Monday, July 10, 2017

To Receive the Holy Spirit of Promise

This is a transcript of a talk I gave in my YSA ward on Sunday, July 9th, 2017. I was assigned to speak on David A. Bednar's 2010 talk, "Receive the Holy Ghost," but as I have recently been studying sanctification and spiritual rebirth, the first counselor in my bishopric kindly allowed me to marry the two topics.

And this is a slightly over-exposed photo I took of the Nærøyfjord. What does
this fjord have to do with the Holy Ghost? Not a single concrete thing.

“These four words—’Receive the Holy Ghost’—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon.”

That’s David A. Bednar speaking in a 2010 General Conference address entitled, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” As I’ve contemplated on those four words I’ve asked myself, “Why is it important that I receive the Holy Ghost?” And I think there are a lot of really good answers, but the answer that was banging around in my head during the sacrament I think is really nicely contained in this verse in Doctrine and Covenants 88.

“Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John… This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom.” (vs. 3-4)

The Holy Spirit of Promise is one the Holy Ghost’s roles, one that we mostly talk about in reference to having your calling and election made sure, or being sealed in the temple. This verse, in Moses, also describes this role of the Holy Ghost’s. I really love this one. This is Moses 6:61.

“Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.”

David A. Bednar gave a general conference talk entitled, “That Ye May Be Born Again” several years ago about the parable of the pickle. You might remember that one. In it he parallels a pickle’s journey from a cucumber to a pickle with our journeys to become sanctified and to inherit eternal life. He calls it a process. In the end of the talk he bears a really emotional and riveting testimony about how necessary it is for each of us to go on that journey of sanctification.

So sanctification is what I’d like to discuss with you today in the time that I have.

I’ve been thinking a lot about promises over the last few weeks as I’ve been preparing to give this talk. I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, and she used a phrase that I hadn’t heard before that I liked: the ‘terminal promise.’ After the conversation that phrase stuck with me and I wondered, “Wait a second, is there such a thing as a terminal promise?”

We know that we can sin and rebel against God and His plan for us, and thereby disqualify ourselves from inheriting promises. But aside from that, I know I’ve experienced things in my life where I have been very faithful, very obedient, and promises have seemed to escape me, like water dripping through my fingers. And I have labeled those things terminal promises. And what I have learned is that I have labeled them wrongly ‘terminal promises.’

I was in the cemetery last week, I went for a walk on Sunday and I took a moment and contemplated on what those tombstones signified. You know we have a lot of light and truth here in the Church. When we’re sealed in the temple, it’s not until death do you part, right? But the truth is that death does part people, at least temporarily. So is that a terminal promise? When you lose someone, and they’re gone from you? I tend to feel loss very profoundly. I am very affected by all kinds of loss. And sometimes the hurt and pain and grief is so overwhelming that not only do those promises feel terminal to me, but I am in so much pain that I cannot really bear to look into eternity.

Maybe you know what that feels like.

So I sat there in that cemetery and contemplated on how each one of those tombstones signified a heartbreak, not only for one person, but probably for a family. How it signified a loss. And I thought about the various losses in my life, and times where my promises dripped through my fingers like water. But that’s kind of the template isn’t it? The Fall is in a way, a terminal promise. And that’s why we have the Atonement, to take us out of that thing.

Sometimes the Lord makes us very very specific personal promises, and sometimes we experience the death of those promises as well. I think it’s really easy for us to assume, perhaps mistakenly, that that’s the end of that thing. There’s no way that God can make that better. There’s no way that God can bring that back.

When I find myself staring down the throat of my own terminal promises, I've learned to embrace a kind of humility that I didn’t know before, and acknowledge this scripture here. Doctrine and Covenants 88:68.

“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”

God is very, very good, and very, very powerful. And very creative. And he has a way to fulfill all of his promises. We just have to let him be in charge, and let him take the reigns.

This scripture of course is another verse about the sanctification process. As I’ve reflected on my own terminal promises, and the many terminal promises that seem to surround me here on this fallen globe, I’ve realized something, and I’d like to share it with you.

Joseph Smith saw God the Father. He saw God. I don’t know that I always embrace what that means. That there is a divine being who loves me, who loves us, who loves his children… and that Being appears to people. And we’re told in the scriptures that if we sanctify ourselves, a process that happens because of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, because we allow ourselves to receive the Holy Ghost, if we sanctify ourselves, he will unveil his face to us, in his own time, in his own way, and according to his own will.

That is not a terminal promise, and I can say that with such confidence and conviction.

One of my weaknesses is that I can often lose sight of things that are maybe of the most eternal import. I’ve certainly had moments where God has figuratively unveiled his face before me, where a problem is suddenly resolved and I’m blessed with this perspective that I didn’t have before, and I can see why I had to pass through what I passed through.

But the promise that one day God will unveil his face to me literally, I can’t really even verbalize it without being overcome with a kind of joy and gratitude that has to be divine. That is the promise that can get us through what we face here. That reunion.

I have this verse here, this is in Ether 12. Moroni’s talking about people who had really great faith, who had the veil parted for them in mortality, and this is what he writes:

“And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.” (vs. 19)

I feel like that’s the understatement of all scripture, “and they were glad.”

The last thing I want to talk about is something that I think often gets explored over this pulpit: Alma 32. We talk a lot about seeds, and nurturing them, and the end of Alma 32 frames this whole parable in a way that really surprised me when I noticed it for the first time.

So there’s been a lot of discussion about planting this seed, and what it means to discern light and truth, and how seeds eventually bear fruit. Here in verse 40 suddenly we go from talking about seeds, to talking about the tree of life.

“And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” (vs. 40-41)

Lehi’s vision teaches us that the fruit of the tree of life is the greatest of all the gifts of God, which D&C 14 clarifies is eternal life. More than anything else my belief is that that is what the Holy Ghost can do for us. The Holy Ghost is with us throughout that process of planting seeds, and growing trees of life, plucking from trees of life the fruit of eternal life.

Yep. So I’m really grateful for that member of the Godhead. There it is again, right? It’s crazy. It’s totally crazy. Like, I, I dunno, this is genuine shock happening at the pulpit. We have a member of the Godhead who wants to companion us? All the time? And all we have to do is follow the commandments? Wow. That feels like a big deal to me. And the reason that that member of the Godhead wants to be with us is because he wants us to return to where we came from?

Why do we reject that?

For me, I reject it because of pain. Because it hurts sometimes. But I’ve rejected it before because I’m stubborn, because I’m prideful. Because I don’t like being directed, or being told what to do.

That’s really foolish. I’m going to go repent later today I think.

I want to bear my testimony to you that this Gospel is true, and that the fruit of that tree is really, really, really desirable. God is offering us the very best that he has, and so I think we should do everything in our power to receive the Holy Ghost. And I’d like to bear that testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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