Brothers and Sisters, I’m so grateful to be here today and to have the wonderful opportunity of sharing my testimony and a brief thought with you before I embark on my mission in just over a week. I have been called to the Adriatic North region in Europe, which contains the five following countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro; also known as former Yugoslavia. It’s an area of the world I’m not too familiar with, nor do I know why I was called here – It took me 6 years in middle and high school to finally walk confidently into a Spanish oral exam… & now having to learn a Slavic language, better yet 2, 3 or maybe even 4 in the next couple months, quite simply, terrifies me. Aside from my dose of anxiety, I am so excited and humbled to be a part of this great work. More than that, I’m so grateful for the exact experiences the Lord has provided me thus far in my life for growth, and the steps He has allowed me to take to be here today with the testimony I have. I pray that the Lord may continue to guide in my journey and that I may be a reliable missionary in His hands.
Growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Minnesota provides a unique experience for most youth. For me, observing the Sabbath day, going to early morning seminary, and trying my best to live the standards of the church, provided me with that invaluable experience. Although I mostly went through the motions and was fairly naïve, I was still noticeably different from my peers. I remember the curiosity of one of my classmates who once asked, “Chandler, what makes you Mormons different from other Christian religions?” I can still visualize being instantly struck back with the realization that for once a classmate ignored the values and standards and was intrigued by the pure doctrine – What specifically sets us apart. At that point in my life, I had such an elementary understanding of the gospel, better yet Christian theology in whole, that I am almost positive I didn’t give an adequate answer to this friend. I remember the feeling they gave me though, aside from a little embarrassment, which was the desire to know for myself; the desire to have my own confirming witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what exactly sets us apart from all other faiths. Relating to Enos, my friend’s question “sunk deep into my heart.”(Enos 1:2)
After acting on that desire and the desire that has stemmed from a multitude of experiences in my youth, and studying for myself the things of this gospel, how grateful I am for the plain and precious truths that lie within. Our doctrine is pure and it’s different!
Today, I want to center my thoughts on one of those distinguishing beliefs of our Church. This belief answers some of life’s most unsettling questions – Where did we come from? Why are we here? And where are we going? We answer these questions through the great plan of Salvation, also known as the plan of Happiness (Alma 42:8). The plan of salvation is our Trademark – It is different. In a world of unknown certainties and evolved truth, this unchangeable plan provides us direction, knowledge, and a sure hope of the future.
Our loving Heavenly Father, the author of this plan, never wanted us to be lost or feel abandoned here in mortality, so he gave us a roadmap, that if followed, would enable us to return back to him and feel of eternal joy.
Expressed in this roadmap is the knowledge of our pre-mortal existence. In what the scriptures call our first estate (Abr. 3:26), our Heavenly Father, who created us and whom we lived with, introduced us to His Plan of Salvation. Necessary to this plan was the need for us to become mortal beings so that we could obtain a body and be tested here on Earth. If we proved faithful, we could become like God and have Eternal life. “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Mos. 1:39) In this first estate, we know we prepared ourselves for this necessary step of mortality. L. Tom Perry said, “Jesus Christ, our eldest brother, became the leader in advocating the plan designed by the Father, and we accepted the plan and its conditions. With that choice we earned the right to come to earth and enter our second estate.”
God created Adam and Eve, his first-borns, in his own image, and placed them in the Garden of Eden with no memory as to where they were previously. Still in God’s presence, they were provided their agency. With that agency, P.M.G states, “God commanded them not to eat the forbidden fruit, or the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obeying this commandment, by not partaking, meant that they could remain in the garden forever, but they could not progress by experiencing opposition in mortality. They could not know joy because they could not experience sorrow and pain.” Satan, the enemy to God’s plan, tempted Adam and Eve to partake of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they chose to partake. Because of their choice, they were separated from God’s presence and now subject to sin, the challenges and trials of mortality, and both physical and spiritual death. This event is called the fall. Unlike many Christian faiths, as members of this Church, we acknowledge this act of transgression by Adam and Eve as central to Heavenly Father’s plan and in unlocking the door to eternal life. The Prophet Lehi explained that “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen” (2 Ne. 2:22), but would have remained in the same state in which he was created.
“And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.” Lehi concludes that their choice was planned, “because “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Ne. 2:24).
Because of the fall, “to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection… and there must be an infinite atonement”(2 Ne. 9) provided whereby we can be saved from our sins. Because Heavenly Father loves us so very much he sent his beloved son Jesus Christ here to Earth to fulfill this plan. The scriptures state, “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great judgment day.” Gathered from this scripture we can conclude that all will be resurrected and brought before the Lord to be judged. What’s not promised is if we will live in Heavenly Father’s presence. Since “no unclean thing can enter into His kingdom”(3 Nep. 27:19), we must access the atonement here on Earth, repent, and be cleansed of our sins. Jesus Christ’s atonement, although sometimes hard to comprehend, provides us help here in mortality, and the chance for us to reach that eternal goal of living in Heavenly Father’s presence. His grace is truly sufficient.
So what do we need to do here on Earth to ensure our spot in the Kingdom of God? If Jesus Christ’s grace is sufficient for all of us, do we really need to follow high expectations and commandments? Growing up I often quoted the scripture in 2nd Nephi 25 that states, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” For too long I confused the word ‘after’ with ‘because’. I didn’t fully comprehend the atonement. By our actions and following of commandments, Brad Wilcox points out, “We are not trying to earn Heaven, we are learning Heaven. We are preparing for it. We are practicing for it.” It is foolish to think that we will be comfortable in the presence of our God in the after-life without taking the necessary steps of faith to follow him in the Earth-life. By our actions we are showing our love for Him and our desire to come unto Him. Prophets of old and new have commissioned us to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, make sacred covenants, and endure to the End – All necessary steps in our Eternal progression, and central to Heavenly Father’s Plan. It is important we take these steps, and encourage others to take those leaps as well. Those necessary steps will enable us great blessings, including the wonderful companionship of the Holy Ghost. But, what can we as members of the Church do to keep progressing? How can we gain confidence in one day approaching the Judgment seat of God? I’d like to discuss a couple actions that have helped me in my approach.
- Learn of Him. This simple sentence is an action. Deiter F. Utchdorf said, “If we make no effort to believe, we are like the man who unplugs a spotlight and then blames the spotlight for not giving light.” Learning of him requires that we take constant action to understand Him, His ways, and His teachings. It’s an action that is always greatly compensated by the Lord. I used to think coming to church was enough for me to progress into the man I wanted to become. Contrary to that, it is through daily actions like prayer and scripture study that I have been able to grow the most. Some of the most profound spiritual experiences I have had have occurred at a desk with a lamp and my scriptures. The Lord always enlightens me when I do my part. It’s almost like the Lord keeps saying, “Chandler, you are farther indebted to me each time you think and study of me.” But I think there is great beauty in that. As I have taken my scripture study, testimony, and relationship with my Heavenly Father seriously, I have realized how completely in debt to Him I truly am. It is this realization that leads me to consistently act on faith and learn of Him. By learning of Him it has led me to refine my life, to take a step back and realign my focus to Him. Pres. Eyring said, “He will bless our efforts beyond our fondest expectations as we give our all in his service.” I love that. I testify that he has always met my actions of faith to follow and learn of Him beyond my comprehension. Nothing will propel our testimonies further and help us prepare to meet God more than simply learning of Him and His ways.
- Trust in the Atonement: From scriptural examples such as Alma the younger, Enos, Abinadi, we know that the refining power of repentance and the atonement is real. The Atonement of Jesus Christ encompasses all the mistakes, sorrows, and weaknesses we could potentially have here on earth. It has the power to truly heal and lift us to more than we could ever imagine. But repentance for many of us is much more subtle. Much harder to grasp. It’s hard to see real progress, if at all, when we look into our own eyes. This lack of confidence is real. Even when we do earnestly repent and take up our sorrows with the Lord, we sometimes still question whether we are progressing and are made whole once again. Let me share a story that has served me well thus far in my life. This story was shared by Henry B Eyring at BYU back in 1989. In the words of Pres. Eyring: “Once, as a bishop of a ward, I worked with a young man(college student). He’d made great mistakes and had been moved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to make long and painful repentance. We were down to the weeks before he was to be married in the temple. I had long before forgiven him in the name of the Church and had given him his temple recommend. Yet he remembered that I had said, ‘The Lord will forgive you in his own time and in his own way.’ But now he was deeply concerned. He came to my office and he said: ‘You told me that the Lord would someday let me know that I was forgiven. But I am going to the temple to marry a wonderful girl. I want to be the best I can be for her. I need to know that I am forgiven. And I need to know now. Tell me how to find out.’ I said I would try. He gave me a deadline. My memory is that it was within less than two weeks. Fortunately, I already had a trip scheduled. During that period of time I went to Salt Lake City, and there I found myself seeing Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, at a social function. It was crowded, and yet he somehow found me. He walked up to me in that crowd and said, “ I understand that you are now a bishop. Do you have anything you would like to ask me?” I said that I did, but I didn’t think that was the place to talk about it. He thought it was. It was an outdoor party. My memory is that we went behind a shrub and there had our interview. Without breaking confidences, as I have not with you, I outlined the concerns and the question of this young man in my ward. Then I asked Elder Kimball, “How can he get that revelation? How can he know whether his sins are remitted?” I thought Elder Kimball would talk to me about fasting or prayer or listening for the still small voice. But he surprised me. Instead he said, “Tell me something about the young man.” I said, “What would you like to know?” And then he began a series of the most simple questions. Some of the ones I remember were:
“Does he come to his priesthood meetings?”
I said, after a moment of thought, “Yes.”
“Does he come early?”
“Does he sit down front?”
I thought for a moment and then realized, to my amazement, that he did.
“Does he home teach?”
“Does he go early in the month?”
“Yes, he does.”
“Does he go more than once?”
After I had said yes to each of his questions, Elder Kimball looked at me, paused, and then very quietly said, “There is your revelation.”
It’s interesting to me that to an apostle of the Lord, the most important thing was the change that had occurred within this young man. Forget the severity of the sin; forget whatever happened, the change that had ensued on this man because of the atonement of Jesus Christ was the most important thing. In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he said, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.”(Philippians 3:13-14) Once we have repented, to whatever magnitude it may be, it is important we trust that the Atonement of Jesus Christ will heal and change us as we act on faith, and as we do, we must move forward with confidence. Don’t look back – Press forward!
- Obey God. With mediums of propaganda flooding our timelines and TV screens encouraging us to be weary of every organization and idea known to man, it’s difficult to believe in an unseen God, better yet follow him and His demands. If we all could only realize that it is by faith that one will come to know the beauty of God and his demands. The road inevitably gets hazy at times. Questions arise that seem as though our entire testimony relies on it being answered. Faith, and obedience I believe, will help us see the path more clearly and help clear our mortal eyes as we pursue our eternal destination. With any commandment I promise that there is great compensation. The Prophet Thomas S. Monson has said, “The knowledge which we seek, the answers for which we yearn, and the strength which we desire today to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when we willingly obey the Lords commandments.” May we always remember the example of the faithful prophet Nephi, who parted us in the scriptures with 3 of the most candid, yet profound words we needed to hear. Knowing all future happiness predicated on these words, he uttered: “I must obey.”(2 Nephi 33:15)
After this life, the great plan of Salvation will lead our spirits up to the spirit world where we will reside until we are ready to be resurrected. Here, all who have not been given the adequate opportunity of accepting the gospel will be given so. They will be taught and learn of God’s ways, and prepare to be judged by God. In a world in which circumstance has such an enormous impact on our belief templates and actions, it is refreshing to know that God has a plan for all his children. Sadly, just over a year ago, my cousin was overcome by the challenges of substance and depression and eventually had his life end far too early. But, I take great comfort in the words of his mother’s faith, “Through the atonement I have felt peace that I know that my son is out of his physical pain and that he is safe and has a loving Father in Heaven that is teaching him and loving him.” For the righteous, the spirit world is a time of resting from our cares and sorrows. Enos in the scriptures explains, “And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father.” (Enos 1:27)
It is through God’s wonderful plan of Salvation, particularly the atonement of Jesus Christ that this is all made possible. May we show our love to him daily by learning of him, trusting in the Atonement, and obeying his demands, as we prepare to be with Him once again. I testify and express my gratitude to our loving Heavenly Father, whom I know is cheering us on every step of the way.