[Stake Conference, October 2018]
My comments today are intended for both young and old, but I confess that I have our youth and young single adults particularly in mind. I hope that you will recognize the Spirit teaching you something that is important for you to know or act on this morning.
Let me first give three examples of difficult, even painful situations which, despite our hopes to never encounter them, occur every day around the world to those who are, as the Savior said, “both the just and the unjust.”
First, imagine the scenario of an unexpected emergency or catastrophe. It could be a flood or an earthquake; an outbreak of war or a disruption in the food supply; it could be a loss of power or a collapse of our financial system. Think of the different levels of preparedness at which an individual or family might be the moment the problem strikes. Some might be well prepared to weather the storm until normalcy returns. Others might be completely unprepared and have some very difficult times. Many would be somewhere between those two extremes.
Second, imagine the challenges that can follow a person who takes little or no interest in learning. Being “educated” doesn’t necessarily mean having one or more college degrees. It means being interested in learning enough to invest time and effort into it—which might be through formal schooling or may be through practical, hands-on learning. Those who don’t pursue learning may have some extra challenges in life. Some may be financial. Others may involve personal relationships. Some may be easily taken advantage of or struggle to solve their own problems. In contrast, someone who actively accumulates knowledge and know-how may be in a better position to navigate life and its financial, emotional, interpersonal, and other challenges.
Third, imagine the person who needs employment but can’t find it or has suddenly lost it, perhaps through no fault of his or her own. The lack of a job can, obviously, create financial hardships, but it can be even more challenging than that. Work often includes an enhanced sense of purpose and value and the satisfaction of contributing. It can include valuable friendships and learning opportunities. When Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden, Adam was given the gift of work. Work is a gift and the absence of it can be a very heavy burden.
Those three scenarios illustrate three concepts that are critical when we talk about “self-reliance.” They are: emergency preparedness, education, and work (or employment). God wants each of us, individually and as families, to be self-reliant. He wants us to be physically, mentally, and economically healthy and to be able to care for ourselves and our loved ones—and, ideally, for others as well. He wants us to be prepared to handle problems that come to us unexpectedly, perhaps through no fault of our own. Temporal self-reliance is important to God and should be an active pursuit for each of us.
But I would like to emphasize today the concept of spiritual self-reliance. And here, perhaps, is where I would like our youth to be especially listening. God also wants us to become spiritually self-reliant. He wants us to be able to stand on our own two feet spiritually, not having to lean too heavily on parents or others in our lives. He wants us to be able to face and withstand challenges and he wants us to be in a position to help others become spiritually self-reliant. I will admit that I think our circumstances in Highland Utah can sometimes create a spiritually protective, somewhat homogeneous environment around our youth that can leave them vulnerable to a lack of spiritual self-reliance if they have not sufficiently established it before encountering the world away from here.
Now let’s revisit those three scenarios, but this time from a spiritual perspective.
The first one regards emergency preparedness. What spiritual emergencies may confront us in our lives? They are not uncommon. Members of our stake have unexpectedly lost loved ones in the past year. Some have been abused or mistreated or perhaps felt betrayed. Some have been confronted by arguments against the Church that they had never considered and unexpectedly find themselves in the so-called “crisis of faith.” Events happen in people’s lives which cause them to question foundational things they have relied on including the very existence of God. People who have felt confident in their beliefs about God and His plan for us—perhaps they’ve even stood and borne public testimony of those things—experience some event in life that makes them wonder if they were fooling themselves all along and that maybe, on second thought, none of it actually is true.
How would you prepare for such a spiritual emergency? How would you become spiritually self-reliant to the point that your faith would be a strength to you at such a time of crisis?
We might start with the words of Helaman, who said we must build a spiritual foundation that is based on the Savior, “that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds,… when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you…, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
Another Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, taught us to hold dearly to the word of God. Nephi described the iron rod as, “the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them.”
Notice Nephi doesn’t just say to read our scriptures: he says to “hearken unto the word of God,” which surely means to practice what those scriptures teach.
In fact, it is not enough to say our prayers each day and read our scriptures each day if we do so mechanically without really engaging mentally and spiritually. For example, we might study the challenges that faithful people in scriptures went through and ponder questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “why does God not seem to intervene more when people hurt each other” or “why does God permit suffering in the world?” or “why don’t I get a more vivid and unambiguous answer to my prayers?” Strong foundations are built upon coming to know God and coming to understand His plan for us through thoughtful study and prayer and application of scriptural teachings.
Elder Holland said, “When those moments come… hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” The more bricks we can lay in our spiritual foundation before large challenges arise, the better we’ll handle them.
Now let’s take that a step further with the second scenario. The second scenario illustrates the issues around education and learning and the question of whether we will actively seek out learning or not.
In this last General Conference, President Nelson announced a tremendous opportunity for us in this regard. He announced, quote, “A New Balance between Gospel Instruction in the Home and in the Church.” The resulting headline has been that we’ll only have two hours of church on Sunday. That’s the wrong headline! The bigger story is that the living prophet of God is exhorting us to increase our personal and family study—our “spiritual education” if you will—outside of church—and especially at home—and especially on Sundays.
Just as a lack of worldly know-how can make financial and other challenges more difficult, a lack of understanding of true doctrine and other spiritual matters can decrease stability, increase uncertainty, confuse direction, and exacerbate other problems in our lives.
How do we learn spiritually? As already mentioned, we study (and don’t just “read”) our scriptures. We invest time in seminary and institute. Sister Hansen in our stake teaches a wonderful class for the sisters each week. We use the Sabbath and “home evening” and family scripture study. And we don’t just engage mentally, we engage spiritually. We pray and we seek the Holy Ghost to guide us. Jesus said that “if any man will do His will, He will know the doctrine,” so, much spiritual learning comes from faithfully doing.
One area related to education some of us can do better in is preparing our children for ordinances and covenants. If we’re not careful, we’ll do more to prepare for missions and wedding receptions than we do to prepare our kids to understand the covenants they make when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Endowment, or the Sealing Ordinance. The result of that can be a very unhelpful ignorance and a delay (or worse) in receiving the blessings of consecrated discipleship.
We must diligently “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
The third scenario was about employment and the blessing of work and the problems created by not working. This, too, has a spiritual parallel in service, ministering, and working to build the kingdom of God. We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor, but it isn’t enough to have loving feelings for them in our hearts when we are able to also do things to bless others and to express that love.
Let me mention three ways we can be “employed,” so to speak in the Kingdom of God.
- We can be actively involved in ministering to others, including those we’re assigned to minister to. Being assigned to love someone is highly underrated (from what I sometimes hear). Some of the people I feel the most love for and most love from are people I have come to know either because I was assigned to them or they were assigned to me.
- We can, if not limited by circumstances, serve in church callings and do our best to magnify them. Every church calling is about serving and helping people. Finding the ways we can best do that is both fun and rewarding.
- Lastly, we can engage in the work of salvation, specifically missionary work and temple and family history work. I can consciously engage in missionary work right now, every day, and I can make time in my life for temple and family history work.
We can do all these things in wisdom and order, considering the realities and priorities of our individual circumstances. The more gospel activities are an important part of how we live our lives, the more spiritually strong and self-reliant we will become.
Brothers and Sisters—and especially you youth and young single adults—our Father in Heaven “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Before we came here, we lived with Him. But we needed to experience some things outside of His immediate presence in order to grow and in order to prove ourselves. That experience includes strong opposition. I hope you have experienced and do experience many sunny days, but none of us, no matter how righteous, is exempt from rainy days. We need to develop the spiritual strength to be able to withstand a downpour—and, perhaps, a prolonged downpour. And even on those partly sunny, partly cloudy days we need the strength of faith and testimony, both built upon a foundation of the Savior, to guide us as we navigate the every day challenges and questions of earth life.
May we each act and not be acted upon. May we look to the Savior, hold to the rod, heed the words of a living Prophet, and not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness”—or simply by the lies and deceits of the Devil. There is good and there is evil. God lives, and Satan and his strategies and philosophies are real. The best defense is a good offense.
I testify that you are a child of Heavenly Parents. God is not a creation of man. You are a part of His family. Jesus Christ is our brother. We love and worship Him. He sacrificed everything for us and offers forgiveness and mercy to all who demonstrate to Him a broken heart and contrite spirit. This is His Church. Fifteen men hold critical and legitimate priesthood keys. President Nelson has been called to exercise them. We will be blessed if we follow him. I express my love to each of you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[Stake Conference, October 2018]
When I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, it seemed to me that, with respect to religion, there were four kinds of kids at my school. There was a large group who seemed very irreligious. There was an even larger group who were inconspicuously Protestant or Catholic and didn’t speak of it much. There were the self-proclaimed “PTL” kids (PTL stood for Praise the Lord) who were very conspicuous “born-again” evangelical kids. And then there were the so-called “Mormon” kids. There were very few of us, but people knew who we were even though we generally dressed the same as they did and played the same sports and musical instruments and attended the same classes as everyone else.
My non-member friends and acquaintances during Junior High and High School knew me as a “Mormon.” They knew I wouldn’t smoke, drink, or swear. They knew I wouldn’t be at certain types of parties and that I believed in chastity. In fact, if I did anything they thought wasn’t straight down the middle of the road, they would remind me that I was a Mormon and shouldn’t be doing that. For me, peer pressure wasn’t as much about pushing me to do the wrong thing as it was like guardrails keeping me on the straight and narrow.
There was always a little undercurrent of an unspoken rivalry between those of us in the Church and the Praise the Lord born-again kids. We knew we were right and they were wrong, and they knew they were right and we were wrong, and we were generally too immature to handle our differences in a very productive or instructive way. We mostly stayed away from each other.
When I was in 8th grade, a girl from my ward asked me if I would help her with two teachers at our school who were asking her questions about our religion that she wasn’t very comfortable with. Mr. S., a science teacher, and Mr. W., an English teacher were challenging her, and her parents told her she should get a priesthood holder with her, and there weren’t many of those to choose from, so I was it. The four of us started meeting over brown-bag lunches while Mr. S. and Mr. W. tried to explain to my friend and me that Joseph Smith was a fraud and that we needed Jesus because we really weren’t Christians and the path we were on was going to lead us straight to hell. I will spare you details of our many lunches, but suffice it to say that those experiences became foundational in my testimony as I was forced to think about what I believed and why I believed it.
I have pretty much been in Utah for the 34 years since I graduated high school. Most of the kids I went to school with I haven’t seen in many years and am merely facebook friends with now. Mr. S. and Mr. W. I don’t even recall ever seeing again after Junior High. I don’t have too many regrets regarding those men. I learned a lot from our discussions and I did my best to teach them and even to testify to them. I tried my best to convince them that I believed in the same Jesus they did and that, just like them, I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was every bit as committed to Him as they were. They didn’t buy it, but I feel like I did the best I could, particularly with them being more than twice my age.
I do have a regret, though, regarding my non-member schoolmates—and I have thought about this since President Nelson’s remarks regarding the name of the Church. Those kids knew me very well as a “Mormon.” But I was not having brown-bag religious debates with them and they didn’t know what “Mormon” meant—at least not from me they didn’t. They knew that I was a straight arrow compared to lots of kids and they knew that I was religious, but they didn’t know much about the actual substance of my religion.
What if the term “Mormon” never existed? What if the only way that I ever referred to myself—or that the world ever referred to us—was as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Mr. S. and Mr. W. probably still wouldn’t have been satisfied. But how great would it be if all the kids who knew me well as a teenager knew me as a person who loves the Savior instead of a person in an odd religion they knew little about that was called “Mormon”? Honestly, the PTL kids did a much better job of communicating what they believed than I did. Fortunately, a lot of us are still facebook friends and I can still do something about that.
Shakespeare asked the question, through Juliet, “What’s in a name?” And he answers his question in wonderful Shakespeare style, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;” suggesting that the name doesn’t really matter. But it’s interesting to look at those lines a little more carefully.
In the play, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are in love. The dilemma is that the Montagues and the Capulets don’t get along and so theirs is a forbidden love. One morning, Romeo overhears Juliet speaking about him from her upper-floor window. She is openly lamenting his name.
O, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Tis but thy name that is my enemy;–
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name! that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title:–Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
As lovely and fun as those words are, Juliet’s argument that a name doesn’t matter isn’t always true. Why not? Because we have covenanted with God to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. Shakespeare’s words are thoroughly trumped by those of King Benjamin (in Mosiah 5:7-9; my own emphasis added):
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made, ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Sometimes we struggle with words, especially if they seem to involve too many syllables and feel awkward because of their length. Since home and visiting teaching were replaced by ministering, I have heard many members struggle with knowing how to refer to themselves and others. Some people still refer to others as home teachers or visiting teachers because they find it too difficult or strange to call them ministering brothers or ministering sisters. Some people struggle with how to introduce themselves to others. Whereas it felt natural to say, “Hi, I’m your visiting teacher,” it now feels awkward to some to say, “Hi, I’m your ministering sister.” Some drop the “brother” or “sister” and refer to themselves or others simply as “ministers,” but we’ve been asked not to do that. The best way to overcome that challenge may be to practice! Use “ministering brother” or “ministering sister” in a sentence a dozen times and by the time you’re done, you’ll begin to feel comfortable. Avoid saying them and the discomfort will be prolonged!
Regarding the name of the Church, it behooves us to follow the Prophet and to work to overcome our old ways and get it right. President Nelson took exception to the idea that clarifying the proper name of the Church is “inconsequential.” He said this is “not a name change. It is not rebranding. It is not cosmetic. It is not a whim. And it is not inconsequential. Instead, it is a correction.” And, he said, “It is the command of the Lord.” “For thus shall the church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He went on to say, “the name of the Church is not negotiable.”
In light of President Nelson’s very clear teachings and my own personal experiences, characterizing the name of the Church as “consequential” and “non-negotiable” makes total sense.
My full-time mission experience is like my teenage experience. In Germany, there were two well-established religions: Catholicism and Lutheranism. There were also two other religions that were well-known in some ways: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. What did people know about Mormons? Very little. They knew we wore suits, rode bikes, and knocked on doors in pairs. They knew we were American. Many of them “knew” we were polygamists and quite a few “knew” that we rode in horse buggies and wouldn’t use electricity. They could not know that the Book of Mormon teaches of Jesus Christ because they hadn’t read it. And one reason they hadn’t read it is because none of them wanted to live in polygamy, ride in horse-drawn buggies, and go without electricity! The incorrect name of the Church was a stumbling block to its own growth. It still is. President Nelson said, “the Lord’s Church is presently disguised as the ‘Mormon Church.’” Surely, he is not exaggerating or making a mountain of a mole hill.
It seemed especially noteworthy in General Conference that President Nelson approaches this topic in a repentance-like fashion. He said, “I realize with profound regret that we have unwittingly acquiesced in the Lord’s restored Church being called by other names, each of which expunges the sacred name of Jesus Christ!” Unquote. Repentance is an important course correction born from a change of heart and a change of mind. That is what’s happening here.
One of the questions facing you and me is whether we will also repent. “When we omit His name from His Church,” President Nelson said, “we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives.” We are also failing to communicate to others that He is the central focus of our lives. I think again of those two groups in my high school. The non-religious kids knew there was a “Praise the Lord” group and they all knew who was meant by “the Lord.” And there was the small “Mormon” group—but few, if any, had any clue at all that the central figure in our lives was Jesus Christ. Similar in Germany. At least some had an idea who the Jehovah’s Witness were referring to when they referenced Jehovah. But the term Mormon completely obscures the role of the Savior and literally removes the Savior from critical aspects of our missionary efforts.
So, if it feels awkward to say, “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” instead of, “I’m a Mormon,” then let’s commit to it and get over the awkwardness through lots practice.
When young men and young women in our stake return from serving full-time missions, I try to convince them that they are not done being missionaries. We all became missionaries when we took the name of the Savior upon us at baptism—and we strengthened that commitment through the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. One extremely simple way we can stand as a witness is to make clear exactly who we are standing as a witness of by referring to Him in the name of our Church—His Church.
Let me add my testimony and then close with President Nelson’s promise.
As I told those two school teachers and have told many others since then, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. It is by his grace alone that I (or any of us) could be blind and then see. It is by the perfection of his love, kindness, devotion, mercy, and compassion that the wounds of my sins can be healed. It is by His grace that “a wretch like me” can be made clean through His blood that I might be able to return to the presence of Heavenly Father.
In response to the Savior’s question, “Will ye also go away,” Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” The truth is, there are many to whom we can go—many to whom people do go. Idols and false prophets abound in many worldly doctrines and sometimes even in popular personalities. These days, people are easily caught up in the trendy “philosophies of men” that villainize any attempt to even question them. But I join Peter with all of my heart in spite of my many failings in recognizing that there is only one to whom we can go who will, one day, by His grace, make us whole and help us be all that we ever could be.
I testify that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Now I don’t think we need any more reason to get on board with what President Nelson is asking regarding the name of the Church, but he added this to his remarks:
My dear brothers and sisters, I promise you that if we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen. We will have the knowledge and power of God to help us take the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
So [he continued, perhaps quoting Shakespeare], what’s in a name? When it comes to the name of the Lord’s Church, the answer is “Everything!” Jesus Christ directed us to call the Church by His name because it is His Church, filled with His power.
May we follow the Prophet—who is following the Savior—and helping us do the same if we are willing. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.