Monday, January 23, 2012

23 January 2012 Talk on Faith

Dear Family,

So, I wrote the talk for Bishop Borup.  I had thought that I had read that it should be “at least 10 minutes”, so I wrote a 12 ½ minute talk, went back later, and read “at least 5 minutes” (so I guess I had figured if I wrote a 7-10 minute talk I’d be good, but later combined the two)….oh well. 

Tomorrow is a Zone Conference in Budapest.  I’m sure I’ll write about how that goes in my next email.  I’m about out of time.  Hope you all enjoy the talk!  =)


Shipp Elder


Dear Brothers and Sisters, it is great to have the chance to write you all while serving a mission out here in Hungary.  During this short time that I've been enlisted by the Lord, I have had many opportunities and experiences to build and solidify my faith.  Sometimes these take the form of more common circumstances that are constant in almost, if not, every day; such as witnessing the gift of tongues in this language, the daily miracles I remember and reflect on each evening, or simply feeling the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit on a regular basis.  Other times it's a little bigger or less common event; seeing troubled hearts calmed by the hand of God, recent converts or maybe even non-members bearing testimony of the gospel, unexpected success in finding and teaching those we encounter.

With faith being one of the most recognized Christ-like attributes along-side Hope and Charity, I would like to share a few reflections as a reminder of what faith is, the different roles it plays, its importance within those roles, and ultimately, a few of the grand blessings for which faith is a requirement.

While in the Missionary Training Center, one of the speakers, Gerald N Lund, an Emeritus Seventy and well-known author of many books, such as The Work and The Glory gave a presentation of the process of gaining a witness of the gospel.  Within the presentation, one of the first things he introduced were a few short points describing faith.  He started with the words of Alma, who said, "Faith is a hope for things which are not seen, which are true."  Faith is a principle of power and action, which is developed by obedience and righteousness.  Faith is a gift we must earnestly seek.  It is a process, not an event.  Is it personal.  It is something we need, to save ourselves as well as those around us.

While in the MTC, I also had the opportunity to devote much of my time to studying the book Preach My Gospel.  Within the sixth chapter of the book lies my favorite section: a discussion of the nine Christ-Like Attributes, the first of which is identified as Faith.  My favorite page in Preach My Gospel is the very last page of the chapter.  The page is titled an "Attribute Activity", which contains a list of 57 short points that both summarize the chapter, as well as provide a way for the reader to evaluate themselves, learning their own strengths and weaknesses, then finding ways to improve.  I spent many hours studying that page and would like to share the first nine points, which all focus on the reader's faith; and with each point, add to it many feelings that we express each week through our beloved hymns.

1) I believe in Christ and accept him as my Savior
            "I believe in Christ - my Lord, my God!  My feet he plants on gospel sod.  I'll worship him with all my might; He is the source of truth and light."  (Hymn #134)

2) I feel confident that God loves me.
            "I am a child of God, And he has sent me here.  Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear" (Hymn #301)

3) I trust the Savior enough to accept his will and do whatever he asks.
            "I will go, I will do the things the Lord commands.  I know that I will find a way.  He wants me to obey."

4) I firmly believe that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ I can be forgiven of all my sins.
            "In humility, our Savior, grant thy Spirit here we pray...Let me not forget, O Savior, Thou didst bleed and die for me, When they heart was stilled and broken, on the cross at Calvary." (#172)

5) I have enough faith to obtain answers to my prayers.
            To this one I actually ask you all to remember Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration, to which everything in this church can be tied back.  As a missionary, each day I am sharing the story of
            Joseph Smith with the people of Hungary, telling them that God lives.  He hears and answers prayers.  He heard and answered Joseph's prayer, and He will hear and answer theirs.

6) I think about the Savior during the day and remember all he has done for me.
            "I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.  Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.  I tremble to know that for me he was crucified.  That for me a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died." (#193)

7) I have the faith necessary to help make good things happen in my life or the lives of others.
            "I would be my brother's keeper.  I would learn the healer's art.  To the wounded and the weary, I would show a gentle heart." (#220)

8) I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true.
            "What glorious scenes mine eyes behold!  What wonders burst upon my view!  When Ephraim's records I unfold, all things appear divinely new." (#16)

9) I have enough faith in Christ to accomplish anything he wants me to do --- even miracles if necessary.
            "Go forth with pow'r to tell the world the Gospel is restored.  That all may gain eternal life, Thru Jesus Christ, the Lord." (#263)

The words of those hymns have often been a powerful reminder; a way to invite the Spirit of the Lord into my life; to both maintain and strengthen my faith.  As the Lord said in Doctrine and Covenants section 25, "The songs of the righteous is a prayer unto me".

Here in Hungary, I have encountered a certain situation weekly, if not daily, which, I never really experienced in Utah.  Out here, where our church is new, there are many other churches and religions that have been around for centuries, such as the Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical, or the most common having been dominant for over a millennium, the Catholic Church.  While only the smallest percent possess much knowledge of our church, nearly everyone has some background in one of the other religions.  In each of these different religions lie different views concerning Grace, Faith, and Works. 

Like in Joseph Smith's time, many argue that by grace alone we are saved.  For others it is through our faith; and the remainder claim we must save ourselves through our works and actions.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times, in my short stay out here, I have heard people say to me, "Don't worry, God will save me", or "No thanks, I have enough faith," or "It's okay, I attend church".  In the restored gospel, we are blessed to know, as taught in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, that we need all three.  In the Bible it is recorded, "For by grace are [we] saved through faith" (Eph 2:8) and "Faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone" (James 2:17).  Just like the Godhead is made up of Heavenly Father, His son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, all together; or the present made possible by the Creation, Fall, and Atonement; or the mighty Plan of Salvation containing the past, Pre-mortal Existence, the present, mortal earth-life, and the future Kingdoms of Glory; so are Grace, Faith, and Works tied together, bound by the everlasting laws of heaven.

Faith is really such an important and powerful topic that it is knitted into nearly every aspect of the gospel, insomuch that it is hard to try to comprehend the gospel without it.  Two weeks ago, on January 12, my companion and I taught a man who had a very disturbing view of things.  During our time with him, he not only said, but heavily and aggressively insisted and pursued ideas that the scriptures are not important, but are ink on paper and nothing more; that the gospel is just a philosophy and is not important; that God may or may not exist, but if He does, then God is God, and there's nothing we can do about it, so He is therefore not important; that our families and actions are not important either; and that the only important thing is ourselves.  Our own lives are the only thing we have that matters.

Also among the things he said was the statement that there is no such thing as faith.  That it doesn't exist, either you know something, or you don't.  We can try to imagine what we don't know, but we can't actually believe in it.  He continued telling us that there is no way that we could even know that God exists, know that the gospel and scriptures are true, or know anything that we cannot see, hear, or touch.

I have two remarks that I would like to share about that experience.  First, in the Hungarian language "faith" and "belief" are the same word, "Hit" (pronounced hee-t).  To have faith or to believe are likewise the same verb "Hinni" (pronounced hee-nee).  I've found many good thoughts within the idea that having faith and truly believing in something are one and the same.  My second remark is that to those who have learned and embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, a life without faith or belief seems not only ridiculous, but also impossible.

Now, away from the grumpy man, and onward to a more joyous tale.  Five days later, my companion and I taught one of our other investigators.  Although she has progressed magnificently up to this point, keeping the commitments we have given her with excelling diligence, things had gotten slightly harder recently, and we finally felt like it was time to teach her the Law of Chastity, the lesson we had been most dreading, even from our first program with her nearly eight weeks earlier.  Yet, she opened her heart.  She not only understood everything we taught her after a question or two, when the time came after twenty minutes when we asked her to live it, without a moment to pause or doubt, and with only a promise of unseen blessings to come, she exercised the faith she had developed to begin living this great way, starting that very instant!  What a change.  What a marvelous and beautiful change in Spirit, light, and life from the faithless man.  I know that these are only written words, not even verbally spoken, recounting these two encounters, but I hope anyone reading this can obtain a glimpse of the immense difference, the complete change that faith will make in each and every one of our lives, no matter who we are, where we're from, or what we do.

I have two last thoughts that I wish to write concerning faith.  The first is that all things must be done in order.  Long before faith can be obtained; there must first be a desire.  In the eleventh chapter of the first book of Nephi, in which he recounts his great vision, the Nephite prophet records at the very start of the first verse: "For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen."  In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains the next step.  "How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?"  Hearing is necessary as the next step, whether it be through the scriptures, through other people, or through the Holy Ghost.  In the same chapter, Paul writes that after Hearing the gospel, we can finally begin obtaining our faith.  He wrote, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

The second and final thought is that even after obtaining faith; our faith must still be tried.  Each one of us will face the refiner's fire.  Brigham Young once wrote that anyone who desires exaltation must battle every day.  I end with my testimony -- that maintaining our faith is not always the easiest thing.  Sometimes we may be called upon to battle every step of the way; until we finally reach that glorious threshold, where our Heavenly Father will say to us, as He said to Enoch of old, "Walk with me". 

These things I write and share in the sacred name of our Savior and Redeemer, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

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