Joy in the Gospel

[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 2016.]

You have already been asked tonight to do a couple of things.  I’m going to ask you to do one more thing, which is to believe the gospel.  Let me tell you what I mean by that.

The word gospel very literally means “good news.”

In the first chapter of Mark, King James Version, the first words we hear from the Savior are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”  (In many other translations, those last words read: “repent and believe the good news.” In the New Century Version, the Savior says, “Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!” – exclamation point!)

We need to believe the good news.  We need to receive it and accept it.

What is the good news?  The good news is that, because of the Savior, His Atonement, and His Grace, we have a clear path back to our Father in Heaven.  But there is more.  The good news includes that this path is not impossible.  It does not require perfection in this life—nor does it require us to be constantly or even frequently weighed down and disheartened by our shortcomings and weaknesses.  The good news is that the one who will ultimately judge us is the same one who will be our advocate.  The good news is that to all of life’s other challenges we do not need to add the burdens of feeling inadequate, unworthy, and imperfect—even though we are all inadequate, and imperfect.  Rather, we are free to embrace the Good News and all the joy, positive anticipation, and buoyancy that comes from believing it.

Am I suggesting that we get a free pass and don’t have to do anything?  No, but between the lie that you don’t have to do anything and the lie that you have to do and be everything (which is the lie I’m trying to address here) is the truth that the Lord wants our commitment to our covenants and He wants our hearts to be humble, contrite, sincere, and—in a wonderful and liberating sense—broken.  He requires our striving, but He does not require our perfection right now and he does not require you to beat yourself up over your imperfection.  In fact, what He wants is for you to believe the gospel—the good news—which is that if you give him your sincere, broken heart and your sincere effort in support of your covenants (and surely many here today do), then He has you and your inadequacies and deficiencies covered.  His grace is sufficient.

Consider D&C 88:33.  I talk about this little verse a lot, but I don’t think I’ve been teaching it very effectively, so I’m going to keep trying.  In this verse, the Savior asks this question:

For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him and he receive not the gift?  Behold, he rejoices no in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

Alternatively:  For what doth it profit a woman if a gift is bestowed upon her, and she receive not the gift?  Behold, she rejoices not in that which is given unto her, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

A gift has been and is being offered to you and me.  It is a gift of kindness, a gift of generosity, a gift of mercy, a gift of grace, a gift of perfect love.  Will we receive it?  Will you—do you—really believe the gospel, the good news?  Jesus once dined with a man named Zacchaeus and said to him:  “This day is salvation come to this house.”  Brothers and Sisters, salvation has come to your house.  The question is whether you will receive it.  And to fully receive it, you’re going to have to “drop your burden at His feet and bear a song away.”  You’re going to have to believe that He has taken your burden.  You will have to be yoked with Him, but His burden is light.

A few weeks ago, I decided to read Pilgrim’s Promise by John Bunyan, written in England in the 1600s.  It is an allegory about a man and his wife making the difficult journey to heaven.  At the beginning, the hero (his name is Christian) labors down the strait and narrow path with a heavy sack on his back that he is unable to shed.  But there comes a point early in his journey when he encounters the traditional symbol of the Savior: the cross; and when he comes to it and worships there, his burden miraculously falls from his back.  He is not done facing adversity.  He still faces difficulties and tests and he still has to avoid making major mistakes along the way, but from that point on, he does so without being crushed by the weight of his own imperfection.

It is a good allegory.  You and I will have plenty of adversity and difficulties and tests during our life.  Repentance from all of our sins should be constant, lifelong effort.  If we sin in particularly egregious ways, we should turn to the bishop for help right away and he will help.   But there is no need to face life’s many challenges with the unnecessary burden of our defects and petty sins weighing us down.

In our particularly intense LDS culture in Utah County, we are especially adept at setting aside the good news in favor of the bad news which we tend to heap upon ourselves which weakens the quality of our lives.  We do things like this:

  • We insist on comparing ourselves to others as a means of depressing ourselves almost like we’re addicted to it. In doing so, we reject the truth that the standard we really need to measure up to is the generous and compassionate one the Lord offers us.
  • We insist on appearing as near-perfect as we can toward each other. We over-stress about our outward physical and spiritual appearance and the appearance of our things and we keep our challenges so private that we create the destructive illusion of being virtually problem-free.  We sort of air-brush the outward appearance of our lives to others lest we will not be accepted.

Two siblings will sometimes play a game of “villain and victim.”  One pokes the other and then the other screams and whines about being poked.  Mom gets upset with one who then blames the other and everybody gets lots of attention from Mom.  We sometimes make a similar arrangement with each other.  I decide I’ll try to look perfect and you decide to believe that I’m perfect.  I get to enjoy the pride of someone thinking I’m really great and you get to enjoy the misery of feeling inadequate.  Like the two children, neither of us really ends up happy.

  • We take the concepts of self-reliance and works too far. Are you supposed to do all that you can do?  Of course.  Are you supposed to give it your all?  Of course.  Should good works accompany your faith?  Of course.  Will you save yourself?  No chance.    Will your good works save you?  No chance.  None.  It is good to humbly do our very best while living a religion of complete and total surrender to and reliance on Him who becomes the father of our rebirth.  We are totally dependent on Him and we ought to acknowledge that and rejoice in His perfect reliability.
  • We pound ourselves with what seems to be the literal meaning of Matthew 5:48: be ye therefore perfect.  I reject the apparent meaning of that verse as it stands alone.  Do I hope to become perfect one day like my Father in Heaven?  Do I think that I should strive to become perfect?    But I believe the rest of the doctrine taught in the scriptures about perfection, which includes the fact that He will perfect me; He will make me whole and complete as I yield my heart to Him.  I cannot insist on my own immediate perfection and, at the same time, receive the gift He offers me, which gift is the very means of letting go of the burden of my imperfection.
  • Lastly, we judge others too harshly. We forget that the gift that is offered to us is also offered to them and that the Lord sees things in their hearts we’ll never see.  He also knows all the background and backstory.  His bowels are filled with compassion and mercy toward the broken-hearted.  We would do well to judge enough to keep ourselves safe—and little or no more than that.

Why is it that so many good people trying so hard hesitate so much when asked the temple recommend question, “Do you feel worthy to enter the temple?”

I was so thrilled to hear Elder Bednar’s talk in this last General Conference.  Quite frequently I have asked people during interviews, “Is it possible that you could be sitting here with me right now just as clean as you were when you exited the waters of baptism?”  Many people seem confused by the question.  It does not seem to register that they could be spiritually clean today.  But how else could any of us possibly have a hope of making it to heaven, into which no unclean thing may enter?

Elder Bednar taught that it is possible, as King Benjamin taught, for us to always retain a remission of our sins.  You and I can be retaining a remission of our sins right now, at this very moment.  Surely a great many here are doing exactly that.  Yet too many are unwilling to believe the Good News and say with humble confidence, “Yes, I am worthy to enter the temple.”

Notice that in the same verse from King Benjamin which references “always retaining a remission of your sins,” these two phrases are also present:  1) “[ye shall] be filled with the love of God” and, 2) “ye shall always rejoice.”

We frequently teach that covenants are “two-way promises” and we correctly focus on the promises we make through covenants.  But the Lord would like us to receive the gift of his promises to us and He would like us to rejoice in them.  Remember, that when we receive the gift, He also rejoices “who is the giver of the gift.”

We have a tendency to under-appreciate the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  He will testify to us of the Savior.  He will help bring all things necessary to our remembrance.  He may provide warnings to us on occasion.  But He also sanctifies and cleanses us as we remember and follow the Savior.  Elder Bednar speaks of the Holy Ghost providing “ongoing cleansing” for us.  In that we may rejoice, indeed, and be of good cheer.

In the time I have spent outside of Utah County, mostly in Seattle, I have been close to two groups of notably religious people:  Mormons and Evangelical (or “born-again”) Christians.  I have long noticed and been impressed by the smiles and happiness of my born-again Christian friends.  I have also been impressed, though not in a particularly good way, by the muted happiness of so many Mormons.  Clearly, the true doctrine and restored authority within the LDS Church should make us the most Christian people on the earth.  And therefore nobody should have a greater understanding of the reasons why—or greater reasons to embrace the reasons why—we may feel so much joy inside ourselves that it is also outwardly noticeable.

Brothers and Sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of joy and peace.  That joy and peace isn’t just for disciples of the Savior who have no problems.  All disciples of the Savior have problems.  Some of them are very acute. You may have worries and struggles right now that are just eating you inside out.  You may be struggling with health, with employment and finances, with testimony, with addiction, with your marriage, with loneliness, discouragement or depression—or perhaps even more difficult, you may be intensely hurting for loved ones who are struggling with those things and whose struggles you cannot remove.

The good news of the gospel extends both to you and to the ones you love and worry about the most.

The message of the gospel includes hope and optimism and trust.  I join so many of you when I say that when we place our trust in God, when we lean on Him, when we receive His gift and drop our burden at His feet… in those moments our trust is well placed.  It is, in fact, perfectly placed.

May each of you feel a great sense of joy and life and hope and buoyancy through the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May you receive the gift with both humility and confidence in Him.  May we trust in Him who is perfectly trustworthy and who has your very best interests (and those of your loved ones) as His interests.

I testify that John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, President Monson and 14 other living special witnesses—and the Savior, Himself—have come bearing Good News.  I pray that you and I will believe it, accept it, and allow Him to lift the burden of our shortcomings and failures from off our backs.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Magnify through Ministering

[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Priesthood Meeting, March 2016.]

Before getting to my primary topic tonight, brethren, a quick word about PPIs…

Please take advantage of PPIs.  One good reason to do so is to sustain your Elders Quorum presidency or High Priest Group leadership.  But there are other excellent reasons, including realizing the benefits that come both from being accountable to and sharing your goals, challenges, and concerns with a priesthood leader.

Men do too much alone.  If two men go to sit down in a row of three chairs, you can bet your mortgage that the empty seat will be the one between them.  Big mistake.  When life’s challenges come, too many men internalize things, limit or shut down communication, and turn themselves into a pressure cooker, which is neither necessary nor healthy.

You don’t have to tell your deepest darkest concerns to everyone.  And I don’t suggest you share personal things with someone who has not yet earned your trust.  But I have been on both ends of PPIs and I have very much appreciated the sincere love and concern I have felt from my priesthood leaders.  I have appreciated that their concern was genuine to the point, in some cases, that they would ask me questions about things that matter.  PPIs in my life, though too seldom throughout the years, have blessed me.

You young men leaders—and I’m not talking about young men advisors.  I mean those called as leaders: you young men who are in Deacons Quorum, Teachers Quorum, and Priests Quorum presidencies.  I think we old men and you young men share the same goal for you, which is that you become mature men and feel successful in your manhood.  I encourage you to work with your bishop or his counselors to establish PPIs in your Aaronic Priesthood quorums.

You need to learn while you are young about the spiritual and emotional benefits of having a support system in your life and not trying to do too much alone.  You need to learn what it is like to sit down with a peer, one on one, face to face, and care deeply about each other.

Now to my main topic…

Magnifying Through Ministering

When we receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and are ordained to the office of Elder, we enter into the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.  Many of us received the Melchizedek Priesthood with only the vaguest idea of what the Oath and Covenant should mean to us.  That problem continues in the Church for too many young men and sometimes happens still in our stake, though it should never happen.  This is why we hold a class every winter for graduating seniors and other Melchizedek Priesthood candidates.

You boys—who will become men as you learn to focus more on the well-being of the people around you, starting, but not ending with your families—it is critical that you understand that receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood means committing to an entire lifetime (and beyond that) of devotion to God and to helping Him fulfill his purposes.  Two years on a mission is typically the beginning of that devotion, but it is not intended to drop off after your mission—nor ever in all eternity.

Whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods… and magnifying their calling…”

According to the Oath and Covenant, we are required, if we want to receive all the blessings Heavenly Father offers us, to “magnify our callings.”  To what calling is the Lord referring when He says that?  Broadly speaking, there are two:

First, as Alma indicates in the Book of Mormon, the Lord is referring to the priesthood itself.

As holders of the priesthood, we have specific duties.  One of those is to home teach.  There are duties related to the sacrament and other ordinances.  There are duties to provide service and help where needed.  There are specific duties to fulfill when we are asked to take specific assignments, whether that be a shift at the cannery or setting up chairs for a meeting or helping a family get moved in or out.

But we also have a broader but very critical duty to help everyone around us come to the Savior.  We do this when we care about the Savior and when we care about people enough to extend ourselves to them.  It is, in my opinion, part of true manhood.   We do it by setting an example, by teaching (sometimes formally, sometimes informally), and by taking sincere interest in individuals.

Secondly, when the Lord talks about magnifying our callings, he is surely also including specific callings that we receive and are sustained and set apart to perform.  That may mean being a counselor or secretary or teacher in a priesthood quorum.  It may mean teaching primary or Sunday School or being a clerk or family history consultant.

What, though, does it mean to magnify?  Well, we all know that to magnify means to enlarge.  I find it helpful to contrast the idea of magnifying with the idea of minimizing.

“Magnify” ≠ “Minimize”

To minimize a calling, we do as as much and as little as necessary.  We attend only the meetings we feel absolutely compelled to attend.  We may not actively drive the success of those meetings.  We lay low when volunteers are requested.  And we do no more than explicitly required.  We move when told to move—or we resist moving (either actively or passively) when we think the person asking us to move has exceeded his or her authority. Where we are talking about that our responsibility for helping others come to the Savior, as referred to a moment ago, specifics are often lacking; so if we are in minimize mode, we don’t reach out to people any more than we have to.

I want to focus for a few minutes on magnifying our callings as that relates to helping others coming to the Savior, sometimes referred to as missionary work or reactivation work, though we could also be talking about reaching out to fully active members.

There is a statement in the Handbook that marries two critical “M-words” (one of which is not “minimize”).  You’ll remember my talk tonight if you remember that it is about “M&Ms.”

In Chapter 2 of Handbook 2 (which is available to everyone online) “magnifying” is defined in large part as “ministering.”  We find this statement:

“Priesthood holders magnify their callings as they minister in their own homes and to other Saints…”

In connection with that statement is a description also that we should “lift, strengthen, and nurture” others.

We also read this:

“Like the Savior, [priesthood holders] seek to minister to individuals and families, both spiritually and temporally. They care about each person…. They reach out to new members, less-active members, and those who may be lonely or in need of comfort.”

Lastly, from the Handbook, we are given some very specific examples of what is included in “ministering.”  What does lifting, strengthening, and nurturing others look like more specifically?  Well, here are four strong suggestions, again from Handbook 2:

Ministering to others includes:

  • Remembering their names and becoming acquainted with them (Yikes! Please forgive me!)
  • Loving them without judging them. (We have a lot of work to do in this area.)
  • Watching over them and strengthening their faith “one by one,” as the Savior did. (Notice the emphasis on one-on-one.  Good things can happen in Sacrament Meetings and Sunday School classes, seminary classes, and priesthood quorum meetings. Good things can, should, and do happen in those settings, but there is something critical about one-on-one ministering where especially good things can result.  I think I will probably remember certain PPIs that I have had more than lessons I have been taught.)
  • Establishing sincere friendship with them and visiting them in their homes and elsewhere. (Note that there are important places to minister to others besides within the walls of the church.)

Now, brethren, I would like to show you a video…

[“Reach Out with Love“]

What did we see in that video?

We saw a young man begin to do something out of a sense of duty.  Though he was obedient, he didn’t initially see the person on the other end of his assignment.  He did not know that to magnify his assignment, he was going to have to minister to a person—a real person who has struggles and problems and who responds to love.  And he could not minister effectively (or really at all) without becoming sincere in his desire for friendship with Steve.

Was his heart in his response to the bishop at first?  Perhaps, but not to the extent that it would be after he began to know and care about Steve.  His first attempt was actually not that bad, but something was missing which appeared in the end.

What made his heart begin to change in this assignment?  Do you remember when he asked the bishop, in frustration, “What’s the point?”

The bishop responded by quoting Mormon’s teachings about charity.  Moroni admonished:

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ;“

The bishop then commented, “Some wounds are large and they take time to heal.”  Guillermo found out Steve was dealing with something real and something difficult— and then Steve switched in Guillermo’s mind from an assignment to a human being.

Guillermo’s heart changed.  Friendship became the primary issue—not trying to get somebody to do something.

Brethren, part of what we’re talking about tonight is about human connection and happiness.  It is hard to have happiness without real human connection—and that connection doesn’t have to come as much from someone loving us as it has to come from us loving someone.  When we do, reciprocation is not guaranteed, but is common.  Part of “living after the manner of happiness” is loving others—or, as the handbook calls it, “ministering,” which is what we have covenanted to do when we agreed to “magnify” our priesthood.

[“Magnify” = “Minister”]

This week I received a text from a friend of mine who is going through some very hard things and is struggling with herself.  Her text came unexpected in the middle of the day and it said, “One who loses his life shall find it?  How does one lose his life?”

One loses his life by becoming concerned for the welfare of others and by ministering to them.  In the perfect example, this is what the Savior did.  If we will follow his lead and attempt to the same—if we live up to the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood—we will receive all that He has.

With regard to some practicalities… There may be a million ways we can love and serve other people in various contexts.  Let me just throw out a few ideas…

If you are a home teacher, you can…

  • Drop in on your family between monthly visits—even if you’re 14 years old.
  • Find time—somewhere / anywhere—to spend a few extra minutes visiting with Dad about his family.
  • Do something socially with the family or share a Family Home Evening together or just a bowl of ice cream sometime.

If you are a Primary or Sunday School or Priesthood Quorum teacher, you can…

  • Stop by the home of a class member who couldn’t make it on Sunday.
  • Support a class member at one of their activities.
  • Send a note or drop by just to tell someone how much you enjoy their being in your class.

If you are husband, you can…

  • Do something nice for your wife that she would appreciate but wasn’t expecting.
  • Make sure you have a weekly date with her.
  • Be sure to spend quiet time with her just talking and listening and making sure you understand how she feels.

If you are a father, you can…

  • Spend one-on-one time with a child.
  • Make sure your child hears much more that you love them and are proud of them than they hear criticism.
  • Talk to your children about their goals and dreams.
  • Lead the family in prayer, scripture reading, and Family Home Evening.

If you are a son, you can…

  • Do something kind for your mother.
  • Tell your parents you love them and give them a hug.
  • Spend one-on-one time with a sibling—whether older or younger.

If you are teenage young man, you can…

  • Invite someone into your circle of friends who could use some friends and some validation.
  • Begin smiling and saying hello to people you don’t normally smile at or say hello to.
  • Make sure that you stand up for the absent when something judgmental or unkind is said about them.

If you are a neighbor, you can…

  • Share that bowl of ice cream or dinner together.
  • Provide a listening ear when times are tough.
  • Pitch in with the yard or whatever when help is needed.

Brethren, my message tonight is very simple.  There are two reasons we should magnify our callings:

  1. By virtue of the priesthood, we are under covenant to do so.
  2. It is one of the key ingredients in the recipe the Book of Mormon refers to as “the manner of happiness.”

Magnifying your calling means ministering to individuals.  It means:

  • getting to know them
  • judging them kindly or not at all—being inclusive and accepting
  • showing personal, sincere, one-on-one interest in them
  • becoming a real friend, regardless of their choices for or against the Church.

My invitation to you tonight is to magnify by ministering.  Magnify your calling in the priesthood by ministering to individuals and families around you.  My testimony is that you and they will feel edified and uplifted.

I am deeply grateful to those brothers and sisters who minister to me and to my family.  I feel their sincere love.  If you ask me who loves me and my family, I will place my home teacher, my High Priest Group Leader, and my Bishop at the top of the list—not alone, but among many dear friends who do not have a specific leadership responsibility for me or our family right now, but who are accepting, non-judging friends nevertheless and whose ministering to our family strengthens us.

May we go out of our way a little bit to establish friendships and communicate love and encouragement to those who are close to us or should be is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Missionary Work

[Given by Chris Juchau at Ward Conferences in the Highland Utah South Stake in early 2016]

We are delighted to be with you today.  We are enthused about the theme of this ward conference:  missionary work—and about the workshops that will follow this meeting.

I have six things I would like to say on the topic of missionary work.

First, your participation in missionary work will bless you and the generations of your family that come after you.  Missionary work, however you do it, will bless your life.

I had an amazing experience as a 14-year-old Teacher.  My father would very dutifully take me home teaching with him on the first Sunday of every month.  I did not look forward to going.  What a drag to go sit with a bunch of adults (mostly) and chit chat for a while and then have a lesson!  BO-RING!, I thought.  But something interesting happened.  I came to discover that my father really cared about those people.  And even more amazing to me, I came to discover that they cared about his caring about them.  That chit chat turned out to be a lot more meaningful than I’d realized.  Their worries were my father’s worries and the more mature I became, the more their worries became my worries, too.  I remember coming home from those home teaching visits feeling good, rewarded, and so happy that I had gone.  Over time, my distaste for going was replaced by my interest in those people.  In fact, the more I got to know them, the more interested I was.

I am certain that we cannot participate in any form of missionary work that involves caring about someone, even if it is “just” God and our duty to Him that we care about at first, without the experience strengthening and improving us.

Second, the more I consider the phrase “missionary work” and what it means, the broader my definition becomes.

Certainly, missionary work means, first and foremost, trying to share the gospel with those who are least familiar with it.  No matter how broad our definition becomes, we should not let a broader definition become an excuse for not reaching out to non-members.

Missionary work includes any effort to lift, encourage, cheer up, buoy up, or teach others.

There is missionary work to do at home, at school, at work; in our wards and out of our wards; over the internet, on an airplane, and during vacation; irrespective of people’s status with regard to church membership or activity level.

Every person around us needs love and friendship and encouragement.  We should seek to be non-judgmental and genuinely interested in those we don’t know well—or in those we do know well but judge harshly. I have found that dislike for a person is frequently born of ignorance for that person and his or her life experience—and that fondness for a person is hard to avoid, once given a little insight into who they really are.

Recently, my wife decided to make dinner and bring it to a family in our ward.  She decided to do that before she decided who she would bring it to.  She prayerfully chose a couple in our ward—one who seldom seems to be at the center of attention—called the sister, and told her she’d like to bring dinner over.  When she arrived, she was met by this wonderful, tearful sister who said she felt touched that somebody was thinking of her and her equally wonderful and quiet husband.  To my first point, you can easily guess who came home from that experience feeling touched and lifted, herself.

This was an act of missionary work.  Missionary work includes expressions of love and attempts to uplift and encourage anyone—regardless of the status of their faith or the outward expressions of their faith.  The Savior served people from many varied backgrounds and situations.

Third, I would like to encourage the adults in this ward to get onto senior missions—and I am not just talking to people in their 60s and 70s.  If you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, you should be actively and anxiously making plans to serve a mission as soon as circumstances permit.

We send out a lot of young missionaries in this stake.  We consistently have more than 100 missionaries serving.  The demographics of our stake and the devotion of our members are such that we produce lots of wonderful and committed youth.

However.  We are all getting older.  And our children are getting older.  We are getting closer every day to empty-nester status and retirement.  This stake is a powerful engine for producing strong young missionaries who serve tremendously well around the world.  We must also be a stake that is is an engine for producing the seasoned senior talent that is so much needed around the world.

Recently I was told that the Church needs 10,000 senior couples and they have just 6,000.  Opportunities for senior couples are vast and varied and provide for great flexibility and even greater rewards. I know of two opportunities available right now.  We are, in fact, anxiously looking for two couples for specific missions.

One is needed in Oakland to serve in the mission office with President and Sister Frandsen for 12, 18, or 24 months.  It’s 40 hours of office work each week with evenings and weekends free.  This couple is very urgently needed for the smooth running of that mission and to keep from having to staff the office with younger missionaries.

Another opportunity is very different from that.  It is as a full-time “stay-at-home” couple serving within the boundaries of our stake—but this is a very real thing.  You wear a name badge.  You work 32 hours/week including morning study time, church meetings, and weekly temple service.  You will do meaningful work, but you do not have to be physically fit for Nepal or Cape Verde.  Ours is one of two stakes in Highland/Alpine/Cedar Hills which does not have this couple in place.

One of our sessions in the next couple of hours will be for people preparing to serve a mission as a senior couple.  There will be limited room in the classroom.  I hope it will be filled by adults of all ages.

I invite every person here today who is past the age of serving a mission as a young elder or sister to make real plans and undertake the appropriate preparations so that you will be able to contribute as a senior to the many missionary needs of the Church and of our brothers and sisters.

Fourth, I would like to point out that not all missionary efforts result in fairy-tale-like stories to be retold in the Ensign—though I would hesitate to call any missionary effort a failure.  Not all missionary efforts follow the perfect script.  But all sincere efforts to share the gospel and to lift others are good.

To wit… My family and I were on vacation in Southern California last year and I’d had a Book of Mormon in my bag for quite a while and I was anxious to give it out.  On the last day of our trip, we spent some time walking along a path near the ocean.  We were walking back toward our car and we passed an older couple sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean.  They looked contemplative and I imagined that they were considering something serious.  I debated within myself how they would receive an attempt from me to engage them.

I walked my family back to the car thinking about them and grabbed my Book of Mormon and headed back down the trail.  When I got there, I started a small conversation with them and soon invited them to take my Book of Mormon and discover its message.  The man was initially receptive and we chatted about an LDS person he had known many years ago, but the woman was immediately defensive and she got her way, so I kept my Book of Mormon and moved on, a bit disappointed.

Did anything good come of that little exchange?  Well, of course I like to think that a seed of some kind was planted or maybe stirred a little.  And I felt good that I’d made an effort.  Statistically speaking, it is unlikely that that couple will join the Church, but the fact is that some efforts will be positively received and some won’t.  No effort is wasted.

A year and a half ago, I knocked on the door of a man who I thought might not want to see me.  I felt a little nervous, unsure how he would receive me.  I didn’t have to introduce myself very much before he politely but very firmly told me to get lost.  I knew that arguing or asserting myself was unlikely to soften his heart at that moment, so I assured him he had my respect and I got off his doorstep.  A few months went by and we started to coincidentally find ourselves in the same place.  I made a point of saying hello when I would see him but not trying to do more than that.  To make a long story short, this man’s heart began to thaw a bit and hellos became small talk and small talk turned into real talk and he discovered that my interest was genuine and I discovered lots to like in him that just further developed the sincerity of my interest and so now we are friends and I can hopefully be a useful friend to him.

Fifth, missionary efforts do not need to be forced.  In simply being genuine and kind with each other—and looking for opportunities to share the gospel and to lift people we truly care about—good things will happen.

As a missionary in Germany, I got to work one Saturday with my best friend in the mission.  We were in his area and he had made an appointment with a man in his early twenties for about 10:00 that morning.  When we got to his flat, we rang and there was no answer.  We rang again and waited and were about to leave when we heard the sound of someone coming to the door.  This man, not much older than we were, had probably been partying the night before.  He’d obviously just gotten out of bed.  He was only wearing a pair of shorts and his hair was all over the place.  My friend asked if he remembered that we’d be coming.  He said yes and motioned for us to come in and sit down while he headed to the kitchen.  As he went in, he called out behind himself, “You guys want a beer?”

Now imagine you’re a full-time missionary.  How do you answer that question?  It’s obviously the perfect lead-in to the Word of Wisdom and a discussion about the evils of alcohol, the importance of spirituality, and how different we are as Mormons.  My mind quickly spun with where his question should take us.  But my friend, who, by many measures, including some that really matter, might be considered one of the most successful missionaries in our mission, simply answered, “This early?!”  To which the man replied, “Yes, of course, you’re right.”  And he came and joined us and heard a lesson about a Heavenly Father who loves him and a Savior who does, too.  I was struck that morning by the lesson I learned from my friend that missionary work is about people and relating to them and not about over-lecturing on the commandments.  It’s about what we have to offer more than it is about how we need to correct others.  Specific teachings can come at the right time.

Lastly, brothers and sisters, may I encourage you to embrace and adopt for yourself the very first sentence in “Preach My Gospel”?  The first sentence on page 1 says, “[My purpose is] to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”

I don’t believe that statement applies exclusively to full-time missionaries at all.  I believe it your purpose and my purpose as common covenant disciples.  It also encompasses our responsibility as members of the Tribe of Ephraim.

The Savior compared you and me to “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”  Salt that has lost its savor is, to soften the language of Matthew 5 a little, not as useful as it could be.

You and I must accept our role as “salt” in its full meaning and we need a sense of urgency.  We must wake up in the morning and think and pray and and say to ourselves, “Who can I lift today?  Who can I encourage?  How can I share the light of Christ and the message of the Savior with someone?”

We must accept that our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ.  We must be “other-minded.”

I close with my testimony that the restored gospel yields fruits of happiness and that missionary work blesses us and yields some very specific fruits of happiness.  It will bless your life and it will bless your family.

May we constantly look for ways to act in the interest of others.  May we desire and seek love for them.  And may we exercise enough faith to show that love and share goodness with them.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

One Good Man’s Journey

Someone recently commented to me that the Mormon version of God hates gay people.  A couple of years ago, that comment would have bothered me a lot.  (It should go without saying that God loves every one of his gay children, but I’ll say it anyway.)  Now, though, it is not just a disturbing comment, but a truly hurtful one.  I cringed reflexively when I heard it.  It is hurtful to think that people believe that I—or collectively “we” as a religion—believe God to be like that.  He is not.

While Mormon doctrine remains unchanged (and I can’t imagine it ever changing) with regard to sexual conduct, many LDS people have made the journey from rejecting gay people to accepting and embracing them.  Too many have yet to make that journey.  I would like to share with you here the story of one man’s jouney, he being a bishop in our stake.  I highly commend to you this blog post.  It is on Ben Schilaty’s blog site and is titled, “‘The Eyes of My Understanding Were Opened’: A Bishop’s Journey.”

Chris

Nurturing Faith and Testimony

[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, October 2015.]

When I was 16 years old, my brother returned from his mission to Montreal, Canada.  We had shared a room together for many years.  Curt is one part genius, one part (more than one, actually) Christ-like model, and one part absent-minded.  He would come home after a date when I was 12 or 13 years old and sound asleep, turn the light on in our room, which was right in my face since I was on the top bunk, and then go off to brush his teeth and get ready for bed, forgetting he had left the light on. He would fall asleep sometimes while kneeling at his bed saying his prayers.

On this night, though, it came time for us to get to bed and since he hadn’t been around for two years and both of us had changed a fair amount during that time, we weren’t talking much—probably because neither of us knew what to say. So I asked him a question: “Curt, tell me what the most important thing was that you learned on your mission.”  He paused and thought and finally said something like this: “I have learned that we need to focus on the very most basic principles of the gospel—on faith and repentance.  We have enough to worry about with those things; we don’t need to strain at doctrines that are less basic.”

I have given that statement a lot of thought in the 33 years since then.  It came in some contrast to the sometimes edgy and always inquisitive mind of my father, another great man, who enjoys pondering aspects of the gospel that we know little about.  He just finished writing his 8th (I think) unpublished book since his retirement, this one titled “Questions for the Next Life” in which he poses a few hundred questions he is looking forward to getting answers to when he gets to the other side.  Questions like “How long were the days of the creation?” and “What, exactly, are cherubim?” I will always be grateful to have been raised in an atmosphere of questions and learning.  I believe that has provided many advantages for me in my life.

Meanwhile, I am constantly reminded of the importance of my brother’s statement about focusing on the very most basic principles of the gospel.  The opportunities I have had to observe, learn from, and counsel with others continues to affirm for me the importance of that statement.  I would like to talk today for a few minutes about the importance of nurturing two critically important and basic things:  our faith and our testimonies.

Why are Faith and Testimony so critical?

Three things come to mind…

  1. A testimony is a great blessing as we navigate life on earth. The prophet Mormon speaks of belief, faith, and hope providing “an anchor to the souls of men, which make them sure and steadfast.”  The apostle Paul talks about being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”  Mormon, too, spoke of being “as a vessel” “tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor.” Faith and testimony provide safety, stability, direction, steadiness, and confidence.  Faith and testimony make for homes built on rocks rather than on sand.
  2. If it is true that Jesus Christ is really our Savior and that legitimate priesthood keys are found in the restored Church—and I testify that those things are true—then great blessings in eternity, including the possibilities of exaltation and eternal families, hinge on the faith we exercise in those truths. Many of our eternal rewards depend upon our exercising faith and testimony in this life.
  3. Life is a test and your testimony is very likely to be tested, either directly to challenges about the validity of the Church’s priesthood authority or indirectly through adversity that causes you to wonder where God is and why things are not less unfair and more the way you feel like they should be. You and I will be best off if, at the time of our most difficult testing, we remain true to the faith and testimonies we have received and exercised—and, if we in fact, build on them.  It is important to remember that when we refer to life as a test, it is not God being tested to see if He will give us what we want when we want it; it is us being tested to see if we will turn to Him, trust in Him, rely on Him, and move forward in faith when we face the greatest adversity.

Now, with those reasons for why faith and testimony are important as background, let me briefly discuss four important principles associated with faith and testimony.

First: Testimonies are not binary.  They are not something that you either have or do not have.  Testimonies exist in degrees:  from developing testimonies to powerful testimonies and everything in between.  Faith, similarly, can be exercised in large or small degrees or somewhere in between.

Likewise, it is not true that the testimony you have, to whatever degree you have it, will always be there. Testimonies grow or they wither.  They wax or they wane.

Testimonies seldom come in a momentary brilliant flash; nor always through an intense burning in the bosom.  However they come, they don’t last forever on their own.  Testimonies are nurtured or neglected each day.  Like the sycamore trees that Elder Ballard recently referenced for us, testimonies grow when they are watered; faith expands when it is exercised.  Testimonies wither when they are neglected; faith weakens when it is not placed into action.  Testimonies usually come and are strengthened slowly:  “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”

If you are nurturing your testimony on a daily basis, then keep going!  If you are not, you are placing too much at risk and I urge you to make the necessary changes because the testing of your testimony is very probably coming.

Second: It is not enough to have a testimony; it is also important to have a reason (or reasons) for having a testimony and to know what those reasons are.  Peter admonished us: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”  Especially in those moments when your faith and testimony may feel challenged, it is important for you to remember and know the reasons why you exercised faith and expressed testimony in the first place.

I do not think it can be over-emphasized that Latter-day Saints neither believe in blind faith nor in a head-in-the-sand approach to our faith.  We believe that those who find are those who seek and that those who receive are those who ask.  We believe that answers to prayers come both to our hearts and our minds.  We believe in using reason. “Let us reason together,” the Doctrine and Covenants invites.

It is interesting that we refer to those who are actively exploring our church, not as “ignorants” but as “investigators.” Those of us who were born into the Church should be investigators and active learners, ourselves, and not “ignorants.”  Those who study and learn, build their houses on rocks.  Those who don’t, build theirs on sand.

Note that when I refer to study and learning, I am not referring to strictly academic exercises at all.  This type of study and learning must involve our hearts and spirits in addition to our minds.  The things of the Spirit are learned by the spirit.  Spiritual truths are revealed through the Spirit and there is no way around that that I know of.  Our reasons for having testimonies and exercising faith should be supported by experiences of the spirit, the heart, and the mind.

Third: The beginning of faith and testimony is desire – and that means agency.  Alma taught clearly with his analogy of planting a seed that the very first step to faith is desire, specifically, a “desire to believe.”  When Moroni talks about praying to God about the Book of Mormon he refers to “a sincere heart” and “real intent.”  Testimony begins by choosing to want to believe.  Faith grows when, once believing or choosing to believe, we choose to act on that belief.

I cannot believe in the restoration of priesthood authority or in the divinity of the Savior if I do not choose to at least want to believe in them.

Neither faith nor testimony is comprised of a “perfect knowledge.”  This Alma also teaches clearly in his analogy.  He said, “if a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.”  He goes on to distinguish between knowing things through evidence we’ve accumulated and having a perfect knowledge of the whole matter, which renders faith unnecessary.

Does exercising agency with imperfect knowledge mean that faith and testimony come from ignorance or unsubstantiated choices?  As Paul would say, “God forbid!”  My choice to believe—or my choice to want to believe—simply opens the door, so my heart and mind may be receptive to evidences, both practical and spiritual, which allow my faith and testimony to be increasingly built on a foundation of genuine evidence: spiritual and practical and logical.

Until our faith grows into a perfect knowledge, however—which may not be very soon, considering that we came to earth to learn to exercise agency and faith together—agency and desire will remain essential elements of our faith and testimonies.  If they don’t, we will lose our faith and our testimonies.

It is helpful to remember what the Savior taught Thomas, who insisted that he must see with his own physical eyes and touch with his own physical hands or he would refuse to believe.  (This in spite of the fact that he already had many very good reasons to believe.)  To him the Savior said, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” I think the Savior is saying here that more blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.

Lastly, let me suggest that there are two indispensable elements to developing a testimony and building faith.

One is to consistently seek two-way communion with God through the Holy Ghost.  We do this by hearing and studying His words in scriptures and the words of both living and ancient prophets.  We do it by praying and then paying attention to the thoughts and feelings we receive.  We seek to become acquainted with the feelings of the Spirit and to be ready and alert that we might recognize them when present.

The other is to live the teachings of the Savior as we receive them through scripture, through living prophets, and through personal revelation.  Jesus said that those who “do His will shall know.”  I cannot expect to truly commune with God when I live patterns in my life that are contrary to His teachings.  If, however, I seek communion with God and I strive sincerely to live with diligence the principles He is communicating to me, I will come to know—typically, “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”

Over time, the evidence mounts.

There are, in fact, things that I know.  I can “give an answer to every man that asketh… a reason of the hope that is in [me].”  There may be many things that you and I don’t yet know, as pointed out by my father’s book, for example.  But if we consistently commune with God, speaking to Him and striving to listen—and if we do as He teaches, we will build a foundation of testimony sufficient to generate patience for the things we don’t yet know.

I testify that I know that Jesus is our Savior; that peace, goodness, salvation, and patience are through Him; that this Church is led by Him through living prophets and apostles on the earth who hold all necessary and genuine priesthood keys through which we can both make and receive valid covenants with God.  Mine is not a perfect knowledge, to be sure, but my choice to believe is broadly and deeply substantiated by things that I have experienced, things that make sense to me, things that I have observed, things that I have felt, and therefore things that I claim with confidence to know.

May you and I consistently exercise a desire to believe, commune with God, and live our lives in such a way that our exercise of faith will be rewarded with greater spiritual knowledge.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.