So this was what I wrote for my homecoming talk. Parts of what I said are not written down, but this is what I had prepared to say. Enjoy!
Good morning y'all! It's so good to see so many familiar faces. It's also good to see so many new faces. I hope to get to know most of y'all by the time I ship out again to BYUI. Thanks to Mark being a member of the bishopric, I was able to be notified of this talk a good month in advance, but I've been thinking about this talk for roughly two years now.
As some of you may remember, the last time I stood at this pulpit, I ran through what was supposed to be about a 30 minute talk, into approximately 12-15 minutes. Today, two years and about a week and a half later, I hope to not make a repeat of that.
One more thing before I begin, you may notice, or have already noticed, my voice may sound a little different. I've lived among some of the greatest southerners you can ever meet, but living in such an environment can cause one's accent to change slightly. You'll probably notice it on certain words rather than the entire thing. So if it slips, there's your answer.
I want to start out by saying I loved my mission. It was incredibly difficult to have any success most of the time. There were many days we were bashed, in fact the worst time was when we were bashed four times in the space of a week by three different churches. But no matter how hard it got, each time I witnessed someone understand the gospel, made it all worth it. And that brings me to one of the two topics I wanted to talk about: Change.
There are many things that change in this world. Politics, chemical reactions, theories, beliefs, living environments, friends, family, and even the Chicago Cubs. Each of these things start as something, and then based on a new variable, they begin to alter into something different. This change in the process could either be good or bad. It is my hope to focus on the positive change that occurs when we receive a witness of divinity of the Savior.
The scriptures teach us of a changing process that occurs when someone begins to understand something. That process begins with the principles of the gospel which are Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. This is exemplified by two different yet similar scenarios. Saul, later Paul, is on his way to Damascus when he is stopped by the Lord and commanded to "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." (Acts 9:6). Later we read that Saul waited and prayed for help that he might receive his sight again. Saul was exercising his faith in an Individual that literally the day before, he had set out to persecute. That faith led to receiving his sight again, and becoming one of the most powerful apostles we have record of.
Another example is found in the Book of Mormon. Alma is the son of a prophet, whose also name is Alma. And Alma Jr. is a rebel. He fights, persecutes, and tries to destroy the church to the best of his ability, until he and his friends are stopped by an angel and commanded to change their ways. Alma gets the worst of it and is paralyzed and placed in a coma like trance for three days, going through what he describes as being "racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins." And then something happens. He remembers the words of his parents, most particularly his father, who taught him about Christ and the grace he offers for all who make mistakes. At that moment, he exercises his faith and cries out, "Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more." (Alma 36:17-19). He rises and begins to testify to those that are present, and continues to teach and testify many wonderful things for the rest of his life.
What was the beginning step of these two examples? What was the decision that caused such a mighty change of heart? The very first principle which is faith. Faith leads to repentance. Faith is also an action word and a demonstration of one's faith is baptism. Following this it is by faith we receive the Holy Ghost and by faith we use it to endure to the end. When Elder Bednar came to our mission in March, he taught that faith is a principle of action and power. Which leads me to my last and main topic.
Faith is the catalyst that causes change to happen. I would bet you that if you looked in any standard work of scripture, you will not find one miracle, one story, or one commandment that does not involve faith. In this church, our faith is tested, in some cases daily. You might find yourself in my shoes and be defending the truth more than preaching it. There will be times, if they haven't already come, where holding onto your faith will be deemed unpopular, ridiculous, and in some cases dangerous. But holding to the first principle, will hold you to the Old Ship Zion.
You exercise your faith by coming to these meetings. You do it by reading the scriptures as families or praying in your homes. You do it by participating of the sacrament and other ordinances. You do it by attending the temple frequently. These things help your faith to grow into a large and strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I must warn you that when it comes to faith, there is no middle ground. You are either gaining or losing your faith in every action you take. By not nourishing your faith, it becomes empty, wilted, and may eventually die altogether.
I sadly was a witness to this many times on my mission. And I'm sure many of you who are return missionaries or currently serving may see this too. Someone who knew the gospel, loved it and lived it, but eventually circumstances would come up that would challenge their faith. And instead of searching for answers found in scriptures or from God, they turn to other resources. Testimonies are challenged, faith is shattered, and that plant begins to die. Rather than relying on their Creator for nourishment, they seek it from various resources leading away from Him.
When we choose to act in faith, we nourish the seed and help it grow into a mighty tree. When we have a strong faith, our purpose and desire to share that faith becomes stronger. Christ taught this when He commanded His apostle Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:32). When the gospel was restored, among the first revelations given to the prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants was a commandment saying "If ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work." (D&C 4:3). This was a commandment to Joseph Smith's father, but it is also a commandment to us.
The work our Heavenly Father has called all of us to do, is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel. Through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and and enduring to the end. We do these things in various ways. Some go with full time missionaries to teach others, and some show their faith by their actions. However you demonstrate and invite others, is between you and the Lord. The Lord understands our weaknesses and is always open to assist us in our efforts. We may desire to help a neighbor, a friend from school, or even a family member who may have fallen away. Whatever the case, the Lord is willing to help.
He has testified to us that He will not leave us alone in this work. "For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up." (D&C 88:84). In another scripture He has testified "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18).
Brothers and Sisters, my mission has taught me that I can testify of many things. But one of the many things I can testify of is that the worth of a soul is so great in the eyes of God. He desires so much for everyone to accept His plan. Accept His Son. Accept His gospel. And He delights when we desire and act to assist Him in bringing many souls unto Him. That is the privilege He has given us. To all be missionaries in His kingdom. Exercising our faith in the Savior, and the plan that He has for all His children.
(I then bore my testimony which wasn't written)