I was asked to speak in my home ward on charity. Specifically President Monson’s address during the Priesthood Session of this last General Conference. Here is the text of my talk, with the exception of quotations read from Preach My Gospel's section on Charity. (Which can be read here)
He didn’t speak for very long, so there wasn’t a lot of material from him to go off of. But somehow, the words he did speak seemed to have double the meaning packed into them, the way that prophets and apostles seem to be able to do really well. And fortunately, the topic of “charity” is a pretty vast concept. And an important one, too! Most of President Monson’s talk focuses on defining charity, and describing just how important it is.
To define Charity, he quotes Moroni 7:44-47:
- "Charity sufferereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked... / Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--but charity is the pure love of Christ and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him."
This definition includes the bold statement that “if ye have not charity, ye are nothing.”
President Monson, in his own words added: “brethren, we do not honor the priesthood of God if we are not kind to others.”
Those are pretty blunt. Between scripture and a living prophet, it’s clear that having Charity is important.
President Monson expands on the definition by quoting Elder Joseph B Wirthlin: "kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes. Jesus, our savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion.”
Preach My Gospel has a chapter dedicated to Christlike attributes—what they are, how we can demonstrate and develop them, and how each one can bless lives.
P1 – This section also starts off by illustrating the importance of this principle.
P2 – “we are to seek to develop that kind of love”
2 commandments right there. 1) seek to develop it, and 2) develop not just charity for the people in our circles, or that we like, or that are easy to be charitable to. We’re to develop God’s “eternal love for all his children.”
P3 – “As you follow this counsel and strive to do righteous works…” promises, responsibilities, blessings… [a list of what changes]
We just read that Mormon said that we should “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love.” So, to develop charity, we need to pray and do our best to develop it ourselves.
First and foremost, To understand and develop charity, we must (as usual) look to our perfect example of all things, Christ Himself.
Charity is "The pure love of Christ." ->>> We 'know' that Christ loves us. We’ve read how he loved the people of His time, and about the love He had for the Nephite children He visited in the Book of Mormon. And we know that he loves us so much that he suffered and died for us. But feeling His love for ourselves is so much different from knowing of it. When we have felt the love He so freely gives to us, it helps us realize how much He loves every single one of us, and how we should feel the same for everyone around us.
I testify that He does love you. And your Heavenly Father loves you. And if you haven’t experienced this for yourself, it truly is as simple as asking. Our Heavenly Father is a perfect father, who loves us so much. And when any of his children humbly, and meekly kneels to know whether or not their Eternal Father loves them... He's going to show them as best as He can just how much He loves them. As I prepare to serve and teach the people of the Arkansas Little Rock Mission, one of the experiences I look forward to having the most is being able to witness people feeling Heavenly Father's love directly from Him like I have as they pray to Him and ask if He loves them for maybe the first time in their lives.
This love is powerful, and humbling, and when I feel it directed at me, I want to be better and to share that love. It helps me realize why Heavenly Father organized the plan of happiness, and how exactly the Savior could fulfill His redeeming role by way of His atoning sacrifice.
Within our religion, the Book of Mormon is often called the “keystone” of our religion. It’s metaphorically the center brick of an arch, upon which everything else is leaning. If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, we have a living prophet today, and so on. A lot is leaning on the Book of Mormon. To further this analogy, I think the love of our Heavenly Father is the mortar that holds all of these bricks together.
Because He loves us, He provided prophets in ancient and modern days to teach us the plan that He created so that we could return to live with Him. He loves all of His children, so He didn’t limit the spread of the gospel to one continent of people, but made it available to everyone—living and dead, Nephite or Israelite. Through our charity, love, and kindness, we can be Heavenly Father’s hands as He reaches out in love to bless all of His children. We can do this within our families, our communities, or while serving a mission!
That’s quite the calling, especially considering Charity is a perfect thing—the essence of a Christlike attribute. It’s far from the natural man—long-suffering, not selfish, and so on.
We are imperfect people, and frequently give in to the natural man. We do what's easy and comfortable. We have to strive to become Christlike because we are imperfect. There are a lot of improvements that I need to make, but I came up with a short list of some of these as they relate to charity, that we can all work on together.
1. 1. Not judging. When we see how Christ treated people, and look at people through a Christlike lens, we don't see what they're wearing, or their past mistakes, or their current struggles, or what they lack. We see their potential, and love the person that they are right now, regardless of anything else. (1 Samuel 16:7 – look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.)
a. This goes back to understanding the love that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for us. When we know how much they love us despite our faults and mistakes, we can recognize the value they see in others.
2. 2. Not doing nothing. Charity, like faith, invites us to act.
a. "Never suppress a generous thought"
i. Tell people you love them, that they look nice. Commend them on accomplishments. What good is keeping those nice thoughts to yourself?
b. Serve (PMG – You will develop charity as you look for opportunities to serve others and give of yourself)
i. Jesus spent so much of his ministry serving others. Serving others out of the love we feel for them is a powerful thing. (PMG – As you… strive to do righteous works….)
ii. We develop charity as we practice charity.
c. This goes along with service, but the final thing is to Be Kind. Stand up and do something kind. Go out of your way to just be nice. Be generous. Put others before yourself.
3. 3. Ultimately, the goal as we strive to be more charitable is to change our mindset.
a. To serve and love people regardless of xyz, not because we have to, or we’re taught to, and not even because it’s just the right thing to do. When we become more Christlike and charitable, we do so because we genuinely love the people around us, and want to serve them.
These all sound like fairly simple things, but quite honestly can be really challenging. These are things we may be striving to improve for the rest of our lives. And that’s okay, as long as we’re trying. Because while we may not attain a perfectly Christlike-amount of Charity in our lives, I would say that our love, and our charity (as imperfect as it might be) has a similar ability to change lives, and to point others to our Heavenly Father.
We don't have to be perfect in loving other people for them to feel loved. We don't have to be perfect teachers or leaders in order to help others feel the spirit, feel closer to God, or feel inspired to change. We’re pretty lucky that’s the case!
Anyway, I think that’s the main point I’ve been trying to get to. Even though we may not be an exhibit model for charity like Christ was, whatever efforts we do put forward will have immense power in improving others’ lives, and in reaching out to them on behalf of our loving Heavenly Father.
As a soon-to-be missionary, everything about this is comforting! I can become better, I can become more Christlike. And as I try my best to do so, my efforts will be magnified to have powerful results. PMG teaches us that as we develop charity, we obey God’s commandments and do all that we ca to serve others and to help them receive the restored gospel.
I’ll close with this call to action and promise from President Monson.
"Let us examine our lives and determine to follow the Savior's example by being kind, loving, and charitable." -> "as we do so, we will be in a better position to call down the powers of heaven for ourselves, for our families, and for our fellow travelers in this sometimes difficult journey back to our heavenly home."
Those are tremendous blessings promised to us by a prophet of God. I know that as we do our best to develop charity, these blessings and so much more will be ours, and that generations of our brothers and sisters stand to benefit from our charity. I look forward to realizing these and many other blessings on my mission. I know that charity is a powerful principle that is capable of blessing every life it touches. I know that this church is true. I know that President Monson is a prophet, and that Jesus Christ leads this church. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I pray that I may be able to continue growing up in Christ, and that I can be an instrument in His hands.
So I've talked about why I'm serving a mission. Now I want to share what it is I'm going to be teaching. I don't think very many of you reading this have to worry about me knocking on your door to share this message, but... since I might not be able to do that just now, this post is what I would tell you if I was ringing your doorbell right now. This is what I believe, and what I want everybody to know. I've done the best I can to explain these beliefs in my own words, but I have leaned on some of the particularly effective wording of the actual lesson manual for missionaries in a few instances. That said, my explanations are far from perfect, so if you have questions, or something doesn't make sense, get in touch or visit www.lds.org. If you want answers and you look in the right places, you will find them.
My testimony begins simply. I know that I have a Heavenly Father, and I know that He loves me. He is the perfect father. I like to imagine my barely seven year old sister asking our dad if he loves her. The answer she gets from my dad, and the answer I receive from my Heavenly Father when I pray to ask if He is there and if He loves me is the same. I feel his answer almost like He's right there giving me a hug and with tears in His eyes telling me, "Oliver, of course I love you." I know that you can feel this same love for yourself.
Because our Heavenly Father loves us, He wants us to be happy! God doesn't want us to be lonely, miserable, or despairing. While we'll definitely feel these and more throughout life, God has given us so much in order to be happy! We were created to have joy. (2 Nephi 2:25) Families are such a key part of His gospel and plan of happiness. God organized families to bring us happiness, and provide a place where we can learn the gospel, and prepare for eternal life. I love my family, and know that the principles we've been taught together have made our home a happier, more unified place.
These principles have been taught to people for thousands of years, through prophets. If you're familiar with the Bible, you know of the writings of prophets like Noah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. Prophets in every age--including our own--received the Priesthood and through revelation testify of and teach about our Heavenly Father's plan for us to be successful in this life and to return to live with Him. This whole plan is centered around the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died so that we can be freed from the burden of our sins and continually strive to improve. When we live as Christ did, and are baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end as He did, we are following our Heavenly Father's plan. When people do this, they're blessed, and when they don't, they don't receive the blessings otherwise promised to them. When enough people choose to reject this message and live in spiritual darkness, this results in something called an apostasy. When this happens, God takes away his priesthood authority until it can be restored, sometimes through another prophet. This happened with Noah, Abraham, and Moses, who each were called by God to start a new "dispensation" of the gospel. (Basically another time when the Priesthood and Gospel is available on the earth.)
A few hundred years before Christ was born, the world was in another apostasy. When the Savior began His mortal ministry, He established His Church again on the earth, starting a new dispensation. Before his atoning sacrifice, death, and Resurrection, Jesus gave His Apostles the priesthood authority required to teach His gospel, baptize people, and establish His church. Unfortunately, the apostles were persecuted and killed. With the death of the Apostles, the priesthood was once again taken from the earth. Without this priesthood authority, people were left to rely on human wisdom to interpret scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were added, and a lot of truth was lost, like a game of telephone through the generations.
But then it's really cool cause during the Enlightenment following the Middle Ages, people like Martin Luther and others realized that what was on the earth then was not what was established by Christ. They realized that there were things missing, and things added. This realization, and their consequent organization of many Protestant churches, resulted in an emphasis on religious freedom, which helped pave the way for the final Restoration and dispensation.
So, knowing that our Heavenly Father has historically revealed his Gospel and his Priesthood through prophets to His children, His next "move" really isn't a surprise.
The early 1800s was a weird time for the United States. It was one of the only countries to really have religious freedom at the time, and so there was a lot of religious excitement, and even competition, especially in the eastern states. As a part of a religious family, the amount of different religions, (and the extent to which they all disagreed with each other over the same passages of scripture) was overwhelming to a young man named Joseph Smith. As he did his own research, trying to find out which church to join, Joseph read James 1:5, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." Joseph Smith took that literally, figuring that he lacked wisdom, and trusting that he would receive an answer.
As he prayed, asking God what he should do, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. In this vision, they told him not to join any of the churches. Even though many good people believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they didn't have the full truth, or the priesthood authority to baptize. They'd inherited the state of apostasy from the last generations. As God had done with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so on, He called Joseph Smith to be a prophet and to restore the fullness of the gospel through this dispensation.
The Bible tells of these prophets, and many others. But they're all located in a relatively small geographic location in the scope of the whole planet earth. To me, it just seems right that a Heavenly Father who loves all of His children and wants them all to return to live with Him would provide opportunities for his Gospel to be shared to all His children. That's where the Book of Mormon comes into play. The Book of Mormon is a record very much like the Bible. It testifies of Jesus Christ as our Savior, and relates stories of civilizations being taught this Gospel by prophets in the ancient Americas. It also teaches of the resurrected Christ's appearance and ministering to these people. The records that are now the Book of Mormon were translated by Joseph Smith through the power of God and testify of our Heavenly Father's plan of happiness, the atonement of Christ, and God's love for all of His children.
Today, this same gospel--the Gospel established by Jesus Christ during his life, with apostles, prophets, baptism by immersion, and the power of His atoning sacrifice still exists! Today, we have a living prophet, who is the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is the authorized successor of Joseph Smith, and can trace his Priesthood Authority back to Joseph Smith, and therefore to Jesus Christ himself. He and the present Apostles receive revelation from our Heavenly Father, and guide his kingdom here on earth.
They aren't the only ones capable of receiving revelation, however. While they are authorized to receive revelation regarding the church and world as a whole, any person, as a child of God, can pray and seek revelation for themselves.
This is a lot to take in and think about! And there's really only one thing holding it all up: The Book of Mormon. And there are two possibilities with The Book of Mormon.
One: The Book of Mormon is True. Accordingly, it was translated through the power of our loving Heavenly Father by a prophet of God in this day and age, and teaches truth about God's plan and Christ's atonement. It encourages men to do good and be more Christlike. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon validates Joseph Smith as a prophet, validates the revelation he received, and validates the revelation that continues to be received in the present-day through prophets and apostles who can trace their authority to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations through Joseph Smith.
Or, Two: The Book of Mormon is utterly false, potentially inspired by the devil, and exists to lead people away from God. Accordingly, it was written by a charlatan who never saw God or had His authority. If none of the events recorded in the Book of Mormon transpired, God's word wasn't ever available to continents of His children, and so maybe He's not that loving after all.
This is really the ultimatum. It cannot be decided without reading the Book of Mormon, and it cannot be decided without praying to our Heavenly Father to know for ourselves if what we've read is true, either.
I've read the Book of Mormon, and testify that it is the word of God. It invites God's children to follow Him, to utilize the atonement of Jesus Christ, and to do good. The devil would not have a part in advocating what this book testifies of. I know that God is our Heavenly Father and that He loves us. I know that Jesus Christ suffered, bled, and died, so that my mistakes and sins can be overcome, and so I can improve myself, grow, and become more Christlike. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that we have a living prophet who leads the church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. I know these things are true, and I know that you can know these things for yourself, too! You can get a copy of the Book of Mormon, or read it online! However you can read it, do it. It will change your life, improve your days, and help you feel of God's love for you. If you really want to know whether or not this is true, God will do whatever it takes for you to recognize your answer. And it probably won't take as much as you think it will. I bear my testimony of these things in faith, knowing that I don't know everything, that I'm far from perfect, and that I have a long way to go. But I know what I've felt and I know it has brought me joy, so I want to share that. I do so in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Dear Elder Dahl:
You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Arkansas Little Rock Mission.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it is expected of me that I will serve a two-year mission. (Yup! The "riding bikes, wearing name tags, and knocking on doors" kind of mission.) But this isn't something I'm doing because it's expected of me. This letter didn't just come in the mail as a surprise. This is something that I've planned on, looked forward to, applied for, and chosen to do. I'm doing this because the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed my life SO much, in SO many ways. I'm serving a mission because I can't think of a greater honor or responsibility than being able to play a part in someone's story of finding and enjoying these blessings, too
And yes, that means being away from my family, away from social media, away from my hobbies, postponing college plans, and giving up a lot for two years. It means getting doors closed in my face, riding a bike through the humid south, and not getting to sleep in. It's not a super easy choice, but I can't imagine anything more spiritually rewarding or personally edifying. I'll enter the Missionary Training Center as... me. And I'll come back home in two years as a better me. With increased faith, new stories to tell, powerful friendships, and having "made a difference" of eternal value to those I encounter, and to myself!
I really would not be doing this if I didn't know for myself that what I will be teaching is true.
I do believe it. I'm eager to share it. I'm excited to develop my love for the people of Arkansas. (And Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi, should I end up serving there... parts of those states are within the mission boundaries!) These next two years are gonna be tough. But my Savior has been through harder things, and I've already enjoyed blessings far greater than the difficulties that I will encounter. I'm excited to serve my Savior, and to serve with Him in His work. I'm excited for the people who will change my life, and for the opportunity it will be to watch the Savior change their lives. There's a lot to be excited about.
So here's the plan. I have one day per week where I can send and respond to emails. While I'm away, my Mom is going to be posting my weekly emails here on this blog. I should be able to send and include some photos, too, assuming no technical difficulties occur! So, with fifty two weeks in a year, for two years, there should be 106 posts on this blog before I'm back. (104 + this post & my testimony post.) It sounds like a lot, but it'll go by fast!
Serving A Mission!
What's all this about? As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it is expected of me that I will serve a two-year mission. (And yeah, the "riding bikes and wearing nametags and knocking on doors" kind of mission.) But this isn't something I'm doing because it's expected of me... I'm doing this because the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed my life SO much, in SO many ways. I can't think of a greater honor or responsibility than being able to play a part in someone's story of finding and enjoying these blessings, too.
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(After June 20, 2017)
Elder Oliver Wrigley Dahl
Arkansas Little Rock Mission
905 Kierre Dr
North Little Rock AR 72116