May 8, 2017
I recently received some sad news, which will be significant later in this letter, but I want to share some news and fun stuff first.
After 3 transfers (!) together (4 1/2 months), Elder Belen is being transferred to Brookline to serve as a Zone Leader. It’s so weird to think about at this point. I think I’ve spent more time around him than any other person that isn’t blood related to me, including my college roommate. He’s become like the brother I never had. I will surely miss him. I am inheriting the “district leader seat” over the district, which will be my first and likely my only leadership call. I suppose these verses from the Doctrine and Covenants, section 121 should be my guide:
34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
As we were waiting for a train on Sunday, Elder Belen told me to turn around. I did, and saw a guy playing with a One Drop yoyo! I completely forgot that I was a missionary. I was so excited! We chatted for a bit, and he told me I should come to the local yoyo club to hang out with Alex Hattori (a world champion yoyoer) and come to the Massachusetts state contest on May 20th. I started to respond “yeah, I would love to go!” but then I remembered. I can’t. I sheepishly asked, “do you guys ever hang out on Mondays?” since that’s our p-day. No, they do not hang out on Mondays. Good thing there will be plenty of time to play yoyo after my mission! (If Tyler or Jace read this, the guy’s name was Daniel. He’s on the yoyo BST page on Facebook.)
Now, to the sad news. My mission president called me Sunday night to tell me that my great grandfather had passed away. He might have been surprised to hear my immediate reply: “Well, it’s a good thing we have a hope for a glorious resurrection!”
Death is always sad. But Christians have the greatest reason to find peace in the death of our loved ones. Paul says it better than I ever could in 1 Corinthians 15:
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Now, read these verses in parallel with verses from Mosiah chapter 16 in the Book of Mormon:
6 And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption.
7 And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.
8 But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
9 He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.
Both of these passages have the same structure. They begin by describing the state of the world without Christ, a world in which death is the end, our faith in redemption is in vain, and we are counted as liars before God, because we testify that Christ has risen from the dead.
I love Paul’s words in verse 19: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. I’ve heard a great many intellectuals say that the purpose of religion is to give men good moral values, and therefore religion is a good thing. Paul seems to disagree, and I throw my hat in the ring along with him. If Christianity is a religion that has force only in this life, we are miserable! How sad to think that Jesus was nothing more than a great teacher.
But both passages turn around in the middle: there is a resurrection. the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
The joy of Christianity, even the joy of life itself is finding hope in and through Jesus Christ. But what do we hope for in Jesus Christ? We hope for forgiveness of our sins. We hope for strength in resisting temptation. We hope for support through our difficulties. We hope for a glorious resurrection, meaning we will come back to life in our physical bodies, only they will be prefect, like Christ’s. We have hope that because of His sacrifices, each of us may be forgiven of our sins, and God will not remember them afterwards.
Now one question remains: how do we earn these things? At the risk of making my letter too long, let me share with you the Parable of the Bicycle:
“I was sitting in a chair reading. My daughter, Sarah, who was seven years old at the time, came in and said, “Dad, can I have a bike? I’m the only kid on the block who doesn’t have one.”
Well, I didn’t have the money then for a bike, so I stalled her. I said, “Sure, Sarah.”
She said, “How? When?”
I said, “You save all your pennies, and soon you’ll have enough for a bike.” And she went away.
A couple of weeks later I was sitting in the same chair when I heard a “clink, clink” in Sarah’s bedroom. I asked, “Sarah, what are you doing?”
She came to me with a little jar, a slit cut in the lid, and a bunch of pennies in the bottom. She said, “You promised me that if I saved all my pennies, pretty soon I’d have enough for a bike. And, Daddy, I’ve saved every single one of them.”
My heart melted. My daughter was doing everything in her power to follow my instructions. I hadn’t actually lied to her. If she saved all of her pennies, she would eventually have enough for a bike, but by then she would want a car. I said, “Let’s go look at bikes.”
We went to every store in town. Finally we found it—the perfect bicycle. She was thrilled. Then she saw the price tag, and her face fell. She started to cry. “Oh, Dad, I’ll never have enough for a bicycle!”
So I said, “Sarah, how much do you have?”
She answered, “Sixty-one cents.
“I’ll tell you what. You give me everything you’ve got and a hug and a kiss, and the bike is yours.” Then I drove home very slowly because she insisted on riding the bike home.
Did Sarah earn her bicycle? No. the portion she contributed, though she put so much effort into it, was infinitely small in comparison to the cost of the bicycle. Her father gave her the bike as a gift. The money she raised served to show her father how much she wanted the bike, and when she was given the bike despite how far short she had fallen, she was brought to love her father all the more for it.”
So it is with the gifts Jesus Christ and God our Father offer us. We can in no way come close to earning salvation, resurrection, or any other gift by our works. It is completely beyond our power to do so. Christ does not give us commandments as a way of helping us earn salvation. One of the many reasons He gives them is as a way to help us appreciate that salvation more. As Lehi said, “the way is prepared for man, and salvation is free.”
If you have faith in Christ, strengthen it. If you don’t have faith in Christ, “cry unto [God], even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.” (Heleman 5:41). I know you can find that faith!