KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST
Talk given in Mountlake Ward Sacrament Meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sunday, December 27, 2015. 9:00A
Good Morning, Brothers and Sisters. For those of you that don’t know me (and that’s nearly everyone) my name is Larry Caplin—and finally, after nearly twenty-one years as a member of this Church, I’ve got an “in” with the Relief Society.
That’s right, I’m the husband of Sister Nadene Caplin, that was set-apart just last Sunday as the new Ward Relief Society President.
Now my assigned topic for today is KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST.
I suppose that one of the most important aspects of keeping Christ with us always, is knowing, in fact that he is with us always, and I have a bit of very recent testimony regarding this.
Last Sunday, after Sister Caplin was sustained, and the sacrament meeting was over, she and I joked and bantered a bit about the calling, and just how incredibly important it was. Sister Caplin was a bit nervous about what was ahead of her, and she was anxious that she would be up to the demands of the office.
Naturally, being the sweet, loving, and kind-hearted kind of guy that I am, I tried to comfort her and give her reassurance and peace.
I reminded her that as the new President, she would probably be asked to speak frequently. Trying to throw the maximum amount of fright into her, I suggested that that first call to speak could come as early as two weeks, at the Stake Conference.
Needless to say, Sister Caplin was not amused, did not think my joke was in the least bit funny, and rather “nicely” suggested that I should perhaps keep those kind of thoughts and comments to myself.
Too late of course. My words were already out there in the atmosphere. I have been warned about such things repeatedly over the years, but of course, as a guy—never paid the least attention.
Well, within about five minutes of making my pronouncement, Brother Willis appeared before me, with the request that I speak in Church this week.
And so here I am, providing proof positive not only that Christ is with us at all times, but listens as well . . . intently. And of course, the angels are always silent notes taking.
As a new member of the ward, it was my intention to spend more than just a couple of minutes talking about Sister Caplin and myself, and our backgrounds and histories.
Unfortunately, she let me know that is not exactly cricket, as she would not have the opportunity to respond to any mistakes, misrepresentations, or sins of omissions that I might make.
So I will wait for her to provide that information herself, and I’m getting to know this Bishopric well enough, I think, to predict that time will probably not be all that far off.
I will say this about Sister Caplin however. She is my literal gift from God, and she is yet another proof that Heavenly Father, Christ, and their legions of angels are never far away, care for us, and want us to be happy.
I was forty-five years old when I joined this Church. Within a matter of weeks, I was introduced to Sister Caplin by friends. That was in March of 1995, and by October of that same year we were married civilly, and went to the Mesa, Arizona Temple for our sealing in just June of the next year.
The last twenty years have rocketed by, and in many ways we have profoundly changed. Hairs have become grayer, or disappeared altogether, postures have become a bit stooped, and joints hurt a whole lot more than they used to.
We do the best we can, and try to keep on chugging along.
One of the things that hasn’t changed in the least bit though, is the fact that she is, and always will be, my best friend. Another is that Sister Caplin has the biggest heart of any human being I have ever known.
In my humble opinion, her call to the Presidency of the Relief Society was truly inspired, and that organization simply could not be better led, or better served, than by this great lady.
A little bit about me.
I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1949. I didn’t used to think that sounded so bad, until the year 2000 came along, and I all of a sudden realized that I was born in a different Century.
That is already becoming less and less true for a lot of younger folks around now, including all of my step-grandchildren. There are eight of them, by the way. Six are located right here locally, and two more in Denver. The local ones are the biggest reason that Sister Caplin and I moved here years ago.
My careers have ranged from being a Quality Control guy for General Motors in Detroit for many years, and all the way to Health Care, Mortuary service, and retail much more recently. I was doing dementia facility work when we moved here from Arizona, and was frankly getting more than just a little burned-out on it.
We settled in Bellevue first and there I accepted a job with Fred Meyer. I intended to stay there for only a year or a year and a half, but with the poor economy of 2008, ending up putting in eight years.
Increasingly poor health in the form of a bum-neck forced me to retire from Fred Meyer back in September of this year.
Surgery has more or less repaired the neck, and although I’m afraid I’ll never be able to do a young man’s job again, I do intend to come out of retirement in the next few weeks—as I am anything but a wealthy man.
I was brought up in an Irish Presbyterian Church back in Michigan. Dad was pure English by extraction, and Mom’s side of the family harbored the darker Irish-blood.
It’s from her side I’m pretty sure, my rather weird, caustic and sarcastic sense of humor come from. She was an honest and hard-working lady that didn’t take a lot of guff (as she called it) from anybody.
Dad was a gentleman, with emphasis on the word “gentle.” Sometimes I wish I had a bit more of that in me. I try—honestly, I do—but more often than not, the Irish in me struggles to the surface.
Anyway, my formative years were spent in The Crossroads Presbyterian Church. It was a good one, and led by good men—every single one of them.
To this day, I remember and miss many of those wonderful members from long ago as though they were blood relatives.
By the time I was old enough to graduate from High School, I was a lot smarter than the Pastors though, so I fell away. And I did without organized religion in my life for the next twenty-eight years.
Which, as it turned out, was just long enough to get myself in all kinds of trouble and in all kinds of bad habits. If you can think of most anything—not edifying—that a young man can fall into . . . well, I probably did.
By the time I hit my forth decade though, I knew something was terribly wrong and needed to be fixed—fast.
I was extremely lucky to go to work in the early nineties for a mortuary in Tucson, Arizona—and there I met and worked with a couple of members of the LDS Church, that both friend-shipped and fellow-shipped me along in my struggle to find my way back to God.
I took the Missionary discussions in the living room of one of these members, and by the end of lesson number two was asking when I could be baptized. I had found what I was looking for, and as it turned out, even more than I knew I was looking for.
Within a month I met Sister Caplin in the very same house where I had heard the lessons. I like to tell people that I had just barely joined the Church when the blessings began to flow.
Sometimes I have used that as a laugh-line, but in point of fact, it is absolutely 100% true.
Occasionally over the years, Sister Caplin has asked me if I would ask her to marry me again in only a few months’ time, like I did back in 1995.
The fact of the matter is: No, I wouldn’t. The next time—I would do it even faster.
Which brings me to just about the point where I’m pretty sure the Bishopric would like me to begin addressing my actual topic, which is, again—Keeping the Spirit of Christ.
I’m going to add to that title a little-bit and call it “Keeping the Spirit of Christ all year long.” As in—between religious holidays and Sunday Sacrament Services.
Those times—it’s pretty easy. We’ve just come through a wonderful and lovely Christmas a few days ago and Thanksgiving before that. Filled with love and laughter, family traditions, lovely holiday music, and all the rest, it’s pretty easy to feel close to Christ—and pretty easy to feel him close to us.
Sundays in a Church pew—it’s the same—easy. Again, we are edified with beautiful music, inspiring talks, and well-prepared lessons and testimonies.
Trouble is—those sweet times are well short of all the days on the calendar.
So the question becomes: How do we keep the spirit of Christ strong in our lives constantly—365, and 24/7.
As I pondered (or ponderized, if you will) that question this week in preparation for this talk, the thing that kept coming back to me, and the thing that I think our Father-in-Heaven would have me say to you (and of course to myself as well) is to LIVE YOUR LIFE (and my life) WITH PURPOSE.
More specifically—a Christ centered purpose.
That will keep him with us—and even more importantly—keep us with him. And it won’t be dependent on holidays, traditions, Church services, sunny skies, easy-times, or any other external influences.
Once we learn to live our lives with Christ-centered purpose, we build a fire within ourselves that simply cannot be extinguished. We become with Christ, and he with us—constantly, and at all times.
This I think is one of the best definitions of “discipleship” there is.
So—how do we do this?
In a BYU devotional given by Janie Penfield, February 5, 2013, Sister Penfield stressed—Living our lives with purpose, and keeping the end in sight.
In so doing, she said, is our best hope of living a Christ-centered life, keeping our discipleship strong, and thus keeping the spirit of Christ alive, each and every day, and in each and every way.
Perhaps a little easier said than done.
When the responsibilities and burdens, and real-life fears and doubts of life become overbearing, just how are we to accomplish this?
Sister Penfield offers three paths . . .
- DETERMINE YOUR PURPOSE
- DETERMINE YOUR COURSE
- STAY ON COURSE
Sister Penfield (an associate athletic director) confesses to being an adventure seeker, and knows well the importance of determining our purpose.
“I am an adventure seeker, especially in the outdoors. I love to bike, hike, swim, and ski. Through my many adventures I have learned that each one must be planned with clear purposes and objectives—to summit a peak, to complete a course, or to enjoy the views. I have found that planning with purpose is the best way to ensure that each adventure is successful. We are here on earth in a type of adventure. We left our Heavenly Father to obtain bodies, to be tested, to make covenants, to gain knowledge and experience, and to hopefully return to live with Him. But we do not always remember these purposes. Many who do not have the gospel have forgotten these purposes because of the veil. We often get weighed down by the daily monotony of school, Church, family, and work and forget about our aspirations—aspirations that our Heavenly Father wants us to have. We often even get distracted and waylaid by “good” things.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that we should remember that it is not enough that something is simply good. He says that sometimes we have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are even better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our testimony.
What better way to keep the spirit of Christ alive in us always?
Once we are fixed on our purpose, we must determine our course to fulfill our purpose. We have to make a plan for how we will reach our destination.
Sister Penfield continues . . . “The map to navigate life on earth has been provided to us through the restoration of the gospel. The standard works, modern-day prophets, and inspired leaders help us to navigate through the challenges of mortality. Lehi’s dream is a broad sketch of mortality. The later-day prophets fill in the challenges and specific guidance for our day, helping us keep hold of the iron rod. We must determine our course to ensure that our daily choices have a chance of leading us to eternal life—we will not arrive there by chance. In Doctrines and Covenants 132:22 we read, “For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives.” We need to be on the path when we reach the gate. Having the goal of eternal life, we know where we can look for direction to stay on the narrow way and to find the strait gate.”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said: “We all search for happiness, and we all try to find our own “Happily ever after.” The truth is, God know how to get us there! He has created a map for you; He knows the way . . . the map is available to us all. It gives explicit direction of what to do and where to go to everyone who is striving to come unto Christ. Nevertheless, not all will follow the map. They may look at it. They may think it is reasonable, perhaps even true. But they do not follow the divine directions. Many believe that any road will take them to a “happily ever after.”
As members of the Church, we know that not all roads or trails lead to the eternal life we seek. “Happily ever after” will only be ours if we choose to follow the Savior and be His disciples, and keep the spirit of Christ with us always.
Determining our purpose and our course, just may be the easiest things that we will have to do in this life, as disciples of Jesus Christ. What may ultimately be the hardest and most difficult however, is . . .
Staying on Course.
It’s like that with most things in life. Easier to begin than to complete. But the road to the Celestial Kingdom is indeed a marathon, and not a sprint, and as the old Chinese proverb says; “The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”
As usual, the words of the prophets guide us:
President Thomas S. Monson has given us exceptional counsel for how to stay on course, and how to keep the spirit of Christ in us always . . .
“Obey the laws of God. They are given to us by a loving Heavenly Father. When they are obeyed, our lives will be more fulfilling, less complicated. Our challenges and problems will be easier to bear. We will receive the Lord’s promised blessings . . .
Make every decision you make pass this test: What does it do to me? What does it do for me? And let your code of conduct emphasize not ‘What will others think?’ but rather ‘What will I think of myself?’ Be influenced by that still, small voice . . . Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth.”
As the hymn by Penelope Moody Allen says:
Let the Holy Spirit guide;
Let him teach us what is true,
He will testify of Christ,
Light our minds with Heaven’s view.
Let the Holy Spirit guard;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home,
If we listen to his voice.
Let the Spirit heal our hearts;
Through his quiet gentle power,
May we purify our lives,
To receive him hour by hour.
. . . And, may I add, to keep his Spirit with us always.
And so here we stand this holy Sabbath day—on the cusp of a New Year. I wish you all a Happy New Year. A New Year full of hope and opportunity. May each and every individual and family in this Ward be blessed in every righteous way. May each and every one find joy and abundance, and may we all keep the Spirit of Christ in our lives—always.
I testify to you of the truthfulness of the Gospel, and the sacred nature of the work that we are engaged in. I testify to you, that all of the tools that we need to keep the Spirit of Christ with us always, and to stay faithful to the Lord we love, exist for our use, right inside the sacred Temples that dot the earth, as well as the walls of this building, and thousands of buildings just like it everywhere in the world that Brothers and Sisters practice their faith in freedom; and I do so in the sacred name of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.