Monday, January 16, 2012

We love him, because he first loved us

This is my farewell that I gave in church on Sunday. Enjoy!

          When I started preparing this talk, I looked for something that would give me a clear focus and I found it in 1 John 4:19. This verse says, simply “We love him, because he first loved us.” God loves us, so He sent His son. We in turn show God we love Him by following the commandments. That simple concept has come to hold a lot of meaning for me in my life.
            So what is love? Love is a feeling that can be felt no matter how far away you are. It is universal to all of God’s children. It is making a choice to open you heart and really care about someone, and then never failing in that choice. I know that love is a powerful force. That is why it is so important that we understand how much Heavenly Father loves us.
            The very first part of the first lesson that missionaries teach is that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us. It is explained this way in Preach My Gospel-
          “God is our Heavenly Father. We are His children. He has a body of flesh and bone that is glorified and perfected. He loves us. He weeps with us when we suffer and rejoices when we do what is right. He wants to communicate with us, and we can communicate with Him through sincere prayer.”
          It doesn’t get any simpler than that. God is not some impersonal force. He loves us more than we can even imagine. President Uchtdorf has said “Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you.” God’s love is so overwhelming that we cannot even comprehend it. It is endless. He loves us because we are His children. He sent His son to die for us so that we could return to live with Him. Once we understand that Heavenly Father loves us, we see our true purpose and worth.
            I can remember when I truly became aware of the depth of Heavenly Father’s love for me. It was at EFY when I was sixteen. Something one of my counselors said to us the first day really stuck with me. He challenged us “I know you’ve been taught all your life that God loves you. But have you ever really gotten down on your knees and prayed to know that God loves you and knows you individually?” He challenged us to pray every day that week to know that God loves us. So I did it. I got down on my knees and asked Heavenly Father to know that He loved me. Slowly, the witnesses started coming. Something a teacher said in a class seemed perfectly tailored for my needs. The Spirit would witness to me that it was a demonstration of Heavenly Father’s love for me, individually. Heavenly Father was just waiting to answer my prayer; He knew what I needed, if only I would ask Him. I know that prayer opens up the windows of heaven for us to feel of God’s love. He is always watching over me, and all He wants is for me to return and live with him.
            God’s love for us shows us what we can become. We are God’s children, with the ability to become like Him. And the way to do that is to love God. President Uchtdorf teaches that “God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.” By loving God, we choose to put Him above everything else in our lives, to make returning home to live with Him our priority. So how do we love God? Simple. Christ tells us in John14:15 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” When I stopped seeing the commandments as just rules and starting seeing them as an expression of my love for God, it helped me a lot. My obedience represents how much I love God.  By choosing to love God, I choose to follow His commandments.
            There are many commandments, but one of the most important is to share God’s love with those around us. Christ commands us in John 13 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” So I get to take the love I receive from God, and pass it on to other people. As I have been preparing for my mission, I have been reading letters posted online of missionaries who are serving in the Alpine-German Speaking Mission. One sister wrote a few weeks ago
          “This week I was reading in John 13 and something hit me for the first time. Christ says, "By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Christ tells us that others will recognize us by our love one to another. It's so simple, but I have never understood that principle so plainly before. Love is what sets us apart as we interact with the people we meet.”
          As I read her words I realized that I want other people to recognize me as a disciple of Christ by the way I treat other people. I want to become a conduit for the Savior’s love.
            Sometimes it may not be easy to love one another, but luckily, God can help us with that. Just as prayer can help us to feel God’s love for us, it can also help us to develop that love in us. Mormon tells us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” Heavenly Father stands ready to give me love so I can become more like Him and as I show love for those around me, people will recognize me as a disciple of Christ.
            When I think about the reasons I want to go on a mission, it all comes back to my love for Heavenly Father. I want my mission to be an expression to God of how much I love Him. I want to give Him my best, because ultimately, what we have to give Him is our obedience. I know He loves all His children and wants them to hear to gospel, so I will become the vehicle by which people come to Christ. I know that will require a lot of prayer and humility, because I am certainly not yet perfect disciple of Christ.
            What I came to recently understand about love is that it has the power to make us true Disciples of Christ, to make us divine, to make us ready to meet Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Moroni 7:48, which I quoted earlier, goes on to promises us that
          “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” 
          So how does love purify us? It changes our desires so that godly choices become part of our nature. I was reading an article by Dennis Peterson, who wrote about a realization he came to while serving as a missionary in Japan. He had been struggling with temptations and feelings of inadequacy. He resented the commandments and felt they were restrictive, until he came to a realization about why Jesus Christ was perfect. It is because Christ is filled with God’s love, and he loves the things God loves. Peterson explains it this way-
         “It was a moment of real revelation for me. I understood finally that Christ’s ultimate defense was not his supreme willpower but simply that, nurtured by the Spirit, he had no desire for Satan’s grimy alternatives. He loved the things his Father loves. Thus, as his desires flowed into deeds, those deeds reflected a spontaneous righteousness that came from the very depths of his being.
         That was the key: to love the things God loves, to make his desires my own, and thus to be truly like him. My problem was that I had been trying to act in godly ways while wanting ungodly things. If I could change the desires of my heart, then my actions would spontaneously become godly.”
         That’s how love purifies us. As we seek and pray to be filled with God’s love, we start to love the things God loves. We can pray to Heavenly Father to help us love the commandments and those around us the way He does. I know that He will help us love like He does if we just ask. And that’s when the commandments change from restrictions into being a part of us, an expression of what is in our souls: love.
         As we exercise love of God by following His commandments, it will bring us closer and closer to Him and help us become more like Him. The promise is that we shall “be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This promise is also made in 1 John 4:16-19 which says
        “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
        Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
        There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
            We love him, because he first loved us.”
         I used to get scared thinking about judgment, but Heavenly Father does not want us to fail, he wants us to return to live with Him, and has given us the way to do that: follow the commandments. Love of God propels us to take action, to continually change to become like Him, so at the last day we can stand perfect before God, because His love has made us pure.
            Sometimes it is hard for me to feel God’s love or to share that love with others because I get caught up too much in things in the world, but one of the moments when I felt God’s love the most was when I got my mission call. I have been learning German since I was 6. I took classes in it all through high school and have been to Germany twice. I love Germany. I love the language, I love the people. Once I submitted my papers, I hoped and hoped that I would get called there, but I knew that whatever call came, I would accept and serve wherever the Lord needed me. That was a hard decision to make because I wanted to go to Germany so badly and felt like that was the place where I could do the most good. Then the call came and I opened it. Alpine German-Speaking Mission. God KNOWS me. God knows and loves ME. I feel like my whole life has been preparing me for this moment.
            So, in closing, I would encourage you to pray for two things. First, pray to know that God knows you and loves you individually. Don’t just pray for this once. Spend a week or two asking God every day to know that He loves you. You will be surprised by the ways in which God answers this prayer. Second, pray to be filled with God’s love and to love the things that He loves. If there is a specific person in your life that you are having a hard time getting along with, pray to love them as God loves them.
          I know Heavenly Father loves each one of us, and wants nothing more than for us to return to live with him.I know he sent His son Jesus Christ to atone for our sins. I know that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon for us to have in this day, and that if we will obey what God tells us in the scriptures, we will find our way back to Him.

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