Sermoncitos, a family tradition
Why we have a church
This week seemed determined to teach me that people organize. Monday I saw a family pull together, each with a task, to organize a funeral. Tuesday we all voted in a general election, selecting people for legislative, executive, and judicial roles. Wednesday the building and fire inspectors reminded me that we have to follow the rules of the community. Thursday I attended a conference where a thousand people followed a printed program to know what session to attend. On Friday I joined with other college faculty to form a consortium to address common interests. Saturday I met with a state association, and each board member was given responsibilities for the coming year. Today our congregation gathers for our annual branch conference to remember why our religion has a church, not just a family tradition.
Organizing strengthens each individual. Adam and Eve were organized into a family “because is it not good that the man should be alone” (Abraham 5:14). Abraham achieved financial success by leadership over many (Genesis 24:35). Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people” (Exodus 18:25) Jesus “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...” (Ephesians 11-14).
God promised to gather his people in the last days. “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel...” (Isaiah 11:12). “And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase” (Jeremiah 23:3). But gathering together to promote the prosperity of each individual takes a lot of organization. “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them...(Jeremiah 23:4). Who are these shepherds? Who fills the roles in a family, a community, or a congregation? “Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it...” Isaiah 56:2).
Fathers teach their children. “I heard my father, desired to know what he knew, I believed the Lord could make it known, I sat pondering in mine heart so I was caught up in the Spirit and shown all things” (1 Nephi 11:1).
Brothers teach their siblings. “I persuaded my brothers to be faithful to the commandments so they came with me” (1 Nephi 3:21-22).
Whoever teaches is blessed. “Whoso shall publish peace, what great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be” (1 Nephi 13:37).
When the Gospel comes to the descendants of Lehi, they are blessed. “The fullness of the Gospel shall come unto them, they shall come to a knowledge of the forefathers and of the gospel of their Redeemer; wherefore, they will rejoice, give praise, receive strength and nourishment, come unto the true fold of God” (1 Nephi 15:13-16).
After his conversion by Ammon, King Lamoni “caused that there should be synagogues built in the land of Ishmael; and he caused that his people... should assemble themselves together” (Alma 21:20).
In each place he preached, Alma “ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church” (Alma 6:1).
May we each accept a role in the organization of the Kingdom and be willing to help one another.
Preaching and Healing
When Jesus began his ministry, “he went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and disease among the people” (Mathew 9:35). By this time, John the Baptist was in prison. When he heard about Jesus, he sent two of his disciples to ask “art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Mathew 11:3). “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them” (Mathew 11:4-5).
It is clear by this answer that one reason he did preach and heal was so that many could bear witness that Christ had come “as prophecied by all the prophets and the law until John” (Mathew 11:13).
Another reason was that “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Mathew 9:36). He gave his disciples power to “preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at at. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils” (Mathew 10:7, 8). It was clear that Jesus had power and was able to give this power to others. Multitudes followed him.
Yet many rejected this witness saying, “He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils” (Mathew 9:34). Jesus warned his disciples that “if they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Mathew 10:25). “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mathew 10:16).
This same warning is given to all the followers of Christ. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth... for I am come to set a man at variance against his father...” (Mathew 10:34-38). “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Mathew 10:22).
Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers unto his harvest” (Mathew 9:38). Even today he sends messengers with the good news of the gospel:
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Mathew 11:28-30).
May we respond to the call, “follow me”; may we not be discouraged by those who would take this gift away; but may we endure to the end in obedience and discipleship. May we be the messengers of the good news. Our meek and lowly preaching and service will help heal others so they shall find rest.
See and Understand
The ancient prophet Esaias saw the times of Christ when the people would see but see not, and hear but not understand (Mathew 13:14). Isaiah said that in our day people would rely upon their own understanding and not trust the Lord (2 Nephi 25:27). In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains that sometimes this happens because “the evil one comes and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.” The Lord says of such people: “Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!” (2 Nephi 28:27-29).
Helaman explains how to overcome the evil one: “...it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo...” Helaman 5:12.
The Lord asks us to stand in holy places, to call upon His name, to worship Him, and to gather together to learn our duty in the stakes, which are the strength of Zion (D&C 101:21, 22). We were reminded in stake conference this weekend that our stake presidency and the 12 high councilmen are organized in the same fashion as the general leadership of the church, because for us, they are the church. They have the keys to administer everything we need here to progress in the covenants and ordinances of the church. We should listen to their counsel.
The word of God has the power to change the direction of our lives in a way that blesses our children for generations (Helaman 5:17-19). “And He cometh unto the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice... (2 Nephi 9:21). Yet “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God... Wo unto the deaf that will not hear... Wo unto the blind that will not see...” (2 Nephi 9:28, 31, 32).
We are blessed in our day to have prophets and presidents, bishops and teachers, magazines and internet, classes and conferences, all to bring us the word of God to uplift and enrich our lives.
Jesus calls upon us to see with our ears, hear with our ears, and understand with our heart, that we be converted so He should heal us (Mathew 13:15). Attend your meetings, participate in classes, study the scriptures with your family. The word of God will benefit your family. Seek for it every day.
Seek the Kingdom
Yesterday I conversed with a man who assured me that in his study of the Bible he has determined that all the churches are false. He continued to explain to me in great detail that my church was also false, but he found the truth on the internet, received a confirmation of the spirit, and is now busy preaching the true Gospel. He did not actually preach any of this Gospel to me, but did assure me that since my church has prophets, it must be false. His enthusiasm for helping people know they are in a false church, and that the right answer is on the internet (not in churches) makes me ponder the scriptures. What does Jesus ask of us?
When we respond to the testimony of the spirit and join the church through baptism, we have entered at the straight gate (Mathew 7:13). This narrow path requires us to exercise faith by following the Savior and his example. Jesus says that “no man can serve two masters...” He uses many metaphors to emphasis that we should trust the Lord, and not our own judgement: “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon...” He reassures us that if we would “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things shall be added unto you” (Mathew 6:24,33). The Lord knows what we need, and is anxious to bless us, if we would only have faith to walk in his narrow path.
Jesus said, “follow me” (Mathew 4:19). He said, “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mathew 4:17). Our worship should be sincere and personal (Mathew 6:1-4; 16-18). Our prayers should address needs (verse 5-13). We should forgive others (verse14-15). We should treasure eternal values (verse 19-21). We should seek light to guide our path (verse 22-23). He calls us to a better life: “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mathew 5:48).
It is an act of supreme faith to “take no thought for the morrow” when choosing our daily activities. Yesterday I told a colleague that the new Gallup Performing Arts Center would be closed on Sundays. She was shocked that we would sacrifice a day of income just because of our religion, “for after all these things do the Gentiles seek” (Mathew 6:22). We do need to maximize our income in order to pay the bills for this business, but we also know that “your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (verse 22), and our faith is that we trust Heavenly Father.
Jesus asked us to not judge others (Mathew 7:1-5), but to use good judgement (verse 6). He calls us to exercise the faith to ask for help, “how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (verse 7-12). The difference between true and false prophets is seen in their works (verse 20). Good works is also a measure of true discipleship (verse 21-27). The true church has spokesmen with authority, not philosophy (verse 28-29). The true worshipper follows the narrow path of light that leads to life (verse 14).
A man was out fishing. While he was sitting in his boat he heard a voice say, "Pick me up." He looked around and couldn't see anyone. He heard the voice again, "Pick me up." He looked in the water and there, floating on top was a frog. The man said, "Are you talking to me?" The frog said, "Yes, I'm talking to you. Pick me up. Then, kiss me and I'll turn into the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. I'll make sure that all your friends are envious and jealous because you will have me as your bride." The man looked at the frog for a short time, reached over, picked it up carefully, and placed it in his breast pocket. Then the frog said, "What, are you nuts? Didn't you hear what I said? I said kiss me and I will be your beautiful bride." He opened his pocket, looked at the frog and said, "Nah, I'd rather have a talking frog." True be known, if he treated his wife properly, he could have a beautiful wife and family and still go fishing. When Elder Nelson and his wife got married he said they used as their guideline for a happy marriage, the verse in Matthew 6:33, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Those of you who have practiced this counsel have enjoyed the blessings of Heavenly Father in your lives. Satan is our enemy and desires for you to be miserable like unto a frog, I guess. I don't even think they are very healthy...otherwise there would be fewer of them croaking! I was looking for the right tool the other day to secure in a standard head screw and finally found a screw driver that was perfect for the job. Others, with the wrong head or just plain too small were all around me, but they would not work. I could have force them or worked a lot harder to get the job done, but the end result would have been less then desirable. A thought came to me...if the Lord gave me several thousand standard screws and a bright shiny screw driver to fit my capabilities and being perfect for the job... and asked me to build a mansion...I could and would do it according to his specifications. He might also warn that evil men would tempt me to try another inappropriate tools and show me shortcuts and promise me rewards that were desirable...that I should turn them down and always strive to follow the Master builder. Elder Holland said, "You want capability, safety and security...in married life and eternity? Be a true disciple of Jesus. Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-Day Saint. Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the only lamp by which you can successfully see the path of love, and happiness for you and for your sweetheart."
Building your mansions is a 24-7 responsibility and you not only need the right tools of the Gospel but the Light of Christ to illuminate the dark.
Love, Nathan L. Howard
The Church of Jesus Christ
In all dispensations of time the church has been organized with leadership according to a specific plan. When the church was reorganized during the exodus from Egypt, Moses chose “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and placed such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus 18:13-26). The prophets and priests under the law of Moses were to be called of God. They could not take the honor upon themselves (Jeremiah 29:26). Following the law of Moses, the newborn Jesus was presented in the temple for ceremonies and blessings by the elders. In fulfilling the law of Moses Jesus was judged by the council of priests, scribes, elders, and high priests (Matthew 26:3).
Jesus first selected 12 of his disciples, ordained them to a special calling, and taught them the new order of the church that would be organized after the Law of Moses was fulfilled (Mark 3:14). He gave them keys to direct the affairs of the church (Matthew 16:19). Yet little is written in the New Testament about how the church actually operated. The New Testament gives glimpses into the activities of the church, but it is not a handbook of instructions for church operations. Characteristics and titles of church officers were referred to in some letters, though not their duties. Deacons were to be “grave” and “blameless” (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers were to be called of God (1 Corinthians 12:28). Priests were to conduct the ordinances according to the law (Hebrews 8:4). Bishops were to be married, vigilant, and sober (1 Timothy 3:1,2). The Elders could be called upon to annoint and bless the sick (James 5:14). The Seventy were to be sent two by two with authority (Luke 10:1). High Priests were to be called of God after the order of Melchizedec (Hebrews 5:10). Apostles were called to be witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22-26). The way that elders were to ordain priests and teachers is specified more clearly in the Book of Mormon, but not much detail is given (Moroni 3:1-4). Many priesthood ordinances referred to are not explained, such as baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29; 1 Peter 3:18).
Whenever the church was organized by Christ, the leadership was clearly assigned (Matthew 16:19; 3 Nephi 11:21; 7:25; D&C 20:1-3). There are very few churches on the earth today who have the information necessary to understand the sparse ancient record, but the purpose of the organization is clear: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). The danger of not having a church that is organized by God is also clear: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).
The advantages of a church that has authority from God is also clear: “And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus” (4 Nephi 1:5). There is much to do to establish the Kingdom of God. May we all learn to assume roles in the kingdom (Luke 9:2).