I can honestly say I have never been caught in the headlights or blindsided so completely than when I opened my mission call. Georgia was the place I was least expecting. No one even guessed it on the map. I’d be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed at first. However, these past few months, I have grown extremely fond of the idea of serving the great people of Georgia. Besides, I hear they send the best to the States.
It was all such an overwhelming coincidence. Three weeks before I got my call, I spent a handful of weeks in Georgia. When I was looking over what college to attend, Georgia Tech for some reason caught my eye. One of my best friend’s family is from Georgia. My cousin served in the Georgia Macon mission. Likewise, my coworker served in the exact same mission as I have been called to. Heck, I even dated a girl from Georgia. Whether I noticed it or not, Georgia’s been on my mind for quite some time.
Before we dive into the bulk of my talk, I’d like to share a quick thought I jotted down in my journal after opening my call. It helped me realize that the Lord cares for each of us and really does have a hand in each of our lives.
“Amongst the scattered thoughts of disappointment and excitement, a profound thought hit me about serving in Atlanta Georgia. My whole life I have been put in places that haven’t been what I specifically wanted, nor were they places that were particularly sought after. They were essential positions that no one desired to fill. In football I played Center. In rugby I played Prop. I was put there because I was blessed with a diverse skill set. My coaches also knew I would get down and do the dirty work. They trusted me to do the most difficult jobs on the field and I wouldn't complain. They could count on me to do what was required without the recognition. Georgia really is the exact opposite of what I had expected, but when it comes to the Lord’s team, that is where I need to be. He has faith and trust in me to serve in a place that isn't all that exotic, or a place that is so deeply rooted in their beliefs and traditions. It won’t be easy by any stretch, but the Lord knows me better than I know myself. He knows what I am capable of and would never set me up for failure. Coincidence is no longer something I believe in. I will go and serve.”
As you know, the theme of this month is Ordinances and Covenants. It is the end of the month so I think we have heard just about everything by now. I hope that I can present this in a way that is unique and invites the Spirit. I have been studying Mechanical Engineering these past few years in college. If there is one thing that I have learned, amongst all of the courses I have taken, it is to pay attention to the details. It’s to take a problem and break it down into smaller pieces so that you can understand and analyze them. Then, after assessing each piece individually, arrange all of the pieces together to solve the problem as a whole. I’d like to take this approach with the topic that I have been given.
Ordinance: a sacred formal act performed by the authority of the Priesthood, usually involving entering into solemn covenants with the Lord.
The word ordinance comes from Latin in the form of ordinare: to put in order, appoint, or arrange. Going further, the root of ordinare is ordo, Latin for order.
Order does have multiple meanings and the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word order that I would like to focus on is: the arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other according to a particular sequence, pattern, or method. An ordinance is certainly not a decree from God. Nor is it something we purchase. An ordinance is something we choose to participate in. No one can force it upon us.
There are two kinds of order that are encompassed in an ordinance. The first is that we must have our own lives in order with itself. Have a plan. We need direction in our lives to accomplish what we need to. Move forward. I don’t buy into the saying that if you aren't moving forward, you are moving backwards. Sometimes you have to take one on the chin or a shot to the ribs. Taking a step backwards isn't a bad thing. It will help you to gather yourself and gain perspective of where you need to be heading. As long as you are trying to press onward, you are moving forward in my book. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I am convinced that the word mistake has been misspelled all this time. Personally, I believe it should be spelled with a U and not an I, making the word must-takes instead of mistakes because we must make them in order to learn and grow. There is no better learning opportunity than making a mistake.
The second order is one of more spiritual significance, building upon the previous order, and that is to have your lives in order with the Lord. The Lord’s House is one of Order, and ours should be too. Everything should point to our Heavenly Father. Our thoughts, our conduct, our actions, everything adds up. We need to actively strive to have our lives in harmony with the teachings and standards of the Gospel. We are living in a world that is constantly eating at the very pillars of what we know to be true. It is so easy to get lost in the thick haze of these times. However, there is one place that transcends all of the darkness of which we can find hope and strength, and that is in the Light of Christ. Make family a priority. It is the fundamental operating unit of the church. Within family there are so many opportunities to learn and grow. Attend your church meetings, pray often, and read the scriptures frequently. Also make sure to serve others in any capacity you can. To the Lord, every little thing adds up, and quickly at that.
Once we have our lives in order and in order with the Lord, only after that are we ready to participate in sacred ordinances. There are so many ordinances for us to engage in. All of which are here for our own happiness and salvation. There are Priesthood Blessings, Patriarchal Blessing, and Settings Apart. We partake of an ordinance every Sunday, that being the Sacrament. We have saving ordinances that are essential to our own salvation. They are the Ordinances of Baptism and Confirmation, Priesthood Ordinations, Endowments, and Sealings. I have had the opportunity to participate in many of these ordinances. For missionaries, baptism is one of the crowning moments for their investigators. I have fond memories of being taught by the missionaries when I was eight years old, alongside my older brother Austin. They were two fine young men from Louisiana and Thailand. I don’t really remember what they said, but as a young boy, I can hold onto the feelings of happiness they carried with them. The only concrete memory I have of them was on their last visit with us after going through all of the discussions. We had a small message, and then we got to play Sorry! And to ramp up the stakes, the loser had to do the chicken dance. Back then, you only pulled that out when you meant business. I made for darn sure I did not lose that game and so did the Elders. A win is a win, right Austin? I am indeed excited to help faithful children of our Father in Heaven move forward in their lives. I know of the blessings that come about because of our willingness to order our lives towards God’s.
The second half of the topic is Covenants, so let’s take a closer look. I was able to find two definitions of covenants, one from the Bible Dictionary and the other from the Oxford Dictionary. The Bible Dictionary has covenants defined as: an agreement between God and Man where God fixes the terms that man accepts. The Oxford definition is: a formal agreement between two or more persons to do or not do something specified. Covenant also comes from Latin in the form of covenir: to come together.
We have to come unto God to make covenants. Pay attention to the wording. It isn't go, it isn't show up. It is come unto meaning an invitation that has been issued unto us. Making covenants is just as much a choice as performing ordinances. We have to choose to come unto God to make promises and commitments. He won’t strong arm us into anything.
The most significant part of the either one of the definitions I stated was that a covenant is an agreement of what we will or will not do. The word will is such a significant word. Will is the power of control that the spirit has over the body. From my experience, it is so much more difficult to willfully do than to willfully not do. Think about it, when you were little and Mom said to not do something, it meant one of two things, neither of them being she wasn't serious. It meant either let’s get as close as possible to doing what Mom said not to, or Game On, hopefully you don’t catch me. But when Mom asked you if you will do something, you did it, or Dad would follow up to see if it got done. We are doers in this church. Will commitments are much more exclusive than the will not assortment. And with that, will commitments are more difficult to follow. People continue to say that it takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. So why in the world do we resort to frowning? It is easier to frown for the same reasons as I have mentioned earlier about commitments. It is easier to not do than to do. Smiling means you willfully have to defy gravity and the natural tendency for our face and lips to be pulled downwards. It takes effort, it takes work, it takes energy, but the feelings of happiness and confidence are very much worth it. A simple smile goes a long ways.
Like a smile, the blessings that accompany will covenants are vastly more extensive. I cannot think of a single will not covenant. Let me refresh you about the covenants we make upon baptism. We renew them every Sunday. They are that we promise we will take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, and we will always remember him. We promise we will keep his commandments. We also promise we will serve him to the end. The Lord fulfills his part of the covenants we make by blessing us with that the Spirit, that it will always be with us. He will bless us exceedingly for our willingness to follow him, so much that we won’t have room enough to store all of the blessings. Everything in this church comes from obedience. We demonstrate this obedience by making covenants with God.
So now that we have broken down our problem, we can put it all together now. Ordinances and Covenants go hand in hand. Usually within the ordinances, we make our sacred covenants. The big question is why? Why does our Father in Heaven deal with all of this? The answer is found in Moses 1:39, where we find that His goal is to bring to pass our, mine, and your individual immortality and eternal life. He wants us, his children, to be happy and with him in his presence again. The last thing that He wants to see is us struggle beyond our capacities. He will and has provided a way for us to return to him. Through honoring our covenants we are continually blessed with gifts, gifts of knowledge, wisdom, revelation, miracles, healing, and charity. These gifts give us the means to act accordingly as we struggle through this life. We will never be alone here on Earth. Our obedience gives us the most control to do what is right in our lives. We are strengthened with increased faith and our faith expands as we hold fast to our covenants. Finally, we will be blessed with divine power and divine influence to flow through our lives. Ultimately, we will become more Godly, preparing us for the time after our mortal stay on Earth.
In closing, I would like to focus on one last word, a word with a Latin root I have already broken down for you. The word is ordinary, meaning something is of the usual order. And that something never exceeds the limitations of the rules and order defining it. However, there is one variant of the word ordinary, and that is extraordinary, beyond the usual order. We can all be extraordinary, that as we strive to honor and live our covenants, and give that little extra, we will be blessed with that little extra to press forward. The real difference between ordinary and extraordinary, is just that little extra.
I’d like to add my testimony to what I have shared. And that is that I know this is the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. That of him, through him, and by him alone can we all be saved. I know that this is the true church and it was returned by the power of God through Joseph Smith. I know the Book of Mormon to be true, and the messages it contains points us directly to Christ. I know that we are divinely led by a man called of God. I know that families can be forever. I really lucked out with the people that I have grown up with and love, and I am super blessed to be able to call them my family. They are the reason I am standing up here today. I want them to know that I love them and that their influence has profoundly inspired me to do what is right. All of your kind gestures have never gone unnoticed. I’d like to specifically thank my Mom for every last thing she has done for me. Thanks for being behind me all along the way. I know we didn't see eye to eye for a long time. But I finally came around because of your love and you never giving up on me. I am forever indebted to you. I’d also like to specifically thank my Dad for likewise being behind me always. In school, or coaching me in sports, I quickly learned what being a real man was about. I always had someone to talk sports or anything for that matter with. I always had someone to toss the ball around with too. I don’t know what I’d be without your influence. I might be biased, but I have the greatest parents ever. I am forever grateful for being raised under such an amazing household. I have been blessed with having incredible friends, who never let me stray too far off. I know that when much is given, much is required, not expected, required. I have been given so much and I only hope that I can live up to what my Father in Heaven expects of me. The Atonement is real, and it acts on the deepest, most intimate and personal level, because our Savior bled, suffered, and died for each and every one of us. He is aware of our every trouble and fear. He knows how to comfort so perfectly, to each of our needs. We are never alone. Even in your darkest moments, you have at least one person ready to heal you. All we need to do is look for His light, the light of perfect brightness. No one was ever destined to fail. I know that as we strive to honor, live, and fulfill the covenants we have already made with our Father in Heaven, and the covenants we will make in the future, that we will be extremely blessed for such decisions. The greatest blessings available to us, as God’s children, are brought about because of the desires of our hearts and the willingness to abide by a higher law. There is no greater way to show our love to our Heavenly Father than by making sacred covenants with him. I know these things to be true and I say so in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.