Category Archives: Church Talks

Spiritual Self-Reliance

[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.

The Name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

[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.

Words Matter!

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.

Three Principles of Personal Leadership

[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, April 2018]

We have two great commandments—or opportunities—before us.  And we have agency to choose the extent to which we will embrace or reject them.  We are to love God—and to enjoy the richness of knowing Him and knowing that our lives are generally aligned with His will.  And we are to love our neighbors, beginning but not ending with, our families—and including the different aspects of the Work of Salvation.

To succeed, we’re going to have to exercise principles of leadership in our own individuals lives—whether you are old or young, married or single—and also in our families.  I would like to touch today on three principles of leadership that will help us succeed in filling the two great commandments and receiving the attendant blessings.  Those three principles are:  1st – Acting in faith;  2nd — Defining ourselves;  3rd – Organizing and simplifying.

1st – Acting in Faith

In the Grand Council in Heaven before we came to earth, the Savior presented to us Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness and well-being.  Fundamental to the plan is freedom to exercise our agency and, given a set of circumstances, to choose our thoughts, intentions, and actions.

Agency is a gift for us to both treasure and to exercise.  Having agency would be an entirely terrifying experience were it not for the safety and protection of the Atonement.  Nevertheless, if we are not careful, we will fail to exercise our agency and will suffer from that.

When we don’t exercise our agency, we end up being “acted upon” and victimized by the world, by people, by circumstances, and by the Adversary.  We can end up “tossed to and fro… carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.”

When we do not choose, indecision becomes decision (and often not a good one) with the passing of time as someone or something eventually takes advantage of our paralysis and acts upon us.

The correct exercising of agency requires faith.  Agency and faith go together.  Faith is a principle of action.  I cannot exercise faith without choosing how to act.  Meanwhile, I must often make many choices without a perfect knowledge of what the consequences will be or even if I’m making the best decision.  Therefore, I make them with faith.

Increasingly, I worry about a phrase that I seem to hear over and over again from people, particularly young people.  It is this:  “God has a plan for me.”  Well.  That is a very nice sentiment.  It’s also true.  But what seems to be overlooked is that God’s plan involves us using our agency, making choices in faith, and acting in faith.  We are not puppets on strings and we are not pawns on a chessboard.  He wants us to look to Him, pray to Him, counsel with Him, seek direction from the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and then choose and act.  He does not want us to be paralyzed while we labor and struggle about whether we know His exact will with each mildly significant decision we make.  We are to be “anxiously engaged” in God’s good cause “and do many things of [our] own free will.”  “It is not meet that [He] should command in all things.”

Nor is true that every thing that happens to us in life happened because God orchestrated it like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.  It is true, however, that we can learn from all of life’s experiences and that God will help us learn and grow from our experiences as we go.  God will do much to help us learn from a minor or major tragedy, but that doesn’t mean he orchestrated that tragedy because he is the great puppeteer.

In saying we should exercise our agency and act in faith, I am not minimizing personal revelation or the role of the Holy Ghost.  We should earnestly seek for revelation and inspiration.  We should pause in our prayers to hear God’s answers; we should find quiet times and places to ponder and meditate; and we should constantly strive to know God’s will.  But we just must not let go of the fact that God’s will is often that you and I will exercise our agency and act in faith according to our best, though imperfect, understanding of His will.

2nd – Defining Ourselves (and our families)

Understanding the supreme importance of agency, each of us must choose for ourselves—and parents should choose for their families from the earliest possible time of their marriage—who we will be.  Who am I?  Who are we?  What do I want myself to become?  What matters most? Where is our family headed?  Where should we be headed?

Elijah asked the question, “How long halt ye between two opinions?”  Joshua admonished his people, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.”  Jesus invited people to come and follow him.  On one occasion he asked, “Will ye also go away?”  Each of these was an invitation to people to use their agency to decide who they’re going to be.

There are three ways we can respond.  We can not choose a direction.  That’s no good.  We can choose God’s way.  That’s the best choice.  Or we can choose some other way that isn’t God’s way—which might be motivated by worldliness, materiality, pride, selfishness, sensuality, or a misunderstanding of what God is asking us to do.  It is, of course, best to choose God’s way even though some other ways can become awfully tempting.

It takes conviction and commitment to say that while I would like to be a good tennis player or pianist or dancer or author or businessman or academic or designer or fitness instructor—or before I put all my family’s energy into helping our son or daughter become one of those things—I’m going to first and foremost be a dedicated disciple of the Savior and servant of God, putting his desires first.  Then, secondarily, I will be good at my personal dreams.

There are two opposite principles that should guide us when we decide whom we’re going to serve and whether or not following the Savior will be our very highest priority.

The first is the covenants that we make in the Endowment and that men make when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Men covenant to magnify their priesthood and to live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God—whether by his own voice or by the voice of his servants, it is the same. In the temple Endowment, we make a series of covenants.  Taken together, these covenants comprise a complete commitment to place the Lord and the work of his kingdom first in our lives.

I sometimes hear members say that we’re not yet supposed to live the law of consecration.  I never really understand what they mean, except perhaps that the Lord has not asked us to literally deed over to the Church all of our earthly possessions.  But I don’t think that’s the key issue.  The Lord wants right now our whole hearts, commitment, and willingness to give of our time and abilities to help move his work forward of saving his children.  Each of us can and should live every day of our lives that way.  That doesn’t mean that we live our lives like monks or nuns, fasting and reading our scriptures for 12 hours a day.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t go to work and put gas in our cars, mow our lawns, and sometimes enjoy some recreation.  It means simply that when we decide who we wanted to be, we decide that we want to be close to God and involved in his work above all else.

The second, opposite, principle is contained in D&C 121:  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  I wonder if that might read, “Many are called, but few choose to fully respond.”  “Why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.”  We know that we are not choosing to put God first when we are motivated by appearances, worldly success, or worldly allures.  We cannot serve God and Mammon.

We should define ourselves, first, as servants of God.

3rd – Organizing and Simplifying

In the world of Japanese manufacturing, there is a foundational principle for success referred to as “5S.”  5S has to do with being organized in as simple and straight-forward a way as possible.  The first two S’s stand for Sort and Simplify.

Imagine that you want to make your home garage an effective work place.  To “5S” your garage, the first thing you would do is take literally everything out of it.  Then you would determine the things that are truly needed inside the garage to get your work done, bring them back in, and give each one a clearly marked place so that if it is missing or out of place, that will be evident.

Parents (and each of us) should use these principles in ordering the activities of our lives.  After we have agreed to exercise our agency to take charge of our lives and after we have defined ourselves as true disciples, then we must remove everything from our lives and consciously choose to put only those things back in that matter most.  One might start with personal prayer and decide when and where it will be.  Shortly after that might come personal scripture study, family prayer, family home evening, time with family, serving others, and serving in our church callings.  We put back in the right things in the right order and leave out the things for which there isn’t a place.

This requires us to choose between good, better, and best and to be willing to sacrifice good things for the sake of better things.  I repeat that this does not mean becoming a monk or a nun.  For greatest success and joy, however, it does require making space in our lives first for the things that matter most to God.  He won’t mind if you occasionally go to a ball game or go hunting or to get a pedicure or to spend an evening with friends.  But wherever you go, He will always want you to represent Him and to lift and encourage toward him the people you’re with.

When we choose best over better or better over good, we can do so without guilt, knowing that God approves of our choice.  It is not requisite that a man or woman run faster than he or she has strength.  God wants each of us to do our best and understand that He is good with that.

Each of us has the gift of agency and the opportunity to order our lives as closely to God’s will as we understand His will and to do the things that our circumstances will permit.  We’ll have to say “no” to some things, including some things that we would like to do, but saying yes and no to the right things is what living after the manner of happiness means.

In conclusion…

There is a way to live most happily.  It requires that we exercise principles of leadership in our lives and as moms and dads, with or without a spouse.

Our assignment is to love God and to love our neighbor.  When we do this, we find the truthfulness of the Savior’s statement that he who loses his life for his sake, finds it.

Don’t fall for the notion that love cannot be assigned.  Love is a choice.  It is the most important choice.  And it was assigned to each of us from the very beginning.

Our prayer is that we may love God, serve Him, and feel His love.  And also that we might participate in the Work of Salvation and love and minister to our neighbor—and in so doing, enjoy the blessings that come back to us.  I testify that this is the Lord’s work.  The Church represents His kingdom on the earth.  And the promises of the Savior, of the Atonement, and of the Plan of Happiness are real.  God bless each of us as we strive and do our best.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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.