Sunday, January 26, 2014

#128: "Becoming A Disciple of Christ" by Hillary Bowler.

Today in sacrament meeting, we had two fantastic speakers--Greg Bilbao, our visiting high councilor, and Hillary Bowler, a recently returned sister missionary. Hillary, in particular, gave one of the best talks I have ever heard. She radiated both her testimony of the gospel and her love for the Lord. As I listened to her, I felt a desire to be a better disciple of Christ. With her permission, I have posted her talk in its entirety below. Thanks Hillary!
Hillary also writes freelance articles for the Deseret News.
You can read her recent articles here.
Copyright Shelbi Jia Photography
Brother Bilbao asked me to speak on becoming a disciple of Christ. He offered a link to a talk and asked me to reference Alma Chapter 5. My first thought with Alma Chapter 5 is usually along the lines of “Oh, no….” You see, I’ve come to discover that most scriptures fall in one of two categories: Pat-on-the-back scriptures—you know, the encouraging kind that are great pick-me-ups—and kick-in-the-pants scriptures. I have often categorized the whole chapter of Alma 5 as a “kick-in-the-pants” and it became a go-to of sorts for any time I feel like, “Hey, I’m doing pretty good.’ It is a healthy dose of humility to just about anyone. Works every time!

But of course, as I prayed and studied a few different talks and scriptures, I found myself coming back again and again to Alma 5 and will reference much of it today.

The first question of this topic is what is a disciple? When you look the word up in the dictionary it usually has a generic definition like “One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another,” or “an active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.”

However, even most of the worlds definitions allude to Jesus Christ. In fact, if you google “disciple,” “disciple of Christ” is one of the first things that comes up. Even the world knows what a disciple is. A disciple is a follower of Christ.

I like to look at Alma 5 as a sort disciple checklist. Literally. I go to it thinking, ‘Alright, how good of a disciple are you being lately?”

(Vs 6:) Have you retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers?
(Vs. 14:) Have ye spiritually been born of God?
(Vs. 15:) Do ye exercise faith?
(Vs. 16:) Can you imagine unto yourself, that ye hear the voice of the Lord saying unto in that day: Come unto me, ye blessed?

This is where I start sweating:
(Vs. 17:) Or do ye imagine unto yourself that ye can lie unto the Lord?
(Vs. 18:) Can ye imagine yourself brought before the tribunal of God with your soul filled with guilt and remorse?
(Vs. 19: )Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands?
(Vs. 20:) Can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourself to become subject to the devil?

A few more hypothetical questions, and skip to the current self evaluation.
(Vs. 27:) Do ye keep yourself blameless before God? Have ye been sufficiently humble?
(Vs. 28:) Are ye stripped of pride?
(Vs. 29:) Are ye stripped of envy?
(Vs. 30;) Do ye mock your brother?

So do you see how this works as a nice dose of humility? I want to dispel one myth about becoming a disciple. I’m not sure I can speak for all of you, but when I hear the word “disciple” I often think of the actual 12 disciples, or rather, apostles. I think of being a true disciple of Christ as something I couldn’t possibly achieve because I am not at their level.
I love this reference in D&C 8:2: “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.”

A lot of us are familiar with that verse, but we forget to go on to the next one: “Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”

Wait a minute—the same spirit? We’re talking prophets and parting seas. I can get that same spirit? Yes!

One of my favorite parts of Alma 5 is found in verses 45 and 46, near the end of Alma’s sermon. It reads: "And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.”

Brothers and sisters, this is Alma the Younger speaking. This is the very same visited-by-an-angel-and-in-a-coma-for-days Alma. Talk about a "wow" conversion experience. But what strikes me most here is that Alma doesn’t say anything about angels. Alma still had to get and retain his testimony and his admirable discipleship. He did it with fasting and prayer--some things we are taught to do regularly. I think that’s something that I can pull off OK. In the book "True to the Faith," it says, ‘You can receive a sure testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ only by the power of the Holy Ghost. His communication to your spirit carries far more certainty than any communication you can receive through your natural senses.”

I can testify to this fact. I have seen and experienced some pretty memorable things by the worlds standards, but nothing blazes in my memory quite like my sacred experiences with the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that has guided prophets. God is no respecter of disciples.

In the October 2012 General Conference talk “Becoming a True Disciple,” Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the Seventy shared a temple president’s story that I will repeat here:
“It had been a beautiful spring for the fruit-growing communities in northern Mexico. The fruit trees were in full bloom, and expectations were high for a bounteous harvest. Plans were already being made to pay off loans, replace needed equipment and aging orchards, and meet personal commitments such as school tuition for family members. Plans were even being made for family vacations. There was a general air of optimism. Then, on a Monday afternoon in late March, a winter storm moved in, and it began to snow. It snowed until about three o’clock in the morning. Then, as the clouds moved out, the temperature plummeted. Throughout the night and early morning, every effort was made to save at least a part of the fruit crop. It was all to no avail. It simply got too cold, and the crop was totally frozen. There would be no fruit to be harvested and sold this year. Tuesday dawned with the sickening and disheartening loss of all those wonderful plans, expectations, and dreams of just the day before.

I received an email regarding that terrible Tuesday morning from Sandra Hatch, the wife of John Hatch, then-first counselor in the presidency of the Colonia Ju├írez Chihuahua Temple. I quote portions of that email: “John got up early—about 6:30—to run up to the temple to see if we should cancel the session this morning. He came back saying that the parking lot and road were clear, so we decided to go ahead. We figured that maybe some of the workers who didn’t have orchards would come, and we could put all the workers into the session. … It was so inspiring to see the men come in, one after another. There they were, after no sleep at all, and figuring their crops were lost. … I was watching them during our preparation meeting, and they were having a hard time staying awake. But instead of figuring they had a good excuse to not come, they were there. And there were 38 people in the session (a full session)! It was an uplifting morning for us, and we thanked Heavenly Father for good people who do their duty, no matter what happens. I felt a special spirit there this morning. I am sure He was pleased to know that we love His house and felt that it was a good place to be on such a difficult morning.”

Elder Johnson goes on to sum it up very simply: To become a better disciple of Jesus Christ, we need to keep the commandments and serve others. These good people understood that being a disciple sometimes means sacrifice, but it mostly means that you’re just trying to do good and be good.

As I was preparing this talk, I had had another General Conference talk come to mind, and it surprised me. I’m honestly not sure if I’d even read it before. It’s called “A Child and a Disciple” by President Henry B. Eyring from the April 2003 General Conference. In the talk, President Eyring focuses on an extremely important part of discipleship that I mentioned briefly in its definition before. A disciple is one who embraces and assists in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On my mission, I learned that most of the “teaching” I did didn’t take place in a normal teaching setting. It wasn’t always informational. I taught people more by becoming a better disciple myself than I did by telling them how to be one.

President Eyring pointed out that sharing the gospel comes naturally for some people. Those people, he explained, know that they are children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. He said,“Your worthiness and your desire will shine in your face and your eyes. You will be excited about the Lord’s Church and His work, and it will show. You will be His disciple 24 hours a day in every situation. You won’t need to build up your courage for one great moment to speak to someone and then retreat. The fact that most people are not interested in the restored gospel will have little bearing on what you do and say. Speaking what you believe will be part of what you are.”

Then he touches on a very important point:

“To be part of that miracle, you must not wait until you feel closer to Heavenly Father or until you are sure that you have been purified through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. … you will find yourself feeling and saying things beyond your past experience. And then in time you will feel yourself drawing closer to your Heavenly Father, and you will feel the cleansing and the forgiveness the Savior promises His faithful witnesses. And you will feel His approval, knowing you have done what He asked of you, because He loves you and trusts you.”

I couldn’t wait until I had a perfect testimony to share it. That was never an option in the mission field, and I’m grateful every day that I was put in that tight spot. It meant I could grow. And I did.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve spent a lot of time talking and a whole lot of it not sharing stories from my mission. In all honesty, I could’ve come up with a million different experiences to illustrate the topic of this talk, but I decided to take a different direction.

I highly recommend missions to just about anyone. I don’t, however, recommend coming home. It has been a struggle for me to transition from becoming a direct representative of Jesus Christ to coming home and trying to figure out how to apply it all and just be a better disciple.

In my study, I did revisit one old friend from my mission. I was blessed to be in the field during the many changes that followed the official age change. I was called as one of the first sister training leaders in my mission. This gave me the beautiful opportunity to work with and counsel many of my fellow sisters. Time and time again, I found myself pointing them to a tiny section in Preach My Gospel titled “A Successful Missionary.”

How can we know we’re being successful? How can we know we are good enough as disciples?

It’s answered pretty well in this one sentence on Page 11 of Preach My Gospel: “You can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when you feel the Spirit working through you.”

I slowly began to focus less on the disciple checklist and more on feeling and listening to the Spirit. When I do that, I not only feel inspired to be better. I realize I’m actually doing OK.

As I read through Alma 5 and begin to feel like a proud, vain and rotten human being, I quickly realize that I will always come up short. But I know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ it will all be made good. He asks us to follow Him, then He helps us follow Him. I know He loves us, and I love Him.
President Eyring also once said,“If you have felt the influence of the Holy Ghost today, you may take it as evidence that the Atonement is working in your life.”

As Alma said near the end of chapter 5, “Come ye out from the wicked and be ye separate.” Good for you for separating yourselves today and for being here. May we each continue to seek, feel and listen to the Spirit—using all of the basic tools we have always been taught to use—and become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. A really amazing read, and I love your writing skills mate. Would love to read more of what you wrote in the future. So keep updating your blog with such posts.