Sunday, April 8, 2012

My testimony of the Savior

Last year I was asked to give a talk in church on the blessings that come through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. I've thought I'd share with you my talk because I think it also best shares my testimony of the Savior. Happy Easter!

One of my favorite characters in the Book of Mormon is the Brother of Jared. He was a man highly favored of the Lord, but still just a man who forgot to say his prayers sometimes. He was respected enough to speak to the Lord on behalf of his family and community when the language of the people was being confounded. He was humble enough to repent and seek forgiveness when he was in the wrong. He was strong enough and smart enough to go to work and build barges according to the Lord’s instructions, and he had faith enough so that the veil was taken from off his eyes and he saw the finger of the Lord. The Lord acknowledged this faith when he said “Never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast.” And he had knowledge of the Lord enough that the Lord could show himself and stand before the brother of Jared and they could speak face to face.

As we walk our chosen paths here on earth, there will not be many of us who will stand face to face with the Lord on our journey. For many of us our life here is dedicated to planting those small seeds of faith that Alma talked about for ourselves our families and for future generations. But I believe that each of us have and will be blessed to see the finger of the Lord throughout our lives. The Lord stands ready to bless all those who have faith in Him and obey His law. He also stands ready to steady us as we face the demanding challenges of life here on earth. It is through faith that we reach to the Lord in difficult times and it is through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that we are obedient to his commandments thus making us candidates for promised blessings. Some would say such blessings are a coincidence, a product of one’s own hard work, or even luck but we know from reading Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 that there is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

In the April 2005 session of General Conference Elder David A. Bednar gave a memorable and now often quoted talk on the topic of tender mercies. Reflecting upon the phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord” Elder Bednar said, “Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He goes on to say, “We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live. When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

Elder Bednar gave a wonderful talk that day and his words provided all of us with hope and a greater understanding of the Lord’s mercy and love. But that is not where I learned to recognize the Lord’s hand. I’d like to share how I came to recognize more fully the blessings of the Lord in my life and that of my family’s. I want you to know that I believe one of the greatest tender mercies in my family’s life has been to be surrounded by those who stand faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, wherever we have lived. Many, and not just those who are members of our church, have shared their beliefs and gospel knowledge with us, and by so doing have strengthened our testimonies of the Savior and His work. I love that we have learned the truths of the gospel taught by dedicated teachers, leaders and friends, people who, while diligent in their callings and with their own desire to serve the Lord, have shown us great love in their service.

It was during testimony meeting several years ago that Brother Stockdale shared a story he had read of a mother and of her love for Jesus Christ. He said this mother made a point of teaching her children to recognize His blessings in their family’s life. And she had a specific way of doing that. In her life nothing was a coincidence or luck rather it was a testimony. A little testimony. An example he shared was when she went to the grocery store to buy cheese and it was on sale, she would turn to her children and say “Now there’s a little testimony for ya.” Meaning, “Look children, the Lord knows our needs and is taking care of us.” This story Brother Stockdale shared had a powerful influence on me that day and since then I have loved to look for the little testimonies in my family’s life. It has offered me the chance to see the hand of the Lord and acknowledge his guidance, care and love for my family.

This exercise in learning to recognize the blessings from the Lord works retrospectively too. While I was preparing this talk my husband reminded me of the week before we moved to Michigan. He had just been hired to his first job out of graduate school. We were poor college students living on love, prayer and Jon’s small stipend. The transition was going to be tight and we weren’t exactly sure how we were going to cover certain expenses related to the move before he received his first paycheck. I was with our young son visiting a friend a few days before our move when we heard a loud crash. Looking out the window a few minutes later I could see our car parked a few houses down on the crowded street but could see nothing that would have caused such a loud noise. When her husband returned from school shortly after, he asked if I had been in an accident. I was confused by the question until we all walked to my car and saw that the entire opposite side of it had been bashed in by a hit and run driver. Our insurance provided a rental car and the payment we received from the car the day before we moved exactly covered all the necessary expenses we had been worried about. Looking back it was a little testimony to us that the Lord knows our needs and will provide.

I love the imagery of the Star of David symbol. If a covenant is defined as a promise made between an individual and the Lord then the Star of David is a great illustrator of that promise. One triangle points up symbolizing the covenant we make with the Lord. The other triangle points down symbolizing the covenant the Lord makes with us. When we keep our promise, the Lord keeps his. Our baptismal covenant found in Chapter 18 of Mosiah is a perfect example of this two-way promise. Starting in verse 8, our part is a desire to come into the fold of God, to be called his people and be willing to bear one another’s burdens they may be light, be willing to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places. When our part is kept, the Lord promises that we will be redeemed of God and be numbered with those of the first resurrection and that we will have eternal life. In verse 10 our part is to witness before him that we have entered into a covenant with him that we will serve him and keep his commandments. The Lord then promises that he will pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon us.

Sometimes we have the opportunity to carry out what will then become a little testimony for someone else. This week our family was able to provide a service for friends in our ward so that their burden would be light. I wanted my children to know the sweet joy of service and to feel the love that comes when you help others in their hour of need. It made my heart happy to see my children anxiously engaged in a good cause. Tasks that at our own house might have been met with, “Do I have to?” were in this case finished thoroughly and even quickly. Later I was able to point to the scripture in Mosiah chapter 2 vs.17 when King Benjamin says I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. And since we all know from Alma that one of the best times to learn wisdom is in thy youth, it was a teaching moment I hope my children always remember.

King Benjamin goes on to say in chapter 2 of Mosiah verse 41, and moreover I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual, and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true for the Lord God hath spoken it.

Isn’t it great that keeping the commandments brings blessings? One of my favorite scripture passages is in the Doctrine and Covenants in section 59. Blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel, for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength. And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea and with commandments not a few and with revelations in their time, they that are faithful and diligent before me. I have read those words many times, and I am impressed by the boldness with which the Lord says he gives more commandments to those he is blessing. For many more commandments might seem like a bit of a drag. Are you sure Lord, because I think I have enough? But the Lord stands ready to bless us with more commandments according to our faithfulness.

Brother Safsten asked that in my talk I address how my family’s faith in Jesus Christ has blessed our family. I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that it was because of our faith that we strived to keep His commandments. And it was because we strived to keep His commandments that our family is blessed. Like the brother of Jared we have tried to do as the Lord has commanded, however there are still times when we forget to say our prayers. I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious but I’d like to share some examples from our family of a few commandments we strive to keep, and the little testimonies we enjoy because of our efforts.

There is a scene in The Sound of Music when Maria discovers the children dancing. When she looks surprised, Kurt proudly explains, "The Von Trapp Family dances!" Well, The Johnston Family goes to church every Sunday. This seems to be quite a surprise each week to the youngest member of our family, but I hope he will someday come to love the friendship and fellowship of a ward family,to love the spirit felt when testimonies and the truths of the gospel are shared, and to love the sacred opportunity to partake of the sacrament as we renew our baptismal covenants and witness to our Heavenly Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son and always remember Him, and keep his commandments that we can always have His spirit to be with us.

The Johnston Family has daily family scripture study. Even when we’re tired. And even if it’s only a few verses. Many years ago Jon and I decided that scripture study was going to be an important part of our family's life. Our children learned to read from their pages and have come to be very familiar with the teachings of the prophets and the words of the Savior. They have learned that, on occasion, reminding us at bedtime that we still need to read the scriptures is an acceptable way to stay up a little later. But they know their parents love for the scriptures and I hope they are learning that it is through the scriptures that we draw nearer to God.

The Johnston Family prays together. And then we have a family hug and that is a pretty immediate blessing. Prayer is our families chance to humbly thank our Heavenly Father in Jesus' name for all those little testimonies. I can’t help but think perhaps we should be more specific in thanking Him for our blessings. I’m sure we would never hear from Him, "And thank you for whatever that thing was you did." In 3 Nephi 21 the Savior says Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed. What kind of blessings? President Hinckley said “it is important to have individual prayer, but it is a wonderful thing to have family prayer. Pray to your Father in Heaven in faith. Pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can do nothing better for your children than to have them taking their turn in the family prayer, expressing gratitude for their blessings. If they do that while they are young, they will grow with a spirit of thanksgiving in their hearts” And we all want our children to be more grateful.

The Johnston Family accepts callings and fulfills assignments. Recently our daughter accepted an assignment to speak in Primary. The day before her talk she realized that she had not prepared. I told her she still had plenty of time to prepare but she clung to the excuse that she didn’t know what to say and didn’t have enough time. I told her that if she wanted to call the Primary President and asked to be excused from speaking then it was her decision. The next day Audrey gave a wonderful talk in Primary on temples. Jon and I have been greatly blessed by the callings we have been asked to fulfill. I can’t say they have all been our favorite but we have grown in knowledge and understanding as we have accepted calls to serve. In some assignments and callings we have found that weaknesses really are made stronger because we trusted in the Lord and did our best, which is all the Lord wants us to do.

The Johnston Family tries really hard to hold a weekly Family Home Evening. And sometimes it’s a disaster. But we are really good at the refreshment part of the evening and so for right now we are holding on to that. At the time Family Home Evening was introduced in 1915 the First Presidency said “If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influence and temptations which beset them.”

Sometimes, for any family, the greatest blessing that comes through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ is His grace. We live in time of great discovery and ease but it is coupled with great hardship and strife. The enabling power of the Lord’s grace makes is possible to meet the challenges of our day. It is a little testimony that reveals the Lord’s hand is stretched out to us and His arms are ready to lift us up.

I am forever grateful to goodly parents who taught me the gospel when I was young. I am grateful for teachers and leaders who loved me and served as stalwart examples. I am grateful for my sweet family and for all the many blessings that a loving Father in Heaven has seen fit to give us. And I am most grateful for my Savior Jesus Christ and for His love for me. I see His hand in my life and in the life of my family. And I hope to someday, like the brother of Jared, stand face to face and thank Him for all the little testimonies.