Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Follow The Prophet

The following is a talk I gave in my ward on March 22, 2015

The endowment ceremony conducted in our temples tells the story of the creation of this world and of our first parents, Adam and Eve. After Adam and Eve partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they are cast out of the garden, and likewise out of the presence of the divine. Separated from Elohim and Jehovah, they actively seek for further light and knowledge to guide them through the lone and dreary world. Facing opposition from Satan, they remain faithful to the truth they have received and in so doing prepare themselves for greater light and for the blessings of eternity.
Similar to Adam and Eve, we too have been separated from the presence of Elohim and Jehovah. The experience of Adam and Eve mirrors our own as we go throughout our own lives seeking further light and knowledge. In our own quest for truth, there are many willing to preach to us the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture, but thanks to the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we have true messengers, prophets and apostles with the keys of the kingdom and the authority of God. As we give strict heed to their counsel and teachings, they will lead us in the way of life and salvation.
It has always been the same, since the beginning of recorded time. From the days of the Old Testament, God has called prophets to speak for him and to represent him on the earth, to lead the people of God in the way of life and salvation. When Miriam and Aaron complained against Moses, the Lord declared in Numbers 12:6 “Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision.” We are reminded in the book of Amos chapter 3 verse 7, that “surely the Lord God will do nothing until he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Paul teaches the Corinthians in 1st Corinthians 12 that God has set some in the church, firstly apostles and secondarily prophets to lead and guide us, clarifying to the Ephesians that this is done “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” or the edifying of the Church, no “more tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine.”
In today’s world, we see a continuation of the conditions that prefaced the Restoration. The tumult of opinions and the war of words described by Joseph Smith wages on today more than it ever has. In a world filled with darkness, doubt and fear, the need for a modern day prophet has never been greater. In the last verse of a favorite primary hymn we sing “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news. We can get direction all along our way, If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.”
The road to my testimony of living prophets and apostles has not always been an easy one, but I would like to share today some lessons that I have learned and some truths that I have gained as I have chosen to follow what the prophets and apostles have said. Today I would like to specifically share three examples of how following the brethren’s teachings has helped me to know that we are led by living prophets and apostles as I have sought to personify and apply the mission of the Church on a personal level. First, through missionary service (proclaiming the gospel), second through temple service (redeeming the dead), and lastly by following the law of chastity (perfecting the saints).
I was at the Priesthood Session in the Conference Center as a fourteen year old young man back in 2002 when Elder Ballard, representing the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, announced to us that the bar had been raised for missionary service and issued the call for the greatest generation of missionaries. He said: “As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I call upon you to begin right now—tonight—to be fully and completely worthy. Resolve and commit to yourselves and to God that from this moment forward you will strive diligently to keep your hearts, hands, and minds pure. Resolve to be honest. Resolve to be good citizens and to abide by the laws of the land in which you live. We ask you to prepare now to join us in taking the blessings of the restored gospel to all the people on the earth. Each one of you is precious, and we want you to be successful and secure in the battle for the souls of our Heavenly Father’s children. May God bless you with the courage to be “true at all times” (Alma 53:20) and with the vision to realize who you are and what the Lord has for you to do.”
While repentance played a key role for me both before and during my missionary service, I was eternally blessed for answering that call to serve a mission. While I refuse to say that it was the best two years of my life, I know with certain knowledge that it was the best two years FOR my life. My mission strengthened my testimony of the Gospel, blessed me with the joy of seeing lives changed (including my own), gave me leadership experience that I still draw on in my current employment as an executive, and taught me to learn and appreciate so much of life and of the gospel. My mission helped me become the man I am today and gives me a pattern to grow into the man that I still want to become.
In addition to missionary service, another way I have gained a testimony of living prophets and apostles has been through temple service. Elder Richard G. Scott has counseled us to go to the temple. He said: “We all know there is no more peaceful place on this earth than in the temples of God. If you don’t have a temple recommend, qualify to get one. When you have a recommend, use it often.9 Schedule a regular time to be in the temple. Don’t let anyone or anything prevent you from being there. While you are in the temple, listen to the words of the ordinances, ponder them, pray about them, and seek to understand their meaning. The temple is one of the best places to come to understand the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Seek Him there. Remember that many more blessings come from providing your own family names in the temple.”
Brothers and Sisters, my eyes have been opened and my prayers have been answered as I have sought to make temple attendance a regular part of my life by applying this counsel. More so than anything save partaking the sacrament, the temple and its ordinances ground me in truth and remind me of who I am, where I came from, and what my ultimate destiny is. I have never felt closer to God than when I have been in the temple, and I have never felt further apart then when I have not been worthy of attending. I testify from personal experience that attending the temple and being worthy to attend the temple is worth any cost, any sacrifice, anything at all. As I have followed the counsel of prophets and apostles and attended the temple, my life has been changed for the better, and changed for good.
Lastly, I would like to share my testimony relating to the Lord’s Law of Chastity and his teachings on the family. I have debated for a long time on whether I should share this over the pulpit, but as it plays such an important role in my testimony of prophets and apostles, I feel prompted to do so.
Many of you who know me well also know that I experience same-sex attraction, in addition to having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Elder Neil L. Andersen once referred to this same sex attraction as a “whirlwind of enormous velocity” and for much of my life it has been. During my first 11 months in Illinois I started to experience a great deal of confusion, as I began to believe in the labels of the world and began to believe the rhetoric that in order to be happy I had to “be true to who I really was” and that I could only find peace and fulfillment from embracing a lifestyle contrary to covenant. The pain and uncertainty caused by this confusion led me to a breaking point, and to the darkest period of my life. 
However, one year ago this week, through a miraculous set of circumstances that I can only attribute to God, I was led to a support group called North Star International, and was touched by one of their major initiatives, the Voices of Hope Project, a collection of videos and essays where Latter-Day Saints who desire to remain faithful to the teachings of the church share their experiences dealing with the journey of same-sex attraction. 
As I came in contact with other faithful and active Mormons who experienced what I did and desired to remain in the Church, my eyes were opened to my individual truth: that peace and hope and lasting fulfillment is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and by following the teachings of living prophets and apostles, that I am only defined by one label: Son of God, that I can get my needs for male friendship and companionship in healthy ways, by keeping desires, appetites and passions within the bounds the Lord has set.
Same Sex Attraction for me is the cross of self-mastery I am called to bear, my own individual “thorn in the flesh.” Much like the apostle Paul, I have asked for this thorn to be removed multiple times but it continues to be something that I am called to experience. And while I can certainly say that no single other experience has brought me more pain and anguish, no other experience has taught me more and brought me closer to Christ. The vast majority of strength and comfort I have gained to face this set of circumstances comes from the words of general conference and by embracing the teachings of the Lord’s chosen servants.
There were two talks specifically from this last general conference that provided further light and knowledge to me as I continue to learn about this experience of mine. They are Elder Uchtdorf’s and Elder Klebingat’s talks.
In the Priesthood Session of last conference, President Uchtdorf masterfully taught us about the importance of seeing ourselves clearly. Said he, “Being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings [and I would also contend our life experiences such as same sex attraction] remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths.” as I have learned to see myself and my experiences clearly, I have experienced the spiritual growth and well-being that President Uchtdorf teaches about. Acknowledging life for what it is, with all of its positive and negative experiences, is a critical first step to unlocking our true identity and purpose. If we come to the Lord in honesty, he can take any experience, any trial, any temptation and turn them into strengths.
Elder Klebingat also encouraged me to “accept trials, setbacks, and ‘surprises’ as part of [my] mortal experience.”
Same-sex attraction certainly counts as a surprise. This is not something that I accepted for a long time, it’s not something I asked for, and not something that I chose. In addition, it is certainly something that has made life as a Latter-day Saint interesting, and sometimes frustrating as I continually seek to reconcile my faith with my feelings. However, Elder Klebingat gently reminded me to “acknowledge [it]…but don’t be immobilized by [it]” because it very well could be one of my “companions until [I] depart this earth life.”
Elder Klebingat promised us “no matter what your current status, the very moment you voluntarily choose honest, joyful, daily repentance by striving to simply do and be your very best, the Savior’s Atonement envelops and follows you, as it were, wherever you go.” With such a promise, I am encouraged to live the Restored Gospel proactively and develop a faith and dependence on the Lord independent of any circumstance I may experience in life.
To summarize, my testimony of prophets and apostles is built on missionary service, temple service, and by following the Lord’s definition of chastity rather than the world’s. I look forward to seeing how this testimony will grow as I continue to “do his will, so that I may know of the [the truthfulness of the] doctrine” (John 7:17).
In April, we will have the incredible opportunity to listen to the words of prophets and apostles. I would invite each and every one of you to watch, listen, and prayerfully prepare for general conference. As one who has received unique personalized revelation that has provided me with peace, understanding and hope through general conference, I boldly testify that our lives will be changed if we approach conference seriously. Your set of circumstances differs from mine, but one thing remains constant for all of us through the words of the primary song: “We can get direction all along our way, If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.”
Jesus Christ lives and directs His Church through our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, through the First Presidency, and through the Council of the Twelve Apostles. God still speaks to man; may we heed the counsel of his servants, true messengers who will give us further light and knowledge, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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