Caring for the Poor and Needy

[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…

[video]

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.

Keep My Commandments

[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.

Joy and Faith

[Stake Conference, April 2019, General Session]

As this conference comes to a close, I would like to offer an encouraging word…

Men (and women) are that we might have joy.  Can we really have joy in this life?  Not very well if we think joy is the result of everything going perfectly (or nearly perfectly) in our lives.  Joy does not come from living the life that everybody else is trying say they live through their social media.  Joy does not come from being outwardly attractive or popular or financially successful.  It doesn’t come from being healthy, though we should strive to be healthy.  It doesn’t come from being good at something, though we should strive to be good at many good things.  It doesn’t come from serving in a particular calling, though we should all strive to serve well.  It doesn’t come from being righteous.

Where does joy come from?

Toward the end of King Benjamin’s sermon, his people humbly cry out for mercy and for the atonement of Christ to be applied to them.  Here is what happens next:

“the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ.”

From this story, joy is the result of knowing that our sins have been remitted, of having peace of conscience, and having faith in Jesus Christ.  King Benjamin later says to his people, “ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls.”

On another occasion, Alma mentions three sets of opposites:  “good or evil, life or death, joy or—[its opposite]—remorse of conscience.”  Alma would understand this.  Of the height of his conversion, he said, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy… and… there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was joy.”

How did he get to that joy?  Immediately before that joy came, he says,

“I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy … concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.  And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more.”  And then he speaks of his joy.

His life didn’t become perfect. It was difficult.  He didn’t become perfect, I’m sure.  He probably disappointed himself, occasionally.  But I would bet you, based on what we know of him, that he retained his sense of joy which came to him because of his faith in the Savior and because he believed what the Savior had done for him.

I believe that too many of us are living with too little joy.  We are burdened by the challenges of life, by disappointments in ourselves, and by the struggles of our loved ones.  But that is not what causes us to miss out on joy.  We miss out on joy because we are slow to believe that the Savior has done for us what he has done for us.  And we can be slow to place our faith in him regarding loved ones and situations beyond our control.

We must accept what Jesus has done for us; accept that our sins have been remitted; loosen the death-grip we sometimes have on our guilt and self-loathing; and receive the gift of the Atonement.

Have you ever read the stories of Jesus healing a person and thought it would be wonderful if that had been you?  Think of the ten lepers who were healed; the woman with the issue of blood; Peter’s mother-in-law; blind men; Lazarus; Jairus’s daughter; all the diseased and disabled Nephites who were brought to him…

These healings were wonderful for the people who received them and their loved ones.  But Jesus’ mission was not to physically heal people.  There are millions of people before, during, and after the life of the Savior who have lived in miserable conditions and were not physically healed.  All the Savior’s physical healings were metaphors.

Jesus came so that all can be healed spiritually—that all can receive a remission of sins and, like Alma, have our guilt swept away.

He healed those people physically, so that you may know that he can heal you spiritually.  A leper was made whole so that you and I will understand that we can be made whole from even persistent sin.  He healed the Gentile woman so that you and I understand that his healing applies to all, including you and me.  He raised Lazarus and the son of the widow from Nain so that you and I understand that there isn’t anything he can’t overcome.

Why do we persist in believing that we are dirty?

When you were baptized, you received a remission of your sins.  Minutes later, you were confirmed and invited to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost so that, upon condition of a broken heart and a striving to change and improve, we would, through that priceless gift, retain a remission of our sins.  Retaining a remission of our sins is not dependent on our changing.  It is dependent on our striving to change (which is largely what repentance is) and on our retaining faith in the Savior.

Remission of sins isn’t a one-time, momentary experience.  It is with us as long as our faith in the Savior is genuine and active.

In the temple, we receive blessings which, in more than one respect, are unspeakable.  Those were not one-time pleasant moments.  Actually receiving those blessings now (including promises of some blessings that will be realized in the future) is where joy comes from.  All based on the Savior and our connection to him.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies testified that God had “taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”

We have to ask ourselves this question:  In which do I place the greatest faith:  my failings or the Savior’s success; my imperfection or his perfection; my guilt or his forgiveness?  My failings, my imperfections, and my sins are absolute realities.  But all of them are weaker than the Savior’s success.  Otherwise, he would not have healed Lazarus.  Nor would he have declared to the paralytic—straight in the face of those who opposed him—“thy sins be forgiven thee.”  He didn’t do that just for Lazarus or just for the sick man.  He did it for you.  Joy is yours if you believe him.

Sometimes, people accuse members of the Church of Jesus Christ of not being Christian.  In those moments when we hold more tightly to our guilt and self-loathing than to the Savior’s forgiveness, they might be right.

Let’s remind ourselves for a few minutes of one of the great stories from Jesus’ life and teachings. There is great joy for all who believe it.

It is the story of two actual people who are opposites and it is also involves a parable.

Jesus accepts an invitation to eat with a Pharisee named Simon—in Simon’s home.  An unnamed woman is also there.  She is only identified as a sinner—by Simon—though Jesus also acknowledges this.

During the meal, the woman weeps, washes Jesus’s feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses his feet, and applies an ointment to them.  Simon is disgusted that Jesus permits this.  Jesus perceives Simon’s thoughts and says these tender, ominous words, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”  And then he tells this parable:

“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors:  the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.  And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.”

Please note the point in the story at which the creditor (God) forgives the debtors (us).  It is when they accept and acknowledge that they have nothing to pay, which indicates that their hearts had become truly broken and their spirits contrite.  When we hold fast to the idea that we must be righteous in order to qualify for heaven, we are believing that we have something to pay.  That belief keeps us from joy.

Jesus then asks:

“Which of them will love him most?  Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.  And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast rightly said.”

We can take from this that the more we recognize our dependence on the Savior, the more we will receive forgiveness and the more we will love Him.

Jesus then turns to the woman, but speaks to Simon:

“Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.”

And here it comes:

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.  And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”

Why were her sins forgiven?  Because she loved the Lord, acknowledged her inability to save herself, acknowledged his ability to save her, and had a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Why did Jesus not declare Simon’s sins forgiven?  Because his heart was hard.  He failed to express love for the Savior.  And he believed more in his own righteousness than in the Savior’s ability to remedy an inability to pay.

Brothers and Sisters, our outward acts of righteousness will do very little for us.

On the other hand, a love for God, genuine humility before him, and our sincerely striving to follow him will enable him to do everything for us.

Am I saying that we don’t have to succeed in our efforts to follow the Savior?  If that’s a yes/no question, then, yes, that’s what I’m saying.

Am I saying that we don’t have to humbly, sincerely strive with all our best efforts to keep the commandments, keep our covenants, and follow the Savior?  No.  We must strive.  Enduring to the end in faithful effort is part of the deal.  We must be deeply sincere in our efforts.  We must recognize our failures and shortcomings.  We must experience Godly Sorrow—frequently if not constantly.  Repentance must be our way of life.

The scriptures say that if we follow God and keep the commandments, we will prosper.  Is that true?  Absolutely.  If we do so with a humble dependence on him and a willingness to accept the realities of the Atonement, we will experience peace of conscience and joy.  Will I be exempt from cancer or from job loss or from the illness of a child or from a child’s painful choices?  Of course not.  The greatest, joyful prosperity comes in our hearts and minds through our faith in the Savior.  Will we prosper temporally?  Yes, to the extent that we follow principles of self reliance and it is the will of God.  Even the righteous eventually get sick and die.

Nephi said, “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.”

That we may glory in Jesus, exercise faith in him (and not merely belief), and experience the joy of having our guilt swept away in Him is my prayer for every member of our stake.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God

[Stake Conference, April 2019, Adult Session]

During the last week of the Savior’s life, the various groups opposing Jesus were desperate to entrap him, so they peppered him with questions they hoped would embarrass him.  Famously (or infamously), a man described as a pharisee, a scribe, and a lawyer asked the Savior to identify “the great commandment in the law.”  Jesus answered by quoting one of the most important passages of all scripture, known to Jews as the Shema, which says, in part (see Deut. 6), this:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Jesus called this “the first and great commandment” and said that the entire Law of Moses comes from the two commandments to love God and to love each other.

The Shema continues with one of the most important early references to home-centered study and learning:

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Lastly, Moses continues with these words, which some Jews practice literally.  We don’t, but we should consider the tremendous emphasis they add to the great commandment:

8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Let me repeat here the key words from this critical teaching:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

What does it mean to love God?

The “first and great commandment” is to love God entirely.  What does it mean to love?

The dictionary definition that makes most sense to me in this context is “to be devoted to.”  We are to be wholly devoted to God.  That devotion should fill our hearts and our souls and efforts.

But what about the feeling of love?  Is love also a feeling?

That may be tough at times.  Devotion and commitment are choices.  I can be devoted to God and love him in that sense entirely according to my own choices.  Feelings, though, are hard to choose.  They tend to be more the result of things both inside and outside us.  The ideal feelings toward God may include things like profound gratitude and reverence.

I believe that those feelings result most from our knowledge and understanding of who God is and what He has done and does now and will yet do for us.  They result from knowing how He feels about us and about the sacrifices He has made on our behalf, highlighted by the Atonement.  They come from understanding something about his perfect attributes of mercy and generosity and patience and compassion.

Can we love God with all our heart, soul, and might if we don’t feel the feeling of love in our hearts?  Yes, we can in the sense of being devoted to him and choosing him and following through on that choice.  We can also strive to know and understand him better, which will build our appreciation for him and facilitate the feelings of love.

Here is kind of a strange-sounding thing you might try sometime.  I don’t do it very often, but on rare occasion I have.  Try saying your evening or morning personal prayer without using words.  Instead of talking to God, which is how we should usually pray as Jesus taught us, just feel.  Get him in your mind and let your feelings provide your prayer’s expressions.  As you consider him and that he knows your feelings as well as your thoughts, you might feel things like awe and reverence, like gratitude, like being small and dependent, like respect and admiration.

To the extent we don’t feel those things, I think we might simply strive to know and understand him better.  While we do, we can persist in patient devotion.

What does loving God look like?

Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  We know from the Pearl of Great Price that God’s work is to save and exalt us.  We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that our work is to keep the commandments.  The Second Great Commandment, of course, is to love each other, including that person who offended us or who with whom we disagree or just don’t like.  We can assume that this should be an active love—that we would actively seek to lift, support, build up, and help each other.  We can assume that loving our neighbors doesn’t merely consist of feeling a warm feeling towards them (unless, of course, we are actually incapacitated).

We could try to insert here a long list of commandments and actions that would reflect our love for God.  We could talk about doing this or doing that—or not doing this or not doing that.

The trouble is that if we try too hard to describe what loving God might look like, we will end up converting love for God into a checklist—and a checklist mentality is already a source of trouble in our culture.

God is neither the Great Accountant tabulating our debits and credits nor is he the Great Scorekeeper tallying our points and fouls.  He is our omniscient and loving father who asks for our love, our devotion.

Suffice it to say that when we love God, we will love our neighbor, keep his commandments, and allow our love for God to inform all of our important decisions.  We might develop the habit of asking ourselves, each time we face an important decision:  which choice will best reflect my devotion to God?

The first of the Ten Commandments says that we are to have no other god before our God.  Surely that means that we should neither worship nor love anything more than we worship and love both our Father in Heaven and the Savior.  There are many alluring worldly temptations involving money and appearances and momentary pleasures.  Our love for God must be strong enough that we will worship him more than them.

What happens to us when we love God?

Normal things happen to us.  Life happens to us, including good and bad.  We sometimes labor under the notion that loving God and keeping his commandments will result in in an absence of trouble—or at least an absence of tragedy and catastrophe.  It doesn’t.  Otherwise, how would we explain Abinadi and Nephite women and children being thrown into a fire.  How would we explain the early apostles, Joseph Smith, or faithful members of the Willey and Martin handcart companies?  God will not rob us of the mortal experience, whatever that may mean for us.

What will He do?  He will do things that matter far more than our temporary physical struggles in mortality.

  • Paul taught “that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
  • Moses taught that God’s mercy is extended to “them that love [God].”
  • Jesus clearly taught that those who love God receive forgiveness.
  • And in the Book of Mormon, we read that if you “love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”
  • I also believe that loving God inspires in each of us the development of Christlike attributes, including love for others, gratitude, humility, meekness, and modesty—not merely modesty in how we dress, but modesty in our behavior, including our use of social media.

May I suggest tonight—besides the obvious suggestion that we all love the Lord—that we leave no doubt in the minds of our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and all those who are dear to us that we love God and are filled with gratitude to and for Him.

In the Church Handbook of Instructions, there is a section on Leadership which applies to all of us.  It says, in part:

All Church leaders are called to help other people become “true followers of . . . Jesus Christ.” To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples, living each day so that they can return to live in God’s presence. Then they can help others develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.

Callings and positions entirely aside, each of us can be a “faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples.”  Let us share with all around us, beginning most importantly with our families, that we love the Lord and that that love is what motivates and informs the choices we make.

I share Paul’s testimony:  “all things [do] work together for good to them that love God.”

In closing, let me repeat the words of Moses, the Shema, with some slight modifications:

The Lord our God is one Lord:

And we shall love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might.

And these words… shall be in our hearts:

And we shall teach them diligently unto our children, and shall talk of them when we are at home, and when we leave our homes, and when we go to bed, and when we rise up.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Twelve Things to Teach Our Children at Home

[Ward Conferences, 2019]

In our last General Conference, President Nelson said, “The long-standing objective of the Church is to assist all members to increase their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Atonement, to assist them in making and keeping their covenants with God, and to strengthen and seal their families…  Scriptures make it clear that parents have the primary responsibility to teach the doctrine to their children.”

Our conference today focuses on the idea of home-centered church—or home-centered gospel learning.  I would like to suggest twelve things that parents should especially teach their children at home—and that children should make a point of learning.

First is the nature of our relationship with God.

God is our father.  He loves us as a perfect father would love his children and desire their development and happiness.  Jesus Christ is our brother and also loves us with a perfect love.

Neither of them will tolerate or excuse any sin – yet their plan for us provides an escape from the worst effects of sin for those – and only for those – who love them and submissively receive them.

When I imagine meeting the Savior or my Father in Heaven, I anticipate feeling great love.  I imagine receiving an embrace that will melt all my feelings.  I imagine an overwhelming gratitude that helps me embrace them back.  However, for all their kindness and goodness, I do not think of them as my “chum” or my “buddy.”  I also imagine at that meeting an overwhelming impulse to prostrate myself before them in acknowledgement of my nothingness and in total awe and respect for their perfection.

God is to be loved and gratefully reverenced.

Second, faith.

Faith is one of those lovely thoughts that seems so warm and cozy when the sun is shining and the birds are singing.  But the Lord makes the rain to fall on the just and not just on the unjust.  And those of us who fancy ourselves just are sometimes quite shocked and indignant, even feeling betrayed or abandoned, when the rain falls hard on us.

How will your child react when the rains of life have the water up his chin?  What does God’s plan for us really look like?  Why is uncertainty an essential element of the mortal experience?  What is the role of adversity?  How am I special?  And how am I not?  Why did God leave his Only Begotten alone in the Garden of Eden?  And why will he leave you and I (more or less) alone at moments to experience things on our own?  Why should I trust God in those moments?  And what does it mean that faith is a principle of action?

Each of us feels a responsibility to dress our small child in a warm coat when they must be out in a cold rain.  How much greater our responsibility to teach our children to trust God in their toughest moments.

Third, testimony.

We need to teach our children how to develop testimonies.  Where does a testimony come from?  The Holy Ghost is the most important place.  There are additional evidences that the doctrine of the Church is correct and that the Church is led by men with legitimate priesthood keys.

Our children need to know how to pray, how to try to recognize the Spirit, and how to observe the impact of following the teachings of the Savior and the counsel of living prophets.  They need to know the critical importance of the Book of Mormon.

They also need to see and hear our testimonies, which we must each nurture.  This brings us to…

Fourth, questions.

What is your daughter to do when she has questions that might challenge her testimony?  Here is a catastrophic scenario for how she might handle it.

  • First, she encounters a truth that is easily open to criticism, such as: Joseph Smith had some young wives in addition to Emma.
  • Second, she thinks this might be a game changer and wonders why nobody ever told her before.
  • Third, she thinks it possible that people have been trying to keep unpleasant truths from her so her best bet for exploring this is from people outside the Church.
  • Fourth, she immerses herself in the viewpoints of so-called “anti-Mormons” and “former Mormons.”
  • Eventually, she opts out of church activity.

In this scenario, she has taken an understandable path for someone who believes people have been trying to hide things from her.

How might parents handle this better?

  • They might teach their children about Church history and about the Church’s reasons for its same-sex policies and about its love for gay people and all
  • They might teach their children that questions are normal and good and that they have no need to fear expressing them.
  • They might teach their children about the answers we have to their questions, including in Church-published materials.
  • And they might teach their children about the fact that we don’t have an answer to every question – and about how we handle unknowns.

Fifth, repentance.

I recently heard two mistaken expressions with regard to someone who had committed an egregious sin and, wonderfully, wanted to repent and move on.  The first was that this person decided to go to his bishop to “begin the repentance process.”  The second was that, in so doing, he wanted to get his sin “taken care of.”

Well, repentance does not begin with confession.  And talking to him won’t “take care of” the issue.

For some sins, talking to the bishop is an essential step.  But even then, repentance doesn’t happen in the bishop’s office.  Repentance happens inside a person’s heart.  Repentance isn’t a two-step, five-step, or 50-step process.  Repentance is a genuine change of heart and mind that inevitably results in a change of behavior; it is a reorientation of a person’s entire life toward God.

Genuine repentance is the most rewarding and comforting—and one of the most testimony-building experiences that we can have.

Sixth, the Holy Ghost.

We parents generally do a decent job of teaching their kids about the Holy Ghost.  When an 8-year-old is interviewed for baptism and the Bishop asks about the role of the Holy Ghost children give some good answers:

  • He will warn me of danger.
  • He will comfort me when I’m sad.
  • He will help me know what is true.
  • Some even know that the Holy Ghost will testify specifically of Jesus.

I think we need to teach them one other very important thing.  Her is how Elder Bednar put it, quote:

“The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who cleanses and burns dross and evil out of human souls as though by fire…  Receiving the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost in our lives creates the possibility of an ongoing cleansing of our soul from sin…  We are blessed both by our initial cleansing from sin associated with baptism and by the potential for an ongoing cleansing from sin made possible through the companionship and power of the Holy Ghost.”

He added:

“May I respectfully suggest that our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son do not intend for us to experience such a feeling of spiritual renewal, refreshment, and restoration just once in our lives.”

Your children know that they were clean at baptism.  How many of them understand that they can be (and many are) as clean now as they were then?

If you’re unrepentant, you’re in serious trouble.  If you’re humble, repentant, and striving, the Holy Ghost is cleansing and sanctifying you on an ongoing basis and you are clean.

Seventh, teach your children about the ordinances and covenants beyond baptism.

Do you—both dads and moms—know how to teach your sons and daughters about the covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood?  What does it mean to receive the Priesthood, the Savior, and His servants?  What does it mean to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God?  What does it mean to magnify your calling?

If your sons think that serving a full-time mission is a bigger deal than receiving the Priesthood, then we’ve failed them and their future wives and children.

What about the Endowment?  Will you provide your children with the same level of unpreparedness that we received from our parents?  Or will you help them understand what it means to make a full, adult-level commitment to God and to ponder and learn?

Parents would do well to focus more on their kids’ preparedness for the temple than for a mission, though the latter is also important.  Parents might also help their children who aren’t serving full-time missions consider the timing of receiving their Endowment and the wisdom of receiving it well ahead of their temple marriage.

Eighth, being a missionary.

We must undo the compartmentalization of missionary work in many of our minds.  Nobody should start being a missionary when the stake president sets them apart.  And nobody should stop being a missionary when they are released from their calling.

A great topic for family discussion is how to be a conscious, active missionary without a name badge.

Ninth, consecration.

Let me share with you four statements from Church leaders.

First, from LDS.org: “The law of consecration is a divine principle whereby men and women voluntarily dedicate their time, talents, and material wealth to the establishment and building up of God’s kingdom.”

Next, Joseph Smith: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.”

Next, Bruce R. McConkie in General Conference:

The law of sacrifice is a celestial law; so also is the law of consecration. …we must be able to live these two laws.

“Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.

“The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.”

Lastly, the following statement is included in this very first week’s study material in Come Follow Me—For Individuals and Families.  It says, speaking of the infamous “rich young man,” “What he learned—and what we all must learn—is that being a disciple means giving our whole souls to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”

Tenth, many are called, but few are chosen.         

Setting our hearts upon the things of the world and aspiring to the honors of others—whether through misguided ambitions, social media, or neglect of God and His commandments—will keep us from the blessings of heaven.  “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

How do we, as families, establish and maintain proper priorities and be spiritually minded?  What a great topic for a family discussion!

Eleventh, perfectionism and vulnerability.

There is a little epidemic that runs through Utah County LDS culture.  It manifests itself in our trying to convey to each other that all is well with us and we have no challenges or struggles.  We try to look good on the outside and keep others out of our insides.  The answer to every “Hi, how are you?” is “Fine, how are you?” because we can’t change the subject fast enough.

Smiling, looking nice, and keeping a nice home, of course, are not sins.

The problem is when we create a culture based on shame and judgmentalism.  Too often, we are following Satan’s advice to “hide” out of unhealthy shame and we do it to avoid the judgments we imagine from others—judgments which are frankly not coming if we’d allow ourselves to discover that.

I don’t think we should go around reciting to everyone we meet all of our failures, shortcomings, and embarrassments.  But I do think we need to teach our children how to be real and vulnerable and how to create a community of genuine love and understanding.

Twelfth, manhood.

How do our sons learn to become outstanding husbands and fathers?  Two ways, I think.  We hope their own fathers’ examples will teach them positively.  And we hope some good things will rub off on them if they go to Church.

But it’s not enough.  All fathers set bad examples in addition to good examples, and osmosis doesn’t magically and sufficiently happen at church.  We need to be explicit and address the subject head-on.

This will require vulnerability from fathers to teach what they should be instead of who they are.  And it will require a willingness from mothers to explain to both their husbands and sons what a wife needs and what genuine manhood looks like to a woman.

Paul said men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  Boys need to be taught by their fathers and mothers what it means to love a woman in a Christlike way.

Testimony

Brothers and Sisters, a new era has come to the Church.  Our homes are to be the center of our worship, our study, and our development.  Fathers and mothers have a divine responsibility to teach their children.

I testify that President Nelson holds priesthood keys and is the mouthpiece of the Lord today.  I testify that Jesus Christ lives and is our Savior.  And I testify that life eternal is to know God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.