In our church we give talks, the Bishop does not get up and preach like a pastor would. We all get the opportunity to teach and grow our own testimonies of the Gospel. I was prompted to write this talk based on the talk Stay by the Tree by Elder Pearson from our worldwide church broadcast in April 2015. I was afraid to give this talk, but I was brave with the help of my husband and my faith in the Lord that when He gives a prompting to do or say something, I always do it.
And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
In the Personal Progress Manual under Faith, requirement #3 it says Faith in the Savior Jesus Christ leads to action.
In Preach my Gospel on page 62 it says “ We can also develop faith in a particular principle by first believing in Jesus Christ strongly enough to obey His commandments.
Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Elder Kevin Pearson of the 70 gave the talk “Stay by the Tree” In the April 2015 General Conference. I was given the opportunity to speak about the section “Press Forward with Faith”. You know when you or maybe someone you know are struggling with something, and people don’t know what to say so they just tell you to hang in there? Well In the beginning of his talk, Elder Pearson says “Hang in there” is not a principle of the Gospel.
Instead, he says “Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life is a powerful parable on enduring to the end.” He says “there is a path that leads to the Tree of Life, to Christ. It is straight and narrow, strict and exact. God’s commandments are strict, but not restrictive. They protect us from spiritual and physical danger and prevent us from getting lost. Please prayerfully study Lehi’s dream; then liken it unto yourselves.”
I love how he asks us to pray and study to liken the dream to ourselves. It can sometimes be difficult to see why certain things are in the scriptures and how they help us, but by having the faith to pray and study,we will get answers. Faith. That’s the key we are going to be polishing today.
He is saying that we can reach the tree in this life, that we can hold firm to the rod and press forward, and make it! And when we make it we will feel the Lord’s love and partake of the gift of the atonement. What a blessing this symbolic tree is. The goal in our lives is to get to the tree to gain eternal life. Eternal life was only made possible through the Savior performing the infinite and perfect atonement for us, therefore, if we reach the tree which represents Christ and His love, then partake of the fruit which is His atonement and symbolizes gaining eternal life, we will strengthen our relationship with the Savior, apply the atonement in our lives, and have eternal life.And when we are there, it is so important to Press forward with faith, but another way of looking at it is working diligently with Faith to stay by the tree.
If we make it there, does that mean we stop trying? Does that mean we are perfect? No, if you remember in Lehi’s dream some people partake of the fruit, and then succumb to the mockings of the people in the great and spacious building and give up the fruit, the Love of the Lord, and go to the great and awful building. So Elder Pearson’s talk is so important to help us figure out where we currently stand, how to get to the tree, and how to stay there.
Elder Pearson says, “ Obedience builds faith in Christ. Faith is a principle of action and power (As mentioned earlier from the personal progress manual in Faith Value requirement #3). Consistently following the Savior’s example produces spiritual power and capacity. Without the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement, it is impossible to stay on the path and endure. Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ”. We need to be obedient to the principles and ordinances of the Gospel to strengthen our Faith, and our relationship with the Savior. We don’t need to get to the tree to earn his help or love, He is needed to help us get there and gain eternal life. We always need our Savior.
So in order to make it to the tree, we need to believe there is a Savior, cling to the rod, press forward without straying from the path and endure all trials and difficulties that may come our way. We stay by the Tree of Life in Lehi’s vision and cling to the Iron rod because we are converted unto the Lord. Alma 5:7 reads “ Behold, He changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep and they awoke unto God.”
Doing simple things like personal and family prayer, fasting, paying tithing, doing our home and visiting teaching and serving others helps us change our hearts and grow closer to the Lord. Part of being obedient and staying by the Tree is to make and keep sacred covenants, such as getting baptized at the age of 8, receiving your endowment, and being sealed in the temple.
Making and keeping our covenants as well as the small daily things the Lord and Prophets have asked us to do are what help us press on toward the tree. And we may arrive there in this lifetime through obedience to the small and simple things, and the great and wonderful covenants. This pattern established in our families will help us cling to the Tree so we aren’t enticed away by the temptations in the mist or the great building. Elder Pearson says “ We struggle when we are caught between competing parties.” Think about the competing parties in your life that are symbolized as I continue.
Elder Pearson establishes that the Tree is Christ, who manifests as the Love of God, and that the Fruit is His infinite Atonement, a gift. The gift of the atonement allows us to return to live with our Father in Heaven again and have everlasting life. Elder Pearson says that we are to stay by the tree, which means we can be close and reach the tree and partake of the fruit. But to get there we must press forward, ignoring the enticing mists of darkness that promise our greatest desires, or the great and spacious building which promises popularity, joy and pleasure in sin, and tells us that sin is not actually wrong, but a joyful thing.
Or maybe what’s keeping us from clinging to the tree is not so obvious. Say we decide that it’s okay to gossip about the people serving a calling and we don’t like how they are doing it, then we continue to think we are better than others at this or that and start criticizing others in our heads and out loud. Maybe about their clothes or how they raise their children. Soon this type of behavior lands you as a popular figure in the great and spacious building. Or maybe we decide that the Sabbath Day doesn't have to be a whole day of being Holy.
Or perhaps you play games and are on your phones and constantly commenting on everyone’s posts on facebook, or you can’t live without social media, and you begin to put media time ahead of family time or spiritual time. If this is you or you feel like maybe you are starting to sound like this, you are wandering dangerously close to fountain Lehi talks about, and because you are watching a screen, not where you are going, you are likely to fall in.
As I was writing these examples I could see how small things at church can have a huge impact on the lives of our fellow ward members. An unkind word, talking to a friend while someone is giving a lesson, checking your phone, gossiping about someone in your circle of helpers, being so busy you forget to check in on the people you visit teach or home teach each month, or think your ideas are better so why won’t this person just stop trying to help: these things not only keep you from pressing forward, but perhaps your unkindness is being noticed, and your example is keeping others from feeling welcome to try and stay close to the Tree. And hearing that, if your first thought is, well it’s their Faith not mine, then you definitely need to check where you are standing.
This ward has been a very Faith trying experience for me as I do my best to come each week, but it shouldn’t have had to be. We’ve been here almost 3 years, and they have been the most trying of our entire lives. Of course we all make mistakes, that’s the beauty of the Gospel, we can fix it, we can change, we can forgive, but it’s not ok as members of a ward to treat others as less. It’s not ok to be cruel, to be unkind, to gossip, to not tell the truth when asked what did I do wrong? To not be there when you knew someone needed help. Or when someone who’s heart just broke from learning of a lifelong loss, was finally able to return to church after a 4 month health absence dealing with grief was greeted with, “oh I thought you were in trouble with the bishop, or inactive” , and then they laughed.
No one should be laughing, no one should be unkind. It happens, we make mistakes, and we come to church to learn how to be better. But as I leave this ward, I challenge you to be nice. Be good to people, so that as a ward family you may all help one another stay close to the tree.
We can always find our way back by following the simple guidelines of the church with obedience: read our scriptures, pray, come to church meetings, ask for blessings, learn and understand the principles of the gospel, and understand the repentance process and how healing it is. But we need faith to stay firmly rooted next to the Tree, settling into it’s network of roots. And we need Faith and a helping hand to pull us from our few wandering steps away from the tree.. Of course if you have loved ones strong in their Faith, they will reach out and grab you and lead you back, but what if you only have this ward family?
Or what if the woman you visit teach only has you, and you never go. What if your home teaching family needs to see examples of faith to help them, but they never see you, how are they going to get back? Only the Savior can forgive us and help us to forgive, but as imperfect people, there are so many opportunities to help Heavenly Fathers sons and daughters come back, stay by the tree, and be helped and taught how to be steadfast. In this parable you need to partake of the fruit, to be forgiven and to forgive, to be able to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The atonement is not just for our sins, it is for our sorrows, our suffering, our anger, our pain. We go to the Tree to be healed, and we stay by it to be able to face the challenges of life with the Savior at our side. Please do not be the reason someone needs the atonement to take their sorrow.
Maybe you’ve been given a calling that seems very difficult for you, or maybe a new child has come into your home and you realize you need to pray and gain more spiritual gifts? What if you’ve sinned, you have long term illness? Well, you need to get back to the tree, weather you’ve wandered in the mist, toward the building, or are just stagnant holding the iron rod but too afraid to move forward because then you have to face the trial, this is a great chance to strengthen and test out your faith! Let’s build it up!
Let’s build one another up! I know I’m not perfect, and Im sorry if I have ever hurt any of your feelings. That has never been my intention, and if I have, I’m sorry and I wish you would have told me so I could grow and make it right. And you could have a sure friend. As we leave this ward family, it’s your turn to look around, pray for how to help your family and others grow faith and press forward toward the tree, so we may all rejoice in heaven when we have eternal life, and can enjoy the blessings the Lord has in store for the faithful.
Elder Pearson said this in the beginning but I’m repeating it ”Obedience builds Faith in Christ. Faith is a principle of action and power.” Have faith, cling to the rod and press forward, take that trial head on, and get to the tree. Get there to eat of the fruit to be with the Savior and use the atonement.
Faith is like a little seed, if planted it will grow. I sure hope my path toward eternal life is lined with the flower bushes I planted from seeds and I can look back and see the beautiful plants of faith sprouted and that helped me grow. Then at the end of my days, what a great example I would hope to be, and despite being a worn out traveler, my faith will be ever strong as the Lord helps me endure right to the end..
I wish the same for all of you. That we may all meet again in Heaven, having eternal life and loving and supporting one another as we continue to grow. Look around, there are so many people who need love, support, and kindness. Help them build up their faith, and yours will grow too as we all press forward, trying to gain eternal life. The Savior will never leave you, the Lord loves you, the power of repentance is real, and the healing power of the atonement is real.
I know this Church is True, That Jesus is the Christ, that the Prophet is a prophet of God, and it is never too late to try and make things right. It is never too late to head to the tree. The scriptures are true. The Ordinances performed in the temple are miraculous and amazing. Obedience down to the smallest thing brings the greatest blessings. Be good to one another. Be kind. Stay by the tree.
And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen