Everything I’m about to say begins with the premise that the Church is true—a phrase I actually don’t like very much. Let me tell you what I think it means for the Church to be “true”—beginning with what it doesn’t mean. For many years, we have done ourselves and our children a disservice by standing at the pulpit and too casually declaring the Church to be true without defining what that means—and by teaching our children to do the same in their testimonies and praising them when they do. The too-little defined notion that “the Church is true” allows people to read all kinds of things into it which they ought not—such as that prophets never make mistakes, or that prophets receive meticulously specific instructions from heaven, or that every policy or program introduced in the Church somehow constitutes doctrine, or that bishops and other local leaders will never offend you because of human error on their part. Those things happen, even in the true Church. In reality, we believe neither in the infallibility of prophets nor in the inerrancy of scripture, including the Book of Mormon—though we do rightfully sustain prophets as seers and revelators (and know that they will not lead us astray in any significant way)—and the Book of Mormon is true.
What does fully equate to “truth” with the Church are its most important teaching and its most important claim—both of which (am a witness) are true—and both of which should allow us to endure imperfections in the Church’s history, leaders, culture, and members, i.e. each other. The most important teaching of the Church is that salvation is through, and only through, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only way to complete reconciliation with our Heavenly Parents. He is the way to eternal family relationships. He is the only way to personal realization of all that we can ultimately become that is good. The most important claim of the Church is that Joseph Smith, his imperfect humanity notwithstanding, did receive an authority from heaven which is necessary for joining us to Jesus and realizing all the blessings available to us through Jesus. Possession of and stewardship for that essential authority resides today with fifteen living prophets who lead the Church.
Jesus is, in fact, our Savior. And the Church does, indeed, have the authority to bind us to Him, conditioned upon our devotion to Him.
I would like to speak today about the covenants that bind us to Jesus—and about one in particular—and about some of our flaws as members of the true Church—and about becoming a Zion people.
Becoming a Zion people is not an outdated notion from the 19th Century that the Church abandoned when it gave up on the United Order. It should be a major goal for you and me today. Major enough that we are frequently conscious of striving toward it. If we are not one, we are not His. And, quite often, we are not one.
Let me start with three questions about covenants. Every two years, endowed members of the Church should receive two very similar interviews as they seek to renew their temple recommends.
Question 1: What goes through the typical Church member’s mind when he or she hears this question in the temple recommend interview: “Do you follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ in your private and public behavior with members of your family and others?” What should go through our minds? And to what “others” should we think that question is referring?
Question 2: In those same temple recommend interviews, how consciously do we respond to the question: “Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple?” What covenants? To what did you agree when you were endowed? Specifically. To what did you agree when you were sealed? Specifically.
Question 3: Of the five covenants we make in the Endowment (obedience, sacrifice, the Gospel, chastity, and consecration), which one’s violation most commonly leads to broken marriages?
In my estimation, the law of Chastity receives extraordinarily disproportionate attention in the minds of Church members. The idea that it receives much attention is not, by itself, a problem at all. Chastity is very important and the consequences of breaking the law of chastity are significant and go beyond issues of broken marriages and unintended pregnancies. There’s more to it than that, including personal psychological damage to ourselves and others that is neither well understood nor taught. The real problem is that the other four covenants of the Endowment—and the covenants and commitments of marriage sealings—are too little emphasized because they are too seldom spoken of (including at home to our children), they are too little understood, and they are too seldom the subject of personal introspection.
Recently, this pair of questions was brought to me: Should a young man who indulges in pornography on Saturday prepare, bless, or pass the Sacrament on Sunday? And, whether he should or shouldn’t, what about the young man who treats his mother with unkindness or disrespect on Sunday morning? Should he administer the sacrament? Of course, none of us wants to be acting as the sacrament police. But those two questions should elevate in our minds the importance of being a disciple of Jesus Christ in significant ways in addition to chastity. (As an aside, those who struggle the most with the chastity might do well to focus on the other four covenants of the Endowment and find the strength that comes through them.)
I have told the story ad nauseum of my first experience in the temple and my silent anger at the outset when I realized that nobody had prepared me—at all—for the significance of the covenants I would make. Nobody had told me what the covenants are called, let alone anything about their meaning or scope. Interestingly, and foolishly on my part, I repeated that experience when I went to the temple to be married. You could have asked me five minutes after my marriage what I had just agreed to and I would have said, “Beats me, but I’m married now.”
When I was endowed, I did what, by my observation, many people still do, although I hope none within our stake. I raised my hand and agreed to each covenant as it was presented to me with very little understanding. Of the five laws of the covenants, the law of chastity seemed clear enough to me and probably is to most people. The law of obedience should be clear to us, but sometimes seems not to be. Things get murkier with understanding the law of sacrifice. And then there’s the law of consecration and the question of whether it means anything at all today when we’re only asked to give 10% tithing, the United Order and polygamy have both been terminated, and nobody has asked us to pick up and move to Missouri. What should living the law of consecration actually mean in our lives today?
But the murkiest of all—the one that baffled me the most when I first heard it (which should have been long before I got to the temple—from both my parents and church leaders)—and the one that baffled me the most long after I heard it—is the Law of the Gospel? What is the Law of the Gospel?
In my view, it is the very one, which, either by semi-casual neglect or by outright violation, most often leads to divorce in our homes and to disunity (or “dis-Zion”) in our community.
Let’s start with the simplest and clearest answer to the question of what the Law of the Gospel even is.
In the temple, and in the publicly online Church Handbook, we are taught that “the Law of the Gospel” refers to “the higher law [Jesus] taught when He was on the earth.” Well, where’s the most obvious place to find that? Surely, it begins with the five instances in the last half of Matthew Chapter 5 where Jesus explicitly contrasts the lower law with His higher law. Let’s review those five briefly.
First, he says the low law was to not kill. The higher law is not only to resolve and eliminate anger, but to actively seek reconciliation—not just with those we’re upset with, but with those who are upset with us. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Of course, there is an altar here in the chapel. It represents the primary reason we’re here. Before I take the sacrament—and, young men, probably before I administer the sacrament in any way—I need to seek reconciliation with my spouse or children or neighbors or whoever.
Second, he says the low law was to not commit adultery. The higher law is a) to see people correctly—to see their humanity—to see their strengths and struggles—to see them with respect and empathy—and not as objects of sexuality; and, b) it is to keep ourselves on a higher plane, immersed in a higher set of influences in our lives. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out” and “if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” Instead of spending our time among things that offend the Spirit (and ought to offend us), we should be with those things that are “virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy.”
Third, he says the low law was to not “forswear” ourselves. What does it mean to forswear ourselves? It means to break our promises. It means saying I’ll do something that is good and then not doing it. Or saying that I’ll not do something that is bad and then doing it after all. The higher law is to be simple, honest, and transparent—to be without guile. It is to not parse or twist language (whether our own or someone else’s) or get lost in debating what the definition of “is” is, for example. It is to be an open book—naked before the Lord—innocent and ingenuous toward each other.
Fourth, he says the low law was to get even with those who wrong us—to extract an eye, a tooth, or some other pound of flesh from him or her who has hurt us. The higher law is to return right for wrong, kindness for unkindness, compassion for offense. The higher law is to outgrow the childish defense of “Well, he hit me first.” The higher law says that I will act rather than be acted upon. My behavior will not be dictated by your behavior. I will be Christlike toward you no matter how you treat me. Christlike generosity will guide me. (Note that this does not mean we can’t and shouldn’t have healthy boundaries when needed. Sometimes they are.)
Lastly, he says the low law was to love our neighbor and hate our enemies—or, perhaps, to love our friends and not love (or worse) those who are different or who are outside our circles of friendship. The higher law is to love all, including the stranger and those whose ways are unfamiliar to us, even to the point of actively seeking good outcomes for those who might seek bad outcomes for us. To love all as Christ loves all. This is a high law and a high bar, indeed.
One who commits to live the Law of the Gospel makes a large commitment. He or she who actively and consciously strives toward living it becomes a happier person and a much greater blessing to those around him or her, especially to those we live with.
In the temple, we are given a caution, even a strong warning, before we enter into the five covenants, including the covenant to live the higher laws contained in the Law of the Gospel. That caution is that God, as the scriptures say, will not be mocked.
How might I mock God? I mock God when I make covenants with Him that are really not important to me. I do not mock God when my sincere efforts prove imperfect. But I mock God when my efforts are half-hearted or unconscious or when I spend my time going through mental gymnastics to justify certain behaviors by the principles of the lower laws. I mock God when I believe that I am keeping my marriage covenants merely because I have not touched someone else sexually—when there is so much more to the marriage covenant than that! I mock God when I don’t strive to live all five of my Endowment covenants in my marriage and toward my spouse.
Meanwhile, the task of creating Zion is not a currently irrelevant task. Nor is it someone else’s job. It is ours. Today.
For 19th century Church members, this did not go well. The Doctrine and Covenants says they were “chastened and tried, even as Abraham.” Why? Because there were “jarrings, and contentions, and envying, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them.” It’s impressive today that they could create so much disharmony back then without the help of social media, which I imagine Satan really loves today for its creations of jarrings, contentions, envy, strife, lustful desires, and covetous desires.
Sometimes, though, we don’t even need social media. While we may fool ourselves thinking we honor our temple covenants merely by not physically committing adultery, we find ways to generate anger or engender hostility toward our neighbor just because of differences of opinions or different perspectives or merely different demographics.
We ought to return frequently to the Law of the Gospel that we’ve agreed to keep and we ought not mock God by failing to return to it frequently. Here are some simple, practical examples of times we ought to especially step up to the Law of the Gospel…
- When I am on the brink of being unkind—in any way—toward my spouse.
- When my spouse has been unkind to me.
- When I see a kid at school that I have no real connection with.
- When I see a kid at school that my friends or others do or would make fun of behind their back.
- When my little brother or little sister wants to hang out with me.
- When my neighbor displays a political sign in his yard while I display an opposing political sign in mine.
- When my neighbor displays a political sign in his yard and I display none.
- When my neighbor wears a mask to church.
- When my neighbor doesn’t wear a mask to church.
- When my neighbor has a different opinion than I do about Highland City trails—and perhaps when my neighbor has been less than Christlike in his or her expression of his or her opinion.
- When my neighbor appears to be less righteous than me.
- When my neighbor appears to be more righteous than me—or when my neighbor appears to want to appear to be more righteous than me.
- When my neighbor’s Church status—whether fully active LDS, culturally LDS, proudly inactive LDS, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, or anything else—is different than my own.
The Law of the Gospel is about how we see and treat others—especially when our relationship is not naturally one of unity. It is about first being one with the Savior in those instances, and then using my agency to choose His type of response to my spouse, my brother or sister, or my neighbor—and by not allowing the “natural man” instincts within me to govern my behavior. The Law of the Gospel is not a Sunday-only behavior that gets suspended when the topic becomes political or cultural.
When the Savior explained the chastening of the early Saints, He said they were “not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.”
What might the eternal implications be for you or for me of our being unwilling to live Celestial laws toward each other right now?
Brothers and Sisters, whether you are male or female; married or single; white, black, or otherwise; gay, straight, or otherwise; democrat, republican, or otherwise; vaxxer or anti-vaxxer… Let us in each instance pursue Zion for ourselves and for our neighbors. Let us use our agency to choose the attitudes and behaviors that Jesus would choose. Let us drop our gifts at the altar when we must and seek reconciliation with those we have offended. Let us return kindness for unkindness. Let us love all.
And let us earnestly strive to understand, ponder, and live our covenants—even to the point of building up Zion and loving those very neighbors we haven’t yet learned to love or even to like.
Why should we pursue our covenants so eagerly? Because doing so is the path to personal contentment and goodness, and it is the path to the Celestial Kingdom where Celestial Laws are lived and we are among the beneficiaries.
The Church is true. It is true because it correctly teaches salvation through Jesus and because it actually has the power to bind us to Him, the humanity of priesthood key holders notwithstanding. It is, however, not merely in the entering into covenants through ordinances that binds us to Jesus. It is in our sincere efforts to live our covenants—and not just the Law of Chastity.
If you’re not sure if “the Church is true,” do three things: study the precepts taught in the Book of Mormon, actively strive to live them, and seek to live the covenants extended to us in the temple. When you do those three things, the Holy Ghost will tell you in His way in His time (probably without fanfare, but in a way that you’ll understand), that the Church is true. Once you’ve received that spiritual message, its impact on you will fade as you continue the experience of living in a fallen world full of all manner of temptations and explanations—unless you continue living in those ways that invite the Holy Ghost into your life.
May we learn to understand and keep our covenants, and may we create a Zion community.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
As the primary song says…
Adam was a prophet, first one that we know.
In a place called Eden, he helped things to grow.
Adam served the Lord by following his ways.
We are his descendants in the latter days.
Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.
People in his city did just what they should.
When they were so righteous that there was no sin,
Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.
Noah was a prophet called to preach the word,
Tried to cry repentance, but nobody heard.
They were busy sinning—Noah preached in vain.
They wished they had listened when they saw the rain.
And so it continues…
Abraham the prophet prayed to have a son,…
Moses was a prophet sent to Israel….
Samuel was a prophet chosen as a boy….
Jonah was a prophet, tried to run away,…
Daniel was a prophet. He refused to sin;…
Sometimes in our adult Church meetings today we sing, “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” We might challenge ourselves with the question of whether we sufficiently do thank God for a prophet by allowing him “to guide us in these latter days.”
The very last verse of that primary song says…
Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.
In the 32 years since that song was copywritten, one might argue that the world is even more confused and, hence, that the direction of the living prophet is even more critical.
The scriptures exist, of course, to point us to the Savior—and to help us find and stay on that covenant path that prepares us for life with our Father in Heaven. The scriptures also provide example after example of God’s prophets trying to help people get down that path—and example after example of what happens when people follow the living prophet—and what happens when they don’t.
In our day, people come up with many rationalizations for dismissing or minimizing the words of the prophet. Here are five examples—all of which I have heard from numerous sources:
- First, some maintain that he is a very nice and smart man, but he isn’t actually a prophet of God in any legitimately authorized sense.
- Second, some maintain that he is a prophet, but unless he uses the words “I command you,” his direction is optional and non-binding.
- Third, some maintain that their moral agency is so sovereign that nobody may tell them what to do, including a living prophet.
- Fourth, some similarly maintain that unless they receive a personal spiritual confirmation of what the prophet says, they are not obligated to respond.
- Lastly, some maintain that the prophet’s words don’t mean what they appear to mean on the surface to most people.
All of these are wrong. Here are my own responses to those five arguments…
- First, Russell M. Nelson is a prophet. And, he is a seer, and a revelator. He has the right to exercise all priesthood keys on the earth today. All can know that for themselves through personal revelation. Among the ways you can strengthen your own testimony of the living prophet, you can watch what happens in your life when you follow his counsel.
- Second, no prophet in my memory has ever used words like “I command you.” But such words are not required. “It is not meet that I should command in all things,” the Lord has said. And: “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
- Third, the prophet’s instructions, invitations, or encouragement never limit or negate our moral agency or ability to choose. Nor do living prophets ask us to leave our brains at the door. But we will be held accountable for whether we use our moral agency to choose to follow the prophet who was put here to lead us.
- Fourth, while it is true that we are entitled to receive, and even obligated to pursue, personal revelation, including on the question of the authority of the Church and its president, it strains too much our sustaining him as a prophet, seer, and revelator to put each statement he makes to a test of our personal confirmation. Surely one of the major reasons the living prophet emphasizes personal revelation, is because he, is not going to provide all the individual spiritual instruction each of us needs for our unique circumstances. When, though, he speaks to the world (or to a significant portion of the world) in his capacity as prophet, our understanding that he is God’s prophet is generally enough.
- Lastly, there is no doubt that when the prophet speaks to us, he speaks plainly in ways that members worldwide—from various backgrounds, cultures, and education levels—can readily understand, including through scores of translations.
Of course, the last verse of that primary song is prophetic. “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.”
From where in 2021 do people get their news? How do we inform ourselves? What voices do we hear? How do we decide which voices to trust and which ideas to believe?
Virtually all so-called news sources today are politically and religiously polarized—as has long been the case. Social media is a platform on which anybody can say anything and nearly everybody does. It’s a cacophony of mostly rubbish, although it can be used productively. Our phones, computers, tablets, radios, and televisions are filled with allegedly “unbiased” news sources, professed experts, partisan politicians, scientists (who may or may not be politically or religiously neutral), bloggers, alarmists, greedy opportunists, aptly named “influencers,” peddlers of conspiracy theories, and even the guy next door—although in my case, that’s Karl Bunnell and I am happy to recommend him to you!
Where a living prophet fits into all this should be obvious and comforting because, in fact, he doesn’t “fit in.” He rises above the noise if we will listen. Our testimony of restored priesthood authority should cause us to look to his counsel just as we would hope the Children of Israel would have looked to and trusted Moses—or the people in Noah’s time would have responded to his warnings.
When we’re born into and raised in the Church, I think we can be at risk of certain familiar things being so familiar to us that they are like wallpaper and we miss the critical experience of inquisitiveness and developing a thoughtful understanding.
For example, ask 100 random members of the Church, how many people on the earth today we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators and listen to how many answer correctly. We often have the opportunity to sustain the president of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator and sometimes, almost automatically, we say yes or raise our arm, but to what extent do we consider and trust in President Nelson as a seer—one who sees things differently than we do, who sees more than we do, who has a better perspective than we do—even a perspective which may contradict our own initial instincts?
And to what extent do we acknowledge and respond to his role as a revelator? If he responds to circumstances that are new to us—or responds to things in a way that is new to us—does that lead us to doubt his guidance? Or does it lead us to consider his role as one who reveals?
Also, when we answer “yes” in our temple recommend interviews, how thoughtful are we about the president of the Church being authorized to exercise all priesthood keys on the earth today? Or about the idea of there being 15 living prophets, seers, and revelators who each hold all the keys and who work together in unanimity?
It is important for all our well-being that we see President Nelson as more than a nice man and accomplished doctor who ended up leading a large religious organization. Personal revelation is of critical importance, but Russell M. Nelson is the authorized mouthpiece for God to the world today. Responding to him takes faith and humility.
What has he asked us to do? What are we talking about?
- He has asked us to allow God to prevail in our lives.
- He has asked us to honor the Sabbath.
- He has asked us to help gather Israel.
- He has asked us to adjust our approach to social media.
- He has asked us to pray and to repent.
- He has asked us to be on the covenant path.
- He has asked us to regularly set appointments with the Lord in the temple.
- He has asked us to seek to understand temple covenants and ordinances.
- He has asked us to seek personal revelation and learn how to ‘Hear Him.’
- He has asked us to change our homes into places of faith and learning.
- He has given us guidance in how we should respond to the pandemic.
- He once asked us to “identify the debris [we] should remove from [our] lives.”
- He has asked us to “abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice”—and to eliminate contention.
- He has asked us to find the Savior in the Book of Mormon.
- He has asked us to refer to the Church by its proper and scriptural name.
- He has asked us to strengthen our spiritual foundation, built upon the Savior.
- He has asked us to make time for the Lord in our lives—every day.
Let me mention one last concept related to prophets before I close.
It is in vogue to point out that prophets are humans and subject to human errors. The fact that they are humans is inarguable and the fact that they are imperfect is documented in scripture. In some ways, it is very important and helpful to accept and appreciate their humanity. But here’s the risk:
If we are not careful, we can allow our emphasis of their humanity to life ourselves into a role of judgment over them which minimizes or even extinguishes (to us) their divine callings as prophets, seers, and revelators. If we are not careful, we will decide—when their teachings or instructions collide with our ideas—that our perspective is better than theirs; that we see things more clearly than they do (or did); or that we can generously dismiss their “foolish error” as part of their well-intentioned humanity, but elevate ourselves as the great arbiters of all things prophetic or mistaken (and we do sometimes like to pat ourselves on our backs for our condescending generosity) .
This is a path that leads to apostasy. More specifically, it leads us to distance ourselves from the very priesthood keys which are in place to help us along the covenant path. This can be spiritually fatal.
Brothers and sisters, let us not “be slothful because of the easiness of the way.” Prophets are humans. They are the very humans God has authorized to lead and guide us. Blessings of safety, peace, happiness, contentedness, worthiness, and prosperity, both in this life and the hereafter, are ours if we will follow them. I join you in thanking God for a prophet—to guide us in these latter days—our latter days, if you will. And I join the children singing:
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Stake Conference, October 2019]
The Book of Mormon uses the adjective “infinite” eleven times. Many Book of Mormon prophets spoke of the Savior’s “infinite goodness,” as well as of his “infinite mercy” and “infinite grace.” Nephi and Alma each made multiple references to the “infinite atonement” that would be brought about by the Savior—and also to His “infinite sacrifice.”
I am concerned that we sometimes place limitations on the Savior’s “infinite atonement,” which do not, in reality, exist. If and when we do that, we deprive ourselves of peace and of the joy Elder Christofferson spoke of in General Conference last weekend.
There are two general limitations we sometimes create that I would like to speak to. The first involves the Savior’s ability to help us heal and become whole from our own sins, challenges, and failures. The second involves the Savior’s ability to forgive and heal those who have hurt us.
I would like to bear my testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of joy.
It is true that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So much so, that, in the absence of miraculous help, there is literally no hope of us returning to Him and experiencing all the goodness that is associated with being with Him. On our own, we are hopelessly lost.
But. We are not on our own. Miraculous help has occurred. Jesus, motivated by complete devotion to His Father—and also by a great love for us, condescended to come to earth, where he gave himself as that “infinite sacrifice” and thereby brought about the “infinite atonement.” Of course, many of the resulting blessings of his sacrifice will be fully realized in our futures. But many of them can be enjoyed now. When we falsely limit the reach of his power and the effects of His atonement, we forgo joy that should be ours now.
Elder Christofferson reminded us of Enos’s father’s reference to “the joy of the saints.” That joy should is fully within your power to experience as you exercise faith and practice repentance. Perfection is not required. Trusting God and striving to align ourselves with Him is. Those are both well within your and my abilities.
Now, first. The effects of the Savior’s infinite atonement are not limited in their ability to make you whole (except by your choices). Twice in just the last two weeks, I have visited with a distraught member who was so sure that he had become spiritually hopeless that suicide seemed like an alternative worth considering. Both believed that they had moved too far away for the Savior to reach them.
Both were wrong.
A favorite scripture of mine asks this question, “What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” And then the answer, “Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him,” and, interestingly, “neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”
The most wonderful gift imaginable has been bestowed upon you and me on conditions of our acceptance through faith and repentance. It is the gift of the Savior’s miracle. When we receive the gift, we rejoice and experience joy. So does God. When we reject the gift, either through limiting our faith and trust in the Savior or by holding onto our sins, we do not rejoice. And neither does God.
Let me tell you of another experience I have had with individuals on multiple occasions. It is sacred and personal to me. It is related to the three stories we find in Luke 15.
There we read about the lost sheep. That story ends with the Savior saying, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.”
We also read about the lost coin. Similarly, the Savior concludes: “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
Lastly, we read about the prodigal son and the reception he received, including hugs; expressions of love; and a celebration with music, dancing, and merry making.
What I have experienced with people who are sublimely humble and broken-hearted is the joy in heaven over the repentant soul—and the welcoming of him or her into heaven’s arms. I do not know how to articulate how I have experienced this, but it has been as though I could hear it. As if I could hear that “joy in the presence of the angels of God.” And I have felt it in a penetrating way. I know that heaven rejoices over each of us as we turn ourselves toward the Master.
How do you receive the gift and experience joy? You drop the idea that the effects of the Atonement cannot apply to you, no matter how little you may think of yourself or what unpleasant comparison you may make of yourself to others—no matter what situation you are dealing with that you think cannot be overcome. You receive the truth that the power of the Savior extends to you—to your whole you—now and always, as long as we are broken-hearted and striving to follow the Savior and correct our course when we err.
You are not, nor can you make yourself, beyond the Savior’s power.
Second. The effects of the Atonement are not limited in their ability to make others whole who have wronged you, nor in their ability to ultimately make you whole from the wrong you have received from them.
Let me tell you a true story about two families I first became aware of four or five years ago. This may be a difficult story to hear and to appreciate. In both families, there was a father, a mother, and children. In both families, the father tragically committed a heinous crime and was sent to prison. The crimes of these two men were nearly identical and they went into the system at the same time, having received similar sentences from the State of Utah.
Five years ago, I got to know one of these men. I will call him Ken. I became acquainted with the other, whom I will call David, when I happened to attend both of their parole hearings in prison about four years ago. Both were denied parole at that time and given another four years before they could have another hearing with the Parole Board, which they did a few months ago.
I have been impressed by the efforts made by these two men to repent of their sins and become new creatures. I am impressed by their reliance on God and the faith that drives their repentance and their striving for forgiveness. I love them. Particularly Ken, whom I know reasonably well.
One of the lessons in these two men’s stories comes from their respective families’ responses to them over these last ten years or so.
Ken’s children immediately began writing to him in prison about how they missed him and expressed love and support for him. His ex-wife, however, expressed no such support and, as the years went by, the support of the kids faded and ultimately disappeared. Efforts to communicate with the kids from prison went unresponded to. In Ken’s first parole hearing, his family spoke against him. Four years later, they spoke against him again—this time with great bitterness and vitriol—and he was given three more years.
In this family, it does not appear that any healing has occurred within family relationships. On the contrary, there is clearly much pain and what seems to be open and festering emotional and spiritual wounds throughout the family. Dad is left emotionally isolated in prison while children, now adults, no longer know the man they once loved. Nor do they understand or appreciate the changes that have occurred within him. Dad’s only form of comfort, if you could call it that, comes from understanding that it was his own actions that started this tragedy and there is nobody to blame but himself for putting into motion all the pain and negativity that have followed.
David’s family is an interesting contrast.
Shortly after David’s second hearing, just a few months ago, in which he was granted a release that has since occurred, I happened to chat with his wife for a few minutes. That was just a short while before he was to be released and she told me both how excited she was to have him get out of prison and also how nervous she was about the transition and difficult road yet ahead while he remained on parole. I did not sense any bitterness although there is no doubt she has been through terrible pain as a result of his actions. There was both happy and nervous anticipation.
The next day after my chat with David’s wife, I was visiting with Ken in prison. David was also in the room being visited by his 20-year-old daughter. As all the visitors exited the prison together, I struck up a conversation with that daughter. I had noticed her and her father, David, talking while they held hands and seemed genuinely happy to be together. I asked her how she felt about her dad getting out soon and she said she was looking forward to it. I asked her if she had always felt so positively toward her father. She said, emphatically, no. I asked her what changed. She said she began visiting him and discovering the changes he was making and that those changes softened her heart toward him.
I left the prison that day feeling heavy for Ken’s loneliness—and simultaneously delighted and privileged to have witnessed some of the healing that had happened in David’s family.
Three times, brothers and sisters, Jesus of Nazareth raised people from the dead during his ministry in Jerusalem.
In one instance, Jesus encountered a funeral procession. The only son of a widow was being buried, and when Jesus saw the mother, he was moved with compassion. He said to her, “Weep not” and then returned the young man to life and to his mother.
On another occasion, the Jewish leader Jairus told Jesus that his 12-year-old daughter was home dying. Before Jesus arrived, he was told that it was too late; she was dead. To which Jesus responded, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Then, while the scriptures say people “laughed [Jesus] to scorn,” he called the girl to arise and she arose and was reunited with her family.
On the third occasion, Jesus intentionally waited for days after Lazarus’s death before going to him. When he arrived, Lazarus’s sister Martha met him, distraught that Jesus had not come sooner. Jesus explained to her, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” And, as you know the story, Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead and reunited him with his sisters Mary and Martha.
Why did Jesus return the dead to mortality—and to their families? Obviously, it was not required for their eternal salvation. He did it, I feel quite certain, to show all of us that he has the power not only of the resurrection, but the power to forgive, even when things may seem to us completely hopeless. Before Jesus raised the man sick of the palsy to his feet, he sensed the doubt in others that he had the power to heal both spiritually and physically. He preceded that healing with the words, “They ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”
Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, has the power to forgive your sins, the power to forgive those who sin against us, the power to fully heal. Each and all of us can only limit the application of that power (to ourselves) by refusing to accept the gift. We find joy and peace in our lives when we accept the gift, both for ourselves and for others who have hurt us or our loved ones. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” Forgiving others does not mean that we don’t permit appropriate boundaries or consequences, but it does mean accepting the gift of the atonement both on our behalf and on behalf of others. So doing bring peace to our souls.
Perhaps the ultimate blessing from accepting the Savior’s gift as truly infinite is that, through it, we are reunited to our families—both our heavenly, eternal family, and our earthly, hopefully likewise eternal, family.
Jesus Christ is infinite in his goodness, in his mercy and grace, and in all his perfection. He lives. The effects of his atonement are infinite if we receive them. I pray that each of us will. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Stake Priesthood Meeting, June 2019]
Brethren, I want to talk to you this afternoon about something that is very important. In recent years and months it has been especially weighing on me. Addressing it with you is a component of repentance that I need to go through as a stake president. It’s also part of the repentance we need to go through as a stake. And, to varying degrees, it may be part of a very important repentance process that you (and perhaps your families) need to go through.
The topic is our responsibility for helping the poor. While it is true that the line between spiritual and temporal matters is very blurry—if it even exists at all—and, to God, apparently it doesn’t—I am not speaking today about our responsibility to care for those who are poor in spirit or who are spiritually lost. Those needs, of course, surround us on all fronts and our responsibilities there are sobering. But that is not today’s topic. Today’s topic is our responsibility for helping the materially poor. Those needs are also staggering. Fortunately or unfortunately, they do not confront us as directly in our immediate community as they do others in other parts of the world.
The Lord’s teachings on this topic are very clear. They are also ubiquitous throughout all canonized scripture both ancient and modern.
At the end of the Savior’s life, he taught the parable of the sheep and the goats. The message of this parable is vivid and should grab our attention. Those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the refugee, clothe the impoverished, and minister to the sick and imprisoned… these will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who don’t… will not.
I am sometimes concerned about our responses to the story of the Savior’s encounter with the rich young ruler. You all know the story. The Savior said to him, “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”
While I acknowledge that we are not asked to make vows of poverty in our church—or to literally sell everything we have—nor do we have examples of the Brethren doing such things—I sometimes think that we go through great intellectual gymnastics to figure out how little the Savior’s message to the rich young man applies to each of us. We sometimes do that while looking down on this man—who may or may not have ended up applying the Savior’s counsel better than we do.
Let me remind you that the vast majority of us in this room today are very wealthy. Not a little wealthy. Very wealthy. You are the rich young ruler. And so am I. As I have pointed out before, most of us in this room are, in terms of wealth, in the top tenth of one percent of people in the world. Many are well into that one tenth of one percent. That means that if 1,000 random people were selected from all over the globe and put into a room and you were one of them, some among the 999 faces looking at you would be very hungry; some would be not far from death due to hunger, thirst, or preventable disease; and all would be looking at you as the steward of the greatest amount of resources that could help.
I worry about the Savior’s parable about Lazarus (not the one he raised from the dead; this one was fictitious) and the Rich Man. The story is about the rich man, which, again, is you and me. It goes like this:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
Tormented. The word the Savior chose twice to illustrate the fate of those who live without helping the poor is “tormented.” Brethren, let’s avoid being tormented.
It is true that temporal blessings follow obedience. It is not true that our accumulation of temporal blessings is an indication of our righteousness or of our fitness for the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, the exact opposite may be true.
By show of hands, how many of you know the three things that were referred to in what we used to call “the three-fold mission of the Church”? Some years ago, a fourth item was added to that list. I am very sorry to report—and I apologize to all of you—that from a leadership standpoint, the significance of that fourth item being added was largely lost on me. I ask your and our Heavenly Father’s forgiveness. As a stake presidency, we hope to guide the stake collectively toward repentance in this regard.
Here is the current statement in the Church Handbook of Instructions:
In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.
Caring for the poor and needy is not last in that list. It wasn’t tacked on as an also-ran.
So. Brethren, here is what we have done and what we are going to do:
First. We have long had three high council-led committees providing leadership to the stake for missionary work, gospel teaching, and temple work. We now have a fourth leadership team addressing our “divinely appointed responsibility” to care for the poor and the needy. This team consists of three high councilors and our entire stake RS presidency. Sister Stevens, Stake RS President, chairs this committee. Sister Cyndie Dobson also serves as a specialist on this committee—which has begun organizing and planning.
Second. We have asked every ward to have a Ward Council-led plan involving specific goals for missionary work, gospel teaching, and temple work. The wards have responded well and we are anxious to see those plans and goals come to fruition. By the way, there is good statistical evidence that, as a stake, we are improving in all three areas. And I am one who always looks at data with suspicion. We will also be meeting with Bishops and others to address the question of leadership for caring for the poor and the needy within the wards.
Third. We have communicated to stake members our desire that every individual and family engage in the work of salvation. We have tried to not over-prescribe exactly how individuals and families should participate, knowing that circumstances vary, and that fathers and mothers should lead in their homes. We have, however, promoted three “bulls-eyes,” so to speak for all to consider. Those are: having and pursuing a personal or family plan for missionary work; actively engaging in prayer and scripture study and teaching at home; and taking at least one family name to the temple each year for temple work.
Similarly, we are and will be inviting families and individuals to actively engage in the work of temporal salvation by caring for the poor and needy, whether near us, far from us, or both. Like our missionaryminded.org website which offers dozens of ideas on how individuals and families can participate in missionary work, we will present a wide variety of ways that individuals and families can participate in caring for the poor and the needy and, as with missionary work, we will ask individuals and families to establish their own plans for doing so. Let me give some simple examples of the types of ideas we’ll share:
- People can increase their fast offerings—including teaching our youth and young children to pay fast offerings. I find it pathetic that we don’t teach our children to pay fast offerings—and I am one who failed at that both as a child and, for a long time, as a parent.
- People can engage individually or as families or church groups in service projects found on JustServe.org.
- Families or church or neighborhood groups can gather to put together specific kits and relief packages for distribution to the needy.
- Families who have the time and means can travel out of the country to participate in on-site humanitarian projects.
- Individuals can participate in Self Reliance Groups and help mentor others in the group.
- Families can contribute to the Humanitarian Fund and LDS Charities. Let me add a few comments about this one in particular after we watch the following short video about the origins of LDS Charities…
There are some things I really like about LDS Charities. One is that all the money we give makes it all the way to the end of the cause. Another is that the Church partners with other charitable organizations and is part of the worldwide community doing good. Another is that the projects it engages in—everything from immunizations to newborn care to water accessibility and emergency response—are the types of products that contribute toward self-reliance and enabling people.
Besides tithing, Church donation slips—whether actual or electronic online—contain only three other categories of giving: Fast Offerings, Humanitarian (which is what funds LDS Charities), and Missionary Work (which is the most important self-reliance program in the world). I would encourage you to counsel with your wives and families, consider the Savior’s teachings, consider what will matter to you when your life is at its end. And give. A lot.
Brethren, in trying to call myself and all of us to repentance on this front, I do not wish to fail to acknowledge the good you are already doing. Please note that while I think we collectively have much work to do in this area, I make no judgments about any individuals. I do not know your personal circumstances. I do not know the extent of anyone’s giving or of their charitable efforts. Those are personal matters between you and the Lord. My interests are in relieving suffering and in keeping us all out of torments!
You are good, faithful men and it is one of the greatest blessings of my life to be befriended and taught and inspired by you. Please take this message home and begin counseling together with your wives and children. We have the birthright with all of its tangible and spiritual blessings. We have a great responsibility and a great work to do. Young men, your importance cannot be overstated. Your own families and many others will be blessed because of you. God has put you in position to do so—no doubt he has done so very intentionally.
The restored gospel is true. Joseph Smith received divine authority. We each bear some of that. Russell M. Nelson is God’s prophet today. Jesus Christ leads him. Jesus heals all who trust Him and submit themselves to Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Kyle Du Moulin in April 2019 Stake Conference.]
For my talk today, I have felt inspired to speak on the topic of obeying the commandments of God and how this can be possible for all of us. Obedience to God’s commandments is a subject of importance to all of God’s children. In order to obey the commandments, we must understand what sin is and from what source we can obtain power to overcome it. Perhaps you are presently struggling with a sin or many sins, which, through your best efforts you have not been able to overcome. Today I will address what we must do to keep all of God’s commandments and overcome sin and even addictions.
There is perhaps no counsel more frequently given in the scriptures than that associated with obeying the commandments. Our obedience to the laws that God has implemented is critical to obtaining eternal life. As a consequence of the Fall, all of mankind was placed in a condition where we can know good from evil, and, through our agency, be given the chance to choose between them. Because of our fallen state, a conflict wages within each one of us who seeks to obey the commandments. This conflict is between the natural man or woman and our better self—our spirit—which desires to do God’s will.
One of the great challenges of mortality is learning to yield the desires of our natural state to the will of God. In order for our will to be swallowed up in the will of the Father, we must experience a mighty change of heart. As we experience this change of heart, the conflict between our natural state and our desires to obey God’s commandments will be resolved. In the process of time, we will be able to obey the commandments and our desires to commit sin will diminish and ultimately be overcome. In order to remove the turmoil and suffering caused to those who struggle to obey the commandments, the desire to commit sin must die within us.
Our desire to commit sin is a symptom of a deeper problem. This problem is a heart that is not yet fully converted unto the Lord. When seeking to overcome sin in our own lives, we must treat the sinner, not the sin. In order to alter a behavior that is contrary to God’s will, we must get to the root of the problem. When the true problem—in this case an individual’s heart—has been truly changed and fixed, then the corresponding destructive behaviors will cease on their own. The process of being changed from our natural state is called being “born again.” In the third chapter of the Gospel of John (verse five), Jesus teaches: “… Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Your ability to overcome temptation is directly linked to the health and condition of your spirit. The health and condition of your spirit is determined by the amount of light you bring into your life. The presence of the Holy Ghost is a source of spiritual light and has the power to overcome darkness and evil. Anything that reduces our light will weaken our ability to overcome evil. Perhaps you may find there is an absence of light in your own life. To illustrate the relationship between darkness and light, I use an analogy: if I were to walk into a dark room and turn on the light, there would never be an occasion where light would fail to overcome darkness.
Our need to be under the constant influence and direction of the Holy Ghost is greater than ever. President Russell M. Nelson has stated: “The assaults of the adversary are increasing exponentially, in intensity and variety.” In the most recent conference, the prophet also stated, “The battle with sin is real. The adversary is quadrupling his efforts to disrupt testimonies and impede the work of the Lord. He is arming his minions with potent weapons to keep us from partaking of the joy and love of the Lord.” If the adversary is quadrupling his efforts, then we must at least quadruple ours. Anything that diminishes our ability to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost will likewise diminish our capacity to obey the commandments and bear our temptations. Even small things which slowly erode our spiritual strength can, over time, have dramatic effects and eternal consequences.
The presence of the Holy Ghost is a blessing from heaven bestowed upon us because of our desires toward change and right action. We increase in our light as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. This light is received line upon line, precept upon precept. For it is by small means that great change is brought to pass. Some of the things which will allow you to bring the Holy Ghost into your life include: diligently seeking and hungering after the word of God as found in the scriptures and teachings of modern day prophets; meaningful prayers filled with faith; real effort to align our lives with God’s will; and regularly attending the temple, for it is in the ordinances of the temple that the powers of Godliness are manifest. President Russell M. Nelson said in the 2018 General Conference: “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
We must experience the cumulative effect of regularly and consistently doing those things which bring greater light into our lives. Our righteous desires and correct actions will invite God’s spirit which will enter into our hearts and sanctify us. Through this sanctifying process, we will be made into a new creature. But this change is dependent on the condition and desires of our heart. Just as hard and dry clay cannot be molded into new forms, likewise a hardened heart cannot be altered. Before a mighty change can be wrought in us, we must offer for a sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Jesus Christ spoke of this shortly before His appearance to the Nephites. He said:
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”
It is by the grace of Jesus Christ that the will of the flesh will be overcome as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. I call the effects of this process, “living in a constant state of grace.” Another term for this is, “taking Christ’s yoke upon us.” For without the sustaining grace of Jesus Christ, we have no power to overcome the effects of the Fall.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the power we can access in Christ, which will allow the will of our spirit to overcome the will of our flesh:
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9-10)
In the Parable of the True Vine, Jesus Christ teaches us that without Him we have no power to do good works. He said:
“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.”
As we seek a daily portion of God’s spirit to abide with us, and offer for a sacrifice to the Lord a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in the process of time we will be blessed with a new heart. As this change occurs within us, our actions, our words, our thoughts, and the desires of our heart will be brought into alignment with God’s will. And the day will come when we can say, as did the Nephites when King Benjamin gave his address, that because of the Spirit of the Lord, a mighty change has been wrought in our hearts, and we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.