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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 12: "Come Back and Feast at the Table of the Lord"

For this lesson, we need to start with the end in mind. Why do we care about activating those who have either wandered off, for whatever reason, or have become critical of the Church and have stopped attending? Everything else we do with this subject depends on the answer to this question.

I guess the real issue is, what do we have to offer to those on the fringes of LDS society that they can’t find anywhere else? Why does it matter to us or to them that they aren’t bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, die-hard members of the Church? That may sound a little cold, but it is a fair question.

Covenants

In a word, the answer to all of the above queries is the word covenants. Have you noticed that God offers no covenants to get us into the telestial kingdom? He also doesn’t require any covenants to get us into the terrestrial kingdom. Covenants are reserved for those who want to be better tomorrow than they are today, those who want to be able to walk back, worthily, into the presence of God and live with Him in a family setting forever.

Covenants is the method our Father has provided us to help us make the changes we need to experience everlasting joy and eternal exaltation. Funny thing about covenants is that they aren’t selfish in nature. All covenants require that we become, in some way or another, more like God. That means that each and every covenant, in order to be kept completely, requires that we learn to love as God loves, and behave as God behaves.

Our first covenant is that which we make at baptism. Mosiah 18:8 - 10 contains the substance of the baptismal/sacramental covenants.

8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

These are the changes we have promised the Lord we are willing to make in our lives. These are the promises by which we will be judged at the last day. Did we mean it when we made these promises? Can we sit idly by and watch our brothers and sisters who have also made these commitments be reclaimed by the world, and not care or not do anything about it? Is that really how the Savior would act?

As we live up to our covenant to stand as a witness of God in all things, at all times, and in all places, and as we seek to bear the burdens of our fellow Saints, we cannot help but become undershepherds in the service of our God. We cannot help but seek the welfare and redemption of our brothers and sisters who have strayed. To neglect such a sacred duty is to deny our own covenant and declare we have no interest in the kingdom of God.

Hurdles in returning

Do we who are active in the Church view our fellowship with the Saints as “sweet and satisfying?” If not, what can we do to make sure that anyone who is fellowshipping with us does find their time with us sweet and satisfying? If we do find our fellowship with the Saints sweet and satisfying, what can we do to ensure that we are offering that same experience to those who need it in their lives?

Once a person has drifted away from activity in the church it is awkward coming back. There is often a fear of being judged or a fear of feeling stupid, or like they no longer belong. These fears are things the active members of the Church need to be aware of and realize they can each personally address these fears by extending a hand of fellowship and by demonstrating a loving attitude. We all know that part of the responsibility of the person coming back is to try to fit in, but we can pave that road and make the transition so much smoother by going the extra mile and drawing them in with loving arms.

Luke 15:4 - 6 is the story of the good shepherd. When Joseph Smith translated these verses he made one significant change.

The Prophet Joseph Smith significantly altered one verse in the Joseph Smith Translation. It reads: “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness after that which is lost, until he find it?” (JST, Luke 15:4; italics added.)

This quote assumes the body of the flock of Christ is safe and secure. Those who need to be reclaimed have wandered from the safety of the enclosure and the body of the flock. In Luke 15:4 - 6 we are told that when the shepherd finds the lost sheep he carries the sheep back to the safety of the fold on his shoulders. And not only does he do most of the work by carrying the sheep, but he rejoices along the way in having found the sheep. And when he returns he calls his friends together and they rejoice together.

This is a godly rejoicing. There is forgiveness, acceptance, and joy in the safety of the one who was lost. The attitude demonstrated in the parable of the lost sheep is one of profound gratitude for having found the sheep. The shepherd is not angry that the sheep was stupid enough to have wandered off in the first place. He didn’t find the sheep and beat it back into the fold to teach it a lesson. He didn’t berate the sheep back into obedience. Instead, he loved the sheep, was tolerant and forgiving of past actions, picked up and carried the sheep back to the fold on his shoulders, bearing the weight of the return to the fold to make it easier for the sheep to return willingly. Then when the sheep had been successfully returned, the shepherd rejoiced and celebrated, not for his own hard work, but for the safety of the sheep. The attitude and perspective of the shepherd makes all the difference in the world in this story.

This is what is required to help our neighbors back into full activity in the Church. We cannot expect them to do all the work, any more than the shepherd expects the sheep to come trotting back just because he whistles and invites the sheep to do so. We have understandings and testimonies that the less active have lost. Those also need to be found and brought back, and that is only done with love, tolerance and patience.

How do we reclaim the lost?

The Lord, our Good Shepherd, expects us to be his undershepherds and recover those who are struggling or are lost. We can’t tell you how to do it, but as you become involved and seek inspiration, success will result from efforts in your areas, … stakes, and wards.

Isn’t it interesting that the prophet cannot tell us how to reactivate the inactive? Why do you think that is? Perhaps the answer is found in this half of his sentence: “... as you become involved and seek inspiration, success will result ...” An inactive person is not a box that needs to be assembled, just like the million and one other boxes needing to be assembled. Each inactive person is inactive for their own personal reasons. Only the Spirit can reveal to us what needs to be done to touch the life and heart of that person to win them back to the Lord.

Much of the joy derived from seeking after the lost sheep in the Church comes from the closeness we develop with the Lord through the Holy Ghost. As we seek for direction from God to help us influence these people for good, our lives are blessed and enriched with the influence of the Spirit that directs us and teaches, and changes our hearts to be more sensitive and filled with love.

Final Thoughts

Have you noticed that in each part of the activation process the person doing the activation is blessed with the Spirit and the revelation to do what is necessary to help bless the life of the brother or sister they are trying to reach? Activation of those who have strayed from the Church blesses the lives of the activators every bit as much as it does the person being activated.

The Lord has this amazing ability to take even the simplest of blessings and affect many lives with that one blessing. Yes, we are seeking to bring those who have left our immediate association back into full fellowship with the Saints, but in doing so the result is our rejoicing with them as they come back into an active covenant relationship with our Father in Heaven. We become closer to the Spirit and learn to think, act, and feel more like Christ in the process.

Christ spent his life inviting all who would listen to him to come to him and find rest and fulfillment in what he had to offer. By giving us responsibility for the welfare of our brothers and sisters we strengthen the ties that create the eternal families (note the larger definition of family) we are seeking to be part of in the hereafter.

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