Below is the talk I delivered July 1, 2012, as I prepared to leave for the Missionary Training Center on Wednesday of that same week.
Good afternoon brothers and sisters, my name is Paul Johnson. I have lived in this ward for my entire life and this day has arrived quicker than I ever anticipated. I spent the last year attending Brigham Young University in Provo, UT where I am majoring in Political Science. I have been called to serve a mission in the Tempe Arizona mission where I will be speaking Spanish. Hablo un poquito espanol. I leave July 4th for the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
Perhaps the most asked question is, “what is the meaning of life?” Ever have philosophers, scientists, and the religious sought the answer to this seemingly mundane question. Fortunately, this Church has the answer to this very question: to learn to be like God and return to his presence.
Moses 1:39 sums up not only our purpose in life but also the reason behind the Plan of Salvation. It says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” This was my favorite scripture mastery, not only because it is one of the shortest, but also because in its simplicity is great depth. By teaching what Gods purpose is, it tells us what our purpose should be. The Plan of Salvation separates the Latter Day Saints from all other churches. Only something divinely inspired could be so perfect.
Simply put, the plan of salvation explains what we did before we came to earth, why we came, what we must do on Earth, how we get back to heaven, and what happens when we get back to heaven.
When I was in young mens all those many years ago, Spencer Oscarson would have one of us get in front of the group each week and explain the Plan of Salvation in under sixty seconds. This was no easy task and proved to be so hard that he introduced a little drawing he had used on his mission to illustrate to his investigators each aspect of the plan of salvation.
The drawing, which, again, was just a brief summary, began with a picture of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and an anonymous person. This person is you and I. Now the first step in our lives came when chose to come to Earth. We chose to follow Heavenly Father’s plan and come to Earth; however, we had to pass through a veil of forgetfulness so that we could be tried and practice faith. We were given two things as we came to Earth. The diagram was illustrated with two literal gifts, representing a body and moral agency. The next step in the diagram shows a drawing of Earth, our destination. Once here, we would be tried in all manners of ways. The diagram shows that after we passed on from this life, we had to overcome two barriers represented by two walls. In the drawing, one wall had a ramp leading over it and the other had stairs. The ramp was there because overcoming physical death is given as a free gift to all due to the atonement. It is an obstacle that everyone overcomes. The diagram showed that the next wall had four steps leading over it. This wall represented spiritual death, something that takes work on our part to overcome. The four steps represent the principles taught in the fourth article of faith, or Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism by immersion, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. According to Joseph Smith, faith allows us to, “readily discover that it is faith and faith only which is the motivating cause in all action in them and that without it, both mind and body, we would be in a state of inactivity.” It is through faith in the Lord that helps us climb those steps. Acts 2:37 states the importance of repentance and baptism. It says, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Lastly, the gift of the Holy Ghost, for those who have been baptized, is a source of continual guidance and inspiration. To overcome spiritual death, or rather return to God’s presence, these four things must be done. After they are accomplished, repentance through the atonement must be an integral part of ones day-to-day life so that we may remain worthy to return to heaven.
In our pre-mortal lives, we all lived as spirit children in heaven. While in heaven, we developed identities and increased our spiritual capacities. We came to the point where the next step in our progression was to come to earth to gain experience and a greater understanding of all things.
Mortal life is perhaps the most important time of progression. Here, we are tried in all aspects. Temptation is aplenty but it is through faith in the Lord that we are able to overcome it. When we do, we are blessed with a stronger testimony and a personal testimony to the power of prayer and strength that we get from prayer. Batman isn’t often quoted from the stand, but he had it just right in a batman movie when it was said, “Why do we fall, Mr. Wayne?” The response was perfect. “so we can learn to pick ourselves back up again.” I think this is a great example of how we can learn from our mistakes and use our shortcomings to strengthen ourselves.
A great example of this comes from Book of Mormon prophet Alma the Younger. During his younger years, he was the very definition of an Anti Christ. He caused havoc, broke laws, and worked to take down the Church of Christ. However, when he was shown his wrongs, he repented of his sins and was born a stronger man. He went on to become one of the great Book of Mormon prophets.
One of the most important aspects of mortal life is taking advantage of the atonement. The atonement is an integral part of the Plan of Salvation. Without it, we have no hope of returning to be with God. Jesus Christ came to earth and performed the atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross so that we may be forgiven of our sins. He felt the sorrows and pains that every single person, everywhere, anytime has ever felt. It is comforting to know that we are never alone in our trials and using the atonement to its fullest will allow us to make that crucial step of repentance.
Life after death starts when our body and spirit are separated as we await resurrection. Once we are judged and resurrected, the two are joined into a perfect, flawless being. Depending on how we lived our lives, we will be sent to one of three kingdoms. The terrestrial kingdom excels the Telestial kingdom, and the celestial kingdoms, “glory excels in all things – where God, even the father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever.” What a marvelous sounding place. My Book of Mormon teacher at BYU was often heard saying, “when asked what kingdom of glory we will be inheriting, we should always say Celestial, not because we are sure but because it helps us live our lives in a way to help us get there.” This principle is very similar to the “say no at a young age” advice we often hear because if you grow up thinking and planning on not doing something, chances are you will have an easier time avoiding it.
In Alma 36, Alma expresses the anguish he feels for the thought of becoming “extinct both in soul and body.” He said, “and for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.” However, when he repents just two verses later, he says something truly inspiring to his son. “And oh, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” He continues to say, “Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.”
Elder Neal A Maxwell gave a great conference talk years ago about why it is important to have a testimony in the Plan of Salvation. He said that, “full faith in the Lord Jesus Christ includes and requires full faith in His Father’s plan of salvation.” Faith in these two things builds upon each other just as faith in the Book of Mormon builds on and provides further testament to the teachings of the Church.
Brothers and sisters, how does knowing these things affect our day-to-day lives? What changes can we make to better prepare ourselves and get ourselves spiritually clean?
Let me bare testimony of the sense of joy felt through repentance truly is remarkable. The Plan of Salvation is the fullness of the Gospel. It is the creation, the fall, the atonement, all laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is the true church and President Thomas S Monson is a prophet ordained of God, the only prophet with the authority to exercise all keys. I know that serving a mission is the right thing to do and I hope I can make the next two years the best years of my life. Add more here, tell story about mission interview.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.