Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Pre-Mission Post

Tonight, I am going to be set apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the next two years, I'll be in Upstate New York spreading a gospel that has been indescribably crucial to who I am the past 19 years of my life. I've had more than one person comment on how long of a time period that is, point out the things I might miss at home while I'm gone, and even had people offer me money to stay home. I want to explain, while I can, why I am going.

I was reading the Book of Mormon this weekend, in 1 Nephi. In it, the prophet Lehi describes a vision he has had of a Tree of Life. This tree bore fruit, of which Lehi ate and yearned for his family to partake of the fruit. As he beckons them to come to him, he sees many others trying to get to the Tree of Life. However, amid a dark mist and a raging river, many people lose their way. There is, though, a rod of iron which leads straight to the fruit of the Tree of Life, which many take hold of and follow to Lehi and the Tree.

Now, this is one of the most commonly referred to parables of the Book of Mormon. What I had never paid close attention to, though, is in Chapter 11 of the same book, when Nephi asks to see this same vision. As he does so, he asks for an interpretation of each item. It is the way he is answered that really struck me.

When Nephi asks about the Tree of Life, itself, he is shown Baby Jesus, with Mary, in Bethlehem. While Nephi is seeing these things, the angel who has been guiding him asks if he understands the meaning of the tree, and Nephi replies, "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things."

Likewise, Nephi is shown Christ's ministry and the many people following Him as an interpretation of the Iron Rod. By this vision, Nephi understood that the Iron Rod was a representation of the Word of God.

Over and over, the vision is broken down by visions of Christ's ministry. But really, how incredible is that? The only way that Nephi could truly understand the level of love our Heavenly Father has for us was to show not only the love between a mother and son, but THE son. The only way for Nephi to understand the beauty of the Word of God is by showing the love people felt for the Savior when He was on Earth. Even more, how perfect must this Christ be for Nephi to so easily understand this idea of love just by seeing Jesus' life.

Anyone who has ever been to an LDS testimony meeting surely has heard some version of the phrase, "When I focus my life around the gospel, everything else seems to fall into place and my life seems easier." It's the message of Christ's life, the message of love, which brings about this comfort.

That is why I am going on a mission: Because I know that God loves His children. In that same 1 Nephi 11, Nephi says, "I know that God loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." I, like Nephi, can't say I know everything, or understand everything I am asked to do. However, the fact that God loves me gives me the confidence--and even more, the desire--to do as He asks.

In 1820, a young man named Joseph Smith was confused about which path he should take in his life, particularly what religion had the truth. He was guided through reading the scriptures to pray for the truth. Upon doing so, he was approached by God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ. They, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, restored the full truthfulness of the gospel, brought forth the message of love shown to Nephi, and enabled millions from that point to be comforted by the knowledge of the truth.

So, why am I going to spend two years in New York? Because of God's love for me. Because of God's love for all of His children. Because of the love of Christ, which he showed unlike any person could, as explained in John 15:13, where Jesus says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I am not being asked to lay down my life, but giving two years of it for the man who DID lay down His life for you, me, and the entire world is the least I can do. I may not know all things, but I know that God loves us. I am serving a mission because I love this love.

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