Sunday, July 27, 2008

This is the text for my talk in Sacrament Meeting, July 27, 2008. I only had enough time to share the first section. I enjoyed writing it, nevertheless.

Purpose: To help us understand that our faith in God is what carries us through our lives.

It’s July 27th today. The early pioneers of the Church entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. In celebration of their journey I am using a pioneer theme for my remarks today.

Gordon B. Hinckley wrote an article called, “The Faith of the Pioneers”, in the July 1984 Ensign Magazine. In this article he wrote:

“It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, {but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries.} Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all, for each of us is a pioneer in his own life…”

He also writes a statement that I am using as an outline for my talk:
“Oh, how much is faith needed in each of our lives – faith in ourselves, faith in our associates, and faith in the living God.”

Faith in ourselves

Even though there are many converts to the Church who do not have a direct blood line to the early pioneers, I believe we have a spiritual bloodline, so to speak, to the early saints in both the time of Christ and in the early days of the restored Church. We all have to venture forth into wild frontiers to have our faith tested.

Throughout time, those of us who understand we are children of God thrive on our faith. As individuals, every experience in our past that we’ve endured, the challenges we are presently facing, plus those we will encounter, are all in some way wrapped up in our faith.

Over the years as I’ve read about the early pioneers I have come to believe that the sacrifices they made and the incredible hardships they endured were a result of their testimonies. They believed that the Book of Mormon was true and they believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet. These beliefs motivated them to make decisions in their lives that required courage and faithful endurance.

Most of the early converts did not see the prophet before they were baptized, yet they believed he was a prophet and they were willing to follow his counsel to gather to Zion. When I think of their faith I am reminded of the story of one of Jesus’ apostles named Thomas.

In the book of John, chapter 20, Jesus has been resurrected and he shows himself to Mary Magdalene and then to some of his disciples.
Verses 24-31:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

The early members of the restored Church who were faithful honored their beliefs, and their testimonies carried them through all kinds of life experiences. They made choices based on their faith even when they could not see the outcome. In the same way, our faith is carrying us through everything we are faced with in our lives.

A meaningful quote for me was said by Elder Russell Ballard in a Conference address from April, 1977.
“Life isn’t always easy. At some point in our journey we may feel much as the pioneers did as they crossed the Iowa – up to our knees in mud, forced to bury some of our dreams along the way. We all face rocky ridges, with the wind in our face and winter coming on too soon. Sometimes it seems as though there is no end to the dust that stings our eyes and clouds our vision. Sharp edges of despair and discouragement jut out of the terrain to slow our passage. …Occasionally we reach the top of one summit in life, as the pioneers did, only to see more mountain peaks ahead, higher and more challenging than the one we have just traversed. Tapping unseen reservoirs of faith and endurance, we, as did our forebears, inch ever forward toward that day when our voices can join with those of all pioneers who have endured in faith, singing, ‘All is well! All is well!’”

I’ve pondered the expression, “Tapping unseen reservoirs of faith and endurance…” I wonder if individual pioneers weren’t like us when faced with overwhelming challenges. Most likely there were times when they weren’t able to think of a way to get through certain situations. They probably wondered how they were going to endure in the same way we do when we are faced with trials. There are times when there isn’t a plan that we can devise to get ourselves out of certain dilemmas, but somehow we pull through. Somehow, we hold on to our faith and turn our hearts to God and we tap into an ‘unseen reservoir of faith’, and we find the strength to put one foot in front of the other, even when we don’t feel strong enough. We keep going when we can’t see how we are going to make it, and we keep going during those days when the light can’t seem to penetrate our thoughts and we are unable to see God’s hand in our lives.

Even as the saints were being driven from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846, new immigrants were pouring into the city. Can you imagine what it would have been like to finally arrive at your long awaited destination and saying to yourself, “Yes. I made it to Zion,” only to have Zion moving across the river? All of your resources are gone and the promises that the Elders made about the great city of Nauvoo are being driven away by angry mobs. Perhaps they felt just a bit overwhelmed.

What about when the first pioneers to reach the Salt Lake valley were in the last stretch before they reached a point where they could actually see the great valley. This was the time when the word ‘great’ was used to describe the size of the valley and not necessarily what it looked like. When they got their first look and they began to exclaim, “Yes. I made it to Zion.” Did they stop themselves and question the meaning of the word, ‘Zion’? Did they wonder if a wrong turn had been made somewhere back along the trail? I remember reading one pioneer’s written account of looking out over the valley and being convinced that she no longer had to worry about the enemy following the saints.

It took a lot of hard work to make the ‘desert blossom like a rose’, and I imagine it took a lot of faith for those first pioneers seeing the valley to actually visualize its blossoming.

What was it that kept the early saints moving forward?
Referring to the pioneers President Hinckley said,
“It was by the power of faith that they threaded their way up the Elkhorn and along the Platte, past Chimney Rock, and on to South Pass, down the Sweetwater to Independence Rock, and finally over Big Mountain and into Salt Lake valley.”

So many of the early converts left home and family and gave up the familiarity of their lives to join a religion that required a great deal of sacrifice. I can only imagine what it must have been like for a mother traveling across the plains to experience the death of her child and have to bury it in an unmarked grave along the side of the trail. She then had to carry on even though a piece of her heart was buried back in the grave with her child. Perhaps, the revelation given to the prophet regarding the salvation of children ran through her mind and touched her soul with a calming peace. “But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; (D&C 29:46),.

I believe faith keeps us moving when we want to give up. Faith lifts us up when we don’t see how we can make it one more day. Faith in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ, forces our hearts to beat when they feel broken and irreparable. Faith pulls the power of the Holy Ghost into our lives and we witness miracles that could not be seen without the eyes of faith.

For me, one of the most interesting things about faith is how it works in our lives without our even realizing what’s happening. Often, it isn’t until we’ve made it through to the other side of some of our darkest trials that we look back in amazement and question how we endured. And, even though we make it through many experiences we think might perhaps kill us, we still wonder how we are going to get through whatever we are facing this time. Is faith a teacher we easily forget?

When we wonder how we’re going to make it through something difficult, or we wonder if we have enough faith to endure, we might ask ourselves:
Do I believe in God?
Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
If you believe in God, and you are doing your best to keep His commandments, then you have given your heart to God, and I’m telling you, the Holy Ghost is gonna be all over you.

God knows our hearts. He knows our desires. He knows how much we love Him. Every time we offer our heart to God, we receive His grace. We do the best we can with what we have been given and through our faith in Jesus Christ we receive the grace we need to make up the difference between what we can give, and perfect love.

President Hinckley said the following about the early pioneers, and I believe it is the same for us, “…A personal and individual recognition of God their Eternal Father to whom they could look in faith was of the very essence of their strength.”

Faith in others

In the book of Daniel we learn about King Nebuchadnezzar and how he brought a certain number of the children of Israel who were well-favoured, wise, and knowledgeable into his kingdom. Among these were Daniel, Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego. I’m skipping the story of Daniel in chapters one and two, and jumping to chapter three into the story of his friends. To refresh your memory I need to tell you that Daniel had become a great man and the king had made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and he had requested that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be set over the affairs of the province of Babylon.

So, now we come to the point of the story where Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold that was 9 feet wide and 90 feet high. He gathered all of the princes, governors, and so forth to the dedication of this golden image. The people were told that when they heard music play they were to fall down and worship the golden image. Verse 6“And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.

It soon came to the attention of the King that Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego had not fallen down to worship the image and in his rage and fury the king commanded that they be brought before him.
Verses 15-18
Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of …all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

So, they were saying that even if God did not deliver them, they still wouldn’t worship the golden image. What I need to point out here is the combined faith of these men. When they address the king they are speaking collectively when they say, “If it be so, OUR God” whom WE serve is able to deliver US, and WE will not worship your golden image. They make it clear that they were in this situation together and they stood firm together. Shadrack didn’t say, “O King, I’m going to be just fine, but I don’t know about these two men.” In fact, it doesn’t say that any one particular individual answered the king. The scripture says that all three answered.

As you might have guessed, Nebuchadnezzar was furious with their response and commanded the furnace be heated seven times more. He had his mightiest men in the army cast them in, and the flame of the fire was so hot that it killed the men that threw them in.

Verses 23-28
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.
And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.
Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.

This is an amazing story. In my mind, these men were pioneers because they set themselves apart from the idol worshippers. Perhaps every time we stand up for our beliefs we are pioneers because we are on a journey that sets us apart from those who aren’t interested in seeking truth. For all pioneers there has been, and will be, a frontier out in front of us that we haven’t traveled across before. How much easier is it to walk across the unknown with faithful people at our side?

The three men in this story were figuratively their own little wagon train embarking on a trip into the frontier of righteousness. The road they were taking was leading them away from the enemies of God. They didn’t know how their journey was going to end, but they put their trust in God and moved forward with faith. In many cases, that’s all any of us can do. Step by step and day by day we pray for strength and move along with faith. We are particularly blessed when we feel the presence of that “fourth person in the furnace”. Whether an angel of the Lord, or the Lord himself, we are promised companionship along our way.

In the book of John, chapter 14, Jesus is speaking to his disciples shortly before his death when he says in verses 15-18:

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

The Holy Ghost can provide comfort when we personally need it, and it can also reveal to us the truth of what other people are feeling. Our fellow saints provide us with examples of faith on a regular basis. How does it affect our own faith when we see others faithfully enduring in remarkably tough situations? Do we change the words in our prayers when we witness the humility and courage of someone we know who is suffering?

In Paul’s message to the Thessalonians he wrote in chapter 5, verses 8- 11:

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet the hope of salvation.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
(italics added)

Faith in God

We are all pioneers as we pass through our spiritual journey on this earth. Whether a convert, someone who has a stronger testimony than how they were raised, or those who come from generations of strong faith, we each have to develop and strengthen our own personal testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we are strengthening our testimony, sometimes we are simply maintaining it, and other times we are repairing it. We will pass through all kinds of trials in our lives and along with our personal trials we have personal revelation.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 8, the Lord responds to Oliver Cowdery’s request to be given the gift of translation. The Lord tells him he will receive knowledge if he asks in faith with an honest heart. Elder Cowdery is reminded of a gift that we all have as members of the Church, and it is a gift that many faithful pioneers throughout time have been blessed with. Verses 2-5:

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
Therefore this is thy gift; apply unto it, and blessed art thou, for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies, when, if it were not so, they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction.
Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember, this is your gift.

Ever so gradually we learn to listen to the whispers from heaven, and to become more sensitive to the power of God in our lives.


I need to repeat the words of President Hinckley, “Oh, how much is faith needed in each of our lives – faith in ourselves, faith in our associates, and faith in the living God.”

There is a sensitive relationship between the faith we have in ourselves and the faith we have in the power of God. We often feel our own limitations when we are struggling with a difficult situation. But this life isn’t about what we think we can or cannot do ourselves. I think this life is about having faith in the power of God and learning to understand how He works in our lives. When we are feeling downhearted, confused, helpless, or hopeless, we can turn to the word of God and find many stories about individuals who faced ongoing hardships; yet, over time, with faith, they endured and experienced miracles.

Our faith in the power of God helps us to not only recognize the needs of others so that we can reach out to them, but it also helps us discover a more faithful perspective when we see the hardships that others are going through. Our individual faith in the power of God is transformed when combined with the faith of others. It becomes a catalyst for tremendous change. Our collective tithing, our collective humanitarian efforts, our collective prayers and faith are incredibly powerful. And, remember how Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego stood together with faith and how they were blessed with a miracle.

Our faith in the power of God gives us a spiritual bloodline to faithful pioneers throughout time. As latter-day saints we have been given many promises and blessings. One of them is found in D&C 115:4-6:

For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Verily I say unto you all: “Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;
And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.
(italics added)

Faith in God is an incredibly powerful force that changes lives. When we faithfully turn our hearts over to God he accepts them with mercy and forgiveness. When we put our faith and trust in God we are sharing the same spiritual heritage as faithful pioneers from every generation, and our names are placed in the Lord’s book of remembrance.

In the book of Ether, chapter 12, Moroni writes about the preaching of the prophet, Ether. Remember, Ether “could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him”.

Verses 4-6
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
And it came to pass that Ether did prophesy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”

It is the same for all pioneers throughout time.

I leave this message of faith with you…

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