Farewell Talk

This past April I received the call to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Mexico Mérida Mission, an area home to approximately 950,000 people situated in the Northwest region of the Yucatán Peninsula. I consider it the greatest privilege and blessing to dedicate the upcoming eighteen months in serving as the Lord’s representative and minister of His most true and everlasting Gospel, and look forward to not only teaching a handful of the thousands, but most importantly anticipate serving my Savior, Jesus Christ, and God, my Heavenly Father. 

As called representatives of Christ, missionaries have the honor of living with the sole purpose “to talk of Christ, to rejoice in Christ, and to preach of Christ,” in order for God’s children to “know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” [1] But what happens and what is attained in talking, rejoicing and preaching of Christ? I believe that in coming to know more of Christ, we come to a greater realization of our true selves and true home in God — an identity that is divinely designed and eternal. It is this knowledge of our beautiful importance and place in the sight of God that I hope to bring to the people of Mexico in helping them take upon themselves the name of Christ, for it is this act (of taking upon us the name of Christ) that more tightly binds our hearts and minds to the heart and will of God. 

The more we learn of who Christ is, the more we learn of our own eternal identities, understanding as the Apostle Paul taught that “we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” [2] Yet even with this knowledge, the reality of our divine heritage often fades as some harken to Satan’s call that lead them further away from they are with God and who they can continue to become with Him. The adversary uses this strategy of making us question our identity as one of his main forms of leading us into temptation. This perspective is reflected in Matthew 4, where Satan attempts to tempt the Savior three times. In each instance, the adversary begins with the phrase, “If thou be the Son of God.” How interesting that Satan attacks Christ’s very identity — one that is eternal and appointed. From the very beginning, Satan tries to make Christ doubt His divine identity and inheritance. 

Satan uses this same tactic on all of God’s children today.  He realizes that dissuading people of their origin in Heaven as sons and daughters of God is a sure way of leading them into temptation. When people doubt the truth that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them, they are much more likely to view sin with less consequence. In this sense it is important to remember that within our decisions, our mortal selves most commonly look to the temporal outcomes and consequences. However, we are each beings of an eternal nature, and as such our choices and the consequences or rewards of what we decide are also eternal in their composition. When disbelief lives in the fact that God wants all of us to return to Him, we are more likely to begin on a path moving us further away from our heavenly home. Yet Christ taught that if we choose to align our will with God’s and give of ourselves more fully, we will in turn become more like Him and increase our potential of returning to the greatest version of ourselves, one that we cannot reach alone. 

God's eternal perspective and plan for each of us was revealed through both the Savior's actions and ministry,  wherein the characteristics of God were revealed. Through them we learn that we are God's children, that we can pray to Him and He will listen and answer, that our actions reflect our love and obedience to Him, that our lives are divinely designed, and that we can become like Him, our Eternal Father in Heaven. These teachings of Christ awakened those who followed Him then — and those who choose to believe in Him now — that there is purpose in forming a relationship and love for God; that there is meaning and reason in loving others more than oneself; and that we, too, can become like God if we look to an eternal understanding of keeping His commandments and enduring to the end. 

By coming to understand our true identity and the nature of God, His love for us is more easily realized and received. Manifestations of this love are recorded time and time again within each of His disciples' narrations found in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. What I love most is the consistency with which each of these separate accounts relay descriptions of Christ always noticing, reaching out, and touching the people that often went unnoticed, untouched, and unloved. These people were the ones society marked as unclean, unworthy, and broken, and yet they are the ones who Christ chose to spend His short time with: the lame, the blind, the lepers, the sinners. These interactions reveal the greatest miracle and characteristic of Christ — that in the midst of talking and testifying about how much we must love Christ, He believes in us and loves us more than we do. 

The reality of Christ’s love is realized in the story of Penny, a young atheist whose conversion to Christ is recorded in a book of Christian essays. While living in France, Penny’s conversations about school and work slowly turn to talks about Christ, as a roommate invites Penny to read the Bible with her each night. As she comes to learn and know more of Christ, her heart responds to the transformation that only our Savior is capable of. She says,

“We started reading through Matthew, and I thought it was all very interesting … and I found Jesus very disturbing, very straightforward. He wasn’t diplomatic, and yet I felt like if I met Him, He would really like me … I can’t explain how freeing that was, to realize that if I met Jesus, He would like me … there were people He loved and people He got really mad at, and I kept identifying with the people He loved, which was really good because they were all the broken people … the kind of people who are tired of life and want to be done with it, or they are the desperate people, people who are outcasts or pagans. There were others, regular people, but He didn’t play favorites at all, which is miraculous in itself. That fact alone may have been the most supernatural thing He did. He didn’t show partiality, which every human does.”

Perhaps the greatest knowledge of Christ rests in the fact that, as Penny discovered, He loves and knows us infinitely more than we can comprehend or even begin to love in return. He loves us into becoming and awakens us to the knowledge of who we are and who we can be. 

There were twelve chosen disciples called as witnesses during the Savior’s earthly ministry who knew of His love personally and intimately. These twelve men did not claim title to extraordinary by any means — some were known as fishermen; one held title of tax collector. Yet these twelve people, in light of the phrase “many are called but few are chosen,” [3] offered up their ordinary lives in choosing to be choice by following Christ. Throughout the days and years of traveling by the Savior’s side, witnessing of His miracles and divine power, learning and testifying of His words that spoke of higher laws, and simply spending time among His quiet, magnificent presence, the Twelve Disciples' lives transformed into extraordinary ones — not lives lived without faults or imperfections, but ones with the knowledge that their shortcomings and weaknesses could be made whole by the very Man they walked alongside. This transformation of their old selves becoming new in Christ is recorded throughout the New Testament, where four of the disciples recount the life of the Savior. In one of my favorite accounts, the apostle John narrates a story exemplifying the dedication of Christ’s twelve followers:

Beginning along the Sea of Galilee in the city of Capernaum, Christ ministers to a multitude of people proclaiming to be His followers after watching Him heal they eyes of a blind man, distribute bread and fish to five thousand, and pronounce a sinner as forgiven and whole. Yet towards the end of the Savior’s teachings during this particular record, “many of the disciples went back, and walked no more with him,” having believed only in His miracles and being converted only to His power, rather than believing in His identity as the Son of God and being converted to His teachings. In a moment of what I imagine to be great vulnerability and disappointment in watching His once true followers abandon His side, Christ turns to the chosen twelve — the men He had called to walk with Him, to stand by Him, to witness of Him, and to love Him. With a hesitantly hopeful and imploring inquiry, Christ asks His Apostles a simple question with these five words: “Will ye also go away?” In response, His apostle Simon Peter answers with quiet confidence and a surety in proclaiming, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Son of the living God.” [4]

With these three simple sentences, we know why they — out of the thousands — made the decision to stay. They believed in and knew who Christ was. They believed in and knew the truth of the words He spoke. And they believed and knew that He loved them as they loved Him. They would not leave Him because they had found themselves in Christ and had been changed by His love. 

So why do we choose to stay? We stay because we know the true Christ — and because we know Him, we love Him. We know, as the apostle Simon Peter did, that if asked the question, "Will ye also go away?" we could not and would not, because we know who He is and therefore, who we are. We have received of His great love that changes us and makes us whole. With this knowledge, our words echo those of Elder Tanner’s in proclaiming: 

“I…know that in a deeper sense, I am bound to Christ, who has bought me with His blood and won me with His love. I am bound to Him by ties that reach to the very depths of my soul.

The Lord’s questions call me home. They draw me back to my true self, to my eternal nature. While sin leads me ever farther away from myself, into a realm of masks and error, the Lord’s interrogatives invite me to claim my true name — son of God — and beckon me to my true home.” [5]

This is why I look forward to talking, rejoicing, and preaching of Christ for the next eighteen months — to teach the people of Mexico of their true nature as sons and daughters of God and of their eternal inheritance in a heavenly home, and that through learning of these truths their lives will become more deeply rooted in the reality of Christ and His love. I already love God's children in Mexico — for who they are now, and for who they can become through the great love and atoning sacrifice of Christ. I love my Savior, not only for what He did, but for who He is: the Son of God whose words and love call me back to my truest self and purest love for my Eternal Heavenly Father. These things I know of and am sure, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[5] John S. Tanner, "Responding to the Lord's Questions" Ensign April 2002

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