Nearer to God by Abiding by Its Precepts
[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]
Recently—and frequently—we have been encouraged to study the Book of Mormon and to increase our focus on it. President Monson spoke of it in his last talk. Elder Carl B. Cook spoke of it in our Area Conference last month. Brother Callister, the Sunday School General President, spoke of it in General Conference and also when he was here visiting our stake last month.
As recorded in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith taught that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” Considering that Jesus Christ, himself, said that “life eternal is to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom though hast sent,” we who believe in the Book of Mormon should be particularly eager to abide by its precepts that we might know God and enjoy a more abundant life.
What is a “precept”? And what are these precepts in the Book of Mormon by which, if we abide, we may come nearer to God?
For simplicity’s sake, I will define a “precept” as an instruction, a guideline on how to live. To try to list and explain all the important precepts in the Book of Mormon is a task too large for a brief talk. I would like, though, to mention five specific precepts, or instructions, that the Book of Mormon invites us to follow and to which I add my testimony to the Prophet’s: If you and I abide by them, we will come closer to both our Father in Heaven and to the Savior.
Precept #1: Use your agency to act, rather than to be acted upon.
Agency allows each of us to be self-determining. None of us can entirely control our circumstances, but each of us can control our handling of them and who we will become.
It seems clear from the plan of salvation that agency and the privilege of self-determination are of supreme importance. A war was fought in heaven over agency and a third of our Father in Heaven’s children lost their inheritance because they fought against it. The atonement, itself, happened in the defense of our right to choose, God knowing the inevitability of our choosing incorrectly at moments along our way. Agency is so important, God does not even intervene when his children do horrible things to others of his children.
To not use our agency means to be acted upon, to be blown about and kicked around by the world. To accept a victim mentality which takes us away from faith and striving. A favorite saying of mine says, “Indecision becomes decision with the passing of time.” Where we don’t take charge of ourselves, someone or something else eventually will.
Young men and young women: Who do you want to become? Who will you become? What are you doing right now to ensure you become the type of son or daughter of God who can receive all the blessings that He wants you to enjoy?
For disciples of Christ, the call to act is also a call to lead—a call to lead all others around us to the Savior. It is a call to be self-reliant and self-determining in our spirituality, in our marriages and other relationships, in our finances, in our beliefs and philosophies.
We will come nearer to God by acting and by being less acted upon.
Precept #2: Exercise faith. Exercise it in patience, but exercise it.
To exercise faith means to act upon truth in the absence of perfect knowledge. The most important faith to exercise is faith in the Savior Jesus Christ. We do this by acting upon His teachings and striving to follow His example.
The Book of Mormon very clearly teaches that “faith” and “a perfect knowledge” are mutually exclusive things. The absence of a perfect knowledge means room for some level of uncertainty. What the Book of Mormon invites us to do is to experiment—not merely by thinking or philosophizing, but by acting—that our knowledge may increase and our uncertainty decrease.
Exercising faith requires patience. We know so well the verse in which Nephi says he will “go and do,” knowing that the Lord would provide a way for him. It is fascinating to think of how Nephi’s faith was immediately met by two utter failures to obtain the plates. His exemplary faith was not just found in that bold statement that he would “go and do.” It was found in his patience in waiting on the Lord to reveal a path for him even while his going and doing wasn’t working.
You or I may get frustrated from time to time over the things we do not yet know or over the outcomes we wish for that have not yet happened. Let us exercise faith in patience and allow the Lord to reveal His hand according to His timing and His will.
We will come nearer to God by patiently and persistently exercising faith in Him.
Precept #3: Recognize evil.
Though it may sound unusual, I have a testimony that evil exists and that Satan exists.
The Book of Mormon not only teaches clearly the idea of “opposition in all things,” it teaches that anti-Christ is real, is among us, and is actively ridiculing faith, exploiting uncertainty, mocking the very idea of God, and teaching us that there is no right nor wrong, that whatever is desired by a person is, by definition, OK.
Evil attempts to turn uncertainty into proof against. It attempts to turn tolerance for and acceptance of people into tolerance for and acceptance of wrong. Evil doesn’t always teach that wickedness can become happiness, it often just teaches that there is no such thing as wickedness. Evil mocks legitimate prophets and promotes false philosophies as false prophets and false religions.
Satan is the Father of Lies, the Great Deceiver. He uses subtlety because subtlety works. We know he is there. All the more reason for us to hold very fast to the iron rod of the scriptures and to sit up and pay careful attention when living prophets speak.
We will come nearer to God by acknowledging and avoiding evil.
Precept #4: Share our abundance with the poor.
In the gospels of the New Testament, the Savior warned over and over again of the risks and dangers associated with having wealth. In the Doctrine and Covenants he specified that many are not “chosen” because “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.” And in the Book of Mormon, he teaches us with great repetition to support the poor. Satan is good at making us believe that we are not wealthy because we can see others who have more than we do.
But Alma asked, “will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” Mormon condemned—and note this: he was condemning us in the latter days, not his own people— “ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”
A year ago, in Stake Conference, I spoke of our responsibility to help the poor. In doing so, I emphasized the fact that we in our stake are rich and that we, in particular, should heed the Savior’s warnings to the rich. I have, since then, sometimes heard that talk referred to as the “we are rich” talk. I would rather it were referred to as the “we should do more for the poor” talk. For our children’s sake, let us break from the past and teach our children from a young age to give Fast Offerings.
We will come nearer to God by increasing our support for the poor.
Precept #5: Finally, and most importantly, recognize the Savior as the only legitimate way to eternal life.
King Benjamin taught, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
Jesus Christ is the only way and the only means through which we may receive the blessing of living with our Heavenly Parents, of living like them, of living in eternal and loving family relationships.
Let us recognize that the path is, in fact, strait and narrow. Yet it is also clear before us. And, for the most part, we are on it. Let us rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” Let us “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” and by Him.
We will come nearer to our Heavenly Father and to the Savior by consciously striving to receive and follow the Savior.
Let us renew our commitment to the Book of Mormon. Let us value and follow its precepts and thereby come nearer to God. Of the value of these precepts I bear my witness with love and gratitude for the Savior and for our Heavenly Father and expressing my love for each of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Knowing and Becoming through Doing
[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]
As we all know, it doesn’t make sense to try to reduce the gospel or gospel living or righteousness to a checklist. I could, for example, say my prayers morning and night, read a couple of chapters in the Book of Mormon every day, attend the temple each week or two, refrain from watching football on Sundays, lead my family in daily scripture reading and prayer and in Home Evening every Monday—all good and desirable things—and yet still lack something very desirable and ultimately essential.
The goal is not just to check all the boxes. The goal is to become. To be changed. To experience and nurture a “mighty change” in our hearts. The apostle Paul wrote of us becoming “new creatures.” So did Alma the Younger. King Benjamin spoke of a change within us so profound that we would “have no more disposition to evil, but to do good continually.” Paul also taught that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” The change that each of us should strive to experience is one that should be deep inside us, affecting our hearts and minds and our very natures.
Here, though, is perhaps a little irony. While the goal is in what we become rather than in just checking all the boxes, doing good reflects what we have become and it is in the very doing that we not only become, but that we also discover the truthfulness of the Gospel.
Jesus taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
President Vernon recently told me a story of interviewing a woman in the stake for a temple recommend. He did not share with me her name and I don’t know who she is, but her story illustrates a point. President Vernon came to the third question in the interview and asked this sister if she had a testimony of the restoration of the gospel. She hesitated before saying “yes” and then hastened to make what she referred to as an “apology.” She said that she had not studied and read things to the depths that others had. She didn’t feel that she could quote chapter and verse on everything related to the restoration, but, she said, “I only know that when I live according to the teachings of the restored gospel, I feel good, I feel happier and better off. And that is largely what I base my testimony on.”
What on earth have we done that would leave this dear woman feeling like she needed to apologize for doing and experiencing exactly what the Savior said she would? She described it perfectly. Paraphrasing, “If any woman will do his will, she shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
Knowing is in the doing and in recognizing the resulting whisperings of the Holy Ghost.
Truth, testimonies, and gospel knowledge often don’t come from spectacular spiritual events. More often, the voice of the Spirit is still and small and works quietly within us.
Becoming, like knowing, is also in the doing. Let me provide a few illustrations.
Every year, our stake, on average, sends out about 65 full-time missionaries. I meet with them the Sunday before they leave for an MTC somewhere in the world. They are wonderful! Many come to that interview wearing new missionary clothing, including a pair of shoes that looks like it’s being worn for the first time. Eye contact may or may not be very steady. Each is a different combination of excitement and nervousness, perhaps even fear—for the unknown things ahead and the moments that will challenge them. Most have graduated from seminary, been active in Church, read their scriptures, and learned well from excellent parents. Most are what I might describe as thriving youth, but inexperienced youth nevertheless.
Fast-forward 18 months or two years. That same young man or young woman returns to the same office, this time to be released as a full-time missionary. Shoes often look very worn. Pants may have a hem coming apart or even a hole in them. Once-white shirts may be a little off-white now. Faces and bodies may even look a little tired, but those faces are different than when they left! There is a lot of eye contact. There is something new and changed behind those eyes that are full of confidence—and sometimes full of tears that are both joyful and sorrowful for the end of a wonderful season.
I frequently ask these young men and young women what has changed—what is different about them from the last time I saw them. They often answer with things like, “God gave me the gift of seeing people as He sees them.” Or, “Everything has changed. I am completely different.” Or, “I know God loves me. I really know it.” Or, “I thought I had a testimony when I left, but now I really know.” Or “I have learned that the Atonement is real and applies to everyone.”
One might even call it a mighty change. How did it happen? It happened because they said, as Nephi, “I will go and do.” And they went and did. And in the doing, they experienced God; they experienced the Holy Ghost; and they were changed from the inside out.
For us older people, this is not merely an opportunity long gone. Just two nights ago, Joe and Barbara Barry returned from their full-time mission in Palmyra, where they served in the temple and in other important ways. Like younger missionaries, Joe and Barbara were wonderful before they left, they just weren’t quite as young. That didn’t mean, though, that they didn’t return home with similarly glowing and smiling faces, full of goodness that resulted from what they had done, what they felt, and what they had further become. They blessed many lives in Palmyra. They blessed the lives of their adult children here in Utah. And, inescapably, their own lives were blessed and changed forever.
In the middle of preparing this talk, and as if on a heavenly cue, I received an email from President Frandsen, currently president of the San Francisco Oakland mission and a member of our stake. Here is the full text of what he wrote:
“Good Morning President: I thought I would send you an update I received from Elder and Sister Lay. What a difference they are making in this mission and the two Wards and Stakes in which they are serving! President Frandsen.” Below that was an email to him from David and Sharon Lay of the 22nd Ward. It is too lengthy to share in its entirety, but here are a few lines…
- The Bishopric called us to head up the Christmas party for the ward and we are working with a committee.
- We have helped establish a greeter program at the chapel doors for Sacrament Meeting to welcome the members and visitors.
- Sharon is accompanying the RS president with some visits to special sisters and shut-ins and I am attending the Elders Quorum and accompanying the President on visits.
- We are working with the Stake Family History committee to generate a Family History Fair to culminate before the temple closes in March.
- The Bishop has been very forthcoming in assigning a list of about eight members that he would like us to focus on right away. With only a couple of exceptions, we have been in their homes and have become friends.
- We have been asked to teach a temple preparation class in Sunday School for eight weeks to help prepare some to return to the temple, also before it closes in March.
- We have participated in several lessons with the Elders where they needed a third participant as well as helping to conduct a family home evening with a new family and a new-member lesson with a recently baptized member.
- We are now registered with the Reading Partners program to do remedial reading instruction at the local elementary school near our apartment. We go for an hour each Tuesday and Thursday and tutor students who are below grade level in reading. It is very rewarding and we wear our name badges.
Brother Lay ends his report to President Frandsen with these words: “We are grateful to be here and feel that we are where the Lord wants us. Thank you for the latitude to follow the spirit where it is leading us. We feel His hand every day in our affairs.”
Brothers and Sisters, knowing and becoming are in the doing.
Full-time missions are only one example of doing leading to becoming. We become through temple and family history work. We become through home and visiting teaching and through a host of opportunities for kindness and loving our neighbors of all kinds. We become by striving to develop Christlike attributes within ourselves.
May I invite you to ever strive for greater personal conversion. To live the gospel and experience that “mighty change” —which may not come in a single moment, but rather, “line by line,” “here a little and there a little.” That the Lord will help us become new creatures and realize all the joy and happiness offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.