the difficulty of living the complete commandments, we insist on living the preparatory commandments.
But obedience to preparatory commandments can only bring us preparatory joy. And lest we be ever preparing and never coming to the fullness of joy, we must accept and live all of God's complete commandments. Still, living the preparatory commandments is better than not living the commandments at all. For disobedience brings only misery and captivity.
It will take time, however, to live all the complete commandments. Jesus knew we couldn't do it right away. That's why He suffered for us and provided the gift of the Atonement, thus making repentance and forgiveness possible, which, by the way, also bring great joy. (Luke 15:10; D&C 18:10-16). He knows we need help. And He helps in so many ways.
As I said, Jesus performed the matchless Atonement and made it possible to receive forgiveness of our sins. But through His Grace, He also gives us strength to keep the commandments. Moroni, that last Book of Mormon prophet, invited us:
[C]ome unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

(Moroni 10:32-33).

Jesus is both the way and the means to eternal joy!

And Jesus often uses others to help us become happy. For example, He used Alma the younger to help Corianton, Alma's youngest son. While serving as a missionary with his father and older brother, Corianton visited a prostitute named Isabel. (Alma 39:1-3). His actions were not only self-destructive but became the excuse for many to disbelieve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Alma 39:11). Alma sat Corianton down and unequivocally denounced Corianton's sexual promiscuity as an abomination. (Alma 39:5). And for four chapters Alma reproves and counsels his son about eternal justice and the mercy that comes only through Christ. (See Alma 39-42). Finally, Alma said,

O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.

And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words.

(Alma 42:30-31).
Alma's talk with Corianton worked. Corianton repented and, for the rest of his life, taught repentance and the Plan of Happiness through Jesus Christ.
There are times when we will be like Corianton, in need of loving correction. And there are times when we will be like Alma, in need of giving loving correction. Both present dangers. So often, the truth is hard to bear, and when a loved one confronts us and calls us to come to Jesus, we may lash out against them. On the other hand, we must be careful that our attempt to correct doesn't become a stoning. Also, if you know the story of Alma the younger, you'll know that he once sought to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. (Alma 36:6). He was a vile man. And it took the visitation of an angel to get him to repent. (Alma 36:6-24). The danger of being called a hypocrite was there and very real.
Thankfully for Corianton, Alma loved him too much to look away and ignore his bad behavior. Thus, Corianton started walking again along the stepping stones of the Plan of Happiness with the help of his Savior and his father.
So if we want to be happy, we must keep the commandments. All of them. We mustn't lash out against those who deliver them to us. And we shouldn't lash out against those who call our sins to our attention, even if they are hypocrites.
For it is through obedience to the commandments that we learn the nature of happiness. And by learning the nature of happiness we partake of the Nature of God until God gives us eternal joy, even the fullness of joy. And only He can give it.
Let me share with you the great blessings and happiness that I have received because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The greatest joy in my life is my relationship with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I know Them, that They live, that They know me personally, that They love me, and that They want me to return to Them with my family to receive all of the blessings of eternal life. I have not seen Their faces in this life. But that is all that I lack to have perfect knowledge of Their existence and character. I received this knowledge primarily through the Book of Mormon, through obedience to the commandments, and through my service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). It is through Jesus Christ that I have received the remission of my sins, and through Him, I am becoming the man who He needs me to be.
After my relationship with my God and Savior, the greatest blessing in my life is my wife. We met at church. I had just returned home from my service as a missionary Ecuador and was assigned to give a talk during sacrament meeting (the main meeting for Mormons each Sunday). My wife had been home from her mission in Hong Kong for six months and was a member of the same ward (local congregation) my family attended. She had been assigned to speak at a different ward. I saw her in the foyer of the chapel as she waited for her mother so they could go to her assignment. She wore a black silk Chinese dress with red embroidery and caught me as I was looking at her. Five months later, we were married in the Salt Lake Temple and covenanted with God and each that we would be faithful to each other and to Him. We received the promise that we will be together throughout all eternity as husband and wife. My love for her has grown daily. She is amazing. It is because of her that I am who I am. She has been my strength and greatest supporter. I can’t imagine life without her. And had we not been going to church and living the Gospel, we wouldn’t be together.
And my wife has given me three beautiful children. Admittedly, sometimes my kids frustrate me, but I love being a dad. I love snuggling with my kids. I love seeing them accomplish their goals. And I love seeing them develop a relationship with God. They will be my children forever because my wife and I were married in the Temple and have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My children are my joy.
I’m also who I am because of the Gospel. My dad was not born a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But soon after he graduated from High School, he was baptized and yoked himself with Christ. A little while later he was serving as a missionary in the Netherlands. At the same time, my mom, who had been born to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been baptized when she was eight, was struggling as her mother died of cancer. As the oldest daughter, she became the mother to her younger siblings. Her older brother, Jan, was also on a mission in the Netherlands and had been assigned to be the junior companion to my dad. Through Uncle Jan, my parents started writing each other. And after forty-six years of marriage, eleven children, twenty-nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, Mom and Dad are currently serving together as senior missionaries in the Netherlands. If my dad had not joined the Church, I would not be here. I love my parents. They have been a blessing and a source of great joy for me throughout my life.
I could go on, but I don’t have the time right now. Just know that every good thing, every blessing worth having, I have received it through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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