Nearer to God by Abiding by Its Precepts

[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]

Recently—and frequently—we have been encouraged to study the Book of Mormon and to increase our focus on it.  President Monson spoke of it in his last talk.  Elder Carl B. Cook spoke of it in our Area Conference last month.  Brother Callister, the Sunday School General President, spoke of it in General Conference and also when he was here visiting our stake last month.

As recorded in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith taught that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  Considering that Jesus Christ, himself, said that “life eternal is to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom though hast sent,” we who believe in the Book of Mormon should be particularly eager to abide by its precepts that we might know God and enjoy a more abundant life.

What is a “precept”?  And what are these precepts in the Book of Mormon by which, if we abide, we may come nearer to God?

For simplicity’s sake, I will define a “precept” as an instruction, a guideline on how to live.  To try to list and explain all the important precepts in the Book of Mormon is a task too large for a brief talk.  I would like, though, to mention five specific precepts, or instructions, that the Book of Mormon invites us to follow and to which I add my testimony to the Prophet’s:  If you and I abide by them, we will come closer to both our Father in Heaven and to the Savior.

Precept #1:  Use your agency to act, rather than to be acted upon. 

Agency allows each of us to be self-determining.  None of us can entirely control our circumstances, but each of us can control our handling of them and who we will become.

It seems clear from the plan of salvation that agency and the privilege of self-determination are of supreme importance.  A war was fought in heaven over agency and a third of our Father in Heaven’s children lost their inheritance because they fought against it.  The atonement, itself, happened in the defense of our right to choose, God knowing the inevitability of our choosing incorrectly at moments along our way.  Agency is so important, God does not even intervene when his children do horrible things to others of his children.

To not use our agency means to be acted upon, to be blown about and kicked around by the world.  To accept a victim mentality which takes us away from faith and striving.  A favorite saying of mine says, “Indecision becomes decision with the passing of time.”  Where we don’t take charge of ourselves, someone or something else eventually will.

Young men and young women:  Who do you want to become?  Who will you become?  What are you doing right now to ensure you become the type of son or daughter of God who can receive all the blessings that He wants you to enjoy?

For disciples of Christ, the call to act is also a call to lead—a call to lead all others around us to the Savior.  It is a call to be self-reliant and self-determining in our spirituality, in our marriages and other relationships, in our finances, in our beliefs and philosophies.

We will come nearer to God by acting and by being less acted upon.

Precept #2:  Exercise faith.  Exercise it in patience, but exercise it.

To exercise faith means to act upon truth in the absence of perfect knowledge.  The most important faith to exercise is faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.  We do this by acting upon His teachings and striving to follow His example.

The Book of Mormon very clearly teaches that “faith” and “a perfect knowledge” are mutually exclusive things.  The absence of a perfect knowledge means room for some level of uncertainty.  What the Book of Mormon invites us to do is to experiment—not merely by thinking or philosophizing, but by acting—that our knowledge may increase and our uncertainty decrease.

Exercising faith requires patience.  We know so well the verse in which Nephi says he will “go and do,” knowing that the Lord would provide a way for him.  It is fascinating to think of how Nephi’s faith was immediately met by two utter failures to obtain the plates.  His exemplary faith was not just found in that bold statement that he would “go and do.”  It was found in his patience in waiting on the Lord to reveal a path for him even while his going and doing wasn’t working.

You or I may get frustrated from time to time over the things we do not yet know or over the outcomes we wish for that have not yet happened.  Let us exercise faith in patience and allow the Lord to reveal His hand according to His timing and His will.

We will come nearer to God by patiently and persistently exercising faith in Him.

Precept #3:  Recognize evil.

Though it may sound unusual, I have a testimony that evil exists and that Satan exists.

The Book of Mormon not only teaches clearly the idea of “opposition in all things,” it teaches that anti-Christ is real, is among us, and is actively ridiculing faith, exploiting uncertainty, mocking the very idea of God, and teaching us that there is no right nor wrong, that whatever is desired by a person is, by definition, OK.

Evil attempts to turn uncertainty into proof against.  It attempts to turn tolerance for and acceptance of people into tolerance for and acceptance of wrong.  Evil doesn’t always teach that wickedness can become happiness, it often just teaches that there is no such thing as wickedness.  Evil mocks legitimate prophets and promotes false philosophies as false prophets and false religions.

Satan is the Father of Lies, the Great Deceiver.  He uses subtlety because subtlety works.  We know he is there.  All the more reason for us to hold very fast to the iron rod of the scriptures and to sit up and pay careful attention when living prophets speak.

We will come nearer to God by acknowledging and avoiding evil.

Precept #4:  Share our abundance with the poor.

In the gospels of the New Testament, the Savior warned over and over again of the risks and dangers associated with having wealth.  In the Doctrine and Covenants he specified that many are not “chosen” because “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.”  And in the Book of Mormon, he teaches us with great repetition to support the poor.  Satan is good at making us believe that we are not wealthy because we can see others who have more than we do.

But Alma asked, “will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?”  Mormon condemned—and note this:  he was condemning us in the latter days, not his own people— “ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”

A year ago, in Stake Conference, I spoke of our responsibility to help the poor.  In doing so, I emphasized the fact that we in our stake are rich and that we, in particular, should heed the Savior’s warnings to the rich.  I have, since then, sometimes heard that talk referred to as the “we are rich” talk.  I would rather it were referred to as the “we should do more for the poor” talk.  For our children’s sake, let us break from the past and teach our children from a young age to give Fast Offerings.

We will come nearer to God by increasing our support for the poor.

Precept #5:  Finally, and most importantly, recognize the Savior as the only legitimate way to eternal life.

King Benjamin taught, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”

Jesus Christ is the only way and the only means through which we may receive the blessing of living with our Heavenly Parents, of living like them, of living in eternal and loving family relationships.

Let us recognize that the path is, in fact, strait and narrow.  Yet it is also clear before us.  And, for the most part, we are on it.  Let us rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.”  Let us “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” and by Him.

We will come nearer to our Heavenly Father and to the Savior by consciously striving to receive and follow the Savior.

Let us renew our commitment to the Book of Mormon.  Let us value and follow its precepts and thereby come nearer to God.  Of the value of these precepts I bear my witness with love and gratitude for the Savior and for our Heavenly Father and expressing my love for each of you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Knowing and Becoming through Doing

[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]

As we all know, it doesn’t make sense to try to reduce the gospel or gospel living or righteousness to a checklist.  I could, for example, say my prayers morning and night, read a couple of chapters in the Book of Mormon every day, attend the temple each week or two, refrain from watching football on Sundays, lead my family in daily scripture reading and prayer and in Home Evening every Monday—all good and desirable things—and yet still lack something very desirable and ultimately essential.

The goal is not just to check all the boxes.  The goal is to become.  To be changed.  To experience and nurture a “mighty change” in our hearts.  The apostle Paul wrote of us becoming “new creatures.”  So did Alma the Younger.  King Benjamin spoke of a change within us so profound that we would “have no more disposition to evil, but to do good continually.”  Paul also taught that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”  The change that each of us should strive to experience is one that should be deep inside us, affecting our hearts and minds and our very natures.

Here, though, is perhaps a little irony.  While the goal is in what we become rather than in just checking all the boxes, doing good reflects what we have become and it is in the very doing that we not only become, but that we also discover the truthfulness of the Gospel.

Jesus taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”

President Vernon recently told me a story of interviewing a woman in the stake for a temple recommend.  He did not share with me her name and I don’t know who she is, but her story illustrates a point.  President Vernon came to the third question in the interview and asked this sister if she had a testimony of the restoration of the gospel.  She hesitated before saying “yes” and then hastened to make what she referred to as an “apology.”  She said that she had not studied and read things to the depths that others had.  She didn’t feel that she could quote chapter and verse on everything related to the restoration, but, she said, “I only know that when I live according to the teachings of the restored gospel, I feel good, I feel happier and better off.  And that is largely what I base my testimony on.”

What on earth have we done that would leave this dear woman feeling like she needed to apologize for doing and experiencing exactly what the Savior said she would?  She described it perfectly.  Paraphrasing, “If any woman will do his will, she shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”

Knowing is in the doing and in recognizing the resulting whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

Truth, testimonies, and gospel knowledge often don’t come from spectacular spiritual events.  More often, the voice of the Spirit is still and small and works quietly within us.

Becoming, like knowing, is also in the doing.  Let me provide a few illustrations.

Every year, our stake, on average, sends out about 65 full-time missionaries.  I meet with them the Sunday before they leave for an MTC somewhere in the world.  They are wonderful!  Many come to that interview wearing new missionary clothing, including a pair of shoes that looks like it’s being worn for the first time.  Eye contact may or may not be very steady.  Each is a different combination of excitement and nervousness, perhaps even fear—for the unknown things ahead and the moments that will challenge them.  Most have graduated from seminary, been active in Church, read their scriptures, and learned well from excellent parents.  Most are what I might describe as thriving youth, but inexperienced youth nevertheless.

Fast-forward 18 months or two years.  That same young man or young woman returns to the same office, this time to be released as a full-time missionary.  Shoes often look very worn.  Pants may have a hem coming apart or even a hole in them.  Once-white shirts may be a little off-white now.  Faces and bodies may even look a little tired, but those faces are different than when they left!  There is a lot of eye contact.  There is something new and changed behind those eyes that are full of confidence—and sometimes full of tears that are both joyful and sorrowful for the end of a wonderful season.

I frequently ask these young men and young women what has changed—what is different about them from the last time I saw them.  They often answer with things like, “God gave me the gift of seeing people as He sees them.”  Or, “Everything has changed. I am completely different.”  Or, “I know God loves me.  I really know it.”  Or, “I thought I had a testimony when I left, but now I really know.” Or “I have learned that the Atonement is real and applies to everyone.”

One might even call it a mighty change.  How did it happen?  It happened because they said, as Nephi, “I will go and do.”  And they went and did.  And in the doing, they experienced God; they experienced the Holy Ghost; and they were changed from the inside out.

For us older people, this is not merely an opportunity long gone.  Just two nights ago, Joe and Barbara Barry returned from their full-time mission in Palmyra, where they served in the temple and in other important ways.  Like younger missionaries, Joe and Barbara were wonderful before they left, they just weren’t quite as young.  That didn’t mean, though, that they didn’t return home with similarly glowing and smiling faces, full of goodness that resulted from what they had done, what they felt, and what they had further become.  They blessed many lives in Palmyra.  They blessed the lives of their adult children here in Utah.  And, inescapably, their own lives were blessed and changed forever.

In the middle of preparing this talk, and as if on a heavenly cue, I received an email from President Frandsen, currently president of the San Francisco Oakland mission and a member of our stake.  Here is the full text of what he wrote:

“Good Morning President:  I thought I would send you an update I received from Elder and Sister Lay. What a difference they are making in this mission and the two Wards and Stakes in which they are serving!   President Frandsen.”  Below that was an email to him from David and Sharon Lay of the 22nd Ward.  It is too lengthy to share in its entirety, but here are a few lines…

  • The Bishopric called us to head up the Christmas party for the ward and we are working with a committee.
  • We have helped establish a greeter program at the chapel doors for Sacrament Meeting to welcome the members and visitors.
  • Sharon is accompanying the RS president with some visits to special sisters and shut-ins and I am attending the Elders Quorum and accompanying the President on visits.
  • We are working with the Stake Family History committee to generate a Family History Fair to culminate before the temple closes in March.
  • The Bishop has been very forthcoming in assigning a list of about eight members that he would like us to focus on right away. With only a couple of exceptions, we have been in their homes and have become friends.
  • We have been asked to teach a temple preparation class in Sunday School for eight weeks to help prepare some to return to the temple, also before it closes in March.
  • We have participated in several lessons with the Elders where they needed a third participant as well as helping to conduct a family home evening with a new family and a new-member lesson with a recently baptized member.
  • We are now registered with the Reading Partners program to do remedial reading instruction at the local elementary school near our apartment. We go for an hour each Tuesday and Thursday and tutor students who are below grade level in reading.  It is very rewarding and we wear our name badges.

Brother Lay ends his report to President Frandsen with these words:  “We are grateful to be here and feel that we are where the Lord wants us.  Thank you for the latitude to follow the spirit where it is leading us. We feel His hand every day in our affairs.”

Brothers and Sisters, knowing and becoming are in the doing.

Full-time missions are only one example of doing leading to becoming.  We become through temple and family history work.  We become through home and visiting teaching and through a host of opportunities for kindness and loving our neighbors of all kinds.  We become by striving to develop Christlike attributes within ourselves.

May I invite you to ever strive for greater personal conversion.  To live the gospel and experience that “mighty change” —which may not come in a single moment, but rather, “line by line,” “here a little and there a little.”  That the Lord will help us become new creatures and realize all the joy and happiness offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

A Safe Place for All

[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake, March/April 2017]

I have felt impressed with an increasingly strong desire for some time to come speak to you on a certain subject.  I could have addressed this at Stake Conference but I know I will find more people in Ward Sacrament Meetings than I will find in a Stake Meeting.  My message is not unique to the this ward, though it is needed in here as in other wards in our stake.

That message is that our church must become a safe place for all kinds of people, regardless of their level of faith, their politics, their mental or emotional health, their desires to conform to common LDS cultural norms, their marital status, their race, their ability—their sins, addictions, personal weaknesses, or even criminal history—or many other things we could list.  In short, we must not let our Mormonism become exclusivism and thereby get in the way of the fundamentals of our Christianity.

I bring this message because I know too many people, including in every ward in our stake, who do not feel like they fit in or are welcome.  Some of whom patiently go on in spite of feeling like outsiders.  And some of whom decide it’s not worth the effort to try to fit in at all anymore and, so, leave.  We must help others feel comfortable and that they fit.

I am not talking about a lot of people in terms of a large percentage.  The vast majority of people in the Highland South Stake are doing well and feel like they fit in.  One person feeling left out, unwelcome, or like a poor fit, however, is too many, and I have spoken with many more than one.

When I say that our church must become a safe place, let me make clear what I mean by “our church.”  I do mean the collective worldwide LDS Church—and in that sense my message today is consistent with what I hear from our highest leaders.

But I am not just referring to the broad, general church.  “Church” is experienced in stakes.  It is experienced even more in wards.  It is experienced in Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums and Relief Societies, Mia Maid classes and Deacons Quorums.  It is experienced in Gospel Doctrine, Primary classes, Activity Days, and Bear Den meetings.  At each of these—and many other—places, people of all kinds, backgrounds, and circumstances can be helped to feel comfortable and accepted.  Or they can be left out, looked sideways at, or treated judgmentally because they do not fit the mainstream norm of the LDS profile.

When I refer to “our church,” I am also referring to what happens inside our homes.  Children who grow up in LDS homes learn most of what they learn about how to treat others by what they see, hear, and experience at home.  If my child were to tell another child that he won’t play with him because of the color of his skin or because he attends a different church, then I would need to look in the mirror until I had found sufficient godly sorrow to affect real, genuine, and vitally needed repentance.

Let me comment also on what I mean by a “safe place.”  A safe place is a place where people can come without feeling judged or looked down upon; where they are free to progress at their own speed; to contribute in ways that fit their circumstances; to question and learn—and even to express doubts; to think differently; to appear differently; and to be accepted for who they are inside and for where they are on their own path of progress and ability; and to feel welcome when they are somehow different from the majority.

During the Savior’s ministry, he lovingly associated with people who were looked down upon by the pious and self-righteous who led the local majority religion.  Those of us who are most in the mainstream of LDS living, beliefs, and culture need to guard against becoming modern day Pharisees.  We must not be pious, self-righteous, or judgmental of people we’re not familiar with.  We must be extra careful not to teach our children to think in such ways.

With whom did the Savior associate?

  • Lepers who were shunned by others. He not only healed them.  He went in their homes and ate with them.
  • Samaritans who were despised. He not only served among them, he elevated them as examples of goodness.
  • Sinners who were openly reviled. He served and socialized with “sinners” of, it seems, the most visible kind.
  • He openly loved those who were openly unloved by the religiously intolerant.
  • He even associated with and served those religiously intolerant people, themselves. There is a lesson in that, too!
  • He also loved and served military “centurions” and the hated Jewish “publicans.”

He also taught about the evils of thinking ourselves better than others.

  • To the pious self-righteous, he once began a pointed message with the words, “A certain man had two sons…” And he ended with “Verily I say unto you,… the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
  • He taught that I should not complain about the mote in the eye of another, for there is a beam in my own eye.
  • He taught that my debt of 10,000 talents to God is greater than any man’s debt of 100 pence to me.
  • On another occasion, He began, “Two men went up into the temple to pray….” And He ended with this truth:  “every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

We must eradicate from our thinking any notion that we are better than anyone else, regardless of their differences to us.  We must become respecters of no persons, or perhaps differently said, respecters of all persons.  We must find in ourselves no justification for believing that we have a right to look sideways at or to neglect anyone.  Such thinking is the antithesis of Christianity.

How do we feel about diversity?  How do we feel about people who are different from ourselves?  During his discourse on the gifts of the Spirit and the body of the Christ (1 Cor. 13), the apostle Paul had much to say about diversity and unity and we need to be familiar with it.  He said:

4 …there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

5 … there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

6 … there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God….

7 …the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man [and woman]….

8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit….

12 For … the body is one, and hath many [parts], and all the [parts] of that one body, being many, are one body:….

13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free;….

14 For the body is not one [part], but many.

15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it [really] therefore not of the body?

16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it [really] therefore not of the body?

17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?…

19 And if they were all one member [if we were all the same!], where were the body?…

21 …The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

22 …Those parts of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour;….

24 …God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

We read in the Pearl of Great Price that in the Zion City of Enoch, there were “no poor among them.”

In our South Highland “Zion,” there are poor among us.  Some are financially poor.  Some are spiritually poor (and not coming to the Savior at the moment).  Some are emotionally or mentally poor.  Some are friend poor and fellowship poor.  Some are doctrinally poor.   Some are poorly understood.  Some come from circumstances that leave them feeling like they are a poor fit in our Zion.  Some aren’t sure what they believe or what they should believe and struggle to relate to a bunch of people who seem to know so much with so much certainty.  Some are divorced, widowed, or never married and feel maritally poor in our “ideal family” culture.

In our stake are high percentages of activity, based on many common church metrics like sacrament meeting attendance and full-tithe payers. Percentages can be useful because they can paint a general picture quickly, but what makes them most valuable is that they are derived from both a numerator and denominator and inside that denominator is every single individual person.  Salvation and happiness and all the things that matter most don’t happen in percentages.  They happen for and within individual human beings who live and struggle in their search for meaning and happiness.

So, within the high percentages reported by our stake, are these realities:

  • There are 231 individual people in our stake above the age of 8, plus non-members, who have not received all the ordinances they need for exaltation. Each one has a name and a story.
  • There are 418 individual people in our stake who choose not to be with us for Sacrament Meeting most weeks. (There are even more who avoid Sunday School and the rest of our Sunday meetings.)  Each one has a name and story, including a reason not to be here.  Many of those stories are not merely about disinterest.  And, of course, some people are physically or otherwise unable to come.
  • There are 481 (or more) individual members of our stake over the age of 12 who cannot or choose not to correctly utilize a temple recommend. Each one has a name and a story.

Among these hundreds are some who feel like they’ve been mistreated, perhaps from priesthood leaders or perhaps from next-door neighbors.  Among those hundreds are many who actually have been mistreated.  To those we could add many more who are totally active by all typical outward measures, but who struggle to feel like they fit in because of some difference that is not understood or that feels unwelcome.

In our stake are too many human beings who are too invisible.  Some have literally withdrawn to their basements, seeking to seldom, if ever, be seen by us.

Now, is that simply their choice, their problem?  To think so would be a good way to absolve ourselves of responsibility, but in most cases, it’s not that easy.  And it’s almost always best to assume that we can help improve a situation through better understanding on our parts, by finding meaningful ways to help, or sometimes by simply smiling, talking, accepting, and maybe giving a welcome hug.

My purpose is not to make everyone feel bad.  There are many among us who are well sensitized to the needs of others and who actively reach out positively to address those needs and to help others feel welcome.  For those sweet kindness, I and many others are grateful.  Some, however, are not sensitive to all the things we should be sensitive to—and sometimes that includes me.

Now, who am I talking about that doesn’t feel like they fit in?  Here are some types of people.  (It’s not an exhaustive list.)

  • People with anxiety and social fears who don’t want to speak or teach or perhaps even socialize—who say “no” when asked to speak or pray or who avoid certain classes and teachers and other situations. (By the way, for such people, I am not suggesting that we over-reach-out to them when they simply wish to have their space and time and to not be over-reached-out to.  We should allow people their own space and their own speed and definitely not try to compel people to do things.)
  • People of a different skin color.
  • People with vastly different political views, whether liberal, conservative, or otherwise. Honest political differences can exist among good LDS people.
  • Gay and transgender individuals.
  • Physically disabled individuals.
  • Mentally disabled individuals. This group includes quite a few whose challenges are not understood by others and are prone to be labeled as “weird” or “rude” or even “stupid” by some.  Many disabilities and challenges are not publicized by those who endure them.  Some are not even identified by those who endure them.
  • Members who have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the authority of Joseph Smith and President Monson. (Is there a more important place for such people to find a home than with us?)
  • Men (and some women and retired couples, for that matter) who have not served missions.
  • Adults who are unmarried.
  • People who are embarrassed or burdened with shame and so wish to be unseen.

I am not suggesting a flexible doctrine.  I believe that we can be firm believers in the restored gospel with all of its doctrines and at the same time be accommodating in many ways to individuals.  I am not suggesting, for example, that marriage between a man and a woman is not the only acceptable marital status for exalted individuals.  And I am not suggesting that all forms of behavior are acceptable.  Nor am I suggesting that people are not responsible for their own thoughts, perceptions, and choices.  I am suggesting that the beam in my eye—which accompanies the 10,000-talent debt I have—should be enough to make me very accepting of my neighbor, who has but a mote in his eye and owes me merely 100 pence (which I surely owe him also, and probably more).

I am promoting a culture that is welcoming to all without personal judgment, criticism, or condescension.  Some may quote the Joseph Smith Translation and say that we should “judge righteous judgment” and so we should.  But there is no judgment that allows me—with my debt of 10,000 talents and that beam in my eye—to look down upon another human being and to consider anything about that view “righteous.”

None may say, even quietly to themselves, I have no need of another.  None may think that one person is, as Paul said, less “comely” than himself or herself.

We Mormons get indignant at the accusations of our Protestant friends who say we are not Christian.  But we need to ask ourselves sometimes, “What is Christianity?” And: “Where is mine?”  The Savior stood with the outcasts.  We can hardly lay claim to being Christian if we do not stand with them also—with acceptance and without judgment.  Too often we unintentionally form an impenetrable wall of homogeneous culture—not just within the Church in general, but within a ward, or even within a family—and those who do not easily fit into it are left wondering if they have a place to fit into at all or if it would just be easier to stay out.

For those of you who feel frustrated by the intolerance you perceive from members of the Church, please do not whatever mistakes you see by allowing your frustrations to distance you from the goodness and blessings available to you through the Church!  Even if you believe the Church has in the past or does today institutionalize intolerance, be patient and continue to provide an example of tolerance and acceptance.

In addition to these three facts:

1) God administers his Church on the earth through imperfect human beings;

2) our ways are not His ways; and

3) each of us lacks significant perspective and knowledge…

…are these two facts:

1) a perfect Savior does stand at the head of an imperfect church filled with imperfect, struggling people; and

2) the restored Church does include God’s authority to administer ordinances through which we can eternally bind ourselves to our Father in Heaven, to the Savior, and even to each other.

Let me offer a wonderful, true example of the kind of Christian behavior I am suggesting.  This is a true story from one of our own wards in this stake.  It could easily happen in any of our wards.

This story is about a man in our stake who was arrested for a serious financial crime, felt publicly embarrassed, and whose first instinct (as it might have been with me also) was to withdraw from his ward while he was waiting to begin serving a prison sentence.  At the urging of his bishop, however, he and his wife came to Church, quite nervous about what they would encounter there.  Now I want to share with you part of an email he sent me recently.  I quote him:

I have been thinking about emailing you for the last week or so and then on Sunday [Rob F.] emailed me (he is so amazing; he emails me once a week and is kind in listening to my prison rants) and… what he wrote brought such fond memories of what happened to me.  I know that I have shared this with you before… but that first Sunday back walking into those chapel doors was so intimidating.  I can’t describe in the right words just how nervous I was.  I have never been met, though, with more love from a group of people in my life.  I remember that after Sacrament meeting was over, there was a group of people waiting to hug me and offer an encouraging word.  I remember during Gospel Doctrine tears pouring out of my eyes and the sweet sister next to me putting her hand on my shoulder and giving me comfort.  I remember during opening exercises of Priesthood meeting men asking me to sit by them and also putting a hand on my shoulder.  I want to keep giving examples of this (there are so, so many examples of love that ward members gave to me) but my eyes are tearing up typing this and prison isn’t the best place to be seen crying.

The point is that my ward family was such a non-judging shelter from the storm.  After that first Sunday, I counted the hours to church and when it was finally there I didn’t want it to end.  Because of the people there, church was, a lot of the time, the only time that I felt safe from the storm.  That time in my life should have seemed so horrible but it was filled with so many, many blessings.  I love our ward family so very much.  I can speak from experience as to what feeling loved and not judged can do for someone. 

Now listen as he continued and described some of the effect that his loving, nonjudgmental ward was still having on him.  He says:

It is funny.  I used to daydream of big vacations or going to an amazing restaurant or doing something incredible at work.  Now my favorite thing to daydream about is sitting in sacrament meeting with my family surrounding me, and surrounding us is our sweet ward family, and the sacrament is coming my way, and I take it.  That will be such an amazing day.  I look forward to that day with so much longing.

Brothers and Sisters, let us remember these words from the Book of Mormon:

“…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

Let us remember the words of Paul, that we should bestow “more abundant honour to that part which lacked.”

Not all who “come unto Him” will come down the same path to Him in the same way.  Some will choose the road less traveled.  Some will become confused or disillusioned and lose their way for a time.   Some will be mistreated and feel all but chased away.

Everyone deserves our respect of their agency and of their time and space, just as we hope they will extend the same respect to us.  Our invitations to people of all kinds—to find peace in the Savior, to trust Him and His plan, and to take advantage of the ordinances of salvation—should respect their agency and appreciate wherever they are on the path at this moment (or at any past moment).  We can invite with genuine love and interest that is not conditioned upon their acceptance of such invitations or their responses toward us.

In our LDS culture, we love to embrace the Savior’s invitation, or command, to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”   But it is interesting to consider the two verses that immediately precede and lead to his invitation:

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Can we love all?  Can we salute all?  Another translation of the word “salute” is to greet.  So let’s consider who we can and do greet at church besides our friends and the people who think and act just like ourselves.  For example…

  • Can you greet an expectant single young mother?
  • Can you greet someone with purple hair or with visible tattoos or with gauges in his ears?
  • Can you greet an unmarried couple who lives together?
  • Can you greet someone who smells of smoke?
  • Could you greet a former inmate?
  • A Muslim?
  • A member with doubts about the Church—and who expresses them and openly questions?
  • What about someone who just seems odd.
  • A person with an accent or a different skin color?
  • Could you greet a woman you formerly knew as a man?

Brothers and Sisters, let us love all.  Let us greet all with a sincere smile.  Let us welcome all.  If I am the right eye of the body, let me value the left hand and be glad that we can work together and that we are together.  Let us do our best to never say or do anything that might allow a person to feel that they are not welcome—and not only welcome but embraced as fellow members in the body of Christ.

I pray earnestly for our Father in Heaven’s forgiveness for the times I have fallen short in that regard.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Jesus Christ and the Doctrine of the Family

[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, April 2017.]

In her wonderful talk, “Teaching the Doctrine of the Family,” Sister Julie Beck said that the three great “Pillars of Eternity” were put in place in support of eternal families.  She said,

The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be sealed and form an eternal family.

The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Adam and Eve were family leaders who chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for them to have sons and daughters.

The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness, also called the plan of salvation, was a plan created for families.

When we speak of qualifying for the blessings of eternal life, we mean qualifying for the blessings of eternal families.

Families are, of course, wonderful.  But, as we all know, the fact that family relationships exist does not mean that there is nothing but constant goodness and harmony inside those relationships.  Being married in the temple certainly does not, by itself, make for a celestial marriage.  Nor does going to Church together every Sunday guarantee that Dad and Mom will be kind to each other at home, that youth will be honest with their parents, or that brothers and sisters will be loving and supportive of one another.

Yet, regardless of our current family situation—whether in a mostly happy family or a too-frequently unhappy family; whether divorced or not yet married—we must realize that Sister Beck is teaching true doctrine:  each of us living in and contributing toward a successful eternal family is the ultimate goal and has been the purpose of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us from the beginning.  He wants us not only to return to Him, but to return to live as He lives.  That means men becoming great husbands, co-leaders, and fathers.  And it means women becoming great wives, co-leaders, and mothers.

This morning we answered questions submitted by youth.  Among the many excellent questions submitted, this one was one of my favorites:  “How can I prepare to be a good wife and mother?”  It would be good if every young woman asked herself that question frequently—and if every young man frequently asked himself how he can prepare to become a world-class husband and father.

To the youth listening today, I repeat:  your becoming great partners in a marriage and great parents to your children is the destiny God desires for you.  Perhaps in this life, but certainly in eternity, nothing that I know of will bring you greater joy and satisfaction.  For me, I am nowhere near the great husband and father that I need to become, but in addition to keeping myself aligned with God, those are, by far, my most important personal goals.

For those sisters with unfulfilled desires to marry or who have been let down in marriage, I suggest patience, faith, and ongoing preparation—and assure you that you have our support and respect.  Patience is one of those things that sounds really great until you’re the one who has to be great at it, but the alternatives are even harder.  Please do all you can to remain (or become) aspirational in this regard.

Now, how do we create harmony and goodness in our families and within our family relationships?

Let me share with you three instances of personal failure related to that question in the hopes that they will be instructive.  There are many moments in my life I feel ashamed of, but I’ll limit today’s sharing to just three.  All three of these were during my youth.

The first is a very specific moment.  I am the third of five children.  The oldest is my one brother and numbers 2, 4, and 5 are my sisters.  We didn’t fight much in our family.  My brother never fought with anyone, period, ever.  My older sister and I were probably the two feistiest of the children, with me the worst.  One evening when I was probably about 10 years old and my older sister about 13, she and I got into a fight about something.  She being three years older than I and, hence, able to easily beat me up, I knew to keep our fight to words and not to fisticuffs.

I have no idea today what we were fighting about that evening but something made us both angry and things escalated to mean words right on the edge of getting physical.  I don’t recall what she said to me but I remember at one point being so angry and wanting to lash out so badly that I considered what I knew to be the nuclear option.  I knew full well that there was one word I could use that would cut her to her very core and hurt her more than anything.  For a split-second I weighed in my mind whether I should say something so hurtful (I can remember this moment like it was five minutes ago) and to my shame I let my worst demons get the better of me.  And the moment I did, I knew it hurt her just like I expected.

To Lauri’s tremendous credit, I feel today no sense of lingering bitterness over that moment years ago and probably other moments that I don’t remember so well.  She is a tireless wife and mother with a wonderful family and a great soul.  It’s my privilege to be her brother, and I very much wish that I did not hurt her that day like I did.

The second story isn’t really a story.  It’s just more of a general bad memory—in this case, involving my two younger sisters.  When I was about 17, Michelle and Nanette were about 15 and 10.  My older brother and sister had gone off to adulthood and I was the oldest of the three kids left at home.  My life was pretty good.  I wasn’t the most popular at school or the smartest or the best athlete or anything, but I had friends, did well in school, had a good job, had a lot of fun, and generally enjoyed a very positive life.

My younger sisters—both of whom, like my older sister, were and are wonderful people—weren’t having as smooth of a time as I was.  Being 15 is hard under virtually any circumstance.  Being a 15-year-old girl certainly brings challenges I’ve never experienced.  I didn’t really know much about the challenges Michelle was facing because I wasn’t really paying attention to Michelle even though we were fairly close together in age.  I was paying even less attention, probably, to Nanette who was even further removed from me in age.

And this is the problem.  I was completely self-absorbed.  Far too focused on myself to give any thought to how my younger sisters were doing and how an older brother might have helped them.  I couldn’t have removed their challenges for them, but I believe I could have done much more to validate them and to encourage their confidence by showing genuine love and interest in them and by spending some time focused on them.  I didn’t.

Whereas my sin with my older sister was one of commission in calling her something hurtful, my sin with my younger sisters was one of omission—for failing to even show up as the older sibling they probably could have used.

The last of my three stories did not occur in a regular family setting but it is instructive nevertheless.

I was called to a mission in northern Germany.  My two months in the MTC were wonderful.  I made good friends, we worked really, really hard together.  We were anxious to be great missionaries and, after two months in the MTC learning and thinking about how to be a great missionary,… I had all the answers.

When I met my trainer in Germany, it took me no time at all to be disappointed.  This is not to my credit.

Elder Barton knew how to do two things really well.  In retrospect, he knew how to do two things exceptionally well.  He worked hard and he was obedient.  At the time, I figured those things were pretty good, but I thought that working “smarter” was a whole lot better than working “harder.”  Elder Barton and I left our apartment every morning at 9:30.  I don’t recall it ever being 9:31.  We came home every evening at 9:30.  I don’t recall it ever being 9:29.  For 11 of the 12 hours in between every day, we knocked on doors—and sometimes we ran between doors.

I thought I was so much smart.  I felt bad that I was not assigned to someone who would focus on members both active and less active—and use his teaching skills and people skills to extract golden investigators from them.  I knew everything there was to know about missionary work and I regretted my misfortune.  What an immature fool l was!  Fortunately, it only took me about a month to figure that out and grow up.

If I could assign a mission companion today to any of my children or to any youth from our stake, I would pick someone just like Elder Barton.  We did the two things that mattered most.  We worked really hard.  And we were meticulously obedient.  And the Lord blessed us.  How embarrassed I feel today to think that I thought myself smarter or better than Elder Barton.  And how grateful I am that he and the Lord taught me to grow up a little.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I love and respect Elder Barton today and how grateful I am for him.

In those three sad stories are three lessons for happiness in family life.

From my story with Lauri, it’s easy to see how a lack of self-control can damage a family relationship.

From my story with Michelle and Nanette, it’s easy to see that to be a good sibling (or spouse or parent or child), you have to show up and care and quit focusing your whole self on yourself.

From my story with Elder Barton, it’s easy to see how pride and a lack of humility can keep a person from learning and growing and from seeing clearly.  Humility and gratitude are so much better!

The Church’s “Proclamation to the World” describes with fundamental clarity the path to happiness in our family lives—and, I believe, in our personal lives.  It says:

Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of:

  • faith,
  • prayer,
  • repentance,
  • forgiveness,
  • respect,
  • love,
  • compassion,
  • work, and
  • wholesome recreational activities.

In his 2007 talk titled “Divorce,” Elder Dallin Oaks said to members who are contemplating divorce, “I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation.”

Implicit in his references to repentance and reformation is the idea that I need to focus on my repentance and reformation, not my spouse’s need for repentance and reformation.

It stands to reason that unhappiness in family life is most likely the result of departures from the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ—and that at least part of the answer lies in successfully exercising the control that I can exercise over my own contributions to:

  • Faith
  • Prayer
  • Repentance
  • Forgiveness
  • Respect
  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Work, and
  • Wholesome recreational activities.

I should not have to say but will also mention…  Our doctrine is that men and women are equals.  A man’s priesthood office gives him the responsibility to serve his wife, not the right to exercise authority over her in any regard.

On this Easter Sunday, let us see clearly the connection between the Doctrine of the Family and the Savior.  He atoned for our sins that we might gain the joy that comes to celestial marriages and celestial families.  Our achieving that goal rests upon our placing Him and His gospel at the center of our lives.  Actually achieving celestial marriages and celestial families depends on each of us acquiring His attributes and in treating each other the way He would and does.   Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Testimony of Jesus

[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, April 2017.]

Good morning, Brethren.  It is Easter Sunday. I would just like to share a few words with you about the Savior before we break into groups.

A week ago yesterday I had the privilege of touring the Vatican.  We were in a small group of about twelve, mostly Americans, being led through by our Catholic Italian guide, Laura, who was knowledgeable and passionate.  It felt like there were a half-million people there as we squeezed through dense crowds to see, among other things,  the Sistine Chapel, the works of Raphael, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and four sainted Popes whose caskets lie inside and not just underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was both a fascinating and, at moments, a claustrophobic tour.  For me, there were two particularly moving moments.

The second of the two came after we’d been through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and were inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  As you know, old European Cathedrals are basically laid out in the shape of a cross with the highest point in the ceiling typically formed by a large dome at the intersection of the cross.  In St. Peter’s, this point is tall enough to accommodate the Statue of Liberty underneath it.

As we approached this point at the end of our 3.5-hour tour and I was walking alongside Laura, she said, “And now we enter the very heart of Christianity.”  I was immediately and deeply struck by the incorrectness of her words.

The heart of Christianity is not a physical location.  Yes, there are sacred places.  But I have been to the Garden Tomb and to Bethlehem and the Sacred Grove—and the heart of Christianity is not there, either.

The heart of Christianity lies within my heart and your heart.  For me, it is in that portion of my heart and soul that loves God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent.  I strive for that portion to be more than a portion—to be my entire heart and my entire soul—and to love them with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.

The heart of Christianity lies also in His heart and in the love that He has for you and for me.  His love is perfect.  It is perfectly kind, generous, patient, good, forgiving, just, and merciful.  His love withstood unfathomable pain and suffering that you and I might receive forgiveness and sanctification.

The heart of Christianity will be found wherever I am—and for you, wherever you are—provided that we remember the Savior and are striving to be one with Him.  He said:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

My other moment came earlier in the tour when Laura was explaining the Pope’s Coat of Arms and showed a painting of Peter receiving two keys from the Savior—one gold and one silver.  I was, in that moment, filled with gratitude for the reality of priesthood keys and for their restoration to the earth today.  Those keys are found in the restored Church.  Many in this room right now hold priesthood keys or have in the past.  President Smith here holds keys for ordinances in the Mount Timpanogos temple through which eternal families may be formed.  President Killpack, represented here today by President Lindley, holds keys to bless the lives of non-members in our stake.

Just a week prior to our visit to the Vatican, fifteen men stood in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and spoke to us one by one.  Each of them holds all of the keys once held by Peter and others.  Those keys are with us and they are exercised on our behalf.

As priesthood leaders in the Highland Utah South Stake, all that we do should be for the purpose of helping individuals and families come to the Savior.  All that we do should be done under the direction of legally authorized representatives of God who hold his authority and the right to exercise it.

On this Easter morning, I wish to testify of the Savior and express my gratitude for Him and for His restored Church.  My testimony involves faith and agency.  It has not yet been replaced by what Alma calls a perfect knowledge.  But that does not mean it isn’t very well grounded and doesn’t rest on a strong, solid foundation.

I have felt the Spirit many times in my life.  Occasionally in very large ways.  Frequently in smaller ways.  I have experienced a joyful connection with the Savior through repentance and forgiveness.  I have tried (not completely successfully, but I have tried and do try) to live the gospel.  I have many weaknesses.  I know that bad things happen to good people.  I also know that in all circumstances, there is a sweet and reassuring peace that accompanies me when I strive to live the gospel—and an emptiness and darkness when I don’t.

I often think of myself like the man in the ninth chapter of John, who was blind from his birth and who, after having been granted the gift of sight from the Savior—and then grilled repeatedly by the Savior’s opponents as to how he came to see—said, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”

Like all of you, I hope, I am growing and maturing in my faith and testimony and in my familiarity with the Spirit.  Day to day personal growth seems quite imperceptible, but over time it can be significant in each of us.  Like the blind man, I don’t know everything, but increasingly I know that I am seeing more and that I am seeing more clearly because of the Savior.

Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.  He is, very personally to me, my Savior.  He is, I hope personally to you, your Savior.  He rose on the third day.  The empty tomb said everything we claim it said.  He stands at the head of this Church and it is His authority we bear.  None of us here bears all of His authority, but we bear the portion that has been delegated to us.  If we bear it well, we will bless many lives, including our own.

May you and I come ever closer to knowing Him, to feeling his love, and to developing His attributes.  May we find healing in Him and may we help our family and others for whom we have stewardship find that healing—and ultimately that peace that passeth all understanding.

I testify that Jesus Christ is the Living Christ—and the son of the living God—in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.